Books reviews from Prof. I.K.Sharma

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Put the word Nepal in place of Denmark and the story of THE BLACK SUN by Bharat Jangam is, in a large easure, complete. The book written originally in Nepali first appeared in 1979 in Kathmandu. Its publication triggered off a debate in the literary, social, and political circles of that country. Because of that it drew a letter of high acclaim from the most respectable statesman and celebrated writer of Nepal, Mr.B.P. Koirala. Since its first appearance the book has run into four editions and recently efforts are underway to bring out the book in Hindi, Japanese and other major languages of the world. I had the opportunity to go through the English version of the book. 
What strikes a lay reader at the start is that the writer does not chase some Yeti of his fancy for personal pleasure. Sure enough he does not practice the gentle art of looking away; instead, he fixes his gaze at the obvious- the actuality. This breaking of new ground may be one of the reasons that the book created such a stir in the minds of the Nepali reading public.

The aim of the writer id to hold the attention of the reader to the fact that the present day Nepal has unwittingly come in the vice-like grip of a many-footed beast, called corruption, and unless the Nepalese strive and strive collectively, they will not be in position to free themselves from its hold for a long time to come. To give this idea a form he contrives a story of a person who upholds the value of Truth till the end although in the process he sees much that is reprehensible and also loses the most valuable that had come to him from his ancestors-a piece of land.

The novel is a first person account of a man who is a standard-bearer of Truth (a specimen of the Gandhian era in India). To comprehend the multi-faced actuality of Nepal, the 'I" in the novel has multiple roles to play it is a guide, an investigator, a discover, a watcher, a philosopher, a dreamer, and above all, a willing sufferer for the sake of a noble cause. His faith in his ideal, in spite of the muck around him, remains unshaken and he sincerely believes that Honesty or Truth or Integrity or any such ideal should not merely be an item of personal luxury but it should be a social virtue to be seen in the daily life of people. In search of this he sets out of his home and threads his way through many major departments of the His Majesty's government where, to his utter dismay, it is conspicuous by its absence. From Kathmandu International Airport through Ason Bazar to the Judiciary he, like the bewildered highland boy, does not find his hand full of sugar.

The novel has seven section in all, and each section is named after the day of the week. Beginning with Sunday the story ends on Saturday-meaning from Light to Darkness. Each day takes the narrator-hero to different fields of public activity and each field he finds overflowing with corruption. In the novel this gradual unfolding of the carpet serves a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, it underscores the point that corruption public life is a perpetual violence on the integrity of an individual, besides being the rape of a system. On the other, it highlights the inner tension of the narrator who is in quest of a clean public life. Thus the hero stands between two truths:the truth he abhors and the truth he adores, the truth he sees and the truth he aims at.

Along this journey, not adventure, he meets characters of various hues: a peon of twenty-five year standing, who very well knows (not practices) the mysterious ways of highly-placed officers, an unsophisticated highland boy ignorant of the ways of city life, an honesty engineer, named Tirtha Ratna and a contractor (Bikram) who follows the golden mean. Pitted against them are a smuggle, Dorje (A Tibetan refugee named Dukpa) who in course of six years has become a millionaire, a drunken politician ( a former Cabinet Minister) who meets the hero at midnight with Rs 20,000/- on him in a restaurant and spends rupees thirteen hundred in one go, the office at the Kathmandu International Airport whose 'daily income exceeds his three months salary' and 'in case he falls into the trap there is no power in Nepal that can harm his single hair,' and a lawyer, who in tends to extract the four golden teeth of the hero(represented his four ideals). 
An odd man out amidst them is the hero who finds a nefarious system erected around him and the common man. The system, the writer clearly brings out, is governed and run by a trio of unscrupulous businessman, the wily administrator, and the unfeeling politician. Their sinister collusion has turned the old Shangri-La into a new haven of cheats, swindlers, and exploiters of darkest hues.

From the start to the finish, the characters in the novel directly or indirectly hints at the areas of darkness in the life of the nation: exploitation of the innocent and artless by the smart ones, unpunctuality in the offices, indifferent attitude of office-goers to their works, underweighing in the market, scarcity of essential items like sugar, salt, and even 'inedible oil', labyrinthine justice system, the craze for westernization, and above all the 'yellow fever' to use the Australian expression for money mania. All this has endangered the life of the nation itself. In the novel is summed up by moderate Bikram this way:

'If they just take something of the fruit, it is natural. But here they are going to destroy the tree itself and swallow its roots and branches. Nobody fears anybody... Nobody is pure and holy.' (emphasis added) The writer thus succeeds in reflecting the public crisis in the private mirror of his fictional alter ego.

In essence The Black Sun is an authentic microcosm of the contemporary Nepal. It has the silent thunder of a warrior, controlled rage of a priest, and the internal restriction of an artist. Its reading impose a heavy burden on the conscience of a sensitive reader.

Prof. I.K.Sharma, 
Department of English
University of Rajasthan
Jaipur, India.