Tuin is an ambitious novel which fails to deliver
A single wire rope, a pulley and a wooden or metal trolley is what makes a tuin (wire bridge). A low-cost, but an extremely dangerous way to travel, a tuin is perhaps the best physical depiction of a life ‘hanging by a thread’. Named after this indigenous technology, Suresh Pranjali’s Tuin is a tragic tale of Bhumiraj Upadhyay—a young boy from Jumla—whose life too seems to be hanging by a thread, literally, apart from a few years of respite here and there.
Right from page one, it seems as though Pranjali is on a mission to make the readers weep buckets by romantising the hardships of life in Aamdi, Bhumiraj’s village. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Maoist’s ‘People’s War’ and it is the most decisive factor in the several turns the protagonist’s life takes. Even so, Pranjali’s depiction of conflict utterly lacks nuance and seems to be greatly inspired by media reports of the war years. The conflict, feels imposed upon the story because without this, it would be difficult to make so many tragedies fall upon one person in his boyhood. Villagers are tormented by the state and the Maoists alike, one member of each household is forcefully recruited, children are taken away to join the People’s Army and everything that we have seen, read and known of the war years find their place in the book. But instead of enriching the story, it makes the tale even more superficial. And because the entire trajectory of tragic events in the book is based on conflict, everything built upon it falls apart.
In fact, after the death of the protagonist’s mother in the second chapter, the tragedies that wait for Bhumiraj are easily foreseeable. It has a distinct pattern. Each time he leaves his house—apart from school or to play with Malati (his love interest)—something goes wrong. For the first time, his father falls off the tuin, the second time, his sister (who is barely mentioned before this) dies in labour, the third time it’s his own turn. The nature of the tragedies—death from diarrhea and on the way to the hospital, a long queue outside the Khadya Sansthan for rice—are staple news-reports on the Mid-West too.
To make matters worse, the use of local dialect makes the reading even more difficult. The 20 words listed at the back of the book barely help the reader understand the conversation between the characters. Still, nothing new or interesting await readers who dodge past the incomprehensible dialect and the contrived tale to finish the book.
In writing Tuin, Pranjali has bitten off more than he chew. He dabbles in conflict, hardships in the hills and love but fails to do justice to any. The constant and often abrupt jump from one thing to another makes the transitions choppy and fails to engage the reader. It would have served the readers well had the writer only focused on hardships in Aamdi and Bhumiraj’s relationship with Malati as they are the only engaging portions in the book. It would have been tragic enough even without sprinkling conflict on it. Furthermore, the writer flouts the ‘Show don’t tell’ basic norm of writing by making his protagonist often break into utterly monotonous monologues about his difficult life. “Since my early days, I learnt to drown in tears. I learnt to fall in love with sorrows and dive into the depths of worry” is one example. These assertions are so frequent that they could have been easily edited and definitely shortened the book.
Tuin greatly underestimates the reader. Reading the book is like journeying on a tuin that breaks off midway drowning the reader in cold water, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. A taste, only another good book can cure or perhaps a better depiction of the tuin like this video.