Over the Summer I read Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay, it is a collection of stories about various individuals and their families living life in Kathmandu. The stories are incredibly varied, representing people of different genders, age and social class. The stories all center around family life, many discuss the process of arranged marriage and issues of infidelity. The author provides the reader with a complex view of life in the city by illustrating how people of such varied identities come together in the same geographical location. I will discuss a few of the stories; “The Good Shopkeeper”, “The Limping Bride” and “During the Festival” to exemplify the breadth of life the author displays in the book.
“The Good Shopkeeper” tells the story of a man, Pramod, who loses his accounting job. The story reveals how a personal backset becomes incredibly public and a matter of concern for the man’s entire family. After months of failing to find a job because of lack of connections Pramod has an affair and is a disappointment to his wife. Finally he has a colorful outburst at a family gathering during which he points out the failures or corruption of many of the family members, depicting how it was the family who helped them out in their time of need. This story illustrates the communal nature of a family. Moreover the story also deals with class issues as Pramod eventually acknowledges he would make a good shopkeeper, a task that he would have thought below his class or shameful in his previous life. It is a multifaceted story that exemplifies how a man of his class deals with a fall from grace.
“The Limping Bride” is the story of a widower who arranges the marriage of his drunkard son with a beautiful, yet disabled woman. Through this story the reader learns about the process by which an arranged marriage takes place in Kathmandu. After the widower, Hiralal, hears that this girl’s family is seeking a marriage he obtains a picture. Once his son approves the picture Hiralal arranges for a viewing. At the viewing both families are present and it is at the viewing that his son agrees to marry this girl. A large theme of this story is disability. The limping bride is a beautiful woman, the only child of her family. Yet despite her virtues she is forced to marry a drunkard, Moti. Moti only learns of her disability after the wedding and is incredibly ashamed of it. He refuses to speak to his new wife for months and she is forced to endure isolation. She is seen as nothing other than her disability. It takes a very long time for Moti to warm to his bride and even then she is still facing horrible treatment.
“During the Festival” is a story of a man who is jealous of his wife and suspects her of having an affair. After three years of marriage he cannot escape the thoughts of his own mind as he suspects she is not being faithful. This is perhaps due to the disparity in his physical appearance compared to hers. It is also because he is a rumored bastard, the son of his mother’s lover. This is a shameful piece of information that he carries throughout his life and haunts him during his interactions with his wife. Infidelity is a large theme of this book and present in all of the stories, although it was not explicitly mentioned in the previous paragraphs. It is perhaps due to the nature of arranged marriages that infidelity seems to play such a large role in the lives of the individuals featured in the stories. It is also self doubt, thoughts of inadequacy, disappointing one’s family or loneliness that drive respective characters to be unfaithful.
Arresting God in Kathmandu provides a complex perspective of life in the city. If anything is to be taken away it is how different people are. For each individual, factors such as religion, wealth, status and insecurity etc. played different roles in each of their lives. People are inherently complex beings that cannot be categorized or simply understood.