Presumably, the three friends were sick of society. Walking along the banks of the Ratukhola river in the flatlands, they reached Bhiman, in hilly Sindhuli, discussing Mao and Marx, and fantasized about a guerilla war. It was in the early 1960s. Five years had passed since King Mahendra squashed democracy with the help of the military. They were part of a secret communist samaj that had selected Sindhuli district as the “base” to start a war. The samaj wasn’t exactly a political party. They had met Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founder of Nepal Communist Party, in India. Bhiman had its appeals. It was the same place a British captain had camped when the British attacked Nepal more than a hundred years ago. In 1997, the police post there was attacked by Maoist insurgents.
The three friends spent their first night in Bhiman feasting on moonshine, tharra, and goat. By lunch the next morning, they’d given up on the war.
“I was nothing.”
“Ghimire [novelist Jagadish Ghimire] talked about ideals but did not carry his own bag and Lama [musician Chandra Man Lama] was very pragmatic. I was nothing,” Manu Brajaki would later explain in an interview.
Born in August 1942, he was 22 when they trekked to Sindhuli. He came from a family of Jamindars. His family had moved from Pokhara to Aurahi, Mahottari in Madhes and owned a 500 bigha of fields. They were a religious family. He spent his childhood and teenage years with his grandfather in Banaras, away from his mother in Madhes. He would return to Nepal only after his grandfather died.
He tried to fill the void of mother’s love with love for books. One day, he saw two Banarasi men fight. He came to know that they were Hindu and Muslim, and they were fighting over religion and caste. From that day, he became a humanist. He said he did not believe in god or religion, and he hated rituals and casteism.
He was born into a Chhetri family. His middle name, Singh, meant ‘lion’. But Chetman Singh Bhandari never dreamed of becoming a lion. First, he removed Singh from his name. Bhandari, too, had to go. Eventually a new man was born. Chetman Singh Bhandari became Manu Brajaki. Manu, man in Sanskrit. Brajak, sacrifice. But Brajaki didn’t mean anything. He avoided his rich and powerful relatives, the jamindars and panchas and mantris. He hated feudalist language and would politely call those below him ji and tapai.
In time, Brajaki became synonymous with alcohol and a wandering life. Books were not enough. He had to see the places described in the books. As the number of the anecdotes and his love for alcohol grew, so did his reputation as a brilliant short-story writer. He loved local liquor. He drank like the working class people at holes in the wall, the green curtain bhattis, in the dark alleys of valley. He spent weeks there. They provided him his stories, the disgruntled laborers and bureaucrats, the tales of sex and infidelity.
He said he did not believe in god or religion, and he hated rituals and casteism.
His uncle forced him to marry at 24. It was considered a late age back then. The family members expected it to end his wandering days. But he left for Guahati, India, the day after his engagement and returned just before the wedding. His wife was dismayed, but dismay wasn’t enough to tether him to his house. He had been wandering since he was 11.
Brajaki entered in the Nepali literature with a short story called Bharyang, ‘Ladder’, at 19. Panchayati suppression meant Nepali writers were busy with self-censored abstract stories, whereas Brajaki’s had candor. Although he was Chhetri he considered Madhes and its people as his own. His short story collection Aakashko phal, reflected life in Madhes and the lifestyle of downtrodden people, while the stories in Abamulyan and Annapurnako bhoj were about contemporary Nepali politics and society.
Brajaki did not join any literary faction and neither was he close to any party or power center, although his family members and relatives were ministers and in high places. He was disinterested in publicity. He did not mind becoming a writer with little money, although later in life he worried that he had failed to send his children to good schools.
The day of his death was a cold day. Just fire, he’d said, at a place that didn’t harm the environment. He didn’t want any religious rites for his death. They cremated him in Aryaghat on February 3. The journey had lasted 56 years, and yielded dozens of pioneering stories. Many had read them, and a few even showed up at the funeral.
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