Monday, November 03, 2014

Jyotish astrology looks at Brittany Maynard’s assisted death: was it suicide?

Brittany Maynard caught my astrological attention because she was 29—the year of Saturn’s Return, when Saturn’s influence is very powerful because he returns to where he was at birth—and because she died on the day (November 2nd) Saturn transited from Libra, his position of exaltation, to Scorpio. For astrologers, these are powerful indicators that something larger than an individual’s life was at work.  

Scorpio is the ruler of the natural Eighth House, or Mrityu Bhava, the house of death. Scorpio also rules transformation, especially going deep down to bring up issues of death and dying.

Saturn is the karaka of suffering, old age, death. Saturn, in Brittany Maynard’s chart, is also in her Second House, a maraka or killer house. Her Saturn is also combust, and exalted. For Brittany, Saturn becomes a very strong killer planet. She was also going through something astrologers called “sade sati”, which is the seven-and-a-half years when Saturn grinds through a person’s life to deliver life lessons. In her case, November 1st was the very last day when this period ended.  Interestingly, Brittany apparently postponed her death by one day-she was going to die on November 1st, then decided to die on November 2nd instead. 
You can read about this here:

Critics opposed to her death felt that she had committed suicide, and that the media was giving this event unnecessary attention.  Interestingly, by the definitions of jyotish astrology, her death is not strictly a “suicide.” In general, astrologers look for the cause of death in the Eighth House. Her self, or lagna, is ruled by Virgo, whose dispositor is Mercury. If Mercury was in Eighth House, astrologers would consider this a “suicide”—death by self. Her Mercury, however, is in the Third House of initiative, drive (and also friends.) In other words, the cause of her death is not “The Self.” 

So what is the cause of death? 

Saturn is a maraka/killer planet, and in her chart, it is placed in the Second (incidentally, also a maraka) House. The Second House is also the house of childhood—meaning that her upbringing, and childhood suffering, could have made her decide not to go through with suffering till the end.

Venus lies in her Fourth House of home, happiness, mother, mind and education. Venus is together with Jupiter, the sign of wisdom and also the sign of husband, in Jupiter’s own house. Jupiter is also in Virgo in her Fourth House in the navamsa or destiny chart. The husband, in other words, was close to her heart and home. 

Her  Eighth House is ruled by Aries, whose lord is Mars. Mars is exalted in Capricorn in the Fifth House—of love, creativity and dharma (right action). Her Eighth House is also at present getting an aspect from transiting Exalted Jupiter in the Eleventh House of Gains. Could this have been an act of dharmic love—a creative act to allow people the option to choose their own death?

In Buddhist philosophical tradition, assisted death is not encouraged. Life brings many forms of sufferings, we have to live through those fully until the last breath because each of these sufferings teach us valuable karmic lessons. It is also thought that unfulfilled karma is going to return in some form or another in another life anyways, so terminating a life early  doesn’t end the suffering, because the reincarnated soul will have to live through the life lessons in another life.  This doesn’t mean however that Buddhists don’t use external aids to decrease the pain and suffering-medicine, herbs, incense, meditation, blessings from gurus, rites and rituals may all come into play to help a person at the end of their life, especially when great pain and suffering is indicated. 

Great spiritual souls in Hindu  and Buddhist traditions, however, have often chosen their time of death.  There are many documented stories of greatly enlightened practitioners who decide on their day of death—or more accurately, the day they allow their atmas, or souls, to leave their bodies. News reports report that Brittany chose her day to die, and she felt the time wasn’t quite right, and she was waiting for the right day.  Interestingly,  she chose a day when Saturn, the natural karaka of death (and a karaka of death for her in her individual chart) chose to move to Scorpio, a house which rules not just death, but also transformations.

October 29, 2016 addendum: I've made a few slight edits for clarity, and I've also added a navamsa reading. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Interview in Friday magazine

You can read my author interview in Friday magazine here.

My answer to this question: "What is one book that everyone must read?" is tongue-in-cheek. Obviously there is only one book in the world whose proponents think should be read by everyone. Open my interview to find out which one!

My second answer is also right in line with my beliefs about what kind of book everyone should actually be reading. Those of you who have read my articles over the years, advocating for food and planetary security through less meat eating, will understand why I answered as I did.

"The Fourth Child" in Living Magazine

My short story "The Fourth Child" is now published in the October issue of Living Magazine. Buy the big fat copy! 

Check out the cover here:

Saturday, September 06, 2014


A version of this appeared in the World Literature Today in 2010. THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. The story does not represent any moment that occurred during the real civil conflict in Nepal. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The little girl is a metaphor for all the innocent people who died in the crossfire. 


Major Krishna Basnet jerked his bitten hand back, as if stung. Tooth marks, where the seven-year old girl had bitten him, left dark indentations in the hollow between his thumb and forefinger.

The Major stared at the tear-stained face of the little girl. Then he spat into her defiant eyes. “You should have learnt to respect your elders, you bitch.”

  A cold moon glittered in the black sky. No wind stirred the leaves. The Major’s voice carried upwards, towards where Ambika lay, hiding. Ambika could hear and see everything from where she was—a recessed ledge of rock embedded in a cliff above the village. Respect, spat out from the Major’s throat, floated up with a strange resonance.

Ambika felt like a little girl below, held hostage by the Major with his gun on that brilliant moonlit night. How many times had she been told to respect her elders? The rage rose in her with the same uncontrollable force as when she had been a child.

She closed her eyes and remembered the moment, years ago, when she had fallen from a cliff, hunting for wild honey, and almost broken her neck. A little keyhole to death had opened up in her mind as she lay on the ground. Then she had heard sounds of the next world, the atonal moans echoing through red, cloudy vision, the sighs of terror and despair from unseen beings. That’s when she had known, on a visceral level, the certainty of death. Ambika felt her finger tighten on her trigger. “Perhaps I’ll die today,” she thought.

Ambika looked through her viewfinder. Major Krishna Basnet’s head looked like a black blob from where she lay, about twenty meters away. It would be easy to put a bullet through his back. Would paralyzing him for the rest of his life be more fitting than death? Ambika would die in the return volley of gunfire. But death would be worth the price to rid the earth of this torturer. As her finger tightened around her gun’s trigger, she was jerked out of her single-minded intention to kill the Major by a sound. Gita, her youngest cadre, sixteen, lay on the rocky ledge along with her. Gita shuddered as she breathed. This was her first battle. 

Ambika became aware of her five comrades—the clove-laden breath of Comrade Nepali, the warmth of an arm pressed close to hers, the huddle of bodies behind in the deep black corners. Shame took the place of the adrenaline that coursed through her body seconds ago. How could she have imagined putting her comrades in danger? Justice would have to wait. Ambika forced her tense finger to slacken.

As Ambika lowered her gun, a single shot rang out. Ambika could not have said whether the terrified scream of the little girl came before or after the gunshot. Or perhaps she screamed twice—once, seeing death hurtle towards her, and twice, when the bullet hit her between the eyes.

The gunshot, and the scream, appeared to richot around the enclosed valley where the small village nestled. A ghostly gunshot and a ghostly girl-scream magnified and echoed, then fragmented into a thousand pieces of broken sound. An eerie silence followed. Ambika put her forehead down on the cool limestone, and closed her eyes. She felt a wetness on her cheeks and realized she was crying.

* * *
 The little girl died one hour and thirty-two minutes after Ambika spied the soldiers running down to the village.

“They’re coming.” Ambika was terse as she looked through her binoculars. Blurry figures streaked downhill. They seem to carry heavy loads. The Royal Nepal Army, the guerillas had heard, now carried sophisticated weapons.

“How many?”

“Twenty-five soldiers. Maybe more.” Cold metal pressed around Ambika’s eyes as she strained to count.
“We have to…have to…kill them.” Gita, who’d joined the Maoist People’s War at the age of fifteen, was on the edge of hysteria.

“If you shoot now, you’ll reveal our location,” Ambika looked back and saw the young girl stand up. Her legs astride, she held her gun up, as if ready to shoot. “Sit,” Ambika commanded. Her voice was harsh, with the slightest hint of a tremble.

Comrade Nepali’s semi-automatic gun had served him well during Mangalsen battle. Ambika carried the same model. The two had killed a fair number of policemen with those two guns. But then the police in Mangalsen had just been armed with outdated .303 rifles. Today, it appeared, they would have to face a Royal Nepal Army force armed with sophisticated weapons. But what tipped the scales was the armament their comrades were carrying—the four new cadres, recent recruits, had homemade muskets. They had learnt to clean it, and shoot it, but the muskets did not fire well.

 “What do we do, comrade?” Fresh-faced, wide-eyed, Rama, the other female cadre, scared Ambika with her phlegmatic innocence. 

“I am ready to die.” Gita sounded combative. The command to sit infuriated her. With her childish face, and her red band she wore like a fashionable hair band, she was the youngest girl that Ambika had worked with. She appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Up!” Ambika commanded. She did not need to deal with a nervous breakdown right now—the single most useful thing her cadres could do was to hide themselves. The rocky ledge they had scoped out earlier, carved into the cliff, was their hideout. “Wait for us.” The two girls, frightened, ran. The two boys, eighteen, followed close behind. All of them had been recruited two months ago. This was their first battle. 

“Why did they send these raw recruits?” Comrade Nepali muttered. “They’re useless.” Last week, seven cadres, experienced fighters of the People’s Army, had headed up to meet them. They slept at a widow’s house. At three am, a low whistle awakened them. They didn’t need to hear the knock on the door to know that a cordon of soldiers surrounded the house. Blindfolded and handcuffed, they were taken in a black jeep. The soldiers took them to the army barracks of the district headquarters, Ambika was certain.

Ambika thought about her seven comrades, the ones with whom she had shared many battles, and felt an impotent grief. The three women were almost certain to face rape, and the men would be tortured. Some, or all, could be killed. The precious cache of guns, bullets and bombs, meant for this crucial battle, had been seized, and would be paraded to the cameras of TV journalists, for all the world to see.

A teacher from a Ramechap village had informed the police, they heard. The teacher was now strung up in a tree, dead. His tongue had been ripped out as a warning to others.

Ambika followed her cadres up the rocky cliff, pulling at roots and clinging vines to pull herself to the shallow, recessed ledge. The entry was narrow, but inside it was cavernous, with enough room for the five to stretch out. Ambika laid herself flat on the ground, and raised her binoculars, to her eyes. The warm, rich smell of harvest rose around her. She inhaled – drying stalks, the glorious smell of seeds thrashed on the ground in the fields below rose to her nostrils. In her binoculars, she saw the soldiers running downhill, getting closer to the village.

* * *
Flat on their stomachs inside a rocky shelf inside the limestone cliffs, out of eye line of the settlement below, the six guerillas waited. Ambika, at the very edge, her navel pushing into rough ground, had a clear view of the village. More than a dozen soldiers, weighted down with arms, arrived soon after. They bashed the wooden doors down with the butt of their rifles. The sharp barks of dogs, howling at the intruders, rose to a crescendo. A couple of bullets flew past, lodging themselves on the wood of a porch near a howling dog. The dog ran off, hiding its tail between its legs. 

The yellow beam of the soldiers’ flashlights lit up the smoky corners of the cottages. Faded lamp-black walls. Sooty rafters. An uncleared cobweb. Here was a young mother, hoping a pile of firewood would hide her. There an old and toothless man, a resigned look on his face, on his bed. A soldier seized the mother by her hair and shoved her, infant cradled in her arms, on the ground.

“Shoot anything that moves!” a voice commanded.

A dog, snarling, appeared from beneath a bed. A swift and well-aimed kick from a soldier’s boot sent it fleeing out of the door and across the yard.


“Yes, Major.” A short burst of gunfire. The dog fell, and started to whimper. There was the sound of another gunshot. The dog’s body twitched, then became still. A dark pool started to collect around the body.

This voice, with its polished and modulated edge, belonged to Major Krishna Basnet. The Major was now posted to Ramechap. Ambika raised her head to catch a good look at his face. This was the man she had come to kill. And now, because of an informer in Ramechap, her goal remained unfulfilled tonight.

The Major was handsome, with fine bone structure, and regal poise. He grew a thin black moustache above his lips. Ambika caught a glimpse of him as he moved towards the door. Even in the darkness, she saw his grace, his commanding presence.

A seven-year-old with a dirty face and a wispy pigtail, frightened by the sudden invasion of men, clutched her mother. The move annoyed the Major. He grabbed the little girl’s hair. He pulled her head back and forth. Her head lolled on her head like a broken doll. Over the child’s sobs, he asked: “Where are the terrorists? Speak, you bastards. Where are the terrorists?”

Ambika felt bound, as if she were inside an airless room with hands and feet tied. Comrade Nepali was still, as if he had stopped breathing. The two girls huddled in terrified comradeship. 

“We don’t know. We don’t know!” The mother pressed her palms in plea.

“Please, let my daughter go!” Major Basnet let go. The child’s face was smeared with snot. She sniffled and wiped it with the back of a dirty hand. The sniffling annoyed the Major—he found the child dirty and repulsive. The Major looked up and around the village—the darkness of the surroundings warned him guerillas, as ugly and as repulsive, were lying in wait to ambush him. The moon was bright and cold, but he couldn’t see anything. This sense of helplessness, which he had felt many times in the past few months, infuriated him.

The Major bent down, and picked out a rubber band with a rose from the child’s hair. He held it up to his nostrils, close his eyes, and inhaled with exaggerated enjoyment. “Ah, a beautiful rose,” the Major said. The child stared at him with a dirty, tear-smeared face, petrified.

The mother’s face, pleading for mercy, angered him. Is this how I look when I am afraid?, he wondered. The Major cocked his revolver, aimed at the center of the mother’s forehead, and squeezed the trigger. The mother’s brains splattered the red sari of an old woman behind. The old woman crumpled to the ground in a faint.

Nobody moved.

“Hatyara!” The child’s shrill accusation echoed across the valley. The Major was surprised, for an instance. He hadn’t expected this snot-smeared girl to know such a complicated word. A murderer? He considered this verdict for a brief instance, then grabbed the girl’s chin. “What did you call me?”

“Hatyara, hatyara, hatyara!” The girl, overcome with rage and grief, lunged forward and bit the Major’s hand.
* * *

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The jyotish astrological analysis of Robin Williams' death

I took a look at Robin Williams birthchart through the jyotish system of astrology today (note this is NOT the same system as the horoscope people read in the newspapers, which is sun sign based astrology.) There is really nothing surprising about his suicide once you see the chart.

Williams has a formation that’s common for celebrities: His Moon is with Rahu, in lagna, or ascendant. Rahu signifies great fame, glamor, and also electrical lights and methods of communications. Together with Moon, it often signifies mental illness as well. Rahu matures, or shows its full strength, at age 42. Actress Catherina Zeta Jones, who came out saying she had bipolar manic-depression at 42, is one of many other celebrities who manifest this. In South Asia, actress Manisha Koirala came down with cancer at age 42—since lagna or First House is the house of the self and body, Rahu and Moon can also show itself through bodily illness.
When Rahu is placed in House 1, Ketu falls in House 7, the house of marriage and relationship (Rahu and Ketu are always 7 houses away from each other). Ketu is a signifier for detachment and separation. Often the spouse can be “different,” or the partners remain together but separated by one factor or another. Ketu can often lead to a feeling of separation and alienation from marriage partners but also other relationships. The only solution to Ketu’s isolation and alienation is spirituality. Ketu shows its peak power at 48 (and it continues to shows it effect from 48-54). This is for everyone, not just celebrities. Here you can see a post about the maturity of planets:


 Take Brad Pitt, who has a number of planets with his Ketu. At 48, when his Ketu matured, you could see him physically moving away from his marriage partner and children. But it appears he still took advice from his psychic (the spiritual life becomes heightened.) Johnny Depp, whose Moon is with Ketu, separated from Vanessa Paradis at age 48. Most painfully, Tom Cruise, who has the classic celebrity placement of Rahu in 1 and Ketu in 7, faced a painful divorce from Katie Holmes at age 48. Cruise had not just Ketu, but also Saturn, in the house of marriage-and Saturn commonly denotes grief. Cruise separated when Saturn was exalted, which only happens once every thirty years, so his grief was magnified to great extremes. 

Not all Rahu in 1, Ketu in 7 people kill themselves, of course. Other factors have to be at work. In Williams’ case:

11.  Maraka (killer) House Two, has Jupiter in it: In June, Jupiter, his killer planet, became exalted in Cancer, which rules his house of ill health.

22.  Maraka (killer) House Seven, has Ketu in it: On July 12, Ketu moved to Pisces, his second house, to align with natal Jupiter. 

33. Saturn, which was the depositor of his lagna or the  self, is in House Eight, mrityu bhava/house of death: jyotish astrologers commonly look for the cause of death in house 8th. In Williams’ case, the significator for the self lies in 8th house, meaning there was a high likelihood the self would become the cause of death. Saturn is not just getting an aspect from Mars, a violent planet, from House Five, but also an aspect from Jupiter, his functional killer. Saturn is also exalted, meaning its showing its fullest power in 30 years.

44.   To top it off, Rahu also moved to Virgo, his Mrityu Bhava, on June 12th. House Eight had Rahu conjunct natal Saturn when he died: Saturn/Rahu is thought to bring about suicide. Rahu brings the kind of sudden violent death that Williams experienced. 

Often after a high profile Hollywood death, there appears to be a lot of discourse around how selfish the actor was to kill themselves. Their addictions and mental illnesses are cited as causes of selfishness. But through the lenses of Jyotish astrology, you can often see the extreme fame and talent are often the same planets that can cause mental illness, addictions and the like at certain points in life. I should stress that not all people with these planetary influences end up dead from addictions and suicides. There has to be other factors at work to create that possibility. 

Often the only way to control Saturn’s grief, and Rahu/Ketu’s abrupt termination, is to focus on spirituality to bring the mind in balance. And the classic Hindu/Buddhist solution—do good deeds to clean up your karma. Often by detaching from the Self to the Other, the ego lessens and so does its pain. Take Pran, Bollywood’s beloved villain who lived to be 93. Pran had Moon, Rahu and Mars in lagna, in Libra. Mars signifies violence, but his was only on the screen. He apparently had people lining up outside his house  even till the end, and he would try to help all people. Nobody was turned away.  Social work can lengthen your life! His Saturn is retrograde in Eleventh House, which also signifies friends and networks. Saturn is very auspicious for Libra. 

Saturn in Eighth House, interestingly, could also have led to a long life. But then Williams would have had to have led a humdrum, ordinary life in order to escape the excitements of Rahu, which he lived to the full.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Do you own a Nook, and read in Spanish? If so, download my play!

And in case you own a Nook, here's my play  Maté al padre de mi mejor amiga in the Barnes and Noble website for you to download.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Where does the magic realism come from?

After reading Francisco Goldman’s tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I wanted to know where the magical realism came from.

So I went to my trusty astrological chart calculator and plugged in: March 6, 1927, Aracataca, Colombia

And this is what I got. 

An Aries moon: Aries is the first sign in the zodiac. People born under Aries are fire. They embody  the start of new things, and they blaze new trails. They can often be great leaders. President Obama is born under an Aries moon as well.

Mars in second house: Second house is the house of speech (and also material wealth). Mars  is the planet of passion and energy. Those with Mars in second house often have powerful, almost militaristic abilities in speech. Mars and Saturn aspect each other. Saturn confers discipline and the ability for hard work to the fiery energy of Mars. Without this combination of Mars and Saturn, no great works come to fruition.

Rahu in third, in Gemini:  Rahu is the planet that rules worldwide fame. Right here, he’s sitting in Gabo’s house of communications. Rahu gets an aspect from Jupiter, the planet of wisdom. Rahu magnifies to extremes. If Jupiter, the planet of good fortune and material prosperity, and Rahu combined in 3rd house of communications, it also means he got filthy rich.

The fifth house of creativity again gets an aspect from Mars, Sun, and Jupiter. These three planets work well together as a trio, and also hint towards a great interest in truth and justice. And the fifth also gets an aspect from Saturn, ensuring discipline to the fiery rush of creativity.

Saturn in eighth in Scorpio: Those with Saturn in eighth house live a long time. Marquez died at 87. Saturn in eighth ends up delving into all the eighth house topics that nobody wants to talk about—death, despair, loneliness, alienation. The fourth from the fourth, ie; eighth house, is also the house of the maternal grandmother. This house obviously had deep impact on Marquez's entire chart--Saturn, as Jyotish astrology says, is the "planet that gives everything." And: "What Saturn gives, nobody can take away."

Exalted Venus and retrograde, "neechbhanga" Mercury in twelfth house in Pisces: And here are the planets that caused him to enter that space of magical realism. The twelfth is the house of dreams and fantasies. Pisces is the watery sign of liberation. In this house, all boundaries are dissolved, and the space of the real and the imagined lose their perceived separateness. Venus, the planet that rules the arts, is exalted in Pisces. The twelfth house is also the house of retreats and sanctuaries—bounded spaces, just like the house that Gabo grew up in. Mercury, the planet of quick wits, is debilitated in Pisces. Debilitation often signals that a planet is super powerful because  it is receiving a “neechbhanga,” or cancellation of debilitation, which leads to the extraordinary facility with words.  Einstein’s Mercury receives a cancellation of debilitation as well. The retrograde energy of Mercury may be what people seize on when they decide the magical realism is “not smart enough”—Mercury is the planet of smartness, and often people whose Mercury is going backwards can appear too simple, on casual encounter.  

 Sun and Jupiter in the eleventh house in Aquarius: Jupiter is the planet of wisdom. The Sun is its friend.  And the Sun confers fame. Both are in the eleventh house of gains (and incidentally, also thought to rule publishing.) Aquarius, ruled by Saturn, also imparts a strict disciplinarian ethos, as well as great interest towards humanitarian philosophy.

Ketu in ninth, in Sagittarius. Ketu is the final and most mysterious planetary force in Jyotish astrology. The ninth is the house of spirituality and philosophy—many philosophical writers have planets placed here. To have Ketu, that planet of ultimate spiritual dissolution, in ninth house of destiny, signals his readiness to enter the world beyond this one.   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Future books: A historical novel about Nepal

A young man from England who I recently met sent me this email after reading my book:

Sat, Apr 19, 2014
I very much enjoyed reading your short stories in the Prediction. Most of all I liked the historical ones, the Promise and the Prediction. Rana-era Nepal was vividly realised, the characters seemed very true to the period and to their social station, and the synthesis of traditional Sanskritic forms of belief and practice, such as astrology, with modernity -- as represented by democracy and revolution, intruding on the feudal court-politics of the late Ranas -- made for a highly satisfying parable of Nepal's rites of passage through the twentieth century. It occured to me that I've not come across any other examples of Nepali historical fiction, in English at least, and this would be a very fruitful genre for writers to take up. I would love to see you turn your hand to a historical novel, maybe one that features astrology as a major component, since you seem to know a lot about the subject. Is this something you've considered?

And the answer is:
Glad you liked the historical stories. Interesting that it seems to
appeal to a broad range of readers. Usually I get a male/female split
on my stories (men like some stories, women like some stories) but
these two seem to appeal to a universal group of readers. Yes, maybe I
should write a historical novel! One has been
percolating in my mind-its a family saga/Hundred Years of Solitude style
Nepali novel. Obviously astrology would play a big part.
I was just reading a book on Saturn and realize Western astrologers
and philosophers, quite respectable ones too!, have a lot to say about
the subject. Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade being prominent ones.

(Author's belated addendum: I just realized Gabriel Garcia Marquez died on 17th April. Perhaps his spirit was hovering around when I wrote this email. An homage, either way.) 

Republica review: The Prediction

Through a spyglass
Though Sushma Joshi names her book The Prediction, it is not very predictable. Most stories in this collection have surprise endings, or even begin from strange subject lines. For example, there is her first story about a man getting lost in Mongolia, and another about a satellite that crashes among the Himalaya, both very unusual subjects for Nepali writers.

Sushma sets the tone right at the start with a very readable story. The Discovery of the High Lama has an intriguing subject matter and enough dialogue so that the reader is not bored. Her plot, too, holds the reader’s interest till the very end. And that perhaps defines most of her stories: unusual subject matters, lots of dialogue, and interesting plots.

When it comes to the subjects she addresses, they are a wide variety: From a Nepali drummer making a life in Europe to an astrologer in Mohan Shumsher’s court. Sushma seems to know a lot about each of these subject matters, and the tidbits she scatters makes the stories appealing. For example, in A Boleria for Love she describes intricate drumming patterns of Tabla, an instrument of classical music, and in The Prediction she goes into the technical details of classical Hindu astrology. She also gets the accent and tone for her characters right, whether Nepali, Mongolian, Spanish, or American.

Where Sushma falters is in denouements. The first story, about a man who is perceived by everyone as stupid takes a trip and gains a remarkable kind of wisdom, is superbly told. But then comes the conclusion, of the narrator becoming convinced of his own inadequacies compared to the former stupid man’s wisdom. And it is so sudden and abrupt that the reader is not at all convinced about the narrator’s conviction. Sushma mentions in her afterword that the story is a true one that she heard from a friend. It almost seems as if she should have stuck to the true narrative of the stupid man and left her narrator, presumably her creation, out.

In fact, as Sushma mentions in her afterword, all her stories are either true or partly inspired by true events. This gives her stories a journalistic quality, as if she has looked at real-life characters through a spyglass. For example, there is the story called ‘Hunger’ about the newest daughter-in-law of a large joint family who never gets enough to eat. As Sushma has admitted in her epilogue, this story is very similar to Law and Order, another story she has written previously about hunger. And yet, Hunger brings to light the plight of women, especially younger daughters-in-laws, who are at the bottom of the pecking order in large families. Sushma portrays their unwritten rule of suffering everything in silence, which prevents them from seeking solutions, very well.

And then there is the story about correct astrological predictions, which Sushma reveals in her afterword as an account that has been passed on in her family as a true one. The story portrays not just Hindu society’s (including royals’) dependence on astrology, but also astrology’s roots in science. This story raises astrology from mere superstition to something which has deep connections to the Hindu psyche, and depicts why we are so influenced by it.
The Promise and Shelling Peas and History Lessons both deal with the historical place of women in Nepali society. The Promise is a multi-layered story, where a goddess who will improve his fortunes has been promised to a man. Women of all stripes enter his life, including a pretty maid, an old crone and self proclaimed priestess, and a slumbering family deity. The reader is left wondering which one of them is the promised goddess. In the meantime, the reader takes a fascinating tour into the debaucheries and family politics of the high and mighty royals of old. The ending makes it sufficiently clear which one of these women is the goddess, and also, how goddesses are actually treated in Nepal. Shelling Peas and History Lessons adds another facet to the life of the super-wealthy. It portrays one of the many casualties of unequal society: women who pay in life for proximity to the rich.

A Boleria for Love and The Best Sand Painting of the Century are perhaps the most fanciful stories in the collection. A Boleria for Love is simply delightful, its unusual and seemingly impossible love story immediately drawing the reader in. But once again, one wishes Sushma had provided more of a conclusion. The current open ended one leaves rather more to the imagination than desired, especially after some pages of remarkable storytelling. The Best Sand Painting of the Century, on the other hand, offers too clichéd an ending, even though the lengthy pieces includes some priceless sarcastic observations. The characterization of a monk who degenerates into a worldly life is one of them, and another is the monk who displays a mandala of Princess Leah (from Star Wars, I assume) as the greatest mandala in the world.

Curiously, the best part of Sushma’s book is her afterword where she talks about the process of writing all her stories. It is like a behind the scenes peek, something equal to the “making” of movies, and makes you wonder if every other book you like has interesting “making” stories that you never got to read. Here Sushma offers insights that could not fit into the stories, and they give the stories a wholly new dimension.

Sushma’s book is for those who want to read the stories of Nepal in English language. Her elegant language and simple but effective and varied plots are the mainstays of this book, and will please the reader despite a few glitches.

Title    : The Prediction
Author    : Sushma Joshi
Genre    : Fiction, in English
Publisher    : Sansar Books
Published    : 2013
Pages    : 174, Paperback

Read the review in Republica online here.