A laudable debut
Sep 26 2013
The first novella, An Open-and-Shut-Case takes place in December 2002, on new year’s eve. A woman murders her husband and hacks him into forty-seven pieces, then turns herself in. The story begins with a taxi-ride shared by a number of people, where Straun, an enthusiastic tourist, requests the driver to play Resham Firiri, a Nepalese folk song with a lilting rhythm that haunts him wherever he goes. The song, in fact, seems to hauntingly echo throughout the narrative making the reader expect some kind of sinister disclosure.
However, it’s not the disclosures that the author is so much concerned with — although those abound, too, making the book un-put-down-able. Shrestha’s narrative deals more with the vagaries of the human mind and the ways in which justice—or merely the Indian law enforcement, if you please—works. Infused with a realistic brutality, the story follows Dechen OC, tough as nails and newly transferred to the post, as she carries out her investigation with a mix of humane consideration and dispassionate policework.
Creating a gripping plot is definitely one of Shrestha’s many talents, for that is the one thread of commonality—besides Sikkim—that binds the two otherwise completely different stories. The King’s Harvest—the second novella that also lends its name to the book—is as magical and full of fascinating legends as the first one is darkly down-to-earth. It’s the story of Tontem, a man with fabled strength and cursed deformity, who lives in an isolated world of his own for thirty-two years before circumstances take him out into the real world that has moved far, far ahead. Shrestha’s power with words and his ability to spin images out of thin air is on full display here. Tontem’s life is riveting enough in itself, with little nuggets of wit and humour presenting themselves here and there—such as the names of Tontem’s children: Chyadar, the eldest, named after chyadars or sheets of galvanized iron—gifts from the Chogyal(king); Cimit, named after another gift of cement bags; Batti, his daughter, so called because her father was fascinated by descriptions of electricity and finally Turist the youngest son, named after an Englishman who happened to come their way and introduced himself as ‘Turist’!
But the true depth of Shrestha’s work comes to the fore in Tontem’s appearance into the real world , prompted by his decaying produce—the King’s share of his harvest—uncollected for three years now. It is in 2005 that Tontem, accompanied by Batti and Turist, makes his journey to Sikkim. The family’s bewilderment at the modern world so far removed from their abode has been brought out with a splendid flourish. Cars are “wheeled rats” with the steering wheel being the ear that is pinched to make the rat turn. The gear stick, of course, has a very simple explanation: it is a male rat!
There is a tragi-comic air that hangs over every step the trio takes into the city to find the king. The climax, however, is of the touching, wistful kind, where Tontem moves out with a heavy heart, “but unaware how blessed he was, for only the most fortunate among men have their illusions protected by a conspiracy of the fates.”
The King’s Harvest, through both its stories, brings out the two extremes of our reality— between the cruel and the gentle, life swings a constant pendulum, creaing its own special rhythm.