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The Short Story in Nepali

Nepali literature is of enormous value to anyone who is interested in the culture and society of twentieth-century Nepal. Nor should it be forgotten that the world that Nepali literature describes is not confined to Nepal alone: at least 2 million Nepalis live in India. A recent volume of "Indian" Nepali stories contained works by authors from Darjeeling, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, and various other regions of Nepal's huge southern neighbor (Bharatiya Nepali Katha 1982). The following selections are dominated by stories from Nepal, but Indian Nepali literature has not been wholly ignored and is represented by the Darjeeling writers Shivkumar Rai and Indra Bahadur Rai.

Verse genres are still the strongest area of Nepali literature. In the first section of this book, I have attempted to demonstrate the richness and variety of twentieth-century Nepali poetry. The Nepali short story, a genre that began to adopt its present form only during the early 1930s, has also developed a surprisingly high degree of sophistication within a relatively short space of time, as I hope my selection shows. Modern Nepali stories offer insights into the workings of Nepali society that have long been the stuff of sociological theses: caste, agrarian relations, social change, the status of women, and so on. Such insights are more immediate than those offered by scholarly works and are conveyed by implication and assumption rather than analysis and exposition. These translations illuminate the nature of life in twentieth-century Nepal in a way it has never been illuminated before.

In its present form, the Nepali short story is only a half century old. The only antecedents it has within the comparatively young literary tradition of the Nepali language are narratives translated from Sanskrit such as Shaktivallabha Arjyal's rendering of the "Virataparva" chapter


of the Mahabharata epic, which dates from 1770, or the less esoteric Tale of Pinas (Pinasko Katha ) from 1815. Although Nepali literary scholars try to prove otherwise (see, for instance, M. Sharma 1978), it is clear that the short story genre has been adopted from Western literatures, probably via Hindi and Bengali, and that it is a product of the sweeping cultural and political changes that have occurred in Nepal since the turn of the century.

Several prototypes for the modern Nepali short story are to be found in the early issues of the state newspaper, the Gorkhapatra , established in 1901. Although stylistically unremarkable and largely plagiaristic, many of these stories were nevertheless set in recognizably contemporary contexts and therefore marked a significant departure from the didactic, moralistic, and miraculous tales of earlier Nepali fiction. This trend toward social realism accelerated and bore its first full fruit during the 1930s in the important Kathmandu journal Sharada . Several other periodical publications were also important in this process. The first truly original short story in Nepali is said to have appeared in Gorkhali in 1915 (D. Shreshtha 1982, 4), and by the time Gorkha Sansar (Gorkha World ) began publication in 1926, the crucial elements of originality, coherent plot structure, linguistic simplicity, and contemporary subject matter had begun to coalesce. Although published in Debra Dun, an Indian military town in the Himalaya, Gorkha Sansar was an important forum for progressive writers from Nepal who could not publish in their homeland because of the censorious attitudes of the Rana rulers. "Annapurna," a story by the Darjeeling lawyer Rupnarayan Singh, which appeared in Gorkha Sansar in 1927, is considered a landmark in the development of modern Nepali fiction (D. Shreshtha 1982, 4; K. Pradhan 1984, 146).

With an exactitude rare in such matters, it can be asserted that the history of the modern Nepali short story began in 1935 when Guruprasad Mainali's first story, "Naso" (The Ward), was published in Sharada . The first anthology of Nepali short stories appeared shortly afterward: this was the important Katha Kusum (Story Flower ), published by Darjeeling's Nepali Sahitya Sammelan in 1938 and now in its twelfth edition. Katha Kusum contained stories by Balkrishna Sama, Guruprasad Mainali, Pushkar Shamsher, and Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala.

Because the short story is a comparatively new phenomenon in Nepali, there is no scope or need for a detailed periodization of its history. There may be some merit, however, in attempting to assess the philosophical and literary influences at work in its development. Realism (yatharthavad ) is the fundamental quality for which every Nepali story writer strives, although definitions of realism have varied from time to time. The basic tradition of social realism can be traced back to Mainali: his stories owe


much to the influence of the great Hindi/Urdu writer "Premchand" (real name Dhanpat Rai, 1880-1936) and exhibit the same idealism and concern for the poor. Social realities were presented with an idealistic sheen, and few such stories lacked a moral or an improving message. This kind of story retains many exponents today: the redoubtable Bhimnidhi Tiwari, for instance, produced ten volumes of "Nepali social stories" (Nepali samajik kahani ). The typical features of stories in this genre are their sympathetic portrayals of poverty, opposition to superstition and ossified tradition, and the great attention they pay to the social status of women.

A logical extension of social realism are stories written to promulgate a particular political standpoint, usually Marxist, or to draw attention to a specific social issue. Such stories multiplied during the period of unprecedented freedom that followed the fall of the Ranas. Numerous stories by Ramesh Bikal are clear examples of this socialist realism.

As Nepal opened up during the 1950s, writers inevitably became familiar with the great figures of world literature and philosophy. Marx and Freud were obvious sources of political ideology and psychological insight, and many stories bore the stamp of Tolstoy, Sartre, Maupassant, and Tagore, among others. As a result, an element of psychological analysis became important in the Nepali story at a fairly early stage. Rather than presenting a simple narrative involving stereotypical characters whose motives and status remained unanalyzed, several Nepali writers began to investigate the mental processes of the unconscious and subconscious mind and to suggest that the old moral certainties could no longer remain unquestioned. The earliest examples of such innovative works are stories such as Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala's "The Colonel's Horse" (Karnelko Ghoda ), published in the late 1930s, in which a young woman who is married to an elderly colonel sublimates her sexual frustration in an infatuation with the colonel's stallion:

A few days later, the colonel said that he wanted to ride the horse, and he went with his wife to the stable. But the horse threatened to bite him whenever he tried to approach it. If the colonel's wife began to walk away, however, the horse would whinny in distress, and she would come back to stroke it. Then it would snort and stamp its hooves in appreciation.

With great difficulty, the colonel managed to mount, but the horse would not let him control it: it simply reared up and refused to budge. He was a skilled horseman, and so he did not fall off, but flew into a rage and began to beat it pitilessly with his whip. As soon as the first lash fell onto the horse's back, the colonel's wife cried out, "You cruel man!" But the horse still refused to move. The colonel had shut his eyes and was showering it with blows from his whip when it suddenly threw up its hind legs. Because he was busy whipping the beast, the colonel did not have


hold of the reins, and he fell head first to the ground. The colonel's wife was already at the horse's side, stroking and caressing it and ignoring her husband who lay nearby, covered in dirt. The horse's nostrils were wide with anger, and wet breath came panting from them. The horse had won: its enemy lay defeated on the ground.

The colonel's wife had no doubt about the horse's power: for her it was a matter of pride. She pressed her face fondly against its mane. She, too, had wanted to ride on its back, so she slipped her foot into a stirrup and climbed up. As she sat mounted on the horse with her husband lying on the ground below, she felt triumphant. Today she had a chance for revenge. Feeling an even greater love for the horse, she bent down with a look of supreme hatred to watch her husband licking the dust. Then she spurred the horse forward, and it skipped away as if it was bearing no more than a burden of flowers. (B. Koirala [1949] 1968, 41-42)

Like social realism, psychological realism has since become a standard feature of much Nepali fiction, and these three philosophical strands of Nepali fiction—social realism, socialist realism, and psychological realism—dominated the short story until about 1960. It was then. that a distinct reaction took place, as it did in poetry. Nepal's brief experiment with parliamentary democracy ended in 1960 when King Mahendra revoked the Constitution, and the literary atmosphere completely changed. The following decade saw the emergence of several literary movements, of which the most influential was the Tesro Ayam , which I have discussed in some detail in my introduction to the poetry of Bairaigi Kainla. The influence of this movement can be seen clearly in Indra Bahadur Rai's story "Maina's Mother Is Just Like Us" (Hami Jastai Mainaki Ama , 1964).

Several critics have argued that 1960 was the beginning of a "new age" in Nepali fiction.[1] It is certainly true that the character and tone of the Nepali short story have changed markedly since then. Several innovative writers began to publish their stories between 1960 and 1962: Kumar Gyavali, Prema Shah, and Parashu Pradhan are obvious examples, and the influence of Dhruba Chandra Gautam was formative. But the clearest signs of a radical change in Nepali fiction at this time are to be found in the works of Indra Bahadur Rai, his ayameli colleague ìIshwar Ballabh, and Shankar Lamichhane. Lamichhatne's "The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Setting Sun" (Ardhamudit Nayan ra Dubna Lageko Gham ) made an enormous impact on Nepali fiction when it was published in 1962. This was due in part to its unorthodox structure and partly to its theme, which turned away from the internal concerns of the writer's own society to consider a foreigner's perception of Nepal.


A number of other movements were instigated during the 1960s, but none was as significant as the Tesro Ayam . Parijat formed Ralpha, a group heavily influenced by existentialist and nihilistic thought with progressive social attitudes and a belief in the importance of the individual rather than the community. Parijat herself proved to be the only writer of note to emerge from this group. In later years, groups of young writers attempted to generate change with initiatives such as the Aswikrit Jamat (Unaccepted Generation), a heavily politicized movement, in 1968; the Amlekh (Free) movement in 1969; and the Boot Polish group in 1974. Each of these has had some effect, but none had such clear-cut aims as the Tesro Ayam . In practice, the writers of the new age have simply taken the old realism further and have stripped their literature of the last vestiges of sentimentalism and traditional belief. In their short stories, young writers have begun to make effective use of satire to oppose the limitation of individual freedom and to attack the traditional pillars of society, paying special attention to the conflict in values that rapid change is bringing to their lives.

Themes of Nepali Short Stories

It is of course impossible to classify a body of fictional literature under discrete and exclusive subject headings. It is possible, however, to define a number of themes that recur with regularity in the Nepali short story. The following discussion is not a thorough analysis of the whole of Nepall fiction; my aim is to identify a number of themes that occurred with striking regularity in the stories I read during this research. The sample is therefore inevitably limited, but it is far from random because I have concentrated on texts that are most frequently cited in works of Nepali criticism and analysis.

Village Life

More than 90 percent of Nepal's total population lives in rural areas, and there are few large urban centers in the hill regions that are the natural home of the Nepali language. Indeed, if a story is set in an urban environment, it is usually that of the Kathmandu Valley. It is not surprising that rural life is the backdrop to about one-third of these stories; although they may live in Kathmandu, many authors grew up in a village environment. A distinction can be drawn nevertheless between stories that are self-consciously "village stories," written either to paint an authentic picture of rural society or to point out some undesirable feature of it, and stories in which events simply happen to take place in a village context.

Village stories were rather more common during the early phase of


the short story's development in Nepali. This can be accounted for, at least, in part, by the popularity and influence of the Hindi/Urdu writer "Premchand." Almost all of Premchand's multitudinous stories are set in the villages of northern India. Despite his somewhat idealized, Gandhian view of rural life, he was often concerned about depicting the plight of the poor, oppressed by hypocritical priests and exploited by landowners and moneylenders. More than an echo of Premchand's fiction can be found in early village stories in Nepali.

"A Blaze in the Straw" (1935) is the most celebrated of Mainali's ever-popular stories and is the archetypal village story. The original title, "Paralko Ago," is rendered literally here, although there was a temptation to entitle it "A Storm in a Teacup." The concept behind the title is of a blazing row that flares up fiercely but burns out very quickly. The main purpose of the story is to paint a picture of a relationship between a man and his wife that is authentic and amusing and that ultimately imparts a kind of moral lesson. In this, Mainali is undoubtedly influenced by Premchand, especially in the use of proverbs and rural colloquialisms (for a selection of Premchand's stories in translation, see Premchand 1988). "A Blaze in the Straw" has now entered the folklore of Nepali-speaking communities; it is acted out in school dramas throughout the region and was recently made into a feature film, complete with Bombay-style musical interludes.

Shivkumar Rai is a noted writer from Darjeeling who developed this tradition further. Rai's particular talent was to write simple but evocative tales based on his observation of characters in the everyday life of the Darjeeling area, and in this he closely resembled Mainali. "The Price of Fish" (Machako Mol , 1945?) a melodramatic tale of the simple ambitions and untimely demise of a local fisherman, is one of the best-known. stories of Indian Nepali literature:

He cast his net into the same muddy pool. Again, the fish were mesmerized by the light from his torch. Twenty or thirty fell into his net. Rané found fish wherever he looked, in every basket he pulled out from around the dam. He felt neither hungry nor tired. His hopes grew wings, and he did not care how hard he worked.

Black clouds rose up in the west; a flood of water thundered down from the peaks. Little did Rané know that Yamaraj[2] was coming, wading down with the torrent. He heard the waters dashing against the rocks, and he began to pick up his fish from the beach. But the river engulfed him and swept him away. Rané was dismayed by the loss of the fish he had labored so hard to catch; he did not realize that he was being borne away, too. As the flood washed him down river, he cried, "Is it so high then, the price of fish?" But before tie could complete the sentence he was lost in the waters. (Jhyalbata 1949, 236)


Ramesh Bikal's "A Splendid Buffalo" (Lahuri Bhainsi , c. 1962) is an example of a story in which the nature of rural life and society is the central topic. This is probably the most cynical depiction of village Nepal ever written and is justly famous. Its theme is reminiscent of that of Premchand's best-loved novel, The Gift of a Cow (Godan ), first published in 1936. Lukhuré, a poor farmer or perhaps even a bonded laborer, has bought himself a buffalo—a symbol of wealth and prestige in the village. His is no ordinary buffalo, either, but a lahuri bhainsi , an animal of high breeding. The dware , a powerful local official, cannot tolerate this; it is a blow to his own status. So he sets about depriving the gullible Lukhuré of his most cherished possession. Bikal conveys the atmosphere of village intrigue with consummate artistry: the dialogues are as authentic as Mainali's, but the theme of an official's corruption and the sycophancy of his lackeys sets this story apart from earlier, more idealized descriptions of rural life.

"Will He Ever Return?" (Tyo Pheri Pharkala 1940) is set in a village on the main thoroughfare between Kathmandu and India before the modern highways were built and is Bhavani Bhikshu's simplest and most popular story but possibly his most formulaic. It contains passages that are notable for their economy and effectiveness, but some parts of the narrative may strike a Western reader as overextended. It should be remembered that the readership for whom Bhikshu was writing fifty years ago liked nothing more than a tearful melodrama. A young woman, Sani, falls in love with a traveler when he stays for one night at her mother's inn, and she spends the rest of her life waiting for him to return. If the story's plot has a weakness, it is the unlikeliness of Sani falling in love with the traveler to the extent that she does: his attractions are not evident in Bhikshu's descriptions of him. Nevertheless, that a poor village girl should become infatuated with a high-caste sophisticate is to some extent credible. The most interesting aspects of the story, perhaps, are Bhikshu's ruminations on the nature of women and the unexpected psychological subtlety of his ending.

More recently, several writers have attempted to describe the stark contrast between life in the village and life in the town. Indra Bahadur Rai's "The Storm Raged All Night Long" (Ratbhari Huri Chalyo , 1960) is a straightforward narrative with little of the abstractedness of its author's later works. The story, which has not been included in this selection for reasons of space, tells of a man and his wife, known to us only as Kale's mother and Kale's father, a common form of reference in the Darjeeling district, who have moved out of the town to make a living as farmers. The wife goes into Darjeeling every morning to deliver the milk from their two cows to various households. After a violent summer storm, she decides that the hardship of life in the hills is not worth the slender reward it brings. After several encounters in the town next day, however,


she changes her mind; she finds the townspeople arrogant and petty, particularly one woman who died during the night while trying to save her cat:

She arrived on B. B. Gurung's verandah. The house had been full of people since early morning. A few stood outside, talking under umbrellas. Kale's mother went around to the back to deliver the milk. She could not discover what was going on. Something must have happened—either to the husband or to the wife; there were no children. The fat wife used to come and go all day, her wooden sandals clacking. She went all over town carrying her white cat, Nini. The husband owned a dry-cleaning shop up on Laden-la Road.

"What's happened? Why are all these people here?" she asked the woman who came from next door to collect the milk.

"Nini's mother bad a fall last night. She's unconscious."

"Where did she fall?"

She heard that the cat had been outside in the rain when the door was locked in the night. It must have mewed and mewed, but nobody heard it above the din of the storm. When the rain eased a little, there had been a search for the cat. They had looked outside and called and called, but the cat had not come. Nini's mother's sandal had slipped as she was going down the hill to look for the cat, and she had fallen down onto the road. A doctor had been called urgently, but he hadn't come at once. The woman was still unconscious.

"It's all the fault of that stupid cat!" said Kale's mother quietly. "That's it there, isn't it?"

A white cat sat warming itself and licking its fur by the fireplace. Kale's mother couldn't just walk away. She sat down on the doorstep, and soon the husband came out in tears. The woman had died.

"How astonishing! What a shame!" Kale's mother picked up her bag and the churn. (Rai 1960, 8-9)

Several later stories view the village from the perspective of the town. Dhruba Chandra Gautam's satire in "The Fire" (Aglagi , 1976) is aimed at the corruption of government officials and the ludicrous inappropriateness of projects devised at the "center" when they are translated into the realities of village society. In "A Small Fish Squats by the Dhobi Khola" (Sano Machha Dhobi Kholako Bagarma , 1983), Manu Brajaki mentions that his character Ganesh has been punished for accepting bribes by being transferred back to Kathmandu, where there are fewer opportunities for corruption.

Life in Kathmandu and Darjeeling

As I have mentioned, Kathmandu is the city to which Nepali writers most commonly refer, and the picture they paint of life there is generally a negative one. Ramesh Bikal's somewhat overextended "The Song of


New Road" (Naya Sadakko Git , 1960) describes a blind beggar with his pitch on a New Road pavement and is clearly meant to point out a contradiction between the grinding poverty of the majority of Nepalis and the veneer of prosperity apparent on New Road. New Road is the main thoroughfare of Kathmandu's busy commercial center, and with its supermarket, import shops, and tourists, it symbolizes for many writers the new age into which Nepal is passing. Bikal also paints a convincing picture of official attitudes to the urban poor, and his concluding passage contains a cynical view of democracy in Nepal:

Sani picked up the stick that lay nearby. The blind man stood up and moved forward, leaning on Sani's shoulder. "How old are your skirt and blouse, Sani?"

"About two years old, I suppose. Why do you ask?" Sani was puzzled by this unexpected question about her clothes.

"Two years is a long time. Come on, let's find ourselves a corner to sit in."

Sani led the blind man down the edge of the main road. A jeep came up behind them, and a loudspeaker blared something about democracy ... citizens ... a friendly nation ... a guest ... welcoming with open hearts, and so on. The sound of the loudspeaker filled the air; then it gradually faded away into the distance.

"What is it, Sani?" asked the blind man. Then he turned to a shopkeeper and asked him, "What is it, shopkeeper?"

"They're telling you to send your wife to the Women's Assembly to give a lecture. She should speak about democracy," said the shopkeeper. The air was suddenly filled with the sound of many people laughing.

"Oh, demcarcy![3] How long is it now since demcarcy happened? We've had that for years, for years," muttered the blind man, and then his voice joined the modern culture of New Road. It mingled with the noise of all its new songs. (Bikal [1962] 1977, 44-45)

Parashu Pradhan's "A Relationship" (Sambandha , 1970) paints an equally grim picture of the wretched lot of the urban poor. For centuries, the people of the hill regions around Kathmandu have earned a living from portering goods and produce in and out of the capital. Many of them will sleep for a night on the covered platforms that stand in several street intersections. This is where Gyancha, a Newar street cleaner, sees Ganga lying. Ganga is a woman with whom Gyancha once had a fleeting relationship, the precise nature of which is not disclosed. But soon he discovers that she is dead and that no one will accept responsibility for her body.

Tarini Prasad Koira1a's "It Depends upon Your Point of View" (Drishtikon , 1964) satirizes the moral hypocrisy of the professional upper strata


of Kathmandu society. With uncharacteristic indiscretion, Professor Niranjan has had a sexual encounter with a shopkeeper's daughter, a girl of low breeding and little education who is, above all, a Newar and therefore somewhat despised. The story describes his guilt and remorse the next morning.

Later stories adopt a more caustic tone. Stories describing the alienation of the urban young are a new phenomenon in Nepali fiction. Manu Brajaki's "A Small Fish Squats by the Dhobi Khola" is a sardonically humorous account of the plight of a "small fish," a petty official in government service who cannot gain access to the lavatory at his lodgings and therefore has to squat beside the Dhobi Khola, a river in Kathmandu, to open his bowels each morning. The small fish has been transferred to the capital from a post in a rural area after being caught accepting bribes. The point of the title is that the really "big fish," his senior colleagues, were equally corrupt but escaped all retribution because of their status. As the urban centers of the Kathmandu Valley continue to grow, it seems likely that the alienation that is typical of much modern Hindi fiction will begin to enter Nepali fiction, too.

Darjeeling, which in a sense has a Nepali literature all of its own, is the setting for most of its own writers' stories. Rai's famous story "Maina's Mother Is Just Like Us" (Hami Jastai Mainaki Ama , 1964) was strongly influenced by the tenets of the Tesro Ayam movement and is the most abstracted composition translated here. It expresses the historical and cultural consciousness of the poorer sections of Darjeeling's émigré Nepall community: farmers and workers driven out of eastern Nepal during the past few centuries by landlessness, poverty, and unemployment. The viewpoint is that of ever-present time, and Darjeeling's past, present, and future are seen through the eyes of a vegetable seller we know only as "Maina's mother." "The woman selling vegetables in the market square is seen even before that market was constructed," writes Kumar Pradhan, "extending to the time of her mother's life and beyond to a remote nomadic past that is contained in the future" (1984, 159).

The Lives of Women

Five of these stories describe the plight of women in a male-dominated society and reflect a very widespread preoccupation with this particular issue within Nepali fiction as a whole. In many of his stories, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala attacked the tradition that permits elderly men of high caste and social status to take much younger wives or second wives. Koirala and Prema Shah both address the subject of widowhood in Hindu society. Koirala's "To the Lowlands" (Madhestira , 19407) is an early example of a Nepali short story that appears to have borrowed from Western literature. The story bears a striking resemblance to Maupas-


sant's "Boule de Suif" (The Ball of Fat). Both Koirala's and Maupassant's stories describe a group of people who have fallen on hard times and been thrown together and the way in which a woman from the fringes of society is taken advantage of during a time of common adversity, then shunned when things look brighter. In Maupassant's story, the refugees are escaping a Prussian invasion and the woman is a prostitute, whereas in Koirala's they are simply landless, unemployed villagers and the woman is a widow. Widows, who may never remarry, occupy an unenviable position in traditional Hindu society. It cannot be proved that Koirala consciously borrowed from Maupassant here, but his well-documented knowledge of world literatures makes it seem highly likely. "To the Lowlands," however, is a deceptively subtle and complex story and amounts to far more than a piece of literary imitation. In just a few pages, it comments on the sorry plight of the landless poor, the depopulation of the hills, the low social status of widows, and the exploitation of women by men.

Several noted women writers appeared in Nepali literary circles during the 1960s and gave the literature a more rounded perspective. Prema Shah's "A Husband" (Logné , 1966) introduces us to another widow, Nirmala, and describes her feelings and somewhat neurotic actions as she helps her younger sister prepare to meet her prospective husband. Parijat is perhaps better known as a novelist and poet, but she has also written several significant short stories. Like her poems, these often seem personal and subjective. It seems to me that many of her female characters seem to be based upon herself (although she denies this) or are drawn to challenge assumptions about, and stereotypes of, Nepali women:

My house is on the main road; my room faces the street. Opening the window wide and watching the pleasant bustle going on outside has become a major part of my daily routine. I often watch from here, and I know all the passers-by. Office workers, students, sellers of bread and milk—I recognize them all. Let me tell you, this window is my pastime, and it leaves me with no free time at all. This is not to say that I have spent my whole life there. Once it was considered a sin even to peep outside, let alone to sit by an open window. Then came the revolution in 1950, my father died, I progressed in my education, and gradually times have changed. Now my relationship with the window is intimate. Since I completed my education and began work in a morning school, there has been no one to prevent me from sitting here and looking out. (in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979, 224)

Bhavani Bhikshu's "Will He Ever Return?" and Daulat Bikram Bishtha's "The Andhi Khola" (Andhi Khola ) both describe the yearning of village girls whose loved ones have gone away; both are largely works of sentiment. Bijay Malla's "Sunglasses" (Kalo Chashma , 1960) presents


a strong contrast to such stories. By 1960, Nepali writers had produced a plethora of stories examining the nature of marriage and of relationships between men and women. Most of these were written from a reformist standpoint, with little moral ambiguity. In this story, however, Malla describes how a man is faced with a crisis in his marriage but reacts in an unexpected and unorthodox fashion.

Malla's brother, Govind Bahadur Gothale, wrote a number of very long stories on similar themes for which room could not be found here. The most famous is "What Are You Doing, Shobha?" (Ke Gareki Shobha? 1959) in which Gothale examines the mind of a widow who has become a prostitute. When first published, this story was innovatory for the unusual depth of its psychological analysis and its frank depiction of the hypocrisy inherent in Nepali society's attitude to prostitution. Shobha is clearly a high-caste woman who has fallen into prostitution after being shunned by her family for a marriage of which they disapproved, a marriage that brought her unhappiness and, eventually, widowhood. The story focuses on the mental conflict Shobha experiences when she learns that her mother is dying. A second innovation was the use of "flashbacks" to inform the reader of' the events in Shobha's life that had led to her fall from grace:

Dhanmaya had come downstairs. "Kanchi, where were you? What has happened to Shobha's mother?"

"I'm going," said Shobha.

"They've taken her to the river, at Pashupati," said Kanchi.

Shobha was on her way out of the door. "Where are you going?" asked Dhanmaya.

But she was already on her way down. Dhanmaya leapt up and ran to the stairs. "Don't go," she said, trying to catch her hand. "Really, it's late. And it's a long way. ... "She stopped. Shobha was already at the foot of the stairs. Dhanmaya shouted to her again, "Listen to what I say. Don't go. You'll be insulted. They won't let you near."

She hurried across the ground floor but stopped abruptly at the door and peered out at the dark street. Something moved on its surface. A shaft of light spread down the street as a window opened at the top of the house, and Dhanmaya shouted, "Shobha, come back! Listen to me! Come back here!"

Shobha stood still, unable to go out onto the street. She saw her mother, already half-immersed in water. She saw herself approaching. Her mother looked away. Someone shook her—was it her sister-in-law?—and said, "Don't show your face here; don't send your mother to hell." Her father just hung his head. Shobha slowly moved away. She did not even have the right to mourn. (Gothale 1959, 91-92)

Poshan Pande's "A Sweater for Brother-in-law" (Bhinajyuko Svetar , 1964?) investigates a woman's feelings of insecurity in her marriage and


is a further example of a male Nepali writer examining feminine psychology. The surprise ending of the story is one of Pande's trademarks.

Finally, in "A Living Death" (Mritajivi , 1982) Kishor Pahadi presents us with a story that is perhaps the most damning indictment of the status of women in Nepal's Hindu society. The prevalence of stories about downtrodden women in Nepali literature is one of its more interesting features, particularly as only one of these authors is a woman.

Caste, Class, and Ethnic Relations

The relations between castes in a Hindu society are somewhere in the background of most of these stories, but they form the principal theme of none. A Nepali reader will automatically understand that Mainali's Juthe the tailor leads a happy life despite belonging to a lower caste than the hapless Chame. Similarly, the simple honest character of Pushkar Shamsher's Rané is communicated as much by the fact that he is a Gurung as it is by Shamsher's portrayal of him. Rané is the central character of "Circumstantial Evidence" (Pariband 1938), the story of a wrongful conviction. This is one of the most famous Nepali stories and certainly Shamsher's best; because an English translation of the main part of this story is already in print, however, there seemed no need to include it here (Riccardi 1988, 4-7). The characterizations (particularly of Rané and the magistrate Lamichhane) are unusually strong and the dialogue unusually natural for a story of the period. Although not intended to make any comment on the society of its day, the story is interesting for its portrayal of Rané's naive honesty and for the hints it gives of the way in which justice was dispensed in the days of the Ranas. The following passage comes toward the end of the story, as the magistrate explains to Rané that he is sure to be found guilty:

"Then you, an honest, er, Gurung; you got blood on your clothes while you were giving him water. Maybe you'd have washed it off if you'd noticed it. You went to report what had happened but as you thought it over, you thought, 'Oh no! Now they'll arrest me!' Then, er, you decided to slip away, without a thought for the consequences. Then when you were arrested, your heart beat like a drum, and you started to admit and deny all sorts of things, I don't really know why.

"If you're really innocent, then perhaps this is how it happened. But what can you do? You're damned by the circumstantial evidence! And moreover, to get arrested beside the Rapti River just as you were getting away, to cover up what happened, and then when everything else was proved to deny only the murder itself—what are you left with now? Alright, if you hadn't run off, and if you'd told the truth from the start when the West number 2 court people came to sort it out, then perhaps there'd have been some hope. But now, er, now that the matter's been referred here there's not much chance at all." . . .


Rané stared at the magistrate without reacting: the effect these words had had upon him was not clear from the expression on his face. His forehead was soaked in sweat. Perhaps it was because he was straining hard to understand, or perhaps it was because each and every syllable had sunk deep into his heart and his tears could not find a way out of his dry eyes. His lips moved once or twice. Perhaps he was mouthing the words "circumstantial evidence." (D. Shreshtha 1987, 8-9)

The names of characters in every Nepali story implicitly reveal the caste or ethnic group to which they belong and thereby indicate their status relative to other characters. Rather more explicit reference is; made to rank and class: the fact that Gothale's prostitute, Shobha, is the daughter of a subba , a government official, is of great relevance to his story. Many stories by Ramesh Bikal revolve around the differences between their principal characters' status and those of their oppressors.

The Gurkha Soldier

The Gurkha soldier, or lahure , as he is called in Nepali, makes several appearances here. Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala's "The Soldier" (Sipahi , 1938?) is the most carefully considered portrait of a Gurkha soldier ever written in Nepali. The main characteristic Koirala attributes to the soldier is his complete freedom from responsibility and social convention. This, Koirala implies, is something to be envied. But is it to be admired?

Rai's "The Murderer" (Jyanamara ?) is another portrayal of an ex-soldier that questions the motives and mentality of its central character. The basic idea behind Rai's story seems to owe much to Pushkar Shamsher's "Pariband," which I have discussed previously. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, an ex-Gurkha is convicted of the murder of his young wife's lover. Here, the coincidence is between the word for "hear" (bhalu ) and the name of the murderer's victim. Despite this rather clumsy device, the story has many interesting qualities: the old Gurkha's character is well portrayed, and the way in which he turns out to be the only man in the village who knows nothing about his young wife's affair is a comment on such marriages. But the most telling passage comes at the end of the story, when Ujirman, the central character, admits to the murder he has not committed: is it that he has a sense of guilt for his past as a soldier in a foreign army, or is it that he simply wishes that he had indeed killed the policeman?

Bishtha's "The Andhi Khola" addresses the subject of Nepalis leaving their homeland to serve in foreign armies as Gurkhas. The Andhi Khola is a. river valley in the Gurung region of central Nepal from which many Gurkhas emanate. Bishtha's main intention is clearly to paint a touching picture of a faithful wife waiting for her husband to return, but he also touches on the motives such men have for joining foreign armies.


Nepali poets have on many occasions attacked the men who leave Nepal to serve in foreign armies, criticizing them for a lack of patriotism (Hurt 1989a). In the short story, however, the approach has been milder; the very nature of the genre means that it lends itself better to measured descriptions than to polemic.

The Rana Regime

The century of Rana rule is etched on the minds of Nepalis as a period during which Nepal's progress and development was deliberately retarded. It is remembered as a time of exploitation, censorship, and oppression, but there is also a kind of nostalgia for the ostentatious grandeur of the age. Several of Bhavani Bhikshu's stories are set in this time: one, Maiyasaheb (The Lady Maiya, 1956), an exceedingly long-winded account of an affair between a Rana princess and a commoner, is nevertheless interesting for the wealth of social detail it contains. This book contains two stories that reflect two different aspects of this period of Nepal's history. Bhikshu's "Maujang Babusaheb's Coat" (Maujang Babusahebko Kot , 1960) is a masterly analysis of the attitudes and beliefs of a senior Rana in the years after the fall of his family's regime, in which an old coat comes to symbolize the glories of his past.

During the latter years of the autocratic Rana government, many intellectuals and activists spent periods in jail, including most of Nepal's leading writers. Bijay Malla's "The Prisoner and the Dove" (Pareva ra Kaidi , 1977) recounts a disturbing incident from prison life based on Malla's own experiences.

Views on Tourism

Finally, this anthology includes two stories that refer to the mass tourism that has become a mainstay of Nepal's economy since the late 1960s. Lamichhane's story "The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Setting Sun" (Ardhamudit Nayan ra Dubna Lageko Gham , 1962) is regarded as a classic of modern Nepali literature. Since foreign tourists began to visit Nepal during the 1950s, the popular Western view of Nepal has been of an idyllic Shangri-la. This famous story is composed of two monologues. The first comes from a tourist who has achieved a long-held ambition to visit Nepal. He brings with him his notions of the culture and history of Nepal, acquired from books published in the West. Before dinner in his hotel, he treats his guide to a rapturous description of all he hopes to see. Next day, the guide shows the tourist an aspect of contemporary Nepal of which he is unaware by taking him to visit a farmer whose son is completely paralyzed.

Parashu Pradhan's "The Telegram on the Table" (Tebalmathiko Tyas Akashvani , 1975) has the tourist industry as its background. From Pradhan's


description of Krishna, a tourist guide in Kathmandu, it is clear that he is one of a new generation of Nepalis who has been so influenced by Western culture and his contact with tourists that his only desire is to escape from his native environment. A telegram brings bad news and forces him to face up to reality.

The Nepali poet Lakshmiprasad Devkota once wrote that the short story was like a glimpse of life seen through a small window, thus inspiring the title of an early anthology, Jhyalbata (From a Window). It is true that the genre reflects and portrays various aspects of life in Nepal and the adjoining regions of Himalayan India; hitherto, the Nepali short story has lacked the sophistication of fiction in other more developed South Asian literatures, but this genre is rapidly gaining ground. The changes and developments that have taken place during the brief history of the short story in Nepali are an important barometer of the cultural and intellectual climate of these societies, and it is my hope that this brief glimpse of Nepali fiction will inspire further, more detailed studies. In the field of Nepali literature there is ample scope for this, especially as my discussions in these pages have barely touched upon the existence of a surprisingly rich dramatic tradition and a growing number of novels.

The following selection is presented in approximate order of first publication, and brief biographical notes are given for each author. In general I feel that the stories demonstrate the authors' standpoints themselves and that the need for detailed analyses of individual literary philosophies is less pressing here than in Part One. The publication dates of several stories have not been easy to ascertain because many are drawn from anthologies that do not provide such information. In such cases, I admit to having made: educated guesses on the basis of their language and style and the birth dates of their authors.


Guruprasad Mainali (1900-1971)

Mainali was one of the first generation of writers to develop the modern short story in Nepali. Little detailed biographical information on him is available, but it is known that he was born in Kanpur village, Kabre Palanchok district, and spent most of his life in government service. Some sources suggest that he was a high court judge. Mainali left his birthplace for a village near Nuwakot when young and spent his last years in Khairhani, near Chitwan. In the interim, he occupied a large house in the Thamel quarter of Kathmandu.

Mainali's first stories appeared in Sharada between 1935 and 1938. Only eleven have been published in all, but each is now considered a classic. His most famous stories are "The Ward" (Naso ), in which an elderly Brahman who is without children is obliged to take a second wife in order to clear his way to paradise (translated in Riccardi 1988); "A Blaze in the Straw" (Paralko Ago ), translated here; and "The Martyr" (Shahid ), a story about a man who lays down his life in the struggle against the Ranas. All of Mainali's stories were published in a collection entitled Naso in 1969.

A Blaze in the Straw (Paralko Ago)

Chame's wife Gaunthali had a very sharp tongue. Even when he was civil to her, she'd invariably slant the issue and bring up something to fight about. Every few days man and wife would quarrel.

One evening, Chame came home from his ploughing to find that Gaunthali had locked up the house and gone to the village to watch a wedding. After a whole day of ploughing, he was tired and hungry. Just as he was putting away the yoke and plough and tying up the ox, Gaun-


thali came down the hill. When he saw her, Chame flared up in anger. The fire hadn't even been lit yet, let alone a meal prepared! Hurriedly, Gaunthali unbolted the door and rushed off to fetch water. Chame kindled a fire in the hearth and filled his pipe with tobacco.

He sat smoking on the doorstep like a gathering storm cloud. Gaunthali came back carrying the waterpot on her hip. She was just about to enter the house when Chame said, "This old widow's spent the whole day making eyes at the men, and still she's putting on airs!" and he gave her a kick. Gaunthali staggered and fell in the doorway. The pot smashed, splashing water across the threshold. She was picking up the pieces and throwing them out into the yard when Chame yelled, "Don't stay another second in my house! Get out and go where you will!" and he dragged her out by her pigtail and threw her into) the yard.

Gaunthali had been a little to blame, and so she held her peace even when he kicked her. But when he grabbed her by her hair and threw her out, she let fly, "Take your leprous hands off me! My wretched parents in their stupidity have handed me over to a butcher! It would be better to drown than to be the wife of such a destitute corpse!"[1]

"This old widow must think her father"s very rich! If he didn't do the ploughing for all the other villagers, he'd never get a bite to eat! And then she brags about her family!" and he kicked her again. Gaunthali wailed at the top of her voice.

All the village children had come up onto the embankment to see the show. "Hey, you corpses, what show is going on here for you all to come and watch?" Chame picked up a stick and chased after them, but the children ran up the hill, laughing.

Gaunthali was weeping, but Chame just spread out a rush mat and went to sleep on the verandah.

The next morning, Chame took the ploughing ox off to the paddy field with an empty stomach. When he came home in the evening, Gaunthali had gone. The neighbors told him that she had packed up her clothes and gone off to her parents' home.

The buffalo was still in the yard and when it saw Chame it bellowed. He gave it fodder and untied the calf; then he fetched a pail and sat clown to milk it. First, it gave a few measures of milk, but then it kicked Chame and skipped away. Chame fell backward into some dung and the pail fell three feet away. His trousers and waistcoat were covered with dung. On the wall there was a stout stick, which he snatched up in his hand, but after a couple of blows from that, the buffalo broke its tether anti leapt off into Kokalé's maize field Chame tried to tempt it away,


but the buffalo jumped from one side to the other in terror. Soon the newly hoed maize field was flattened to straw. Koka1é's mother cursed Chaime from the courtyard wall,

"Chame, may you become a barren corpse! A corpse that not even cholera can carry off! Yesterday you beat your wife, and today you beat your buffalo and destroy somebody else's income for the year! I've never seen such a temper! Look at this wretched serf's bravery! Last year, Dhanvire laid you flat on your back with just one blow, and there you lay for a whole year, saying how brave you were! It may be alright to wallop a stranger, but why beat your wife or a dumb animal tied to a post? As soon as the evening comes around, you're causing some trouble or other, and the whole village is in an uproar!"

There was a wedding feast at Dhanvire's house. All the village youths were blind drunk on the beer. Koka1é had dressed himself up in women's clothing, and he was beating a drum and dancing.'[2] All the others had joined in with him, singing and clapping their hands. Just then, his sister arrived and told him about his maize field.

Kokalé ran off to the maize field in his petticoat. When the buffalo saw his attire, it stuck its tail in the air and leaped around even more. Koka1é was furious when he saw the flattened maize; the few remaining heads were just being crushed as he slapped Chame twice across the face. Poor Chame said nothing. Eventually it took four or five men half the night to chase the buffalo away.

Next morning, Chame was on his way back from the spring with the water pot on his shoulder when Juthe the tailor's[3] " wife came down the hill. Juthe the tailor and Chame were the best of friends. He called Juthe's wife "sister-in-law." When she saw Chame carrying water, she said, "Oh, how bad it looks when a man fetches water!"

"Well, what choice do I have? I packed the wretch off to her mother's, so if I don't do it, who will?"

"If you beat her blindly, what choice did she have?"

"She's got a tongue like a razor. What can I do but beat her?"

"It's true, she is a bit cheeky, but just a mild beating would be enough."

"Oh, be quiet! I remember Juthe giving you a proper thrashing last Dasain! Well, did you answer him back?"

"Oh! Beat me once, you say! We're devoted now, but there was a time when never a day would go by without a thrashing! In the evenings he'd come back from the Tibetan village where he'd been drinking beer and beat me on some pretext or another... and then on festival days ....


After a few rainy days my body still aches from it! But even after all these years I don't think I've ever answered him back."

"That's all very well. Do you mean that ! made her cheeky by beating her? If she'd been as even-tempered as you, I'd have kept and cherished her as if she was a goddess!"

"That's as may be, but no woman need stick with a fool. How much longer are you going to keep on fetching your own water? Go tomorrow and bring her back."

"If she comes to her senses, well, the house is still here for her. But I'd sooner be a pode than go and get her!"

With his waistcoat over his half-sleeved shirt and lopsided Nepalese trousers, with his black cap gleaming with dirt and a vermilion tika[4] between his eyebrows, with his waterpot on his shoulder and his moustache set firm, Chame cut a dark and grimy figure.

One morning, Chame was sitting on his verandah smoking from the bamboo hookah when down the hill canoe Juthe the tailor. First came Juthe, carrying his son. Behind him came his wife with a small bundle of clothes tucked under her arm. When he saw Chame, Juthe laughed and called out.

"How are things, my lad?"

"Oh, not so bad, my brother!"

"You've sent your wife packing; now sit and enjoy yourself!"

Juthe and his wife had a very loving relationship. Whenever he went down to the village to do his sewing, Juthe would take his wife along. On their way, man and wife would discuss the joys and sorrows of the household, and then they'd chat on the way back, too. In the evening, Juthe would set the lamp up on its shelf and read some verses from the Virataparva.[5] His wife would listen as she washed up the pots. If Juthe ever fell ill, his wife would seek out the shamans and healers in the village. Sometimes, on their way to do some tailoring for the Bishtas,[6] Juthe would joke with his wife or stretch his neck and roll his .eyes at other passers-by. His wife would giggle and turn aside, saying, "You may be getting old now, but you still know how to joke!"

Juthe was very religious, too. First thing in the morning, he'd bathe in the spring. Then he would anoint himself with ceremonial ashes by the place where the women dried their clothes and read out a verse such


as, "Taking a form like that of the lightning, he flew in a flash to the sky.[7]

Chame was sad as he compared Juthe's home life to his own. At Juthe's house they would have finished their evening meal and would be reading from the Virataparva, but at his house there would be shouting and yelling. Juthe and his wife had such affection for one another. They walked along, chatting about all sorts of things. But Chame's wife had quarrelled with him and run off home. It was a long time since their wedding, but he'd never known her to have had a pleasant word to say to him. And now his one and only buffalo wouldn't let him go near it. Off she'd gone to her mother's, leaving even the buffalo accustomed to only one person's hand! And then the buffalo had caused him to get his face slapped by Kokalé! He'd push the damned creature over a cliff if it wasn't for the moneylender, who'd come chasing him. If he didn't do the chores, he'd go hungry. It would have been better to have smothered himself in ashes and wandered off as a mendicant than to pass such a rotten life! But what would he do as a jogi? You have to go from house to house without making the dogs bark, or else you don't get fed! Anyway, people nowadays would just ridicule a sleek, fat, turbanned jogi , they'd say, "He's only become a jogi because it was too much trouble for him to hoe his fields!"[8]

Living in the wayside inns would be fine... unless he fell ill, in which case there would be no one to offer him even a drop of water! Whether people call out "Hail Narayan![9] or not, the jogi calls it out himself and wanders from barnyard to barnyard in his ashes. This just seems a little cooler to a man who is being burned by the heat of worldly affairs when he views it from a distance!

During the first week after his wife's departure, Chame would snap at the very mention of her name. But as time went by, life began to seem empty. He thought to himself, "She may have been cheeky, but she was a lively girl. When she put her mind to it, she'd gather enough fodder to fill the buffalo to the brim. Every morning and evening she'd cook me something, but now that she's gone I've only cooked once or twice. Otherwise, I just get by on roasted barley. When she was here the buffalo gave milk regularly. She milked it herself. But now it's wary and timid. Everyone's telling me to go and fetch her. Juthe's wife says the same.


She may or may not come of her own accord; but I'll have to go and get her some day."

The next day, after his morning meal, he prepared to go to his in-laws'. He took out his best clothes and put them on. Then he saw [hat Gaunthali must have put some tobacco on top of his hat, for there was a stain there, and it was all split and torn, too! Chame was irate.

"Just look at the way that old widow carries on!" he fumed. "See how she treats the things she receives! It's high time she learned some manners! Perhaps if her father or grandfather had worn proper felt hats she'd have learnt, but her father walks about in a homespun hat and a nettle cloth cloak, so how could his daughter have been brought up properly? 'A Brahman who has never eaten a mushroom can never know its flavor.'"[10]

He quickly brushed off his hat and set it on his head. He had no other waistcoat, so he put the same one on. He slung his cloak in a bundle across his back and set off with a ragged umbrella in his hand.

Pausing at a chautara[11] near his in-laws' house, Chame wiped the sweat from his brow. The sound of Gaunthali singing came to him from the edge of the forest above the village. She was resting there before carrying down a bundle of grass: "I would fly away, but I am no bird, I cannot bear to stay."

Chame gritted his teeth, "My buffalo can't get enough to eat, and its stomach rumbles and twangs like a village singer's violin! And here she is making the forest resound!"

After a short rest, Chame went slowly on up the hill. As he drew near an itching tree,[12] he began to drag his feet. He wondered what his in-laws were going to say. Slowly, he approached the gate. There he: saw his mother-in-law beside the midden heap, scouring a pan. His father-in-law sat smoking on the verandah. Chame put his hands together and bowed in greeting to his mother-in-law, and she returned his salutation with her filthy hands. Then he went up to the verandah where his father-in-law handed him the hookah and bent down to touch his feet in respect. But Chame brought his knees together to prevent him.

Soon Gaunthali arrived with her bundle of cut grass, wearing a fine bodice and a chintz skirt gathered up to her waist. On her arms there were bangles, and around her neck there was a necklace of coral; her bosom was full and a large vermilion tika enhanced her forehead. She wore a rhododendron flower in her hair, and she looked dusky and


beautiful. Chame was most gratified to see her; it seemed as if the goddess Lakshmi had entered the house in person![13]

After dusk had fallen, Gaunthali came and touched Chame's feet in greeting. Chame was overjoyed. He felt like gathering her up and kissing her a thousand times, but she pushed his arms away and walked back into the house.

After the evening meal a quilt was spread out on the verandah for Chame. He lay down, but he wasn't in the least bit sleepy. He just lay there waiting for Gaunthali to come. The meal was over; the pots had been washed. Then someone went upstairs carrying a lamp. Suddenly, the door was shut and bolted. Chame was stunned.

"Oh, why did I beat poor Gaunthali that day? Women love to watch weddings. And she's a young woman, so if she goes off to watch a while, what of it? Should someone who can't put up with that punish his wife for it? To beat your wife for being late cooking the meal: what could be a more despicable act than that? Alright, beat her a little if she's cheeky. But if she comes home I certainly won't do it again. Just see if I don't respect her even more than brother Juthe respects his wife."

In his mind there was such turmoil. From beneath, the fleas were biting so hard!

In the morning he heard a door opening. Chame pricked up his ears: had Gaunthali come? But then he saw his old father-in-law; he had come out to urinate in the drain. Chame hadn't had a wink of sleep all night.

It was time to let the animals out. Father-in-law sat on the wall and smoked, mother-in-law husked maize on the verandah, and Gaunthali washed pots on the kitchen floor. A little bashfully, Chame said to his father-in-law,

"It's time to set to work in the fields, time to send your daughter home."

Father-in-law coughed and rested his cheek on the tube of the hookah. "I hear you called us poor and beggarly and all sorts of names," he said. "We may be poor, but we've never been beggars! We paid you our respect and gave her over to you. You persuade your wife yourself. Take her home; no one's stopping you!"

Chame was crestfallen. Soon Gaunthali had finished her kitchen chores and was about to leave for the forest with her basket, but Chame caught her by the arm.

"Where are you off to with that basket? Come on, let's go home!"

"I'd rather die than go home with you!"


"Where will you go if you don't come home?"

"Who cares? I'll go where I like. I'm a jogini now!"[14]

"Who'll feed the buffalo if you're a jogini ?"

"Oh, cut your own grass and feed your own buffalo!"

"Now, don't be cross; just come quietly, won't you?"

"What? Just to quarrel and get thrashed?"

"I'm damned if I'll ever do that again!"

"Right, that's settled."

Soon Gaunthali had dressed, gathered all of her belongings, prettied herself, and was ready to go. Her mother set a small parcel and a jar of curd before her. Gaunthali picked up the parcel and went on ahead. Chame came along behind, swinging the jar from his hand. On the way they began to talk,

"How much milk does the buffalo give these days?"

"A pathi a day."[15]

Gaunthali pouted in derision.

The sun was setting behind the hills. Cowherds were driving their cows home in a cloud of dust, moving slowly up the slope. Chame and Gaunthali came to the spring. There they saw Juthe's wife coming down the hill carrying a water pot in a blanket. When she saw Chame, she stuck out her tongue. Then she laughed and said, "Oh, it looks; like a goose and gander with the bride out in front and the groom behind!"

"Don't laugh, my sister, there may be another quarrel some day—you never can tell!" said Gaunthali with a smile.

"Oh, it won't be long before you quarrel again! But a squabble between a man and his wife is just a blaze in the straw!"

(from Katha Kusum [1938] 1981; also included in
Nepali Katha Sangaha [1973] 1988, vol. 2)


Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (1915-1982)

Better known in Nepal as "B. P.," the leader of the Nepali Congress Party that ousted the Ranas, Koirala became Nepal's first elected prime minister in 1959. Before this, however, he had already become quite well known for his writing, which he began while studying law in Darjeeling during the 1930s.

Koirala's first story, "Chandrabadan" (A Face Like the Moon), appeared in Sharada in 1935, and three further stories were included in the seminal Katha-Kusum anthology in 1938. The most common theme of his stories and novels (of which Koirala published four) was the relationship between men and women, but a significant number of stories also dealt with social issues. The subject of politics, which dominated Koirala's life, is conspicuous by its absence in his writings. Most of his stories are brief but exceptionally effective. Koirala's stories are available in Doshi Chashma (Faulty Glasses, 1949).

The Soldier (Sipahi)

It is hard to travel alone in the hills. I had to walk for two or three days, but I met up with a soldier on the way who made the journey pass easily.

First he asked me, "Hey, young man, where are you headed?" shouting rudely at me from behind in a familiar tone. I turned to look back and saw a soldier in uniform coming up quickly with short, fast strides. I remembered the many things I had heard about the rough, cruel nature of military men and so I simply replied, "Ilam,"[1] in the hope that


this would shake him off'. But by then he had already caught up with me.

"Aha!" he said casually, and as he grinned a gold tooth glittered, "I'm on my way there too. Now we shall keep each other company all day, shall we not, my brother?"

He wore a black coat, an army cap, and khaki trousers. In his coat pocket there glittered the clip of a cheap fountain pen. A Queen Anne watch was strapped to his wrist and was visible whenever he lifted his arm—he had a habit of raising his hands as he spoke. Around his throat he had tied a large red kerchief.

"I'm a soldier, but you, if the Lord does not deceive me, must be a student. Am I right?"

I smiled and confirmed that this was true.

"I can always tell who a person is, and what he does, from the clothes he wears and the way he speaks. I swear I've never been mistaken, at least in this. I can't really read or write. Well, I can sign my name each month and get through the Ramayana:[2] that much I've learned in the barracks. But if I'd studied any harder I'd have turned out thin and pale, like you!"

I began to enjoy his talk. He spoke with familiarity to everyone we met on the path, saying, "Where are you off to then?"

People were nervous of his military appearance and gave him no reply. On encountering an older woman, he would address her as "mother-in-law" and enquire after the well-being of her daughters: "How is your little girl? Tell me won't you, oh mother-in-law of whom I'm so fond?"

He had no wish to know about me. He didn't have enough time to tell me everything about himself, so how could he even inquire?

"I'm stationed at Quetta.[3] I've been there a long time. I do have a wife, but she's back here in the hills, and she's sickly and good for nothing. But we've had two children, all the same. I haven't been home for ages, and I don't even want to go either. She'll have gone off with someone else by now, and my sons will have turned into rogues. Well, the little one seemed bright enough and I really hoped to educate him. But who could be bothered? My father didn't educate me, and I'm quite content. I found myself a wife in Quetta, too. Wherever you go you should have what you want."

I was really enjoying listening to the soldier because he spoke openly and concealed nothing from me. What was there for him to hide, any-


way? Like the serious student I was, I asked, "But what is life in the army like for you people?"

"What's that you say? I swear to you, you know, we don't have the problems you have. Even our officer tells us to enjoy ourselves; he was the one who gave me leave to come here. Recently, there's been talk of war, and so I've come to train new recruits. I've already caught six, and that's the truth. If you become a soldier, you get to rinse out your mouth with milk. You get to keep the goat's horns as your trophy. I'm hardly trapping them; I'm doing them a favor. Our country's in need of soldiers." He puffed out cigarette smoke. "If you die in battle, you go straight to Heaven." His face was as grave as that of a man reciting from the scriptures.

The journey was passing by easily because of his interesting talk. Some girls were on their way home from cutting fodder, and they were coming toward us. The soldier winked and said, "Wait now, I'll tease them." He went ahead and greeted them and then said something to them that I couldn't hear. They all clucked their tongues in disgust and hurried away, but one threw her load of grass down onto the ground right there. With her hands on her hips and her whole body shaking, she cursed him roundly and showed him her teeth. My soldier friend laughed, clutching his stomach, and turned to me and declared, "What a fearsome woman! I'm sure she curses her husband like this. I'd swear to it, you know!"

So we walked on together. "It's very hard to understand these girls. Once, one of them got me in her clutches. Yes .... "he sighed. Then he looked as stern as a stone statue, and his legs moved like automatic machines. Straight up ahead, the yellow sun was sinking behind a hill. With great curiosity, I asked, "Well, what happened?"

"Yes, as I was saying. 1, too, loved a girl once; I don't know how it happened. I had spent a lot of time laughing and playing with her and then one day, a Sunday, I found myself beginning to love her. That day was my day off, and as soon as it got dark I hurried to her house." He began to pant. "That day, she was wearing a blue gown, the wretch. She looked very pretty that day."

Just then we began to climb steeply. "Wait, I'll go and buy a couple of sugarcanes. Going uphill is easier if you've a stick to lean on, and when you get to the top you can suck it and it refreshes you. Isn't that a good idea?" He went off and returned with two sugarcanes. Giving one to me, he went on talking, "But that girl really deceived me. She went off with a captain. Her pretty clothes attracted him, but I assure you she won't stick with that old captain. She enjoys flitting around, that pretty girl." A light breeze swept his last sentence away.

I was pondering over this and I made no comment. Seeing me quiet,


he laughed, "I bet you a bottle of raksi you're thinking about your' wife.[4] Aren't you now? Tell me the truth!..."

I didn't answer him. Then after a while, I said, "Tell me, brother soldier, how do you go into battle? All the bombs, bullets, death—I can't even imagine such a dreadful thing."

He laughed scornfully and slapped me on the shoulder, "It's no place for a soft man like you. But I swear to you, I enjoy myself in battle."

Talking like this, we came to a place where we could spend the night. There were still two hours of daylight left, but the hills to the west had already covered the sun, and darkness was falling quickly to the, sound of cascading waters.

"Now I can't go on," I said. "It's time to look for somewhere to stay."

"Don't worry about that. I know every stone here; it's where my forefathers came from. Come, I'll take you to a shop; I know the old woman who owns it. There was a time when men sat all around her, my father among them. Her shop did very well then. But nowadays no one even casts her a glance from a blind eye. I swear to you, if it wasn't for her daughter, I wouldn't go there now either."

As he spoke we came to the shop. It was old and built of timber that had rotted in the rains. The front of the building had subsided, and so people had to stoop down before they could enter.

We went inside. The smoke that filled the room made the pale light of a solitary oil lamp even dimmer. And because my eyes were heavy with fatigue, the scene inside seemed almost unreal. Two hillsmen were drinking tea and eating pieces of stale old bread. They talked loudly and slapped the table from time to time. I saw a fire burning in one corner, with a teakettle placed above it: this was the cause of the smoke. To one side, there was an odd, shelved cupboard with a broken glass front. Inside it I could see an old Lily biscuit tin, an empty box that had contained orange pekoe tea, and a few glasses. A fat old woman sat with her elbows on the table, listening intently to the men's conversation. Occasionally, she would say a few words, and from time to time she laughed out loud.

The soldier entered the room ahead of me, and as soon as she saw him the woman stood up. Looking him up and down, she said, "Hey, what are you doing here? Have you lost your way?"

"No, I'm not lost! Where's that daughter of yours?" Waving his hands, he began to pace up and down as if he owned the place.

"She's out, but she's due home soon. I thought you had forgotten us."

At that moment, a plumpish young woman came into the room and


said carelessly, "Let him forget! Why should anyone spare a thought for us?" She wore a dirty print skirt and the black smudge of her cheeks was visible, even through the gloom. Above her skirt, a piece of dirty cloth was tied around her waist. She was not especially pretty, but no doubt she had the natural attractiveness of youth.

When he saw her, the soldier skipped over to her. "Oh, you won't believe me, but it's you that draws me back here again. Who could possibly forget you? As soon as ! arrived, I asked your mother about you. And then you turned up in person. Tell me, what oath should I swear?"

"Enough, enough! Don't say anything more. You say a lot of things when you're in my sight, but afterward..." She went into another small room and the soldier hurried after her. Inside that room, she lit a lamp and lay down on a mat. The soldier sat down in the doorway and began to talk.

"Tell me then," she said, "what have you brought for me?"

I was feeling drowsy, so I paid little attention to their conversation. But they were still talking much later on, even when everyone else had eaten and gone to bed. The woman told him to bring her a framed Indian mirror when he returned next time. The soldier replied that he wouldn't just bring her a mirror but a dress as well, made from twenty hands of printed cotton. I was tired and I quickly fell fast asleep.

Early the next morning, the soldier shook me awake. There were still two hours to go before sunrise, and it was very cold outside. A chilly wind blew down between the ranges, and the sound of the river nearby was loud. No one else was up, and the cocks had just begun to crow. The hills all around were dark and silent and treeless because it became very cold in that place. I got up, rubbing my eyes.

"Little master," said the soldier, "I bid you farewell. We go different ways from here." He shook me by the shoulders until they hurt. I felt quite sorry; I had begun to grow fond of him, but he cared for no one. He strode off down his path, I stood there watching him go.

Many times I have seen stone memorials to soldiers killed in battle. But this was the only chance I ever had to meet a soldier in the flesh.

(from B. Koirala [1949] 1968; also included in Katha Kusum [1938] 1981)

To the Lowlands (Madhestira)

Morning came to the confluence of the Sunkosi and Tamakosi rivers.[5] The Sunkosi came down from the north in a rushing torrent and mixed


into the Tamakosi, which flowed from the east. There could be few men capable of fording the Sunkosi, but anyone with a strong pair of legs could cross the Tamakosi. No greenery grew on either bank of these two rivers; the trees and shrubs seemed to stand back in awe.

The earth's crust seemed to burst open at the touch of the sun's first rays. Four or five people rose from where they had been sleeping, curled up on the ground. Each asked the same question as he awoke: what were they going to eat? They turned to one another as if reading each other's minds. The widow was looking at Goré, but she addressed them all, "Well, what food did you bring when you set out? Did you think about what you would eat?"

Her words surprised them all. "I don't even have a house to live in!" said Bhote.[6]

"I did once," said Budho. "Now I have nothing. But child, if you do have somewhere to live, what are you doing here?"

I might call these four homeless people beggars or coolies. When they found work, they were coolies; when they did not, they were beggars. But the widow in their midst, a woman who had her own home, was a swan among a flock of crows. Like the goddess Annapurna, she pulled out some chiura from her bundle.[7] She shared it out between them and gave them each a lump of sugar, too. Their eyes all brightened and they felt great respect for her. She added to Gore's share from her own.

"You're young; you must be hungrier than the others," she said. "I'm on my way to the lowlands. I have no husband. My in-laws are not blind. My brother-in-law was disrespectful. I couldn't stay in that house with no husband."

This statement had a profound effect on the others. It was no mean thing for a woman to abandon a place where food was freely available just because she had lost her husband. Their respect for the widow increased.

"Where are you all going?" she inquired. "I didn't see you eat anything last night. You all went to sleep just like that. I had no companion, so I slept nearby. All night long I felt fond of you."

Bhote was greatly surprised. "Why should you feel fond of us? We're not your husband, your sons, your father."

"But you are people, nonetheless," said the widow.

The rice had gone into stomachs that had been empty all the previous day. Enlivened, they began to talk loudly and excitedly.


"Young lady, we four are not related to each other," said Budho. "But we are all homeless. There's no work here anymore. We're off to look for work somewhere. From what you say, it seems we should head for the lowlands. What do you say, my friends? Shall we go there? In the lowlands you can eat your fill. I once carried a load down there."

They all decided to go to the plains. Four men and a woman took the road for the south. Budho told them about his past. Once, he earned a lot of money, farming 17 ropani .[8] Then everything had just gone wrong. He had been young then, and so he had been able to take the browband onto his head and make a living as a porter. But now there wasn't even that to resort to. Or else why would an old man like him be wandering around feeling hungry? It was time for him to die now. But the pangs of hunger forced him to move from place to place.

"I want to set up a lovely home in the lowlands," said the widow. "I'11 take up farming. They say it's easy there. They say you can get land just like that. I couldn't stand any more of my in-laws' complaints. And the place where my husband died filled me with dread."

Bhote and Dhané listened with interest but said nothing themselves. Goré seemed weary; he trailed behind, dragging his feet. The widow stopped to wait for him. When she stopped, everyone else stopped, too.

"Are you feeling tired, Goré?" she asked as he approached. "The sun is hot. Here, put this on your head." She took off the white cloth she wore on her head and put it onto Gore's. Then they all went on. Budho was old in name only; he strode out ahead of everyone else. Bhote and Dhané walked beside him, listening to his tales. Noting their interest, Budho became bolder and began to mix fact with fiction. Bhote and Dhané listened in awe.

Goré and the widow came slowly up behind. Gore was about twenty-five, the widow about thirty. Goré was shy and taciturn. His eyes were dull and his cheeks sunken from many long days of arduous labor.

"What will you do in the lowlands?" the widow asked him.

"Who knows?" replied Goré.

"Won't you settle down? Don't you fancy farming?"

"What about money?" said Goré.

"It's easy to farm in the lowlands. You get the fields for nothing there. How old are you, after all? Settle down in a home of your own! Look after a wife; bring up children! How much longer can you go on like this?"

Abruptly, she suddenly asked him, "Don't you like women, then?"

He looked up sharply, "Why shouldn't I like women?"


"In the lowlands, I shall set up home and grow some crops," she began. "But a home's not a home without a man. So I just thought—why don't you and I set up house together?"

Goré looked at the widow in astonishment, and she was rather taken aback.

"Am I not good enough for you? So what if I'm old? My longing is like a flame in my heart.. Won't I ever have children? Won't I ever have sons and daughters, a home of my own, a man of my own?"

The widow was on the verge of tears. She blushed, hung her head, and walked on in silence. For a long time they walked without saying anything. But as the evening drew in she broke the silence.

"Goré, I have a little jewelry. Some money, too. We could buy, some land. I could make a home. If you were mine, it would all be yours."

A little further on, the three others were sitting on a large boulder, waiting for them. Budho saw them in the distance and he called out, "Shall we stop here? What is there to eat?"

All eyes were on the widow. "There's a little chiura left," she said. "Not enough to fill us up, but it will keep us going."

They sat down to eat; then they slept right there, curled up by the wayside with the sky as their roof. After walking all day, they were asleep as soon as they lay down.

Budho got up with the first morning sunbeams and began to hack and cough. They all got up, but there was no sign of Goré. The widow was anxious. "Where's Goré?" she asked.

"Oh, he must have wandered off somewhere," said Budho calmly. "Now we must get going. There's nothing to eat. We must get there by dusk. There may be some way of getting food there."

The widow's heart was heavy. She was surprised by her companions' lack of concern. Were they not even the slightest bit saddened by the disappearance of someone who had been their comrade through such hard times? She began to collect her belongings, and then her heart came into her mouth—the bag of jewels was gone!

They were all ready to set off, but the widow just sat there going through her bags and bundles.

"What are you doing?" asked Budho. "Let's be off! We must be there before nightfall, or we'll have to sleep hungry again."

"My jewels have gone!" sobbed the widow.

They stared at her in amazement. "Where were you off to, carrying jewels?" Budho exclaimed. "Goré must have taken them. So they're stolen now, and I'm not surprised. No point crying about it!"

The widow was angry. "Shut up, Budho," she shouted. "I'd thought it all out, what I'd do with those jewels. I was going to buy some land,


get married again, set up home, have a son Now my hopes are all destroyed." She wept and wailed loudly.

Budho patted her on the shoulder. "Why are you weeping, child? What's stolen is stolen. Something will turn up in the lowlands. You'll find a husband. A home as well—don't fret. Come on, let's be on our way."

The widow stood up, staring blankly, and fell in behind Budho.

Up on the top of a distant hill, Budho was full of excitement. He pointed down to the wide green plain in the south that stretched as far as the eye could see. "There it is," he said. "The lowlands] There's our salvation! There we will eat our fill!"

Dhané's and Bhote's eyes flickered with joy. Even into their cheeks, withered by hunger, there came a flush of happiness. They grinned and grinned all over their faces. But the widow was indifferent. She was in the twilight of her youth now. She had hoped that her jewels and her money would attract a young man to her, a man she could make her own. She had longed to fulfill the dream of her youth: her own little home, sons and daughters. It had all collapsed like a house of cards. She imitated her companions and gazed with joyless eyes down to the plains in the south.

(first published in Khoji , a Darjeeling magazine, sometime after 1938; from B. Koirala [1949] 1968; also included in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979)


Bhavani Bhikshu (1914-1981)

Bhikshu was born at Taulihava village in the Kapilvastu district of the Tarai, but he spent much of his life in Kathmandu. He made his first appearance in Nepali literature with an essay on criticism, originally written in Hindi, that was translated into Nepali and published in Sharada in 1936. His first story, "Mankind" (Manav ), was published two years later, and he soon established a reputation as a poet. Bhikshu edited Sharada for several years after 1940, when the former editor, the poet Siddhicharan Shreshtha, was jailed for his political opinions, and Bhik-shu worked for the Royal Nepal Academy after its foundation in 1957. Bhikshu's life was not without its sadnesses: he had lost two wives, one of whom deserted him, by 1952. This might account for the innate pathos of many of his stories and for his long ruminations on the nature of love.

Bhikshu's mother tongue was not Nepali but Awadhi, a dialect of Hindi, and he received his basic education in Hindi at Indore. His writings in Nepali are often criticized because his prose lacks the spontaneity of a mother-tongue writer, his sentences are sometimes awkwardly constructed, and his vocabulary tends to be somewhat grandiose. Nevertheless, his stories are regarded highly for their thoughtfulness and subtlety. Most have women as their central characters, and Nepali critics heap praise on Bhikshu for his analyses of female psychology. I suggest that Bhikshu's most interesting stories are those such as "Winning and Losing" (Harjit ) that describe village life in the Tarai and those that deal with topics from the Rana period. Bhikshu also authored two novels. Bhikshu's stories are available in four collections: Gunakeshari (1953), Maiyasaheb (1960) (both named after the principal female characters of


particular stories), Avarta (Whirlpool, 1967), and Avantara (In the Mid-die, 1977).

Will he Ever Return? (Tyo Pheri Pharkala?)

The narrow hill path was a difficult, strenuous, arduous trail that climbed higher and higher by degrees. Looking along it into the far distance, you could see nothing to make you think that you had seen a man.

The sun god[1] had hidden his face behind the mountains in the west, but his blush spread up to the dark hills' summits. The streams still sang their continual song, uninterested in and indifferent to the anxieties of the world. The dim half-light was meandering into darkness.

A traveler was on his way up from the plains. As Sani[2] stood in the doorway of her house, one foot upon the staircase of maturity, he asked her, "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

"I don't know; you'll have to ask Mother."

"Mother? I don't know who your mother is or where to find her. Show me whom to ask."

"Mother! Mother!" a sharp sweet voice from a shapely throat echoed around the hills, but nobody came in response. She waited for a moment; then she said, "Wait, I'll fetch her," and she went off. After a while she returned with an elderly woman.

"Here, this is my mother. Where are your porters?"

"I've only one porter, and he's old and slow. That's why I have to stop here, though I'd hoped to reach Chitlang today. I know some of the shopkeepers there; I'd have found good lodgings. This is a liquor shop, isn't it?"

"It is …,"the old woman replied with a mixture of surprise and disdain.

"So what if it is?" Sani said quickly. "It would be the same at Chitlang, you know. And our side room is clean."

"Well," asked the old woman, "will you have a drink and something to eat?"

"I'll have a meal, but I won't take any drink. I have my own pots and utensils with me."[3]

Sani leaned over and put her face close to her mother's. "Why mother, he'll buy rice, lentils, oil and firewood, salt, spice, vegetables .... If he cooks in the next room and sleeps in the side room, that will be fine."


"May I see the room? Just to see that it's clean. If it's not..."

"Why shouldn't it be? Take a look—there's nothing in there; it's newly painted. If you want I'll put a mat down there for you. See now, your porter's arrived. Will you stay?"

"Come, Sani." The old woman climbed the stairs.

Sani stood by the door as the porter set down his load. "Such a heavy load, such a steep path," he groaned. "That'll be 9 suka, including the head porter's cut and expenses, too. My God!"

The curiosity that filled Sani's face contained a trace of hopefulness, of trust and satisfaction as she stood there in silence. When he had inspected the rooms, the traveler decided to stay the night and Sani felt relieved. With the porter's help, she put a mat in one of the rooms. As soon as the traveler had spread out his bed on the ground and heaved a contented sigh, the porter said, "Right, I'll be off now sir, I'm exhausted. I must eat, too. You should give me a few annas for a snack."

"Here .... "the traveler tossed him 4 paisa. The porter picked up the coins, looking pleased, and was about to leave when Sani said, "Tell me, what should we bring for your meal? It will be dark soon. I see you have a lantern—do you need paraffin for it?"

The traveler did not reply but addressed the porter instead. "Old man, get the pots from the basket, and go and wash them in the river." Then he turned to Sani. "I'll need a pitcher, too, so that he can bring some water before he goes for his meal."

"Yes, I'll bring one down right now."

"But is it a clean one?"

"What dirt gets into a water pot? If you're not happy with it, he can easily clean it in the river before he fills it up." The young girl's hesitancy showed clearly on her face.

The porter had pulled the pots from the basket, and as soon as Sani brought a little brass pitcher down from upstairs he went off to the river. The traveler looked at Sani in the evening half-light. Although her clothes were dirty, advertising her poverty, her face was not at all ugly. In her cheeks he saw the lovely gifts that hard work and the mountain air had bestowed on her. She had a natural rosiness and was .just becoming mature. Her eyes were round and bright, and their pupils were dark and quick. Boundless curiosity and excitement were playing in those eyes.

"So... what shall I bring for your meal?" she asked, with a caution born of their being alone.

"One mana of fine old rice," said the traveler, "a quarter of lentils, 2 paisa worth of whatever vegetables you can get here, 2 annas worth of ghee .... That should be enough."

Sani went upstairs, and after a while she returned with everything he


had asked for. The porter had already departed, having put the pots and the water in the next room. The cooking hearth and the eating place were both newly painted and clean.

"This isn't very good rice," said the traveler, inspecting it.

"No. But you can't get better rice than that here. If you could, I'd have brought you some. And as for vegetables—there's nothing but potatoes."

"Oh well, if that's so, never mind," said the traveler, smiling slightly. "I'll have to be content with whatever I can get."

"May I go now?" asked Sani.

"Yes." But for some reason he felt like looking at her again. Their eyes met; then the girl went upstairs, hanging her head in embarrassment. But she suddenly turned around and said, with some confidence and in a natural tone, "To cook the vegetables you'll need some oil and some firewood. Should I bring salt, spices, and paraffin for your lantern?"

"Oh, I'm forgetting! I'll cook the vegetables in ghee, perhaps. I don't want any spices. But bring me 1 paisa worth of salt and turmeric and, you know, 4 paisa of firewood, and for the lantern 6 paisa of oil will do. Got that?"

Sani brought him these things quickly, and then she went upstairs. She ate with her mother, and after fifteen or twenty minutes she went into her bedroom and shut the door from inside.

It was only half-past seven in the evening, but it was already very dark outside. Those few houses were like butterflies in the laps of the great hard mountain. s, and they stood in such silence it seemed all the life had left their bodies. The regular, monotonous roar of the streams could still be heard, but still the fearsome emptiness deepened.[4]

As she lay on her bed, thinking who knows what, Sani suddenly heard a knocking sound coming from the traveler's room. "He can't have had his meal yet." She remained engrossed in her thoughts, "He might know how to cook; he might not. Perhaps he dropped the vegetables as he was lifting them off the fire. What man knows how to cook! He has always lived in the plains; who would have cooked for him there? Maybe he took on a Brahman. But how could he have? It's expensive down in the plains, and he doesn't look like a rich merchant. If he was, he'd be like those others who come by here time after time. There'd have been great heavy tin trunks, filled to the brim, three or four leather bags of various sizes, a folding bed, a servant, and lots of porters. And he himself would have arrived in a sedan chair and sat upon a carpet. There's


nothing of this. I reckon he must have had a job somewhere in the plains. A man who works for somebody else could hardly take on a Brahman cook!"

Then her thoughts ran off in another direction. "If that's so, he's probably got a wife!" She felt a blow to her heart and her inner thoughts fell still. Outside, the river's unceasing voice roared on. The thoughts she had assembled became a little disordered, and so she heaved a sigh. But her mood could not be averted for long, and the sweet imaginings she craved covered her once more. Breathing more lightly, she tried to sleep. Had the traveler finished his meal and gone to bed? She heard no sounds downstairs, so he must have. But then that noise again—"It must be the mice .... No it's not; it's that poor man again .... "She did not dare to indulge herself in silent thoughts of sympathy anymore. After a moment, she jumped up, struck a match, and lit the lamp in the niche at the head of her bed. A feeble, smoky light fingered the darkness as she picked up the lamp and went carefully downstairs. Her heart was thumping; was the old woman asleep yet? She felt a twinge of fear.

Once she had arrived downstairs, she thought, "But... why am I down here? I have no jobs to do downstairs." In the traveler's room there was the soft, calm light of his lantern. She looked at him just once, then turned away. He was asleep in his white quilt—calm, still, and unchanged. A frightening desire tugged hard at her very soul and began to thump along with her heart. A strange mixture of inexpressible happiness and courage, of fear and sorrow, began to flow through her veins. She returned upstairs in that same agitation, with those feelings still flowing through her, and fell onto her own dirty bed.

Next morning, the traveler rose and left early. The unexpressed infatuation and strange unspoken hopes that now glittered in Sani's eyes followed him until he was far away on the top of the hill, and then they came back. She could not say why, but her heart became heavy and filled with tearful emotion. A question arose again and again in her mind—would he ever return?

Her question remained unanswered: the traveler did not return. After a while, she was married and moved to her own home. As if by a commonplace rule, she became caught up in household duties and the love and affection of her husband. She brought no awkwardness to their behavior. But the question that Sani, a woman from a village culture, clutched in her innermost heart as if it was a gift from God troubled her several times each day.

When she was in her husband's house, she sometimes became apprehensive, and her apprehension caused terrible inner conflict. "Here I am; what if that traveler returns?" She was not brave enough to ponder the question further. What a terrible worry it was for her! Better if he


never came back; better that her life should come to its end even as she was watching for him. But Sani was not strong enough to hope that fate would ordain them never to meet again. Her longing, her eternal wait, the daily hopelessness to which she had become accustomed—all were mixed into her very breath. That was what her life consisted of. Holding onto this, she was the woman of the home, her mother-in-law's daughter-in-law, her husband's wife. Could poor Sani continue to be all of these things in this state, shattered perhaps by some powerful curse? How could she wish this from her heart?

But Sani could still be a proper wife; this was no impediment. She would certainly have cursed anyone who suggested that her marriage contained any kind of deceit or shortcoming. A woman's heart is big enough for an affection for children, for mother and father, for friends and relations of the natal home, and for the in-laws of the husband's home, and so Sani's heart held some echo for that traveler, too. A woman is her husband's wife: this is as true as the shining sun, but only so far as being a wife is concerned. A woman is not merely a wife! She is other things too—a sister, a daughter-in-law, a mother. Besides all of these, she is love personified. If the love of women had not been sown throughout this world, would the world not be like the dead wood of a dried-out tree?

As he left, the traveler said that he might have to come back after two weeks. Sani still remembered that two-week wait. The first week ended in depression and a feeling of emptiness, but from the eighth day on she began to hope that each day would be the day of his return. She remembered the strange feeling, the mysterious hope and excitement with which she reached the hilltop on that eighth day, when she went out to cut grass for the cow. Setting down her load, she sat on a rock and lost herself in happy dreaming. She stared intently at the road from Nepal,[5] and when she saw some people coming her fantasy became more joyful and exciting.

"This is how he will come today, bearing all the happiness of the world. He will spread the happiness of our previous meeting by smiling just a little; again he'll lodge with us for a day. But what if he doesn't stay with us? ... Chi! Such bad thoughts! He was perfectly comfortable at our house; he suffered no inconvenience. I did all the work myself. He cooked and ate well before he slept. Why would he not stay with us again?" She kept her hope burning with new dreams every day, and the days went by. At last the day she had longed for arrived. Sani recalled how she woke up in the night, three hours before the dawn. She opened the door and looked outside and saw that much of the night had still to


pass. The moon shone brightly, and the sky was clear. The rushing sound of the river was like a song of delighted welcome. The sky, the abode of God, smiled down in the moonlight. In a few hours' time, the burning sun would come out. Its golden rays would spread over the hilltops. 'That day would be the festival of his returning. Tomorrow he would come. At first light he would set out to meet her and bring her great joy. She sat engrossed in these dreams for ages, overwhelmed by the happiness she imagined. Then she heaved a long sigh, as if anxious, and returned to lie uneasily on her bed. Later, the dawn came, the sun rose, and Sani waited restlessly. Then it was dusk, the night fell, and after her fortnight of waiting Sani was left with the fact that he had not come. With tears in her eyes, sorrow in her heart, darkness in her soul, a lump in her throat, and her body filled with regret, this knowledge was all she had for consolation.

Alas, the feeble heart of a woman! How much do you have to sacrifice? How much pleasure, attachment, and love, and who knows what else, have you stored away for your offering?

Two more weeks went by. The course of her life began to change—from beginning to end, it seemed. The change went deep inside her, and her question, "Will he come back?" was joined by the knowledge that he had not come. Where would her journeying cease? Where was its end and destination? Was it within the rest of her life or beyond its end?

The narrow hill path was a difficult, strenuous, arduous trail that climbed higher and higher by degrees. Looking along it into the far distance, you could see nothing to make you think that you had seen a man. . . .

The times were changing. Sani's mother went to meet with eternity, from which no one ever returns. Sani went back to her home to run the old business. While living in her husband's house, she had always worried that the traveler had already gone by. Thousands of people went down to the plains from Nepal by that Markhu road, but the traveller. . . .

"He'll surely come back one day." Catching hold of a thin, weak thread to lead her despairing hopes on, she made them stretch even further. How delicate, how lovely, how long it was, this thin thread of desperate wishing. Someone else was tugging hard on the thread of life and her youthfulness, but did Sani know? She was aware of little more than that charming memory from her past, that momentary dream that lasted for only a day. The person for whom she had made her sacrifice, in gratitude for the first gift of youth, would surely return one day. Every day she busied herself in renewing her treasure. How could she know that the thread of her life was being pulled along? Love is the path of life. Sacrifice is its ultimate aim. Once you reach your destination, you are given the end of existence.


After she had opened the shop one evening, Sani stood in the doorway with her thoughts elsewhere. She had been standing like this in the peaceful half-light on just such an evening when the traveler had come, her symbol of love. She had stood there like this so many times since, waiting without hope, her heart filled with demolished dreams and sorrow. But he had not come back. In response to all these false welcomes, she had acquired a quiet sadness and eyes filled with tears. Again today she stood there waiting. Either for the traveler or for the silent sorrow she knew so well.

A man well past his prime came up to her and asked, "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

She thought her heart would stop. She was struck by a thunderbolt from the past! Sani could do nothing but stare and stare at his face.

"Are there lodgings here or not?" the question came again. Sani's face shone brightly at first, but then it darkened and dulled. She stared into space and said sadly, "Where are your porters?"

"They're on their way," said the traveler, and sat down on a rock. "It's ages since I went to Nepal from the plains. I never managed to go back at all. Now at last I'm going back, but everything seems to have changed —the path, the hills. . .. I stayed in this house on my way to Nepal, so I thought I might stay here again, if the house was still here. I set out with that in mind, and now at last I've arrived. Where's the old woman? You, you must be Sani?..."

For Sani, his words were harder than a thunderbolt, more tumultuous than the roar at the end of the world. She felt frightened. She was not ready to welcome the end of all those days of waiting, of the misery that had filled her, with such ease and informality. Man! You are all the hope, pain, longing, despair, dreams, and joy that have filled Sani's life, and yet you do not know! With your simple question, your unexpected arrival, you have brought to its climax the story that has pervaded this life. How could you know, why should you know, how shattered this woman's heart has been?

Sani's voice was like a sound from a distant skyline. "Yes, I'm Sani, "she said.

"I know, I recognized you. But you ... you've become old." He smiled.

Sani's eyes were opened at last. She saw her wrinkled skin and realized how much time had passed. Clearly she saw that her journey was almost over. The evening of her life had arrived with the end of all her hopes. The world was changing; she was out of place in the present. She felt tired; her body was weary from standing. She sat down right there in the doorway.

As soon as it was morning, the traveler went on his way, just as he had before. From that day on the purpose of her life disappeared. "You've become old"—a single comment from the traveler had con-


sumed all the zeal with which she had clung on to her hope, all the youth and enthusiasm she had maintained. Then that woman was finished, along with the dumb hopes she had had for her life and her silent, unbroken sorrow. But that was not all—the question she had loved more than her soul, that she had fostered until it filled her life and was dear and familiar to her, her question vanished, too, in the darkness of deep regret: "Will he ever return?"

(originally published in 1940; from Bhikshu 1960a)

Maujang Babusaheb's Coat (Maujang Babusahebko Kot )

To tell the truth, Maujang Babusaheb and his coat were one and the same thing.[6] If you ever saw that long, pink Benson[7] overcoat, walking, moving, sitting, or gesticulating at a show, a feast, or an argument, or at the scene of a quarrel or a tragedy, it always turned out to be Maujang Babusaheb, along with his whole indomitable existence. Precisely when the coat had begun to represent Maujang Babusaheb was a matter for research; only one or two people could hazard a guess, even among the few surviving ancients. But nowadays there are few who are reluctant to relate all sorts of historical tales.

Maujang Babusaheb was a Rana aristocrat, a bad-tempered, rude, and irrepressible character who held birta land in Nepalganj district.[8] Somehow everyone still remembered what used to happen fifteen years before democracy. An army of dogs lived at Babusaheb's village house—three or four of them were big and ferocious; the others were small and fine-haired. They used to terrify every visitor by being the first to offer a welcome and were a prominent and fearful memory in that Tarai province. The coat had come to represent a multitude of terrors for the men of this world of agricultural laborers. It reminded them of forcible seizures of houses and fields, of thrashings and beatings, of insults and wild abuse when Babusaheb's thick lips, set in a wide, red face that was sweaty and insistent, spat out a stream of foam. . .. And when the high Rana officials of the area, ranked in a certain order with members of the Thapas or some other clan first,[9] bowed down before him for everyone to see, that long pink coat was being honored, too. Through this combination of pomp, grandeur, and terror, he became known by the


name of Maujang Babusaheb, instead of by his real name, which was perhaps Humayun Jang Bahadur Rana. The name was on everyone's lips, and people uttered it with fear.

Just as the Gandharvas' bow symbolized Arjun during the Mahabharata era, so that coat represented Maujang Babusaheb's tyranny during those Rana times.[10] No one even dared to mention that invincible, glorious coat. The insolence of time had made it fade until it was gray and pale, but it still seemed bright to everyone. But after democracy came,[11] people became impudent and looked scornfully at both Babusaheb and his coat. Everyone laughed at it now. Some even picked up a rumor somewhere and began to say that the coat had been a reward from P.K.J.[12] Then it went still further, and some who had inquired into the coat's ancient history discovered that it had been given to Babusaheb in Nepal[13] when he attended the wedding of that P.K.J.'s parasol bearer. He had been picked out to receive the gift because of the clothes he was wearing.

By some misfortune, Maujang Babusaheb got wind of these rumors one day. He stared at his coat, which hung from a nail in the wall. Even in these days of democracy he recalled the events of the past. He remembered how a sweet smell had arisen from the coat and scented the air on the day it was given to him. Everyone else who was there had looked at it with envy. He remembered how smoothly his hands had slid into the linen lining in its arms when he had first put it on. That coat on its nail had fitted him perfectly—it symbolized nobility, prosperity, and honor and made him feel gratified and self-confident. When he came home with it, how astonished the Rani Saheb who accompanied him had been![14] She took the coat from him, but before she hung it up she turned it over and over in her hands. She saw the lining glistening and caressed it gently. Yes, and then Babusaheb had been annoyed. He had scolded her: "What are you doing, you hill farmer's daughter? Don't you realize it will get dirty if you stroke it like that?"

The Rani Saheb had hung it up, still smiling though she was frightened. And then when he was alone in the room Babusaheb had got up quietly and stroked the coat himself. He was filled with awe and amaze-


ment as he read the label, sewn inside one of the pockets, as if it were a holy text. He read it, piecing it together from the knowledge of English letters that enabled him to write his name. "Whiteway Ladler and Company, Tailoring and Outfit. Department," it said. This was really evidence of the coat's royal magnificence, its incredible nobility and sophistication. Then Babusaheb recalled the many times after that, the many opportunities and occasions, the many people to whom he had shown that label, and the limitless pride he had felt. Lord! In this strange alien time, how disgraceful that a coat like this should be treated with such contempt!

Babusaheb jumped up and took the coat out into the light to inspect it properly.

"What a grand thing it is, what excellent art this is. Carefully sewn without a piece out of place! Even Brahma[15] himself cannot have taken such care when he sculpted the human body!"

He looked at the coat's collar as he thought this. It was grubby and split; some threads were hanging loose.

"This makes it look less grand, does it not? But everything gets old, even people. Does aging have any effect on someone's caste, reputation, pride, or nobility? Such a coat! Now that the Whiteway Ladler Company is under the rule of the Hindustanis, even it could not produce another coat like this! Those craftsmen will already have left, unable to make a living. Who wears such expensive coats now? Where could you get cloth like this now, let alone a coat? It won't even be made in England any more. You just don't see such things nowadays. Even the English are going downhill, poor wretches! When they held Hindustan, they were so glorious. The most advanced society in the whole world! London was our capital then, I suppose. But where's that old spendor nowadays, even in Kathmandu?"

Babusaheb went on remembering. He recalled the generals'[16] palace: such ornamentation! Iron bedsteads with brass decorations—fairies, creepers, flowers, and so on, all made by real artists—double spring , how soft they were! Huge, huge rooms, their walls covered with enormous portraits in golden frames, of kings and generals, and the kings and queens of England, Germany, Russia, Rome. . .. Each one worth more than 10,000! Huge cupboards, racks, and bookshelves, chairs and tables of every design. The polish seemed to be made from gold! Then there were sofa sets covered with silk and velvet, and tasseled curtains—there was no end to it! The walls, the ceilings, even the staircases, were an exhibition of marvels and magnificent things. Silver was an everyday thing;


gold was no concern. So many great vessels and pots of silver and gold, beautiful vases. So many servant girls and attendants, dressed in lovely clothes. An army of children, servants, subbas , parasol bearers, mukhiyas[17] . Motors and horses and buggies . . . could all those wonders be remembered now? Babusaheb remembered the crowds that used to fill the palace and the servants' quarters, the press of people, the running about that went on. That was real grandeur then! What had become of it now?

He inspected his coat once again: a symbol of a proud noble past, a coat of Benson cloth, made in Whiteway's Tailoring Department. He rose and hung it up on the nail again. Then, in a haughty state of mind, he sat down in his seat with particular gravity. Intuitively he knew that the rumors were not important. Those Congress wretches only made fun of it to hide the jealousy they felt.[18] They couldn't stand its nobility. The bastards simply envied him. Liars and petty, mean men all, yes, oh yes, they were truly great! When the principal officer came and they had welcomed him (Babusaheb reassumed the attitude of his past), how respectfully he had stared at Babusaheb in his coat. Not to mention the subbas and the lieutenants: jobs given to little men for their services to the hakim . An English district collector had come from Mugalan once;[19] even that Mr. Cornish could not rest content without a long look at the coat when they invited him to go hunting.

Babusaheb recalled the many moments of glory when his coat had brought its high class and its brilliant, silently stated nobility to festivals, meetings, receptions, rituals, and wedding feasts. He brought its splendid history back to mind and felt his old completeness in the personal pride this generated. Wherever he went, and for whatever reason, this pink coat became the center of attention. With immense gravity, Babusaheb said to himself, "They're all rogues, the lot of them! Is this some ordinary coat? No! It is something very special, very, very special indeed!"

The central government's home minister was coming out on a tour, and the committee that was organizing a reception for him had called Maujang Babusaheb to a meeting. The day before he went to Nepalganj, Babusaheb carefully began to brush down the coat that Whiteway Ladler's had made. Clouds of dust rose into the air. Chi! They never brushed it, ever! He scolded the whole household, from the servants right up to the Rani Saheb herself.


"What's this now? If I don't tell you what to do, you just don't see the jobs! All this dust on such a fine coat! This is what's made the color fade! Would a coat like this fade otherwise? It's Benson cloth, but now you've let it fill with dust and the original color's finished! Oxen! The more you brush, the more dust you find!"

Eventually he finished brushing it and hung it up again. He covered it with a piece of cloth. But one thing kept on pricking him—how creased the coat had become. It would have to be ironed. But who could he give it to in the village? It was a complex problem. He was due at the bara hakim's house at eight the next morning. . . .[20]

Next day, Babusaheb wrapped up the coat and set off for Nepalganj, with a servant carrying the bundle. In a corner of the bazaar he came to Gurdin the dhobi's house[21] and called, "Hey Gurdin! Just iron my coat, and take care!"

Gurdin looked at it with an expert eye. "Alright sir. I'll have to heat the iron. Send your man in a little while, and I'll have it ready."

What Gurdin said was fair enough, but he knew what dhobis were like. If he didn't do it in time, or if he scorched it because he didn't know what sort of cloth it was . . . Babusaheb was not content.

"No, I'll go to that shop over there and smoke a cigarette. Heat the iron quickly, and I'll show you how to iron it. It's no ordinary coat, you know. You'll have to do as I tell you."

Gurdin's pride was injured. "How many expensive coats and trousers and clothes of all kinds have I ironed with these hands! Teaching me how to iron this pathetic, ragged old coat, indeed!" But he did not say this to Babusaheb. He just said, "Fine." Then when Babusaheb had left for the shop, Gurdin was gripped by anger and took his private revenge by throwing the coat down hard onto a pile of clothes in the corner. Soon the iron had warmed up. When he had spread out the clothes on his table and put the coat down, Babusaheb, who had been watching from a distance, came and seated himself close by on a three-legged stool.

Gurdin had barely touched the iron to the arm of the coat when Babusaheb shouted, "Hey, you ox! Damp it first, damp it first! It's scorched, it's scorched!"

Gurdin was mystified and stared blankly at him. "Sir, the iron hasn't warmed up properly yet. It's hardly warm; it's a cold iron. Do you think I know so little?" Then he bent low over his ironing. Gradually the iron became warmer. At every opportunity, Babusaheb still told him to


dampen the coat, and Gurdin went on muttering angrily at the insult. Several technical things happened, but at last the ironing was done.

Babusaheb put the coat on while it was still warm, and he was about to leave when the dhobi said, "Sir, I haven't even begun the day's business. I did this job first thing in the morning."

Maujang Babusaheb tossed him 2 paisa. "There, you've had a month's income now. You'll take money before you've opened, won't you?" Then he walked out, saying firmly, "Now everyone will realize what this coat really is! As soon as it's been brushed down and ironed, it's back to its old glory. Something of quality demands greater care and attention. I'm a fool—should such a coat be hung on a nail? But what can I do in such circumstances? I have to support an army of people; my income is just this pathetic birta . "But then Babusaheb was alarmed at his own thoughts: "But a birta's a birta , after all—something given by the king, to be proud of. It supported me, and I did as much as I could, without any other means. What would my income have been without it?"

He glanced at his coat. His old pride flared up again, and his habitual vigor, power, and arrogance replaced the sense of deficiency he had been feeling just a moment before. Silently, he contemplated the unchallenged might, the undefeated power that had been his until so recently, and before he knew it he had entered the bara hakim 's gate and was standing on his verandah. Twenty-five men were sitting there, talking. As soon as he saw him the bara hakim said, "Come in, Babusaheb ;you're late. You'll have to make a door yourself!" He laughed and ushered Babusaheb to a seat.

Babusaheb quietly checked his coat in the place where the bara hakim had touched his arm to make sure it hadn't been creased. The discussion about the reception continued, and although Babusaheb chipped in now and then with a "yes" or a "no," his thoughts were elsewhere: "As soon as he touched my coat, the bara hakim will have realized what sort of a garment this is! No joking: quality is quality, after all."

But then a Tarai congressman butted in, "Why, Babusaheb, are you going to wear that coat even when the minister comes? The weather's getting hot, you know!"

Babusaheb stared at his face for a moment. "How uppity the lower castes are becoming," he thought. "Should I come dressed in a 4-paisa vest and loincloth just because it's warm? The minister's coming from Nepal, so he'll be wearing a woolen coat. However hot it is, the generals always wear uniforms made of soft cashmere. You haven't a clue about these things—is this how affairs of state are conducted?" He showed his contempt by remaining silent as the discussion went on. Whenever he saw a smile on the face of that congressman in his khaki jacket, Babusaheb


muttered to himself, "What to do? It's a different age now. This wretch would never have dared to make fun of this coat before."

Then he realized that the bara hakim kept glancing at his collar, and he thought he would die of shame because the collar was filthy and torn. Babusaheb was unbearably embarrassed, and his big face turned red. He could not sit there any longer. Somehow, he managed to stick it out for ten minutes more; then he took his leave and went out of the room. Even as he stepped down from the verandah, the sound of laughter reached his ears. What could have caused such laughter? It could have been nothing else—they were laughing at his torn collar, for sure. Babusaheb's eyes dampened with a mixture of sorrow and helpless anger, and he walked quickly to the main street. By the time he reached it, he was in control of his tears. The whole world was jealous of this coat's noble appearance, of its unending glory, he thought. Everyone was conspiring to bring down his reputation.

"Lord, such small-minded envy! To rob a poor coat of its honor! A lifeless, senseless coat! Now quality is considered a flaw—that's what's happened, you know! This is a mean-minded age. Greatness and honesty are sins now. And this is called democracy!..."

Back home again, Babusaheb spent the whole night in thoughts like these. He resolved that the respectability and honor of the coat made by Whiteway Ladler Company would not be allowed to disappear, for as long as he lived. . . .

There were only eight days to go before the minister's visit. The coat would have to be restored by then. It deserved to have its true nobility back; this wasn't something that could be humbled or diminished. He decided to go to Lucknow to have it dry-cleaned and repaired.[22] But even at a rough estimate this would cost 40 or 50 rupees. Several members of the household suggested, "Just add another 40 or 50 and buy another coat. That would be better."

But Babusaheb smiled, as if he pitied their ignorance. "What are you thinking of? Do you think I could find a coat as good as this one, even for 100? Know-it-alls! Even if I had ten new coats, they could not compare with this one! It's only because I've neglected it, you know. I'm going to Lucknow, for certain. Just wait and see how it looks when I get back!"

Babusaheb was determined to go, but money was a problem. Even if he bought a second-class ticket, the return journey would cost at least 20 rupees. Even if he stayed at the cheapest hotel in Lucknow and ate


only the simplest food, it would cost 9 or 10 a day. He would have to stay for four days: that meant 40 rupees. Then there was the dry-cleaning and repair—10 rupees, at most. Then perhaps 4 rupees a day for traveling around—not in a taxi, in a tonga[23] —and add cigarettes, pan ,[24] and so on—it wouldn't be less than 100 in all. And even if he kept to this, he would have to bring something small back from Lucknow for the children, the servants, and Rani Saheb, too. At least 200 in all! Two hundred rupees to clean an old coat! Two hundred! Two hundred! Those two words filled his brain. Then the sound of laughter from the bara hakim's house echoed in his ears again, and he pulled himself together.

"Why must it cost me 200? I'll go second class from Nepalganj to Gonda; then I'll go on from there in third class. Who will recognize me, after all? Then in Lucknow, Chedi Lal's dharamshala has good rooms; he'll let me stay four days.[25] If I eat somewhere really cheap, 1 rupee per meal will be enough. It is four days after all! Even if it costs 50 rupees, the coat will come back ready." Babusaheb felt much better, and he called a servant to fill his pipe.

In the end, Babusaheb brought the coat back restored. There had been one problem in Lucknow: if the coat was darned after it had been washed, would the cleaning not have made it even more ragged than before? If so, the darning would turn out to be very costly. On the other hand, if he had it darned first, there was a danger that it might come apart again while it was being washed. Babusaheb solved this problem cleverly. He took it first to be darned.

"Every thread in this coat is rotten," the darner said. "It'll be very difficult to mend it."

But with great skill Babusaheb persuaded him. In later days, Babusaheb would describe in detail the care the darner had taken to mend it once he had begun. Then when he took it to the dry-cleaners', the manager had expressed concern when he saw how decrepit it was. But Babusaheb got him to write "not torn anywhere" on the receipt and made plain his intention to offer a tip. Babusaheb amazed everyone with his account of how lovingly it had been cleaned after that.

"If I hadn't gone there in person, the coat would have been ruined," he said, immensely satisfied with his cunning.

When the coat came back from the shop, in plastic packing with the company's name stamped on it, Babusaheb did not unwrap it. He could


see the mended collar and the color of the coat through the plastic cover. He showed it to anyone who showed an interest. Why let the dust in by unwrapping it? And yes, Babusaheb brought them all a gift from Lucknow: lemon sweets for the children, plastic slides for the servant girls' hair, an amazing machine that threaded needles for the old cook. The thread went in even if you shut your eyes! And a bottle of Spring Flowers oil for the Rani Saheb. The whole lot cost him only 3 rupees, and everyone was happy.

Now Babusaheb waited impatiently for the minister's visit. Time passed by impossibly slowly, but at last the day arrived. The minister came: at eleven in the morning; Babusaheb was to attend a party in his honor at four. Early that morning, he shaved, trimmed his moustache, bathed, and sat down all prepared. At exactly three he was dressed in the clothes he was going to wear; then he sat and smoked. At half-past three, when it was time to leave, the coat was taken from its plastic packing. Well! No one would have thought that it was really the same coat! It had a completely new splendor, as if it had regained the youthfulness of a quarter century before. A servant woman dressed Babusaheb in it, taking great care not to crush or crease it. Babusaheb could not help feeling grateful, and he remembered that she was their oldest servant. How long had she served them? He felt a strong impulse to reward her, but his pockets were empty. So he suppressed that brief, generous thought regretfully; if he asked the Rani Saheb for money, he knew she would deny that she had any. Despite the return of his old grandeur, his helplessness in such a petty matter wrung his heart, and he held back tears of self-pity. Moreover, he felt remorse for not having been able to defend the honor of the coat he was wearing: a coat that had earned him his former glory but that had been so grossly insulted. Actually, in his feeling of greatness today, all his tyranny, barbarity, and ill-temper seemed to have disappeared. It was as if the noble nature of a loftily humanitarian, forgiving benefactor had welled up inside him. He regarded them all with great affection and silently wished them well.

Babusaheb arrived at. the reception in an exceedingly straightforward and positive frame of mind. As soon as he entered, everyone looked at his coat. For an instant they all stared at it, wide-eyed, and although smiles came to their mouths none of them actually laughed. Babusaheb took note of this, but today he felt no anger, no irritation, nothing at all of that sort. He was on a lofty mental plane where such impulses were pacified and stilled of themselves.

The convenor introduced Babusaheb to the minister and seated him on the dais. Babusaheb chatted to everyone with a civility and politeness appropriate to the occasion. At last the tea party was over and everyone left one by one, bidding the minister farewell as they departed. As Babusaheb


left, he thrust his hands into his coat's lower pockets, as was his habit. At the same time, a local congressman came out, too. He took Babusaheb by the arm and walked beside him, talking. On any other occasion, Babusaheb would not have tolerated the insolent intimacy of the lowlander, but today he was a different man and so he walked on, talking happily with him. But unfortunately, someone called to that congressman from behind, and he turned around without letting go of Babusaheb's arm. Babusaheb's arm was jolted, and because his hand was in his pocket, the old coat ripped from the top corner of the pocket to the bottom of the garment.

Jhaarrrrrrrrr ! ... A thousand earthquakes happened all at once, Babusaheb's heart was rocked by a blow that felt like the end of the world. The whole world seemed to collapse; the seven oceans came welling up into Babusaheb's eyes.

But could the mighty Maujang Babusaheb weep and wail in front of that worthless man? In the old days, he would have set the Alsatian on him and had him torn to pieces. But he did not have that option today; Babusaheb's attitude was no longer one of high and mighty greatness. With an immense effort, he suppressed a feeling of total anguish. Babusaheb was neither dumb with grief, nor did he even permit himself a cry of rage. All he said was, "Oh, what's happened?" and managed to calm himself with a careless gesture.

Slowly he walked outside, took off his coat, and handed it to his man, who stood there waiting for him. Once the congressman had taken his leave, Babusaheb went on his way, walking gravely and in silence. Although dressed now only in shirt and trousers, he did not lower his gaze in shame; and when he had peacefully, firmly, finished his walk and entered his house, he sat down in his usual chair. The man followed him in, hung the coat up on the same old nail, and then went out again. Babusaheb stared at the coat on its nail. The linen that was hanging from the torn pocket was like its tongue sticking out at him. "What's this now, eh?" it seemed to say. "Now what will you do?" He sat staring at it, dry-eyed, for ages. After a while—perhaps because she had heard about the coat being torn—the Rani Saheb came running in and looked closely at it.

"What has happened, eh? How did this happen? Oh Lord, now what will you do?"

"Nothing has happened." Despite the terrible accident, Babusaheb spoke peaceably, even in his own home. "Nothing has happened. I just went to meet the minister, and then I came home. The Ranas' rule is ended."

(written in 1960; from Bhikshu 1960b)


Shivkumar Rai (b. 1916)

Rai was born at Rinak in Sikkim but made his home at Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. He studied for a while at Gyantse in Tibet before gaining his B.A. from Calcutta University in 1941. Rai's career was primarily political: he was one of the founding members of the Gorkha League, an organization that represented Nepalis resident in India, and the first Nepali to hold a ministerial position in the government of West Bengal. Later, he became a producer of Nepali programs for All India Radio.

Rai's first story appeared in Sharada in 1944. His writings are varied; most of the stories in Frontier (Phrantiyar ), his first collection, are set among the tribal communities of the northeast frontier states, and others deal with topics ranging from a mountaineering accident to the life of a dancing girl in a Mughal court. Rai's finest stories are those that describe the lives of the lower classes of the Darjeeling district. He is no experimentalist; he tells his stories in a straightforward and unpretentious manner, but his characterizations and descriptions of scenery are among the finest in Nepali fiction. Rai's stories are published in three collections: Frontier (1951), Yatri (The Traveler, 1956), and Khahare (Monsoon Stream, 1976). (The latter received a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978.)

The Murderer (Jyanamara?)

The long summer downpour came to an end, and the setting sun glinted through dwindling evening clouds. The shadows of banyan and pipal trees grew long above the spring, reaching out and touching a grinding stone that leaned against the courtyard wall. It was busy at the spring:


the farmers had planted the last crop of the year, and now they were washing the mud from their arms and legs and cleaning their tools. Soon they all went home. But Ujirman,who had gone to water the cardamom field, still did not return.

During the Second World War, Ujirman had fought the Japanese in Burma and at Kohima. His left hand lacked its little finger: he claimed that the Japanese had cut it off in hand-to-hand combat. Whenever someone asked him how he had lost it, he became very animated.

"It got cut off, what!" he would exclaim. "It was when we were facing the Japanese in the assault on Burma. But I chopped the radishes off three of them, what! Their weapons were as much use as monkeys' tails. Our knives may not have been sharp, but they were light and quick. We were advancing when they attacked with machine-gun fire, so we halted and quickly took cover. I had jumped into a ditch, and I was firing away when three of them came up on me from behind. And that was that: I killed the lot of them. I didn't notice my finger was gone until I got back to camp. What! I had to spend a month in the hospital!"

Ujirman was a short stocky man in his late thirties, with bulging calves and knotted biceps. He still seemed quick and agile. Everyone knew he never missed his mark when he went out hunting. Young boys often ran along behind him, shouting, "If you want meat, just follow brother Ujirman!"

Most of the village called him "brother," and sometimes, when the village council developed a craving for meat, they would give him a gun and a couple of cartridges and tell him, "Off you go then, brother. Have a look down at Dusseni forest, and see what you can find."

Once he had entered the forest, Ujirman never came back empty-handed. He would always return with at least a few pigeons, or some other kind of bird, if not with a deer or a jungle fowl.

No one knew who his first wife had been, and there were no children from that marriage, either. Now that the last ripples of his youth were beginning to lap against the shore, Ujirman felt the need of a young woman. Perhaps he feared that there would be nobody to light his pyre or perform the last rites for him when he died, or perhaps he simply wanted someone to keep him company in his old age. Maybe it was just because Putali was pretty that he was attracted to her. Only he knew his motives. But whatever the reason might be, he felt he had to take a young woman for his wife, and so he did. His domestic affairs were no business of the outside world.

Truly, if any man caught a glimpse of Putali he always had to look again. Sixteen or seventeen, and in the first flush of maturity, she was tall, lovely, and straightforward in manner, with a complexion as fair as wheat, and she always wore the hint of a smile. The village lads called


her "sister-in-law," perhaps because this established a relationship between them that made them all feel at ease. There were plenty of youths who would tease and joke, but she answered them cheekily, too. Ujirman knew all about this, but he was a big-hearted soldier, and it caused him no concern. He saw no harm in simple fun.

One evening, when it had grown quite dark, Ujirman burst into the local police post with a gun in his hands. Sergeant Bir Bahadur was the officer in charge, with four men under his command. He sat writing in the dim lamplight with his spectacles halfway down his nose. The broken lampshade had been patched with scraps of paper, and the oil it burned gave off a grimy smoke, and so it only lit a small area around the table. For a moment, the sergeant was startled when he saw Ujirman sweating and panting before him. He pushed the lamp higher to see him properly.

"What are you doing here at this time of night?" he asked.

Ujirman hesitated. "Sergeant, what!" he said at last. "I did something awful today. I killed Officer Bhalu by mistake."

The sergeant stared at him, perplexed, "What? Are you saying you've killed a bhalu ,[1] or do you mean policeman number 88?"

"I thought I was firing at a bhalu , but it was Officer Bhalu. Just look outside, won't you? I'm here to report what happened."

Ujirman's shoulder was covered with blood, and Officer Bhalu lay dead outside.

The sergeant's heart pounded so fiercely, he could hardly move his pen. From time to time, he tore the paper or spilled drops of ink. At last. he managed to steady his hand and complete his report. . . .

Yesterday, Ujirman had gone to irrigate the cardamom field with Sundanté and Harké's father, and they'd seen a bear near the Mangar cliff. Today, he went up there alone because everyone else was down in the valleys planting the fields. Before he set out that morning, he had borrowed a gun from the council, partly for his own protection and partly because he hoped to meet with some game on the way home. Dusk fell very suddenly in the forest below the cliff, and soon it became impossible for him to pick things out in the darkness. Then he heard the sound of cracking branches and stones slithering down the hillside just below the path. So he stopped and stood dead still, looking toward where the sounds were coming from, but he saw nothing in the darkness.

"Who's there?" he cried, and the noises stopped for a moment. But then he heard them again and saw something black slip behind a leafy fig tree. Suddenly he remembered the bear he had seen the day before, and now he clearly saw a bear hiding there, eating seeds from the tree. As he watched, it got up and began to lollop toward him. He hurriedly


took aim and fired: BANG! The bear gave a yelp and fell flat on its back. His heart missed a beat, and he walked over to look at it, but near the fig tree he found the body of Officer Bhalu, covered in blood. On his way back from a patrol, he had probably squatted down there to defecate.

So Ujirman had picked up the body and presented himself at the police post. When he had finished his account of these events, he was close to tears.

"Please save me, sergeant," he said. "I made a mistake, what! If anything should happen to me, my Putali will be so sad!"

Sergeant Bir Bahadur was in the government's favor. He felt very sorry for Ujirman, but he couldn't shirk his responsibilities. That night he locked Ujirman in the guardroom and next morning had him transferred to the police station in the town. The news went round like a forest fire, and people said all sorts of things.

"The poor man's ruined, and all for nothing. That's what happens once your luck is out."

"No, no, it's always the same when a man has a pretty wife. Everyone looks at her. On days when Ujirman wasn't at home, Officer Bhalu was always calling by. Do you think he was just bringing her sugarcane?"

The old council headman knew Ujirman well. "I saw him only yesterday evening. 'There!' he said to me, 'That Bhalu has gone too far today!' The poor man was deluded. Once the stars are against you, there's nothing you can do."

The police went about their investigation quickly. Ujirman stood in court as a man accused of murder, and there were witnesses and evidence, too, of things that did or did not happen. On the opening day of the trial, he felt heartened to see people from his village in the courtroom. Little did he know that they were there as witnesses for the prosecution and had come to do him down. The village council had tried hard to get him released on bail, but their efforts met with no success. They had employed an advocate to plead his case for him.

"When the judge asks you whether or not you're guilty, say 'not guilty' and leave everything else to me," the advocate had instructed him. And that was how it happened.

"Are you guilty or not guilty?" asked the judge.

"Not guilty, my lord, what!"

The police presented their case and added plenty of spice to it. The officer laid the file before the judge and said, "My lord, marrying a pretty girl was disastrous for Ujirman. Lots of the village lads came and went regularly at his house, and it was only natural for him to worry about the rumors that were going around concerning his wife. They caused constant squabbles between Ujirman and Putali. While Ujirman was down in the fields, Officer Bhalu would visit his house and chat to


Putali for hours. So it was only natural that Ujirman became suspicious. And it is clear from the evidence before me that Putali welcomed Bhalu's advances. Last year, on Maghe Sankranti Day, many of the villagers saw Putali and Bhalu together at the fair.[2] Ujirman was away at the time."

The policeman opened a parcel. "My lord, this is a sweater that Putali knitted for Officer Bhalu. She knitted socks and scarves for him, too. Ujirman must have known that they were planning to run away together the following Wednesday. Officer Bhalu had been granted one month's leave, and they intended to elope to the hills. It was because Ujirman had found out about this that he devised a plan to kill Officer Bhalu. Once, as he was setting off on a hunting trip, he made a strange remark to Maite's father. 'The police are very devious,' he said, but when he was asked what he meant by this he did not answer. Surely he must have been thinking about the affair that was going on between his wife and Officer Bhalu. He and Putali quarreled on the morning before the murder. Ujirman said, 'No, no, you can't change my mind. You can't stop me. Today it's either Officer Bhalu or me. I shan't rest till I've killed him.' And two of the villagers saw him going down the hill with a gun. So this is proof of the fact that Ujirman was full of anger and jealousy. He knew that Bhalu would come along that path on his way back from Daudaha, so he caught Bhalu on his own there and put an end to him."

Ujirman sat and listened in astonishment, burning with rage as he heard his wife slandered. He loved his Putali, And he trusted her, too. "My wife is young," he thought to himself. "She likes to have fun. But she would never behave like that. If she had disgraced herself as he says she did, I'd have strangled her myself."

One after another, the witnesses gave their accounts. Shikari Damai and Musé's father stood up in court and said, "It's true; we did see them together on Maghe Sankranti Day, my lord."

Maite's father talked about the day when he saw Ujirman going out hunting: "It's true, my lord; Ujirman did say that the police were devious and not to be trusted. He'd quarreled with Putali that morning as well."

Next came Kancha Bijuva. "My lord, I'd spent the night at Lalman's house in the Magar village,[3] and that morning I was on my way home with Maite. As we passed Ujirman's house I heard them arguing inside. 'Why don't you leave it alone, what's the point of killing?' Putali was saying. Ujirman was shouting angrily, 'Let me be, you whore! I will not rest till I've killed that bhalu . Today it's either him or me!' I don't know,


my lord; at the time we thought he was talking about a bear. Little did we know that it was Officer Bhalu he was jealous of!"

The judge became rather stern. "Just tell the court what happened. It's not for you to add your own interpretations."

"That's all I know, my lord," said Kancha, startled. "But I did see him going out with a gun."

Ujirman stood there deep in his thoughts; inside, he was furious. Suddenly he heard someone call Putali's name, and he looked up as she was led into the courtroom. She looked all around, but when her eyes met Ujirman's she turned away and hung her head. He wondered why she had lowered her gaze, but then he thought, "Well, she's never been in a court before; she must be nervous in front of all these people. Now my Putali will defend her husband's honor and give sharp replies to all their questions."

A man and his wife stood on either side of the judge. One was there as a criminal, the other to prove that he was a killer. One was there as the accused, the other as a witness to confirm the accusation. The questioning began. A police officer showed her a blue sweater and asked, "Did you knit this?"


"When it was finished, to whom did you give it?"

"Officer Bhalu."

"Why did you give it to him?"

"Last year, did you go to the Maghe Sankranti fair with Officer Bhalu?"

"Yes I did. So what?"

"What was your relationship with Officer Bhalu?"

"Had your husband discovered that you were planning to run away to the hills with Officer Bhalu?"

Ujirman's lawyer interrupted. "My lord, I object. The question is not relevant. It has nothing to do with the incident."

"My lord, it is of course wholly relevant. It is necessary for us to know what effect the elopement plan had upon Ujirman."

"Objection overruled," said the judge. "Proceed."

The policeman repeated his question. "Had your husband discovered that you were planning to run away to the hills with Officer Bhalu?"

"He had not."

"Did you tell Officer Bhalu not to come that evening because your husband had found out and was going to kill him?"

"In the end, he came every day, didn't he!"

"Just give me a simple answer. Did you or didn't you?"


"I did."

"The morning before Officer Bhalu was killed, did you and Ujirman quarrel, and did Ujirman say, 'Leave it, don't try to change my mind. Today it's either Officer Bhalu or me?'"

"Yes, we did have a row. But it was the bear he said he would kill."

The policeman turned to the judge.

"My lord, if a man is setting out to kill a bear, he never goes into the forest alone. She's trying to save her husband. She has already admitted that she told Officer Bhalu not to go out that evening because her husband was going to kill him. We know already that Ujirman was furiously jealous of Bhalu. Without telling anybody, he went down into the forest on his own simply in order to kill him. When Ujirman fired the gun, he knew exactly what he was doing."

Ujirman was holding his breath. He felt the ground crumbling beneath his feet, and he was lost for words. He stared dumbly at his feet. The judge turned to him.

"Have you anything to say?"

Ujirman's eyes blazed like a lion's, and he clenched his fists. All at once he stood up and bellowed, "I am guilty, my lord. I did put an end to that adulterer. I did fire the gun simply to kill that wretch. What! I am prepared to go to prison."

For a moment, the whole court was stunned. His lawyer turned to the judge and said, "My lord, I request a few days' adjournment. Because of what his wife has been through, the prisoner is not in his right mind."

But Ujirman interrupted, "I have not gone mad, my lord. I certainly did kill him, what, and I've no regrets! Ha ha ha." He began to laugh out loud.

The judge was banging the desk with his gavel, but Ujirman went on laughing. He laughed and laughed until the whole court shook with his laughter.

(from Sajha Katha [1968] 1979)


Daulat Bikram Bishtha (b. 1926)

Bishtha was born in the eastern district of Bhojpur and is one of Nepal's few truly accomplished novelists. Six novels by Bishtha have been published, and several have earned him literary prizes. His stories are extremely varied and include psychological portraits, portrayals of oppression, and simple romances. Bishtha's stories are collected in Pradarshini (Exhibition, 1966), Galako Lali (The Blush of a Face, 1968), Chaya (Shadow, 1974), Ghauka Satra Chakka (The Seventeen Wheels of a Wound, 1978).

The Andhi Khola (Andhi Khola)

Gangi goes on watching. It is midday, and some young lads from the Andhi Khola are on their way down to Gorakhpur to enlist at the cantonment there.[1] They follow a recruiting sergeant along the level path, singing as they come. She is affected by the melody of their song; its refrain touches her heart:

Mother, mother, do not weep so,
My letters will come to you time after time,
Just like the sentries patrolling.

It holds a peculiar magic for her. The young men are taking this chance to sell their lives and pay off their debts: the chance is born of the tension between India and China. They sing to the beat of a drum,


and Gangi's whole body repeats their refrain. As they pass by in front of her, she suddenly remembers him. His image reappears, like the dawn mists that weave their way up the western ridge from the valley of Andhi Khola. For Gangi has not forgotten; it seems like only yesterday. She feels that even now he is climbing the steep hill path out of the valley, following the recruiter, to join the war with the Germans. Twenty-five years seem to have flown by, and still she watches that hillside.

The young men are off to earn their rice abroad and maybe to throw their lives away. They begin to disappear as they go down the slope. But Gangi goes on watching. Even when they are all out of sight, she still thinks she hears their song on the wind. . . .

He was singing the same song when he crossed the pass and disappeared for ever. She was nineteen at the time. All the other young folk of the village used to tell her how pretty she was. Then she had been fleet of foot, able to run through the forests and over the hills, as light as a flower blossom. She used to go out with him, like a lively young doe, to cut grass for the livestock. As she drowsed in the shade of a pipal tree, she often heard him singing that song.

There is a particular incident she wants to remember, but at the moment she can't recall it. She gazes up at the mountain peak, which seems to be fixed to the clouds, but a strange uneasy feeling persists.

Once, Gangi was on her way down to the valley, ostensibly to cut grass. But she was looking out for him, and suddenly she saw his figure at a bend in the path. She was struck by a mixture of joy and fear, and with her hand on her pounding breast, she hid like a bird in the roots of a tree by the Andhi Khola. Slowly, she inched her way toward the riverbank, waiting for a chance to escape without him spotting her. She jumped over one boulder and down onto another, chuckling quietly in delight. But then she thought she heard him breathing on the far side of the rocks.

Her heart still pounded, but she tried to hold her breath and jump the other way. He sounded very near, but he didn't seem to have discovered her. Perhaps he wanted to let her run for a little longer. Leaving the shelter of her rock, she jumped behind another. Then all at once she was in his arms. There she was, enfolded in his embrace, entangled with him like a bashful flower. So she put her foot into the river and splashed him with water.

Gangi smiles to herself: this was what she had tried to remember. The memory brings her comfort and relief; it is as if she has laid down a heavy load. Feeling a little lighter in spirit, she looks up the sheer hillside again. She sees the young men's dark shadows filing up the steep, twist-


ing path. Their song and the beating of the drum come to her once more. As she watches those figures, it is as if she is searching for something she has lost. They are becoming smaller and smaller, just as he did as she watched him go. Gangi feels herself becoming smaller; she becomes as small as a seven-year-old girl.

When she was seven, she once went out at sunset to look for a goat that she feared might have been lost at the edge of the fields. She didn't know that his ten-year-old body was hidden up in a mulberry tree. He leapt down in front of her and gave her a terrific fright. She quarreled with him and compared his family to hers. There was a telephone in her uncle's house, she bragged, but at his uncle's house the mice were singing about all the rice they'd stolen. In her uncle's house, they played harmoniums, but at his there was a leaky roof. The rains came through in the summer, she mocked.[2] He became so cross with her that he slapped her in the face. Then she told his father about it, and he got a hiding. After he had taken his thrashing, she went and consoled him. From then on, she always consoled him.

How blue the memory makes her feel. It is as if she still feels his hand on her face. Lovingly, she strokes her cheek.... As if trying to hold back the tears, she looks up at the hillside once again, where it descends indifferently to the valley floor. The young men are nearly at the top, but because they are far away, she cannot hear their song anymore. Her eyes fall upon the distant, forested hill that overtops the ridge. What is the world like beyond the hills? Gangi cannot imagine; she just looks out from unblinking eyes.

Oh, her heart still pains her. It was at exactly this time of day, when evening was drawing in, that he sat outside, looking desolate. He just sat there in silence, deep in his thoughts. Gangi looked at him.

"What's the matter? Aren't you well?" she asked.

But he did not reply. Trying to start some conversation, she talked about various things, but her man remained as aloof as a rock, buffeted and broken by the Andhi Khola. Gangi was still trying to think of some way to cheer him up when he announced, "Tomorrow I am going to sign up in the war against the Germans."

Gangi felt as if she had tumbled down a waterfall. Without giving her any chance to question him, he set off for the village. Then Gangi was gripped by fear—that day his voice lacked its usual jocularity. She cast around for hope, but the more she did so, the more she became convinced—he was going to the war, for sure. His land was in a rich man's


hands; his livestock were all mortgaged. He was not prepared to wrestle with poverty every day of his life.

After the evening meal, Gangi went and sought him out. At first, he was impatient with her, but then he murmured sweetly, "The river is for bathing in, Gangi. Or else, why would people jump in? I'm not running away from hardship. The war will pay off our debts and fill our stomachs. And I'm not going alone, after all."

Gangi did not understand at all. She simply laid her head on his chest and sobbed, choked with grief. She hugged him tightly, as if she hoped that he would not go and desert his wife like Gautam Buddha, and listened to the awesome roar of the river in the night. As she listened she fell asleep. In her sleep, she dreamed that the clear water tumbling down from the mountains was turning cloudy as it descended. First, it submerged the boulders where they had played hide-and-seek, then the woods where they had wandered since childhood, teasing each other and joking. The waters rose higher, until she was afraid that the very hills would collapse and engulf her.

She woke from her dream in terror and listened for a moment to the thundering Andhi Khola, which shattered the empty silence of the night. He was still sleeping right there beside her. Sighing mournfully, she held him tight and pressed her face against his. As she went back to sleep she felt his warm breath on her cheek. She clung so tightly it was as if she was trying to imprison him, as if her hold on him would not be broken even if the river flooded and engulfed them both. She fell asleep to the warm sound of his breathing and his sweet heartbeat.

Next morning, she found that he was gone from her arms. Chilled, she rushed to open a window and look outside. The sun had already risen over the peaks beyond the river. She went out, still fastening her clothes, but she could not see him anywhere: not on the steps or in the yard. She ran to the village, but he was not there. Nor did she find him beside the Andhi Khola. Standing by the resting place, she looked up at the mountainside.

He was becoming smaller and smaller as he went up the hill. She felt that he had torn himself from her arms and forsaken that place forever. His song came down to her on the wind, spreading sadness all around:

Mother, mother, do not weep so,
My letters will come to you time after time,
Just like the sentries patrolling.

Gangi watched him go, and as she watched, the leaves fell from the trees. As she watched, the leaves grew on the trees once more. Twenty-five years had passed, watching day and night. But still she watches. One day, he might eventually come back down that path.


Gradually, the young men vanish. There is only the empty path twisting up that fearsome slope. Gangi is still watching as the dusk, then the night, comes down on the Andhi Khola. She is hidden by the empty, silent night in which nothing can be seen. But Gangi goes on watching.

(from Sajha Katha [1968] 1979)


Bijay Malla (b. 1925)

Bijay Malla is the son of Riddhibahadur Malla, the first editor of Sharada , and the younger brother of Govind Bahadur Gothale. Bijay Malla was educated at Banaras Hindu University and at Trichandra College in Kathmandu. Both Gothale and Bijay Malla were strongly influenced by their childhood in the literary household where Sharada was produced, as well as by Bhavani Bhikshu, who was the journal's third editor. Malla spent two years in jail for his anti-Rana political activities during the late 1940s (hence the second story translated here) and was until 1990 the secretary of the Royal Nepal Academy.

Malla began by writing prose poetry and drama and quickly developed a self-consciously modern style of prose that strongly resembles his speech: rapid and confiding. His stories, which are almost always set in Kathmandu, observe life from a variety of unusual angles. "The Engineer's Head" (Injinirko Tauko ), a story for which there has not been space in this book, is another interesting parable of humankind in the age of technology. Malla is also noted for his poetry, several dramas, and two novels. Malla's stories are published in two collections: Ek Bato Aneh Mod (One Road, Many Turnings, 1969) and Pareva ra Kaidi (The Prisoner and the Dove, 1977). Malla was awarded the Sajha Puraskar for Ek Bato Anek Mod in 1970.

Sunglasses (Kalo Chashma)

It was raining a little. As I left the house in the dusk, I told my wife that I wouldn't be back that night. But my work finished earlier than I had expected and I came home at about two in the morning. I knew the front door would be locked, so I went to the back door, which was


sometimes forgetfully left open. Even if it was shut, it could be opened by shaking the door frame hard; the lock was not especially strong. I was reluctant to call out and wake someone up when they were fast asleep. I felt this would cause an unnecessary fuss.

I was soaked through by the rain, but the back door was open. I went inside and crept up the stairs to the first floor, the second floor. The door to the room was shut. I pushed it gently: it was locked. So I thought I would go across the balcony into the back room to lie down. The room was dark; I pressed the switch and the electric bulb glared brightly.

I mopped my brow and dabbed my face with my handkerchief. Then I noticed the sound of someone breathing. I turned and looked: someone was asleep on the bed. I shook the water from my coat, shirt, and trousers. Sometimes my wife tires of her room and sleeps somewhere else. For that reason, every room is prettified! I laughed to myself.

Then suddenly I began to doubt that it really was my wife sleeping there because the door to my room was locked. So I wiped my eyes and peered over. Yes, it was her, alright. And there was someone else there, too, with fat thighs. I quietly moved closer.

They were both fast asleep. My wife was sleeping with her head resting on our neighbor's brawny shoulder and her forehead pressed against his cheek. Her breast was partially bared. The man was sleeping with his arms around her, squeezing her tightly with his thighs. They had obviously fallen asleep in great contentment. As I looked at them, I suddenly thought of two white roses entwined and blossoming together.

For a while I watched their contented faces and felt that there should be places in every life where the earth's creatures can play and enjoy themselves, and so sustain their lives. If they could live out their time in games, they would consider it an accomplishment.

I moved back a little, in case they woke up, but they were fast asleep. They did not lie still, however: they both moved their arms, as if searching for something on each other's breast. The white skin shone on their plump legs. I just stood and stared. I felt as if this man and this woman were the first people of creation. I felt like a spectator. Watching this charming scene was like watching some great event. So I watched.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I was watching my own wife sleeping shamelessly before me, in an immoral liaison with another man. I should be embarrassed. I should think this improper. I should feel violently angry, outraged, repugnant, and vengeful as a witness to such a reprehensible deed.

But still I watched the two of them, these two flower blossoms, with wide eyes. Really, they were beautiful.

All at once I remembered a story I had heard someplace, sometime, from a political friend who had been to jail. I do not remember it well,


but he told me about a madman there who had stabbed his wife with a khukuri when he discovered her sleeping with an unmarried man. If his dog had only barked when it heard him coming home, his wife would have woken up and the man would have escaped. He would have gone on thinking that his wife was pure. But the dog had not barked, and he had caught his wife with the man. So he took the dog outside and killed it. And then there was his horse: if it hadn't brought him home so quickly from so far away, he wouldn't have seen her sleeping with that man. So he killed the horse for its crime, too; then he turned himself in and was sent to jail.

The story might have been invented, or it might have been true, but it was certainly instructive.

I smiled as this memory came back to me. The young couple who slept before me now were playing. The earth itself was their right. All they wanted to do was to enjoy a game of hide-and-seek. One day they would get caught up in the complex problems of morality and social convention. They would be frightened and even curse themselves. Questions of sacredness and defilement would pursue them. If they were unable to bear this, they might even go mad. But why should I hope for that? What difference did it make to me?

Why would I wish to be ungenerous to those who enjoy the pleasures of the flesh? I was watching them in their nakedness.

Even as they slept, there were traces of loving smiles on their faces. Their limbs were tangled up together. They murmured their satisfaction quietly in their sleep, as if swept along by joyous music. Their rounded arms, breasts, thighs, and calves were like those of stone images. Was their fulfillment limited to only this level?

So why should morality trouble them? The problem would begin as soon as they woke up and saw me. Could they put up with this question of morals? Would the sensual contentment they so recently found not disappear completely when they realized their corruption? Poor things! I didn't want any kind of question to overturn or disrupt the fulfillment they enjoyed or to pursue and worry them for the rest of their lives. I watched their peaceful attitude for a little longer before I switched off the light. Let them sleep in comfort, I thought, and I tiptoed out onto the balcony.

Next morning, I was up first. My wife was in a carefree, contented mood; she was cheerfully doing the housework.

"When did you come home?" she asked.

"A little while ago," I answered, smiling.

She was as light as a blossom; there was no awkwardness in her. She flitted to and fro, up and down, like a butterfly, busy in her work. Even I was surprised to see how happy she was. But anyone would behave


like this if they had found fulfillment on their own mental plane. Did her happiness make any difference to me? How pleasant, how joyous their private world was!

She brought me fried eggs and tea in my room. Her slender, pretty body was certainly rather attractive. She picked up my clothes and my coat and brushed them down. They were dirty and soiled from the rain and from being left on the floor.

"So," she said, "you got soaked in the rain last night, and you stayed behind somewhere?" There was a sweetness in her voice. Today she seemed utterly charming.

Then my neighbor came in. He was ill at ease as soon as he saw me. His sense of moral weakness had gone, and his awkwardness made my wife's expression tense. For a moment, she was bewildered and doubtful. I smiled and offered him some tea, and they both relaxed a little.

As if paying no particular attention to them, I leafed through a magazine. Their uneasiness gradually diminished. When I looked surreptitiously at them I saw that smiles and a new world of dreams were dancing again in their eyes. Soft, tender emotions made their faces transparent, and they looked like an innocent boy and girl. Why should I thrust such delicate people into pain or sorrow? If the poor things ever discovered that I knew even a little about their innermost secret, the cruel restraints of guilt and convention would begin to trouble them. In reality, they were not contemptuous of the need for social approval, nor were they rebelling against it. Those eyes contained dreams and desires, beautiful, sweet! The first flowers of creation!

I did not realize that I was looking at them curiously. They became uncomfortable, and their conversation stopped in midflow. They surely feared that I knew something then. They were unsure of themselves and uneasy. My wife felt like getting up and going outside. They seemed suspicious of me and unable to understand my indifferent gaze. I smiled to myself.

I didn't want to cause them any pain. They should not have to worry about whether I knew or whether I was going to find out. It would be no great achievement to shatter the world they were playing in. But what good would it do me? Let them enjoy themselves in their own world! Moral questions could easily destroy their world of sensuality. So let me not find out—that would be best.

Most emotions can be seen in the eyes. So I decided that I would wear sunglasses from then on to hide them. Then their world would be safe.

Seeing me thinking to myself, they were suddenly agitated; a change came over them, as if they had the mentality of guilty criminals. Their contentment vanished; the soft dreams disappeared from their eyes; they wanted to get away from me to hide the signs of their fear. How conscious


they were of the prohibitive rules of society! How easy it was to know which level their touchstone of judgment was on!

But I didn't want to cause them sorrow or fear. I stood up and decided to buy some goggles. I would wear them over my eyes. They should not feel any fear in my presence. Let them go on playing happily. Why should I deny that their world exists?

I turned around carefully, so that they would not see. Gentle emotions were in their eyes; a sweetness was on their lips. I had to buy some sunglasses then. If I wore sunglasses, I would become obviously aloof from the forms of social, moral man.

Goggles, sunglasses.

(first published c. 1960; from Malla 1977)

The Prisoner and the Dove (Pareva Ra Kaidi)

Sometimes something occurs in your life that is highly unlikely and totally unexpected, but the insight you gain from such an event can contribute to a change in the whole course of your life. The event I shall describe to you here was really quite an ordinary one.

We political prisoners were locked up in jail number —, also known as the round house. It was the time when the autocratic Ranas were ruling. We were among those who had joined a movement to bring democracy to our land. In the course of our struggle, most of us had ended up in various jails to endure punishment and privation. We all agreed that the Ranas' regime should be brought to an end, although each of us belonged to a different political persuasion. But we were forced to put on a show of unity in front of the warders and the regime and to behave as if we were unanimous in our values, without letting our differences become evident.

Thus, our daily relations inside the round house were like those of a family. We collected together the "offerings" they gave us in jail—one and a half mana of paddy, a handful of firewood, a little salt and chili pepper, 1 paisa of dal, and a quarter of oil each week—and added it to the rice, lentils, ghee, and so on that came from various prisoners' homes. Thus we maintained a kind of diet. We also divided the various jobs up among us: some of us were cooks; others were washers-up; others sifted the poor-quality rice they gave us. We twelve young men ran our kitchen like this, and our tasks kept us busy in one way or another all day long. We lacked facilities for reading or writing, but domestic chores helped the time to pass without us being aware of it.

We had several other means of entertainment. There were cards and a carram board, and by good fortune we also had four pairs of doves. These had been cared for by a prisoner who was transferred shortly


after our arrival. We felt obliged to take over his responsibility for them. At first, we feared that the doves might be a burden on us, but as we fed, tended, and played with the simple domestic creatures, they became quite attached to us. We all became very fond of them, too, when they hatched their eggs and produced little chicks. I hadn't realized that doves could become so tame and so friendly toward humans.

We gave each of them a name, according to its character, color, or shape: there were Victoria, Menka, Dushyant, Shakuntala, Lalpate, Savitri, Jureli, and so on. The young doves we had reared would fly onto our shoulders or come and sit on the tips of our fingers. Sometimes they came cooing to light upon our heads or our bodies. At mealtimes, and when we scattered grain for them, the doves would congregate, each round its own master, and we gave special attention to our own particular birds. We would toss the adult birds into the air, and as they flew across the sky above the compound, mounting higher and higher, we thought of the world outside and longed to leave the jail. But they always flew back inside to come and settle on our shoulders and then to an open space where we had set up some cages for them like a dovecote. The jail was truly their home.

In the evenings, we were separated from them and shut away in our iron traps. Soldiers and jailers came and locked each cell, then locked the front gate and the two rear gates. Now and then we could hear the sound of the doves, and the soldiers' voices rang out from the watchtowers all through the night: "Be alert!" "Be alert!"

Early in the morning they would come to open up, unlocking the iron doors. Then the doves would fly to us, cooing. We would go out to sit on a dais in the yard, where we scattered food for them, and they would come to peck it up. One of the cockbirds would act out his love for his mate by cooing and dancing and fluttering along behind her. Then he would fly up onto the roof and join with her there. The hens would sit feeding their chicks. We would tarry a while to watch and enjoy these scenes, and then our daily work would begin.

We had come to identify so closely with these doves that we would search for any bird that did not come out into the compound in the morning. Sometimes, one would be found laying an egg or incubating. We so forgot ourselves in our care for the doves that we became almost oblivious to the passing of the days. We felt that the hardships of life in prison weighed less heavily on us because of them.

Even the prison workers were affected as they watched us passing our time in this pleasurable relationship. We even cut down on our own food and fed the doves mustard seeds that we had brought in from outside. So they became sturdy and strong; they could fly high up into the sky, and we watched them happily. Once or twice they were attacked


by hawks, but the doves always returned home safely. We were overjoyed on such occasions and fed them especially large portions of grain.

After some time, we realized that the prison workers were not looking so kindly upon the source of our enjoyment and pleasure. One day, they were reluctant to bring us the mustard seeds we had had bought for us outside. Subsequently, we discovered one of the doves decapitated and flung to the ground, and we all became very sad and angry. We felt that we had been provoked, and we were as miserable and worried all through that day as we would have been if a member of our family had died. We were furious with the prison orderlies, and one or two of us even shouted angrily at them. They completely denied having killed the dove, but we were well acquainted with their mentality and put little faith in their protestations of innocence. We thought they might have killed the dove in order to eat it but had thrown it away so that the soldiers who had come to lock up would not see. From that day on, we were all vigilant: we counted the doves at lockup time and remained wakeful after dark.

Because of all this, relations between us and the orderlies gradually worsened. They would not come to our compound when we called them or buy us the things we needed. They would not call a doctor if one of us fell sick or even a barber to cut our hair. If ever our families sent something in for us, they would delay and procrastinate before handing it over. With a display of blatant hostility, they caused us the maximum possible hardship. We, too, decided to take only those things we needed and that were due to us and not to ask for any favors. This internal and external war between us went on and on.

One afternoon, the sun was blazing down and everyone lay in their cells, sleeping or talking quietly. I was suffering from an upset stomach, and I was on my way to the latrine when I caught a glimpse of someone going into the dovecote. When I saw that it was one of our group, my fear for the birds' safety was dispelled. The open area where the dovecote stood was in front of the latrine, from which one could see everything outside through a sackcloth partition. Most of us were of the firm opinion that this friend of ours was rather dull and uneducated, and so we had kept him off the more delicate tasks. During our discussions, and when a decision had to be taken, we attached little importance to what he said. He was not in the least interested in looking after the doves, and because he showed scant enthusiasm for games and his manners were coarse, he was obliged to live a life apart from us. He often wrangled with us and became irritated, so he lived hungrily on his own.

So on that day I was surprised to see him picking up the doves and caressing them. He held them to his face and kissed them. However he might have seemed on other occasions, I now became aware of another aspect of his character as I watched him consoling himself all alone in


this display of affection. Suddenly, however, I was startled to see that he had grasped hold of one of the henbirds forcibly and had thrust its beak into his mouth. A strange change of mood showed on his face as it flapped its wings and struggled to be free. The dove was fluttering frantically, and he was holding on hard and sucking with excited desire. Suddenly, the dove fell to the ground. He calmed himself for a moment, stared blankly at the fallen dove, and then walked out.

I left the latrine and walked toward the dovecote, pretending to be unaware of what had taken place. There I saw the body and the head of the dove lying on the ground. I felt no shock or surprise. What I had witnessed was a clear glimpse into the mind of a man who had been kept away from his home for many years. Could I claim that such a thing was not latent inside me, too?

(from Malla 1977)


Ramesh Bikal (b. 1932)

Bikal, whose real name is Rameshvar Prasad Chalise, was born near Gokarna in the Kathmandu Valley, passed a B.Ed. in 1960, and has worked in education for much of his life. His earlier stories express his socialist beliefs and antiestablishment instincts, for which he was imprisoned on three occasions between 1949 and 1952. His analyses of rural life are especially progressive, and Bikal's success in describing and empathizing with the lives of the common people of his country is without parallel in Nepali. Stories such as "A Splendid Buffalo," "The Song of New Road" (Naya Sadakko Git ), "Footpath Ministers," and "The Chautara at the Pass" (Bhanjyangko Chautaro ) are among the finest in Nepali literature. Bikal has more recently turned to stories about sexual relations—following a trend, perhaps—for which he is sometimes criticized.

Bikal's stories are published in eight volumes: Birano Deshma (In an Empty Land, 1959), Naya Sadakko Git (The Song of New Road, 1962), 13 Ramaila Kathaharu (13 Enjoyable Stories, 1967), Aja Pheri Arko Tanna Pherincha (Today Yet Another Bedspread Is Changed, 1967), Euta Budho Violin Ashavariko Dhunma (An Old Violin in the Ashavari Tune, 1968), Agenako Dilma (On the Edge of the Hearth, 1968), Urmila Bhaujyu (Sister-in-Law Urmila, 1968), and 21 Ramaila Kathaharu (21 Enjoyable Stories, 1968). Bikal was awarded the Madan Puraskar for Naya Sadakko Git and was the first story writer to receive such a prize.

A Splendid Buffalo (Lahuri Bhainsi)

"What's going on at Lukhuré's place, eh? His house is full of people!" The dware looked out over his wall and saw a jet-black creature there. "What's that in Lukhuré's yard?" he asked impatiently, as if there should


always be someone at hand to answer his questions or to tell him that what he said was true. He looked around, but there was no one near. Abashed, he called down to Rambire Gharti in the field, "Rame, hey, Rame! What's all the fuss at Lukhuré's place? Look! Is that a black cow there? What is it?"

"Eh? Oh, I think Lukhuré said something the other day about going to buy a buffalo. He must have brought it home today," muttered Rambire as he came up the steps to the dware 's house. He touched his head to the dware 's feet, then shaded his eyes and looked over towards Lukhuré's house.

"Hey, it is you know! It certainly is a buffalo! The serf has brought a buffalo home!"[1]

"Lukhuré's bought a buffalo?" said the dware in amazement. He'd never have believed such a thing, even in a dream. If this were true, it was the most astonishing thing and something of a misdemeanor. He had always intended to get a good buffalo himself, but he'd been putting it off for years. Now that wretch Lukhuré had got one! How could this be? It felt like a blow to his status, indeed, and made him feel uneasy. It was as if someone had pricked him with a gramophone needle.

"What kind of buffalo has he got, then, Lukhuré the serf?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. He said he was going to look out for something that cost up to a hundred a hoof." Rambire spoke absentmindedly, staring hard at Lukhuré's yard. Perhaps Rambire was wandering pleasurably through a dream in which a buffalo was tethered outside his door, too, with a great deal of excitement going on around it.

The dware could not contain his curiosity, and a terrible compulsion led him toward Lukhuré's house. "Come on," he said. "Let's have a look. Let's see what kind of buffalo that serf has got for himself."

Lukhuré's yard was full of people, and Pode, his four-year-old son, ran round and round the buffalo, clapping his hands. His feet had hardly touched the ground since father brought it home to Ankuri Bhanjyang.[2] Long before the buffalo arrived, Pode had told all his friends about it and assembled them in the yard. As soon as his father stepped inside, he rushed up to him happily and swung from his coat.

"Father, have you brought our buffalo? Have you? Hey Gopé, look! Look at the buffalo my father's brought home! It's our buffalo, you know! Every evening we'll have buckets and buckets of milk! It looks beautiful, too! And we'll take ghee to the town and sell it there.[3] Then we'll buy ourselves some good coats with the money! Won't we, father? Don't you think so?"


"Yes, oh yes. When I next go to town I'll buy you a lovely coat." Lukhuré wore a gentle smile; today he was delighted. For a change, his son's insistent demands did not make him snap. His old remorse was gone. The hopelessness that caused bitterness and envy had come to an end for him. Today a splendid buffalo, all fit and healthy, was tethered in his yard. Standing there on his doorstep, it was like the wishing tree, granting his small son's demands and fulfilling his age-old dream. He gazed at it with love and affection. Even the cold evening wind felt like the gentle hand of fortune or a mother's loving caress. He approached the buffalo slowly. It was a marvelous creature, for sure. It had big heavy udders, a black body so sleek that the flies simply slipped down from its hide, and short, stubby horns. A thrill ran through his body, anti he patted it fondly.

Lukhuré was not alone in his feelings; Ghainti, his wife, was delighted, too. She obeyed her husband's every command without her usual wranglings. Usually, she would answer him back with all sorts of rude words if he asked for even a cup of water, but today he found that it was offered without even having to ask. She cooked some soup voluntarily, too, from some old leftover corn flour and filled up two baskets with grass. Then she heaped it up on the doorstep, saying, "This will do for this evening." Now she was hurrying in and out with great enthusiasm. Lukhuré was pleased as he watched her bustling about; it was all thanks to his splendid buffalo. Usually, a whole day could go by without her even looking happy or uttering a pleasant word. Where had the old Ghainti gone now, that embodiment of strife and malevolence who always answered back at length and misinterpreted even compliments in the most unpleasant ways? Where had this new Ghainti come from, cheery and smiling, an image of love and helpfulness? Lukhuré watched her and grinned. All around, he saw nature smiling. A vermilion pinkness spread up to the top of the mountains in the west. The forests, the hills, the very leaves of the trees beside his house, all seemed to share his pleasure. He forgot how tired he felt after the long walk home and began to attend to his buffalo, as excited as a twenty-year-old. He warmed the broth and fed some to it, then washed off the dried dung that caked its flanks. From his own hands he fed it some oil; then he stroked it with such dedication that it seemed the two of them would merge into one.

Then the dware entered Lukhuré's yard. With the dware came Rambire, and Ghamane and Khulal, too. The dware fixed his gaze on the splendid, attractive buffalo. His eyes were like those of a kite when it spots a carcass far below. The others launched an assault of thoughts at it, too, and looked at it with covetous eyes.

"What did you pay for that, eh, Lukhuré?" Lukhuré was engrossed in his animal, and he jumped when he heard these sugary tones. Startled,


he looked up and saw the dware , so Lukhuré rose hurriedly, walked over to the dware , and bowed down at his feet. Cautiously, Lukhuré said, "Well, sir, it actually cost me 120 a hoof. What do you think?" Then he looked curiously at the dware .

The dware was not overpleased by the unusual tone of satisfaction he detected in Lukhuré's voice or by the happy glint in his eye. The dware felt a prickling sensation, and his tongue tasted sour. He grimaced in distaste and his eyes flashed angrily, but he managed to conceal these unsuitable reactions with his usual smarmy attitude.

"Why, who can say? Who knows with these buffaloes?" he said, inspecting the animal thoroughly. He stooped to look at its udders; then walked right round it, assessing its body, its eyes, its horns.... Really, it was in excellent condition. It made him yearn for it. The dware's mind darkened, like a cloth that is stained by smoke.

"You gave rather a lot for it. How much milk will it give? Just because it has good udders doesn't mean that it's of any use. You won't afford to eat meat just because it's fat."[4] He turned up his nose and narrowed his eyes. Lukhuré was afraid.

"What's wrong?" He looked apprehensively into the dware's eyes but could see no change of mood there: all his crookedness was hidden under his moustache. Then the dware returned his gaze and Lukhuré's eyes turned gray with fear. The dware examined the buffalo a second time, walking all around it. At last he said with great gravity and with as much sympathy as he could muster, "This buffalo is short of breath. Look, Rambire, am I wrong?"

Rambire glanced at the dware ; then he, too, walked round the buffalo to inspect it. Khulal and Ghamane repeated the performance. Eventually, Rambire declared, "Would the dware's eyes deceive him?" He spoke as if there was nothing else he could say. "You've seen lots of buffaloes like this, haven't you, brother Ghamane? It is short of breath, is it not?"

Ghamane and Khulal affirmed in unison that it was indeed, and although it was not clear what Rambire really thought, the dware quickly turned this to his advantage.

"It's not easy to deceive me, you know. How many buffaloes have I dealt with in my time? If its eyes were not in good condition, the whole animal would be worthless."

Lukhuré began to see stars; it was as if Rahu in the darkness was going to gulp down the moon of his long-cherished dream.[5] It was as if he had fallen into a ditch of total darkness through no fault of his own. There was not even a blade of grass to clutch at: oh Lord!


"But Dhakal at Jyamdi village swore to me! If there was anything wrong with it, he said, he'd give me all my money back." He groped for a way out.

"Who, that dirty bastard Dhakal?" The dware frowned. "If you start believing what he says, you're lost! How many people has he tossed into the mire? What do you say, Rame? Do I lie?"

"No, sir! If this buffalo isn't sick, you can pour beer down my throat!" said Rambire firmly. Then he searched the dware 's eyes to assess the impact of his words.

Lukhuré sat down in the yard and held his head in his hands. His garden of dreams was suddenly blighted by frost. His joyous skies grew dark with remorse. His vision blurred, and the smiling sky, singing birds, and dancing leaves all disappeared. He panicked and broke into a sweat. Were his hopes completely shattered? Had he wasted so much money, money he'd splashed out like water, on something that had no value? Had fate cheated him like that? Even as he watched, everything vanished into a dark cloud: Ghainti, little Pode, his house, and everything else that was his. A groan of anguish burst from his lips, "Oh Lord! That damned scoundrel! I'll go tomorrow and put this old cow back on his doorstep!"

The little boy had been gamboling about as if he was the emperor of the world. But now he noticed the sudden change in his father's mood and looked fearfully up at him. Ghainti had been raining down favors for all she was worth, but now she leaned on the door frame, blowing out with rage, like a cake of dried dung when it falls into water.

The dware went home, biting back a cunning grin. Ghamane and Khulal followed behind him. "No point grieving over it," said Rambire, putting his hand on Lukhuré's shoulder. "What had to be has happened. You should have asked a few people for some advice." Then he went home, too. The unfortunate house and the little family that lived there were left alone to bewail their fate.

That evening, the buffalo did indeed give very little milk. Actually, this was quite inevitable because it had just been driven along for ten miles, but the natural shortage just made Lukhuré feel even more suspicious.

"Did it really give little milk?" he thought. "Why would that happen if there were not something wrong with it?"

All night long, he tossed and turned in his bed, feeling as if he was being stung all over by hornets. On one side were his son's ambitions—he had begged for a buffalo day and night—all pulverized to dust now. On the other side was all that money wasted. He was hardly going to be able to pull such a sum from his pocket. Money was like the dirt on his son's hands—here today, gone tomorrow. Today he earned it; the


next day it was spent. How many lifetimes would it take to pay off his debt to Nepal Bahun?[6]

"Oh Lord, that bastard Dhakal has really ruined the poor!" Lukhuré turned from side to side. In the darkness, his 250 rupees became an image of Nepal Bahun, as black as iron, and danced before his eyes. Long claws came out of its fingers and started to come toward him.

Lukhuré groaned, then screamed out in the dark. Instead of making Ghainti feel sorry for her husband, his cries just fueled her violent anger: "You were a cursed idiot! You should have taken some people along who knew better, instead of taking all that money and throwing it down a hole! You've gone completely mad!"

Until this evening, she had been the epitome of love and kindness. Now she had become an emanation of the fearsome goddess. She had been so keen to have a buffalo she had given him the very jewels from her nose and ears. And now the debt was huge. It was hardly surprising that she was furious.

"You've given over our whole house and everything we possess to the moneylender. You've even stripped me bare of my jewels. And then you looked like a blind man at the thing you were buying. Take it back where it came from first thing in the morning. Throw the rotten carcass down on his threshold; then come straight back, you blind fool!"

Lukhuré's wife's long tirades were the most unbearable aspect of the whole affair. They made him reel. "Oh Lord, if such a lovely looking buffalo hadn't been sick, I wouldn't have had to suffer all this."

But what if it suddenly dropped down dead? Lukhuré was gripped by terror at the thought. He kindled a fire in the hearth and lit the lamp. What if it dropped right there, tethered to its peg? He rushed out to the stall and set the lamp in a niche. The buffalo was still tied up there, just as before. Sleek, black, and heavy uddered—a thoroughly splendid buffalo. He stroked it; it was so beautiful. There was no sign of any change in its condition. He sighed, but his sigh was disconsolate. If only there'd been nothing wrong with it....

"You don't keep a buffalo just because it's nice to look at.... And if you want to fool me ... how many buffaloes like this have I dealt with?" The dware 's words still rang in his ears. To deceive him would be no joke. Lukhuré felt utterly miserable. He went back and laid down on his bed, but the sounds of the night could not lull him to sleep. And his wife's sharp words broke his heart to pieces. "Cursed idiot! You're wondering what you would do if it dropped down dead, aren't you! Wasting money on such a worthless creature!" But really—what if it did drop down dead out there? Lukhuré shook with worry; then he stood up


angrily again and went to take another good look. Once he had felt every part of its body, he went back to bed. But Ghainti's words were as sharp as needles, and she went on goading him all night. In the dark he looked over at her regretfully, silently begging her for forgiveness.

Actually, even Ghainti was going too far. What could poor Lukhuré do? He hadn't meant to throw his money away. It was fate that had really robbed them; it had been kind to that bloody Dhakal. Why couldn't the woman understand this?

"Oh Lord, may that bloody, scrounging Brahman be turned to ashes! He brings only misery to the poor. Surely he'll get burned one day by the money he's taken from them!"

"It's you that got burned! Why are you dreaming about someone else getting burned? What are you planning now, you fool, slaughtering it and selling the meat?" Ghainti's voice shook with anger and hurt.

What could Lukhuré do? He'd have to drive it all those miles again if he was going to take it back. Then Dhakal would only insult him and send him away again. If the bastard was so gracious that he was always giving people refunds, he'd hardly have deceived him and robbed him in the first place! Lukhuré threw himself down like a dead man.

The next day, the village elders were assembled outside the dware 's house. It's a custom in the villages for them to gather each morning and evening at some respected person's house to smoke, talk, and share one another's sorrows. All the affairs of the village are discussed on such occasions; this was going on now. Lukhuré came along, looking gloomy. He bowed to the dware and sat very nervously to one side of him.

"What is it, Lukhé?[7] What do you have to say?" asked the dware in an insincere tone. "Did the buffalo give plenty of milk yesterday?"

"No, sir. It hardly gave any at all," replied Lukhuré miserably. He was truly in the depths of despair.

"Just as I said. . . . "The dware turned to the others. "This Lukhé is a simple, honest man. That bloody Brahman tilled land down in the plains before he came here. What does he care? He has completely defrauded him. He's always the same. Was it right for him to take so much money from an ignorant, innocent man like this? I've been there too, you know." He puffed at the tobacco that Kanchi Ghartini had passed him, blowing ashes into the air.

"There now, you see? That's what it means when people say that you never realize when something is going to go wrong. Now he's emptied his purse for a sickly buffalo.... And who will buy it from him?" Budhathoki looked at Lukhuré's miserable face.


"Who else would be blind enough to put all his money on a sickly buffalo? Tell me that!" said the dware , shaking his head in contempt.

"You'll have got yourself into debt over this, I suppose?" said Ghamane.

"If this man's buffalo isn't sick, make me eat forbidden food!" gravely declared Sitaram Pandit, the dware 's priest, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. Then he looked at the dware . In fact, he had never even seen Lukhuré's buffalo, but he would not hesitate to find fault with a motorcar bought by some stranger in Bombay, not to mention a local buffalo, if he thought it would please his master. With this combined assault of truth and falsehood, no glimmer of hope was left in Lukhuré's mind. Desperately, he began to wail, "Oh dware , I am ruined! The bloody scoundrel's destroyed me! I'm so desperate I feel like giving everything up and leaving the world behind!"

"But what does this have to do with us? It was your own decision, not ours. You trusted your own judgment. Nor did we advise you. What do you say to that?" The dware seemed very severe, and Lukhuré was overcome.

"Sir, I admit it. I was so stupid. I chopped myself in the knee with an ax! But what can I do now? My wife's jewelry didn't fetch much. How will I pay off the 250 I borrowed from Nepal Bahun? Oh Lord, what can I do?" Lukhuré's voice trembled; he seemed to stagger under an immense burden of remorse.

"There's no other way out," Rambire spoke up from the corner. "You'll just have to take the rotten thing back."

"This unworthy Rame's words are not worth our attention." The dware dismissed this suggestion peremptorily. "You don't know that avaricious scoundrel. He will tell you anything you want to hear. But once your money's in his hands, all you'll get from him is abuse."

"Sir, I've had it. What should I do? I'm ruined." Lukhuré floundered like a fish out of water.

"You're in big trouble; it's true," Rambire spoke more kindly than the others. His voice was tinged with sympathy. "Come, dware . Lukhé is a poor man of our village, and he's in a fix. If you don't consider the problem, who else can he turn to?"

"What do you mean, Rame? Are you suggesting that I should jump into the pit just so he can get out?" The dware 's tone was sarcastic.

"No, sir. Fifty rupees, or 100, is nothing to a man like you. But for a poor man it can mean the end. If you don't do it, who will?" Rambire pressed his case, and Budhathoki backed him up.

"Yes, sir, you should help the poor man out. He has no one to turn to. He serves as well as he is able."

The dware pretended to think the matter over for a long time. At last,


he announced very gravely, "Are you all of one mind, then? If so, what can I say? It's an act of charity for one poor man. Although... no, not even Lukhuré need consider as low a price as 150. But, of course, I'm taking a risk, too. Either I'm getting a buffalo for 150, or I'm ruining myself. But of course, if it's an act of charity... 150, Lukhuré, what do you say?" It was as if he was setting down a great load of beneficence, borne through many lifetimes.

"The dware 's words are fitting. To spend money on such a buffalo is like investing in a carcass. There's no wrong being done to Lukhuré if 150 is written off." This grave statement came from Sitaram Pandit. He was the religious leader of the village, and so his words were like scripture itself. He was like the unopposed chairman, and his decision was final.

"There, that's the opinion of our respected priest. What do you say to that?" The dware turned to Lukhuré. "Well, what do you say?"

His eyes were piercing. What could Lukhuré say, poor man? He looked around at them all. Except for the dware , Budhathoki, Rame, and the Pandit, they were all silent. There was helplessness in their faces. They hung their heads, unable to look Lukhuré straight in the eye.

That same evening, there were great goings-on at the dware 's house. A splendid buffalo was tethered in his yard: sleek, black, and heavy uddered. A half dozen of the headman's children crowded all around it. The dware was attending to it with the keenness of a twenty-year-old.

As he fed it some hay, he looked over to Lukhuré's yard. There wasn't much to see there now. Father and son were both standing up on their wall. Then Rambire came in and bowed down at the dware 's's feet.

"What do you say then, Rame? Isn't she a gem?"

"Certainly, sir, she's one in a million!"

They both looked over at Lukhuré's house. The outline of Lukhuré and his son, standing there staring at the buffalo, gradually faded into the soil as dusk's earthy shadow descended from the hilltops.

(from Bikal [1962] 1977; also included in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979)


Shankar Lamichhane (1928-1975)

Lamichhane was born in Kathmandu but lived with an uncle in Banaras until he was eleven. After receiving some basic education at Trichandra College in the capital, he took his first job at the age of twenty-two and worked for a number of governmental and cultural institutions in Kath-mandu. In his later years he became the manager of a handicrafts store. Lamichhane was an admirer of modern American fiction and frequently mixed with foreign visitors to Nepal. His stories are heavy with symbolism, often lacking a conventional plot and more closely resembling essays, but his prose is rich, fluent, and mature. Most of Lamichhane's stories are collected in Gaunthaliko Gund (Swallow's Nest, 1968).

The Half-Closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Setting Sun (Ardhamudit Nayan Ra Dubna Lageko Gham)

Oh guide, you do not, you cannot understand the joy we Westerners feel when we first set foot upon the soil of your country![1]

As the Dakota crosses the Four Passes,[2] we see this green valley with its geometric fields, its earthen houses of red, yellow, and white. The scent of soil and mountains is in the air, and there's an age-old peacefulness in the atmosphere. You were born amongst all of this, and so perhaps you feel that the embrace of these blue hills' outspread arms confines you. But we live in the plains or beside the sea. Our vision founders on an horizon of land or sea, and so we know the affection


with which the breast of these hills forever clings to your sight. You have never had to suffer the feeling of insignificance that is caused by a vast distance. Perhaps we are always adrift in vastness, my friend; perhaps that is why this, your enclosure, appeals to us! Has it ever occurred to you that the half-closed eyes of the Buddha seem to welcome you, even at the airport?[3] It is as if one acquires a calmness, as if one is returning once more to a resting place.

You have always known only how to give to the West. You've given us religion and the Puranas, images of brass and ornaments of ivory, manuscripts of palm leaves and inscriptions on copperplate. You gave us a civilization and its wisdom and garlands of jasmine flowers around our necks. You have continued in your giving, ignorant of what others call "taking," innocent of the notion of ownership. The very word indulgence is unknown to you. My friend, I know your history. Before I came here I spent several years in our libraries, leafing through the pages of your priceless volumes. You are a guide who will lead me down the streets and alleyways of the present, but I could take you along your ancient ways. Even now I can see it clearly: the valley is filled with water, and a lotus flower blooms where Swyambhunath now stands. Manjushri strikes with his sword at Chobhar.[4] I see monks and nuns receiving alms and spreading the law in the nooks and crannies of the Kasthamandapa.[5] Behold the eyes of these shaven-headed monks. You cannot meet their gaze! It is called the samyak gaze. Do you know what that means? It is perception, pure and without contamination; sight that perceives everything in its true form. I'll have just one more drink before dinner ....

You live in a house like a temple, but you are unaware of its beauty, its enchantment. In these wooden images, these multifarious ornamentations, these many styles, there is the flowing music of a chisel in the hands of an artist. Do you not feel it? Tell me about those happy, prosperous young artists working in the fields all day and creating beautiful images of their personal deities in their spare time, who are now covered by the dusts of the past.


Once, an artist was adding the finishing touches to a wooden image when his fair, tiny wife came by, carrying her baby on her back, and poured him raksi from a jug. The foam bubbled over and congealed. Is it true that it was that foam that inspired the artist to construct a roof of tiles? Oh, your land is truly great, this country where so many different cultures found their home. Aryans, non-Aryans, Hindus, and Buddhists all came and obtained a rebirth here. It must be the effect of your country's soil, my friend; it was the soil that enabled all these races to flourish together here. Come, I'll drink one more small one, it's not dinnertime yet ....

I am greatly indebted to you for you have served me both Nepali and Newari food· Ah, mo-mos ![6] ... Just picture the scene: it is winter and an old man sits in the upper storey of his house, lit only by the fire. Perhaps the smoke is filling the room like fog from floor to ceiling. Perhaps he is telling his grandson about each and every Nepali item that Princess Bhrikuti took with her when King Amshuvarman sent her off to Tibet.[7] The old lady smokes tobacco from a bamboo hookah, and, mindful of the old man, she carries on making fresh mo-mos . The son's wife puts some of them onto a brass plate, and the old man's words are garbled and obscured by his mouthful. The grandson laughs, and the old man tries to swallow quickly, so he burns his tongue and, unabashed, pours out a stream of ribald curses .... These are scenes that cannot be read in an old book in a library, and that is why I've had to come to Kathmandu and soak myself in its atmosphere, for which I'm greatly obliged to you .... Now, cheers once again, to your great country, and to mine!

Oh, and another thing that is not to be found in any book is the smile on the faces of these people. It is a smile of welcome, as if our meeting were neither accidental nor our first. It's as if I was the farmer's eldest son, coming home after a long day's work in the fields, as if my labors had been fruitful and I was content and at ease with my father. It's as if I have taken the world's most beautiful woman for my wife and have brought her along behind me, and my mother is smiling a welcome from the door. It's as if my sister's husband and I were the closest of friends and we, her brother and her husband, were coming along with our arms around one another, singing songs of drunkenness. It's as if—I cannot explain; however much I try, I cannot describe it fully. That smile is full of wisdom; it is a smile from the soul, a smile peculiar to this place. ... One more drink, to your Nepalese smile, that sweet smile!


And then there are the eyes. The eyes of the carved lattice windows, the eyes painted on the door panels. The eyes on the stupas, the eyes of the people. And the eyes of the Himalaya, which peep out from the gaps between the hills like those of a neighbor's boy when he jumps up to see the peach tree in your garden. This is a land of eyes, a land guarded by the half-closed eyes of the Lord Buddha.

Even if all of the world's history books were destroyed today, your eyes would build a new culture; they would reassemble a civilization. My appetite for eyes is still not satiated. Tomorrow I shall go to a lonely place where there is a stupa with eyes that are clear. There I want to see the pleasant light of sunset reflected in the eyes of the Buddha. Show me beautiful, full eyes, eyes without equal, eyes whose memory will make this journey of mine unforgettable.... Come, let's go to eat dinner.

Come, my guest; today I am to show you some eyes.

This is Chobhar hill, where you people come to see the cleft that was made by Manjushri's sword and the outflow of the Bagmati River. Today I'll take you up the hill where few of our guests ever go and no tourist's car can proceed. There (in your words) the dust of time has not. yet covered the culture of the past. Do you see this worn old rock? A young village artist has drawn some birds on it. Nearby, he has sketched a temple, leaving out any mention of the religion to which it belongs. Further up the hill, in the middle of the village, stands the temple of Adinath.[8] In the temple courtyard there is a shrine of Shiva, several Buddha images, and many prayer wheels, inscribed Om mani padme hum .[9] You say it is a living example of Nepalese tolerance and coexistence. Children play happily there, unconcerned by the variety of their gods, religions, and philosophies. But my guest, I will not take you there.

You have already seen much of such things, and you have understood them and even preached them. Today I'll take you to a house where I feel sure you will find the pulse of our reality. They are a farmer's family, probably owning a few fields here and there, where they work and sweat to pay off half the proceeds to someone in the city. There is no smoke to fill their upstairs room, they cook no mo-mos in their hearth, nor do they discuss Bhrikuti's dowry in their winters. There is a child in the home, who is certainly no divine incarnation, either. Attacked by polio and born into a poor farmer's household, the child is surely incapable of spreading the law or of making any contribution to this earth. He has taken birth here in one of his maker's strangest forms of creation.


And moreover, my friend—oh, the climb has tired you; would you like some filtered water from the thermos flask?—my intention is not to show him to you as any kind of symbol. Yesterday you were swept along by waves of emotion, inspired by your "Black and White" whisky, and you urged me to show you eyes that would forever remind you of your visit to Nepal. So I have brought you here to show you eyes like that.

The child's whole body is useless; he cannot speak, move his hands, chew his food, or even spit. His eyes are the only living parts of his body and it is only his eyes that indicate that he is actually alive. I don't know whether his eyes have the samyak gaze or not. I don't even understand the term, but his face is certainly devoid of all emotion. His gaze is uninterested, without resolution or expression; it is inactive and listless, unexercised and lacking any measure of contemplation. (Perhaps I have begun to speak unwittingly in the terms of the Aryan eightfold path, which will either be your influence or a virtue bestowed upon me by the child.)

My guest, these are the eyes you wanted. A living being accumulates many capabilities in one lifetime. It feels happy and it smiles; it feels sad and it weeps. If it feels cold, it seeks warmth, and if it is hungry, it prepares food to eat. It seeks to learn what it doesn't already know, and it succeeds or it fails. It has many experiences, some bitter, some sweet, and these it relates when company, occasion, and mood seem suited. How commonplace all of these actions are! My guest, yesterday you said that we Eastern peoples were always making contributions to the West, did you not? (Shall I give you some water? Are you out of breath?) Here is a child who can neither give nor take anything at all. Just put yourself in his position for a moment. You want your finger to do something, but your finger refuses. You want to speak, but speech will not come to you. Every vein, nerve, and bone is powerless to heed the commands of your brain, and yet... you are alive. I know that this disease occurs in your country, too. But the ability to endure it and to maintain a total indifference in the eyes, even, perhaps, to foster the samyak gaze, this capacity for remaining speechless, inactive, powerless, and immobile, and yet to survive without complaint ... this can surely only be found in an Easterner!

Come, come closer. I have lied to his parents; I have told them that you are a doctor. Look ... their faith in you shows in their eyes. There is intimacy, kindliness, and gratitude in their eyes, as if your coming here were preordained. That smile you described is on their faces, as if you were their eldest son who has brought a life-restoring remedy across the seven seas for your brother. The old peasant woman is smiling, isn't she? It's as if she's rejoicing at the birth of her first grandchild from your wife, the beauty of the world. I know that this same smile will


remain on their faces as long as you are here. I know that it will be extinguished when you turn to go. Once you've gone they'll sink back into the same old darkness.

The child has a sister whose body functions properly. He watches her as she crawls around, picking up everything she comes across and putting it into her mouth, knocking over the beer, overturning the cooking stone. Just for an instant, the ambition to emulate her is reflected in his eyes, but then it is reabsorbed into the same old indifference. Once his mother was scolding his sister, and a light gleamed in his eyes. I couldn't tell you to which era its vision belonged, but I realized that he wanted to speak. With a gaze devoid of language, gesture, or voice, he wanted to say, "Mother, how can you appreciate what fun it is to fall over? To crawl through the green dub grass and rub the skin off your knees, to shed a couple of drops of blood like smeared tears, and graze your flesh a little. To feel pain and to cry, to call out for help. That pain would be such a sweet experience. She can rub her snot or spittle into her own grazes, or pull out the thorn that has pricked her, and throw it away. Or she could pull off a scab that has healed over a buried splinter of glass or spend a few days resting under her quilt. She can climb up onto the storage jar to try to pull a picture down from the wall, and when the peg slips out and the picture falls and the glass smashes with a wonderful noise, she feels a wave of fear as she realizes her guilt. She has grown up, learning from experience the facts that fire can burn her and water makes her wet, that nettles cause blisters and beer makes her dizzy. That if she falls she might be hurt or break a bone, that if something else falls it will probably break. That if someone dies, she is able to weep, and if someone laughs, she can laugh right back; if someone makes fun of her, she can strike them, and if someone steals from her, she can steal from them. My sister, who learns and remembers each and every new word she hears, is the result of the self-sacrificing practice of thousands of years of human language. She embodies a history, a tradition, and a culture, and it is in her very ability to speak that the future is born. But not in one like me, who cannot even move his lips. In my body, in its strength and gestures, an unbroken cycle of historical and human development has come to its conclusion. A long labor, a chain of events, a lengthy endeavor, and an endlessness are all at an end. The future ends and is broken abruptly."

And these are the eyes, my guest, that look at you but see nothing; this is the gaze that is incapable of self-manifestation. This is beauty that is complete and has no other expression.

These are eyes surrounded by mountains; their lashes are rows of fields where rice ripens in the rains and wheat ripens in the winter.


These are the eyes that welcome you, and these are eyes that build. And in these eyes hides the end of life. Look! They are just as beautiful as the setting sun's reflection in the eyes of the Buddha!

(first published 1962; from Sajha Katha [1968] 1979; also included in Nepali Katha Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 2)


Indra Bahadur Rai (b. 1928)

Rai is one of the most original and influential Nepali writers to have appeared in recent years. His earliest stories, collected in Bipana Katipaya (So Many Waking Moments, 1960), were written in a naturalistic style. The second collection—Kathastha (The Faith of Stories)—showed a dramatic change of approach and philosophy, as Rai formulated the views on literature that became the basis of the Tesro Ayam movement. Kathastha is divided into two sections: "Katha" (Stories) and "Astha" (Faith), in which Rai propounded his dimensionalist philosophy, beginning: "Let us write totality; let us live totality."

These stories were written in a style that was new in Nepali literature, and they displayed a completely novel attitude to plot, verb tense, and time. Much use was made of the language of modern and abstract art. "The Journey of a Thought" (Euta Vicharko Yatrapath ); "Black-out, Cashew Nuts, My Son" (Black-out, Kajubadam, Chora ); and "The Ordinariness of a Day" (Euta Dinko Samanyata ) are story titles from Kathastha that suggest the unorthodox nature of Rai's work. Rai is also a respected critic in a literature that is short of authoritative and objective commentators, and in 1964 he published an important novel, Today There's A Show (Aja Ramita Cha ). Rai's stories are published in two collections: Bipana Katipaya (1960) and Kathastha (1971).

Maina's Mother is Just Like Us (Hami Jastal Mainaki Ama)

Waking a bundle of greens and lifting it from where it lies sleeping on the asphalt, then hugging it as if it is his wife, a customer asks, "How much for these greens?"


"Those are 6 paisa."

Injustice cries out, surrounding the man's self-interest with rage: he still remembers living in the forests, where it was possible to get them for nothing.

"They've turned yellow," he suggested (if they had, he would have rejected them immediately), and then he walked away.

Maina's mother sat and waited for another customer.

"No point living in Darjeeling now," a man is saying. "Everyone here is looking for work. If you've studied, it gets you nowhere. We can't get enough to eat living here. When we came there were very few people, but now many more have come and our numbers have increased. There's not even enough grass for our animals. We should move somewhere else. The rains don't fall here anymore; the trees are bare. We should look for a new place. By sunset tomorrow we should be gone, with our women, our children, and all our belongings loaded into ox carts. Put strong young men at the front and the rear. Drive the livestock gently. We should walk until evening, then lodge for the night. When we are a hundred miles away we'll decide where we are headed."

"Over the hills to Assam. We should move to the northeast."

"Meet some of the people who came here later. Tell them the Nepalis came and set up a branch here many ages ago, a small town called Darjeeling. They've already found signs of very ancient settlements. For a hundred years or more they forgot themselves in this little toy town. Its little roads, little machines, little houses are the proof. There was very little to support them, so they became wanderers, scattered through the great land of India. Bunched together, they would all have died. The time had passed when they could have moved and advanced their civilization: their immediate needs were what forced them to abandon their homes."

"Yes, we should move somewhere new."

Maina's mother was sprinkling water over her greens. If thoroughly drenched, their leaves would stay fresh; the cold spring water would make them last longer. Everything might be saved. But there is no water.

She covered the body of the bundles with a small grimy cloth. "You're back?" she asked the woman who stood there now.

"Are they sold?" she looked at the sleeping greens. "How much has been sold?"

"I haven't sold any."

"Oh! I shouldn't have tried to sell them here! I could have sold them easily somewhere else." The woman came tired from an age-long distance. She sat right down on the ground.


"Give me the few pennies you have. My baby's father is sick at home. I don't know if he's dead or alive." She stood up abruptly, suddenly fearful.

From here, you can see water falling into an ancient pond: circles spread out where each drop sets its feet. The rain makes the forest cry out; there is news that the rains are heavy this year. On the path that rounds the pool to the right, two or three bodies run hurriedly. One comes up to the tent and stands outside. He is a man she knows, and he smiles. He smiles in the pouring rain and says, "It's pelting down, isn't it!" He had pulled his trousers up above his knees.

"Where have you been to up there?" asks Maina's mother, looking at legs like roof pillars, just as her mother's mother had done.

"I'm looking at a place up there. People have covered the hillside with cow pastures, I'm looking for some place higher up. They say Darjeeling will be a big town when people have covered it all."

"Everyone says the same," he heard in reply.

Suddenly the din of the rain outside says, "Be silent!" Inside the tent a fire burns between three stones and the rain keeps all the woodsmoke inside. The man with roof pillar legs found a plank and sat down.

"Hey, the water is coming in!" He stood up again, and the woman selling tea got up, too. Water ran in under the tent walls.

"Have you nothing to dig with?"

"No, I have nothing."

He picked up a piece of wood and went outside. Lashed by the rain, he began to dig a channel. The woman saw the fresh soil piling up. She saw that the water had stopped coming in and that she was encircled.

"That's it! The water's stopped!" she said, but the man continued to make good somewhere outside.

The rain clouds moved away. When the sun comes out, the forest's greens all turn to yellow. The strong man was still outside breaking the soil.

"Do I hear that they plan to fill in this pond and build a bazaar?" the shopkeeper asked, approaching him.

"Yes, that's right."

"Will they drain the pond?"

"They're going to demolish that bank over there."

"The pastures and the villages will all be washed away; they say there will be landslides."

"Who said so?" The man stood up.

"We're moving further up, too."

"Do you think I'm running away?" asked the man defensively.

"I've heard that all the plants and grasses here are medicines. If you


knew which ones, you could cut them and sell them," said someone without a single penny in his pocket, clutching a small bag of rice.

"I've heard that there are mines underground near our house. There might be a copper mine right there in my garden. We should make the lowlands pay for water from our rivers," said another person, just coming home.

A rock swished down from overhead (man goes to the moon). Maina's mother dodged it; it just missed her. Then came a stave (live as men). It caught her in the chest; she doubled up and fell.[1] All her sorrows stand before her; they come continually to her home. Joys for her are unknown and haughty. She wanted to sink underground in case great news came rolling down and crushed her. Her load of weighty hopes buried her deep, but she struggled to rise up and become a mountain.

Suddenly, she felt inspired to say—we came here looking for a place where we could see the Himalaya clearly. Now we don't want to go anywhere else. All of us should have a house where we can open the window each morning and look at the Himalaya. Here man is unhealthy; he quickly tires of most things; his thirst is quickly quenched. But with one thing we are never fed up, and that is the Himalaya. Wherever we go we will take this land with us, wrapped up in little bundles. We will make a five-year-old carry our possessions ....

The bundles of greens threw off the cloth that covered them and stood upright. Each bundle opened; each stalk came away. They yawned and cast their sleep aside. A light evening breeze was blowing; the small yellow mustard flowers jostled and swayed.

There is a small tree that has lifted its branches way up high. Her mind crawled still higher on a level branch, and she felt dizzy looking down. Her hands touched the grass at its base to uproot and weed it out. A well of smooth water had collected beside a tomato plant; she thought she might pick up a rotten old tin and water the plant. She sighs with pleasure as she sees something planted on the bank of the field. Bamboo bushes stand there, filling her eyes. Her eyes watch a leaf wafting down, making her wait for her own existence. She goes far across the brown ridges of the fields. On a piece of rising ground, luxuriant grass is growing. From the end of a garden she walks steeply uphill, moving from terrace to terrace ....

Why then did you come here?
Why then did you come here?


Why then did you come here?
Why then did you come here?[2]

A grinding stone, some dishes, in the bazaar. The marketplace is selling off the honor, the profits, and the losses of a thousand homes. A grinding stone should guard the porch of a home; it should become a part of the body of a house and hold firm to its floor. It should not wander around like this; the only things it should encounter are the sun each morning and the sun each evening. Young women sit around it, discussing things deep in their hearts. It is always bad when it comes into the market. Those black medicinal stems and roots should be stored away in tins and sacks inside every home. Those dishes should be kept on shelves. The place where the family sits down to eat at home is the only place to scatter such things around. To Maina's mother, this bazaar looks like someone's home. It's as if a thousand households have been broken open. Why do a thousand homes stand neglected here? She felt like joining them all together, with children sucking and chewing on sugarcanes and daughters pounding grain. Our household things have all been put outside with us in the bazaar. First, man left home, then his belongings came after him, and now they are here in the bazaar, waiting to take him back. Maina's mother tries to go home: suddenly, she is afraid of this bright, open afternoon ....

Hearing a noise, Hanuman hid in the leaves,
Quickly came Ravan along with his wives,
"When will Rama come to kill me?
He has not saved Sita, whom I've abducted,
Though I have seen him in my dreams."
Seeing the wicked one come near, Sita bowed her head,
Holding fast to the vision of Rama's lotus feet[3]

She looked all around to bring herself back to reality. Like black dots, men climb the stairs and talk to each other. Their talking never ceases. Wherever she looked she saw more people. The whole scene becomes noise; everyone she sees is talking. They split up and come toward her, blocking her view. Their bags sway and collide with the tents.

The color of the flag has gone into the shadows; a loudspeaker blares in her ear.[4] A small boy runs by. Three people came and went; another


passed by engrossed in thought. One is walking past in a hurry. (I was born here, here I live, this I have, this I sell. I must find happiness with this simple wealth: this is my stand.) A dog is chased away; dirty papers have blown off into the distance; many voices are shouting. The bazaar is stirring, itching, lazily scratching. The sun is up on an electric pylon.

"Why did you come here?" asked an invisible person. A man walked by in front of her; he turned and asked her the same question. All the people standing in the street queued up to ask her; all the people inside the buildings opened their windows and asked her the question in high shrieking voices, staring at her from sharp eyes, taking aim with gaping mouths. She hid her face with her dirty shawl and peered out through the chinks of her window: an old fear. The whole bazaar left its work and came toward her. A thousand faces surrounded her, asking, "Why did you come here?"

The greens would be trampled—she turned cold with fear and leapt to her feet to gather them up.

In the evening she was keenly selling her greens. When night had fallen she covered the spot with a basket and a wooden box, reserving it for tomorrow.

(first published 1964; from Bharatiya Nepali Katha 1982; also included in Nepali Katha Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 2)


Poshan Pande (b. 1932)

A surprise ending and a carefully constructed plot are the characteristic features of Pande's stories. Many relate minor incidents from daily life or adopt everyday items as symbols of conflict, jealousy, or anger. Although "A Sweater for Brother-in-law" (Bhinajyuko Svetar ) is generally recognized as his greatest story, it has a great deal in common with other, equally subtle tales such as "Krishna Das's Wall Clock" (Krishnadasko Bhitta-Ghadi ), "Fingers" (Aumla ), and "Radheshyam's Bicycle" (Radheshyamko Saikal ). The popularity of Pande's stories is evident from the recent publication of a fourth edition of his first collection. Pande's stories are published in three volumes: Ankhijhyal (Lattice Window, 1964), Manas (The Mind, 1968), and Hiumma Padeka Dobaharu (Marks in the Snow, 1975).

A Sweater For Brother-In-Law (Bhinajyuko Svetar)

Sabita came gamboling over to Shanti and said, "Sister! Brother-in-law says we're going to the cinema!"

"Tell him I'm not going," Shanti spoke quietly, but her tone was severe.

Sabita stood there for a moment, nonplussed. Her sister was so dull, she thought, she was indifferent to fun. How much older was she, after all? There was only five years between them. Sabita left, silently scorning her sister's foolishness, but before she had gone very far Shanti called her back.

"Did you offer to come and tell me?" she asked. "Or did he send you to me himself?" She put on a more cheerful expression.


Sabita was puzzled. She knelt down and toyed with her sister's plait. "I was sitting out in the garden enjoying the sunshine," she began, in a voice as timid as her nature, "and brother-in-law came and asked me if I'd like to go to the cinema. So I said I'd come and ask you."

The cheerfulness fell from Shanti's face, like a drop of shining dew falling from a blade of grass in a light morning breeze. But this time she had nothing cross to say. "Alright," she said, "I'll come."

"Good, sister!" Sabita's gladness burst from her like a cascading stream. Her feelings were easily read in her face. Still, a doubt lingered on deep inside Shanti. Time and again she tried to dispel it, but it went on confronting and nagging her.

Sabita had come to stay with her elder sister some months before. They had been great friends since childhood. Shanti still felt like kissing her sometimes for her childish ways and liveliness: Sabita still played hide-and-seek and blindman's buff. Her behavior and manner remained unchanged, but although she did not realize it, she was gradually maturing. Shanti no longer enjoyed such games; sometimes her nostalgia prompted her to play, but she was too hesitant, too self-conscious. Indeed, she was very different from her sister.

Shanti was plagued by worry because she had never made her husband happy. Whenever Sabita praised him, or told her how wonderful he was, she would feel strangely wounded, strangely envious. But she never said anything to Sabita about how she was becoming tangled up inside, as if some spider was weaving its web in the darkness of her mind.

One day, Shanti was sitting on the verandah combing her hair, with a small mirror before her. As she looked into it she suddenly thought she looked old. Strands of her hair fell out as she combed, and her face was flecked with dandruff. Hurriedly, she powdered her cheeks, and her face turned as white as snow. Then Sabita arrived, wearing mascara around her big eyes, in soft white cotton trousers and a pajama top of embroidered silk. Roses were blooming in her cheeks, and her body was young and healthy.

"Why sister, these hairs are gray!" Sabita picked one up and placed it in Shanti's hand.

Shanti looked at her sister's hair. She inspected her from head to toe, but she couldn't find anything to put into Sabita's hand in return. So she just sat there, fingering the gray hair. "Oh," she said.

"Brother-in-law is here!" said Sabita, overjoyed. As Gopinath approached them, she said flirtatiously, "Brother-in-law, sister's hair's going gray. Get her some oil to turn it black, won't you?"


Shanty did not like her sister's sympathy one little bit. She was furious. She saw her husband looking oddly at Sabita.

"I'll buy her some at the show tomorrow," he said.

It was suffocating at the show that day. Crowds of people were crammed together everywhere; there was hardly room to blink. They found a ferris wheel—Sabita wanted a ride, so Gopinath bought a ticket. Shanti refused, although Sabita tried to persuade her.

"Come on, sister, why not? It's a special day today, you know! Oh, what's wrong with my sister? She won't do anything!"

"You go. Brother-in-law will go with you, won't he? I'm feeling faint, I'll just sit down here for a while."

"Right, right, why force someone when they're feeling faint?" Gopinath found them a seat.

Shanti wept a little, making sure nobody saw her. She leaned against a bamboo post and dried her eyes. The wheel turned round, and Sabita and Gopinath went round with it. Shanti was unable to watch; she really did feel giddy now. She turned and walked away with a weary expression on her face.

In a part of the show that was especially full, Shanti became lost in the crowds. She didn't know which way to go to get back to Sabita and Gopinath. Her mouth was dry with anxiety as she strained her eyes to look all around. Sitting on a bench outside a shop, she peered into the faces of people passing by. The cruel feet of time tramped over her, and she began to imagine things—things that made her burn with jealousy and vengeful feelings. Now her eyes were dry and her temperature rose.

"There... here's sister sitting happily... and we were looking for her over there!"

Shanti looked up at them in irritation; they were both red in the face with excitement. Sabita put her hand into her bag.

"Look! Brother-in-law's bought you some oil for your hair, and I've got some wool for a sweater, and cream, and powder. When we get home I'll show you, alright?"

"Yes. Haven't you had enough now? We've looked at everything." Shanti looked strangely at Gopinath.

"Right, right, let's go home. We've been here for ages."

On the way home, Sabita showed Shanti her wool. "Sister, shall I knit brother-in-law a sweater?"

"I don't know! Why ask me? Ask the one you're knitting it for!" Shanti's response was tinged with anger.

Sabita became so engrossed in her knitting, she didn't even notice the days going by. As the sweater neared completion, her face shone more


and more brightly with success and satisfaction. She held it up in front of her to inspect it, delighted with its embroidered flowers.

Sweater in hand, Sabita was on her way to measure brother-in-law, like she did almost every day, when she met Shanti on the stairs.

"Look sister! His sweater's nearly finished. I'm just going to check that it fits. I think the sides might be a little too small. What do you think? Will it suit him? It will, won't it?" Sabita spoke as if she had no time for anything else.

Shanti swallowed hard and put on a smile. "Those flowers won't suit him; they'd look better on a woman. Give it to me instead, and I'll knit him another one."

"Oh, what a joke! After all this trouble for brother-in-law?" Sabita laughed, ignoring Shanti's comment, and ran into brother-in-law's room. Shanti watched her go. When she saw Sabita going into his room to measure him day after day, a doubt arose in her mind. She had spent several sleepless nights trying to suppress her suspicions.

So Shanti couldn't sleep that night either. She got up three or four times to drink water. At last, she looked at her watch; it was half past two. In the silence of the night she rose smartly and went to Sabita's bedside. Sabita's contented breathing offended her; it was as if Sabita had robbed her of sleep. Her mood changed dramatically, and her nails went toward Sabita's throat. But the mood could not last for long.

She noticed the sweater hanging from the head of the bed, and she pulled it slowly toward her. Sabita had started sewing the back and the front together. Shanti guessed that it would probably be finished by the following evening. Sabita's obsession with her task seemed to involve some kind of vow, some kind of powerful penance. Her austerities had not wearied her, however; on the contrary, they had made her more healthy and energetic. Shanti thought some more. Tomorrow night, when Gopinath put the sweater on, she would lose all her rights, all her authority, in this house. He would be so delighted with this lovely, warm sweater, he wouldn't want to take it off. She was sure, too, that she would know no peace of mind so long as it remained on his body. It seemed to Shanti that a curtain was rising on some dreadful game and that the sound of the bell that announced its commencement was making her shake all over.

Then it was as if her hopes and fears all came into a knot. She held the sweater tightly in her hands. They say prevention is better than cure, so why shouldn't she burn it before it reached him, now that it was in her control? But she was not totally unfeeling toward Sabita, and her jealousy soon took another form. Slowly, she began unpicking the threads. Then her actions increased so much in speed that it was as if some machine were rapidly unraveling the sweater, and the loose wool


piled up quickly beside her. In her hurry to complete the job, she accidentally struck Sabita on the back, and Sabita woke up. She looked at her sister in amazement, then asked in a small voice that trembled with fear, "What's the matter, sister? Why are you unpicking it?"

Shanti stopped what she was doing. "A sweater like this won't suit him," she said firmly. "I'm going to knit him a different one."

Sabita's face grew red with surprise. "It's not for brother-in-law!" she blurted out. "It's for you! I gave him his sweater last night. He put it on straightaway and went to bed in it. Go and see how nice it looks!"

(from P. Pande. 6 [1964] 1982; also included in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979 and Nepali Katha Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)


Tarini Prasad Koirala (1922-1974)

Born in India and educated at Banaras and Calcutta, Koirala was the author of a novel entitled Snakebite (Sarpadamsha , 1968), a startlingly Freudian tale of child psychology. Not a prolific writer, Koirala published a few stories in Sharada between 1939 and 1942, and the rest appeared after 1950. "It Depends upon Your Point of View" is still a very popular story. Koirala's stories can be found in the collection Rato Svetar (Red Sweater, 1981).

It Depends Upon Your Point of View (Drishtikon)

Professor Niranjan got up later that day than he had ever done before. The red morning sun had already begun to fade. As soon as he got up he felt tired. He had gone to bed very late the night before, and he had not had enough sleep. His lassitude and weariness made him unwilling to leave his bed. How sour his mouth tasted, how heavy his head!

As he got up he remembered the previous evening. Each and every second of it danced before his eyes. What a terrible thing he had done. How low he had sunk through his sexual desire. His weakness had brought down his soul—the soul he had held in check for a very long time.

What if someone found out? This was his greatest fear. The honor and status he had preserved for so long would be completely wiped out. He would never be able to show his face again. What would they say to him at the college? How could he ever stand in front of his students? Because of one momentary, commonplace error, the professor, who had always been highly respected by his students, would henceforth be considered base and immoral. The college girls held him in particularly


high esteem. They placed the greatest faith and trust in him because of his supposedly flawless character. But now? If they found out about last night, would they still behave in the same way? Those young women who came in groups to Professor Niranjan's offices to ask him about things they didn't understand—and sat reading for hours, unworried and sure of their safety, in a corner of his lonely room—would they still believe in him when they found out about this? Would they sit calm and trusting like that, reading alone in his office?

No, of course they would not. They would keep their distance and whisper among themselves. On the streets, people would point at him and whisper to one another, "That's the professor who . . . you know, with the daughter of the shopkeeper who rents the house below his."

Oh, the professor was anxious! Even the morning sunlight scared him, so he hid his face under his quilt.

Such a terrible misdemeanor, caused by such a mundane mistake! If he had returned from his friend's house just one minute earlier or later last night, he would not have had to endure such burning remorse. The difference of one minute had caused a terrible misdeed. Now the stain it left would not wash away, even in a lifetime. As he left, his friend's wife had tried to persuade him to stay for one more cup of coffee. If he had just agreed to that trivial thing, he would have gone straight to his room—the encounter on his doorstep, the whole episode, none of it would have taken place. Or if he had left ten minutes earlier, when he first stood up to go, such a terrible thing would never have happened. Such a tiny random chance can destroy a lifetime's happiness. He felt despair as he thought this. Man depends on such slender chances for his joy and sorrow, his excitement, remorse, and regrets, thought the professor, and he began to feel hatred for the world's precision.

The more he tried to console himself by belittling the ways of the world to hide the sin he had himself committed, the more his soul shrank down in size. He began to taunt and curse himself.

As he lay there in his agitation, he began to repent the mistake of the previous day. He imagined walking down the street. Some of the people were grinning at him; others pointed at him from a distance and whispered. The college boys would spread rumors about him; the girls would be afraid even to come near him. If this thing assumed larger proportions, the news of his immoral act would spread throughout the city, and seeing a blow to the college's good reputation, the legislative committee would expell him from his post as professor, stating, "The legislative committee of this college has expelled Professor Niranjan Kumar Sharma on charges of immorality." What a disgrace! What infamy!

The professor could think of no solution. His desperation made him choke; he could not even weep. His hopelessness made his brain go blank.


He was weak and exhausted with remorse. He could not even get out of his bed. What was the point, after all? Whatever he did now, last night's deed was done. Last night, he must have thought that all the world's happiness would be his, that his immoral act was going to bring him lifelong satisfaction. He cursed himself. They said he was a great scholar. But such a stupid fool could not foresee the outcome. Great scholar, indeed! How highly the education department had regarded this unintelligent man! They said that there was no one in the whole city, let alone in the college, who could match his intellect. Was it a measure of his intellect that he could not foresee the result of such an ordinary thing?

A flame of regret was trying to burst from his throat—that was the terrible state the professor was in.

"But couldn't it be kept secret?"—the thought flashed into his mind like lightning amid black clouds of despair.

After all, he thought, she is not the type to go around spreading rumors. She surely has a woman's modesty, and this is a matter of shame for her, too. Surely she would try to hide it as strenuously as he would! Other than the two of them, no one knew anything about it. He himself was prepared to forget it, as if it had never happened. His only fear was the girl. But after all, what could she gain From telling others about it?

What could she gain? He was startled as it came to him that she could certainly benefit from it! Was it an ordinary matter for a common shopkeeper's daughter to make a respected professor her husband? If she realized her luck, she'd go around telling the whole world. She'd tell the police, and they would take him to their office for questioning. He would walk down the street between two policemen, hanging his head in shame. Oh, what a disgrace that would be, what a shameful thing! People would turn around to watch, whispering to each other. Some of them might even crack jokes, making sure he heard them. Nor would the earth break open or the sky tear asunder. The world would watch the spectacle, and he . . .

Terrified, Professor Niranjan hid his face once more. He was engrossed in his emotional turmoil when someone creaked the door open. With a shout, he sat bolt upright. A multitude of fears came all at once into his timorous mind. The wretched girl had informed the police, he thought; they were at the door all ready to seize him. What could he do? There was not even time to drown himself. In just a moment now, the professor would be led out by the police to walk out onto the crowded street, his head bent in shame. . . .

But a servant came in with some tea.

A gentle heavenly hand picked up the man who had been drowning in a deep flooded river, gasping, screaming, and helpless, and set him


on the river bank—his fears had been quite groundless. If a domestic servant had no inkling of what had happened, what could outsiders know?

The professor decided that the shopkeeper's daughter had not said anything to anyone. An involuntary feeling of sympathy for that fair-skinned, round-faced Newar girl entered his still drowsy mind. What did it matter if she was poor and uneducated? Man's humanity and tenderness, and the sensitivity that is in him, are a natural virtue in all people. For that, wealth is unnecessary, and so are education, civilization, culture.

When the servant had gone, he sat silently drinking his tea and thinking all manner of things. Certainly, his spirits were lighter, but various doubts began creeping back. No, she won't have told anyone anything yet. But then, she won't have had a chance to, all through the night. When she left the professor's room it was already one in the morning. Her mother and father would have been asleep by then. Once she got up in the morning she would think about whether anything could be gained from mentioning last night or whether it would cause disaster. If the daughter of a man who can hardly provide two meals a day managed to get a professor for a husband, there'd be no talk of disaster! She would be thinking that she could hardly imagine getting a better husband than him. If she wanted to take advantage of what happened last night, and told of it, her life would fruit and flower. And so, the professor decided, she would think about it for an hour or two, then tell her mother and father, and they would make use of it like a long-sought opportunity.

Oppressed by all the world's remorse and worry, he paced aimlessly up and down the room. He hung his head as a great storm raged in his brain. He looked up into the mirror. His face seemed to have changed completely overnight. His hair was rumpled and uncombed, his manner had lost its firmness, his eyes were sunken, his face was white and drained—but, above all, his face was declaring his immoral crime. It was perfectly obvious that he had done something base and that he was trying to hide it.

He was in such despair that life itself seemed an intolerable burden. The sin of a single night was going to weigh down on him for the rest of his life. His whole body was weak with hopelessness. He wanted relief—mental relief. If he sat quietly, his mind became still more restless; his brain tried to burst with uproar. He would have to go to work to take his mind off all this. He took a bath, and as the cold water touched his body he relaxed for a moment, but the water pouring down on his head could not cleanse his brain. His mind did not cool down. He sluiced himself with gallons of water, as if he was washing off filth. But the stain


was deep inside him, hidden behind the mirror of his flesh and bones. The more he tried, the cleaner the mirror became, but the stain stayed just the same.

Food was beyond him; he simply pretended to eat, then prepared to go to college. But did Niranjan, who had done that evil thing last night, have the courage to go outside? He was at least secure here behind the walls of his house. Could the guilty professor go out and walk down the open street in front of a thousand eyes? How could he go to college? What if people already knew? After all, she was only a common shopkeeper's daughter; she would surely tell. Perhaps she had told already. . . .

The professor made a great effort and left his house. His face was a sight to behold: cowed and fearful, ready to step up to the gallows. Glancing apprehensively from side to side like a thief coming out of a house, he had hardly stepped out of the gate when a youth on his way to college said, "Hello, professor."

Deep in his thoughts, the professor was startled, and he jumped as if someone had pulled out a knife. He did not even look at the student, nor did he return his greeting. Had it been offered with any expectation of a response from him? Should he make himself even more of a figure of fun by replying to a contemptuous, sarcastic greeting, offered only to provoke him? With head bent low and eyes fixed straight ahead, he went only a few steps further before peering at the shop below his home. His gaze fell upon the wicked girl who had plunged his life into darkness. Then he heard her father's voice calling him from somewhere—"Hey, sir!"

The professor gasped, as if his heart was about to stop. He walked on, looking down at the ground. It seemed to him that the ground was shifting and slipping away. When he heard the old trader's challenge, he held his breath and began to walk quickly, pretending not to have heard at all.

"Hey, sir!" The trader came out of his shop. Now he would run after the professor, grab him by the arm and shout, "Where do you think you're going, sir, now that you've ravaged my daughter?"

Should the professor run, run away? Run away and disappear without trace? Should he run as fast as he could? Pretending not to see or hear, he walked away so fast, with his head bent low, that from a distance he seemed to be running.

Turning a corner a little way off, he heaved a long sigh, but he kept his head down, engrossed in his unclean thoughts, and kept on walking.

"Hello, professor!" He heard the sweet voice of a young girl.

The professor hesitated, then said, "Hello," and hurried on with his head down. Suddenly he felt angry and he fumed to himself, thinking,


after all there is a limit even to mockery. After all, is anyone as pure and sacred as a rock in the Ganga? After all, who has not done wrong once or twice in his life? And there is a thing called forgiveness.

"Hello, professor!" He didn't even look to see who mocked him this time.

As long as no one sees their sins, people remain as pure as gods. What a ridiculous anomaly of the world! If man did not do wrong, would rocks and logs do it? After all, what is life based upon? Is this population walking the street not the result of mistakes made by men and women? Can one call them mistakes? Once one is married, one gets a licence for doing wrong. Is marriage not society's acceptance of prostitution? And is this humanity—to accept the wrongs of a society based on this dishonest foundation and to allow oneself to flow along in its polluted stream? Is this manhood? Is this courage?

He suddenly felt heartened. He felt that he had done nothing wrong the night before. On the contrary, those who considered him guilty were the ones who did wrong. Was it human to follow the path of mean, selfish people who set out to do wrong? If this was bad, then why not oppose it? Why not try to make a separate path and lead the world along that? Were his intellect, learning, and brilliance merely a worldly anomaly? Was manhood only cowardice? Why should he fall when he had not been corrupted by the ways of the world?

He moved on more confidently.

"Hello, professor!" another girl greeted him. He glanced at her—it was Renu, on her way to college with two exercise books.

The professor was irritated. Sternly he said, "What do you want to say?"

Renu was speechless. She had never imagined hearing such harsh words from her beloved professor. She stared at him, amazed and stunned.

"Go on, what do you have to say to me?" the professor said more forcefully. "Why don't you say something? Speak openly, won't you! What are you afraid of? Go on, beat the drum and proclaim the news to everyone!"

Renu was struck dumb. She looked unblinkingly at the professor and automatically pulled her scarf onto her shoulder. "Please forgive me, professor!" she begged, in an innocent, tremulous voice.

The professor walked on angrily. What kind of civilized behavior was this that once one had made some commonplace mistake one should discard all hope of forgiveness and strip oneself bare to reveal one's immorality? And then, what had the professor done wrong? Wasn't the world's very existence based on relations between men and women? After all, what kept the world alive? The relationship between a man and a


woman was such a common and inevitable thing that wasn't it mankind's mistake to consider it an error? But as soon as one puts on the clothes of the law. . . .

"Hello professor!"

"Learn some manners, Keshar, learn some manners," said the professor, gritting his teeth. "Just attending lectures is not enough."

Keshar was put out by this unexpected reply and he stared at the professor in amazement.

The professor said determinedly, "However much you stare at me, you'll find I'm still a human being!"

Unable to understand any of this, Keshar asked the professor for his forgiveness. He took leave of him without further ado, thinking that scholarly, virtuous, dear Professor Niranjan sometimes behaved oddly because on occasion his brain was unable to accommodate all the profound learning it was required to hold. Keshar experienced a feeling of deep reverence for the professor, and gathering up all the love he felt for him he prayed with great emotion, "Lord, if you are there, make our professor well."

Professor Niranjan's anger was growing. His heart became harder and harder. He became so indomitable that he felt no power could lay him low.

As soon as they saw him, the crowd of students at the college gates crowded round him, like they always did, and said, "Hello, professor."

He did not stand there smiling as he usually did; his mood became even worse.

"Good morning, professor"—there was sweetness in the young girl's voice and deep reverence, respect, and love, too.

Chewing on his anger, the stern professor said sarcastically, "Good morning, lady!"

The girl was dumbfounded. When the bell rang and the professor entered, the whole class of one hundred and fifty boys and girls was as silent as the funeral ground. They lacked the liveliness they usually had, and they all stared disconsolately at the professor's unnaturally severe face.

On the table lay a thick book entitled The Theories of Freud . He went to pick it up, then changed his mind. Then he began to teach: "The basis of all creation is life, and the foundation of life is the union of man and woman. This is the very nucleus of life. The distorted view that we human beings take of this in our ignorance . . .

The students listened, stupefied, to Professor Niranjan's lecture.

(first published in Bihana magazine 1964; from Pachchis Varshaka Nepali Katha 1982)


Prema Shah

Prema Shah first came to the attention of Nepali readers with the publication of "A Husband," which probably surpassed the many other stories on the subject of widowhood. A second influential story is "The Yellow Rose" (Pahenlo Gulaph ), the diary of a woman who is dying from tuberculosis and observing her husband from her hospital bed. Prema Shah is also a noted poet. Prema Shah's stories are collected in Pahenlo Gulaph (Yellow Rose, 1966) and Vishayantara (Digressions, 1971).

A Husband (Logné)

Nirmala, who had just finished mourning for her late husband, came home for her younger sister's wedding. She was soon involved in making up her sister's face, although she herself looked pale and tired and approached the task halfheartedly. The whole affair seemed quite unreal: cream, powder, lipstick, rouge . . . where should she put this spot of mascara, on her cheekbones or on her chin? Oh, who wore such cheap stuff, anyway! It was like making up a mask. Nirmala didn't feel like putting it on; it was so old-fashioned to wear such things on one's cheeks. And her sister's face was pretty enough—why overdo the makeup?

Nirmala was trying hard to smooth out and hide the threads from her past that still scratched away inside her. But somehow the reflection of her and her sister in that big mirror simply reminded her of her feelings. The mirror stood just where it had two years before, when Nirmala herself had gone from this house. It was still intact, its silver untarnished, but she felt she had changed completely and aged terribly.


Her mascara-rimmed eyes were too tired to dance here and there with the liveliness they'd once had, and there was no longer any zest for life in her heart.

When she had finished, Nirmala turned her sister's face to the mirror. She felt so fond of that face. Although the makeup had been her own work, she felt like holding and kissing it. But she could not do that: she felt too shy and too proud as well. For she was just as pretty, prettier than her sister, even now. "Nirmala's prettier than Urmila"—everyone said the same, but she still felt that her beauty was fading in front of her sister. She had really made her look vividly beautiful, but she was not pleased by her skill. Indeed, it was envy she felt: if only she could make herself look like this!

The young man in the next room who had come to see Urmila was a new friend of her elder brother's, from Biratnagar.[1] He was perhaps a professor, but Nirma1a wasn't sure. The two sisters could hear them talking quietly. Nirmala pricked up her ears and narrowed her eyes; she noticed Urmila smiling softly as she looked in the mirror. The rosy pinkness of her blush made her even prettier. Then their brother laughed at something, and they heard someone else laughing, too, in a soft, low voice. Nirmala tensed. Although Urmila turned and smiled at her, she felt stung by her sister's total beauty. Everything froze to ice inside her. Urmila was still gazing into the mirror when Nirmala suddenly plucked the flower from her hair and tore it to shreds. Urmila was shocked.

"Why did you do that, sister?"

Nirmala's fair, slender face broke into a sweat. She stared wildly at Urmila, and then, without thinking, she plucked the tika from her sister's brow. Now Urmila was really scared; avoiding her sister, she ran out of the room. Nirmala was amused as she watched her escaping, and she smiled to herself in the empty room. But even as she smiled, she began to cry as well. Her heart seemed to shrink. She put her head on her knees and breathed slowly; then she coughed quietly. Her throat was dry—was it from thirst? No, she wasn't thirsty. But she picked up a glass from the table and drank a little water just to wet her throat. Her tears were still clouding her eyes, but she sensed that someone had lifted the curtain in the doorway and was peering in at her, so she turned around. It was Urmila, who ran away as soon as her sister saw her, letting the curtain fall.

"Are you spying on me?" Nirmala felt a sudden anger. "What do you think I would do if you came in? I wasn't going to pull out your hair.


You've become very proud since your marriage was fixed. Do you think I've come to be your co-wife? Why else would you be spying on me?"

She clearly heard the sound of laughter coming from the next room, and she listened hard. It was that man again, that professor. What a pleasant voice he had. He was probably a nice man, too. An honest face, really fair, just the right height . . .

"Nirmala, child, we need the key from the drawer in there!" called Godavari, unable to step in through the door.[2] But then she saw what Nirmala was up to.

"Mother! Nirmala, child, what's this you're doing?"

Nirmala jumped, and the lipstick she had been running along her lips fell from her hand. In the mirror she saw Godavari standing in the doorway. And she saw herself, made up like a butterfly. She felt shaken— she did not know what on earth she could have been thinking of to make herself up like this. Crushed by the enormity of her deed, she stared fixedly into the mirror as Godavari confronted her.

"I see, Nirmala, my child! So you're making yourself up as well, are you? And look—you're wearing a tika , too! You, a woman with no husband!"[3]

Yes. Yes . . . of course. . .. Her husband had died in an air crash just one year ago. That man in the next room . . . he was Urmila's prospective husband. He had come to see Urmila. . .. Nirmala poured out the rest of the water from the glass and hurriedly rubbed the makeup from her face. Godavari made to leave with the key, but Nirmala blocked her path.

"Godavari, I beg you, don't tell anyone! Please don't tell anyone!"

"Would I talk about your private affairs?" Godavari went out, smiling.

Nirmala felt thoroughly ashamed of her weakness. She hadn't been able to hide it from Godavari. What would Godavari tell everyone now? She'd exaggerate the whole affair. Nirmala's face turned red, and she wiped away the rest of the rouge and powder with her handkerchief.

"If mother or elder brother had seen me made up like this. . .! Or Urmila . . . !"

Just then, Godavari came back. "Nirmala, child, your mother says you must come and help sort out your sister's clothes."

"I'm coming. Go away."

"Come quickly then, won't you!" Godavari turned to leave.

But Nirmala stayed where she was. "So I have to go and help her dress, do I? She's getting a husband, but she's still a child!"

Mother led Urmila into the room. "Why are you still in here? I called


you to help dress poor Urmila. She's never worn such a dress before. She just wrapped it around her any old how. Just look at her now . . ."

Nirmala looked her sister up and down. The sari looked fine on her.

"Is she still a child, then? Her bridegroom's come to see her, you know!" Urmila looked lovely in green. There was no doubt about it— the boy would surely like her.

"Come on then, Nirmala. You must take Urmila to him now."

"No, mother, I won't go. You will be with her, after all."

Nirmala's mother looked aghast. "What disobedient daughters I have! Is it like this when there's work to be done?"

"I have a terrible headache, or else I would come. But I can't even raise my head."

"Right, come on then, Urmila!" Mother stormed out of the room.

But Urmila ignored her. "Please come, too, sister," she pleaded with all her might.

"He's come to see you, not me. What's the point?"

"I'll feel shy in there all on my own. How can I sit there all on my own?" Urmila was close to tears.

"Why should you feel shy? He'll be your man one day, you know! How will you manage once you're married if you behave like this?" Nirmala tried to smile, but Urmila was solemn. Elder brother came in and fetched Urmila away. Then Nirmala's conscience pricked her and she followed them. They all went into the next room, except Nirmala, who stood outside the door holding up the curtain.

Inside, elder brother introduced Urmila. "Urmila, my youngest sister. She passed matriculation this year." Then he gestured toward the door, "This is the middle one. Come in, won't you, Nirmala?"

The man might have heard, but he did not even give Nirmala so much as a glance. He seemed a gentleman; his gaze remained fixed on Urmila's green chiffon sari. Nirmala didn't feel like staying, so she went out onto the balcony. Outside, the sun was fierce. She felt even more depressed by the sight of the dust blowing around on both sides of the road and by the deafening roar of the horrible trucks that went past the house one after another.

A new jeep was parked outside the gate; perhaps it belonged to Urmila's young man. A man in a dirty white shirt and dark glasses sat hugging the steering wheel: his driver, she assumed. He started to whistle when he saw Nirmala; this she disliked, and so she returned to her room. But there she found the man who had come to see Urmila, sitting all alone reading a newspaper. She was startled: this wasn't her room; it was her brother's. Why had she come in here? She didn't know—but she could hardly walk straight out again. What would he think if she did? And


what would he say if she just stood there doing nothing? She felt extremely awkward. The man looked up just once from his newspaper, and then he started to read it again. Nirmala tried to move, but she was rooted to the spot. The man did not utter a word for ages—he never even asked her to sit down; he seemed too absorbed in his newspaper. His hair was untidy, and a slight smell of Colgate rose from him. Nirmala looked at his round face as he bent over the paper. She forgot her surroundings, and the scene grew dim.

"Sit down, won't you? How long have you been standing there?" He smiled at her at last.

She did not sit down but trembled all over. The man shifted his seat until he was much closer to her. "Sit down for a minute, won't you?" He tugged gently at the edge of her veil, and she offered no resistance. After a moment, he took hold of her hands and set her down close beside him. There she sat, nonplussed. The warmth of his touch consoled her a little. She began reassembling her fragmented dreams. . .. Gardens full of flowers, a sky full of flowers, a road covered with flowers . . .

Then the long dream was shattered again, as she felt a sharp pain in her left cheek. She put her hand to her face and felt that it was hot and red. She stood up so quickly it made her feel giddy, and the man laughed unkindly. She looked at him distrustfully. But he stood up carelessly and, without a word, walked over to the window that looked out over the street. She felt like telling him that he waA?s unfaithful and slapping him back in the face. But she didn't raise a hand. Who was he to her? He was Urmila's man. . .. She felt chilled. Then she rushed out of the room and met Urmila in the hallway.

"What happened, sister? What happened to your face?" Nirmala's eyes were red as she looked at her, and Urmila was frightened. "What happened? Tell me!"

Nirmala shoved her against the wall. "Your husband's all alone. Go in there, why don't you?"

On her way across the hall, Nirmala bumped into Rame the water carrier. Rame had found his chance: he smiled and pulled out a piece of folded paper from the inside pocket of his shirt. As he hurried past, he handed it to Nirmala. "The master in the house next door asked me to slip this to you in secret," he told her.

Back in her own room, she slammed the door shut. Her soul was rustling and swaying like a bamboo grove in the heat of midday. The scarf over her shoulder felt like a serpent clinging to her. Quickly, she pulled off her dress and rolled onto her bed. But still she felt uneasy. She slapped her own face a couple of times, but it brought her no peace of mind. Her heart banged away like a window left open in a gale. She clutched at her breast, but her misery wrung her even more. She thought


of the jeep driver whistling rudely at her . . . the letter from that scoundrel next door that Rame had passed her . . . and . . . Nirmala couldn't remember.

She took two sleeping tablets from the bottle on her table and gulped them down. Then she laid her head on her pillow and let out the sobs that were hiding inside her.

(from Shah [1966] 1972; also included in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979)


Parashu Pradhan (b. 1943)

Parashu Pradhan was born in Bhojpur district and gained an M.A. in Nepali literature and politics. He began to write short stories in 1962 and has also published two novels. Pradhan's main themes are social contradictions and human relations, and he is admired for the poetic and symbolistic quality of his prose. Recently, he has begun to include foreigners, particularly Americans, in his stories, but he has been accused of trying to depict a society of which he has little knowledge. Pradhan remains a significant and original Nepali writer, however, and is perhaps somewhat underrated by his peers. Pradhan's stories are collected in six volumes: Vakrarekha (Curved Line, 1968), Pheri Akraman (Another Attack, 1968), Yauta Arko Dantyakatha (Another Folktale, 1971), Asambaddh (Disjointed, 1975), Samudrama Astaune Surya (The Setting Sun on the Sea, 1978), and Parashu Pradhanka Pratinidhi Kathaharu (Representative Stories of Parashu Pradhan, 1984).

The Telegram on the Table (Tebalmathiko Tyas Akashvani)

Once more he read the telegram that lay on the table. Or rather, his eyes went along its lines once again. He suddenly felt happy, although he knew that he was very tired. All day he had been out relating the entire history of the country to tourists and answering their multicolored questions. Now it seemed that some life had returned to his flagging ambitions. He smiled. A tragedy like this should have made him weep. But none of it touched him at all. It felt as ordinary as his everyday life: getting up at dawn, hurriedly rinsing out his mouth, pulling on jacket


and trousers, tying a knot in his tie, then smiling at strange faces as if he knew them well.

A few days before he had met a friend, one of his best friends from his village, who bad also come to the city and become trapped in some menial job. This friend knew about his tragic event and had uttered words of sympathy: "I am very sorry, Krishna. You have my heartfelt sympathy."

But this sympathy had not touched him at all. It had seemed meant for someone else. To observe convention, he had smiled nonetheless and simply said, "Thank you."

That telegram had been lying there for weeks. He always came home from the hotel in the middle of the night, and he was always tired like this. He would have been caught by a pair of blue eyes or immersed in Western music. His eyes always shone when he looked at the telegram. Perhaps he had needed to receive it before he could really achieve what he aimed for. Now that he had received it, perhaps he was happy. Very, very happy indeed.

He had always tried to speak English since he was a child. He had dreamed in English and considered English his all. It had brought him a new wave of happiness. Now he explained the culture and customs in his own way: how the kumari was chosen, how the kumari was worshipped, what the horse festival was like.[1] He thought of the foreigners staring straight at him and of Judiths and Jennies amazed by his words. His life was most enjoyable. Often he dreamed of New York skyscrapers and awoke from his dreams amazed by the Goddess of Liberty there. Or else he would imagine lying beside the ocean, playing a tape of Nepali folk songs. Sometimes he dreamed sentimentally; then he became practical again. For it was quite certain that one day Krishna would follow a tourist girl far across the skies. Unfamiliar voices were calling him from distant lands. "Come to us just once," they seemed to be saying. "We will be your guides. We will welcome you. We love you."

But then there was that telegram, which he would rather not have received. It took him back to earlier times and forced him to think about things he would prefer not to consider. The person it concerned had never meant much to him. He had never felt the need to pay much attention to her. He still lived in the city, just as he had ten years before, trying to make his seedling dreams grow. The telegram should have made him weep, but it didn't. He should have felt regret, but he didn't. He should have fasted for a while, but he didn't. That telegram should


have affected him; it should have elicited some response. But the wires inside Krishna were strange. No current ran along them. Nothing ever touched him. No grief could shake his heart.

He put it out of his mind and tried to sleep. He turned the radio on low and switched off the light, but sleep would not come. All that afternoon's tourists came before him, asking, "How old is this piece of art?" "What's the importance of this?" "Is woodcarving a new tradition?" And so on and so on. He forgot them and thought about his lodgings. He paid a high rent, but there were few amenities. If he got up too late, there was no water. If he kept his light on for too long, everyone complained. All sorts of houses had been built on the empty fields in front. The open sky was a long way off. He thought he would like to move somewhere else. Then he could invite that Miss Pande from the travel service home for dinner. But the room he rented was bad, and soon even that mundane wish dwindled away.

Then he thought of the distant hills of his home. He had not visited for many years. It would be good to go home every Dasain, he thought, to join in the dancing and dispel the emptiness of the city. He would gladly swap places with someone there, even if it were only for a few days. Or he could brag to the idle young folk. "If you've no work, come with me," he could say. "I'll fix you up with a job." But as he thought of the hill country, that woman came into his mind again—the woman he did not want to define. He did not want to accept her or identify her. But a telegram had come, and there it was written, "Your wife died yesterday." There could be no doubt about what it told him. Your wife died yesterday, it said; your wife died yesterday.

It would not allow him to sleep. He pressed a switch, and the room lit up. He went to the table and read it again, forcing himself to concentrate. Your wife died yesterday, it said. Your wife died; your wife died. . .. For weeks he had slept there within sight of that message, but tonight for some reason his mind was filled with desired and unwanted connections, thoughts of the present and the past, all of them in discord. Why couldn't he sleep tonight? Why couldn't he make sense of it and weep? Having lived alone for so long in the city, had he become like a stone? Was he incapable of thought? Suddenly angry with himself, he tore it to shreds and burst into tears. He cried and cried, he knew not how long.

(first published 1975; from P. Pradhan 1984)

A Relationship (Sambandha)

Time itself becomes lost in the mists: that's what winter is like. Gyancha looks from tired eyes—it's that woman again. Everyone calls her "crazy


Kanchi," but he knows her as Ganga, and he recognizes her from the glass dot on her forehead and her dirty, tangled hair.

Once one morning he had caught hold of her by her hair and said, "Ganga, Ganga, the sun is on the temple roofs, and you're not up yet!" Ganga had slept on, as cold as a stone. Gyancha had tried to rouse her by pulling her ear and pinching her cheek, but still she'd lain there, and so he'd been angry. "Hey Kanchi, you crazy mule, get up! Your husband's here!"

"You're mad, Gyancha," Ganga had told him. "Leave me alone. I haven't slept all night, and now you come bothering me so early in the morning, you bastard!"

Bastard? Gyancha's heart hardened. The sun had been shining, and trust had bloomed between them. Gyancha touched its flower and vowed, "Truly I love you, you crazy woman. Why do you always elude me? Idiot! Am I some kind of monster?"

Ganga was still as cold as the dawn; like the rest of the town, she slept on. He was on his way out to wake up the city, to sweep its streets and alleyways clean. But his Ganga hadn't got up, so he just gave up trying. "If you don't get up, I'll never come back, understand? I'll never come back, not even if you die."

Then she smiled rather cruelly—"Gyancha, why are you angry?" she seemed to say. Her face was gray, her eyes were sunken, and he felt sorry for her. "Didn't you eat yesterday?" he asked but was puzzled by her silence. "Not even a cup of tea?" Ganga shook her head. "Why, oh why didn't you come to me?" He felt like spitting in her face, like grabbing her by her matted hair and throwing her to the ground. But Gyancha symbolized weakness; he was hopelessness embodied. His weakness had driven him down to Asan: in front of Kal Bhairav he had clasped his hands.[2]

At Ratna Park once, they sat in a corner. He had whispered, "Ganga, come and live with me."

"In your house, you bastard?"

"Yes, of course, where else?"

"Could you look after a woman?" she'd said, challenging his manhood.

Gyancha had thought of the smelly rooms of his house and recalled the silence and the loneliness there on that frightful evening when he first stood alone: all alone in the great wide world. He had held out his arms and begged then for a mother's embrace, a father's affection. But all he had been given was a sweeping brush, and now after all these long


years he still went on accepting it. In summer and winter he wandered aimlessly through the great city. . . .

Then the atmosphere changed; time moved on, and the sun crossed over the mountains. I shall marry you, Ganga he'd thought. And with a big celebration at Bhadrakali, too![3]

The same porters' platform, the same woman, Ganga, the same kind of pitiless morning. For two or three years she'd disappeared. But now here she is, lying prone on the platform. Gyancha sees that her teeth are revolting and her hair is tousled. She sleeps curled up like a dog. He feels like saying, "You crazy woman! I told you to get up at once! The sun is high in the sky!" He will shake her awake, he thinks, then embrace her and say, "I shan't go out sweeping today. Let the inspector do his worst! Now that I've met you again in the cold . . ."

Now the sun is shining down on the platform. A small crowd has gathered, and its mood is changing. Gyancha is rooted to the spot; there are many more streets for him to sweep, but he is unable to leave. A voice comes out of the crowd, "She has no relations; inform the city council." Slowly, Gyancha accepts the fact that Ganga is dead. She is just a corpse without heirs. A great palace of dreams collapses. "Ganga cannot die," he shouts silently. "She can go mad, for sure, but that's all. . .. "

"The police must be told"—another voice from the crowd. Gyancha opens his eyes, alarmed. He feels as if he is far away. He is at Pashupati temple, perhaps, or by the Buddha of Swyambhu or the waters of the Bagmati. Once, Ganga washed her feet there. "Hey Gyancha," she had cried. "If I died, would you light my pyre for me? I need a man to do that, not a husband who causes me sorrow. Not a husband who drinks all night, then beats me black and blue." She smiled then, as if she were ashamed. Another evening, she was weeping: "My husband died, I became a widow. My son died, now I'm all alone. The house, the land— it all went to the moneylenders."

How could her body be taken to the Bagmati? The Bishnumati was far enough.[4] And what about her funeral rites? Gyancha felt desperate: he couldn't perform these duties. He couldn't grant her only wish. There was nothing he could do for her, nothing at all. . . .

"Will anyone take responsibility for this body?" asks a policeman. A hush falls on the crowd, the silence of death. Then it turns into whispers.

"It must be removed from here. There's nobody here to take it, is there?"

Gyancha imagines climbing a mountain, clutching at trees for support. He sees the clouds and the wide blue sky. The sun appears and he goes


on; his arms and legs are not tired at all. He arrives at the top, beneath a vast lovely sky—Ganga is there before him. When she sees him, she covers her mouth and smiles. Gyancha reaches out to her; he gathers her up in his arms, caresses and kisses her: Ganga, Ganga . . . but she runs away. He hears her voice in the distance: "You may not touch me, not even when I am dead."

He feels anxious; he would like to say to the policeman, "Please go. I beg you. I will send her soul on its way." There are a couple of bank notes in his belt; perhaps he could afford the rites. . . .

But then the policeman roars at him, "Hey, were you something to her? You over there, the one sitting quiet! Why don't you say something?"

Gyancha didn't know what to say. What was Ganga to him? Could he say that she was his wife? No, they had never married. His lover? No, they had never loved. What, then? There was really no relationship between himself and Ganga. She meant nothing at all to him.

"Is she your wife?" Another question—Gyancha looks up. Everyone's eyes are on him, filled with curiosity. He breaks into a sweat, and it is as if he has suddenly lost his voice. As he stares, bearers pick the body up. "May the name of Rama be truth," they chant, as they carry it away to the river.[5] The crowds do not disperse, and Gyancha lingers there for a while, wondering what it really was that linked him with Ganga, with crazy Kanchi. How was he involved in her death? Because he could not join the bearers, what did he have in common with the people left behind?

He had nothing to do with them really, he thought. Ganga's was just one more anonymous death at the platform. He, Gyancha, lived amid such deaths. He would be a death one day, too. Other than this, he was nothing.

He walks away and notices that sunshine is filling the street. "The inspector will give me the sack today," he thinks, and hurries off down the alley.

(first published 1970; from P. Pradhan 1984; also included in Pachchis Varshaka Nepali Katha 1982)


Dhruba Chandra Gautam (b. 1944)

Gautam is known chiefly for the five highly accomplished novels he has published since 1969, but he has also played an important role in the development of the short story in Nepali. A prolific writer with at least sixty stories to his credit, Gautam deals almost exclusively with contemporary social issues and has developed a unique narrative style. Gautam's stories are collected in Andhyaro Dipma (On a Dark Island, 1978) and Gautamka Kehi Pratinidhi Kathaharu (Some of Gautam's Representative Stories, 1987).

The Fire (Aglagi)

The boss of our squad had a habit that caused us great tribulation. While talking, make a decision, arriving at a conclusion, or, sometimes, laughing, he would suddenly stop to await a sneeze. To smile and sneeze at the same time is difficult, and so he would yawn and twitch his nose up and down, just like an ordinary man, and in a sense make a joke of the time it was taking. Sometimes the wait would last a whole minute or even two. We did not care whether he sneezed or not; the problem for us was that he would stop like this even while we were discussing some extremely important matter, so that we had to pause in the middle of our advice. Then his face would become red and pitiable, and we would feel as if we were all assembled there to wait for the same thing—for his deliverance from his bond, for him to be put out of this misery so that the conversation could proceed.

The squad was made up of the boss, me, and Ram Prasad. Ram Prasad and I were at the same grade. I did not know Ram Prasad very well.


We'd had no way of getting to know one another before, but we became good friends during these few days. Ram Prasad often slandered the boss behind his back. We had to be out of earshot before he could do this, but we found plenty of opportunities. The boss himself did not seem inclined to socialize with us very much: he probably thought that it was more convenient and beneficial for him to maintain a certain distance from us. But on occasions we had to laugh at his weak old jokes when he did the worthy deed of obliging us with his company. This was why Ram Prasad detested him. Waiting for his sneezes was a custom Ram Prasad found particularly intolerable. Sometimes he would leave the boss waiting for his sneeze and go outside to smoke a cigarette, although there was in fact no need to go outside to smoke in that office.

The remote village we had to visit was 10 miles away from where we set out. The boss mounted a horse, but Ram Prasad had never ridden. He told me later that he was frightened of horses.

"I have a scar where a horse kicked me when I was a child," he said.

"So do you believe that every horse is going to kick you?" I asked him.

"Do you need to believe something in order to be afraid?" he replied, without even looking at me.

There was nothing I could say to that, so I walked, too, because of Ram Prasad. The journey was dull and wearisome, but Ram Prasad made full use of every chance he found to mock our boss on his horse and so the trip was not without its amusements.

A part of the village had been destroyed by a fire: that was why we were instructed to go there from the center. To look at our task, you might think that we were going to have to rush about like firemen, but actually our duty was to prove that the fire had happened, rather than to put it out. Our orders were to establish the cause of the fire, to gather evidence for it, and to give a sum of money to the most needy family. But "most needy family"—what did that mean? There was another order—from among the families affected by the fire, we were to pick out the ten poorest and give 500 to each of them.

The boss had all the money allotted to us for this act of generosity, but we had our TADA,[1] and our fervent wish was to save something from it. If you added them up, it turned out that our joint expenses came to equal the sum of money we were going to hand out.

The man who was going to lead us to the village had already been picked for us. He was from that village but not from the part that had burned down. The information he gave us about the fire was detailed


and interesting. Because his own house had not been damaged, he did not have the look of despair that would be on the faces of a family who had been badly affected. Because of this, there was one useful thing: he related events with complete objectivity, which perhaps would not have been possible in other circumstances.

As we approached the village, the fire seemed to make itself felt. Ram Prasad pointed to a bamboo grove adjoining the village and said, "Look, there's the fire." In fact, there was no fire there, but we did see burned bamboos and scorched leaves.

Next to the grove there was a pool, which was in a sense inside the village. As we came near to it, we saw that it was no longer really a pool at all. That is, there was no water, but there was plenty of mud. Actually, a little water remained in some small depressions (although the pool itself was little more than a depression), but these puddles were muddy, dirty, and shallow.

One enjoyable thing there was that Ram Prasad made fun of the boss: "It's like the boss," he said, in a satirical tone I suppose, "half dried up!" Ram Prasad made the journey pass by finishing everything he said with some rude remark about the boss. Now his insults were becoming poetic. The funny thing was that Ram Prasad went on as if he were the only educated man in the world to have passed all his exams without answering a single question on poetry.

Another thing we saw there was a number of village children sifting with their feet through the mud and dirty water. There were small children, stark naked, as well as a few young girls who had just reached the age when some modesty is required.

"What are they doing there?" we asked the villager who accompanied us.

"Fishing, sir." He had a habit of clasping his hands together when he spoke.

"Is this pool always dry like this?"

"No sir, it's been dry since the fire."

"Did the heat of the fire dry it up?" Ram Prasad's question was juvenile.

The villager laughed. "Could a pool be dried up by the heat of a fire? No, there wasn't much water in it before. They filled buckets from it to put out the fire. The fire didn't go out, but the pool's been like this ever since!"

When we reached the damaged part of the village, we discovered that the fire was still not completely out, although it had died right down. The people were no longer distraught; they were resigned by now. We realized that the fire was not out as we walked up and felt its warmth


there. The heat was coming from mounds of ash that had once been houses of straw. In some places, small huts had burned down, and their ruins had been cleared away, but black marks could still be seen measuring out squares where living homes had once stood. Quite a big house must have stood in one particular place: some scorched hardwood pillars still remained, but there was no sign of anything else. Wisps of smoke still rose from some of the mounds: the fire still smouldered inside them.

What emerged from all this was that the people had given up putting out fires and had resigned themselves to their fate. Most of them lay on string beds under the open sky or on the ground. They looked up at the sky, remembering their homes.

A baby caught hold of a nipple and sucked, let go of it and cried, then suddenly found it and began to suck again, but his mother seemed oblivious to him. Surrounded by smoke, she stared right past him. We saw children gamboling happily as they roasted fish in houses where the fire was still burning. They were evidently excited by the fire, and this was what had inspired them to sift and dig through the pool. The fire was all around us. But perhaps they were making the best use of it, tossing their catch down somewhere and then looking at it after a moment to find a ready-cooked fish.

Our boss was influenced less by all this than by the opportunity it presented for him to carry out his duty. His opinion was that duty always ranked higher than sentiment. The very next day after we arrived, he set up his task like a column in the middle of the burned-out section of the village and began to explain it to the villagers. When a large number of them had gathered, he asked, "Who are the poorest people in this quarter?"

The villagers may not have understood him, or perhaps the boss realized that he had phrased his question wrongly. It was difficult to put a very clear interpretation on it. So he clarified the question, "Who among you is extremely poor?"

Henceforth, the villagers' difficulties were reduced at a stroke, but our problems increased greatly. What happened was that seventeen people lined up in front of us. More people would certainly have come, but our boss had begun to look rather nervous . So I stood up and prevented any more of the poor from coming forward.

Meanwhile, Ram Prasad sat in silence, observing the villagers' poverty. He actually seemed quite uninterested and had even stopped slandering the boss quite so much. A brief summary of the boss's foolishness and selfishness still entered my ears, nonetheless.

Our troubles really began at this point. How were we going to share out the money? But that problem would come later. First, how were we


going to select the ten poorest families? Poverty is not some race in which first and second place can be clearly decided on the spot. All the families that surrounded us looked like worthy and presentable specimens of poverty. Compared to them, we seemed so well-off, especially me and Ram Prasad, that we felt uneasy. The boss, on the other hand, habitually lived a low-class life at the center.

The boss questioned the first man: "How will you prove that you're the poorest?"

Ram Prasad was annoyed by this. "Is poverty something that can be proved? Why don't you assess them yourself? Even some people who are comfortably off will declare themselves poor because it can't be proved!"

"What else can I do? This is the job we have to do," said the boss.

"Sir, it's ages since we ate rice," said the man.

"Then you've probably got diabetes, sugar sickness. I'm sure you eat bread, however, don't you?" This was the boss's question.

Then the second man spoke. "Master, I don't even eat bread."

"What do you eat, then?"

"Oh, sometimes this, sometimes that." The boss did not look very satisfied. He was about to ask another question when a young man spoke up, "Sir, this man owned a half bigha of land."[2]

The man with a half bigha jumped in alarm. This was a big impediment if he was to prove himself poor.

"Only until last year, master!" he said. "Last year it was all sold, and since then I've been destitute."

"But I didn't have that piece of land handed down to me by my forefathers," said the first man to the second, "so which of us is poorer?" This made the boss's dilemma even worse, not to mention the second pauper's. But he went on making it worse still as he questioned a third, then a fourth, then a fifth.... The more questions he asked, the more of a mess he got himself into. His perplexity and indecision began to show clearly in his face.

"You have to give your opinions, too, you know! Which seven families should be disqualified?" The boss looked at us, totally at a loss. He was usually arrogant when it came to making decisions, and showed more self-confidence than was needed.

"We've already cut the numbers down as far as we can," said Ram Prasad. "But then, are all the other people really less poor than these seventeen?"

"What can we do?" said the boss, "It's as if every one of them is just born poor!"


"If there's enough money," I suggested, "why don't we just share it out among all of them?"

"That's not possible," said the boss. "An order's an order. It can't be changed now. And anyway, if you're going to share it out like that, why give it to only seventeen families? You'd have to give some to everyone else, too, and then they'd only get a tiny amount each!" He began to be sarcastic.

"Right then, let's do it like this," said Ram Prasad. "Everybody's poor in this place, so you could say there's no one who isn't. In the report, let's write that we couldn't find the ten poorest families."

Now the boss became more animated. His brow furrowed, and he raised his eyebrows a couple of times. Then he asked, "What's the point of such a report?"

"It would make the country seem rich. Isn't that worth doing? If we can't find ten poor families in a village where everything's been reduced to ashes, what brilliant progress there has been! Let's not underestimate it!"

Ram Prasad was clearly teasing the boss, but the boss sat there digesting all this and said nothing.

We were sitting on a bed under a big banyan tree. The villagers were beginning to look rather fed up with queuing in the hot sunshine. Those who had been excluded were standing behind them. There were others, too, watching us and our work with curiosity.

We had not suspected that we would have to do all this pointless work just to dole out 5,000 rupees to a village or that we would have to give such thought to rules and methods. It felt as if we'd been trapped.

Then I remembered a custom. "Sir, shall I run a lottery? I could write out ten winning tickets and make all the others losers. We're down to seventeen; now we have to cut it down further. I think there's some sense in picking the ten out like this. This would be the best way."

The boss's face brightened, but Ram Prasad laughed. "So now we're going to judge poverty in a lottery, are we?"

I shut him up. "Ram Prasadji, be practical. If we don't do it like this, no one will get anything. So isn't this better? However they get it, and whoever they are, ten poor people will at least gain something."

Ram Prasad did shut up, but I wasn't sure that he was reconciled to the idea. The boss, on the other hand, looked as if he had discovered a medicine that would uproot poverty once and for all.

The tickets were prepared. Ten scraps of paper had "500" written on them; twelve more had "0." There were twelve losing tickets because the boss generously gave five more families permission to take part when he discovered the lottery method.

The boss shuffled the tickets, and he was about to throw them out


on the ground when his expression showed that a sneeze was coming. Ram Prasad grimaced, and the villagers laughed at the boss. This time the boss did not sit down to wait; straightaway he pulled a rag from his pocket, held it to his nose, and began to walk around. Then with a terrific noise that startled even the birds, he sneezed "Aaa-choo!"—and, to tell the truth, the pieces of paper fell out of his hand as he did so and were scattered all over the ground. He had intended to keep shuffling them for a little longer to heighten the suspense. But at least he had been put out of his misery quickly.

As soon as this happened, the villagers began to push and shove one another and descended upon the tickets. For a while, none of them even managed to pick one up; they were trying too hard to prevent each other, and they were too afraid of ending up with nothing. Such scenes were described in the tale of Swasthani, when men and women ran around in terror during storms or tempests.[3]

Our boss was watching with amusement. This was the first time he had ever been seen so amused, for which we had the villagers to thank. They had proved that a little humor could be produced in the boss on occasion. And it was true that the deperate expression on the villagers' faces when the tickets were released might have been considered entertaining.

Anyway, we found the ten we needed. But what was the last thing the boss did? He had begun to worry that his TADA would run out halfway home. So he decided to give each family 400 instead of 500.

"Four hundred or 500, it makes no difference to them," he said. "But if we reduce each one by 100 it will make a great difference to us. We'll get home more easily ..."

"But how will we account for the missing 1,000?" I asked him.

"Oh, they'll sign for 500, these people." Then, as we were starting out, the boss slipped 250 into each of our pockets as extra travel expenses.

On our way, Ram Prasad said, "You see our boss, how skillful he is? He even pays attention to rank when it comes to the size of a bribe! Just you watch—I'll bring this money down on his head."

As Ram Prasad was saying this to me, the sun was setting, and only a little of it could be seen. We were close to the pool again. There seemed to be more children searching for fish there now, and several older women were involved in the hunt, too. That was the only change we could see in two days. Their legs, their arms, even their faces were mud-


dy, and the mud could not dry because they were sweating. They didn't appear to have found any fish for a long time.

Our boss had already set off on his horse. For a couple of minutes we stood and stared at the pool and the setting sun.

(first published in Sangrila magazine, 1982; from Gautam 1987; also included in Samsamayik Sajha Katha 1984)


Manu Brajaki (b. 1942)

Brajaki's first published story appeared in a Janakpur magazine in 1962, but he is still regarded as a writer whose work reflects contemporary trends. Brajaki has published two collections to date: Avamulyan (Devaluation, 1981) and Akashko Phal (Fruits of the Sky, 1986).

A Small Fish Squats by the Dhobi Khola (Sano Machha Dhobi Kholako Bagarma[1] )

Today he saw that the ugly iron Aligarh padlock[2] was still hanging on the outside of the lavatory door. Its paint and polish had all washed away. He stared at the locked lavatory, deep in thought. Someone had chalked a picture on its outer wall of a betel leaf pierced by an arrow. It seemed incongruous to him; this was no place to be wounded by love.

He remembered the strangeness of his landlady, Bajai Ama.[3] Stranger still was the sight of this lavatory bolted shut with an ugly iron padlock since eight o'clock in the morning. He looked at his watch: it was half past eight. Outside, a light summer shower was falling. How many more times could he go running over to use Hari's? Hari had a landlord, too— what was he going to say? It was Hari who'd told him teasingly, "This is what you've been looking for! You won't find a better room than this


anywhere for 50 rupees. After all, they were going to ask seventy or eighty for it."

Realizing that he had little choice in the matter, he swallowed his pride, picked up his umbrella, and went out of the room. On the stairs he met Bimla. Bimla looked coyly at him. Her lips did not smile, but her whole face, her eyes, were laughing. He felt her face showed sympathy, not mockery. And some slight sense, too, of a betel leaf pierced by a barb. After an awkward moment when they jostled on the stairs, they each went their own way. Bimla's long skirt swayed on up the stairs. He wondered, did Bimla have the key to the padlock? Who knows? She might not. And could he really bring up the subject of a lavatory in his first conversation with such an educated young woman? He pulled out a cigarette and struck a match. Perhaps because of the match light, the ugly iron lock appeared again before his eyes. He hurried irritably down the stairs.

At the door, he came face to face with Bajai Ama, the landlord's wife: a yellow face full of creases and wrinkles, a sandalwood spot on her brow, some ritual materials in one hand, a lady's umbrella in the other. "

You're up very late, young sir. Where are you going?"

"Just off to buy some vegetables ..."

She laughed, as people often do, and their conversation ended. Was there sarcasm in her voice or kindliness? He did not know. There was no time for him to know either. But as he hurried away he felt as if that wrinkled old face was shouting back at him, "Are you off to squat by the Dhobi Khola? You should get up earlier in the morning!"

He strode off anxiously to Hari's house.

A month ago, he had come here with Hari, looking for a place to stay. They had wandered around for hours, and they were completely disheartened. The house was as historic as Kathmandu itself. That is, it looked however you wanted it to look: to a rich man it seemed derelict; for a poor man it was fine. Hari introduced him.



"You'll have looked at the room?"

"Yes, it's fine. I'm on my own; one room is enough."

"Have you no family then?"

Bajai Ama looked keenly at him, and he felt uneasy. This "because of your family" business had already stopped him getting any further in several other places.

"Not at the moment."

Hari glanced at him; his statement was true. To tell the whole truth, he should really have said, "My family is in my village. I will bring them


here soon." But the fish had already escaped, and he just sat wringing his hands in silence like a fool. The old woman talked about this and that but mainly about her own domestic affairs. She pointed to a photograph on the wall, "That is the father of Bimla here."

Even as she spoke, they both turned around to look at "Bimla here." An ordinary-looking young girl in a dress embroidered with silk looked back at them with curiosity. Then they resumed listening to Bajai Ama.

"... But now he's gone. What to do? That's the way fate has it."

"Ohhh ..." They were both silent for a moment. Bajai Ama sat in silence, too, remembering her husband.

The room where they sat was spacious. To one side, several mattresses were piled on a bedstead and covered by a cheap bedspread. Two thick quilts lay folded on top of the bed. Some flowers and wood apples were scattered across a three-foot bolster pillow. Bajai Ama was sitting on a mat beneath the bedstead, and the two men sat before her, leaning on a wide, low table that was plain and old-fashioned. This table had a mirror in which there was a framed photograph of some unidentified saint or deity. The figure in the picture had been rendered quite unrecognizable by the stains of flowers, rice grains, vermilion, and sandalwood powders offered to it. A ceremonial spoon and cup, a bell, an incense burner, and a pot stood on the table, together with an old Coca Cola bottle containing a bunch of summer flowers. There were no chairs to go with the table at all.

Deciding that it was no good just sitting there saying nothing, Hari asked, "What did he do?"

"He was a poet, sir."

"A poet!" Hari thought that he had discovered a way of getting the room cheaply. Humbly he said to Bajai Ama, "My friend here is a poet, too."

"A poet?" Her wrinkled face creased tighter, and an odd expression came over it. He and Hari both looked back and forth between Bajai Ama and her husband's photograph. It was an impressive picture: a face with full round cheeks and an exceedingly well-tended moustache, topped by a neatly wound turban. When they looked at his eyes, they felt as if he was just about to roar out a poem about great heroism.

"This poetry has destroyed everything, sir."

This time she turned her gaze on Hari. The fish had already escaped, so Hari could only sit there looking blank and squeezing his hands. His friend had never even hummed a tune, let alone written a poem. As far as an interest in literature was concerned, he had read only the essential poets—Lekhnath, Devkota, Sama. And then it was only to pass an exam. To try to set things right, he declared, "Oh, it was only while I was


studying, at school and at college. Then I used to scribble a few lines. But now I have to work for my keep. So what use is poetry to me?"

"Yes, that's right. It's no good getting involved in this poetry stuff. Your children will starve to death. Heaven and earth will mock you. You may be clever yourself, but if your children don't get to study, they'll turn out dumb idiots."

"He doesn't write any more. He hardly ever did, and now he has no time at all. All day at the office, studying mornings and evenings—the poor man doesn't even have time for his prayers." Hari told lie upon lie. He felt shocked by Hari's words. If he got the room tomorrow, who was he going to pray to, after all? At college, he had worshipped a "goddess" and even run to the temple several times because of her. But one day the goddess's minions had decided to worship her properly, and he'd completely forgotten the way to the temple. He had also begun to ignore beautiful flowers, moonlit nights, and the season of spring.

Hari and Bajai Ama had begun to discuss the rent. He looked at the wall, where Hema Malini was bending prettily to dance in a calendar advertising garam masala.[4] He thought of turning around to look at Bimla, but he could not. So he just stared into the corner.

The oddest things were scattered all over the room: thanka paintings; alloy, copper, and brass idols both large and small; tattered old Hindu and Buddhist books; rosaries and beads; and all sorts of other things that he could not identify.

Looking at Bajai Ama, he pointed into the corner, "What are these?"

She glanced where he was pointing and said, hardly pausing in the conversation she was holding with Hari, "Sir, those belong to my son; he collects all sorts of things. I don't know what they are. He sells them.... And the rent won't go lower than 50 rupees."

Hari glanced over at him, wearing a look that said, "Fifty is the lowest she'll go—what do you say?"

He indicated his assent and put an advance payment of 50 rupees straight into Bajai Ama's hand. As they went down the stairs, Bimla stood by the door. He thought she might have smiled, but he was not at all sure of it.

"Those things in the corner ..." he began to say as they came out into the street.

"He'll be smuggling images and things, I expect," Hari cut in. "Bimla was smiling at you, wasn't she, my lad?"

"Don't talk such rubbish, idiot!"


Who could say whether she had smiled or not? He didn't think any more about it.

Today he arrived at Hari's house, only to find him locking his door and on his way out. He hung back and saw Hari's landlord watching him with a frown. This was the tenth time he had run over here. The poor man would be getting angry.

Hari finished locking his door and turned around. He was surprised to see him.

"Hey, where are you off to, Ganesh?"

"I just came to visit you."

"I'm going to Binod's place. He's invited me over. I'm eating there, too."

"Are you leaving right now?"

Hari paused for a moment; then he laughed. "The same problem again, my lad?" He glanced at the landlord's window. The whole window was frowning by this time.

"Come on, let's go."

Out in the street, Hari said, "Sorry, my friend. But what can I do?"

"It doesn't matter. I'll be off." He felt as if he had a rock in the pit of his stomach.

"Are you angry? What's the matter?"

"Why should I be angry? It's not your fault. Didn't you see the old man at the window?"

"It's hardly my landlord's fault that you're having all this trouble. You're a fool—just ask Bimla for the key, won't you? This will go on forever if you don't say something."

"She's a serious sort of girl. I never see her talking to anyone. Mother and daughter live together upstairs. And as for her brother, I never know about his comings and goings."

"You said she watches you from the window."

"Yes, certainly she watches me."

"Right, that's it then, you thickhead. Have a chat with her on the pretext of asking for the key. With laddus in both hands.[5] Right, I'm off now." Hari set off from the crossroads for Binod's house. Ganesh couldn't follow Hari there because he did not know Binod.

He walked back to his lodgings, remembering Hari's remark about "laddus in both hands." It was still raining slighty. He wondered, Had his blunder really been so great that it justified a transfer from the district to the center? He had never informed on anyone's corruption. He had taken bribes, for sure, but he had done the world's work, too. To take


bribes and not to work—that was real corruption. But the traditions of corruption required that he should fall, and so he fell. The big fish got away. He was just a small fish: a paltry little hook could catch him, so how could he escape the net?

He was not of sufficiently high status to come with laddus in both hands. He had eaten only one laddu , and now in this summer rain he had to run from house to house. Otherwise, he, too, might have been squatting in a bathroom sucking hard on a Yak cigarette. The thought made his heart and mind burn.

Walking along beside the gutter, he arrived at his lodgings to see Bimla sitting at the bottom of the stairs. Pleased, he approached her and said softly, "Is Bajai Ama at her prayers?"

She seemed to smile, but she gave him no reply. He was at a loss— how should he broach the subject? The laws of nature say that you must labor hard, swallow your pride, and lay down your sorrows.

"Do you have the key? I got up late today."

Bimla made a strange sound and pointed upstairs. Shocked, he stared at her in stunned silence. The poor girl was mute! From her serious face and fashionable clothes, he had assumed her to be an educated girl. But in a family where the son hasn't studied, a dumb daughter hardly would! Slowly it dawned on him: her eyes always smiled because without a voice her perception was particularly sharp. But what to do now? It would never do to show a dumb girl the lavatory and gesture at the lock and key. That would be most indelicate. It would soon become quite ridiculous.

Seeing him staring at her, Bimla turned and went upstairs. He looked at that ugly lock on the lavatory door, then at the picture chalked on the wall. An arrow piercing a betel leaf! There would be no point in calling Bajai Ama, so he went outside. I'll have to begin seeking new rooms tomorrow, he thought. The rock in his stomach had moved lower down.

He made haste for the Dhobi Khola.

(first published in Madhupark magazine 1983; from Samsamayik Sajha Katha 1984)


Kishor Pahadi (b. 1956)

Pahadi is a "new" writer whose first story was published in 1971. Pahadi's stories are collected in Banchnu ra Banchekaharu (To Live and the Living, 1980), Ghar-Khandahar (Ruins of Houses, 1980), and Vishudai (Vishudai [a woman's name], 1988).

A Living Death (Mritajivi)

Devayani. Do you like that name? I liked it, too, when I heard it first. In fact, it was because of her name that I first employed Devayani. After I had taken her on, I changed her name to "Kanchi": servants' names are always changed once they are employed.

"What jobs can you do?" I'd asked her.

"I can do whatever Bajyai tells me to," she'd answered. "Cooking, scouring pots, washing clothes, looking after children: I do everything."

I was rather relieved to hear this. It's hard when you have to keep finding jobs for someone else, day in and day out. I'd told my husband so many times to get a servant, but he'd taken no notice. I had to cook, I had to clean the hearth, I had to do the washing—there was so much work, I tell you! And so I was delighted when a woman came to the door to become my servant.

"How much do you want each month?"

"Let Bajyai give what she decides. I am not greedy for money. All I need is a refuge." Her voice was tragic, but I hardly noticed it. I should make it clear that I am not an especially sensitive woman. I hardly have time for my own children, so what interest did I have in Devayani, a woman I'd only just met?

Anyway, the terms were agreed.


From her very first day, my work load lightened. In fact, I had nothing to do! Devayani did everything, from making the tea first thing in the morning to washing the pots and cleaning the hearth in the evening. And she did not seem in the least unhappy about having to do all this work. She was always in a cheerful mood. Often she would happily declare, "What a fine refuge I've found in Bajyai's house!"

I was not of an age to be a grandmother really; she called me Bajyai out of respect because I am a Brahman. There's a belief that women lie about their ages, but I'm not lying. She only called me Bajyai because I am a Brahman. And because I am a Brahman, I should not have eaten what Devayani cooked; but both my husband and I keep well clear of such customs, and we don't care at all.

One morning, at about ten o'clock, I was feeding my little daughter when Devayani came running in.

"Bajyai! I'm going to plant cauliflowers in the garden today, alright?"

Behind our house there is a small piece of garden. It had been empty for ages. Who was there to do the work, after all? Because of his office work he had no time to spare, and it was the same for me with the housework! Her idea surprised me.

"Do you know how to, Kanchi?" I asked.

She laughed and replied, "Why, is it so hard? I certainly know full well how to do it. It's better to plant something than just leaving it lying barren like that. I'll plant potatoes, spinach, and cauliflowers. Then you won't have to worry about vegetables. Just think how expensive they are nowadays!"

If someone does work that interests them, they are happy, and so Devayani was happy as she planted the vegetables in that garden. It seemed to me that she had been born for hard work and accomplishment.

Every single person is born once and dies once—the history of the world is founded on this. History is the unfortunate things that take place between birth and dying. Some are dying as they live in this history; some are living as they die. But I, like Devayani, am not among these; I just go on with my story.

One day, Devayani pointed out a man and asked, "Do you know that man, Bajyai, the one on the motorcycle?"

"Who, that one with the dark face?"


"No, I don't."

"I do, Bajyai."

"So what?" I asked, but for some strange reason my question made Devayani anxious. Without another word she ran inside to her room.


It seemed as if there was some kind of deep secret in this. Indeed, there was: Devayani's nervousness did hold a secret. Devayani told me about it one day, and I knew. But that was much later.

From that day on, I began to see that dark man on his motorcycle almost every day near our house. He may well have been there before, but I had not noticed him. Once Devayani had pointed him out, I realized that he came up to the front of the house most evenings and parked his motorcycle there. He would look all around as if searching for something. This was while he bought cigarettes from a shop. For a few moments he would stand there; then he would go back to start his engine.

I saw this happen four days in a row. On the fifth day I saw something new: Devayani was peering out through a chink in the curtains. The dark motorcyclist was on the street. I stared at Devayani for a moment. She was peeping out with great excitement and did not know I was there. I was sure she was staring at that dark man, and I let her go on staring. I thought she was in love with him. But the dark man, what did he want? I felt apprehensive.

Next day I was at my window, having sent Devayani out to buy oranges. The same man came and stopped outside the house. He had always come in the evening before, but today he came in the afternoon. He parked the motorcycle and looked all around.

So I sat and waited to see what would happen.

Very soon, Devayani came back with the oranges in her hand. The motorcyclist saw her at once. Devayani saw him, too, but she walked straight on. The motorcyclist seemed to call her, and Devayani turned toward him.

I was still watching from my window.

The two of them began to talk. From the way they talked, they seemed well acquainted. But I began to feel suspicious and fearful: what destructive thing was Devayani doing here? To ask me first whether I knew the man, then to peer out at him from her window, and then to spend so much time talking to him ... what conspiracy was being planned?

They went on talking for ages; then they seemed to disagree. The dark motorcyclist started his engine and went slowly back the same way he had come. Devayani approached the house and saw me in the window. She'd probably been unaware of my presence until then.

She came straight up the stairs. At the top, she could not raise her head to look at me. I stood there intending to tell her off. Then she looked at me, and what was this? Her eyes were streaming with tears. "

Bajyai, I am leaving this house right now!"

She's intending to run away with that man, I thought. Rather sternly, I asked, "Where are you going? Are you thinking of flying away on that motorcycle, or what?"


"No, Bajyai! It's the motorcyclist I'm running from!"

"Why? What happened?"

This made her cry all the more. I took the bag of oranges from her, took one out, and began to peel it. I am certainly not such a sensitive woman.

She wiped her eyes and looked at me. "I'm going now, Bajyai."

"Where are you going, Kanchi?"

"I don't know. Wherever. But away from this area."

"Why?" I remembered how much work I'd have if she left.

She was silent for a moment. I sat there eating my orange. "When I'm leaving I'll tell you why."

"Alright then, tell me, tell me." I went on chewing my orange. There was no interest at all in my voice.

"I am the daughter of a poor farmer's family, Bajyai. And that motorcyclist's my husband ..."

It was as if someone had pricked my ears, and I jumped in alarm. Perhaps I had misheard. "Go on, go on, what did you say?"

"It's true, Bajyai. That motorcyclist is my husband ..."

The last segment of the orange remained in my hand. I put it straight down with the peel on the floor.

"When we married, he was as poor as me," said Devayani. "We had to struggle hard just to survive. His grandmother, mother, sister, brother, he, and I, we all lived off a tiny piece of land. It didn't provide three months' food a year. And he didn't even have a job either; he was studying at college. His brother and sister were small, and there was no father. His mother and I worked other people's fields, and his mother did most of the housework. I was the only one who did jobs like planting paddy in other people's fields, carrying bricks and sand on building sites, and so on. That was the money that kept him at college. I really suffered, Bajyai! I haven't worked even a quarter as hard in Bajyai's house! It was really tough to work outside all day, then to come home to fetch water morning and night, scour pots, clean the hearth, cook the food ..."

Devayani put on a pained expression, and I saw the past in her face. Even I felt wounded somehow. She went on with her story,

"I was exhausted, and I used to fall ill from time to time. But I said nothing to anyone. I just kept on working. I didn't even take any medicine—I said nothing about it. Who would buy me medicine, anyway? But illness is a marvelous thing, Bajyai! If you don't treat it, it gets better."

I was fascinated by Devayani. Although she was much younger than me, I considered her far more experienced. Compared to her, what had I experienced?

"Kanchi, why did you come and wash pots for other people like this?"

She laughed at my question. "To change from Devayani to Kanchi!


I'm not really a Kanchi! I've studied up to fifth grade. That was when I got married. What chance was there for any more education then? Although I'm poor, I've studied a lot. What a strange life this is!"

He had gone to the office; the children had gone to school. We had the house to ourselves. She told me her story as if it were an amusing tale.

"Didn't you have any children?" I asked.

"I don't know; the Lord didn't give us any." Devayani spoke despairingly. "Sometimes I wonder if that's the Lord's job—to go on giving further misery to those who are unhappy. I suffered so much, you know? Later, when he'd finished his studies and left college, he became an overseer. He got an office job. I was astonished, Bajyai. I really was. I thought he would tell me that from then on, having suffered so much, I wouldn't have to work so hard; I wouldn't have to work for others. But no, Bajyai, he didn't say anything of the sort. His mother and grandmother did not speak up against him. They wanted me to be as unhappy as possible. However hard I worked, he would insult me and beat me. I had no one to turn to at home: my mother was all I had, and she died seven months after my wedding."

Devayani paused, but I could not contain my curiosity. "Tell me then, what happened?"

"He kept on earning more and more money. I felt a kind of pride that my husband had become an important man. Once a man becomes important, so does his wife—that's what I thought. But more and more unpleasant things began to happen, things I'd never imagined. One day he came straight out with it. 'Get out of my house,' he said. This was while he was beating me, thrashing me."

"What had you done for him to beat you?"

"I told you, didn't I? Horrible things like that kept on happening. I didn't have to do anything, Bajyai, he just used to hit me for no reason. Then he was promoted a little; that might have been why he became totally indifferent to me. He had turned from a rural hill student into a cultured, senior hakim , but I was still the same uncultured peasant. Perhaps that was why his family all showed such contempt for me. They all forgot how much a girl called Devayani Maharjan had suffered for their family. So I was alone in the world, and I was miserable."

Now I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks. She quickly wiped her eyes and said, "One day, the office gave him a motorcycle— the same one he rides now. And the very next day he brought a form and told me to sign it. It was a form for a divorce. I was terrified. He said he was going to throw me out and get an overseer's wife. Why did such things happen to me? I had committed no sin! I told him, 'If we're divorced, where shall I go?' But he looked at me with wide eyes, 'Go


where you like!' he said. 'What use are you, a wife who can't have children?' But that was just an excuse for getting rid of me. I said, 'But we didn't want children all these years.' His answer was to grab hold of my hair and start hitting me. After every blow, he told me to sign the form. I kept on refusing. His whole family gathered round and threatened me. 'We'll pour paraffin over you and set you alight!' they said. I started to weep and wail: one part of me felt that I shouldn't leave the house, even if they burned me alive. But something else told me to go, and so I ran away and came to work here. Then he found out where I lived and caught me today. He's already got his overseer's wife. He told me he'd bring the form right away and that if I didn't sign it he'd drag me off. That's why I'm leaving now.... But when the vegetables are ready, I'll be back to eat them, Bajyai."

When she had finished, Devayani sighed wearily. Even this insensitive woman found tears coming to her eyes.

"You needn't be afraid, Kanchi," I told her. "If he comes, I'll be here, won't I? We'll do what has to be done. You don't have to leave. Where would you go? He'd easily find you again."

Devayani was not convinced. "I don't want to get honest people like you involved," she said. "How many other women there must be living tragic lives in this world. How many of them can you save?"

And she left me and went away.

She said she would be back when the vegetables had grown, but they all died in the ground. She should have returned when they sprouted, but it's eighteen months now since Devayani left this house, and she has never come back.

Now the garden is bare.

(first published in Ruprekha magazine 1984; from Samsamayik Sajha Katha 1984)

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