The lost decades
- Revisiting Bhupi Sherchan’s Ghumne Mech Mathi Andho Manche
Sep 24, 2016-Bhupi Sherchan is perhaps the most beloved and widely read poet in Nepali literature. His mastery over the free verse—that broke away from the archaic slokas that had once dominated Nepali poetry—and his eagerness to explore themes that were seldom written about, made his poetry both readable and relatable for the masses. Bhupi’s peerless genius is further underscored by the fact that his poems continue to remain widely popular and ever relevant to every new generation of readers; his magnum opus, Ghumne Mech Mathi Andho Manche, has seen 10 different editions since it was first published in 1968. Having recently sat through the anthology (in one frenzied sitting), I was left with two conclusions: the first that Bhupi was a visionary whose ideas were well and truly ahead of his time, and secondly that because his poems are still so hauntingly relevant in this day and age, it begs the question of what progress we have really made in these lost
decades.“I hear: Amar Singh reaching Kaangadaa… Buddha sowing seeds of peace on the earth. I hear, I always hear and just hear. But I don’t believe these tales when I see public squares drowned in hunger...When I live in these withered streets for a few days, then I realise that my country’s history is a lie.” Sherchan questioned the state-manufactured history in his classic Galat Lagcha Malai Mero Desh Ko Itihas. In these verses, and others throughout the poem, Bhupi avertly challenges a monolithic sense of national identity and pride (read centralised Pahade Hindu nationalism) evangelised particularly by king Mahendra after he wrestled away a hard-fought democracy to institute absolute rule once again in 1960. If recent political empowerment of marginalised communities is making inroads into demystifying this convoluted sense of a singular, all-encompassing identity, Bhupi was already denouncing it right from the time it began to take root. To think of it, not much seems to have changed in the decades after 1960 in our aggrandisement of the Nepali history. Even today, by and large, the Nepali identity continues to be defined in terms of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Buddha and Sagarmatha and not on the basis of a commoner’s daily struggle to survive in this oft-touted “Shangrila”.
Bhupi also pointedly wrote about Nepalis fighting for the UK and India—be it in Burma, Malaya or Ladakh. In Titara, Battai and Bhakkhu ko Raango kaa Santaan haru prati, he questions the relatives of those who perished in foreign wars, “The Victoria Crosses and Param Veer Chakras decorate your chest greatly. But don’t you sometimes detect smell of the corpses of your loved ones?” Perhaps Sherchan was a bit harsh on the relatives of the deceased Gurkhas of the British and the Indian army, but his question is still valid. Whether they were the lahure mercenaries of the past or the Nepali migrant workers of present, their motive is the same—to earn a decent living for their families.
Moreover, their premise for leaving—the abject dearth of good opportunities to flourish in Nepal—has not changed in the lost decades.
If in past decades, we dedicated our sweat and blood by fighting to protect some other nation’s interests, we continue to do so today by building skyscrapers, stadiums and roads in the Middle-East and beyond. For all of their consumerist benefits, remittances cannot build a country. Only measured investments and job creation through the development of physical infrastructure, agriculture and industries will be able to drastically improve the country’s economy and its people in the long run. But as Sherchan’s pessimism speaks aloud, in our thirst for new buildings, movie theatres and shopping malls, we continue to remain oblivious to the rotting smell of corpses brought home in coffins from lands afar.
Bhupi’s classic cynicism also runs throughout his poems about Kathmandu. He lived in the city, loved it and mostly hated it. His poems have a deep resentment against Kathmandu’s urbanisation, poverty, its inequality and its penchant for crushing dreams. In Chiso Ashtray, he writes, “People who arrive here, are full of fire in the heart. People who live here, carry ashes in their hands and smoke in their eyes. People who leave, leave with broken dreams and burnt out beliefs.” Bhupi’s love-hate relationship with this dust-bowl Valley is still confoundingly relevant. The poet would have perhaps smirked with a ‘I-told-you-so’ gratification were he to revisit Kathmandu today. If anything, the reasons behind his sharp denouncement of the decadent and hedonistic city have only exponentially increased—with the ever mushrooming urbanisation and the ever widening inequality. Bhupi’s burning question remains—will we ever be able to tame the ugliness of the sprawling physical concrete jungle and the hollowness of spirit of the inhabitants of this once gorgeous Kathmandu Valley?
Sherchan’s penchant for pessimism and cynicism that aligned with the thought processes of the commoner is what made him so popular. Bhupi, through his writing career, stiffly resisted falling back on the escapism in the pastoral and romanticism. A poem that celebrates
life is a rarity among his poems that are submerged with an intense
loathing for life; his energy is
instead geared towards explaining how ruthless and meaningless life is. Bhupi was no mortician, he never feigned reality with the hollow gloss of imagination.
It is striking to observe that there remains little room for optimism in the Nepali psyche even today. Hasn’t anything changed at all since Bhupi
wrote his scathing critique of Nepali society and politics? So to speak, many things have. We have tasted democracy twice since the 1960s, begun driving out undemocratic forces (however slowly), a political renaissance has emerged with the rising consciousness among the marginalised communities and we have become a global supplier of blue collar labour. But have we really shed our pessimism at all? If not, it is high time to ask why we have been unable to transform ourselves into a relatively happy country. A country that can feed, educate and employ its population without having to wave a begging bowl in front of the powers that be. To that end, Sherchan’s evergreen poems provoke some food for thought.
Published: 24-09-2016 08:39