Translated from the Nepali by Banani Ghosh (in collaboration with Shradhanjali Tamang)
Since the 28th of the month, electricity has invaded our house, and from that very moment, I could not write anything.
Darkness and light used to frolic by the flame of the old oil lamp and shower the entire house with delicate patterns. Imagination used to approach me from the back of the painting, below the bookshelf, under the table, and even from the uneven lines of the wooden plank. Transcending the threshold, a few fistfuls of darkness that entered the room used to indulge the world outside, enshrouded by its vast cold darkness. Electricity, running through the copper wires, illuminates from the top every other thing of the room— the residents, the utensils, the bed—with a bright white light that takes away all the mysticism and all the poetry. By severing any connection with the darkness that prevails in the outer world, the whiteness of the light engulfs everything. The table no longer represents a table, mere light beams visible on the wood; the wall no longer signifies a wall, sheer light reflects from its paint; everything—the flowers of the vase, long grass, my coat, next room—seems so unreal; this very light smears on everything and everything somehow submerges within themselves. One could not touch life in its nakedness anymore, this white has chased away everything. After all these losses, my life has come to a juncture where I cannot wield my power anymore. Just because it gives water, the water tap cannot be likened to spring water: spring water symbolizes vitality, whereas, the water tap is just a mundane symbol of advancement. Civilization could not produce the liveliness of the stream, the river, or the sea. If I would have the power, then in the rainy season, my feet would forever touch the running water and feel the coarseness of the sand, I would even nail the woods without ever bothering to color them, I would shred those habits that would try to take control of me. Let smash the harshness of life and chase away the artificiality before it establishes a foothold: the very essence of pure life is challenging me across the threshold, and that very life dares me, “If you want to fight, come outside!” Society has made me hide behind the sense of security of a home, amidst the heavy darkness, my clay diya would illuminate a small portion and it would be there that I could feel the essence of life to a certain extent. Now, the white light of electricity has come into the home to guard it.
By creating a boundary around the diya by my palm, many a time I have protected the wavering light from waning away, shielded it from breezes as well as from difficulties, and through this act of dependency, I have sensed the strength of human beings. The small lamp would show us the days that would come. This electric light which does not need any of my involvement has no concern for the happiness or prosperity of the family, monotonously it keeps on spreading light and watches us mockingly, it observes each and every family in the same impassive way and I cannot love this. Diya and the small wicker lamp belong to the inside of the house, as a part of our family. By lighting it, it could not mockingly laugh at us, it would look for the newness of a new night by accepting disappointment along with us. The flame keeps on dancing, it could not remain lifelessly still, every evening numerous kinds of dances and different types of postures appear in the upward-flowing flame and every time it has something new to offer, sometimes it shivers and bends, and at other times it enlarges itself and sways by the mild breeze. In this world, clear evenings and pure dawns are the results of great worship. Above this world, these pathways, and these trees, there are huge planetary bodies that keep rising and descending. Human beings emulate this very phenomenon by lighting the lamp and then extinguishing it. Every evening the sun rises in our house when a member of our family lights a lamp, the black mountain gets defeated and the rays permeate the room. Then the day occurs—a bright long day. With the extinguishing of the lamp, sunset happens and the small evening repeats itself. The sudden brightness and sudden darkness obliterate the sense of graduality, the intimation, the pageant along with all the poetry. It does not seem that it has become part of our life, as it could not show the end of our journey. This electricity and this civilization are the fallacious education of existence. Even if I am drenched by the illumination of a lamp, it does not make me forget the presence of the night. Electricity insists that it is daytime in the room. My thoughts are not making sense. My thinking and my imagination which acknowledge my presence are not coming to me. Till yesterday, the house belonged to us, where we used to keep our memories, the little satisfactions that did not merge with others. I have kept the bits of despair that fall off the hope and lie around. Our house has become the barn of civilization.
Today I have achieved a small victory over civilization:
While writing this I have discarded all connection with electricity and wrote it by lighting a lamp.
The short story titled Ujyalo is written by Indra Bahadur Rai (1927-2018) in the Nepali language and published in the anthology Bipana Katipaya (1960). Written in first person, the story captures the inner thoughts of the narrator regarding the transition that occurred due to industrialization and modernization. The narrative technique does not follow the conventional ‘unity of action’—having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Written as a soliloquy, the narration exhibits characteristics of the stream of consciousness. In my translation, I have tried to retain this mode of expression. Sometimes the lines are longer, sometimes it is abrupt and broken into small phrases. Just the way our thought process works, there is a frequent transition from present to past and vice versa. In terms of tense, I encountered some obstacles in observing this transition without disrupting the flow of the narrative. Moreover, the story progresses like the flow of a river. There is a certain sense of smoothness in the narrative. While reading the original text, I experienced a sense of floating over the conscious and subconscious river of thought of the writer. In my translation, I have attempted to reflect this easy-flowing nature of the narrative. Further, it is important to note that I have translated this short story in a collaborative way as I am not acquainted with the Nepali language. Hence, as a translator, I have taken into consideration the distance that has aroused in this process. Further, I am grateful to Prof. Shradhanjali Ma’am for providing a word-to-word translation of Nepali words, and for helping me to understand the overall essence of the story.