Monday, September 27, 2010

The Diary of a Woman Guerrilla - Bestseller in Nepal

When Devendra Bhattarai, a journalist and non-fiction writer, went to visit the tea garden district of Ilam in eastern Nepal six months ago, his host introduced him to a young woman who had walked for nearly three hours from her village to meet him.

“She came from a peasant family in Atghare village,” Bhattarai recalls. “The eldest of three children, she helped her family farm the little land they had, milked the cows and took the milk to sell in the village shops. She had studied in a village school till Class 6.”

The smiling but nervous young woman had brought a bundle of papers with her. It was a manuscript that recounted the 20-year-old’s life story with moving simplicity. “I was intrigued by the writing and showed the manuscript to my publisher,” says Bhattarai.

Today, Tara Rai’s Chhapamar Yuvati Ko Diary or ‘The Diary of a Woman Guerrilla’, is a runaway best-seller, having sold over 5,000 copies in just two months, with a fifth edition in progress.

In her “diary”, the writer chronicles how she joined the underground Maoist party — that fought a 10-year civil war from 1996 onwards — when she was only 15.

Story unfolds

Tara Rai was assigned to the cultural wing of the party and had spent just three months there when she was arrested. “The army had surrounded us. A soldier came and yanked me by my hair,” she writes. She hears the sound of digging and she thinks she will be killed and buried. Instead, she is sent to various prisons, where she spends almost a year in the midst of horrific experiences and unexpected love. She also meets a senior Maoist leader, Dharmashila Chapagain, who has been arrested with her daughter. Chapagain becomes a mother to Tara, mentoring her and fighting with the jail officials to get medical treatment for Tara’s rheumatic fever.

The book ends with Tara’s release in 2007, a year after the Maoists signed a peace pact and laid down arms in Nepal. However, disillusioned with the movement, she does not return to the party. Instead, she decides to go back to her family in her village.

“Probably some people will read the book for its curiosity value,” says Bhattarai, who is also its editor. “But it has its own merit. Although Tara did not study beyond Class 6, she has a flair for writing. Also, unlike the books written by Maoist leaders after the civil war ended, her diary does not read like sloganeering. It is balanced. She shows the good as well as the bad side of the Maoists and the army is not an all-out enemy. There are good soldiers as well as bad soldiers, and she falls in love with one of her captors.”

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