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Journeys Without Endings


Amit Dasgupta

TILLED EARTH: STORIES
By Manjushree Thapa
Penguin, 2007, pp. 184, Rs. 195.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 2 February 2008

This is a difficult book to review. It is like reading an unfinished manuscript, a cluster of interesting but stray thoughts. Several of the pieces are no longer than a sentence or a paragraph. Yet, Thapa grandiosely describes them as ‘stories’. She juxtaposes them alongside somewhat longer pieces and produces a hurriedly attempted anthology of scattered and disjointed thoughts without an end, an ending or a purpose. At worst, it is an act of irresponsible deception foisted on the reader. For those who have read Thapa’s earlier books, Tilled Earth leaves you exhausted, frustrated, confused and incomplete. I guess—cheated—just about sums it up aptly.   That’s at one level.   At another level, for those who are familiar with Nepal, the innumerable incidents described in the book evoke a sense of immense déjà vu. After all these years, nothing appears to have changed in that remarkable country. Thapa takes you on a journey through Nepal and her people, where despondency and struggle, despair and contradictions, hopelessness and fatigue, failed promises and misery, continue to—even today—characterize the landscape.   Heera Maharjan, the prolific woodcutter, can no longer find his way through what was once familiar territory. The change that has occurred confuses and bewilders him. He clings to his memories as the present and the future desert him. As Sarah’s expatriate tenure comes to an end, she wonders how she will tell Keshab that their relationship of serious but uncommitted sex would be coming to an end. She suffers no remorse. There is only a sense of irritation that Keshab has already moved on. She is pleased that her pronunciation of Nepalese words has improved. At some point of time, she can use it effectively to remind people of her knowledge of this God-forsaken place and her people. In Chicago, an emigrant Nepali drifts into nostalgia as he remembers the simple joys he left behind in his impoverished home in Nepal. The emancipated seek comfort in casual sexual liaisons that are as intense as they are temporary. In the cozy comfort of fat pay checks, consultants and experts advise international agencies on the tragic plight of the common Nepalese. Life goes on. A young, unnamed Nepali woman lives in a tidy room with a view on to a rain-drenched alley off Olive Street, in Seattle. She finds no fulfilment in the material pleasures she can no ...


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