BOOK REVIEW: SUNDAY HERALD/LAND WHERE I FLEE by PRAJWAL PARAJULY

Reunion rites

Sheila Kumar. March 30, 2014, DHNS:






In his second book, this time a full-fledged novel, acclaimed author Prajwal Parajuly brings to readers the tale of a family reunion with all the pleasant and less than pleasant emotions attendant on such events.  
Land Where I Flee is peopled by the dysfunctional family of Chitralekha Nepauney, Aamaa to her not too affectionate grandchildren; Agastaya, an oncologist in New York; Bhagwati from Boulder, the granddaughter who lost her place in her grandmother’s family as well as in Brahmin society after eloping with a lower caste Damaai man.

Manasa coming from London, who sort of redeemed the family honour by allying with one of Kathmandu’s most well-connected families, and Ruthwa, the writer-rebel who can’t seem to put one foot right in the ancestral home.

Parajuly employs the now-familiar (to readers of his first book, The Gurkha’s Daughter) measured and unhurried pace, giving us a look into each individual’s life, revealing to the reader the secrets they wish to hide from each other, before putting them all into one pot, the family home in Gangtok, where preparations are underway for the old grande dame’s chaurasi, her 84th birthday celebrations. Since Chitralekha has a finger in virtually every powerful pie: political, business, charity, the function promises to be of much import.|

 The pace quickens somewhat after Ruthwa makes an unanticipated and unwanted entry midway through the story. The humour is sly, and there is absolutely no attempt on the writer’s part to get us to feel sympathy or even much liking for any of the characters in the book; a good thing, because none of the characters are likeable.

The politics of the region appears in a thin skein of the story, a strong skein for all its slenderness, given Parajuly’s views on Nepali refugees who find no place in Bhutan or Nepal. Parajuly’s writer character, Ruthwa, apparently holds a brief for many people when he voices his initial hope and eventual skepticism about the possibility of a Gorkhaland eventually coming about. Ruthwa’s critical analysis of his own work is another masterly passage.

The underlying theme, of course, is alienation. The alienation of the Nepali in India, the always-an-outsider tag Bhutan has bestowed on them in the mountain kingdom; the far from paradisiacal life the Nepali refugees live when they manage to emigrate to the US.

 The alienation of pretty Bhagwati from her family as she continues to be punished for her marriage, of Bhagwati’s young sons growing up all American; the conundrum before Agastaya when his increasingly dissatisfied partner Nicholas comes to Sikkim uninvited and running the risk of outing the stolid and perennially cautious Agastaya; the unhappy rut Manasa, an Oxford graduate who is now caretaker to her father-in-law, is stuck in; the maverick Ruthwa’s deliberate attempts to stand our rather than fit in.

Aamaa’s sole caretaker and protector is a transvestite called Prasanti. Prasanti’s devotion to Chitralekha is balanced by her dislike and contempt for Aamaa’s grandchildren.The latter lot’s interaction with Prasanti makes for the sub-plot of the novel, and is an absorbing story on its own. 

A rancorous family reunion. People who are less than fond of each other. Secrets and lies. Inquisitions and revelations always on the brink of being revealed. The politics of belonging yet not belonging.It’s a good mix, story-wise, and Parajuly makes the most of it. The denouement, when it comes, is unexpected yet not unsurprising.

Here and there awkwardly constructed sentences show themselves, “After all the words he had minced”, “She entered the room, face to the floor...”, “Her call was hung up on…”, “Fathers of women with marriageable ages….” Elsewhere the turn of the phrase is felicitous. “A lineage tainted with accomplishment…,” “ululating dogs.”

In the final analysis, though, Parajuly’s voice is an important one, telling us a sadly moving diaspora story.

Land Where I Flee 
Prajwal Parajuly
Quercus Publications 2013, pp 266, Rs 499
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/395519/reunion-rites.html

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