For most of us, very few things can be more daunting than inspiring oneself to do something that is neither generally done nor particularly appreciated in our culture. The only natural advantage in such an instance is that there is no one to outrival. However, to find the drive to excel in such an anticompetitive setup is as tricky as attempting to summit a slippery hill with nothing to latch onto and no tread to step on.
Interestingly enough, notwithstanding Sikkim’s general apathy to reading and writing, we are witnessing the emergence of English writers in Sikkim. Parshu Dahal is one of those who are braving the odds. His rise as a story writer in the Sikkimese socio-cultural setup stands out for these very reasons. How loud and how often he must have to tell himself that it is not a flight of fancy to stir the story writer in him to write in a place that is increasingly becoming a land of politicians and bureaucrats. It is as absurd as someone from Japan pursuing a career in cricket. Purshu’s pursuit has simply been extraordinary. If his spirit was not governed by an unceasingly intense passion, he would just be spinning his wheels.
Added to the general non-literary disposition of our society, his choice of profession was also not particularly conducive to the pursuit of creative writing. The job of a cop scarcely induces the inspiration to become a writer. Undaunted by our social attitude, heavily affected by bibliophobia, and uninfluenced by his professional predisposition, Parshu Dahal picked up the pen of a writer and let it tell the stories that were welling up in his heart.
His debut collection of short stories, The Lama Who Never Was gives a glimpse into the vast potential of what to expect from him in times to come. It may not have found many readers in Sikkim, which is hardly unusual for a state where almost every third person is hopelessly obsessed with politicians’ moves and totally uninterested in literature, but the book has become a much talked about reference source on Sikkim for outsiders. His recognition as a writer is gaining ground and is giving him much needed exposure to the platforms that any budding talent cherishes.
The emergence of Dahal as an English writer from Sikkim holds tremendous significance for many other reasons than the ones mentioned above. I have picked up two other reasons:
His themes: One of his strengths is his enviable ability to craft quintessential Sikkimese stories with extensive themes that embrace the wider aspects of Sikkimese life. Needless to mention, his stories are trans-national as they extend beyond the narrow geographical boundaries of Sikkim. However, there is no story in which Sikkim does not see its own reflection.
His stories are decidedly normative. He is more than informing his readers about events. Woven into the anecdotes are moral and practical advice. He is never neutral to the conflict between vice and virtue. Nor is he merely descriptive about the clash of choices among the options of varying degrees of values without designating the actions, practices, beliefs and outcome as good or evil. He is, therefore, not a mere commentator but a campaigner of cause.
For example, one can hardly miss his ache at Jigmee’s predicament of sacrificing his freedom to live the life of his choice at the altar of his family’s religious compulsion. Jigme’s mysterious exit from the monastic school and reappearance, riding on huge secular success almost seem like a rebuke to religious traditions that sought to cage his destiny during his hapless childhood days.
In Raise Your Standards, a characteristically quiet and stubborn Dinesh, a ‘lowly clerk’ punctures the erotic ego of a snide, power-ridden Sikkimese bureaucrat by his own needle. Maila Damai and his physically challenged sister Dil Maya’s reunion with their respective high caste lovers in The Narshinga Player is beautifully climaxed with their dramatic escape. Their physical flight from the village that was “baying for their blood”, while seemingly a sign of defeatism, actually symbolizes their victorious overtaking of the clutches of the caste system. What adds power to their victory is the unassailable lead the escaping couples gain, leaving their chasers far behind. Their arduous ‘ascent along the bald, treeless cliff’ which gets increasingly steeper is tellingly symbolic. The accompanying emotions of fear, thirst and hunger make the metaphor satisfyingly striking.
These stories are inherently different from typical postmodern descriptive chatter. If this is a wrong judgement of his writing, my version of the narrative explanation of his stories is far-fetched and I am willing to take it back. It is quite possible for me to make up thematic hooks on which to hang my own interpretation.
His unique background and representative spirit: Sikkim is generally a rural culture. Its capital, Gangtok, a young and growing city, is not too far from its rural origins. A huge chunk of Gangtokians migrated from rural Sikkim in the recent past. Gangtok itself, except for the families of royalty, a few aristocrats, bureaucrats and businesspeople, was a farming community until a few decades ago. The sudden shift of public aspirations led to a general apathy to farming. As a result, Gangtok became a preemie city – a city with a rural spirit and a frantic desire for citification. That explains the curious nature of Sikkim’s rural-urban transition. Briefly put, Sikkim in general and Gangtok, in particular, are in a hurry to deracinate themselves from their rural rootedness.
Parshu Dahal looks like a geologist, using his pen to excavate his village buried under the pretentious sophistication of his and younger generations. Like a palaeontologist, he likes to rediscover the fossilized memories of the past that had to die a premature death. In The Lame Squirrel, he resurrects his father in the form of Jetha Khaling and tells the story of his conscience, victimized by the generation gap. He cleverly describes the heritage which is losing its relevance as emergent aspirations demand its destruction. Only Jetha Khaling was able to appreciate the majesty of Chuchey Dhunga which had now been mutilated and decimated into nonexistence. His grandson, sitting on his lap is blissfully oblivious of or indifferent to his anger as he sees a woman battering the freshly broken pieces of Chuchey Dhunga into “still smaller pieces” is highly symbolic, too. One cannot miss Parshu Dahal’s identification with the horror felt by the people of his father’s generation. An aghast Dahal puts these words in Jetha Khaling’s mouth, “A literal battering down of history, and all cunningly carried out in my absence… a well-planned sacrilege”
In The Sikkimese Villager of Yore, he turns back the clock to let his readers see what Sikkim looked, sounded and smelt like.
With his birth in a small village in West Sikkim and his education in TNA, a symbol of Sikkimese elitism, Parshu Dahal makes for a perfect candidate to tell us about Sikkim in its entirety. Sikkim cannot hide from the versatility of his experience, the ubiquity of his observations and maturity in his depictions. In a sense, he sounds like a journalist who is reporting the grand Sikkim story with all its nuances. To me personally, he looks like an artist who is painting Sikkim with all its shades. But most importantly, he is a storyteller that Sikkim needs. Sikkim needs to expand the range of her public interest which is, for the most part, limited to mere materialism. Literature is the worst-hit area in the state. Sikkim needs a creative distraction from her obsessive celebration of material progress. If politics, bureaucracy, money and pleasure continue to be our central focus, Sikkim will only be angrier, emptier, noisier and fiercer. We are divorcing ourselves from our original stories and eloping with superficialities of pirated existence. We need to tell ourselves who we are. Therefore, we desperately need story writers and homegrown ones at that. It is hoped that this brilliantly talented police officer will be able to come up with enough time in his busy and often crazy job schedule and preserve the quietness of his creative mind against the rigours of his tough duty to write more stories for our generation to appreciate and learn from.
“Sikkim cannot hide from the versatility of his experience, the ubiquity of his observations and maturity in his depictions. In a sense, he sounds like a journalist who is reporting the grand Sikkim story with all its nuances. To me personally, he looks like an artist who is painting Sikkim with all its shades. But most importantly, he is a storyteller that Sikkim needs.”
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at email@example.com
NB: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.