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Sarubhakta's The Peak and Mountaineering Fiction in Nepali Literature

"One danger follows another; a long series of dangers. This what life is; this what mountain is. Those who do not understand the mountain look at the mountain with animosity; those who do not understand life look at the life with animosity." (The Peak, p. 57)

One of the best ways to understand Sarubhakta's The Peak is by reading Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea together. Interestingly, books by Sarubhakta and Hemingway are, by chance or by design, fictional works with similar plots and themes in spite of the fact that the contexts and time are quite dissimilar. Both Sarubhakta's book and Hemingway's book are masterpieces of literature, which show man's struggle to win livelihood from Nature and against Nature. Both works share a common theme, that is, man's struggle to win livelihood: one earns from the mountain and the other from the river. Both Hemingway's Santiago and Sarubhakta's protagonist have to live and feed alone; both of them are destroyed but not defeated. Both triumph over every obstacle with the power of their love for own professions.  And in both, Nature is their friend and also opponent force. Like Hemingway's Santiago character, Sarubhakta's protagonist-narrator no more dreams of any fortune or romance, he only struggles to survive.

The Peak, originally Chulee in Nepali, is a novella by Sarubhakta, translated into English by Subhash Ghimire and published in September 2012. The original version of this book in Nepali is included in the curriculum and taught in the university courses in Nepal. Sarubhakta has won the Madan Puruskar 1991, the most prestigious literary prize in Nepal, for his novel Pagal Basti and has also received numerous other prestigious awards for his contribution in the field of Nepali literature. As a writer, in his works, he has experienced the obscurity of human nature and activities, and the shrewd spitefulness of the individual. He has also realized that it is man who makes society and has concretized it according to their own needs. He has made a scorching analysis of human psychology, and his works are the vivid depiction of this outlook.

One of his most famous works of fiction after Pagal Basti, Samaya Trasadi and Taruni Kheti, his latest book The Peak centres upon the protagonist, Sarubhakta himself, who struggles with a mountain peak far out in Mount Everest. The story is about an epic battle between the protagonist and the mountain said to be the biggest goal of his life. It opens with this background that the narrator has gone weeks for base camp, another weeks for climbing the mountain and yet another weeks for climbing down the mountain. He sets out alone, taking his climbing kits far and high into Mount Everest. Days and nights pass in this manner, during which the protagonist bears the tension and pain of the line with his body due to extreme cold and lack of sufficient oxygen. Still moving up the mountain peak, but completely worn out and in delirium, he ends the long epic battle by using the rest of his strength to reach the peak onto its side and ultimately stands up at the top of the world.

While the protagonist continues his journey back to the base camp, he experiences the most difficult struggle for life. While fighting with the ice storms, he is hit by the ice rock and loses his consciousness. With his last kiss of the mother earth, he dies an undefeated hero, hoping that the legacy that he has left behind the mountain trails would be continued by his countrymen in the future.

The struggle is the unavoidable force in the novella, the one fact that no living creature can escape. But the struggle, Sarubhakta suggests, is never an end in itself: in the struggle, there is always the possibility of the most vigorous life. The motive of struggle in life is prominent in the last pages when the protagonist says, "Some keep coming in the mountain. Storms keep coming in life. One needs to fight with the storms bravely. One cannot survive from the storm by escaping from it. If from the beginning of the creation, there is an existence of the storms, they have their meanings too." So as the protagonist struggles hard, not only is he reinvigorated by the battle, but the mountain also comes alive with the belief that "irrepressible struggle of human beings will not stop." In fact, life as the possibility of renewal necessarily follows on the heels of fighting. There are risks in the mountains; there are risks in the lives of human beings, too. According to Sarubhakta, all creatures on earth have to face risks every day, as saying "This is what life is; this is what mountain is."

Whereas the protagonist's battle hints at a type of physical reanimation, the fighting leads to life in less literal ways at other points in the novella. The mountain peak imagery emphasizes the cyclical connection between life and struggle, life and death, as does Sarubhakta's protagonist's battle with the mountain. The protagonist mentions about the relationship between life and the act of climbing: "In life, some get tired climbing the mountain; some get tired without climbing the mountain. In the lives of those who climb the mountain there is tiredness but there is no life in tiredness." His success at bringing the climbing in earns him the awed respect of the climbers who once mocked him. It also secures him the companionship of other future climbers, the apprentice who will carry on the crampon footsteps long after the protagonist has died.

The Peak is a successful mountaineering fiction in Nepali literature. While some other mountaineering fictional works by some other writers use the mountains simply as a setting in which the plot takes place, Sarubhakta's work is one outstanding example of this form. The mountains are important to the story only as they serve to constrain the action to a particular location, and create mood. It is admitted that much of Sarubhakta's focus in this novella is concerned with the reporting of explorative accomplishments; however, a significant amount is devoted strictly to narratives of climbing adventures in the mountains.

An important subdivision of this literature of the mountains is fiction writing. Mountaineering is identified as a thrill sport; the reading public expects a high degree of sustained stress and excitement in mountain fiction. Sarubhakta has successfully used adventure thriller, which is a popular form for the mountaineering fiction. And most importantly, Sarubhakta's work is the factual accounts of mountaineering achievements that has so much more evocative and thrilling than any invented happenings revolving around imaginary characters. Sarubhakta is perfectly competent enough to produce a story in which the situations and details are authentic and free from the monotony of the factual writing.

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