I was a schoolgirl when I first read Palpasa Café. Having lived in the era of civil war, I watched the 8 pm news with my father, understanding very little about why the war was burgeoning around us. I knew that people were dying, traveling seemed impossible and the vibe of where I grew up, Lakeside of Pokhara, withered because there was not a single tourist to be seen on the streets.
When Palpasa Café hit the theatre, I was excited yet skeptical to watch it. It is a beloved book, but Drishya was my first literary crush too. Just an hour before I entered the theatre hall, I got to meet Suraj Subedi, the mastermind behind the theatrical adaptation of the book. Narayan Wagle’s book is quite comprehensible as the language has a soothing flow of its own. However, adapting it meant taking a risk to diminish its emotional value of it, especially to readers like me.
The frequent use of phrases like bourgeois education, elimination of poverty, emancipation from age-old traditions make you realize how history was real and people were ready to die for the radical change that was supposed to happen.
Shrishti Shrestha as Palpasa shines right from the beginning, as she portrays the naïve but strong-headed personality of her character quite effortlessly. The rugged aesthetics of Bimal Subedi, who is also the director of the play, portrays Drishya realistically. The nonchalant conversations between these two make you laugh and indulge in their characters. The highlight of the play to me was the silly dialogues between Drishya and Nanu, a carefree girl who Drishya meets on his journey to discover the country and meet his friend Siddhartha (portrayed by Dipesh Rai), who is underground.
The arguments between Drishya and Siddhartha take you back to a time when the civil war was at its peak. The frequent use of phrases like bourgeois education, elimination of poverty, emancipation from age-old traditions make you realize how history was real and people were ready to die for the radical change that was supposed to happen. The whole scene between Drishya and Palpasa’s grandmother makes you smile with a childlike wonder. At one point, she tells Drishya that an individual’s voice is enough to stop people from disappearing. This sentence almost haunts you because it reminds you of the atrocities that happened during the war. Bimal Subedi’s direction impressed me when this dialogue was delivered, as the scene takes you from a relaxed moment to a thought-provoking one.
The use of songs like “gau gau bata utha” and “rato ra chandra surya” by the two opposing armies is quite significant to depict the two conflicting viewpoints, loyalties and philosophies. Similarly, the agony of a father who has to hand over his daughter to the rebels, not knowing whether she will make it back home someday, and that her future is doomed without a formal education is represented accurately.
The lights, sound effects and stage production of the play are thoughtfully researched and presented. The usage of balloons and utensils to create sound effects of bombardments is quite creative. The masked dancers in between the scenes and the crawling of human bodies on the floor contribute to a mystical aura to the play.
As a person who watched the play after reading the book, I could comprehend it very well. However, for a viewer who has never read the book, the play does not flow quite naturally and it feels like some scenes are random in spite of being powerful. However, a book of such magnitude has been made beautifully, and the attempt certainly required a lot of research and hard work. While the noise of upcoming elections is quite loud, the play is a must-watch to remind us of what we sacrificed and why we should question the intentions and credibility of our politicians.
(Palpasa Café is on Mandala Theatre till May 8.)
Nabina Adhikari is pursuing her MPhil degree in English literature.