The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun
About the Author
Shankar Lamichhane (1928-1975) was born in Kathmandu but lived in Banaras with his uncle at a young age. After receiving a college education at Tri-Chandra College in Kathmandu, he took his first job at the age of twenty-two and worked for a number of governmental and cultural institutions in the capital. In his later years, he became the manager of a handicrafts store. Lamichhane was an admirer of modern American fiction and frequently mixed with foreign visitors to Nepal. His stories are heavy with symbolism, often lacking a conventional plot and more closely resembling essays, but his prose is rich and poetic. This story is taken from Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Nepali Literature translated and edited by Michael Hutt.
The story deals with the monologues of two characters: a tourist guide in Kathmandu valley and a foreign tourist. The story is different from conventional stories and, instead of showing actions and events, the story records what the two characters think in a stream of consciousness technique.
Born in 1928 in Kathmandu, and lived in Banaras at a young age.
Studied at Tri-Chandra College
Did handicraft business and mixed up with foreigners coming to Nepal
Awards Madan Puruskar in 1967 for his magnum Opus “Abstract Chintan Pyaj”
Died in 1975 early age of 47
The guest: a tourist came to visit Nepal, loves Nepal and knows many things about it
The guide: a tourist guide with different perspectives, sympathetic
A paralyzed boy: suffering from polio, cannot move his body parts except eyes
The Plot of the Story
Exposition: The tourist expresses his joy watching the beauty of Nepal and its generous people.
Rising Action: The tourist talks about Buddha and Bhrikuti
Climax: The guide takes the tourist to see a house to show the pulse of their reality.
Falling Action: They meet a paralyzed boy who can only move his eyes.
Resolution: The guide thinks the boy's eyes are just as beautiful as the setting sun's reflection in the eyes of the Buddha.
Summary of The Half-closed Eyes of Buddha
The story 'The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun' expresses the feelings of a Western tourist visiting The Kathmandu Valley and a Nepali tourist guide. It begins with the Western tourist describing the panorama of the green valley. She likes the scent of the mountain and the peaceful atmosphere here as she grew up among the plains and the sea. She feels welcomed by the half-closed eyes of the Buddha.
The tourist says The Easterners have given them the religion and the Puranas, images of brass and ornaments of ivory, manuscripts of palm leaves and inscriptions on copperplate as well as a civilization and its wisdom. She has read many books about Nepal and can teach its history even to the guide. She says it has cultural and religious diversity and the Nepali soil has enabled them to flourish together. She also talks about different kinds of food like mo:mo: and so on.
She remembers an old woman telling the story of Brikuti to her grandson while smoking hookah. She adores the smiling faces of Nepalese people to welcome them. She compares it with the time after her successful labour and being with her father, and many more. Finally, she tells about the magical eyes and expresses her desire to see the pleasant light of sunset reflected in the eyes of the Buddha, unforgettable eyes.
The second part of the story deals with the feelings of the guide. He begins with the history of Chobhar hill, the cleft made by Manjushri with the sword to outflow the water. He talks about Adinath to give living examples of Nepalese tolerance and coexistence. Then he takes the tourist to a house where she can find the pulse of reality. He wanted to show her one of his maker's strongest forms of creation. It is a child whose body is completely paralyzed by polio. He cannot do any physical activities. He compares the gaze of the child with the samyak gaze.
He explains it as the capacity found only in an Easterner: the capacity for remaining speechless, inactive, powerless, and immobile, and yet to survive without complaint. The guide lies to the child's parents and tells them she is a doctor. So, they think of her as their eldest child coming for the remedy of the brother. They become delighted. There is intimacy, kindliness, and gratitude in their eyes. He also shows the child's sister whose body functions properly. She can do different activities as per her age. They can see the gleamed light in the child's eyes when his mother scolds his sister. He surely wants to say it is fun to do mischievous activities that he can't. They learn with experience.
The guide concludes that the eyes that the tourist see welcome her and they hide the end of life They are just as beautiful as the setting sun's reflection in the eyes of the Buddha
Analysis of the Story
This story was published in 'Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Nepali Literature in 1991. It is written in a stream of consciousness technique that is beyond the convention. Instead of having activities and events, it describes the feelings of two main characters of the story: the tourist and the tourist guide. Its setting is Kathmandu Valley which integrates religious and cultural values with its natural beauty. The tourist seems to be fond of the natural beauty of Nepal. She admires its religious tolerance and cultural integration. She adores the generosity of the Easterners that many things have been given to the West. However, it is ironic that she says is a foreigner she is the expert on the history of Nepal and can even teach the Nepalese guide about it. The half-closed eyes of the Buddha refer to a peaceful environment and its reflection in the setting sun symbolizes the natural beauty of Nepal that the tourist wants to admire.
On the other hand, the guide wants to show the sorrow among the beautiful land and the instances of poverty among the rich culture. This is also an attack on the bookish wits who think of themselves as experts without actually experiencing the reality. He may also want to tell the tourists that it is an opportunity for the Westerners to bring smiles back to the sufferers and make the Easterners more prosperous in every aspect.
A. How does the tourist describe his initial impression of the Kathmandu valley?
The tourist says it is a green valley with its geometric fields, its earthen houses of red, yellow, and white. The scent of soil and mountains is in the air, and there's an age-old peacefulness in the atmosphere.
B. According to the tourist, why is the West indebted to the East?
The West is indebted to the East as the East has given the West the Puranas, images of brass and ornaments of ivory, manuscripts of palm leaves, and inscriptions on copperplate as well as a civilization.
C. How does the tourist interpret the gaze of the monks and nuns?
The tourist calls it the samyak gaze that we cannot see. It is perception, pure and without contamination; sight that perceives everything in its true form.
D. Why do the tourists think Nepali people are wonderful and exceptional?
The tourists think so as they live in a house like a temple, but they are unaware of its beauty and its enchantment. In these Wooden images, there are multifarious ornamentations and styles with the flowing music of a chisel.
E. What is the different kinds of communities in the Kathmandu valley and how do they coexist with each other?
It is the place where so many different cultures found their home. Aryans, non-Aryans, Hindus, and Buddhists all came and obtained a rebirth here. It must be the effect of the soil that enabled all these races to flourish together.
F. What does the tourist feel about the temple of Adinath?
In the temple courtyard, there is a shrine of Shiva, several Buddha images, and many prayer wheels, inscribed 'om mani Padme hum.' The tourist feels it as a living example of Nepalese tolerance and coexistence. Children play happily there, unconcerned by the variety of their gods, religions, and philosophies.
G. Why does the guide take the tourist to the remote village?
The guide takes the tourist to the remote village to meet a completely paralyzed child of a poor family to show him the pulse of reality. Perhaps, he wanted to show him the sympathetic aspect of this wonderful country.
H. What does the innocent village couple think of the doctor?
The guide has lied to them about the tourist as being a doctor. So, the innocent village couple thinks of him as their eldest son who has brought a life-restoring remedy across the seven seas for the brother.
I. What are the differences between the paralyzed child and his sister?
There are a lot of differences between the paralyzed child and his sister. The paralyzed child cannot move any organs except the eyes. In contrast, his sister's whole-body functions properly. She can speak, crawl and play.
J. Why does the guide show the instances of poverty to the tourist?
The tourist talks about the beautiful scenery and Samyak gaze at the guide so he wants to show him the gaze that is incapable of self-manifestation and the beauty that is complete and has no other expression. So, the guide shows the tourist the instances of poverty that reflect the dark aspect of the country's diversity.
Responding to the Context
A. Which narrative technique is used by the author to tell the story? How is this story different from other stories you have read?
Stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that is used by the author, Shankar Lamichhane to tell the story “The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun". This story is different from other stories I have read as most of the other stories are depicted from the first person point of view where the narrator or the persona describes the instances in his own way but this story is presented through the monologues of two characters a tourist guide in Kathmandu valley and a foreign tourist.
Furthermore, the story is different from conventional stories and instead of showing actions and events, the story records what the two characters think in a stream of consciousness technique. Here, Stream of consciousness is a style or narrative technique of writing that captures the natural flow of a character's extended thought process, often by incorporating sensory impressions, memories, incomplete ideas, unusual syntax, and rough grammar. On the other hand, this technique of stream of consciousness is not found in other previous stories I have read.
B. How is the author able to integrate two fragments of the narration into a unified whole?
In the story “The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun”, the author tries to intricate two fragments of the narration into a unified whole by connecting them with the instances of eyes and associating them to two different worlds. One the author is describing the instances taking place in the community and the activities of the people they perform for their livelihood. On the other hand, he reconnects it to the world of farmers where people are ignorant of the real instances of the world and suffers from several traditional thoughts and diseases.
Thus, by connecting two different worlds or thoughts of the East and the West, he forwards a message that one should visualize things deeply through their deeper eyes and understand the real meaning of the situation. He associates the guide's journey along with the tourist and observing the thing on the one hand and the guide is stating the significance of the places and activities on the other by instances of eyes and his narrative techniques of stream of consciousness.
C. The author brings some historical and legendary references to the story. Collect these references and show their significance in the story.
The author Shankar Lamichhane brings some historical and legendary references in the story "The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun”. The references and their significance are as follows:
The reference of Manjushri and her strike with his sword at Chobhar resulting in the outflow of the Bagmati River signifies her contribution in helping people to live in the valley.
The reference of the Puranas, images of brass and ornaments of ivory, manuscripts of palm leaves and inscriptions on copperplate indicate Nepalese people are rich in culture, traditions, religions and art crafts.
The eyes of the shaven-headed monks and nuns indicate the samyak gaze which means the perception, pure and without contamination; a sight that perceives everything in its true form.
The references of Princess Bhrikuti and King Amshuvarma reflect historical connections or relationships among the neighbouring countries like Tibet.
The pleasant light of sunset reflected in the eyes of the Buddha indicates Nepal as a country of Buddha with many more hopes and peaceful thoughts in the people. The temple of Adinath signifies the living example of Nepalese tolerance and coexistence.
D. The author talks about the eyes in many places: the eyes of the shaven monks and nuns, eyes in the window and door panels, the eyes of the Himalayas, the eyes of the paralyzed boy, the eyes of the welcoming villagers and above all the half-closed eyes of the Buddha. Explain how all the instances of eyes contribute to the overall unity of the story.
In the story "The Half-closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Sinking Sun" the author talks about the eyes in many places such as The eyes of shaven monks and nuns indicate the samyak gaze' which means the sight that perceives everything in its true form.
The eyes of the carved lattice (Fich) windows, the eyes painted on the door panels. The eyes on the stupas, the eyes of the people, the eyes of the Himalayas, the eyes of the paralyzed boy, the eyes of the welcoming villagers and above all the half-closed eyes of the Buddha. These all instances of eyes indicate that it is a land of eyes, a land guarded by the half-closed eyes of the Lord Buddha. Even if all of the world's history books were destroyed today, it is these eyes that display a new culture, civilization, religion, natural beauty and moreover the land of Buddha. The journey becomes meaningful by the memories obtained by the eyes.
In this way, the author associates several instances of eyes to memories that people obtain and people's appetite that never fulfil as they visualize something by their inner eyes and heart and unifies the story as a whole.