Nepal has been consistently on top of the list among the poorest countries in Asia. Before the much-anticipated political change in 1950, Nepal had been cut off from the outside world throughout the 104-year rule of the Rana family (Shah 3). The reign of the Ranas did not mark any significant socio-economic changes in the country so much so that throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Nepal lagged behind other countries in almost every aspect of development. No public schools or hospitals were constructed outside the Kathmandu area. Hence, majority of the population were illiterate. Moreover, dying from untreated epidemics such as cholera, malaria, and smallpox was not uncommon in the country (4).
Majority of the Nepali people from the time of the Ranas to the 1950s made a living through agriculture. The farmers would resort to manual labor and animal power because of the lack of modern technology and agricultural support services. Since they followed the feudal system in their land governance, they did not earn much from farming and were also uncertain of their land tenure (Wickeri 2). Aside from these, the landlords charged the farmers a considerably high rent, which contributed to their extreme poverty.
From the aforementioned facts, it is not surprising that the literature produced in Nepal during the 1900s reflected the concerns of their poverty-stricken society. In their short stories written from 1901 onwards, the writers showcased the country’s rural life, their agrarian relations, the caste system, and the people’s quest for social change (Hutt 173). One of the country’s pioneering writers following this trend of social realism is Guru Prasad Mainali.
Through his short story entitled The Neighbor, Mainali was able to portray the rural life in Nepal, the challenges people experienced, and the choices they made in going about their conflicts. Despite being economically poor, the characters delineated in the story gave prime importance to their rich moral values.
Mainali’s The Neighbor starts by showing the readers a glimpse of rural life in Nepal in the month of Asadh (month in the Hindu calendar from mid-June to mid-July). Furthermore, the important characters namely Gumane and Dhanjeete have been introduced. Mainali establishes the man vs. man conflict in the story – Dhanjeete got mad at Gumane after the latter’s bullock entered the rice plant beds of the former. They then engaged in a word war, which was aggravated by the intervention of Dharmananda, a young man known in his village to take “pleasure in making others fight” (Mainali 64). Later on, the fight resulted to Gumane and Dhanjeete becoming indifferent with each other.
In the middle of the month of Bhadra (month in the Hindu calendar from mid-August to mid-September), an epidemic struck their village. Gumane believed that the outbreak was due to the anger of the gods and so he suggested to his fellow villagers that they pray to the deity of their village. His neighbor Dhanjeete did not attend the prayer assembly. After a few days, Dhanjeete’s wife as well as Dhanjeete himself got terribly sick. Their entire village was also infected so no one was there to look after their farm. The epidemic caused them to get really physically weak, which could actually lead to their untimely death. Opting to be a good friend than a bitter enemy, Gumane decided to offer help to Dhanjeete by taking care of him and his wife as well as by tending their animals. The next day, Asha Moru came to invite Gumane to help him in his business. The merchant promised paying Gumane in return for the services he would render him. Gumane refused to accept the offer and opted to take care of Dhanjeete, Dhanjeete’s wife, and their farm. The story ends with the resolution of the conflict between Gumane and Dhanjeete as they reconciled and rekindled their friendship.
In the story, readers can witness how economically poor the characters were. In spite of this, they were morally rich as made manifest in two particular instances. The first manifestation is when Gumane chose to be by his childhood friend and neighbor Dhanjeete’s side, instead of making him suffer and of doing other things to earn money. The second instance is when Asha Moru offered Gumane a job to carry loads of goods for him, but the latter decided to stay and take care of Dhanjeete and his wife.
In an impoverished society like Nepal, it would be normal and necessary for people to think practically by looking for ways to get extra income. As delineated in the story, farmers like Dhanjeete and Gumane would earn money that was just enough to pay their government tax, their lender’s interest, and support their daily needs as well as their necessities during the rainy season. However, instead of focusing on their own material needs, they prioritized their relationships with the people they were in communion with.
In sum, in Mainali’s The Neighbor, through the characters of Gumane, who chose to stay by his suffering neighbor’s side, and of Dhanjeete, who recognized his fault and asked for forgiveness from Gumane, it was shown that friendship, goodwill, and mutual cooperation were more important than anything else in this world. This demonstrates that it is actually possible not to get overwhelmed with the materialistic and individualistic mindset that modernity promotes. As seen in the short story, no matter how economically poor a society like Nepal is, upholding its people’s rich moral values is definitely attainable.
Hutt, Michael James. Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Web. 18 March 2016.
Mainali, Guru Prasad. “The Neighbor.” Nepalese Short Stories. USA: Gallery Press, 1976. Print.
Shah, Sukhdev. Nepal’s Enduring Poverty: Non-Economic Barriers to Economic Growth. Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2015. Web. 18 March 2016.
Wickeri, Elisabeth. Land is Life, Land is Power: Landlessness, Exclusion, and Deprivation in Nepal. New York City: Leitner Center, 2011. Web. 18 March 2016.