Saturday Features

When I am no more

  • Alka Gurung reflects on her father’s life, death and legacy
- Alka Gurung

Jun 3, 2017-

Jaba ma hundina malai khojchhau hola

Uraathilo manle timi sodhchhau hola

Yo manchhe yehi thyo kahaan gayo hola

Yo manchhe yehi thyo kahaan gayo hola

Ma hindeko aawaaj taba kahaan sunchhau

Timrai chheu ubheko timi kahaan dekhchhau

Jhajhalkoma timro ubhiye bhane ma

Kasari ma phakaau dherai runchhau hola

Pharkiye bhane ma pherera yo chola

Bhana ke garera malai chinchhau hola

Paani tyahi ho ke nadi ke khola

Kasari yo bhed timi bhujchhau hola

In recent months, I have often reflected about my late father, Amber Gurung—about his life, his art and most sadly, about his death.

While his life story, his art and his family and friends live on, I wonder where Baba himself has gone. In the ensuing silence that follows, there are no resounding answers—just an innate silence, a painful void and a profound sense of loss.

As I grapple with my grief, I have also come to accept that upon his death, Baba has been released from the depredations of cancer, an illness that ravaged his body and reduced him to a shadow of his former self.

While to live and die is inevitable—a universal certainty from which none of us can escape—the passing of Baba has, nonetheless, become one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

It has made me question what it means to live and die and what gives life meaning in an otherwise futile and meaningless existence if death is all that we have to look forward to.

Yet, I know that if Baba were in front of me now and we were having a conversation about life or death, he would most probably smile and say that far from life being meaningless in the face of death, it is the inevitability of death which gives life meaning.

As someone who experienced and endured his fair share of life’s ups and downs, he would be the first to concede that life isn’t easy, that it is unpredictable and stormy, that it is unfair and unjust, but he would also contend that life can be gentle and compassionate, filled with love and beauty.

It can be humane and full of surprises, and that every experience of violence, hatred and heartlessness is countered by selfless and unconditional acts of random kindness and great humanity shown by various people around the world—most often by those with the least. 

Observing life from this perspective, Baba reasoned that while life is a struggle, our ability to remain courageous and steadfast in the face of adversity ensured ultimate victory over life’s challenges and that every victory opened a vista into our inherent courage and inner strength as human beings.  

As such, he writes in one of his songs:

Aansoo ra haansoko yo sangarsha jeewanma

Himmat na haara binti yo pyaarko safarma

Jeewan ta hamro din raat, barbaad nai chhadai chha

Aasha chhadai chha aba kina aansoo jindagima

Himmat na haara binti yo pyaarko safarma

Baba was deeply moved and felt most connected with life when he was surrounded by nature.

He loved the blue skies, the soaring snow-capped mountains, the lush green valleys, the gurgling of streams and the joyful sound of birds singing.

It was during these moments that he rejoiced at life and was inspired to write lyrics or compose music.

As a deeply spiritual man who believed in the existence of something bigger than ourselves, Baba recognised that it was during these moments when surrounded by the unbounded beauty of nature, of experiencing unconditional acts of kindness, of having prayers answered when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, that life affirmed itself and revealed its true beauty and mystery about what it means to be alive.

As a man who identified himself foremost as a singer and a composer, Baba felt that it was impossible to create any form of art and, especially music (which he considered to be the art most closely linked with the divine), unless we tapped into that side of ourselves which was compassionate, empathetic, graceful and loving and stemmed from a place where purity and truth (satyaata) resided.

Honing on this truth, his life experiences became his art, a focal point for his existence through which he cried, loved, prayed, philosophised, rejoiced, laughed and most importantly, tried to make sense of life and our journey through it. Hence, he philosophises in this song:

Man sundar ta sundar hunchha dharti gagan sara

Man bhitra nai chha kalkal chalchal sheetal gangadhara

Banda man bhitra kahan phulcha kusum kali

Man gaganmai sajcha junatara jhilmil

Man sundar ta sundar huncha herne disa sara

Ko hun najik ko hun tada, sabai pyaara pyaara

As a man who loved and affirmed life deeply, Baba was also very aware of the transient nature of our existence.

Despite the impermanence of life he was certain that doing what you really wanted to do, and persevering despite discouragement, momentary failures and setbacks ensured success and a deep sense of personal satisfaction and achievement in the long run.

As such, he believed that life became meaningful when used for the service of others or in selfless contributions made to a specific field.

In his case, he wanted to contribute to the development of Nepali music—to leave behind a legacy of important experiences and artistic lessons that he had garnered over a lifetime and which, he hoped, would provide a strong platform for future generations to build on.  

Following the aftermath of Baba’s death, and as I thread my way through my own life, I have often contemplated on Baba’s perspective on life—his perception of life and death, his art and his advice and assurances about what it means to live. Yet, there are still so many questions that loom large—so many reassurances that I seek, so many affirmations that I need.

I wonder if I were to articulate these queries loudly, would he suddenly pop up and answer them in person. Yet again, I wonder if he is already in our midst and speaking to me, and that perhaps, I don’t ‘see’ him for it is my eyes and my senses that are veiled.

I am nowhere near to finding a perfect answer, but as his daughter, I feel privileged to have shared my life with Baba—to have been introduced to the enigma of life and what it means to live it gracefully, joyfully, meaningfully, and most importantly, truthfully. 

- Alka is late Amber Gurung’s daughter.

Published: 03-06-2017 08:18

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