Lil Bahadur Chhetri is a successful novelist in Nepali language, who has been popular for his lucid language, clarity in thoughts and coherent in ideas and presentation. As social, realist and idealist novelist, he does not impose his thoughts on the readers but presents issues, problems and paradoxes in a way he sees and observes and let the readers have their own opinion. He does not say what should be done but tells what the stark reality is. He has exposed exploitation under feudal society and sorry state of Nepalese people wherever they live and also the characteristics of the Nepalese society and the class system under which two categories of people—those who live by exploiting others and those who suffer from exploitation— live.
Chhetri was born in Gauhati, Assam of northeastern India in 1923 and he grew there. He is an Indian national of Nepali origin. He completed his Master’s degree and started teaching Economics in Gauhati, headquarters of the state of Assam. He studied Assamese, Hindi and English language. But his interest was more on his own mother tongue Nepali. Although he did not learn Nepali in school and colleges, he mastered Nepali language through self study.
As a migrant Nepali living in the foreign land he has seen plights and pain of other migrant Nepalese people in Assam. He felt pain when people unwillingly had to leave their motherland for economic, social and cultural reasons and shed their blood and sweat merely to survival. The conditions of Nepali migrant workers and the circumstances that forced them to migrate from their motherland inspired and persuaded Chhetri to write. As a man of Nepali origin, he always loved Nepali language and Nepali culture. He was pained when he found little Nepali reading materials in Assam. When he was at his youthful age, he and his friends used to discuss Nepali language and literature and they always felt a lack of Nepali literary works in Assam. As Chhetri was already interested in literature and used to write in Assamese and Hindi, some of his friends asked him to write in Nepali language. He then determined to devote himself to writing Nepali literature.
When he started writing, he had no clue where to begin and what to write. He began with some short stories and essays in Nepali language. Later he decided to write a novel and that is Basain (Migration). It took several days to begin the story. He then decided to begin with the condition and circumstances that compelled many Nepalese to migrate to foreign land. When he finished and published Basain in 1957, the novel instantly became popular and Chhetri was established as one of the successful novelists in Nepali language. The book Basain was included in the curriculum of the Tribhuvan University which made it and its author more popular.
Since then he has continued to write in Nepali language. He has contributed to different branches of Nepali literature including essays, short stories and novels. Apart from individual essays and other short stuff, he has so far come up with three novels—Basain (Migration), Atripta (Unfulfilled) and Brahmaputra Ko Chheu Chhau (Banks of Brahmaputra), a collection of essays—Assam Ma Nepali Bhasako Sharogharo (Difficulties of Nepali Language in Assam), a play—Dobato (Crossroads), and a collection of short stories—Tindasak Bis Abhibyakti (Twenty Expressions In Three Decades).
Although Chhetri is a multi-dimensional writer, his mastery is in novel and he is basically a novelist. He is more successful in novel writing than other genres of literature. Of the three novels he has so far written, his first novel Basain is the most popular and powerful. Basain is so popular that it has also been translated into English in the name ‘Mountains Painted With Turmeric" by Michael J. Hutt and published by Columbia University Press, in 2007. This shows the power and popularity of Chhetri’s novel.
Lil Bahadur Chhetri is social, idealist and existentialist novelist. In his novels and other branches of writing, he has exposed social reality, exploitation, discrimination and intrigue under which many Nepalese are accustomed to live. Basain is a novel that has been successful in exposing this social reality that is exploitative and discriminatory. Basain is written in the background of feudal social system that prevailed in Nepal prior to 1951 political change. Basain is a story of poor villagers who undergo suffering due to the exploitation of the feudal and so-called upper class of the society. The plot revolves around a poor family. Dhan Bahadur’s family survives by tilling others’ land as the family has no property of its own. Dhan Bahadur or Dhane is the central character, who, despite hard work from dawn to dusk, finds it difficult to feed his family with his meager income. He has a sister—Jhuma— who has already reached the age of marriage. Dhane’s worries are twofold—one is to feed and manage the family and the other one is to find a groom for his sister Jhuma.
Destiny is always against Dhane’s family. He fails in every attempt of his life. Unable to support his family with his own meager income, Dhane has to take loan from a local money lender with the hope of paying it back once the harvest is good. As luck turns against him, he cannot pay the loan back and instead his loan amount keeps on multiplying with exorbitant interest rate. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous moneylender strips Dhane of his remaining property that include a small plot of land and a house on it. Dhane is, thus, left with no alternative but to leave the village and migrate to foreign land. One day, Dhane and his family leave the village with heavy heart and tearful eyes.
Fate continues to be cruel against Dhane. He had a dream of marrying his sister Jhuma with a handsome boy. In the meantime a soldier (Rikute) happens to pass through the village and meets Jhuma. Attracted by Jhuma’s youthfulness and beauty, he tries to lure her with a false promise of marrying and taking her to the city. Innocent village girl Jhuma believes his words and falls in love with him. Jhuma gets pregnant but the soldier, who had vowed to marry her just to have sexual pleasure, ultimately vanishes and never returns. As Jhuma is often ridiculed by the members of the society for being pregnant before marriage, she ultimately decides to commit suicide. But Mote Karki, a village boy, comes to her rescue and decides to marry her. But this couple, too, cannot live in the village as the society does not accept the practice of marrying a pregnant woman who is carrying a baby of someone else in her womb. Mote Karki and Jhuma, therefore, flee the village and migrate to an unknown destination. This is how the novel comes to an end.
In the novel, he portrays the feudal practice and social, economic and cultural exploitation and suffering. At the same time, he has presented the brighter side by showing Mote Karki’s determination to marry Jhuma against the social and cultural practice. This is a progressive aspect of the novelist. But the novelist seems to believe more in fate and his characters including Dhane, Jhuma and Mote Karki take everything as an act of destiny and accept all kinds of sufferings, injustices and exploitation quietly. Despite the bold and brave decision, Mote Karki leaves the village fearing social attitude toward him. The decision to marry a pregnant Jhuma is a progressive step but fleeing the village after marriage is the result of his insecure mentality.
Twelve years after Basain hit the market, Chhetri came up with the second novel Atripta (Unfulfilled) in 1969. This is also a social and psycho-analytical novel that deals with the story of a migrated Nepali living in Assam who suffers from the suppressed sexual desire. The entire story revolves around Megharaj Jaisi, who is well-educated but suffers from inferiority complex and cannot face the society. This novel has portrayed the pervert mental condition and psychology of migrated Nepalese living in Assam. Meghraj is the central character of this novel who lures girls and exploits them sexually and finally vanishes.
Chhetri’s third novel is Brahmaputra Ko Chheu Chhao (Banks of Brahmaputra). This is also a social novel which deals with the social and economic condition of the migrated Nepalese living in Assam. In this novel, Chhetri has minutely presented the mentality and state of thinking and lifestyle of migrated Nepalese. In Basain, he has written about the difficult conditions that compel many Nepalese to leave their motherland. In Atripta, he has portrayed the unfulfilled desire, frustrations and inferiority of the migrated Nepalese in the foreign land. Coming to the third novel, Brahmaputra Ko Chheu Chhau, he has been able to successfully present the vivid picture of the condition of migrated Nepalese living in Assam. Although Nepalese leave Nepal because of exploitation and feudal injustices, they meet similar kind of fate even in the new place. This is what the novel Brahmaputra Ko Chheu Chhau has shown. After reading all three novels, a reader may think that one novel is somehow related with the other.
Although all the three novels are written on social theme and background, Basain is the most successful of all. Based on theme, plot and presentation, Lil Bahadur Chhetri is a social realist and idealist writer. He has been successful in exposing social contradictions, exploitations and discriminations that exist in the society in a minute and vivid manner. But he has not expressed his own opinion in regard to what should be done about such conditions. He remains neutral about the conditions and situations which is yet another beauty of his authorship.