The Guru of Loveby Samrat Upadhyay
From the acclaimed author of Arresting God in Kathmandu, The Guru of Love is the engrossing story of a fevered love triangle set in contemporary Nepal. Ramchandra, a quiet math teacher, reluctantly enters into an adulterous relationship, and soon his double lives disastrously converge. When Goma, his wife by arranged marriage, learns of his affair, she demands
From the acclaimed author of Arresting God in Kathmandu, The Guru of Love is the engrossing story of a fevered love triangle set in contemporary Nepal. Ramchandra, a quiet math teacher, reluctantly enters into an adulterous relationship, and soon his double lives disastrously converge. When Goma, his wife by arranged marriage, learns of his affair, she demands that his mistress move into their small quarters. Unable to dissuade her, Ramchandra finds his desires and fears living side by side. Goma proves to be far shrewder than she seems, entering into a surprising alliance with his mistress. And Ramchandra finds himself trapped -- both in his house and in his city, Kathmandu, a crowded place where secrets are impossible to keep and family matters dictate. Ultimately, his only escape is to let go of someone he loves. Absorbing, sexy, and psychologically acute, The Guru of Love radiates compassion and rare insight.
In Kathmandu, as in Casablanca, a kiss is just a kiss in the end. Our star-crossed lovers this time are Ramchandra and Malati. Ramchandra is a young math teacher and father of two (a boy of nine, a girl of twelve), unhappily married to the upper-class Goma (whose family expected Ramchandra to make a much bigger success of himself than he has so far). Malati is a teenaged student (and single mother) who hopes to enter the university and comes to Ramchandra for help with her math as she prepares for the entrance exam. Although Ramchandra loves his children dearly, his domestic life is bleak (with a distant, unloving wife) and he's unhappy with his career (the state school system in Nepal pays badly and is rife with favoritism and corruption)-the perfect mix of conditions for a midlife crisis. Sure enough, he and the enigmatic, passionate Malati find themselves ever-more drawn to each other, and in short order they've given up even the pretense of working on Malati's math exercises. An honest man, Ramchandra confesses the affair to his wife-but since he also tells her that he intends to keep seeing Malati, Goma moves out with the children. This leaves Ramchandra free to pursue Malati with all of the passion he has hitherto struggled to suppress, and she responds to his advances gladly and without hesitation. How will it all end? It wouldn't be fair to say, but you can be pretty sure that in Nepal, no less than anywhere else, the course of true love is seldom a straight line.
Obvious and rather dull, ofinterest only for its exotic setting.
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The Guru of LoveA Novel
By Samrat Upadhyay
Houghton Mifflin CompanyCopyright © 2003 Samrat Upadhyay
All right reserved.
Thin as a waif , she wore a faded kurta suruwal. She stood in the doorway of Ramchandra’s bedroom, where he tutored his students. "I am very weak in math, sir," she said as he gestured for her to sit next to him on a cushion on the floor.
To ward off the chill, unusual for late September, she also wore the traditional khasto shawl. She had long eyelashes and a slim nose; fine fur dotted her upper lip. Her hair, glistening with oil, was pulled back in a prim style. Malati, she said, was her name, and she appeared slightly older, past her teens, than the students he normally tutored.
"I charge five hundred rupees a month," he said. "Three sessions a week, one hour each."
A shadow came over her face.
"Can’t you afford that?" Ramchandra drew the electric heater close to him, even though he had a blanket wrapped around him and was wearing the thick socks that Goma had sewed for him. The walls of this old house, where Ramchandra rented his flat, were thin, and on a chilly day like this, harbinger of the cold that would soon envelop the city, the entire house became almost unbearable. One of the coils of the heater had come loose, and it protruded dangerously, still glowing red. He’d have to fix it soon, before the childrenburned themselves on it, before the coming months of winter, when "even the fish feel cold," as Ramchandra’s mother used to say.
"I come from a poor family," she said.
Ramchandra glanced out the small window. From his seated position, he could see the electric and telephone wires zigzagging outside his window. A kite swooped in the tiny blue patch of sky. Dashain festival was here, which meant more expenses.
His tutees had often cited their poverty, even those who came from well-to-do families, as their reason for defaulting on their payments. Well, he wasn’t rolling in money either. He and Goma and the children were living on the top floor of this old house, with its rickety stairs and cracked ceilings, its cramped, dank rooms that never got enough sunlight, this house controlled by a landlord who came rapping on the door if the rent wasn’t paid on time, where deafening traffic from the street penetrated the thin walls, shook the rooms, and made reasonable thinking impossible. For years he’d been harboring the dream of buying some land and building a house in the city, if only to silence his in-laws. For the past three years, he and Goma had been putting away five hundred rupees a month. Or at least trying to; some months, especially during the festivals, not only could they not save, but they had to dip into their savings, which troubled Ramchandra constantly. "This way we’ll never build a house," he’d said to Goma dejectedly the other day after he’d checked his bankbook and discovered that the balance was not even a lakh rupee. A few months ago, he’d even looked at some plots of land, but most of them had been exorbitantly priced. There was one plot, near Dillibazaar, that was nice-close to the vegetable market and to the bus station-but the seller wanted five lakh rupees. Ramchandra had told him that no reasonable fool would buy the plot at that price, but as he walked away, he knew that the land would be sold within a few months. Many people were getting rich in Kathmandu. The country was poor, but in the capital, wealth was multiplying in the hands of those who’d opened new businesses or those with government jobs who didn’t turn away from hefty bribes.
With her worn-out clothes, Malati indeed looked poor, unlike his only other tutee, Ashok, a merchant’s son who arrived every morning in a shiny black car, with loud music thumping from the speakers.
"I don’t have a father," Malati told him. "And my mother raises chickens to support the family."
"Then perhaps you should be working," Ramchandra said. "Help your family."
"Right now I am not in a position to work, sir," she said solemnly. "Besides, I want to go to college." And for that, she needed to pass the School Leaving Certificate exam. She admitted that she’d barely passed the preliminary Sent-Up exams, administered by her school, and was worried about the actual exams.
"What’s the point of going to college when you need some income right now?"
She pursed her lips and glanced out the window.
She is pretty, he thought. But it was her determination that moved him. If he could help her, then it was his duty as a teacher to take her on. In the afternoons he taught at the rundown Kantipur School, with its crumbling walls and dark, crowded classrooms. It was a government school, which meant that it had a meager budget and disgruntled teachers. Most of them, like Ramchandra, tutored students on the side for extra income. These days, he was tutoring only Ashok, and he could have Malati join their sessions. "Okay, how much can you afford?"
"Two hundred rupees, sir."
"That’s too little," he said, thinking of his bank account. "I can tutor you for only two sessions a week for that."
"That’s fine, sir," she said. "I can do the rest on my own."
"I’ll need the money first."
"I’ll bring it tomorrow morning."
There was an awkward silence. He expected her to leave, and when she didn’t, he was about to say, "Okay, then." But she asked, "Sir, are you from Kathmandu itself ?"
He studied her a bit more closely. People from Kathmandu rarely asked each other that question. Only outsiders probed one another, searching for something that bonded them in the city.
"Originally from Lamjung," he said. After his father died, he and his mother had sold their land and house in Lamjung to pay off creditors and had come to Kathmandu, with his mother’s jewelry in a plastic bag and with the address of a distant relative. Mother, God bless her. He hoped her soul was at peace in heaven.
"I knew," Malati said. "I knew you were not from here. Your face tells it."
"Is it really that obvious?"
"Well, couldn’t you say the same about me? Where do you think I’m from, sir?"
He had no idea, but he was amused by her excitement. "Jumla?"
His mention of this remote, barren area in the northwest part of the country made her laugh. "You like to joke, don’t you, sir. No, I’m from Dharan."
"When did you move here?"
"A few years ago. But I still miss it. People in this city are so . . ."-she seemed to be searching for the appropriate word-"unfeeling."
Ramchandra’s own memories of Lamjung remained clear: the general store in a mud house perched dangerously on top of a hill; the biting cold in the morning; the haze that hung over the hills, and the clouds that rolled in and made the house in front of you disappear; the smell of sweet rice cooked in the mud oven, the smoke stinging his mother’s eyes and making water run down her nose. But it was the memories of his early years in Kathmandu, the hardships he and his mother had endured, that were imprinted on his mind like a religious text. For a long time he had been angry at the city for making their lives difficult. But he’d grown to love the city, and although he understood what Malati was saying, he didn’t want to identify with her sense of helplessness. "It’s been so many years," he told her, "that I consider myself a local of Kathmandu."
"Of course, sir. Still, this city can really make you suffer."
Tears started to well up in her eyes and, strangely, he was moved. He asked, "Do you want to sit down? Have some tea?"
She composed herself. "No, sir, I have something to attend to." As she was leaving, she smiled at him, revealing small white teeth. "I’ve heard you’re very good, sir."
Ramchandra waved his hand in the air.
Malati turned out to be very poor in math. She’d mull over a problem for a long time, often missing the most obvious connections. When he’d explain a problem and hint at a possible solution, she’d nod slowly and chew her lower lip, as if everything were sinking in, but when it was time to solve the problem, she’d scratch her head and tighten her eyebrows, unable to move beyond the most rudimentary step. In contrast, Ashok, whose math skills Ramchandra had previously considered weak, now appeared bright. "Addition," Ramchandra would gently say to Malati. "You need to add the interest to the principal, not subtract it. Don’t you see?" And slowly recognition appeared on her face, as if to say, "Why didn’t I see that before?" Then she would nod, her head bobbing up and down. But that understanding soon proved false, and the next moment she would frown and chew her pencil’s eraser.
One morning, two weeks after she’d started, Malati was stumped on a particular problem that they’d gone over repeatedly. Ramchandra slammed down his pencil on her notebook with the neatly written numbers. "Even a monkey from the Pashupatinath Temple would be able to solve such a simple problem." He jabbed a finger at the air in front of her. "You’re not a monkey, are you?" Malati looked down at her toes, her face red. Ashok smiled at him in disbelief, and Ramchandra’s wife, Goma, who had come in to collect empty tea glasses, shot him a glance.
He was about to say something conciliatory to Malati when she, still looking down, said in a strong voice, "I told you my math is poor. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I need help."
"Okay," he said slowly. "Let’s look at this from another angle."
Ashok was still smiling, watching Ramchandra closely.
"Is my face going to get you a pass in the S.L.C.?" Ramchandra asked him.
For the rest of the session, Malati remained quiet. Mechanically, she did what Ramchandra asked her to do, her lips pursed, and when it came time for her to solve a compound interest problem on her own, she said, "I have a headache. I’ll go home now."
"Still fifteen minutes left, Malati."
"Didn’t I just tell you I have a headache?" she said, and quickly got up and went down the stairs.
A sense of remorse plagued Ramchandra throughout the afternoon, when he was teaching at school; throughout the evening, when he came home, tired, and tutored a student and, later, played snakes and ladders with his son; and into the night, when he tried to sleep. This lingering guilt surprised him. Ramchandra rarely scolded his students, and he never hit them, as many of his colleagues did. But he also knew that it was necessary to protect his dignity as a teacher, so at times he would verbally discipline students for being unruly, as the older ones were likely to be. The issue of discipline had never arisen with those he tutored at home; this was the first time he’d scolded anyone. But Malati’s reaction to his disparaging her went beyond the shame a student might feel at being scolded. Somehow he’d wounded her deeply.
Ramchandra also regretted that he’d wasted the rest of her session, during which more could have been accomplished. He prided himself on the number of his tutees who went on to pass the S.L.C. exam. Sometimes it took only minutes for a student to move from one level to another. That’s why Ramchandra, no matter how tired he was, insisted that his students stay the full time they were scheduled for. This was especially important in the case of Ashok, who often came up with all kinds of excuses to leave early. With Malati, it was even more crucial, because it was difficult for her to pay her fee.
In the dark of night, Ramchandra pulled his sirak closer around himself and stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Lately, he’d been having a repeated nightmare, in which he couldn’t solve a simple algebra equation in front of his students. He attributed the dream to his heavy load of tutoring and teaching.
Ramchandra had discovered his skills in math early. When he was in the dangerously situated general store in Lamjung with his mother, he’d quickly deduct the cost of the kilo of lentils from the five- or ten-rupee note that she’d just handed to the vendor, and announce, loudly, "Need to return two rupees and twenty paisa." He’d solve math problems so fast on the small slate his father had given him that his father would say, "Wait, wait, before you erase it; let me see if you did that correctly." And Ramchandra would hand over the slate and grab a pencil and a notebook to scribble something else.
Later, after he and his mother had moved to Kathmandu, he would see a storekeeper in a spice shop laboriously scrawl the items and the prices. But the numbers would zoom inside Ramchandra’s head, and he’d announce, in his sullen voice, "Total, seven rupees and fifty paisa." Often the shopkeeper would squint at him and, in jest, offer him a job as his assistant. He’d want to take the offer, but his mother would always say no, that she wouldn’t dream of putting her son to work until he’d finished school. "I want you to be an engineer," she said. She seemed particularly bent on engineering, either because she liked the foreign-sounding word or she associated it with mathematics. "Engineer, yes," she would say. "You’ll build things."
Once he started attending school, in a crowded little classroom in Kathmandu, not too far from where he was now teaching, his hand would shoot up every time a math problem was put on the board. Eventually, the teacher started eyeing him with resentment. His friends gave him the nickname Hisabey Hanuman, because his prowess in math equaled the strength of the monkey god Hanuman, who uprooted an entire mountain, held it up on his palm, and flew.
How odd, thought Ramchandra, that he’d called Malati a monkey when he himself had been called a monkey in his youth. In college, when Ramchandra was called to the board to solve a calculus problem that gave the professor a headache, he knew that teaching would be the natural profession for him. And it was, for the most part, but the tutoring sessions wore him out. These days before falling asleep, he’d try to ward off nightmares by visualizing pleasant scenes, like a walk by a blue pond, a bountiful garden, cool mountain air. But Malati’s voice, saying, "That’s why I’m here. That’s why I need help," kept ringing in his ears.
Tonight, his tossing and turning awoke Goma, who asked, "What’s the matter?"
He said maybe he’d had too much tea that day.
She turned on the light. "That girl is bothering you. You should think before you speak. Serves you right."
"I’m tired," he said. "It’s hard enough, teaching full time at that hellhole, and then tutoring these students day and night."
"Still," Goma said, "she’s a young girl, and very sensitive. Treat her gently. Think of her as your own daughter."
"And who’ll treat me gently?" he asked. "Who can I turn to for comfort?" He took her hand.
Excerpted from The Guru of Love by Samrat Upadhyay Copyright © 2003 by Samrat Upadhyay
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
SAMRAT UPADHYAY is the author of Arresting God in Kathmandu, which earned him a Whiting Award, and The Guru of Love, which was a New York Times Notable Book, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize, and a Book Sense 76 pick. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and teaches creative writing and literature at Indiana University.
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If Truman Capote's classic novel 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is a glittering crystal palace furnished with ornate, regal, gilded Victorian furniture and bright oriental carpets, Samrat Upadhyay's 'The guru of Love' is a thatched, two room mountain hut furnished with wooden Shaker furniture. Each structure has a charm of its own, of course. In a prose so relentlessly spare and light that it reads like it is on a no sugar, low salt, very low fat and low calorie diet, Samrat Upadhyay tells the story of Ramachandra, a poor mathematics teacher at Kantipur school in Kathmandu, Nepal. The government school is 'housed in a crumbling building in a alley where stray dogs quarreled and garbage accumulated'. He falls in love with a teenaged student named Malati, and has an affair with her. Malati is an unwed mother, with a daughter named Rachana. When Ramachandra cofesses to his wife, Goma, about his affair with Malati, she leaves him and moves to her parent's house, 'Pandey Palace' with her children Sanu and Rakesh. The palace belonged to the very rich Rana family long ago, a residence which Mr. Pandey inherited from his grandfather. Ramachandra and Goma reconcile, however, and Goma agrees to return to her house on one condition that Ramachandra invite Malati and her daughter to live with them. From this point on the novel reads like a predictable story written for a Hindi film produced at Bollywood. Malat's lover, Amrit, who had deserted her when he found out that she was pregnant, returns to Kathmandu. Amrit is handsome like a movie star, and he drives a taxi to earn a living. The lovers unite and eventually marry even. The book holds the reader's attention, however, from the beginning. The story, though predictable, is realistic and at times quite charming, too. The author's prose is plain, simple, and uncluttered. A good debut novel.
I read this book in 2dys & give it an A-. The plot, content and the way in which the story was told is outstanding. While reading this book I became part of the culture and admired the love that was freely given. Unfortunatly I felt cheated in the end because i still couldn't come to grips with Goma allowing Malati to stay in her home, in her bed, with her husband.
When I picked up 'The Guru of Love' I had hoped that the author's writing would bring this oh-so familiar plot-line to life. It did not. 'Dry' was the one word that came to mind to stylistically describe this novel. The characters were impersonal and distant and the political landscape lacked a sense of urgency or importance. Perhaps becuase I have never been to Nepal, I do not have an understanding of this author's intent. Either way, this book left me with no deeper understanding of the personal lives or political situation of Nepal.
Related with humanity and humor this debut novel by Nepali writer Samrat Upadhyay places him among the most gifted of contemporary authors. "Arresting God in Kathmandu," his 1999 collection of short stories gathered unanimous acclaim with critics hailing his work as "fiction that haunts as much as it instructs" and "complex and delicate." Surely, "The Guru Of Love" will reap even greater praise. Narrator/protagonist Ramchandra is a teacher of mathematics in Nepal. His school sits in a compressed muddy alley where piles of garbage are heaped.. Ramchandra's professional surroundings are similar to his personal dwelling - he lives in a tiny apartment with his wife, Goma, and two children, a daughter, Sanu, 13, and a rambunctious son, Rakesh, 9. Mired in no-way-out poverty Ramchandra tutors in an attempt to save enough to buy land. For him, Kathmandu is a city "swollen to such a point that it was ready to explode." And he owns absolutely nothing. Add to this the rudeness of his wealthy in-laws, the Pandeys, who look down upon him because he has not provided well for their daughter and grandchildren. One of Ramchandra's tutees is Malati, a beautiful but poor teenage mother. Deserted by the father of her child she lives with a stepmother who reviles her. It is not long before tutor and student begin an affair. Enchanted by the young woman yet troubled by his infidelity Ramchandra eventually tells Goma about his extra-marital relationship. Goma accepts the news almost impassively, or so it seems to Ramchandra, and leaves him. She takes their children and goes to live with her well-to-do family at Pandey Palace. The affair between teacher and student continues, but Ramchandra is desolated by the loss of his family and begs his wife to return. Goma does agree to come back but with one startling proviso: Malati and her baby are to come to their apartment and live with them. It seems that Goma knows Malati has no one and is concerned about the welfare of the young mother and her baby. Much to the distress of the Pandeys this rather unique arrangement takes place. There is, they say, gossip throughout the city and Ramchandra's fellow teachers and neighbors ridicule him. What is apparently a harmonious relationship slowly changes to one of tension as each individual struggles to realize who and what they have become. Personal issues are set against a backdrop of unrest in a city and country during the 1990 pro-democracy movement. Tradition vs. modernization. Can there be room for both? Ramchandra is undergoing a transformation as is his country. Samrat Upadhyay, a teacher at Baldwin-Wallace college, brilliantly paints a country's culture and the dichotomy of desires within the human heart.
It was a first novel I have read in years. To my amazement, I finished in a day. The book is a masterpiece, which I thought was better than author¿s previous work `Arresting god in Katmandu¿ (it was good too). The book is set in Nepal, but it deals with the universal human emotion love, temptation, and deceit. It is definitely a MUST read for anyone who lived in Nepal or know about Nepal. However, I believe, you would enjoy the book as much even if you do not even know what is Nepal. A must read, if you want to send me your comment on book, email email@example.com.Thanks!