Thursday, August 29, 2013

Life in three dimensions

Eighty-four-year-old Indra Bahadur Rai is reading Albert Einstein as I walk into his living room in Siliguri. Here to escape the brittle cold of Darjeeling, where he lives rest of the year, Rai is deeply engrossed in the theory of relativity, and attempts to draw a comparison between scientific and literary theory. His example is drawn from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which he says “applies to poetry as much as it applies to physics.”
Scientific theories aside, Rai’s entire literary career has been based around expounding two literary movements that have shaped Nepali writing from the East since their inception. Rai is the most famous proponent of the literary theory known as Aayameli, which asks readers to understand a character through all three dimensions—in this case, it means a character is not just how he or she speaks or behaves, but is instead the sum of the whole. In Rai’s own words, “Man is not just made of his eyes, his ears, or his mind. He is rather the sum of all his organs, heart, and mind.” Rai’s illustrious writing career spanning five decades has attempted to understand humanity in its entirety, and not just by its pieces. His writing brought forth a refreshing wave in Nepali literature, a wave that sought to break down traditional narrative structures, giving writing a three-dimensional shape. Rai’s works, basically, sought to correct flat narrative structures that revolved around what a person did or didn’t do to what a person is or isn’t.
Rai was born in 1927 in Siliguri, where his parents were working as construction workers on a bridge across the Balason River. “I was born on the banks of the river. My birth year is inscribed on that very bridge my parents worked to construct,” he says. After finishing his school from St. Robert’s in Darjeeling, Rai went on to finish his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Joseph’s College in Darjeeling, then his Master’s from North Bengal University. “My father wanted me to study law, which I did for a year. But I didn’t continue with it.”
Rai’s eclectic interests and deeply-inculcated habit of ruminating over the complexities of life have made him a humble philosopher who can eloquently explain life and this world to others. He makes his reader, or visitor in my case, attempt to view the world from a different lens. For example, after I met him, he told me, “After I read the book on relativity, I realised how epistemology is more important than logic.” The more he reads, the more he is encouraged to write. “I wrote a story titled Translation a few days ago, in which I have tried to express the complications of translation—which linguists have been researching for a long time—through fiction,” he says.
Rai and his poet friends Bairangi Kainla and the late Ishwor Ballav first experimented with Tesro Aayam (three-dimensional) writing in 1963. The three started the Aayemeli movement from Darjeeling with the publication of a journal called Tesro Aayam in 1963. This was a theoretical jolt to Nepali literature at the time. The three argued that writing should be focused on the idea of ‘totality’—expanding upon this by integrating art within their written works. While Kainla and Ballav infused Tesro Aayam in their poetry, Rai brought it into his prose. His first anthology, titled Kathaastha (1972), was a collection of Aayemeli stories. However, before this, he had already published an anthology of short stories Beepana Katipaya (1961), a novel Aaja Rameeta Chha (1964), and a book on criticism Teepeka Tippani (1966), although these did not correspond to the three-dimensional movement.
Though the movement caught the attention of many writers and thinkers for a long time, very few attempted to use this as a tool for writing or for criticism. Fourteen years after the Aayemeli movement had begun, Rai felt the necessity to add something more to it so that he could express further about life and the world in his writings. Thus, the Leela Lekhan movement was born in 1977, when Rai wrote an article titled Bhrantiharu ra Leela Lekhan Maatra in the popular literary magazine Ruprekha. This article is considered to be the manifesto of the theory, which proposes that reality is based upon perception. For Rai, a particular character is perceived in different ways by different people, and that is what lends the character beauty.
Rai wrote some stories based on Leela Lekhan and published an anthology of short stories titled Kathaputali Ko Man in 1989. He used this theory as a tool of criticism too. Criticising various works by other writers, he wrote a book called Artha Haruko Pachhiltira in 1994. Leela Lekhan became more vibrant in Nepali literature when Krishna Dharabasi wrote his acclaimed novel Saranarthi based on the theory. Later on, writers like Krishna Baral and Ratna Mani Nepal also followed in Rai’s footsteps. 
But Rai remains as humble as ever, and continues to reminisce and ruminate over the life he has lived. “At this age, when I look back at my life, I feel that I have passed these 84 years of my life as if in a single day.” And so, he continues to read eclectically and voraciously. As for his writing, he has recently submitted an anthology of short stories. “I haven’t written a novel after Aaja Ramita Chha, but I may start writing another at any point of time.”
It’s been a life well-lived for Indra Bahadur Rai: proponent of unique literary theories, literary critic, and master of the Nepali word. Yet, there are times when he feels he has grown old, “but only when I misspell the words.”
Posted on: 2011-02-26 10:37 (The Kathmandu Post)


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