A letter to Bhupi SherchanThey may have changed the rules of the game and we may have changed into willing participants, but the deceit remains, because we always lose and they always win
Despite the decades that stand between us, I have come to understand that our present is no different from your past. Your poems stand tall like infallible prophecies. Like age old maxims, they tell us every day that what troubles us is not the inadequacy of our mind or being, but the consequence of living a lie. Except, the lies that haunted you have now become our all-encompassing, oppressive truth, and the history you disowned has now been forced upon us like an embarrassing name we did not choose.
When I try to rile against all that is wrong with this country, the words that appear on paper seem too futile, too inconsequential compared to the truth you have already discovered. When I want to question the vigour with which we cling on to our history that has been created to include some and exclude others, the words that appear on paper seem too feeble and it is at times like these that I find myself turning to you. I find myself taking solace in the thought that what compels me to reflect on the nature of this country does not seem very different from what compelled you to write these words of yours;
Not much has changed except for the names and faces of these men. They may have changed the rules of the game and we may have changed into willing participants, but the deceit remains, because we always lose and they always win.
You mourned the deaths of the nameless mercenaries who fought for foreign countries and died meaningless deaths. They were the foot-soldiers who stood tall like mountains in front of the enemy fire and dropped dead like flies. In the visible realities of our time, they are still battling death and we are still proud of their battle cry. But, death today is either reduced to a number or exalted to a hollow symbol. It is no longer just a marker of the unexpected, the untimely or old age, but instead a measure of the value attributed to the type of death itself. We ignore the deaths of those who build skyscrapers in dry lands and return to their country in wooden boxes; albeit, without a pension.
Deaths are labelled, certified and priced like strains of rice that compete with each other in the open marketplace. And we, the living, are classified and grouped together like chemicals in the periodic table, dissected by our common atomic make, much like our common allegiance to hollow ideas that have outlived their time.
We have never lacked for true patriots who can love and rebuke this country in equal measure. But, the State has picked its favourites and they are running around with flagpoles in their hands, ready to strike, while the so called traitors have been marked with a hot branding iron and they are walking around with the country’s flag burning on their foreheads.
And there are those who cannot afford sentiment because of their pressing urgency to survive. They wake up each day and try to live. The State, on the other hand, wakes up each day and lives at the expense of their lives. It bloats and expands at times of crises and just when it is required to move, to take action; it falls back on its obesity as an excuse. The State seems to thrive on our diminishing self worth, and we take pride in our increasing resilience. I cannot decide what is actually worse.
You spoke of a time when this country would have two kinds of people. Of course, you were right, except now, it is not just material that separates them; it is the mind too. One kind thinks of this country as their rightful inheritance and the other kind continues to fight to own a part of this land that has treated it like an abandoned child with no surname.
Through all this, one thing remains unchanged. There are many who are still battling the cold, the heat and the harsh winds, waiting for some news to come their way.
But, there is an explosion, though contained, of a vernacular which demands to be accommodated in this history that has been selectively passed down to us, but I fear that this ripple of change will be the sailing ship which gets blown off course by a storm and then gets sucked in by a monstrous wave. I fear, it may get buried at the bottom of the ocean and will have to wait for years to be discovered again.
Yet, while the State tries to exclude, ignore and insult the dissent of those who do not reflect its own image, there are many who have armed themselves with these words as they try to withstand the mendacity of our times;
*The English translations of Bhupi Sherchan’s poems have been taken from; The Life of Bhupi Sherchan–Poetry and Politics in Post-Rana Nepal by Michael Hutt (Oxford University Press 2010), and Himalayan Voices–An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature, Translated and Edited by Michael Hutt (University of California Press 1991).