Thoughts on Sotala

I didn’t knew noted anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista had published a fiction in 1870s – even when Sotala, his novel, was released by Himal Books a couple of days ago, I thought it was an old manuscript published. But it turned out Sajha Publication had published Sotala in around 1876.

The 144-page novel is a fiction work where Bista, a radical thinker of his time, has intertwined his imagination with his ideas to frame a story that’s painted on the canvas of the social and historical aspects of Tibet-Nepal trade.

After finishing the novel in a few hours, here are my impressions that I wrote on the inside cover of the book:

The historical and social aspects of Tibet-Nepal trade, the description of Tibet and Kathmandu and the account of travel to Tibet makes the novel interesting read.

The most important knowledge I got from the book is about the social and cultural impact of the Tibet-Nepal trade especially related to the Nepali traders settled in Tibet. While the traders marrying the Tibetians is understandable, the aftermaths (‘the mule Nepali’ and ‘the no-inheritance of property’) present sad notes.

The children of Nepali trader and Tibetian wife were called ‘mule’ – a derogatory word and were not included in some religious functions. And, if a Nepali trader died, his properties would be sent back to Kathmandu and his Tibetian wife and children were left with only clothes they were wearing and a few mud-pots.

The novel’s central character is Sanuman. It’s all about his fortune’s wheel – his rise from a young penniless boy to a richest trader of Tibet. I felt that the beginning of the novel, although gives glimpse of the social lives of Nepali traders, is not coherent with rest of the novel, for the characters built with long descriptions do not reappear in the story.

In the third part, the story present Sanuman’s son and his search for self-identity – and that’s where the writer presents his ideas, mainly his dislikes about some of the social and cultural aspects he had witnessed.

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