Ramblings about ‘Midlife Montage’
I have been running away from this review for around two months now. It was not like I was uninterested or unwilling to spend a couple hours in penning down my views on the book that my teacher Dr. Hem Raj Kafle had brought into publication. I just had no clue to the start.
This is weird for both Midlife Montage and for me. The former is being reviewed by a college-goer who does not know the first thing about reviews and the latter, well, I’m just too nervous to dare write any piece that has consequences for other people.
I come from around the same place as Dr. Kafle does. We both have our “eastern-ness” embedded into our being. That is why, at many points of the writing, especially in the initial chapters, I could relate to a lot of things.
I grew up listening to my grandmother talk about ‘helping’ the school she went to. There is a “sense of reality” in the description of helping build the school and I could not stop myself from envying the feeling that has been talked about here. I, as a millennial (or whatever it is that we, the late nineties and forth born kids, are called), have been dumped into ready-made, plastic toys-filled schools where everything was taken care of. The spirit of belonging to the school was way greater then than it is now.
“At school we waited every day for the Tiffin bell though we had nothing to eat.” This sentence, if singled out, would give the impression of a tragic childhood. But the following sentences show the readers that the circumstances weren’t that bad at all. It is these small sentences, describing with utmost honesty the childhood, that keep us turning the pages.
Midlife Montage is a story that you cannot put down. It contains fragments of a story collected over time. It covers not mere anecdotes of an interesting life but realities of an average man’s journey; a journey which, at the point of occurrence, didn’t really have a destination in mind. Looking back in retrospect, however, the journey had always meant to come to Kathmandu University and inspire individuals like this reviewer.
The part where the writer has talked about his growing affinity with the English language and the toil put into mastering it, is all too familiar for me. Even today, I have heaps of books teaching grammar, syntax, preposition, pronunciation, and what not, lying around my house, courtesy to my lanky mama who, just as the writer himself, did his share of hard work in learning the oh-so-revered English language. The language of gentlemen and well-bred people, or so thought.
It was much later, when I was gifted the book by the writer himself that I picked where I had initially left. The words rhetoric, epiphany, diaspora, etc have been properly stressed during lectures given by Dr. Kafle so I was sort of hoping to see them being used as titles in his works. Midlife Montage has not disappointed me in this regard.
My personal favourite piece is probably the shortest in the entire book. A two paged rambling about teaching guidelines that every teacher should read at least once and internalise into his/her psyche. For someone who has not had the pleasure of being taught by Dr. Kafle would perhaps take it as self exaggeration when he talks about treating every new student as a mysterious stock of knowledge, sentiments and challenges. But I know that although ‘every new student’ might be too large a claim to prove but he does take the task of ‘making people think’ seriously.
The best part about the book is the use of anecdotes that have taken kilograms off of the book, whose actual content seemed to weigh it down a bit too much for impatient twenty year olds like myself.
For many of us who have been so deeply engulfed in speaking the “urban dictionary” language with abbreviations and slangs that take too little space and use too complicated metaphors, this book is old school. The discussion on how much is enough in academic writing, how three is a set standard for number of paragraphs in an essay and how very formal and grammatically correct and perfectly balanced sentence structures are used to write this book sends a shudder down my spine. It makes me think of a recent discussion I came across Facebook about how our language skills are evolving into emotionally charged but utterly stupid exchanges that are turning us into inarticulate and conversationally stunted individuals.
“We are the generation that communicates through pictures and metaphors because they require less description and critical thought.” We carry emojis around so that we don’t have to engage in detailed conversations using proper adjectives, proper verb structure etc. to explain our intention. Now, at a first reading, I have viewed the writer as someone who is reassured by rules and parameters. There is chaos outside of his books and teaching. He is trying to resist it, or say even make sense of it, through his journal entries and his blogs and his penned down ramblings. He is trying to find an order, something solid his tall self can lean on, through a published opinion which when published, stays there. Then it remains. There it remains.
It is a difficult task for teachers like Dr. Kafle to make us kids sit down and patiently finish reading books written by writers like Dr. Kafle. I, for one, have done my share of running away from peeking into a reality that can very well be mine in the next twenty years. Midlife Montage presents to me a mirror into the life of an academic, not that heroic but not that modest either. You could choose to ignore the debate on originality or choose to ignore the pleas for solving the crisis in humanities but once you have gone through the book as a whole, you surely cannot ignore the method, the careful observation and time that have gone into its creation.