Print Edition - 2015-06-12  |  Earthquake Relief

Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is the best medicine

Jun 11, 2015-

Manoj Gajurel is one of the most influential and talented stand-up comedians in Nepal. An expert satirist, the man is a chameleon of sorts and it is hard to tell that his caricatures of political leaders like Narendra Modi, Prachanda, former king Gyanendra Shah are not their real selves.  After of the Great Quake, Gajurel, along with Sisnopani—a satire group—has travelled to 10 quake-affected districts with relief material. Along with distributing basic necessities, the artist has also been providing therapy to the traumatised through his art. The Post’s Anup Ojha caught up with the comedian and talked to him about his experiences during the quakes and the relief operations he has been carrying out. Excerpts:

What were you dong when the April 25 quake hit the country?

I was in the Sarwanam Theatre in Kalika Marg along with my 12-member family—including my wide and my 73-year-old mother. We were attending a talent show of SLC appeared student in which a cousin was also participating. I was invited as a chief guest of the programme and while my family was up in the podium, I was sitting in a corner—right next to the exit—as I had been delayed and had entered the hall after the programme had commenced.

A girl was on the microphone, speaking, when the lights went out. There was a loud noise, similar to that of a running generator. I looked up and the light bulbs were swaying in the air. In a while, it occurred to me that we were experiencing an earthquake and I shouted to my family to get down—the auditorium has a slope seating arrangement. I rushed out of the building and fell down when I reached the open ground outside.

What did you do next?

I cancelled all three programmes that I had to attend that day. As soon as the shaking ceased, I made phone calls to all my relatives. I then took my entire family on a drive around town. After passing through Dillibazar, Thamel and  Kuleshwor, we went to our home in Kaushaltar.

We witnessed a lot of devastation on the way. As soon as I reached home, I logged on to Facebook to find hundreds of posts from my fans living abroad who were worried as they had not been able to contact family here. I wanted to help in any way I could, so I posted a status on Facebook requesting people to personal-message me the contacts of their loved ones so that I could find out their status and help them get in contact. I had received over 500 names and numbers. I called hundreds of people that day, thanks to 3G service I was able to get back to the concerned.

Have you been involved in relief distribution?

Three days after the quake, I had a meeting with Sinsnopani members Tanka Raj Acharya and Arjun Adhikari. Raju Adhikari, a representative of Gayatri Pariwar Nepal, had also joined us.

After our meeting, we started ordering puri-tarkari from Siddhartha Cottage in Tinkune, every morning. The order would be ready by 4 am and we would distribute it to the people we would meet on the way. We went as far as Manha village in Sindhupalchok.

On the fifth day of the quake, 19 doctors from India came in contact with us. We took them to various places like Pangretar, Tauthali, Barabise and other quake-affected areas. In the field, I helped them as an interpreter.

A group of friends from France had collected relief material worth Rs3 million; we distributed those goods in the villages of Nuwakot.

What did you take away from your relief work in the affected regions?

I went for a field visit to Kavre and Melamchi with my team. On the way, we saw many children begging for food, but we had already found out that the area had received enough relief material. I felt that people had started to depend on others. Then we came to the conclusion that relief material was much more important for the people in far-flung areas that are deprived of roads access. It seemed that people were in need of psychological counselling rather than just relief supplies.

What sort of counselling were you able to provide the affected?

 We had a medical doctor Rabindra Samir in our team. Dr Raju Adhikari, another medical doctor who is also a meditation and yoga instructor, had also tagged along. We had singer Sisir Yogi and Kamalikanta Vetwal who were providing people music therapy. As for me, I was helping people with my Manoj  Paramarsa—a phrase that I coined for my healing-through-humour process.

What, according to you, are the major problems people have been encountering?

We visited various quake-affected districts like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Sindupalchok, Kavre, Dolakha, Rasuwa, Nuwakot and Dhading. I found that people in the affected areas were traumataised and had become weak mentally. People were not working in the fields anymore. Superstitions and orthodox beliefs had surrounded them. Their mental situation was gripped by uncertainty. Some of them had been living more extravagantly now, spending without a though—a turnout of realising how fickle life is. And most saddening was the fact that people had become dependent on relief material and we found that many of them had started to drink and laze around expecting for someone else to come to their village and do everything for him. Some, we found, were driven by the idea of going abroad for labour employment as there was nothing they could do now as they had lost so much. We worked on trying to bring new hope to the people. The least we could do was to try and bring back the confidence of these people and encourage them to lead an independent life.

Can you tell us about a memorable incident from your visit to the affected areas

Fifteen-year-old Maheshwor Neupane from Dhaibung ward-1, Rasuwa, was working in the field when the April 25 quake hit. The boy, who had learned in school to duck and find safety underneath a desk—or something that could withstand falling material—had run into his house and had hurried under his bed. The house had collapsed and he lost his life. When we were in Rasuwa, the boy’s mother had told me this story with dewy eyes. It broke my heart.

What could be the role of artists in such times of crisis?

 In the past, I used to mock politicians with our satires. But now, I think, is the time for somebody like me to do much more. Artists have power. Through our creativity and our skills, we could help change the attitude of the people. It is high-time for us to work on making people feel the importance of being driven by nationalistic feelings and the need to be united. We should motivate them to work within the country. We have to encourage them to contribute to the development of the country.

What message do you have for the people of the country?   

Before the quake, our political parties had oceans between them and always misunderstood each other. But now, they have come together at one place to try and improve the situation. This, I think, is the quake’s doing. The attitude of people has changed too. We live in different times now. So let us work together for change. The quake has made us forget out cast, creed and religion. The people of the Himalaya, the Hills and the Tarai have all come together. Let us be driven by this unity in the future and work hard to make our country a better place to live in. 

Published: 12-06-2015 07:40

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