The myth of several cycles of births and the possibility of liberation has informed practically all religious philosophies on earth. One of the complexities in the scheme of prescriptions for such liberation is the painstaking path it entails, which is not possible for common householders to adopt. It requires renunciation, abstention, penance and transcendence from all desires, attachments and cravings. The Buddhists were perhaps the first practical preachers, who devised the path of Zen to escort the commoners to the gateway of liberation, even without renouncing the world. In this scheme of things, one can still be worldly and yet have access to the cosmic truth. The simplified Hindu formula of nama-sankirtan or chanting of the Lord’s name doesn’t, however, guarantee the ultimate union with the Oversoul. The question, therefore, still remains in fashion.

महेश पाैड्याल

Nirved, a novel by Shailendra Adhikari, handles this question of liberation, together with the entire stocks of confusions and uncertainties religious philosophies pose. The novel features a worldly, hedonist and lusty young man Nabaraj, who hails from Dhading. With a magical turn of events, becomes a recluse. Born a mulya—with constellation Mula having its spell—he is hated by his father, and this turns him into a ruthless, irresponsible and lusty youth, who is after every sort of mischief, sexual adventure and pleasure. He falls into a bad company that teaches him all the untoward pranks including smoking, masturbation and eve-teasing, and finally provokes him to leave home and run away, only to be nabbed by his relatives and handed over to his father. After matriculation, however, he goes to Kathmandu for further studies, and continues to live a similar life of sordidness, falling in love, having sexual relationships, giving little or no time to studies, and engaging in spiritual conflict all the time.

The same man, however, is constantly haunted by questions about his own fate and position. In his pursuit to resolve the mystery, he  visits a recluse in teh Pashupatinath Temple Premises, who after a scrutiny of about a month, sends him to Shri Atmadarshan Sansyas Ashram, under the care of Swami Bodhananda Giriji Maharaj and becomes a recluse there. He cannot, however, vanquish the bear inside him, and continues to have nightfall and bad dreams.

While he is still in the ashram of his guru, Nabaraj is visited by the narrator Aditya, a postgraduate student working on his dissertation. The student, trying to study the lives of recluses and resolve the question of liberation, takes no  time in befriending Nabaraj, who has before long become Swami Nirvanananda. The two share many secret hours, as both share a similar part, and a similar present when it comes to weaknesses and vices.  Nirvanandanda tells the researcher many aspects of his past life and his ultimate landing on the current path of spirituality. In no time, the student is so allured by the life of the recluse that he forgets his home, his girlfriend and everything else, and gets absorbed into the life of the ashram.

In the meantime, following his trepidations every now and then, Nirvanananda decides to visit Haridwar in India where his guru has his hermitage. The student accompanies him. On the very next day, Nirvanananda leaves the student behind and disappears. All that the student discovers about him is a pair of sandals he has left on the bank of the Ganga. He is certain that his spiritual teacher has taken jal-samadhi, leaving the mortal world behind. He has also left behind a computer, which contains a file titled ‘Nirved’ which is nothing but his biography. Attached to the same file is a letter addressed to the student.

After the sudden disappearance of Nirvanananda, the narrator is left in quandary. The answer to his spiritual quest remains unrevealed and the entire sequence of enquiry comes to a sudden halt. There’s no telling if  apparent renunciation with a mind that oscillate between viscous, lusty and hedonistic vestiges of the past and the unconscious present in one hand, and the gaudy spiritual apparition of the present in the other is a global human fact. Nirved, a state of total detachment from desire and emotions, is a way much intricate than the way people tend to think of it, and out of whims, join the orders of monks and recluses. The novel lands at no conclusion, but is successful in questioning if the path of nirved is as easy as people, who renounce their earthly responsibilities and plunge into it, tend to think. The answer is far from being yes. It is a big no, as the novel establishes.

Coming from a background heavily influenced by agnostic tradition and Marxist thoughts during his youths, the novelist shows a huge turn in the his worldview in this work. Though limited to poetic creations before, his debut in fiction is also a debut in a different world view, the spiritual one, which, with all its abstractions and intricacies, offers answers to many mysterious questions about life, birth, death, salvation and the ultimate liberation. Such are questions that cannot be answered in any sort of ready-made packet, but they are provocations that encourage meditation and further research into the mystery of life. This is the reason why philosophies, unlike science, have always been open-ended and inconclusive, and therefore, there is a room for unending debate, revision or adaptation. Nirved does the same. The life of the narrator, after the death of his guru, is nowhere near any new discovery. It ends up in a state of confusion, as no road ahead seems certain for him. In fact, his position at a cross road, where the path diverges into two branches: renunciation and return to a householder’s life. This is indicative of a classical spiritual crisis that besets every individual. This confusion is a reality that characterizes the life of most of us. We are never sure if the stream we are swimming along will take us to the point of cosmic liberation.

The novelist has taken a risk by picking an issue that is for many a distant subject of inquiry but seldom an intimate subject. It nowhere comes near to the life of everyday readers. So, its abstraction is sheer and immediate. Second,  its  inclusiveness leaves the novel at a crossroad, like many other treatises and claims about life and liberation, and so no new light is added on this line of inquiry. Third, the narrator is left gawking at the appalling vacuity of life after the death of Nirvanananda. If the narrator was someone with his own, genuine, innate and original sense of inquiry as the novel claims, he must push the research further and arrive at a point of satiety. That doesn’t happen, and readers never know what will happen of the narrators. In other words, the novel doesn’t have a convincing closure. The narrativization of both the internal and external conflicts, the language put into use and the suspense that sustains the novel are, however, quite salutary.