Saturday Features

A poet’s testimony on society

  • Using literature to raise the voice of dissent

Dec 30, 2017-

There are some literary works that define a historical crossroad, and there are perhaps no other words that resonate with the Second People’s Movement of 2006 than Bise Nagarchiko Bayan (Bise Nagarchi’s Testimony). Its verses perfectly encapsulate the revolutionary challenge to the 250-year-old monarchy and define the general mood of that turbulent phase of Nepali history. In the poem, Bise Nagarchi, a lower caste tailor, converses with the first king of a unified Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah. But Bise does not shout out slogans or berate PN Shah; he only describes why he is revolting against the king after 250 years of servitude: 

It is just my wife who was killed /It is only my daughter who was raped /It is only my shack that was torched/Just for these reasons, why did I have to speak against you? / Oh no… /I have gone mad, my master!

This poem, which lends the title to a subsequent anthology of poems, is written by Srawan Mukarung. He must be one of the few contemporary literary giants in Nepal, who is recognised by the masses for his single poem. He himself recited the poem to thousands of protesters during the Second People’s Movement and played his part in sustaining the pressure against the regime.  However, the book Bise Nagarchiko Bayan has other important poems about the plights of Nepal’s marginalised communities, laying bare the pains of the Tharus, Madhesis and women. Mukarung’s poems speak on behalf of the people that sought to see a republican, pluralistic and inclusive Nepal. And although the anthology contains poems from Mukarung’s thirty-year-long poetic career, it is a must read especially to grasp the transformative narratives that surfaced in Nepal after 2006. 

For instance, sympathising with the Madhesh Movement, Mukarung wrote Anuhar Khoji Rahechha Rambharosh (Rambharosh is Searching for His Face). In the poem, Rambharosh, a Madhesi peasant loses his face (and his identity) and looks for it everywhere. He searches the paddy and his mustard fields but instead finds the landlords’ image there. He muses if his face must have fallen off when he was massaging his masters’ back and feet. Eventually though, he finally finds his face towards the end of the poem, after the Madhesh Movement prods him to rediscover his dignity. But before the ultimate moment of discovery, he thinks aloud: 

Amazing! /Those who served as Kamaiyas(bonded labours) in multiple lives, do not have their face /Amazing! / Those who served as Kamlaris(bonded labours) in multiple lives, do not have their face /Amazing! /Those who served as Badinis(sex workers) in multiple lives, do not have their face /What must have gone wrong? /Where have my loved ones lost their faces? /Rambharosh was stunned.

Mukarung’s solidarity for marginalised communities is reflected from another of his signatory free verse styled poem Mukti Geet (Freedom Song). In this poem, a Tharu is speaking to his gods in nature–the sun, fire, wind, the earth and his ancestors. He knows that the lands, trees, rivers, birds and the sky were free and once so was he. But ‘intruders’ invaded his world and enslaved it and him along with it. At the end of the poem, he pleads his current masters to free him, to allow him to catch ghonghi (a type of snail used in Tharu cuisine) and fish, to let him drink alcohol and sing the song of freedom. In the middle of the poem, the Tharu describes how the ‘intruders’ had invaded his land: 

Just how they snatched away the early branches of this tree /In the same way – they snatched my hands, legs, brain and eyes /They broke my ancient chest bones and made a safe house for themselves / After silencing me, they made their own language / After grabbing my cries, they made their own song / After stealing my anger, they made their own ammunition / After seizing my tears, they quenched their own thirst.

Some of Mukarung’s poems depict immense respect he has for women, especially love for his mother. In his poem Meri Ama (My Mother), the author’s mother is sexually and physically abused by an unnamed man, most probably the father. Shocked of the abuses, the mother walks out naked into the streets. People call her mad, and is considered a burden to the society. But the poet defends his mother. He says that his mother is not mad but rather an emblem of the current era. Towards the end of the poem, the mother’s love for her son flows in the following lines: 

A woman /Mahabharata’s heroine /Nude /Scattered hair /And with cracked breasts, she comes in front of me and says – “Son, you are living, therefore, I am living.”

Many readers have compared Mukarung with Bhupi Sherchan, a pioneer in Nepali free verse poetry. As Sherchan also wrote about distant revolutionary dreams, the disenfranchised and Kathmandu Valley, Mukarung probably is the flag bearer of Bhupi styled free verse poems of modern times. Mukarung himself has said in a literature festival that his free verse poems simplified poetry’s appeal to masses, unlike many of his predecessors whose poems were riddled with metaphors. 

Mukarung published Bise Nagarchiko Bayan in 2009 AD. Through it, he has asked the Nepali society difficult questions, described injustice in a revolutionary fashion, and demanded that the society change here and now. Yet what has changed in the decade since? To an extent, there have been some changes. Marginalised communities have found a voice. Absolute poverty in the country is waning. But the grievances Mukarung brought to light a decade ago are still largely prevalent today and look set to last for a long while yet. The plight of the Tharus, Madhesis and women still remain largely unaddressed. The question then is–for how long will poets have to write about racial injustice, caste discrimination, gender-based violence? Will the Nepali society ever be able to address these injustices? Or, will another Mukarung have to warn Nepalis in twenty years to come?  

Published: 30-12-2017 08:30

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