Thursday, August 29, 2013

A compelling collection

Book Review: Aafnai Aankhako Layama by Khagendra Sangraula

Khagendra Sangr-aula’s identity as a writer and an individual has always been controversial—a communist with no party membership, a progressive but a vehement critic of the Progressive Writer’s Association, a columnist known for caustic remarks, and one who has defied what he considers ‘traditional ills’ such as the Brahminic rituals of death-mourning, but at the same time an outright adversary of that neo-liberal ritual, the beauty pageant. His critics understand him as a Maoist, but the Maoists call him a revisionist.
People read him and they talk about him; many appreciate him and a few trash him. But above all, with his play on words and ability to knead language to his preference, Sangraula has developed the identity of a “must-read author” in Nepal. Those who have read his political satires and commentaries only know his acerbic personality as a writer. But Aafnai Aankhako Layama, the latest collection of his memoirs and literary criticisms, brings forth a softer side. The collection reveals an adoring father, an affectionate husband, a sincere brother and most importantly, a serious reader of literature within Sangraula. 
Let me start with his literary criticisms. Sangraula has experimented with a fresh approach to writing in some of his essays in this book. These are different from how literary criticisms are often written—loading theoretical jargon and dissecting the literary piece like a scientist does with a frog in his laboratory. The essay Asal Sahayatri, Bifal Neta is a criticism of the author Ramesh Bikal, a celebrated short-story writer and novelist, where Sangraula portrays the journey Bikal has travelled as a writer in a blend of personal accounts of the impression the author has made on his mind along with an analysis of the essence of his writings.
Sangraula introduces Bikal’s personality in the first paragraph as follows: “Every morning he would change his dhoti and worship Shaligram ( holy stone) reciting the hymns from Chandi (Hindu script) and in the day time, he would harangue on dialectic materialism as a chairman of the Progressive Writer’s Association. An unusual yoking together of two opposing and far-fetched worldviews—Bikal.”
He positions Bikal’s writings in the broader social context and analyses how the underlying keystone of his writings reflect his own fragile personality—one not forceful against the ills of society. Sangraula says that though Bikal has a mastery of depicting the surface structure of what he observes, he cannot delve deeper, and ends up surrendering to the status-quo. Explaining all his flaws and strengths, Sangraula asserts that Bikal, who tried to marvel at his literary journey with the story Lahuri Bhaisi, could never progress to something beyond the circumference the story creates. Bikal has depicted the psychological trauma inflicted upon Lukhure by the feudal social structure beautifully,
but the widely-known and progressive Bikal’s Lukhure(s) never appear as rebels in any of his stories or novels.
Another essay titled Pathan Samsaran Maa Devkota explains the indelible impact of Devkota’s writings on his mind. The poems he read as a child had impressed upon him the image of Devkota as the ideal writer, writes Sangraula, but the essay does not end up eulogising his ideal poet. It rather answers the question raised in the beginning of the essay—on how literature fulfills the role of changing an individual and changing society at large. This memoir, related to the reading of Devkota’s works, analyses the processes of reading and the impact of reading upon a person’s psyche, showing how the effects of writing can be measured. Stepping away from the hackneyed and ornamental terms that academic pundits of Devkota have offered to students of Nepali literature, Sangraula depicts Devkota in a new light. This criticism rings truer to readers rather than the academic dissection performed by pundits.
Samjhana Maa Parijat, another essay collected in this anthology, gives an account of how Sangraula always put his foot down whenever he disagreed with the ideas of Parijat. He expresses his disagreements and discontent with some of Parijat’s attitudes, putting her personality under a critical light. Readers, though, will not find the same kind of criticism here, as done in the entertaining examinations of Bikal’s and Devkota’s personalities. Sangraula’s personal relationship with Parijat and other details dominate, but these do not render the essay less powerful. 
The essay on Bhupi Sherchan seems incomplete and looks as though Sangraula just lazily paraphrased how Sherchan’s verses, written years ago, have maintained their relevance even today. With the title Bhupi ra Haami, I had expected a more serious and elaborate analysis on Sherchan’s work and personality. But this essay is evidence to why compiling newspaper-articles in a book, without reworking on them, can sometimes disappoint the reader. Moreover, some seemingly journalistic scribbles do not fit in the anthology, placed alongside other serious deliberations.
Essays like Taraajuma Babu-Chhora, Ekal Jeewankaa chha Mahina, Chhori ra Birali, Mero Gham Jo Astaayo delve into filial relationships. The sociological studies in them help us understand the changing dynamics of the parent-child relationship in Nepali society. After reading Tarajuma Babu-Chhora, loyal readers, who would identify well with it, would ask Sangraula for more of such essays rather than repetitive political satires and commentaries.
Essays Lekhak ra Jhareko Paat and Lekhak Banne Rahar Garneharu Laai Tips are must-reads for aspiring writers in Nepal. These are satires on how, with the proliferation of media in the 1990s, stooges have constantly tried to seek attention with their cheap work and crooked tactics. Many try to gain popularity not by virtue of their talent, but by bartering praises for each other in newspapers and magazines.   
To newspaper writers, especially editors and columnists, the essay titled Stambha Lekhan: Ek Bakra Rekha (Column Writing: A Curved Line) would be most interesting. The essay whose title alludes to the difficult trajectory of Sangraula’s journey in column-writing, explains the impact of newspaper-columns citing real life examples. Discussing the dynamics of the triangular relationship between the column-writer, editor and the reader, he writes, “A vibrant column creates responses from the readers. The response depends on the readers’ own class, caste, location and political leanings. And when the responses, through their letters, come to the table of the editor, the editor selects the letters according to his own interest. And in my experience, this selection is always awkward.” 
The longest essay Qatar Ghumera is equally good, which complements the book Registan Diary by Devendra Bhattarai, written in the same context.
This seemingly motley collection of essays reassures that Sangraula is an unbeatable writer with a passion for change. His craft in language and ability to express have allowed his essays to speak for themselves. Pick up the book and I can vouch you will  finish it in all in one sitting.
Posted on: 2011-06-25 10:07  (The Kathmandu Post)


Post a Comment