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A Delightful Story that Links the History of Hardship Faced by a Community that Keeps Migrating

Book Name: Long Night of Storm: Stories

Author: Indra Bahadur Rai

Translated by: Prawin Adhikari

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

 

Book summary:

Over sixteen sparkling stories, Indra Bahadur Rai, the greatest contemporary writer in the Nepali language, skillfully narrates the individual lives and shared histories of a people.

A storm batters a hillside farmstead through the night, and the family living in it debates its decision to give up the comforts of Darjeeling town for the pride of owning land. Ancient law allows Harshajit to cut down Rudraman, who has staked claim to his wife Thuli, but when Harshajit catches up with the couple after days of relentless chase, he witnesses a fearsome encounter that compels him to consecrate their marriage with his own hands. When a man on his way to Darjeeling stops in a bungalow near the Teesta river, he is drawn to the conversation of the labourers next door and, in their chatter about the ideal recipe for cooking kheer, he gains a profound insight into the human condition. And Jayamaya, part of the Gurkha community in Burma forced on a long march to India during the Second World War, helplessly witnesses her life disintegrate in the face of invasion.

Lyrically translated, the stories in Long Night of Storm are wise, psychologically astute and deeply compassionate. A collection that will yield more at every reading, this is a book to keep returning to.

About the author:

Indra Bahadur Rai was an Indian Nepali writer and literary critic from Darjeeling. He is a stalwart of Nepali literature and played a major role in having the Nepali language officially recognized by the Indian Constitution.

About the Translator:

Prawin Adhikari translates between Nepali and English and is an Assistant Editor at La.Lit, a literary magazine. He is also the author of The Vanishing Act, a collection of short stories.

My Review:

A collection of 16 very short stories translated from the Nepali by Prawin Adhikari, Long Night of Storm by Indra Bahadur Rai takes readers into the lives of the Nepali community spread over different towns, states and time spans, their travails and courage, their follies and grace, the hard lives they lead and the way it shapes them into the people they are: fierce, unyielding, defiant in the midst of hard times. While all the stories do give a glimpse of socio-cultural norms and practices of the Nepali people in India, their food and dress; the larger appeal of the stories lie in the way the characters stand out and say what they do that make them stay on with you.

The themes of the stories range from the hardships of agrarian life, the appeal of an urban life as the better option, the haste to leave behind the old ways of life over the glamour for the new, the tear in close kinship ties brought about by distance and misunderstandings as perceived and experienced by the Nepalis in their communities. Indra Bahadur Rai weaves magic with his protagonists and their character arcs, the situations they find themselves in and how they cope or run away or deal with it.

The first short story in this collection, ‘The Long March out of Burma’ following a 15 year old girl and her parents as part of a long and difficult exodus of the Gorkha community in Burma to India during the Second World War keeps readers on tenterhooks while the protagonists wander around being overawed by the sheer arduousness of their journey. It is a story that links the history of a community that keeps migrating and bearing hardships along the way.

‘Chaprasi’ examines the way social class and identity is built around the work that one does that ends up influencing how society uses the term to generalize an individual. In this story, a father slogs his entire life as a Chaprasi, a clerk for a paltry salary to run his household, to educate his children while the son grows up resenting the term and what it symbolizes. In ‘The Delinquent’, the author makes a cameo as the narrator who is in the midst of writing his actual novel while at his job as a teacher. It is in a sense, an autobiographical short story if there is such a term with a firm tongue in cheek roast of the writer and his writing that is a delight to read.

The stories hold you in its grasps, taking you by your hand to a world that feels so familiar and yet different. Rai’s writing does not stick to a formula and every story in this collection stands out; some for its characters, some for the story that reveals itself in its own sweet way, some for the writing that looks like a rueful commentary in parts, an exasperated look at where life is headed which is why I would recommend this book strongly.

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