Free Press Journal

There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai: Review


Title: There’s a Carnival Today

Author: Indra Bahadur Rai; Translated by Manjushree Thapa

Publisher: Speaking Tree

Price:  Rs 350

Pages: 248

There is never a moment in world affairs that select (usually the most gorgeous ones that are there) regions are not in brutal turmoil. What is even rare is the availability and ability of minds ready to delve into the mire to comprehend the extent of trouble and the exact location in history that triggered its beginning. It takes a rare clairvoyant voice to understand the situation and document it in fair terms. In this case, we are aided by the brilliant and perceptive voice of acclaimed Nepali language author Indra Bahadur Rai’s.

His 1960s novel Aaja Ramita Chha takes us through the state of Darjeeling in the 1950s, its political circumstances and the subsequent impact on its natives, while divining the future in accurate detail. Manjushree Thapa’s translation boasts of a gentle book cover balancing with conventional Indian design ethos with a sharp journalistic twist.

The history of the region is recounted through the lives of banker-turned-merchant Janak’s humdrum life as well as that of his family, friends and neighbours. His wife Sita and foster son Ravi are charmed by his good-natured generosity towards his needy friends and neighbours, but incredulous of his definite descent into debt that leads Janak to seek refuge in infidelity. In quest of justice at the untimely demise of his own love trail, Ravi gets enticed by Janak’s rival Bhudev and the trade union movement of the tea gardens. And that is the cue for vacillations to implode at every level of the social, moral and political fabric of the well-told tale.

In spite of telling stories deprived of hope and full of every kind of upheaval in the 1960s, which is and has been the alarming reality of our north-eastern region, Rai’s USP lies in his polite, humane and open-minded approach to characterisation. He practices ‘Leela Lekhan’ where every truth is comprised of multiple views, so who is to judge whom, really. His Nepali readers are familiar with this kind approach and Thapa sensitively suffuses her translation with the same philosophy; so the characters turn into flesh-and-blood humans with theirs flaws striking a balance with the good qualities.

The paperback is a colourful slice of Darjeeling served with a side of droll humour that runs into deep cynicism as the journey picks up pace. It offers an uncommon window into to the nitty-gritty of the history, culture and life of the Nepalese populace. This is a book that requires the same patience to read it that it invests in its characters.