What's in a name?

- Ujjwal Prasai, Kathmandu
What's in a name?

Sep 16, 2011-

A journalist, who is now the editor of a daily, had once commented, “All Nepalis are poets.” His statement, laden with sarcasm, had basically hinted that Nepalis are inherently disposed towards fantasy and imagination rather than reality. And indeed, I would agree that most Nepalese people, at least once in their lifetimes, do become poets. Of course, they are not always great at what they do, and neither do all of them continue being poets forever. But, we can safely conclude that there are many young Nepalis at any given time who are writing verses in their personal diaries and journals, quite a few of whom even publish anthologies. I can testify to this based on the volume of poetry anthologies that I’m given almost every week to review. Generally, I don’t find most of them good enough to deserve a space in the paper. But every once in a while, you do come across an anthology that is surprisingly thought-provoking. That happened to be the case with the book of poems by Swa. Swapnil Smriti. This anthology answers to the above-mentioned journalist’s comment, proving that there are indeed poets out there who are still very much grounded in reality.

In the Nepali language, ‘swa’ (short for ‘swargiya’) indicates that the person is no more, serving the same purpose as the preceding ‘late’ in English names. I’ve seen it used in many literary magazines, but had dutifully ignored it up to this point, believing it to be an unnecessary new addition, unseen even in the works of iconic poets like Devkota and Rimal.

But here is a poet who prefers the ‘late’ designation—while still living. Deeming it a bizarre tactic meant to grab attention by

harnessing some sense of eccentricity, I mostly avoided Smriti’s poetry. Even when I did read some, it was off-hand, with very little seriousness. But when noted poets and critics seemed inclined towards mentioning Smriti’s work, it prompted me to give his poems a fair go.

Having read the anthology Baaduli ra Sudur Samjhana, I still can’t figure out the reason for that almost-creepy ‘swa’, something I still have reservations about. But names aside, in terms of content, his poems definitely stand out amidst the deluge of sub-par poetry that has flooded the Nepali literary scene. In fact, I have reason to believe that the quality of his work can be compared to those of established young poets like

Manu Manjil and Buddhisagar.

Like other successful young poets, Smriti’s penchant for incorporating new metaphors, characters and stories into his verse is praiseworthy. Almost all his poems are grounded in the harsh realities of Nepali society, and indicate especially poignantly the condition of those people who are toiling for an identity and for their survival in a society that marginalises them. Drawing colloquial diction and ways of expressions, he has captured the life in his village Panchthar—a domain of the Limbu community—with which he shares an intimate connection. Addressing his parents, neighbours, and his village-soltinis, he has well-depicted the cultural hues of that particular place and community. As the poet Srawan Mukarang aptly describes in a blurb: “Musing over his own community, culture and civilisation, Smriti dreams of a new Nepal.”

Take the poem Jeendagi Maaila. In this piece, Smriti traces the journey of a funny character named Jeendagi Maaila, who has returned to his village after a long stint as a manual labourer in places like Burma and Meghalaya. Now back home, he makes up stories about the lavish life he led abroad, trying to impress the

pretty village girls with his lofty tales. What is impressive is that Smriti has depicted Maaila’s entire personality in a few lines, and done so very humanely, without either glorifying or demeaning him. The poem ends in gratitude to Maaila for having returned home and helped in freeing his lands from the clutches of landowners. Using the case of Maila as an entry point, Smriti thus paints a vivid picture of village-life, as well as the dynamics of relationships within such small communities.

In other poems like Madhesh and Aandhi Ko Aakhyan, the poet bemoans the status-quo and commends the zeal of people who aspire to change. In the last stanza of the poem Madhesh, for instance, Smriti touches upon the marginalisation that the Madhesh suffered for many years, applauding the fact that the residents are finally gearing up to demand their rights:

But this year is different from other years.

Madhesh,which freezes in the cold wave every year,is now bathing in the colorful fire.

Personally, I would’ve preferred it if Smriti had retained his real name—Sanman Chemjong—as it feels much closer to his personality and the ambience of his poetry, being that it is more culturally linked to his community. In any case, whether as Sanman or as Smriti, the depth of his work has definitely overridden my preconceived notions, as vibrantly and refreshingly as it is embedded in the social realities of the country. 

Baaduli ra Sudur Samjhana will be released officially at the on-going Kathmandu Literary Jatra


Published: 17-09-2011 08:51

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