Nepali Kalasahitya Dot Com Pratishthan

Criticism:


Prof. Dr. Govinda Raj Bhattarai

Commuting along the lovely bridge of poetry

I had received Padachinha (Footprints) by Sudha M Rai back in 2008. What a great value does a gift that someone has presented you with love, respect and honor bear you cannot explain—that occupies a permanent niche in your heart. The same object you may buy in some shop but that is devoid of fragrance that affectionate feeling emanates. There is an appeal, an offer in the very first poem of her anthology –Why Don’t You Come My Dear Crossing the Bridge of Love in which the poet reminds her beloved --
Between us lies suspended
This very inconsequential bridge
For love to commute
Why don’t you come my dear crossing the bridge of love

What might this be like,   the bridge made up of feeling along which the beloved commutes. These lines arrested me and I went deeper into the anthology. And I wrote on the trends of contemporary Sikkimese  poetry with focus on Suda’s art of creation.  I have studied poets like  Rajendra Bhandai, Kedar Gurung, Upaman Basnet, Pawan Chamling, Beerbhadra Karkidholi, Praveen  Rai Jumali, moreover I have received Kedar Gurung’s autobiographical essays and memoirs Asrot Srotaharuko Pratisrot  ( 2011) and Deepak Tiwari’s Commendable research work  titled Sikkimko Nepali Saahityik  Itihas: Parampara Ra Prarup  2013 (History of Sikkimese Nepali Literature: Its Tradition and the Present Sketches). About a dozen works of different genres are awaiting with me however I am interested to converse with the poet Sudha M Rai for a few moments today.
Although I have never seen and met  this  author but then I think the meeting of one writer ( author poet etc.) with the other  is mostly non-physical. Almost all the physical relations will get obliterated; time will gradually erase  them from one’s heart however it is the relations based on creative art and feeling that remain permanent and ever lively— even beyond and after one’s physical existence, mainly because these are transposed in words, transported from one’s heart to the letters. This is how all the men of letters and creative writers are encountered. I don’t know how many years did I spend on Marquez, how many on Sylvia Plath and Orhan Pamuk and Jhumpa Lahiri. At present my days and nights are spent on Mo Yan. Creative authors are like nine (that I adore) million stars in the sky; I see them when I come out of my study and look at the sky. It seems every star there is looking at me with its light. A writer or an author is like this.
Five years have passed by.  The same author ( Sudha) posted me another gift recently:  an anthology of poems called Bhumigeet  ( Songs of the Earth)  a recent publication of 2013.
I have not seen her, nor shared any conversation however a work of art is in itself the creator’s representative.   This converses with the other of the same conviction.  Therefore I have decided to converse with Sudha today. During the Gezing literary conference that took place a decade ago there were hardly four or five women poets from Sikkim   to recite their poems. However at this moment critics present a large number of them in Sikkim who are actively devoted to the art of writing poetry.  But then Sudha’s originality and a sharp line of distinction she has drawn among her contemporaries has drawn my attention too; her writing deserves discussion and our attention today. This is why perhaps Sudha’s two best creations  (I futilely  happened to visit the market of mirrors and A woman becomes  Meera) have been included in a historic collectionlike Sagarmathako Nrityamagna Aatmaa ( Dancing Soul of Mount Everest)  a voluminous  and most commendable work, an  anthology of contemporary Nepali poems ( by 123 representative poets) edited by Momila, 2007. The reason behind my assessment of Sudha as a representative poet is her language suitable for epic and awareness of time. A creation though a timeless entity is undoubtedly an imprint of time as well.   He is or must be time conscious. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a famous modern English poet has said—The poetical language of an age should be the current language heightened .
Sudha’s poetic language needs to be analyzed from this angle too. But the reference to language does not mean the words or syntax merely; that will  result into a lifeless structure,  it  rather stands for the image of time, voice of the age, the path along which it wants to traverse, and its troubles, tribulations, sufferings , anxiety and way-out.  We are living in a very difficult and fractured time and space. Literature, especially poetry should give life to a person and his society. Awareness of time and space is very important. Everyone feels this however fails to give voice to this. Only appropriate style can achieve this. Above all your writing depends on what philosophy of life is directing you ultimately.
Sudha’s creation reflects contemporary woman’s voice very strongly. It heavily stresses her distress and anxiety. It focuses her personal feeling that can be generalized with contemporary women’s plight that calls for writing with power.  There are, however, some who consider that a suffering has no sex, and so no gender discrimination. That’s true though partially. Because some sufferings that a woman does experience are absolutely different from those shared by a male.  There are countless sufferings and anxieties but felt in different points and places. They have different causes and are subdued differently.
Sudha is contented in her creative world. Her poems like Ma Pharkera Gayepachhi (After my return), Poem: The path that the poet traverses), Mero umerale sirjeko kavita (The poem that my age created) etc prove of her full dedication to creation. Her opinions (expressed in Momila 2008) regarding the relationship between her life and poetry reveal this truth further: I am looking for myself within poetry. With a great patience not merely in composing poems but I would  love to survive being one. And I look for the existence of life in poetry.
Sudha’s dedication to art (of poetry) and conviction or belief reveals that she is conversing with the world in poetry and on poetry; she has placed this art in a high position like this:       
Do not worry about this poem
Do not display this   
Among the crowd of unhealthy thoughts
Do not trust this to any blind
For any award or prize
Give this only when one needs from his heart
(After I have Returned)

In most of her creation she has expressed with full devotion, in appropriate poetic language, and style. She speaks her heart out. In fact all the writers do create the picture of the world based on their own experience which is most likely to represent their voice too.
Poet Sudha spells out— I am compelled to compose a living poem of the earth. Likewise one’s compulsion, recollections, and imagination together weave a poem.  Indirectly one’s own experience is reflected there in which is enfolded one’s time and space. In some poems of hers like Jyoo Ma Gangtok, Bhaaichung Bhutiyako Saano Shahar ( Yes, I am Gangtok, Bhaaichung Bhutiya’s small city) a particular space and periphery of the poet is the background or locale but on the  other hand  in poems  like  Apratyasit Sambhawanaharu   ( Unexpected Possibilities), Sakshee Prem (A Witness Love) etc. take a universal locale. A young woman (character) speaks here:
In the corridor of my heart
Are queuing up
A dozen of boys
But I am never used to looking at them, however 
My next-door sister steals a look
By drawing the curtain of her window
Towards the door of my house.
( Unexpected Possibilities)


From Sudha’s poems emanate the odor of youthful physique, sometimes it moves colorlessly to another world.
The audience is moved by her language of inner heart. There is a similar piece in Yo Raatpachhi Timi Ra Ma (You and Me After this Night)
Silent are the sky, moon and stars
That’s all
That’s what love is
Without prejudice and request
Unknowingly
That carves a room in your heart
A strong bridge
(The Witness Love)

A youth comes across a time when he/she is moved by signals of youthfulness, physical awareness, consciousness of the other’s presence and a romantic aura pervades all around. Sudha’s A Witness Love touches upon this psychology. The greatness of motherhood resonates which is comparable to the earth:
Bring me a handful of satisfaction
My love
For my eyes with unquenchable thirst
I want to be satiated
I am the earth
I am the Mother

When the reader comes to the second collection of her poems (Bhumigit -- The Songs of Earth) the earlier path becomes wider—runs like a highway. The poet has expressed in her personal notes there: These women characters grow deeper and become more concrete in my conscience and life. So much so that sometimes they come to my workplace—where I compose poems and spend the whole night there or the day and leave me worried. Obviously she is in poems and with them. She is in person as well as in symbols.
Sudha traverses with her youthful self in the former anthology whereas she chooses a broader canvass and is identified in this. She   is there or emerges out of it. She draws her character images from prehistoric epics, mythological, puranic facts and figures, her characters are great women symbols who have been worshipped since time immemorial. She has taken Sita, Mandodari, Draupadi etc. The deprivation and experiences of those fossilized immortal saga have been her points of references. She has referred to Shilawati, Mandodaree, Draupadi, Sita, Urmila etc. and claims her fate has not changed yet. Identifying herself with them she reinterprets and reclaims the destiny of womenfolk. So she stands against the long structure of oriental society. The reason behind is that modern socio- cultural mores and codes are shaped according to the long established value system defended by religion and practices. By way of cultures these mores are descended down to the present and these are all pervasive. In the oriental Indian culture  woman are given a particular value in each  case of young girl, lover,  wife, mother as high as Goddess and   again on the other hand  they  survive facing  a contemptible and lowly position. This is quite contradictory. The fate these character symbolize are not new to us. These were accepted for centuries but the generation is trying to redefine women position, rebuilding and restructuring their status.
In many cases modern women want to be different but they fail be. Sudha stands herself among those who want to be different, speaks the voice of a rebel. In Nepali literature as well a group of avante guards are posing themselves as different, they come out vibrantly; a section of this group is drawing the attention of contemporary voices.
Dharmaveer Bharati had in former decades presented the angst of Draupadi in his Andha Yuga, B P Kairala had given voice again to the courage of Draupadi in his Modiaain, likewise Deepa Rai from Hong Kong encouraged Buddha’s wife Yasodhara to rebel against the warrior Krishna of the Mahabharata. Contemporary women come out of this mental cage and express their angst against the prisoner—they think so and resist. However I think we need to repair the society with the help of restructuring and co-existence, realization, and need to stand each other together so as to analyze our actions and feelings in terms of innate designs, acquired habits and strike a balance. I am not supposed to advise or pass any judgment on ways of life that centuries old value system has (wrongly) shaped. How long can men and women remain apart or aloof and in agony with a broken life which will not come in unison.
•   
The second anthology ( Bhumigeet) is the continuation of the first one – it  is a deviation from or  refinement in the first one. Self is the character of Sudha’s narration so she has women there too, a younger one, tender with all her fragrance and those who have lost the innocence of life, a woman who has lost the curiosity of life and has begun to regret for the changed situation. Youthfulness is like that, it melts down to voids, love is like that too it ends in emptiness, all the physical desires and achievements end in hollowness. Sudha moves towards this experience scale in this phase. Her poems bear the testimony of this. This is the psychology of time and age.
All the smritigeet (songs of memoir) derive from myths and puranas, remains of unknown past, that have descended down to us with  women characters symbolizing her fate under patriarchy which  I put before.  The women characters are all great figures venerable and immortal yet their body was misinterpreted and intellect power and mind too. So they were once in secondary positions. Modern women are reclaiming their full ststus. Sudha draws from Sita, Mandodari,  Draupadi etc. But one thing always strikes my mind that the all pervading nature and greatness of the Aryan civilization has penetrated the minds of all races, classes, religions and languages of this Aryavarta,  the Indian subcontinent including Nepal. Its influence is so deep and so immense that one cannot out of this. Sudha, despite being a Rai woman, a follower of Rai Kirata civilization, has perceived how the Hindu system of religion or culture has penetrated her psyche.  Her character Shilavati (title of a poem) presents the women subjugated by contemporary society. Is she only a body sans mind? They mean repressive males still rule the subdued females which is not all true.
Inserting the pieces of broken sky
in her  heart Shilkavati is busy
in the care  of
her aids inflicted  husband
( Shilavati)

Popular misconception shaped wrong founded values; some took the form of myth, they raised the impregnable fortress out of the fossilized beliefs.  Facing that fort, the poet identifies herself with the earth and sings the same exhortation
O mother earth
I am also undergoing everyday
The way you underwent
Boundless sea of misery
In the midst of your boundless affection
I was grown up as a woman
I have successfully come out of the
Fire pits of  false beliefs
But n the last mountain..
( Call of the Earth)

The last mountain must the pinnacle of   the ranges of human civilization; the point we have regarded the highest one. These are there as they were in the past. The mountain (of false belief) is still high. Among the legends and saga of oriental world, the epic story of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have impressed Sudha much. Nikumbhila of Lanka, Gandhaari, Sujata and Ghatotkach from the Mahabharata episodes are referred here. Some of them are crying for justice as they lie buried in the heap of injustice. In each case,she re-analyses the situation (plight)  of women, she observes and scrutinizes with modern eyes. Now people had unshakenbelief and trust, today they doubt the design. This doubt indicates the awareness of women, their power and position. This is also an awareness in them of how I have been left behind – a remorse in their heart. All the stories of the past were accepted as the performances and sports of the God, his or her leela but today as people revisit them with an eye affected with material-illusion, a different picture emerges. If you demolish an old mansion you can see only a heap of rubbles lying before you.
In this way in most of Sudha’s narrative poems, the stories and characters re-emerge as if they were sphinxes. These are great symbols generalized in modern human form. The past has agreat store to unfold before us. We review and revisit and reanalyze the same story with the light we get in every passing age. This is deconstruction.
This principle of deconstruction, the art of revisiting the past is a highly acclaimed the contemporary art world. This has revolutionized the art world as the foundation of post modernism. I am not going to bring here these high theories for discussion today but it should be mentioned that Sudha’s interpretation of especially Bhumigeet calls for these too. I just made a mention in passing. But one thing worth mentioning here is that since our oriental civilization has penetrated throughout the land of Aryavarta, far away into the antiquity, so an endless treasure trove lies before ever unexplored and inexhaustible so our artists can reuse the same endlessly, that primitive store is always there. We are here brewing discussion, debates,  refutes and poke the treasure and take honey out of the comb- it is inexhaustible. This is the feature of a rich civilization, one of the richest in the world. We derive pleasure and power both.
There are varying points of views. There are ancestors in her poems such as Bakinghamko Dhumil Kshyanama (In the hazy moments of Backingham), that are connected to the colonial past; there is Aama (Mother) a philosophy touches upon this daughter:
My mother!
Time does not pass
Only we do
In this continual flow of
inexplicable life-ocean
I identified the world with your modesty


God, on Your Feet is a silent song but bit more grave, more detached observer (the poet) contemplates deeply and that very art is very subtle in her Nadiko Geet ( Song of River):
One needs age
But
The river does never
Stop singing
Because man is always unable to reach destination
He is hurried to reach
And the river is in continual flow
Of not reaching the destination.
In this way, most often bearing the voice of a woman and again with a happy mood close to the indispensable males, again singing of his avoidance, becoming a universal experience again representing a particular class and gender Sudha appears and hides herself here.   A character is divided and fragmented into various forms in society. Sudha is divided here as well. There is a masterpiece of hers— Samarama Yuddharata Sipaheelaai patniko Patra ( A Letter from a wife to a   husband in the battle field). Here she assumes the position of a class and gender. She is writing as woman (wife) the warrior husband in the battle field. The poet has shown her interest and skill   expressing through poems assuming different roles that a society asserts. In this poem a male of Kirata origin is addressed. Because this affinity, he understands the Kirata (Rai Bantava) language too. See, how even a language and its culture come into play. But art symbols used in this poem are very high.The husband who fights in a far away land as a mercenary (is familiar picture for the Nepalese people) for ages and the monologue of his wife awaiting his return.This is a perennial drama time has been performing since time immemorial on the stage of Nepali people.The heroine addresses the warring hero away in an unknown land:
My darling
I remember
How mind worries and pines
In the cold bare hills
Every second sacrificing my life
For the sake of the country
Thanking the Almighty for being alive and
How this heart pines in the hope of
meeting your  people back home
You are fighting for the protection of the family
Than defending your nation.)
(A Letter from a wife to a Husband in the battle field)

Time has changed drastically.The battlefield that a wife fights in the society is completely different, her husband in the warfront. How deeply does this poem touch! This touches millions of warrior families, warrior wives – in the likeness of a war poetry of Dipa Limbu Rai:
But my darling
I will be happy only if your health is good
Because we have to build the future of our son
We have to buy a plot of our own
A new school has been initiated in the village
Our sons does not like to attend Ram Baje’s school
“I don’t go there, Ram Baje smells” he says
I like to go to another school
Holding a water pot in my hand
Which wants me suspend a string from my neck
He too has become an obstinate these days
He says “papao na sabachha”.
(A Letter from a wife to a   Husband in the battle field )

I have quoted many extracts from this poem which is   dedicated to the martyrs of Kargil War front, but still there is more to quote. This is such a topic as has remained familiar to the Nepali people in different forms throughout history. It is more vivid today. Sudha has expressed this reality through these pieces of art (creation) quite successfully. She further writes to a Lahure husband, her darling:
My heart chops this chaos
While sorting out vegetables
We are only brave
And we are always unprotected at the same time
And we will remain ever unprotected

Whatever may this be
You are fighting for the sake of the country
And in the course of fighting for the borders
Sometimes my father in law barks
And sometimes mother in law behaves crookedly
Sometimes brother in law teases
And sometimes sister in law crosses her eyes

Perhaps may be because of this
Our neighbors too pretends to be happy in my suffering
And this lame youth sometimes blabbers
I don’t know why

My darling
I don’t know what I wrote
This foolish woman
Barred from opening this heart
I have scribbled these letters of alphabets to you
You will trust by reading them
You mistrust after reading them
As soon as you receive this
You will kindly write your good news to me
A Letter from a wife to a   Husband in the battle field

I think this much is enough about two volumes of Sudha’s poems. More than  the anthologies as such I wanted see the portrayal of time she has made in her poems, I wanted to see what topic does inspire a woman  poet, what reasons does she have for taking a particular view of life, and  which style does she cultivate to give expression to her art ( and art). I could have selected other names like Shobhakanti Thegim, Beenashree Kharel, Basanti Sharma, Apsara Dahal, Deepa Rai who are contributing actively since the 1990s. Among them I have found Sudha as a representative one.
I know this piece of writing has not satisfied a dogmatic critic  as they may find here  a purely subjective  stand in the interpretation. But I strongly believe and the contemporary world believes—all the literary/artistic creation is purely subjective.  The creator, unless he is bound to color political slogans with strokes of words, is free, spontaneous and so creation is the result of his or her choice. So is the art of judgment, everyone does according to his or her conscience. Why should deprive myself of that freedom and bind myself within objectivity ? There used to be dogmatic structuralists, they still put literary analysis into a mould and reproduce a predictable result. They  will  conclude  Sudha’s work as:  the number of her poems is  53,  there are  eight thousand lines, and one million words or so much of kilobytes, every  line has ten words each in average,  it is written in first person  etc.

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