Print Edition - 2015-04-04  |  On Saturday

A simple man

  • The poetry of Kesar Lall is valuable not because it offers grand insights or heady philosophies but because it reduces the essence of living to things as simple and prosaic as a fly trapped in a window, the play of shadows on his bedroom ceiling, the feel
- Pranaya SJB Rana
A simple man

Apr 3, 2015-

There is a house in Bansbari, up from the Australian Embassy and into the lane that leads to the Thai Embassy. It is an innocuous house with an innocuous entrance. An old metal gate opens creakily onto a driveway littered with falling leaves and tufts of grass. There are trees all around and a small pond.

A simple man lived there once. He would open the gate with a smile when I would drop by to visit my friend, his grandson. I remember him as a spry old man, white hair and creased of face. He was always cheerful, calm and soft-spoken, seemingly at peace in the shade. In my youth, I didn’t pay him much mind. I would discover only later, when much older, his poems, bound in a book and published, in one corner of my friend’s attic. The poems I read then were simple, soft words and soft feelings, the poems of a man in the later stages of life, looking back far more than looking forward. I was struck then by the humility in those poems and their almost Buddhist equanimity.

Kesar Lall passed away a few months after I came upon those poems. I never did get to speak to him, although I would’ve liked very much to. But I got to know him through his works, from the early classic Lore and Legend of Nepal to the poems he wrote in his winter years. I am most taken by his poetry, spare and unadorned. They speak of recurring themes—the evanescence of life and youth, the resilience and beauty of nature. They also encapsulate moments, snatched from the flow of time and embedded into a litany. Kesar Lall was a consummate poet, writing so evocatively in English without any formal education. He might not have gone to formal school but, as he says in ‘My kind of life’, he was “Nor ever so unlearnt as a scarecrow / That bent with the passing wind.”

For Kesar Lall, poetry did not seem to be too lofty a pursuit. He turned his gaze on all that was around him and found rhythm and harmony in all that he saw. He wrote often about the small pond in his front yard, the walnut and the pear tree, and the sight from his bedroom.

His poems, then, are extensions of himself. In the introduction to his collected works, he writes, “I must confess that I am a lone wolf. I love the mountains and the fields. I am quite at home in a lonely place and I often enjoy the rain, the thunderstorm, and the wind. My place of pilgrimage is Gosainkund.” There is a casual honesty to these words and it is the same with his poems. This is not to say he didn’t struggle with poetry; he has admitted that he often did, but they read effortlessly. His ambitions were not grandiose. As he says himself:

“So, oft when the hour is nigh

Words come tumbling unbidden

From somewhere deep within

To re-tell an ancient tale of human woe,

Joy or folly

For my own enjoyment

And maybe for the entertainment

Of a kindred soul or two.”

For he knows the folly of high ambition, which is often the result of hubris. It is as if he is saying that it is not up to one to decide, thought he will not bear any ill will to those who do. He just wants to gently remind us that there is much else that can be enjoyed, much that does not have to be brought into creation but can be savoured as is. As much he cautions in The kite in a Tree:

“…That every tale of vaulting ambition

Came too soon to an ignoble end.

Fortune, like good weather, lasts

not long.

It changes too soon to suit the wishes

of men.

But who heeds history?

For all men began after all as boys…”

But Kesar Lall’s nudges are not hectoring. His ability was to display with frank openness the manner in which he had lived and which, he had decided, had left him happy. He doesn’t regret in his poetry, though he does long. His poetry is one of learning, even at an old age. Death, he knows, is not far and it is a subject that crops up frequently. He addresses his own place in the passage of time directly in Old Age:

“It’s a time to spare some moments for friends,

To lend a finger to a tiny toddler down the garden path,

Listen to the music in the trees by the window

Or wait for a flower in the pot to bloom.

And perhaps add a few more words

To a poem begun long ago.”

But death is not something that seems to scare him. It is almost as if death were an acquaintance that he passed regularly on the street. He speaks of death with a fondness, as if he knows that it is but one stage, one end and one beginning. He seems to know, as if privy to some cosmic truth, that one day he will recur. The headiness of life will pass, he seems to say: “I return sober, if not wiser.”

There hasn’t been much written on Kesar Lall, though anthropologist Mark Turin has on a number of occasions paid tribute to the man. But this too is befitting the kind of man he was. He did not long for fame or recognition and was happy simply to lay out the contours of his life as they came to him. The poetry of Kesar Lall, thus, is valuable not because it offers grand insights or heady philosophies but because it reduces the essence of living to things as simple and prosaic as a fly trapped in a window, the play of shadows on his bedroom ceiling, the feel of a young grandchild’s warm hand.

This, then, is a eulogy of sorts and also a lament, for the passing of a man who did not rage against the dying of the light. He went gentle into that good night, making peace with all he left behind. As an observer, a wanderer, a documentarian, and a poet, Kesar Lall saw much and felt more. He has gone beyond and he must be comfortable. He wrote once, “I call it my destination where I find myself in.”

Published: 04-04-2015 09:02

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