The More Things Change . . .
The stigma of aging has been around for sometime, and is more prevalent in Western society due to the fact that anything that is wrinkled seems to need to be ironed out. Men and women both are targets of the onslaught of ‘correctional’ procedures and creams promising to reverse the signs of aging while you sleep. Now there are preventive measures that help you avoid too much confrontation with the fact that prunes are not only becoming more of your diet, but also bear similar texture to the skin on your hands.
The sad truth that affects everyone, rich or poor, young and old, is that what can be done on the outside can’t be done on the inside. It is this issue of age and unavoidable change that Samrat Uphadyay undertakes in his second novel, The Guru of Love.
In the book, we find that Ramchandra, the protagonist, has developed a classic case of the mid-life crisis blues. Forty-five, with two growing children who serve as reminders of his growing dispensability, he finds himself struggling with the reality that what could have been is not. His youthful dreams of success and comfort are shaken daily by his position as a lowly paid mathematics teacher at the bedraggled Kantipur School and the discomforts of communal toilets in his run-down apartment block. As if things could not get worse, Ramchandra is endowed with a set of wealthy nagging in-laws that could successfully manage to test the patience of a deaf-mute.
With his self-esteem swirling with the crushed drink tetra-packs and plastic bags in gutters of Kathmandu, Ramchandra starts to ask those dreaded questions that plagues individuals and communities at some time or other:
What am I doing and how did I get here?
Do I like what I see?
Is there still time to correct the damage done?
Samrat Uphadyay’s novel, The Guru of Love, is primarily a tale about change—the inevitable appearance of consequence—the kind of change that people cause and cannot control. It is this change that takes place within Ramchandra’s private world, as well as the world outside. He illustrates this point by exploring the distance experienced between a man and his wife, the conflict between parents and children, the fight for democracy in the midst of monarchy. Uphadyay skillfully brings into the picture the subjects of adolescent growth, maturity, naiveté, and death, and works these issues to demonstrate that acceptance is the key to confronting an uncertain and unforeseeable future.
Reading the novel, one senses that Uphadyay’s mastery lies in his simple writing style. The words on the page give a gentle tug on the lapel of your shirt, which immerses you in the locale and lives of the characters in one smooth swipe. You don’t even realize where you are, and how easy it was to get there, until you come to the last page of the book. Much to our enjoyment, Uphadyay has come to the understanding of how language, outside of dialogue, can contribute to the overall feeling of the novel.
However, even though the book is an enjoyably easy read, Uphadyay seems to paint overly simplistic portraits of his characters. This is especially noticeable when considering the responses of his characters to, what would be to most people, rather serious events. An example is how Ramchandra’s wife reacts when he confesses his infidelity. The poor woman merely says that he no longer finds her attractive, calmly packs her bags and leaves for her parents’ home with their unquestioning children. There she stays in her room until Ramchandra orders her to return with him—at which time, of course, she calmly packs her bags and follows him home without so much as a peep.
In The Guru of Love, Uphadyay introduces us to interesting situations, only to leave out the complex internal struggles that follow. His characters become struck with long bouts of silence, and run away to hide. They have strokes and die, and do, as it seems, almost anything to get away from having to respond to the situation. Here is where the reader is left disappointed because of the frustrating inability to develop a real relationship with the characters. When we want to be grabbed and shaken, confused and disturbed, Uphadyay merely touches us lightly on the surface, and runs away—causing us to ask, “Is this all?”