Nepali Kalasahitya Dot Com Pratishthan


Suresh Hachekali

Antithetical Laughter in ‘An Outsider in the Court of God’

Momila, a Nepali writer of promising talent, finds herself and her sex, that is female, boycotted from the mainstream opportunities; and her revolt sprouts in the form of antithetical laughter to undo the centuries-long gender discrimination deep-rooted in the society that is originally patriarchal in nature. Though her literary métier has expanded from poetry to essay, her strength lies in the poetic expression and uncompromising zeal for life whether it is poetry or essay. Her essays, full of poetic lucidity, are directed towards spiritual manumission. Frustration and disappointment of personal life, in Momila’s essays, are resolved in existential awareness leading towards emotional purgation and spiritual salvation through the medium of art taking the support of revolting feministic consciousness to nullify normative patriarchal dictates. In this connection, she defies fallogocentric social, political, cultural and judicial norms that overtly or covertly support male dominance. In this article, this researcher is going to establish the point that in the anthology of essay entitled ‘An Outsider in the Court of God’ Momila takes an antithetical stand against patriarchal norms. Laughter, she takes as a medium of mockery.

As stated above, she finds herself an outsider, other and secluded from the mainstream. Such realization of her state of not being anywhere gets her to revolt against the domineering gender-biased judicial system either that is organized or in dispersed form. Momila’s antithetical laughter is a form of revolt. Laughter may have various forms and consequences. It is something that also causes irritation and insult upon whom the laughter is targeted. Momila laughs at the spurious principles, dilettantism and hypocrisy. She writes, “I have seen many shameless people wasting their lives in petty bogus ideologies. Thus, I laughed to its fullest, watching these miserable creatures being entangled in the social fabrics created by themselves” (110).

The laughter of Momila as an outsider is aimed to cause irritation on the part of the patriarchy including its judicial system. Her unrestrained laughter hurts the philosophy of patriarchy. So, in the court of God, she is given a warning: “the world gave you a system, an order but you went against them; you broke the rules and laws of the system…you culprit have broken the boundary of the traditional vows” (115). We can make a connection, though they are distant form each other in terms of temporality, between the laughter of Droupadi of the Mahabharata period and the laughter of Momila. Droupadi laughed at Duryodhana when he was confused between water and water- like shining floor in the Maya Durbar. Droupadi’s laughter along with the pronouncement infuriated Duryodhana as she said that a blind father’s son bears exactly the same fate of blindness. The outcome of laughter is fury on the male psyche in both incidents of Droupadi and Momila.

Instead of bemoaning her fate of sorrows she chooses a challenging way of protest and gets ready to subvert the gargantuan structure of patriarchy and its byproduct. When injustice increases people usually take one of the alternative sources between submission and rebellion. Momila takes the latter one. But her rebellion is not self-destructive like of a daredevil. She does revolt after assimilating all the tensions and psychological bruises in her mind. Nevertheless, the revolt is innovative. From the realization of her existential crisis that she is no-where, an assertion grows within her that she should be somewhere or everywhere and she takes a feminist course to ascertain her identity. Life full of deception and turmoil inspires her to rediscover strength within her and recreate her existence.

She is not fade up of grief and lengthy series of disappointment but she harbours a concrete resolution to live with sorrows and ultimately mingle with the Absolute. Her existentialistic outlook is tinged with faith and spirituality but in the name of spiritual attachment she does not give up her revolt but vehemently preserves it. She presents the bogus society as follows in the essay ‘You and Me towards Divine Odyssey’:

I am fighting against those masked people who camouflage into various taste and colour. I   am fighting against that so-called society where brutality, disguised hatred are practised and     worshipped as common deity or dark gods, which finds the true sufferers a laughing stock. This society is but a vast collection of unsentimental crowd where I exist. And there my existence has become a great comedy-show (12: Momila).

In the essay ‘A Song of Thousand Grieves’ Momila deconstructs Ishwor Ballav’s a line of lyrics: Hajar Sapanaharuko Maya Lagera Aaunchha( a love oozes out for thousand dreams) into Hajar Dukhaharuko Maya Lagera Aauchha( A love oozes out for thousand grief). She   realizes the absurd but tries to come out of the quagmire of grief, pain and deception. Two different stages are discernable in her writing namely realization of suffering and resolution. In the second stage, she again gets divided into two sub-stages. The first one is to take a spiritual turn and wish to be united with the Super Soul; and the second one is to revolt against the worldly institutions and establishment.

The principle of patriarchy is inhospitable to the endowing of the gender equality. No one can think of an egalitarian society unless all genders are equally empowered by dismantling the domineering pillars of the patriarchal culture. Traditionally, women are constrained in the private space of kitchen, nurturing babies and nauseating household chores barring their approach to the public space of educational institutions, political centers, decision making social locations and the sites where multiple discourses are analytically practised. Silence, in the past, was taken as an aesthetic component for a perfect personality of a female being. She was supposed to be seen but not heard. Her entire presence was welcome in its soundless corporeal presence. Argument, speech, critical discourse and laughter were not supposed to be dimensions of female personality. Such situation almost continues to reign in society especially there where strong hold of patriarchy is not loosened. But revolt is inevitable when discrimination grows in different forms. Barbara Christian presents the situation in an interesting way: “In every society where there is the denigrated other, whether that is designated by sex, race, class, or ethnic background, the other struggles to declare the truth and therefore create the truth in forms that exist for her or him” (Christian: 160).

Momila’s creative zeal can’t tolerate discriminatory practices existing in the society in the name of tradition. Turbulent waves of suffering in her personal life unprecedentedly press her to burst into a roaring laughter as a symbol of rebellion. Her laughter is not the laughter of content but an outcome of insult and domination that she experiences in the journey of her life from her childhood to the mature state at present. The essayist wants to live a life of complete freedom from these worldly burdens. In other essays she has played hide and seek with death. She has accepted sorrow as her nearest companion so she grows fearless about death. Her longing for freedom is intense. The following extract is interesting:

I am not serious and I don’t find any reasons why anyone should be so serious about    life and death.  During my entire journey I have never seen flowers, birds, mountains, clouds, butterflies being so serious. If you have seen it’s your business. I am sorry; I wonder why on the earth should man be so serious? Human being is only such a creature that becomes so appallingly serious. Seriousness, as I see, is a disease which kills your entire psychic atmosphere… serious discussions were held among the jury of member of my being not so serious. And I laughed a lot (109: Momila).

On many occasions, Momila’s essays look self-centered and rejoicing her existence even though it is full of sorrows and agonies. In the essay ‘Romantic Madness of Nature and Art’ she is akin to American poet Walt Whitman’s version. She writes, “This moment an acute memory of Walt Whitman has entered me humming joyously: I celebrate myself” (5: Momila). The essayist shows her spiritual concerns celebrating life despite existential ills. She loves hatred and remains persistent in the pursuit of attaining her destination. The ultimate destination  for  Momila is the providential bliss: “ My God has a full sovereignty to bless me with pure love, humanity and fraternity because my God has denied staying in your spiritually dilapidated temple…my celestial home ever calls me”(21-22:Momila).

As stated a number of times earlier, salvation is the final objective of the essayist. She realizes the labyrinthine nature of the conurbation and wishes to come out of the closed and bracketed structure: “Like an uncalculated algebraic expression I am bracketed in this closed city…no destiny to invade….no border to trespass. Thus, this is the closed city in the cocoon-shell” (51:Momila). The nature of the city also is patriarchal like that of the society.

The question of canonicity is crucial in the history of literature because the process of formation and reformation of canons goes on evolving; and this process is not detached from the network of power relations. Female writers, around the globe, have faced a sense of emptiness that they are deprived of female literary precursors. Consequently, they  find themselves rootless, helpless in a situation where there are no literary predecessors, to follow, sharing the same sex. In this regard, many feminist writers and theorists have expressed their anxiety and sense of orphanage in the absence of literary modules to imitate and emulate. The centuries-long bondage minimized the presence of women in the domain of art, literature and the entire creative activities which are directly related to power relations. Furthermore, the delayed presence of women in the field of literature didn’t open an avenue for critical and intellectual dialogue. Women’s writing for a long period of history remained something like a sentimental monologue to articulate individual feelings without containing any dashing ideas and antithetical opinions to undo the patriarchal mode of thinking and behavior. As a result, the women writers of present generation feel a serious dearth of women canons worth following.

Many women writers in patriarchal society do experience their gender as a painful constraint. They are victimized by the inferiority complex and the psychology of being the second sex. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar put the situation in the essay ‘Infection in the Sentence’ as follows:

Thus the loneliness of the female artist, her feeling of alienation from male predecessors  coupled with her need for sisterly precursors and successors, her urgent sense of her need for a female audience together with her fear of the antagonism of male readers, her culturally conditioned timidity about self-dramatization, her dread of the patriarchal authority of art, her anxiety about the impropriety of female invention all these phenomena of “ inferiorization mark the women writer’s struggle for artistic self-definition and differentiate   her efforts at self- creation from those of her male counterpart( Gilbert and Gubar: 1237, qtd in Adams).

The desire for sisterly canons seems to be intense in women writers. They want to overthrow the overarching canonicity of male writers. Nevertheless, they seek sisterly precursors along with a fear of being ex-communicated from the literary tradition that is largely guided and governed by sexist males. This claim aptly fits in Momila’s case too. In the essay ‘You and Me towards Divine Odyssey’ she writes: “In this serene moment I find the blending of emotional intellectuality and intellectual tenderness of Bhuwan and Kachuli sisters respectively and feel like my eyes are shining despite being at a distance. Every time I am being echoed in the same melody like I feel free even within a jail” (15: Momila).

In the West, especially from the 1970s, representation of women in canonical texts became an issue for debate and analysis. Female writers, on one hand, are misread. Lillian S. Robinson states: “...feminist scholars have been protesting the apparently systematic neglect of women’s experience in the literary canon, neglect that takes the form of distorting and misreading the few recognized female writers and excluding the others…an aspect of these classic works about which the critical tradition remained silent for generations (Robinson, 1986: 106).

The case of Nepali female writers is somehow different from that of the westerners. In the West, the anxiety of female writers is about the unfair game played by male scholars while selecting canons whereas in the context of Nepal there are very few female writers as precursors at least for the writers of the present generation. But we can be hopeful that the posterity of the present female writers will find enough and powerful female precursors including Momila and many more.

Thus, the anthology ‘An Outsider in the Court of God’ containing 15 different poetic essays highlights some issues related to women and their experiences of marginalization though the experience of subjugation and enslavement primarily is the essayist’s personal. The range of an individual’s experience extends to the general level and becomes an expression of the entire female race. Normally, Momila’s essays in this anthology cover three dimensional scopes. Firstly, they concentrate on articulating the essayist’s agonies of personal life in a transformed artistic pattern. Secondly, these essays, realize the deficiency of sisterly precursors in the long tradition of Nepali art and literature. Thirdly, a wrenching experience of being an outsider and other inspires the writer to revolt against the existing system by means of laughter that is an effective weapon to scoff at status quo. Moreover, she, frustrated with worldly deceptions, seeks spiritual solace under the foliage of art and literature. For Momila, art can be a medium to attain complete spiritual salvation. She persistently believes on it but not just a momentary figment of imagination. A painful experience of being nowhere pushes forward to search where her space is. Her insistence on spiritual salvation is wholly different from the ritualistic rigmarole of religious orthodoxy.

Works Cited

  1. Christian, Barbara. Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers. New York: Porgamen Press, 1985.
  2. Gubar, Susan and Sandra Gilbert. “Infection in the Sentence.”Critical Theory since Plato. ed. Hazard Adams. Rev.ed. Fort Worth: HBJC Publishers, 1992.
  3. Momila.An Outsider in the Court of God. (trans) Kumar Nagarkoti. Kathmandu: Nepali Kala Sahitya Dot Com Pratisthan,2010.
  4. Robinson, L. “Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon”.The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory. ed. E. Showalter. London: Virago, 1986.

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Nepali KalaSahitya Dot Com Pratisthan

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SP Koirala

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Umesh Shrestha
Mohan Bdr. Kayastha
Radheshyam Lekali
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Kapil Dev Thapa
Samir Jung Shah
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Momila Joshi

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Kumar Nagarkoti
Suresh Hachekali
Keshab Sigdel

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