The spirit of English Nepali writer Greta Rana’s romantic and poetic work was evoked the other day in Patan. I too went there to present my ideas at the session chaired by Bandana Rana. Greta had phoned me about this when I was interacting with the talented and creative students at Prativa Institute of Education in Nadipur Pokhara. As this was my first outing from Nepal Mandala after two years of pandemic, I enjoyed opening my mind only at inspiring moments. Invitation of Greta Rana to speak during a revision session of her fiction Hidden Women: Women Leaders of the Rana Dynasty (2012, 2022) and his poetry book Castleford to Kathmandu (2021) in a place in Jawalakhel would definitely be an inspiring occasion for me. But I suddenly realized that it would not be an unknown event because I have spoken about his fiction and his poetry many times.
What is surprisingly experimental and powerful is Greta Rana’s own projection of herself into her works. If she does not tell her story about the contexts that brought her to a Rana house in Nepal, she does go through a description of the metamorphoses of characters who carry the memories of the time in the novels and creative experiments in poetry. . The brilliant short film about Greta’s poetic journey, directed by Chirag Bangdel and narrated by Saguna Shah, shows the poetic part.
I want to briefly discuss the uniqueness of this silent poet, fiction writer and theater director’s journey to the metropolis of Kathmandu, which is marked by several layers of architectonic eras – exquisite Newar architectures, Western Neo-Baroque or Asian baroque. style buildings to common townhouses. Greta Rana saw the tumults of history fall silent and come to a standstill in the Rana Buildings. In the epilogue to the second edition of what I call her magnum opus, Greta writes: “More than one hundred and thirty years later, a young foreign woman entered the mysterious rest home of Jawalakhel. She discovered that the Rana houses also had memories. She saw the memories there, the shadows, which “entered and left the walls… she saw from the corner of her eye dark silhouettes walking along the passage”. Greta decided to articulate the “air of grief and abandonment” in fiction. The above work is the main result. Literary critics should write about the brilliant blend of fantasy and history in his works of fiction. This is a denominational statement here.
I consider Greta Rana to be an influential Nepalese writer of English descent who produced seminal works of fiction in which she put herself in a unique way. The novel Hidden women offered me a silent challenge to re-evaluate Rana’s story from the perspective of the largely ignored characters, the women of the ruling people’s households, in this case, the Ranas and their lineage. This book is a well-documented story, told not from the evidence of historiographical documents but from the point of view of housewives. A woman named Kadam, who comes from the Hindu Magars of Gorkha, dominates the whole novel. The visceral tales of the women of the Rana Dynasty draw readers into a world of ruling families. Their human sides are portrayed using women as the main characters.
The title of a chapter of the novel “1873: Jung Bahadur arrives” introduces the metafictional theme. The whole novel is woven around a theme about women. Greta uses double consciousness in this fictional story. She uses the fictional side of the story, but a critical interpretive consciousness dominates the historical motifs. Greta doesn’t let the story of the house unfold without interpretation. The novel, it seems, is a conscious story honestly written from the point of view of the discreet author. But we see that the author introduces an element of personal feelings for women. It seems like Greta captured the essence of the story from the perspective of women and their issues of joy and dark times and difficult life. It’s an entirely untold story about love, power, childbirth and the pain experienced by women in the Rana Buildings.
The novel highlights Bal Narsingh Kunwar and his sons, who “did not like scholarship”. The feelings and roles of women in the transfers of Kunwars to Dhankuta, Dadeldhura and Jumla find subtle descriptions in the novel. These women who play different roles are Kadam, Ganesh Kumari and Hema, who form the female cohort of historical fiction. The men are in the background playing their part in the story. Greta’s strength lies in her evocation of the largely overlooked details of life. For example, she did not cite major events to predict the downfall of Bhimsen Thapa. She instead chose the trust deficit of a vegetable vendor for this. Major characters like Jung Bahadur Rana and British envoy Brian Hodgson feature in fiction although they are not easily confused in the beautiful moments of fiction. The occasions of trials and labors undergone by these characters and their double bonds are brilliantly represented in the fictional story. Since this is not a critical account, I only want to allude to the dexterity with which Greta Rana gave credence to what she calls the female leaders of the Rana dynasty. The essence of the story is that the women of the family played an important role not only in the daily life of the household, but also in shaping the mode of the story.
The much-vaunted story of the Jung wives in Pattharghatta is moving and breathtaking. Jung’s wives were ready to commit Sati against her will. In a concerted voice, they say to Jung’s brother, Dhir Shumsher, “Your brother is dead, and we will go with him. We discussed it among ourselves and decided it was our duty.” Like any other historian, Greta left these ellipsis without any interpretation or commentary. But after reading that last chapter, I realized that Greta had presented the continuum of the Kadam woman that pervades the whole novel, as a force. I remember the centenary of Garcia Marquez’s novel A hundred years of loneliness whose continuity in solitude despite the tumultuous moments of history evokes the sense of time and human power. By portraying Kadam in a similar role, Greta Rana projected an understanding of women’s history that is invisible to both historians and social scientists. Greta gives women both real and symbolic roles in this novel about historical themes. The novel and poetry represent Greta Rana’s metaphorical and symbolic journey to Nepal.