Thursday, June 20, 2019

Juneli: a review of its own

Review by Hima Bista

A psychological fiction which is as knotted as the roads from Kathmandu to Dhading is Juneli. “You can never tell a book by its cover” if ever a stronger conviction of this phrase then the second Nepali novel Juneli by Mr. Brazesh Khanal is one of them. The bare backed art work of a woman (by Kapil Mani Dixit) which is the cover of the novel makes one wonder what kind of story has author Khanal written. This metaphorical idiom stays till you open the first page. 

The story starts with Chirag, the architect of the protagonist Juneli, visiting Sipalika, a psychotherapist. A trust is developed between the two and the story unfolds. All of a sudden Chirag disappears but not before he trusts Sipalika, with his novel Juneli.  As Sipalika starts to read the Nepali novel, she enters into this labyrinth of characters that travels between Jyamirkot, Dhading to Kathmandu and vice versa and while trying to verify the authenticity of the characters with Kamal, a childhood friend of Chirag, she realises how unwell Chirag has been. The parallel storyline of Chirag and the narrative of Juneli are mesmerising. Through the eyes of the main characters like Kalo Ram who manages to thrill the teenage Juneli but seduces her, the quiet yet patient Baikuntha, his undying love for Juneli and their innocent yet complex love story, parents of Juneli and their struggle with Madhushala (the local bhatti) and the school days stories add weightage and insight to Junelis’ background.

I have not read Yayavar, the first novel of Mr Khanal. Yayavar has been mentioned in Juneli in various context but I do not think one would miss the plot of Juneli by not reading Yayavar. The author has managed to weave the necessary components pertinent to Juneli from Yayavar and that adds value to the story of the protagonist. There lies initial humour while weaving the two novels but by no means the novel is humorous. The author has clearly romanticized the words. The language is simple and profanity prevails where needed. Had it been written in English, the imprecation used would be digestible but morality of how much a swear word should be used in a Nepali fiction is not an issue I would discuss to judge a fiction like Juneli.  

The complexity of the human mind, the enigmatic significance of the female persona and the norms and values of the Nepali society and upbringing are the baseline of this novel. Initially I read the story thinking it was about a schizophrenic personality but what caught me by surprise was the twist of imagination of the author to pull the plot from the complexity and the tragedy of someone suffering from a mental health problem to the story of Juneli to make the reader wonder if such a personality exists or if that in itself is just a figment of imagination within a delusional state of mind. 

The author has been very descriptive about the various aura, desires, thoughts and sensitivity of a woman. While Chirag is searching for Juneli and Sipalika is trying to understand Juneli, the author projects in explicit detail as to how Juneli explores her body through her thoughts be it innocence personified or blasphemy. There are moments when Juneli can be seen as a representation of supressed emotions. To explore Juneli within the  sub-conscious state of Chirag through the male leads like Kalo Ram who is indecently carefree has made this work of Mr Khanal a creative experiment. 

There are moments when the story travels everywhere. The role of Sipalika is slightly underplayed. Though the story of Adhinath temple is a pleasant historical reminder, the novel did not need a poetic justice in that sense. Author Khanal has tried to link the ritualistic purification of a female body at Adhinath to justify the love and sacrifice made by Juneli but that reflects the safe haven of the story. The creative risk taken by the author is missed in that particular incident. But what follows after Adhinath is a suspense worth replaying over and over because that is the one time when I got upset with Juneli for what she has done to Baikuntha irrespective of the fact whether Juneli is the actress of Sholay or the Beautiful Mind of Chirag. I would have liked the author to change the course of event in that particular moment for that twist is over played in such an intense plot. 

Juneli is an inquisitive novel. Admirable narrative of feministic monologue and exploration, honest effort of the author to bring forward the issue of how the delusional state of mind can alter the thought process and how people can live in two different worlds. The end is alarming and a certain thrill remains. As Sipalika picks up her cup of Americano, a thumbs up to Juneli which was released in Kathmandu on Fagun 01, 2072 B.S.

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