* Keshav Raj Chalise, Ph D
B P Koirala’s Modiāin is a novel written from the viewpoint of a boy and his experience of visiting Darbhanga with Misirji. The narrator of the plot is a matured man, but he tells the whole story based on the memory of the past. One of the major issues of in the novel is the description of Hadaha Daha, its association with Mahabharata myth and the mysterious presence of a woman at the edge of the pond. This article tries to examine the picture of Hadaha Daha and its historicity from mythical surrealistic approach.
Key words: surrealism, myth, fiction, imagination, eastern culture
Myth is a term derived from Greek word, ‘muthos‘ with complex history and meaning in which “Greek muthos is used to mean fiction” (Cuddon 525). Myths generate certain religious or spiritual narratives with the explanation of supra human features of life. Not only that, they have typical aspect of truths because “myth is always concerned with creation. Myth explains on how something came to exist” (526). Myth is not just for simply reading the form of narrative but it can also be interpreted. So there is not a single myth; there are many myths. Abrams supposes that “mythology is a religion” (Abrams 179), however myths that relate the narrative of creation necessarily talk about nature as one of the powers of creation. Such myths “are primitive explanations of the natural order and cosmic forces” (Cuddon 526). Therefore, the narratives that provide explanation on and about nature and its origin are nature myths.
These nature myths pass for many generations through the religious beliefs. So, sometimes the mythical stories and the religious stories are misread as the same. Religious and mythical narratives also provide the base of interpreting the things in the universe. The oldest interpretation of nature and the universe, therefore, is found in the way religion is perceived by the people of any particular period and place.
Myths are the stories of ancient or religious origin and are believed to be true in any particular cultural and social group. They are not merely fictional but are the experiences through which “a given culture ratifies its social customs or the accounts for the origins of human and natural phenomena” (Baldick 163). They provide the insights on the mode of understanding the things. They represent social and cultural belief of any particular period. They also represent the views of the people as the socio-cultural phenomena.
Surrealism, also known as super-realism, is an artistic movement close to twentieth century’s ‘Dada’ experiment. It was introduced and its idea was explained by Andre Breton in his book, Manifesto on Surrealism in 1924. It is a successive movement of Dadaism emerged in 1916 “out of disgust with the brutality and destructiveness of the first world war” (Abrams 319). As opposed to the artistic constants, “the expressed aim of surrealism was a revolt against all restraints on free creativity, including logical reason, standard morality, social and artistic conventions and norms and all control over the artistic process by forethought and intention” (319). The surrealists believe on the automatic writing that promotes the expression of unconscious mind, hence, a psychological expression of a person.
As an aesthetic movement, surrealism challenges the established artistic norms of sense and the coherence of grammar too. Rather it has much concern to “apparently bizarre, incoherent or hallucinatory techniques”(Mautner 604). It has also been known as “having an ethical message of personal liberation and responsibility” (Mautner 604). Having French origin, this movement, though does not believe on specified literary and artistic rules, gives priority on the freedom of expression in meaning and grammar and also evaluates the piece of art from the deep psychology. Sometimes, the free expression, like romantics, may lead to high imagination and sometimes as the expression in hallucination in the mode of deep psychology. It may take the mode of dream expression like Blake’s Kubla Khan, but it does not focus on objective reality.
Many modern writers have been influenced by this liberation of expression in prose and verse, “who have broken with conventional modes of artistic organization to experiment with free association, a broken syntax, non-logical and non-chronological order, dreamlike and nightmarish sequences… shocking and seemingly unrelated images” (Abraham 319). Having no direct association to one another, the images might be dimly linked and such writings may have the quality of fantasy and high imagination.
B. P. Koirala’s Modiāin is a novel written from the point of view of a man based on the experience of a boy. It means, the speaker is a matured man, but he has admitted that what he has told in the whole plot is his dim memory from his past as a boy:
It was the event that took place long ago when I was still a boy. Many of the childhood events are forgotten but some of them remain in the memory very clearly, some of them are seen dimly and those dimly memorized events are needed to be verified on the basis of imagination. For example, we have to identify a man standing quite far from his his dress, mode and style. (Koirala 01).
As the narrator admits at the beginning of the novel, the events that have taken place in the plot do not have chronological attachment with objective reality though they have the foundation of the real. Similar to the strength of surrealism, there is the free expression of the psychology of the boy in the imaginative power of a man. The journey of the boy to Darbhanga with Misirji has the mode of real event but the narration of the whole story of Mahabharata and unfolding of the war of Kurukshetra and the description of Hadaha Daha, the appearance and disappearance of Machuwarin are all seen to have been based on the narrative style of mythical surrealism.
The Hadaha Daha has been described in a realistic manner objectively:
In fact, I had never seen such huge well in my life. It was difficult to know the man standing in the western bank of the well from the east. There was a dark garden over the well. Hadaha might, in fact, been very deep and its eastern side was in use being a station there and the north was also on use due to the road. The western and southern side was impenetrable with the forest and garden. (9)
This assumption of the vagueness and depth of the Hadaha Daha is the result of child’s psychology. Whatever he has seen has been further made complex on the creation of the image of this well by Modiāin. Not only he has seen the well terrified in the dark and deep nightmare scene, but also Modiāin has created surrealistic image with awesome narration, “the god dwells in this well; the god does not like people making proud of something. Many of those, even the swimming experts, are lost into it” (8). The boy is hallucinated by this statement of the old lady, Modiāin and feared to go closer to the pond. The boy asks her, “Do the gods dwell there really? How many people have been drowned in it? She answered, so many. It is not today’s pond. A god with great power dwells there. There is no any other pond like this in this district” (10). Having with the strange, deep and dark existence of the pond, the way Modiāin relates Machhuwarin with the pond is mythical and surrealistic. This description is really unique and shows that the pond does have divine power:
… that time this pond was very small well covered with small plants. There was a Machhuwarin selling the fish by its side. She was fat with good height and wearing silver jewels as it was the trend of that time. Nobody knew where she was from, where did she do her fishing? But her fish used to be good. So, she would do her business well staying in the same place. (13-14)
The pond, in the past history, was not as large as it is today. It is not still justified by the fact about the size and real shape of the pond. The description of it from the mouth of Modiāin has the mythical base rather than the fact though the present pond that the narrator has seen is a fact. It is a mystery on who the young and strong woman is in the story. It has got the imaginative strain in such a description. In those days, women were not supposed to be having business, the business of butchering or selling fish and flesh was not good in Indian culture. The existence of the woman is mysterious and her business and its source are even more. This mystery has made the story interesting, but it has high imaginative flow in the plot. The context of Machhuwarin makes the story more surrealistic:
One day, like usual, she came and sat at the bank of the pond. That day she had a large Rohu fish in her basket. It was the same moment a popular Tantrik of the king was passing by reciting Durga Kabach. He was dressed in red. He bought that large fish from her basket. She became surprised and asked if he had a large family. (14)
The origin of Muchhuwarin and her fishing is all secret. She knows just to sell the fish. Where her fish come from is also unknown for others; how she comes to have a large fish is a mystery. The Tantrik man took the fish, but the strange event takes place when “an eagle grabbed the large fish from his hand but the fish was so heavy that the eagle could not carry it flying” (14). The woman even talks about the war of Kurukshetra and how the life has gone changed in the long run of time:
Why do you need to get who am I? In the Kali Yuga, it is not the men who have become small but also the birds and animals. That eagle cannot carry this fish. In the very past, people would be very powerful with heavy body structure like elephants and they would be with great name and fame. So were the animals and birds. In the war of Mahabharata, an eagle had carried the body of a warrior had dropped it into this pond. How powerful the eagle would have been to carry the body in this long distance from Kuruchetra to Darbhanga. (14-15)
The connection Kurukshetra and Darbhanga has been mentioned by this woman who sells her fish. But immediately she disappears mysteriously. In relation with the myth of Mahabharata, the description of the pond in Darbhanga is quite surrealistic. The woman was not seen there then after. But it was a great surprise to the people and even to the king of that time. To some extent, what the woman said is also a truth. The power of the animals and humans has been decreasing even at present. But she relates with the men and animals of Satya Yuga. How does she come to know about the body structure and strength of the people in the Satya Yuga since she is living at Kali Yuga? Is not it surrealism? If she had told it in the way she had experienced and seen the event herself.
Then Modiāin further narrates that “the pond was dug for six months by five thousand labors and the bones of the soldiers were taken out and set as per the culture” (15). From the days then, the pond has become so large and it was believed that some power exists in it. She also tells him that humans like Machhuwarin can live for many centuries in the form of a ghost just to fulfill the unfulfilled desires of life. The narrator boy is frightened by this type of surrealistic belief on the ghosts and real life affairs. The story of the novel moves to the story of the war in detail from the perspective of the wife of a war soldier in Kurukshetra.
Mythical reference in literature operates in a two- way approach: giving the history or cultural value and expressing the psychological domain of the past. Myth receives varying evaluations that its positive value is “a model of psychological wholeness in relation to the self and the world, rather than as scientific truth”(Bell 120-21). It also unites both culture of past and psychology of self. Hadaha stands as a mystery of the past for the modern people in the east, especially for those who believe in the Mahabharata mythopoeia though it embodies with the cultural stand. At the same time, the boy’s psychology of terror and the sense of the mystery meet together to create the surrealistic image of Mahabharata War and its consequences.
Hence, the appearance and disappearance of the woman, her declaration about the pond’s connection with the war of Kurukshetra, finding out of many bones within it are the foundations to make the description of the pond as mythical but surrealistic in belief. The image of the Daha (pond) is highly inexplicable having no scientific reasoning, but still people believe on it because it is attached with the mythical and cultural reality of the people. It is what the projection of the surrealistic existence of myth in people’s mind and the world.
Abrahm, M.H. (2010). A glossary of literary terms. 8th ed. Singapore: Thomson,
Baldick, C. (2006). Oxford concise dictionary of literary terms. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Bell, M. (2006). Anthropology and/as myth in modern criticism. Literary Theory and Criticism (Ed. Patricia Waugh. Ed.). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Cuddon, J. A. (2010). Dictionary of literary terms and literary theory. New Delhi: Penguin Books.
Koirala, B. P. (2056 B.S.). Modiāin. Lalitpur: Sajha Prakashan, . 5th Ed.
Mautner, T. (2010). Dictionary of philosophy. New York: Penguin.
(Dr. Keshav Chalise is a Lecturer of English in Nepal Sanskrit University. He is a Life member, NELTA. Dr. Chalise has written extensively on the cultural and literary themes. He has written books and papers, which have been published from different local and international publishers. Dr. Chalise is interested in literary criticism and writing. )