The India of the 1980s was a time of intense political turmoil across the country, including armed and disruptive movements widely supported by some constituencies, their demands ranging from statehood to secession. One such move was the call for Gorkhaland, which many Gorkhas – Indian Nepalese living in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district – saw as a separate state anyway.
It was politically charged, full of violence and, perhaps, somewhat removed from the national consciousness then, as it is now. While the movement has been gradually derailed over the years, there is no denying that it has caused disarray, which has only been captured in dispatches by statistics on the number of people killed, property damage and bandhs . and stops.
Chuden Kabimo’s first novel song of the ground, translated from Nepali by Ajit Baral (published by Rachna Books of Gangtok) brilliantly captures the flavors of this era: dreams of youth and fear of further loss. In doing so, he infuses fiction with an intimacy that is both political and personal.
By tapping into the untold story of many young men and women who believed in revolution and blindly followed fractured leadership over selfish political gain, the novel brings to life the Gorkhaland movement, the ferment of revolution, and what it does. to young enthusiasts. people who plunge headlong into its abyss as foot soldiers, discovering fear when it is too late.
Told through flashbacks, song of the ground explores what it means to be deeply in love with one’s homeland. It chronicles friendships sealed by shared experiences of deprivation in terms of education or health care, but filled with the gay abandonment of kinship and youthful adventures. It looks at the very nature of man as a political being driven by forces that don’t care about him.
And before getting into anything, Kabimo maps out the terrain on which the book is set – its geography and its people, who are content with the bare minimum, where dreams are buried beneath the harsh reality that is life, in the most poetic form. way:
“Perched on the hill above this river (Ghis) was the village of Malbung, where morning began with the sun rising from Mangzing on the hill opposite, and twilight ended when the sun set. approached Barbot on the hill behind Malbung and then set. Where Budhabare winds blew in winter and plain rains poured down in summer.
Tales of Betrayal
The novel begins on a morbid note, with the news of a possible death: Ripden, the childhood friend of our unnamed narrator, is believed dead following a massive landslide following an earthquake. His body cannot be found, without which no compensation can be claimed.
Our anonymous narrator is called to visit his village and write a news item, the only way to make the authorities take note of it. It takes the narrator back to the innocent days of his life with his friend and discovering the stories of the previous generation, a generation that had taken to the streets to protest and to the jungle to hide. He learns the making of an armed movement that was often beyond the comprehension of those who took part in it, but which led him to live on the run, under constant danger day after day – all for the supposed greater good. – only to be betrayed on different levels.
The story that unfolds is that of a fallen community, where administration and governance are conspicuous by their absence, where some children’s education centers run by the RSS take in children to teach them slogans of Bharat Mata ki I have. It is the story of a community struggling for identity even as external majority forces are at play, a community that remains fractured across castes and ethnicities. The latter is seen, for example, in an anecdote about a wedding feast, where guests have to queue separately for meals, depending on their ethnicity.
The writing is evocative in terms of images. Of the major landslides that dot the terrain, the author writes:
“Mudslides pulled on the margins of the terraced fields, dragging them down. The fields were torn and washed away; holes grew in it like sieves for winnowing. Fields of golden mustard had turned into soggy cookies. These fields looked exactly like Marie biscuits when dipped in tea.
A failed move
The larger story around the Gorkhaland movement in the smaller story of Ripden’s growing years, the narrator and other friends leaves us with the fundamental question: whether things have changed only in bits, largely remaining the same despite the sacrifices and the violence, what use was it to anyone? And yet, the fact that the events of this period are highlighted in this novel is a timely reminder of how often political movements flounder due to the careful orchestration of outside forces and infighting.
Looking at the turmoil from within and without, and holding up a mirror to the present – ever so fractured – song of the ground recovers the trauma of a community that has not received its due. The inability to recover Ripden’s body after a natural disaster is tied to his father’s story. His fate after being betrayed, the quiet pride of the narrator’s friends about his work in a city, the mention of another friend working as a dishwasher in a hotel in Delhi – all this says a lot about the fate of the ordinary people even as the movement’s leaders moved to emerging political pastures.
The poetic flair of the writing leaves room for readers to reflect. Bringing a community’s political history to life is no small feat, but Kabimo pulls it off brilliantly. Ajit Baral’s translation retains native pronunciations and expressions in their origin, bringing intimacy to the characters and their lives. This novel springs from the ground and reads like a song.
Ground song, Chuden Kabimo, translated from Nepali by Ajit Baral.