This interesting work reviewed in this ubiquitous column of this esteemed daily is a lucidly written memoir interspersed with a racy account of a many hued facets of the life of Hisila Yami- a popular woman leader who has participated and executed some crucial roles in shaping up the contemporary political events of Nepal. John Whelpton, a historian and widely acclaimed author of books on Nepal , extols the work as an interesting and important autobiography particularly because of the many roles the author has played and reflected upon – not only as Maoist activist , minister and the wife of a prime minister but also as the youngest daughter of an elite Newar family ,a feminist and a mother.
In a very rich diction and racy style suffused with flair and finesse , Yami rakes up a lively and gripping account of the events and experiences, fateful twists and turns of the voyage of her life . In this three hundred plus page memoir, she unveils and unpacks a mass of ideas , emotions , feelings, reactions, hunches and insights into the country’s fast paced political and social upheavals in which she participated and helped define its course in a forthright and candid manner.
In this memoir that can be rated excellent and illuminating both in style , expression , spontaneity and contemporaneousness , she reconnects herself and takes back to the time when she was an engineering student in India , her proximity , intimacy, emotional bonding and consequent nuptial ties with Nepal’s top genius Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai (BRB) , initiation and exposure into radical left politics, plunge into Maoist led People’s War as a revolutionary leader who navigated the treacherous rapids of the armed conflict and uneasy dynamics of political cum personal relations , minister and finally a dynamic first lady of the country. She draws on a wide array of untapped, candid and fist hand sources to tell the story of her life, also of the person she met and embraced as her husband and , agony, anguish and emotional turbulence that came along with it .
In this memoir of her remarkable life , the stories Hisila Yami narrates are both heartwarming and heart wrenching , shocking and tragic . In the preface to the book she tells about what nudged and prompted her to write and publish the memoir.According to her, the untimely demise of senior Maoist leader Post Bahadur Bogati despite the fact that he looked fit and healthy touched her very much. As Bogati’s plan to write a memoir could not fulfill , it made her feel deeply about the vulnerability and finiteness of this mortal life. A deferred plan postponed for tomorrow is not always sure to come to true. This struck her very much and fed a deep urge in her to hurry to write and produce this memoir.
This memoir is cogent , coherent and convincing. One cannot stop reading this book once one starts to shuffle through its pages as each chapter unfurls interesting facts , intimate details , intuitions , revelations and reflections . It offers a compendium of the genesis of the ten year long armed conflict(People’s War), its impact and flare up across the country , inner party struggles and bitter clash of personalities , hard sides and soft sides of PW , dangers and risks , disciplines and deviances , political rhetoric and reality, and finally cataclysmic political changes that resulted into abolition of monarchy and bungee jumped her way to seat of power as a lawmaker and minister .
In the chapter Manushi, Asmita and Ashtha( P.287) she recounts” During the People’s War (PW), I had told her ( daughter Manushi) that her father (BRB) could be killed any day. Soon after I told her that I could also be killed any day. When PW was at its peak , I slowly revealed to her that she, too , could be caught and killed. I made these precautionary announcements which Manushi took quite calmly , so that she could prepare herself for any eventuality .”
Furthermore , she dwells at length about the intra- party ideological contradiction and resultant repressive political action taken against BRB, her and leaders and functionaries who supported them at the bidding of Prachanda in the chapter titled A Twenty First Century Political Sati.
The Cost of Being First lady (p.243) provides an interesting read and echoes what an US author has said about first ladies and described them as modern women with problems, joys, careers, doubts, insecurities, and crises. According to the same author ” First ladies are wives and advisers who are transformed into celebrities simply because of whom they chose to marry. They are often beloved, sometimes vilified, and they are almost always their husbands’ most trusted advisers.”
Laura Bush , wife of the George Bush is reported to have remarked ” While it takes a nation to elect a president, first ladies were elected by one man. Their position is not enshrined in the constitution, and the role of the unpaid spouse seems incredibly anachronistic in today’s world. Moreover, the title of first lady comes with a thorny combination of intense scrutiny, an incredible platform, and no official mandate”.
The wife of the first President of the US George Washington Martha Washington called herself a “state prisoner while Jacqueline Kennedy , the famous spouse of John F Kennedy had proclaimed : “The one thing I do not want to be called is ‘First Lady.’ It sounds like a saddle horse.” And Michelle Obama is also reported to have said that living in the White House is like living in a “really nice prison .
About her experiences as first lady Hisila Yami grudges in the similar vein saying ” How suffocating it was to live in Baluwatar , we were near each other and yet so far. I realized that the period without state power had In fact been a more liberating experience for us despite the harsh physical discomforts. The period when BRB had executive power had amore constraining effect on our relationship despite material comfort Baluwatar offered us.”
She also rebuts the charge leveled against her as a corrupt woman and dismisses as ” deep rooted bias against the Maoists in the minds of the people , how non-issues could be raked up to damage the character of a person”. She dedicates a separate chapter each to unravel and reflect upon the distinct traits, proclivities and characteristics of Prachanda and BRB . This also makes it a must read to know and understand the political disposition , emotional intelligence and psychological portrait of the two key commanding leaders of the republican Nepal.
The book is replete with an intricate details of persons, politics, personalities especially involved in the decade long armed conflict and thereafter . It provides a resourceful and informatics read for discerning observers and scholars having an interest in the social and political paradox of the contemporary Nepal.