25 May 2014

The King's Harvest by Chetan Raj Shrestha

Sheer brilliance

There is a sheer brilliance to the fabric of this book that goes beyond its obvious function of being the best ever companion volume for a visit to Sikkim.
This brilliance shines through its skillful use of language, the details of description of landscape and incident (precise but unobtrusive); the insights into the lives and minds of the characters; the turns of engrossing plot, and so on. I think I enjoyed The King’s Harvest even more than I’d enjoy an actual trip to Sikkim (set like a ruby on a knuckle between Nepal and Bhutan).
This book consists of two novellas: An Open-and Shut Case, and The King’s Harvest. Between the two, we experience urban and rural Sikkim and, by virtue of the essential nature of travel on its winding roads, also come in close contact with all that lies in between. Along the way we observe great natural beauty, denuded forests and remote wilderness. We witness lives of abject rural poverty as well as the abundance of the land, the joys and rigours of monastic life, and the clutter of haphazard civic development in areas where people play tambola and aspire to upward mobility. We learn that cleansing is forbidden when attacked by leeches, for a wiped-out leech is bound to be replaced by a hungry one. We understand that the ephemeral nature of reality is not just intrinsic to this terrain but also that its people are steeped in the consciousness of this reality.
And this book is strewn with humour and irony. In fact, our first major event in this Shangri-La is a most gruesome murder, and every aspect of that open-and-shut case is strewn with humour and irony. This is equally true of The King’s Harvest, from its basic premise, all through the journey it takes us on, and right down to the children’s names.
One of the things I admired most about this book is that, set as it is in a small, landlocked region, it is inhabited by a wide spectrum of humanity. In fact, two of the central characters determinedly represent opposite ends of this spectrum. Dechen OC may be a small-town policewoman, but she has sophistication embedded in her mindset, language and even lifestyle. Tontem, on the other hand, is an exaggerated parody of rusticism and gullibility.
I can’t wait to read what Chetan Raj Shrestha turns out next.