Deciphering the history of migration through literatureJanak Raj Sapkota’s new book is a solid attempt at understanding Nepali migratory patterns, but much of it relies on probability rather than empirical facts—leaving many issues up for debate.
Recording history is a task reserved for historians, and there is a concept that history—on any subject—should be a crude representation of objective facts. This assumption, however, has undergone gradual deconstruction over the years. And Janak Raj Sapkota's book, Nepali Upanyasma Basaisarai: Dukha Dekhi Dukha Samma (Migration in Nepali Novels: From Hardship to Hardship), is an instance of such undertaking. The book debunks traditionally established notions between history and literature, of one being objective and the other subjective, respectively. Both of them are textual and vulnerable to interpretation and (mis)representation. Could fiction written at different periods of time be helpful in understanding the dynamics of migration in the "history" of migration? This is the basic contention of the book, and it gives an overall view on the issue of migration of Nepalis.
The book delves into the issue of Nepalis’ migration that situate within a time span of 80 years—from 1993 BS to 2073 BS. On the basis of the expressions and the experiences of the book’s characters, it tries to explore the history and causes of migration, the dislocation of emotions, anxiety and affliction of leaving home (land), and the suffering of the migrated people.
With the book, Sapkota has tried to trace the history of migration through his characters’ experiences. This attempt is applaudable because Sapkota has tried to present this imperative issue from an anthropological and ethnographic perspective. However, readers who are accustomed to empirical knowledge might find the history of migration more authentic with well-researched facts and documents.
All things rest on power, and by the same token, Sapkota also explores that ab(use) of power is the main source of migration. At different historical junctures, the forms and agents that exercised power may have been different, but power has always been a driving force nonetheless. And Sapkota explores this trajectory of power dynamics that has historically compelled Nepalis to migrate. From a vicious circle of oppression from landlords and the feudal Panchayat system to rulers of democratic republic—all are held responsible for migration, external or internal. The character of political structure of contemporary societies is also equally responsible, Sapkota concludes.
Besides those factors, economic depravity, socially disturbed caste-harmony, power struggle and structure, sexual misconduct, and social morality are also perennial causes for the mobility of Nepalis. Broadly, all these factors are associated with power. In the book, Sapkota also tries to show us how pivotal a role the Maoist insurgency and the Madhes movements played for internal or external migration.
Though migration often takes place with optimism—the pursuit of happiness and comfort; it invites more dismal consequences, the book explores. The affliction of migration ranges from physical suffering and mental anguish to effects on family members and relatives. The book primarily concludes that the journey of Nepalis’ migration starts with hardship and ends also in hardship.
Janak Raj Sapkota should be commended for his venture to explore the hitherto unexplored issue of migration in a different way—through literary texts. However, the author fails to impart a clear sense of methodology. Methodology, while talking about research, holds a crucial place and also influences the conclusions and findings of the research besides giving a succinct roadmap to the researcher as well as to the readers. Much of the information that Sapkota tries to refer to and analyse relies on probability rather than on certainty or empirical endorsement. It is so because the information mentioned in the book is implicated rather than empirically researched. Because of this, the readers can encounter a problem in situating this book under a precise category, whether it is just an analysis or a researched analysis. Sapkota should have mentioned the secondary sources too, as that would have helped him clearly prove many of the points he is trying to make in the book.
There are also a few problems with facts: for one, the Anglo-Nepal war took place between 1814-16, instead of 1914-16; next, Rana Bahadur Shah was not a Rana ruler but a Shah monarch (p. 26). Similarly, there are some contradictions in Sapkota's own analysis. For one, the author, on Dharabashi's Sharanaarthi, says the characters migrate because of political reasons, but right on the next page he mentions that the major reason behind the characters’ suffering was economic hardship.
This book nonetheless does announce the need of developing an approach or methodology to view crucial and culturally important issues such as migration through literary devices; however, understanding such grave issues only through literary texts pose a critical problem.
Nepali Upanyasma Basaisarai: Dukha Dekhi Dukha Samma
Author: Janak Raj Sapkota
Publisher: Himal Books
Price: Rs 260