#DesiReads: Buddhisagar reads from his novel, Karnali Blues, and Michael Hutt reads from the English translation

Buddhisagar (in Nepali) at the 4.43 minute mark; Michael Hutt (in English) at the 11.47 minute mark.

Desi Books Ep 72 w/ Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt Desi Books


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Hello and welcome to Episode 72 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiReads segment, we have Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt reading from Karnali Blues. They’ll be reading an excerpt in the original Nepali and then the English translation.

#DESIREADS WITH BUDDHISAGAR AND MICHAEL HUTTINTRODUCTION

Buddhisagar was born in the Kailali district of Nepal and spent his youth in Manma, in Nepal’s Kalikot district. He has worked as a feature writer and literary editor for two of Nepal’s leading newspapers, and as a script writer for radio and television series on children’s issues and lifeline issues for earthquake survivors. His earliest writings were newspaper articles and poems, for which he has received several awards and prizes. In addition to Karnali Blues, he has published the novel Phirphire and a collection of poems, Buddhisagarka Kavita. In 2019, he was an honorary fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.

Michael Hutt studied Hindi and Nepali at SOAS, University of London, from which he graduated with a PhD on the history of the Nepali language and its literature in 1984. He then taught Nepali and Himalayan Studies at SOAS from 1987 to 2020. In 1991, he published Himalayan Voices, which introduced Nepali writers to an international readership for the first time. This was followed by over a dozen books and fifty articles on Nepali literature, culture, society, and politics. His most recent publication is the co-edited book Epicenter to Aftermath: Rebuilding and Remembering in the Wake of Nepal’s Earthquakes (Cambridge University Press, 2021.) He is now working on a British Academy-funded study of Nepali Dalit literature.

Karnali Blues is the most widely read Nepali novel to have appeared in the last twenty years. As it recounts the evolution of a father-son relationship—a son’s search for approval, a father’s small acts of kindness and forgiveness, a son’s fears for his father’s dignity as his fortunes and faculties begin to fail—the reader is deeply drawn into young Brisha Bahadur’s world. In a backwater district of a country about to undergo radical social, political, and cultural change, Brisha’s dreams, his games and his mischief, his loves, his hopes, and his fears come alive. Translated from the Nepali by Michael Hutt, this highly original piece of work, with the simplicity of its language and its emotional range, holds the power to take your breath away. Its principal themes—the love between a son and his father, the joys and sorrows of childhood, the daily struggle for survival—are universal, and will resonate with readers the world over.

Karnali Blues is a novel recounting the evolution of a father-son relationship by the Nepali writer, Buddhisagar, and translated into English by Michael Hutt. An excerpt read by the author and translator in #DesiReads @DesiBooks

The transcript of this excerpt is also up on the Desi Books website.

And now, here are Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt.


DESIREADS WITH BUDDHISAGAR AND MICHAEL HUTT

[Excerpted with permission from Karnali Blues by Buddhisagar. Translated by Michael Hutt. Copyright © 2022 for the English translations Michael Hutt.]

I hadn’t slept all night because of my longing to go to Chisapani.  

In the morning Father was drinking tea in the kitchen, and I told him, ‘Ba, today I’m going to Chisapani.’

‘Why do you have to go to Chisapani?’ Father glanced quickly at me.  

‘To see the bridge.’  I scratched the ground with my thumb. ‘Everyone else has been.’

Father took a slurp of tea and swallowed it. Then he threw me a twenty note that he had just taken out of his waistcoat pocket and I nearly jumped for joy. I grabbed the note and held it tightly in my fist. Just as I was leaving Father said, ‘Listen, don’t wander off the path, and come back quickly.’

‘All right’ I said quietly and went downstairs.  

Mother, who was dusting medicine bottles in the Medikal, also gave me ten rupees. ‘Don’t spend too much’ she told me.

So I had thirty rupees, and I went to Chauraha jumping about like a young goat. Ekraj was waiting for me impatiently. He it was that told me, ‘Dost, they say the Prime Minister will come to inaugurate the bridge.’

Ekraj had been impatient to set out since early that morning. If we arrived late we wouldn’t get in, there was going to be a terrible press of people there. We needed to get to stand in the front before the crowd had grown too big, otherwise we wouldn’t get to see the Prime Minister close up. Glasses had been smashed during a discussion of this Prime Minister in Ekraj’s tavern the night before. Table legs had been broken too. That’s why it seemed to Ekraj that the Prime Minister must be an important man. And the radio mentioned his name a hundred times a day: ‘Prime Minister Girijaprasad Koirala said this, Prime Minister Girijaprasad Koirala said that…’ According to Ekraj, the Prime Minister ate his rice with a golden spoon.

Large groups of people had left Katasé for Chisapani first thing that morning: Sharma Uncle, Bhakte, the bank manager, Ome, everyone. The ASI had been in Chisapani for the past three days.

It was as if a great fair was taking place at Chisapani. People walked along chattering excitedly, scaring the monkeys that sat up in the branches of the trees with their noise. They wanted to see the Karnali bridge, a bridge taller than a mountain. If you looked up at the top of the bridge, your hat fell off, I had heard.  

Ekraj and I were walking along quickly.

Dost, the Amauri Khola goes to Katasé from here’ Ekraj told me.

I stopped to look and for the very first time I saw the Amauri Khola splitting from the Karnali where it led up to Matera. Where the rivers parted there was a bank of boulders bound with wires. The wide blue rushing water of the Karnali foamed and became cloudy after the Amauri Khola entered it as it reached Matera. Otherwise how peaceful the Karnali was. It shivered and shook gently when the wind stepped onto it.

How wide was the Karnali? It was wider than the eyes could contain. It escaped from the rims of your eyes and ran off into the distance. Sometimes the breeze that blew along it would scatter sand into your eyelids on its way. It made my eyes prickle, but still I had to sit on the bank and watch this Karnali.  

“How wide was the Karnali? It was wider than the eyes could contain. It escaped from the rims of your eyes and ran off into the distance.” Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt reading from #KarnaliBlues #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Like the white egrets flying along on the other side, the Karnali too had to fly up to touch the shoulders of those hills that stood along its banks. They had no colour in them, it had all faded away completely.

‘Let’s hurry, dost’ Ekraj startled me and the spell was broken. After midday the wind had begun to blow as if it would blow the hills away. We had to reach still further up, from where a faint smell of oranges was coming down towards Katasé.  

Dost, everyone has gone already’ shouted Ekraj, standing between two huge boulders. His voice echoed off the boulders to reach me.

Ekraj and I ran.

Like a kite, a helicopter circled the hills of Chisapani: bhatatata. What a loud noise it made, as if it would bring down the hills! It turned when it reached the hill I could see from Khairiphanta, the one that looked like an old man laughing.  

A huge crowd of people ran towards the bridge, most of them haterus. The police stood at the entrance to the bridge, sweating hard as they pushed the crowd back. Wherever you turned there were people. I got caught up in the crowd, panicked by the smell of its sweat, the helicopter circling like a kite above my head. I found it difficult to breathe. One person’s elbow shoved me backwards. My earlobes began to burn as they were scraped by one elbow after another. First one elbow pushed me, then another, and I found myself ejected from the crowd.

The helicopter settled to the ground on the far side of the bridge, making dust fly up into the air. Its noise, which was so loud it had almost been splitting the hills, shut down. The sweating crowd parted, then came together again. I stood on top of a tall rock. Lines of people stood on the other rocks around it, craning their necks to see to the other side of the bridge, and I did the same.

Where was Ekraj?

Ekraj was nowhere to be seen in the suffocating crowd. Was he pressed inside it or could he have gone ahead? Later he would tell me a mixture of truth and fiction.

“Ekraj was nowhere to be seen in the suffocating crowd. Was he pressed inside it or could he have gone ahead? Later he would tell me a mixture of truth and fiction.” Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt reading from #KarnaliBlues #DesiReads @DesiBooks

‘Look over there!’ shouted a thin, tall man standing on top of a high rock. ‘Did you see the Prime Minister?’

I stretched up, standing on tip toes.

‘Seems like he’s gone to look.’

All I could see in that direction was a mass of people’s heads, like black lentils, which all seemed to be swaying. Suddenly the faint sound of applause began to come from the far side of the Karnali. As it grew in volume and reached the crowd on the near side, that crowd began to applaud too. One of the pairs of clapping hands was mine.

Then the heads on the far side shook and moved to the far end of the bridge where they could no longer be seen.

The bridge had been inaugurated now and a jeep drove across it for the first time. The applause was so loud it made my ears itch. The white egrets on both sides of the river were startled into the air, and they flew up and turned into clouds.

The Prime Minister made his way back to the helicopter.

The noise of the helicopter came again, bhutututu, and the dust flew. The helicopter circled over the shoulders of the hills and disappeared behind a high mountain. The crowd dwindled away like dust and the police who had stood there sweating now squatted down beside the bridge. Ekraj emerged, drenched in sweat and straightening his disheveled hair. He hesitated for a moment.

‘Oy, Ekraj!’ I cried.

He grinned when he saw me squatting like a langur on top of the tall boulder. I hurried down, nearly slipping on the way.  

‘Did you notice, dost? The Prime Minister was wearing gloves’ he told me. ‘When he took them off his hands were as white as milk.’

Could he see gloves on the Prime Minister’s hands from so far away? I was hardly going to believe that! 

There were fewer people beside the bridge now, and the few that remained were regarding it with wonder, sometimes looking up and sometimes down. How tall its pillars were, Babai! If you looked up at them the sun dazzled your eyes. The bridge lay there stretched out over the river. From the very next day, buses and trucks would be crossing the Karnali on it. I gazed across it one more time.

The road that joined the bridge on the other side turned by some tree saplings, where it was blocked off. I suddenly recalled Father telling me that the road went to Nepalganj.

‘Do you know where that road goes, dost?’  Ekraj too was looking over to the far side, shading his narrowed eyes with his right hand.  

‘To Nepalganj.’

‘No, dost, if you go straight, the road leads to Kathmandu.’

Ekraj watched the road for a while, lost in thought, and I did the same.  Then Ekraj lowered his hand.  ‘Dost, do you know? The Prime Minister lives in that Kathmandu, they say!’


Karnali Blues is a novel recounting the evolution of a father-son relationship by the Nepali writer, Buddhisagar, and translated into English by Michael Hutt. An excerpt read by the author and translator in #DesiReads @DesiBooks


You’ve been listening to episode 72 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiReads segment was with Buddhisagar and Michael Hutt reading from Karnali Blues. They read an excerpt in the original Nepali and then the English translation. Thank you to both.

Episode 73 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website, desibooks.co, if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. You’ll get all the updates you might have missed as well as some new stuff. And please share this via social media to support the writer and translator and help raise the tide of South Asian literature. Thank you.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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