Nepali’s American dreamIs it a wishful story, a spiritual quest or a silent story of pain?
Normally, I do not worry about the question of people deciding whether to stay in this land or leave it. A figure published in the press recently shows that a good percentage of bureaucrats who rule or misrule this country have already received their papers and what they call ‘green cards’ in place for moving to America after retirement. Mostly, those who go to study in Anglophone countries appear to stay on. A number of very bright young lecturers who worked with us at the Central Department of English did not return except when their parents or families badly needed them. They were all talented and good men and women.
That is our position. Ammaraj Joshi, the present Head of the Central Department of English, who has published well-written stories and poems in English from Nepal and India, told me that the question of who goes and who returns—or does not return— matters not so much now. Perhaps the implication is that the situation has changed in such a way that the academics’ expatriate dreams do not matter anymore. In other words, we produce academics here and send them for training; that is the main thing. Loyalty is an amorphous thing.
People who go abroad are not all literate. In today’s world, people who travel or leave the land are not necessarily text readers or producers. A favourite writer in our theatre world, Dwight Conquerwood, says the following about those who travel—with texts but of a different order—in his essay “performances studies…” (The Drama Review 46, 2002): “For many people throughout the world, however, particularly subaltern groups, texts are often inaccessible, or threatening, charged with the regulatory powers of the state. More often than not, subordinate people experience texts and the bureaucracy of literacy as instruments of control and displacement, e.g., green cards, passports, arrest warrants, deportation orders”. Conquergood’s prophetic power can be discerned in these words; it needs no elaboration. Thousands of Nepalis have been travelling with the above kinds of texts, not the literate texts.
Diverse but inadequate picture
But highly educated Nepali expatriates in America seem to be sharing the American dream. How they share that is a curious matter. I want to look into that on the basis of three books that I received from three Nepali expatriates in recent times. These texts present a somewhat diverse, though inadequate, picture of their American dream. These texts approach the diasporic situation through a sense of compromise and a sense of deep-seated contentment.
Neeva Mathema Pradhan gave me her book The Best of Both Worlds (2015). The title itself speaks about the finale of the book. Neeva has no regrets about the exilic condition. Her life is a movement between two poles of wellbeing—Nepal and America. She says the reason for such contentment is a “harmonious cultural integration” which “usually occurs when there is some giving and taking.” That happens because you “consciously and deliberately surrender…native values that do not make sense within your new environment”, and you “embrace the aspects of your new culture that can enrich you.” There are no rough edges in the entire book that unfolds the narrative of smooth movements. Neeva’s experience represents the values of the middle-class literate people of Nepal who go to America and Canada.
Enrichment is the key word. Kenny Pandey in his novel Other side of Paradise (2017) moved to the United States to educate his children and “seek a quality life”, which is the key expression. “Quest for a better quality life” is an apt metaphor of the Nepali middle-class US migration dreams. Pandey’s story is simple and linear. His main character Pemba, a youth from northern Nepal, falls in love with a girl named Linda and moves to America. After sometime, she leaves him, which becomes clear when he tells his mother later.
A shattered Pemba tears up all his documents including his green-card. But he is rescued by his American friends who give him a share in their company without him having to put in any money. He returns to Nepal and marries a girl named Mona who was educated at St Mary’s School in Kathmandu. He goes to America with her again, becomes successful and lives there with his wife and children. This is a wishful story where everything goes smoothly.
The third book I received is America Tattwamasi (2016), a title drawn from the Upanishad Kalomasi. Tattwamasi is explained as one “Grand Pronouncement of the Vedas” which means “thou art that”. Kala means time. Ramesh Sharma, an expatriate and an erstwhile journalist, and activist Jayatu Sanskritam dedicate this book to “the great country, America, the only de facto Hindu state on earth”. It would be very nice to know how President Donald Trump would interpret that.
The cover page of this book printed in Canada has ‘Om’ inscribed in the middle of the star-spangled American banner. The title poem in Sharma’s fat collection eulogises America in what he rightly calls Walt Whitman’s style. But later Allen Ginsberg also used this style of apostrophising America, at which he swore with the four-lettered word. I don’t have enough space here to discuss the other poems. Though the yoking of the Hindu and the American dreams evoke a sense of the burlesque, Sharma has largely produced well-written poems in this collection. He appears at his best in the poems where he sets the poet persona as a seeker in the original and lyrical verses. I could find literary merit only in this book even though I find the yoking of the different perceptions a little problematic.
These three books do not give sufficient clues to understand the American dream of the Nepali diaspora. Is Nepali’s American dream largely a wishful story, a spiritual quest or a silent story of pain? Do the scripted good literary fictional works of Manjushree Thapa and Samrat Upadhyay give any more clues to that? I have to study that carefully.