The first major novel in English to emerge from Nepal, The Tutor of History is a portrait of a society in change that is ultimately a story of idealism, alienation and love. The events of the novel unfold against the backdrop of a campaign for parliamentary elections in the bustling roadside town of Khaireni Tar. As its heart the book is about four main characters: Rishi Parajuli, a lonely, under-employed bachelor and disillusioned communist who gives private tuitions in history; Giridhar Adhikari, the chairman of the People’s Party’s district committee, who suffers from a serious alcohol addiction; Om Gurung, a large-hearted and guileless former British Gurkha; and a reclusive young widow, Binita Dahal, who runs a small tea shop and is careful not to demand of life more than the meagre pleasures it brings her. As the election campaign reaches its peak, the crises in their lives mount, and they must choose not only for Nepal, but also for their own individual futures. Written with rare insight into the politics of a nation and of human relationships, The Tutor of History marks the arrival of a significant new voice from the subcontinent.
Annes Jung, author of Unveiling India
"An evocative glimpse into the truth and turbulence of today's Nepal."
Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times
"The Tutor of History is a charming, sizeable novel giving detailed insights into the lives of common Nepalese townsfolk."
Recensione su Nepal.com
A caricature of contemporary politics, Manjushree Thapa's story line also draws the contours of a fresh framework for discussion
By A CORRESPONDENT
The space between those who believe democracy has degenerated beyond redemption and those who want to believe that the quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is eternal is filled with spirited discussions on a vast array of political possibilities. In "The Tutor of History", a fictionalized account of an election campaign in a constituency in Tanahun district, Manjushree Thapa has woven a splendid tale of how the spirit and energy of multiparty politics has seeped into the lowest levels of Nepalese society.
Public cynicism with leaders, politics based on patronage and family ties, caste and class barriers and the distance between capital-based political bosses and district-level power brokers, among other things, are mirrored in fine detail. The gripping saga is peppered with gross political intrigues and gory campaign tricks that go into the selection of leaders. The hypocrisy of politicians is often rivaled by that of the people. If you are among those who believe an election result is determined more by cash and conspiracy than by the actual choice of the people, you can see in all vividness how the process is played out.
Humiliation, wretchedness and limitations fostered by tradition convulse the story amid undercurrents of discrimination and alienation based on caste, creed, religion and sex. By bringing to life a new party that believes there still is hope for the spirit that guided the 1990 people's movement, Thapa throws up a possibility that has found little discussion amid the clamour created by the Maoists insurgents and hard-line monarchists.
Nayan Raj Dahal, a former movie star whose celluloid roles have given him the halo of an uncompromising revolutionary, is the candidate of the Nepal People's Party. His message ó "[T]he 1990 constitution only laid the grounds for democracy. We have yet to spread social values, build institutions and systems which actualize democratic ideals. First we have to rescue party politics from those who use it to fulfil their greed." — evokes much attention and, often, empathy.
Giridhar Adhikari, the district president of the People's Party, feels a sense of betrayal at having been denied the party ticket he felt was his due. He spends a life that alternates between extended bouts of intoxicated stupor and fitful but energetic commitment to the party's cause. Nayan Raj's celebrity status obviously makes him the center of attraction. His affable speech, approachable demeanor and professed commitment to public service convert some and force many to reconsider their notion of politicians. Binita, the socially ostracized widow of Nayan Raj's brother, finds her teashop suddenly thrust into the center of the campaign. Om Gurung, a former British Gurkhas serviceman who runs a school and works for the party, and Rishi Parajuli, a former leftist activist turned history tutor who returns to politics with a palpable sense of ambivalence, add to the powerful cast.
Thapa's easy pace and smooth flow make "The Tutor of History" an irresistible saga of contemporary Nepal where it is often difficult to separate politics from the personal. The 442-page novel is a telling caricature of what passes for governance by consent in Nepal. More importantly, however, the book provides a fervent plea to hold on to one's hope in a system the country could be worse off by abandoning. The people are thus caught in a dilemma. Experience has taught them not to take the candidate for his word. Instinct cautions them against harboring a cynicism that seeks to paint all politicians in the same brush. The book begins with the irony of how a person who played a key role in thwarting the pro-democracy student movement of 1979 is entrusted with conducting free and fair multiparty elections a decade later. It ends with the implication that such incongruities in themselves need not impede democratic growth.
Nayan Raj's battle cry provides some reassurance to today's alienated public. Is there a possibility for the emergence of another party professing to advance the people's cause that doesn't eventually succumb to the politics-as-usual addiction? "The Tutor of History" certainly provides the outline of what could be the manifesto of such a party. After all they have been through, can Nepalis take people like Nayan Raj at face value? It's a risk those who believe in democracy have to take. Is it a gamble worth taking? That's a decision Nepalis would have to make for themselves. Where this work of fiction helps is in providing readers a framework for thought in the process of making such decisions.