Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Malashree: A Heartrending Elegy in Prose : By Mahesh Paudyal Prarambha, Faculty, Central Department of English, TU

Shlesma Chhetri
Mahesh Paudyal
Shleshma Chhetri is a familiar name in Nepali letters, particularly among those who, in young age, have proven their talent to head for bright literary careers. She started writing quite early and made a speedy ascent to fame. Cultured by brilliant stimulators at Budhanilakantha School, she quickly carved for herself a path of literary pursuit and is proving her caliber and flair with publications – one after another.

The first time I came to notice her talent was in 2004, when her memoir Meri Hajurama was published by Ketaketi Nepal. It was a hotcake that quickly went for second edition and presently, Airawati publication is selling its third edition. The number of editions a book manages to go for and the number of copies it is consumed in is an index of the quality of a work, and by corollary, of an author. Shleshma's memoir of her late grandmother proved to be extremely successful in establishing its author as an exceptionally talented brain endorsing the awards and prizes she won as a student.

Shleshma's latest delivery Malashree is a heartrending elegy in prose. It commemorates the author's schooldays with Malashree – a bosom friend of hers – and the time spent together. The memoir takes us from one hiatus to another, and ultimately leaves us alone – forlorn, lonely and abandoned when Malashree is no more.

These hiatuses, gaps and absences are what I want to analyze here. In fact, the book Malashree is about gaps – sudden and torturous. These gaps are not simply superficial manifestations. They pertain to deep psychological realities that cut across all realms of human consciousness.

An intimate friendship is not a mere coincident or a casual accident. It doesn’t develop at all times and at every place. When our mind is suddenly deprived of something dear to us – like home, parental love, toys, good food, games and the like, because of accidents, migration or conflict, gaps and cleavages develop in our minds. These gaps, if kept unaddressed and unfulfilled for long, can lead us to neurotic symptoms ranging from ordinary nervousness to madness. It therefore is a tendency of such minds to pine for filler – anything that aptly substitutes for the longed thing, and best friends are the best fillers for many. This pining is a very powerful drive, stronger even than a drive for sex, though we do not ordinarily notice or care to stop and analyze. Mind therefore seeks to fulfill them and often runs into things and persons that can best substitute the attributes of things we have lost. I have detected these symptoms in myself and I seriously mean what I am writing at present.

When I left Manipur in 2003 after two and a half decade-long stay and came to Kathmandu, the city with a cold heart proved to be a land of phantoms and ghouls for me. Though my relatives here tried to give love and care, the mind would not calm. Ultimately I went to the refuge of young children, innocent and guiltless. Some of them stuck to my mind so firmly that we started heading towards a composite, consubstantial identity. Time has thrown many of them apart and away, but one of them is still with me, and occurs as my central character is most of my writings. Such people, such relations and characters – like my Bikram for me – dwell in an occult plane, above the question of vice and virtue, honor and dishonor, profit and loss, why and how, and such other moral and utilitarian parameters.

Shleshma's friend Malashree is such a character. She comes to fulfill a gap in Shleshma's mind that suddenly appears when she is removed away from home – albeit for good – and hurled into the hostel. The friendship based on the commonality of the history of their separation from home, rather than on their tastes, binds them together like in chemistry where scholars say 'like dissolves like'.

The word 'dissolves' is stronger than 'attacks' or 'binds'. 'Dissolves' entails a merger of identities and attributes. Shleshma's identity at a time dissolved with that of Malashree and the two started defining one another. We can see the beauty of this association, identification and consubstantiality in some of the chapters of Malashree, where the author recollects their glorious past together, and the merger of their joys and sorrows.

Premonitions of an imminent apocalypse in the posterity occur throughout the earlier episodes of their friendship, however. The fear that they might be in different houses, classes and sections, the fear that they might not get through SLC together, the fear that they might be separated after SLC, etc. recurrently appear in Sleshma's writing. This fear that constantly builds up from page to page is instinctual, and cannot be scientifically or psychologically explained. Shleshma probably knows this. Dauntlessly however she cuts across all oddities and manages to vanquish every separating element as long as she stands by Malashree's side physically. When time and predicaments remove her away from Malashree, fate cashes the opportunity and kills Malashree.

Malashree's death during a boat rafting in Nepalgunj forms the core of this elegy. It is sad and heartrending. But the blankness it brings to Shleshma is something that deserves a more serious attention. This is not about prioritizing incidents. This is an acceptance that since death cannot be reverted or reviewed it is wise to dwell on its ramifications. Shleshma is a forlorn and fragmented self now, housing an irreparable absence. This absence drives her from means to means looking for Malashree, and she bumps against realities after realities only to be disillusioned the other moment, that Malashree has gone on a journey beyond time and space. Perhaps, the most painful of dreams are those in which we pine for something that we know we are never going to get. Shleshma's dream is a dream of pain, because she knows that Malashree has become one with God, and is not going to give her company to school or to college. This realization – a sorry and painful one – stirs Shleshma's mind, and out of this disturbance, currents of mental turbulence arise. This book is a documentation of those turbulences. Through her writing, she has attempted to reinvent Malashree, and cherish as a thing dear to her heart.

I am optimistic that this book will be received well, and read from deeper, psychological planes. This is not simply another story of loss and absence. It is an index of a disturbed mind, suddenly abandoned at a crossroad, with darkness engulfing the prospective ways-out. I hope, the readers will engage themselves in communication with an extraordinary situation, and derive some insight of what life looks like when the dearest of the objects is suddenly forsaken.
   I wish Shleshma all success. I also pay my tributes to Malashree, and wish that her soul rests in peace in heaven. She shall remain alive in Shleshma's book forever.
August 12, 2010

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