Seto Dharti, the prestigious Madan Puraskar winning novel of 2012, is an amazingly well-crafted story written
by the Nepali author Amar Neupane. This Nepali novel was first published in March 2012 and promptly emerged on the best seller list in the Nepali market. He has succeeded to unveil the malevolent ritual of child marriage along with
a child widow’s dilemma in the oppressively patriarchal Nepali society of the 19th century through the eyes of the protagonist character “Tara.”

This story is based on the life of an ordinary village girl named Tara (meaning Stars). She is a simple girl
who lives in her village with her parents and spends her time playing with other kids from her community. Whilst the tale goes on the story takes a turn as
she gets married off age just seven years old, the very age at which she cannot even comprehend what marriage even means. The tale is based on the settings of nineteenth-century Nepal when child marriage used to be an unexceptionally common custom. No one around her even tries to read the agony of a child widow who is oblivious to the cynicism that would be directed towards her in the following days.

Tara’s misfortune begins as a child widow after her husband dies in Banaras where he went to complete his studies. This struggle-filled tale further advances and
a series of successive complications beset Tara. Gradually, she ends up leaving her husband’s home and returns to her father’s home, being unable to further endure the harassment and suffering imposed by her stepmother-in-law. She tries to live her life in harmony, endeavoring to forget all the agony that life gave her as a juvenile. Afterward, her mother passes away, and then she ends up carrying the burdening

responsibility as the homemaker.

Come adulthood she
decides to leave her
father’s house and
move to Devghat, a
religious place for
Hindus. At Devghat,
she builds a small hut and starts to
live a long, unrelieved life. The story mainly attempts to reveal the archaically agonizing cultural practice of child marriage. This story also portrays the pain of a child widow who is forced to live out her entire age without any company. The novel is without any doubt successful in its attempt to narrate the bitter reality of

a dark custom prevalent in Nepal’s fairly recent history, where women are forced to suffer immeasurably after the eradication of the abhorrent Sati custom.

The major characters of this novel are child widows such as Tara and Pabitra. Meanwhile, Yemuna and Gobinda are other significant characters who also have their own stories.

The tale centers primarily around the existence of the female lead Tara and her journey after her marriage by deception as an innocent seven years old girl child.

Whilst she has no idea about her own marriage ceremony, her parents trick her by informing her that a Yajna ceremony
is being held instead to worship the gods at their home and actually make her stay in the Jaggya (the holy site constructed for marriage). Later on, she is sent to
her in-law’s home telling her that she
had to visit a temple. Only on the day after her marriage, she realizes that she was married off to a strange person. She was sound asleep during the time of performing marriage rituals. She could not even discern between reality and dream. She cries a lot remembering her mother. Her aunt tells her what to do and not to do as a daughter-in-law and she is forced to stay for a year in this new home, which is indeed difficult for her as a child. After a year passes, she goes back to her parents’ home. But tragically, she becomes a widow as a mere 9-year-old child. She is summoned by her in-laws without even being informed that her husband has


Book Review

passed away. The moment she reaches home, she is forced to accept the fact that her husband is dead. Even though he was an anonymous figure in her life, she was ordered to perform all the rituals in his memory. This was the time when she was formally introduced to her husband on his deathbed as she had yet to see his face.

Afterward, she is taken to the burning ghat where her bangles are broken, clothes and embellishments are removed, hair shaved and she is further compelled to mourn for thirteen days straight. Once all these final rites and mourning rituals were over, she is forced to put on a white cloth to display to society that she is a widow. She comes to her parent’s home

a year later. After coming to her mother, she says that the past is forgotten, and tells Tara that now she was their son. She starts playing with her friends. Govinda, her dear friend teaches her some alphabets. As the story moves further, her mother gives birth to a son and then dies abruptly. Tara cries a lot for the first time in her life by realizing the agony of losing her loved ones, as well as being witness to her maternal uncle taking her nine months brother. Her family takes the child back after realizing that he was not being taken care of properly. On one occasion, Tara sees her brother suckling the breasts of a dog assuming it to be his mother, and then cries in its absence. This scene petrifies her, and so she puts on her mother’s disguise to breastfeed the unaware child.

As time passes on, her friend Pabitra, a child widow like her, departs towards Banaras when a priest comes to their village. Govinda also departs to Banaras for continuing his higher study. So Yemuna becomes her best friend. In

her adolescence, Yemuna is the only source of joy for Tara, as Yemuna voiced her love to her husband and she reciprocated amorously. Afterward, her father gets remarried to a youthful

girl, who later gives birth to a son. Soon enough her stepmother commences her abuse towards Tara and with her father completely under the influence of his new wife, doesn’t even care to feel the pain of his offspring. After a while, her brother also gets married and he lives separately. With her family all but abandoning her, she decides to leave her home for good.

Keeping her last ounce of hope, she spends her night at Yemuna’s home wishing that her little brother whom
she raised as her own child would come to bring her back home. However, her voice is echoed only within herself as
no one hears her utmost weeping. She is compelled to think that had her mother not passed away, she would not have faced this day. She was now like a directionless abandoned boat in the middle of the sea as she makes her way toward Devghat. She meets a group of people traveling

to Chitwan, and joins them. Once, she arrives at Devghat, she devotes herself
to the holy deity. One day she sees the reflection of Govinda in a sage. She often sees dreams of several men in her dream and considers herself like Paanchali (or Drapaudi), the mythical wife of the five Pandava brothers. She then finds Yemuna at Devghat one day who had come there after the death of her husband, and she narrated her story to Tara. Soon after, she becomes a nun.

Then after some time, a female named Gangeswari arrives at the Devghat hermitage, admired by people due to her wisdom along with the funds she donated to the place. One night Gangeswari arrives at Tara’s hut and discloses her real identity as the protagonist’s childhood friend Pabitra. She recounts all the dramatic happenings that occurred in

her life as she passes through various stages of life and ultimately adopts the persona called Gangeswari. She revealed that she was once a prostitute who earned a voluminous fortune at Banaras. Then

she gave up her profession and gave birth to little girl and ended up working as a professor. Later, she returned to Nepal, dedicating the rest of her life to the divine. Tara detested her excessively when she heard the story. She was not able to share it with the Sage, and in time she failed to remember anything. In the later stages of her life, she finally met Govinda, whom she furtively preserved in her heart throughout her entire life.

During the time, I read this heartbreaking tale; I was powerless at stopping my flowing tears as I choked over it again- &-again. The writer has effortlessly illustrated the malevolent practices of

the Nepalese Community which was commonplace in ancient times and the series of tragic consequences on the
life of most CHILD WIDOWS LIKE TARA. This novel brought up the unspoken words hidden deep inside the disenfranchised people of the society and surpassed the level of creativity in Nepalese fiction history.

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“If my mere presence brings misfortune to others then how unfortunate I really am for myself! I always need to bring myself forward to me and walk ahead.”

From this statement, we can only fathom the levels of suffering inside Tara, running through the vein
that she by herself is not able to escape from. Unfortunately, this is how our society used to wound the fragile heart of an innocent child widow, which ultimately considered a fate that she had to take it to her deathbed.

-Lammichhane Sapana