The Work of Nik is available at www.outsiderwriters.org , a remarkable literary web site organised by a few vosionary editors and contributors; among others.
I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve never been to Nepal or India. I’ve never trekked through the mountains or eaten curry for a few rupees or bathed in the small river behind my house. Damn you, Krishna Bhatt, for confusing my already easily distracted and malleable mind!
City Women and the Ghost Writer collects observations and idiosyncrasies of Nepalese and Indian culture like an entomologist collects exoskeletons. Like a bug doctor, it examines these cultures with a neutral, sometimes detached, affect, but its fondness for the subject is evident. It floats through six-hut villages, over rivers crisscrossed with cattle, through the alleys of cities packed with village ex-pats scraping for a better life, and occasionally peeks its head up in a foreign country, a smug smile etched across its face.
Krishna Bhatt oscillates between nostalgic spectator, societal psychologist, and purveyor of scathing rants. For most of the book, an assortment of vignettes, (fictional?) short stories and musings, he relays everything with such an evenhanded, unexpressive tone that’s so voyeuristic, you almost feel guilty for intruding.
In Desires, a father toils for years in order to start a hotel, hoping to pass the business along to his sons. He begins: ‘I never thought my son would dump me into this hotel at my age, when I have broken my leg[…] I thought he was expanding the business, when he started building this hotel, but like other works he does, this too he left incomplete.’ Which pretty much sets the tone.
In Terminated Abortion, a pregnant woman is given an ultimatum by her family to kill the child or be excommunicated. She’s already has too many daughters, and the ultrasound is, well, less than promising. Her husband teeters between his unborn child and the security of her wealthy family. Then the story takes an unexpected turn…
Bhatt mixes rants and musings with the vignettes, to a surprising effect. While the stories remain neutral, there’s still a subtle hopefulness there, just barely. Or maybe it depends on your mood while reading. But these other pieces lend such a frustrated tint to the overall book that it causes you to reevaluate your entire perception of the book.
At times, they’re humorous, as if he has enough time and/or money to get so worked up over people underlining passages in the Hornsby-esque Underlining Borrorwed Books Overruled! (when only a few pages previous, the couple contemplates abortion.) Other times, he’s contemplative, ruminating on the relationship between reader and author. Sometimes he’s sarcastic, wondering why English has become the lingua franca, then relaying an incident with a friend who ‘does not purchase the [English language] newspaper to read, but to put it on the seat of his bike’ when it rains. The friend suggests that Bhatt do the same. He becomes outright furious as well, railing against the biased media and fellow countrymen whose concept of success is being able to move to another country.
Bhatt never resorts to yellow journalism. Even when angry and offended, he writes in measured sentences that are more or less objective. It draws the reader into his world and allows them to mix alongside the farmers, the scammers, the prostitutes, Brahmans, entrepreneurs, beggars and vendors. It’s the secure voice an accomplished author uses to pull you along, and you never realize he’s done it until you’re already in the heart of Kathmandu.