Ubadkhabad: Ruthlessly honest and palpably bleak


It’s seldom that you come across an unique with an ending that breaks your heart yet makes you smile. Tanka Chaulagain’s newest novel, Ubadkhabad, promises and provides both, leaving the readers to reflect on the fate of the protagonists. The novel– similar to many contemporary works of literature in the Nepali language– explores the story. […]

It’s seldom that you come across an unique with an ending that breaks your heart yet makes you smile. Tanka Chaulagain’s newest novel, Ubadkhabad, promises and provides both, leaving the readers to reflect on the fate of the protagonists.

The novel– similar to many contemporary works of literature in the Nepali language– explores the story. It begins with a strong authorial personality speaking with a designated (albeit eccentric) reader and later proceed to the third-person omniscient and the first-person perspectives. Chaulagain likewise uses flashbacks and backstory to create an engaging and richer imaginary world.

The beginning of the unique intentionally reminds us that we are reading a work of fiction, that the characters are fictive, which the author is totally free to fix the story the method they like. In a discussion with the reader, the author states, “One can imagine different endings for a single story.” Which is why Chaulagain presents 2 kinds of closings: each harsher than the other.

The beginning also resonates with the qualities of metafiction. Here, the author self-consciously means the process of composing a book. Although Ubadkhabad is not a “fiction about fiction” per se, it has its moments when Chaulagain purposefully lets the readers understand that we are reading something fabricated, no matter how real or realistic the construction is.

The novel starts in the end– from the setting where everything is expected to fulfill its supreme fate: the Pashupati Aryaghat. It is the day of Teej, and amidst the dynamic crowd of women and the smouldering pyres, we satisfy the lead character, Jeevan, only for a moment. The narrative dives to the break of dawn when the focus zooms into an overloaded and crumbling space for a household of 4.

The rich description of the space along with the ambient sights and sounds is an exceptional example of sensory writing. We as readers feel as if we remain in the middle of the room, watching the scene unfold. The focalisation then moves back and forth in between Jeevan and Nirmala, wandering from omniscient to minimal perspectives. This shift, although jarring sometimes, offers us an abundant introduction of the characters’ awareness as well as their space-time feel.

Jeevan hails from a remote eastern village and is known for his easy and innocent good manners. Struggling to become a star in a city that does not help him materialise his dreams but rather taunts and tricks him, he is forced to face a series of hardships, each crueller than the other. People deceive him, make fun of his lisp, and make fun of his extremely long moustache. His moustache, on which a long chapter is dedicated, is not just a physical characteristic however also a plot point.

Chaulagain links the story of Jeevan’s choice to grow a moustache with the decade-long civil war and the Maoist insurgency. Because of his thick and bushy moustache, not to discuss his lisp and overstated gestures, the army thinks he’s a Maoist spy. So they interrogate and abuse him. On the other hand, the Maoists believe he’s an army male since of his moustache and his minor role in a motion picture. So they burn his ancestral home and make his moms and dads exiles.

Jeevan is primarily a victim of situation. Discriminated by the so-called upper-class people of Kathmandu, tricked by the producers and directors from Bagbazar, and tricked by a costar into falling in love, he struggles against numerous factors that are out of his control. He frequently encounters a situation, without seeking it, that brings nothing however damage to him.

Kathmandu, like a big fat leech, sucks the blood out of Jeevan’s life. It takes almost whatever away from him and offers him so bit in return. He gets raped, looted, beaten to death, however he doesn’t take a trip back to his town and continues to battle, to fight silently, albeit fruitless. The city does not care– it makes him suffer and takes vicious satisfaction in enjoying the pauper wince in pain.

Yet Jeevan is very little of a rebel. No matter the unending discomfort inflicted upon him by the callous society, he withstands all the bad luck stoically. Frequently, he stands firm, unwilling to give up. At times, we are delegated question Jeevan’s stoic nature: Should not the marginalised speak up?

The non-linear narrative of the unique represents the occasions out of chronological order, and as the story returns and forth in time, the readers’ job is to connect the dots to get a fuller photo. To understand Jeevan’s fondness for his moustache, to know about his relationship with a dancer and his rash and clandestine marriage, to completely understand the effects of his condition and dependency to acting, readers need to reach a minimum of two-third of the narrative.

A lot of the chapters start quite cinematically, as we get to see the setting and stage instructions before we have time to invest in the lead character’s ideas and comprehend their issues. This strategy, although lovely sometimes, soon diminishes, and we are left looking for a more thorough representation of the characters. Readers are left preferring for descriptions that reflect the characters’ moods– we want to see the world through the characters’ eyes, yet we likewise wish to experience their thoughts and feelings.

Jeevan’s backstory comes late in the narrative, possibly too late for the readers to make an empathic connection. Had the author provided the information, in bits and pieces, earlier in the story, we would have been able to understand the protagonist fully. The good idea is the backstory is not told as an ‘info dump,’ but rather utilizing scenes that reveal and convey the feeling.

The severe pessimism and tragedy advise the readers of the books of Thomas Hardy. In a number of his works, defenseless characters get trapped in the harsh hands of fate– then they are delegated suffer and pass away. Hardy was an extreme pessimist, but Chaulagain does show the sunshine and rainbows in cinematic flashbacks and vibrant vignettes.

Another small quibble is the (over) use of cuss words in locations. This can only be my pedantic prudishness, but for the typical Nepali reader, who isn’t utilized to making use of blasphemy in novels, the experience can be like fingernails on a blackboard. It remains an arduous endeavor for a Nepali writer.

The fantastic thing about Ubadkhabad is it’s short and shattering. The abundant description gets stressed by the short and blunt sentences, keeping the readers hooked to the pages. This slim volume, unlike numerous weight tomes in Nepali literature, is a real reprieve. Not just is it breezy and a happiness to read, however likewise it makes us believe and question. That is what all fantastic literature needs to strive to accomplish.