Nation of poets
- Nepal presents a spectacular example of using poetry personally, politically, and socially
Feb 7, 2015-
If you ask me to name a country where the most practised form of verbal art is poetry, I would say Nepal. I say this with a penchant for poetry, because I believe poetry has stayed with us as part of our shared cultural and pragmatic consciousness longer than anything else.
Bhanubhakta Acharya (1814-1866) used poetry to win a release from jail and land litigation. King Mahendra wrote a non-poem to bid farewell to then prime minister BP Koirala who had gone to meet him in his sawari camp before going on to his first prime ministerial visit to India after getting elected in 1958. The poem is banal but meaningful. It goes like this in my translation: “BP, you’ll go now leaving us behind here/You’ll visit big cities, in the foreign land/You’ll have fun/But we will languish/In these very rivers, valleys,/the banyan-shaded platforms/And miss you/Don’t forget us/And we can never forget you either/Tired, when we will wipe sweats sitting on Chautari/At that moment/I will remember you.”
Mahendra never met Koirala again as predicted in the poem. Though Koirala’s party lingers in power with a coalition partner, that poetic episode leaves an important dent even today when parties visualise the future of this land on a chequered screen.
This land takes pride in great poets whose names need not be mentioned here. But people from palace to cottage said they were poets in this land. You will not be surprised if I tell you my find—several of today’s warring political party leaders write poetry. But why don’t they bring them out? Does poetry represent their brighter or darker selves that are kept so safely and secretly? Some of them have been published, but quality is a different matter. How people use this genre is an intriguing matter in Nepal.
Though collections of poems written by poets on poets are available, a few poems have left their impact on me. WH Auden, a very well known English poet, wrote a well-remembered poem on the death of the leading English poet of Irish origin WB Yeats in 1939 when the World War was raging. People who are sceptical about the effectiveness of poetry use these lines as epigrams. He writes: “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives/In the valley of its making where executives/ Would never want to tamper”. But there are cases where executives show sensitivity towards poetry’s effectiveness in all countries.
In Nepal, there are examples of rebels writing poetry and becoming targets of the executives’ wrath. Even European countries that claim a great tradition of the freedom of expression have many cases of poets becoming victims of orthodoxy. Examples abound. I somehow began to believe that a country writes poetry when it gets emotional. One factor that makes Nepal poetry-savvy is because it is quite an emotional country. Whenever difficult days loom, people write poetry; when people want to recover from the damages of war, people write simple poetry to assuage the pain and recover from trauma. At such times, what matters is not the quality of poetry but simply writing.
One strong example of that is the pervasive writing of an Arabic-Persian genre of poetry called ghazal, which expanded during the conflict period and even after it. At first, I took this practice lightly. As a literary critic, I was not sympathetic to this genre. But when I realised that it was a shared sense of sublimation and a human way of sharing, I was moved, though I cannot remain its ardent admirer.
It first struck me when I found the same themes more or less being used by poets wherever I went within Nepal or read the collections liberally donated and sent to me. Reading them, it seemed, perhaps all loved simultaneously, structurally, and unfailingly from Mechi to Mahakali. When they decide to cry or weep or do ruwai, they all weep across the country as textual and oral evidences show. If you are serious and love the genre, you can say the entire country is loving or weeping. I realised that to be no mean achievement for people who are looking for outlets to sublimate their pain. But frustrations with the two Constituent Assemblies’ failings and the parties resorting to charged rhetoric and a sense of reaching nowhere is slowly turning the country emotional once again. One can see that when they dodge the issues or when they use strong idioms against political actors. That is happening now.
Emotions and politics
But on a more serious plane, I have noticed another feature of sentimentality turning leading actors sentimental. This time, it is not poets but politicians who are turning emotional. If you listen to their language and read their speeches and exchanges inside the CA auditorium or outside, you become inundated with waves of emotions, which are confusing; you feel emotionally trapped. When this happens, they turn people violent. Using terribly indecent and bad language or irate expressions all fall under the category of emotional language use. Fortunately so far, people are turning their ire into emotions, but when emotions generate frustrated actions, that will show serious results.
This is a sentimental country, which does not make it difficult to understand why a tendency to give vent to emotions in poetry is so strong. But Nepali poetry is not only emotional; it is cool, well-written, and structured also. But a certain degree of emotionality governs the methodology of its dispersion and sharing. You become emotional also when what you expect does not happen. You become emotional when you censor others’ ideas and promote only your own.
There is no space to discuss this subject in detail, but what is certain is that Nepal presents a spectacular example of using poetry in personally, politically, and socially significant ways. Poetry is political power-wielding people’s
private selves; poetry is this poetry-savvy country’s emotional and liberating self. It is a very important clue to understand this country’s soul.
Published: 08-02-2015 09:12