Nepal sees red over White Tiger
Sudeshna Sarkar

INDIAN author Aravind Adigaís debut novel The White Tiger that went on to win the prestigious Booker prize in 2008, has raised hackles in Nepal over what is being regarded as the belittling stereotyping of Nepalis.

"Many English-educated urban Indians have a distorted view of Nepalis," said an article in the Kathmandu Post daily Sunday, calling the novel "shocking" and "blatantly representing Nepalis".

The author of the article, Deepak Adhikari, objects to the fact that though the novel has several Nepali characters, all of them remain nameless and marginalised.

They are also stereotyped negatively, portrayed either as "slant-eyed" Nepali security guards of no consequence or "Chinese-eyed" prostitutes.

As the novel begins to unfold, the protagonist Balram Halwai is taken to a brothel that houses four "light-skinned Nepali women in gorgeous red petticoats".

The same imagery of Nepali women as prostitutes is reinforced at the end of the novel when Halwai visits another brothel in New Delhi and is told by the pimp that he looks as if he can afford a Nepali beauty.

Halwai finds the Nepali inmates "really good-looking: very light-skinned and with those Chinese eyes that just drive us Indian men mad".

Adhikari says many urban Indians think "Nepalis are modern-day slaves ó women languishing in brothels and youths keeping vigil..." While conceding that Nepali women are trafficked to India and unemployed men cross the border in search of jobs, Adhikari says it is an attack on the Nepali identity to present them as nameless generic specimens.

"Granted, a novel is a work of imagination," he says. "But when a novel gets a prestigious award, it climbs further up on the bestseller list. And readers may come to identify Nepali men with wily security guards and Nepali women with those who sell sex for livelihood." Three years ago, when Indian-origin author Kiran Desaiís The Inheritance of Loss won the Booker, readers in Nepal called her colonial and insensitive for her portrayal of people of Nepali origin.

Nepali author D.B. Gurung accused Desai of depicting the Nepali inhabitants of Kalimpong town in east India as "crook, dupe, cheat and lesser humans", ignoring the reality that the hill community still retained its language, culture and dignity despite exploitation by the "hungry jackals from the plains of Calcutta".

Nepal caught the attention of the world last year when its Maoist guerrillas won the election and caused the abolition of the kingdomís centuries-old monarchy.

Nobel laureate Mother Teresaís successor Sister Nirmala is from Nepal; so is Apa Sherpa, the gritty climber who has created an awesome record by summiting Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world, 18 times.

However, to Nepalís chagrin, its South Asian neighbours know little about its achievements and heroes, and instead dwell on stereotypes. ó IANS