‘Unlike patriarchy, feminism does not worship power; it teaches you empathy’Pranika Koyu talks about why she chose feminism as the subject for her poems.
Poet, activist, and mother Pranika Koyu recently mentored Chronicles of Silence: The Smoldering Embers, in which 11 women share harrowing stories from Nepal’s 10-year armed conflict. Like most of her work, this book speaks from a feministic standpoint. The poet started her journey into the world of the published word when one of her poems was printed in her school magazine. The poem was about a sister hoping her younger brother would come home for Bhai Tika. Even then, her poems evoked emotions of empowerment and political satire, she says. In an interview with the Post’s Sweksha Karna, Koyu shares how literature plays a role in bringing about a change in society. Excerpts:
Who introduced you to poetry and when did you start writing?
I started writing when I was in fourth grade. My school teacher, who also wrote poetry, encouraged the class to write. However, because questions like “Who helped you to write?” and “Did you copy it from somewhere?” kept coming my way, I stopped sharing them, or writing at all. Some of my works were published here and there, over the years, but I took multiple breaks. I was active in the years 1987 and 1999. But it was only since 2009 that I actively started writing.
You write in both English and Nepali. But do you think the essence of your poem is altered when you translate a poem from one language to another?
I don’t translate my poems. It’s mostly done by other people. If the thought comes to me in English, I’ll write the prose in English, and if the thought comes to me in Nepali, I’ll write poetry in Nepali and won’t translate it right away. There was only this one time where I started to write in Nepali, but the phrases kept coming to me in English, so I had to first write it in English and then translate it. Of course, the nuances of both languages are different, the choice of words are different, and sometimes it felt bland. But I feel like, even when my work is translated, what I write remains the same, but how I write it is different.
How do publishers and audiences react to your poems, considering they are considered unorthodox in Nepali literature?
I think the audience has wholeheartedly accepted me. I can feel people connecting with me during recitals. They come up to me and tell me that they relate to my poems. Yes, there are people who do not always agree with me but understand what I’m saying and why. As far as the publisher’s reactions, they aren’t the best. My first book Bhav was self-published too. I send my poems to mainstream media publishers, but they don’t respond to me, nor publish my work, which tells me that they need more time to get used to the subjects I write about. At the moment, I only send my poems to Setopati and don’t even try to reach to other mainstream media publications. It does limit the audience to some extent, but the poems are shared a lot and that makes up for it.
Where do your feminist values originate from? Why and when did you decide to make them the subject of your poems?
I don’t think my poems are just limited to women. Most of them, like Pahile Kahile, are applicable for anyone who stands for their rights. My earlier writings were not clearly written with a conscious feminist mindset, they were centred around being a woman in Nepal, reservations and political satire. I did consciously start writing from a feminist lens from 2002. I feel like if anyone is concerned with injustice and autocracy of the state and wants to raise the voice against it, then, feminism is the lens that helps you probe further inside it because unlike patriarchy feminism does not worship power, it teaches you empathy which is an important aspect of any rights activist. And most importantly, one does not have to be apologetic to choose the lens befitting their philosophy to analyse their society, and to write and talk.
Do you believe that your poems can change the way people look at things? What, according to you, is the role of literature in bringing about a change in society?
In the panel discussion of the book Chronicle of Silences, someone asked me the same question—why poetry? Literature can subtly provoke, and evoke emotions. Langada Ko Saathi, by Lain Singh Bangdel, made me realise how impressionable literature can be. Multiple underground political movements started through poems and songs. These mediums were thought-provoking. If it worked then, it should work now. Literature is a very powerful tool, and it has a very big role in bringing about a change, either by promoting state propaganda or making people aware.
What was the process behind writing “Chronicles of silences” like?
All the poems in the book are stories of women who were exploited during Nepal’s 10-year conflict. They were written by 11 courageous women, who wanted to speak up. Some of them didn’t even know how to write, so during the five-day workshop that we held, they would dictate their thoughts and phrases to me. It took multiple group discussions and one-to-one discussions to make sure the stories of these women and their emotions were portrayed correctly, without hampering their anonymity for their security; none of the poems give reference of the name, time, and place. I only mentored them, edited and translated their poems like they wanted. The process, I guess, was difficult but therapeutic for them.
What are some of your favourite writers and books that you would advise everyone to read?
I love the work of E E Cummings, an American poet. I love his style—how he uses uppercase, lowercase and punctuation mark to express and experiment. I myself draw inspiration from him. However, the book that has haunted me till date is Heart is The Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. This is set in the depression-era of the US where working-class families of poor whites and liberated blacks, people with disabilities, children coming of age and ambition interlinkage with one another affect each of them. One must read this book.
Of the Nepali writers, Lain Singh Bangdel is my favourite. His sensibility and sensitivity is well portrayed in his works and his novella Langadako Saathi is my all-time favourite book. The intensity of Saru Bhakta's works, be it novel or drama are incredible creations as well. I am inspired by Laxmi Mali's poem, especially on women's identity, and in awe of how even now the need to explore issues raised by her is still being fervently done by young women poets, including me.
Banira Giri's poems on sexuality have also shaped the way I question my sexuality. Her novel Kaaragaar is an excellent piece of how women are confined or made to confine themselves in patriarchal layers of 'family love'. Parijat's Boney is a column series that had left an impression on my adolescent mind. This, however, I question now. Of the contemporary poets, I admire poetry by Nibha Shah, Swapnil Smriti and Sampada Rijal. I enjoy Upendra Subba's poems as well.