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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Parallel Sky: A rebel woman demands the rectification of male hegemony

The first Nepali novel titled Beer Charitraa was published in 1903. It has recently celebrated its first centenary. During this period, about a thousand novels must have been produced. But women writers joined quite late, one leading figure then being Parijat. She came in the mid 1960’s.
Parijat is the first woman novelist of great power and promise. She produced more than a dozen of novels. Of them two are rendered into English­– Sirisko Phool as Blue Mimosa and Anido Pahad Sangai as Under the Sleepless Mountain. The first one, Blue Mimosa, must be the first Nepali novel to be rendered into English by Sendra Zodstein and Tank Vilas Varya in 1972.
Since then many novels have been rendered into English, mostly by native English translators like Larry Hartsell, Michael Hutt and native (Nepali) translators like Peter J. Karthak and Taranath Sharma.
So far, quite a good number of novels have been rendered into English.
Though Nepali novel goes back as far as Beer Charitra, Rupmati is in true sense the first modern novel that has introduced idealism in Nepali fiction. It has also been rendered by Shanti Mishra into English. Other novels of great fame are Basain, Teen Ghumti, Pratyek Thaun Pratyek Manchhe, Chapaieka Anuhar, Jyoti Jyoti Mahajyoti, Abiral Bagdachha Indrawati, Madhavi, Teen Ghumti, Pallo Gharko Jhyal, Alikhit, Ekkaisau Shatabdiki Sumnima, Sikkaka Dui Pata, Anuradha by Bijaya Malla, Swapna Sammelan by Manuj Babu Mishra, Palpasa Cafe by Narayan Wagle, Socrates’ Footsteps by Govinda Raj Bhattarai and Karagar of Banira Giri.
Each represents a trend and different time zones.
Thus Nepali novel translation has a history of some forty years, yet its number has hardly reached forty.
Each of the novels that has been translated is representative of age, trend, technique and socio-economic scenario of the time.
Rudraraj’s Rupmati represents old values of  patriarchally defined ideal society; Lil Bahadur’s Homestead is a departure and is the foundation of realistic techniques. Bijay Malla’s Anuradha, Govinda Bahadur Malla’s The Window of the House Opposite and B.P Koirala’s Teen Ghumti represent psychological schools of archetypal psyche.
Diamond Shumsher Rana’s The Wake of the White Tiger is representative of historic novel.
The novels like Unwritten and Terror of Flower by Dhruba Chandra Gautam mark a great departure from the tradition towards modern experimental writings. Dhruba Chandra’s long journey links modern trends to postmodern trends of fiction writing.
The novels that followed Dhruba Chandra present a wide variety of techniques and themes which echo the voices of new age. Some novels like Govinda Raj Bhattarai’s Socrates’ Footsteps and Narayan Wagle’s Palpasa Cafe have taken a great turning and deployed postmodern themes and techniques.
So far, only five women writer’s novels have  been rendered into English. They are :
Parijat’s Blue Mimosa and Under the Sleepless Mountain
Banira Giri’s The Prison
Geeta Keshary’s The Search
Unnati Bohora Sheela’s Two Faces of a Coin
Sharmila Khadka Dahal’s Sani’s Valor
The present novel Parallel Sky is the first novel by Padmavati Singh, first published in Nepali and then rendered into English.
Padmavati is a highly reputed woman writer, mostly of short stories. To her credit is Maun Swikriti, a collection of seventeen stories published four years ago. I have had an opportunity to write an introduction to the collection as well. I remember how fresh and powerful the stories were. Some of them have been selected for representative anthologies and rendered into English as well.
Though in her early sixties now, Padmavati is vibrant, fresh and dynamic like the character of Sushmita in the present novel. She hails from Kathmandu, the  capital city and an intellectual hub of Nepal. She has made a very remarkable contribution towards promoting the lives of women both in the rural as well as urban areas. She is an artist and a supporter of women’s cause. She founded and has nurtured a women writer’s group called Gunjan for long. Gunjan is a most vibrant organization of women writers in Nepal. It is her brainchild and she made two most substantial contributions to it during her tenure as a chair. These were the publications of Beyond Frontiers (short stories) and Daughter of Earth (poems). These are the first anthologies ever of women’s writings in Nepal. I remember the opportunity offered to me to work as a guest editor in the publications.
Against this background Padmavati’s novel stands out for its singularly different and remarkably fresh work. The novel won the Sajha Puraskar, a most prestigious prize, for the year 2007 and was introduced in the graduate level syllabus of Tribhuvan University the following year. It is still chosen as a course book. The book has appeared in many editions and it has won the hearts of thousands of readers, especially of the young generation. It is natural because Padmavati’s theme and style both are captivating. Once the readers begin reading, they can’t stop until they come to the end—I had that experience twice. Moreover, the theme of women’s rights, her struggle to gain equal status, the very title suggests her efforts to ensure a life of dignity and honour for a woman in a patriarchal society.
There are three purposes behind the translation of this work.
Firstly, it is to show a great work of women’s writing after Parijat in Nepali fiction.
Secondly, it is to present a prize winning Nepali novel (the second candidate to do be awarded with this honor after Banira Giri in a matter of 30 years); all the history of art and culture being male dominated.
Thirdly, it is to show the height women’s writing has gained in Nepali literature. And it is to show the life of the contemporary Nepalese women from the perspectives of an activist who has fought for their emancipation through redefined socio-political, legal, religious discourses and gender equity perspectives.
Sushmita is the spokesperson of the writer in the novel. She represents an educated woman from a well-to-do family. She is typical of urbanity, richness and modern living. She is far advanced and ahead of time.
The novel is divided into 27 chapters; it is in fact an autobiographical sketch of Sushmita. It is a tale depicted from female perspective. It is a tale of an educated modern lady from her marriage to early fifties. It tells the tale of some thirty-five years of time and sketches the life patterns of three generation with a central character Sushmita.
The novel marks an extreme end point of modern Nepali novel. The beginning was Rupmati where woman’s role was secondary, subsidiary and non-existent. On the another extreme, Parallel Sky presents a woman ready to fight against all discriminations and disparities, she challenges all values and norms that  stood for subjugating woman.
Sushmita stands at the threshold of postmodern values.
The novel is basically an account of a rebel. Sushmita is a rebellious central character.
All the novel is a story told from a contemporary, educated woman’s perspectives. She sees the life of women in towns as well as in remote distant villages.
The centre of the story is woman and her body; her struggle to readjust to new values in a transitional society. Society has discriminated her on grounds of body so far. She revolts against this and tries to take  possession of her body and rights to readjust matters.
The locales of the novel are the sophisticated urban centre of Kathmandu and a remote village of Gaurigaun, and some other parts. The stories, mind-sets, values and life patterns of two locales are compared and contrasted. The sole objective of the main character, Sushmita is to make women aware of their situation, to teach them how to fight against  age-old patriarchal values and to help them establish themselves at par with or above males.
The novel is an autobiographical description of Sushmita’s experiences with Avinash, the deserter; her son Aakash and daughter Asmita. It is a woman centered novel. The major roles are given to them. One male, Prabhat, is an ideal character. Other males are rapists, drunkards, loafers and misogynists. All female characters are sound, rebellious and encouraging.
Let me not relay the whole story, let me locate the space of Parallel Sky among the contemporary novels.
The novel is an attack on male domination and male hypocrisy. It is the voice of new generation, especially the new woman. The new woman, who is aware of the great changes in medical science, technology and modern education, legal system, human rights, is in a position to declare her own rights and redraw her own boundary accordingly.
The main philosophy of the novel is woman’s body. It spins around her body and claims for her right to own it. It is not men’s, and nor is it society’s. So Sushmita shatters all values and norms that limit, or hinder and humiliate women.
There is quite a good amount of women’s writing created lately on women’s emancipation. Each of the works like Jhamak Ghimire’s autobiography, Jiban Kada Ki Phool (Is this life a thorn or a flower), Prabha Kaini’s novel Anabrit (Exposed, Unveiled), Bharati Gautam’s autobiographical essay, Smritima Bhimu (Bhimu in Memory), Sharada Subba’s play Yasodhara, Dipa Rai’s poetry Ardhabritta (Half-circle), the writings of Momila, Sharmila, Unnati Sheela, Gita Keshary—collectively indicate a great change and indicate towards new woman. She is totally new, a rebel, revolting against lopsided value-laden society.
One can hear most rebellious of voices in the characters of Parallel Sky. The society questions whether a woman is a human being at all. One character reports that they are treated as domestic animals. The old captain, the youngsters and the ever depressed woman folks give a most dismal picture. Against such a backdrop, the novel creates such bold female characters and they look for their own spaces, so that a woman–
can discard a male partner
can manage as single parent
can have sexual contact by mutual agreement
can accept a virgin mother       
can go for artificial insemination
can accept intercultural marriages
can accept extra-marital relation
is challenging the establishment.
They have stood against sexual abuse, rape, molestation, humiliation and mostly gender discrimination. Women have undergone lots of suffering since time immemorial.
There are different layers of meaning the novel has given.
It creates awareness among  rural women and empowers them.
It emancipates  rural as well as urban women.
It shows a connectivity of global consciousness.
Sometimes the values of the west conflict with those of the east.
But the novel covers  a long stretch of time: some five decades, lasting three generations. The novel showcases quick pace of change, materialistic progress and our journey towards sophisticated society.
It discusses women’s world– their relations, problems, joys and sorrows, their perspectives. Everything has changed with time.
Sushmita waits and moans, expresses joys and exhilaration– so deep, so pure, so natural. She is a very understanding, caring and loving woman.
This is a complete women’s novel. It protects, preserves and nurtures a girl child from her childhood and accompanies her till she grows old. It shows the points of attachment and resignation. It places a woman in society. It tries to create a proper space for her. It shows the ways of the world. It shows the changing world and values and shows new ways and the aspiration of the transformed society or people’s aspirations in transition.
 It emboldens a girl and prepares her for life. It empowers women and prepares her ready to face the worst in life.
I do have a personal remark to make– the cases the writer has selected all contain crimes that males commit, others are biological ones.[H1] 
There is not a single couple that looks ideal and perfect. One has deserted husband, other has no husband, another hates marriage, still another is impotent yet enslaves the  women. I wish she could have presented an ideal couple or successful marriages as well.
Secondly, though she has a deep experiences of the life in village, the novel shows the best of urban life as an ideal point. Sushmita has a posh bungalow, lovely car and lucrative job, can afford to put her children in boarding school, loves good food, jewelry and dress, affected manners, parties and has all modern gadgets, plus she is close  to the cyber culture. Anyway Padmavati cannot be otherwise. She is proud of her origin, atmosphere, upbringing and good manners. She sees the world with these eyes.
I found the novel so captivating, so moving, so powerful, I cannot think of any other novel by women writer that moves a whole society ahead; that is so positive, that empowers, emboldens  and enlightens the characters and ultimately the real people in this way.
 She moves the reader through the t vibrant personality of Sushmita. Her deep sense of involvement, her worries and liveliness, her tears and excitement sweep the readers along with her.
Regarding translation, it is quite appropriate for a work of such height.
I rate the translation carried out by Anuradha Sharma as quite good; she has used idiomatic English and adopted free technique of translation, however, she has nowhere sacrificed honesty to the original author at the cost of beauty carved in translation.
I am sure the work will have lasting value and will be regarded a historic document in the archive of English translation of Nepal woman writers’ fiction.

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