Poet of the peopleBorn and raised in Jyamdi village of Kavre, Arjun Parajuli didn’t grow up in an environment that was equipped to nurture the love for literature in him.
Born and raised in Jyamdi village of Kavre, Arjun Parajuli didn’t grow up in an environment that was equipped to nurture the love for literature in him. But, he got his hands on the most popular literature Nepal had to offer with whatever resources available and started writing poems at a very young age. One of the most interesting incidents in his life is getting through a job interview by impressing the interviewers with his disarmingly honest, satirical poems. Today, Parajuli is a renowned poet, whose works are mostly listened to than read. Despite having run the publication house Bhudipuran Prakashan for years, he has one celebrated book to his name—Andralok. In this conversation with The Post’s Abha Dhital, Parajuli talks about how literature is a powerful tool for socio-political change. Excerpts:
You are known as a ‘Jana Kavi’, the people’s poet. There used to be a time, during the democratic movements, where you could assemble a mass of people with just your poetry. Are you still writing and reciting?
I still write, but very sparsely. If there was a time when I wrote a poem or two every other day, I barely write a couple in a month now. I haven’t been writing much. I haven’t gone out to the streets either. However, I still perform my poems at private events to cherish that love for poetry.
Are you writing less because there isn’t enough inspiration?
Perhaps it’s the lack of inspiration. Or worse, it’s the lack of energy. I have to admit, I have gotten lazier over the years. I can never write just for the sake of writing. It has to hit where it matters, before I pick up my pen and pour out of my feelings. Nothing comes out of me when I am not ‘feeling’ enough. My works are mostly satirical and critical of the status quo. Most of my poems are a result of discontent towards what is going on around me. It arises from anger; it arises from the desire for change. It is stimulated by the need to revolt and not settle.
You have been writing for more than forty years now. The political scenario has evolved a lot in that time. Are you content with the contribution you made towards stimulating change through poetry?
Many changes that I desired have taken place in all these years. The society has progressed; it has perhaps gotten better too. But I don’t feel the sense of contentment just yet. There’s always room for progress, there’s always room for evolution, there’s always room for discontent.
Your works represent a fine but unique blend of imagination and activism. Which one of the two defines your work best?
It is difficult to choose just one. For me, my creativity stimulates activism, and the need to revolt feeds my creativity.
What role does poetry, or literature in general, play in bringing about change?
Literature plays a huge role in inspiring and engaging people in politics. Literature has the ability to touch people, move people. It has the ability to make people reflect on and internalise something that is in plain sight. I personally specialise in satirical, spoken word poetry. My poems are always in a language that everyone can understand and uses local references to make a point. If you want to draw attention to a subject that matters, you have to do it in a way that strikes a chord. If you want to bring people together, you have to bind them with reality but in way that doesn’t feel cumbersome or didactic. Do it in a way that makes the people want to leave everything they are doing to just get on board with you. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel. That is the power literature has. Nothing inspires change like literature does.
So humour is your favourite tool. If you were to recommend a writer who has had an impact on you, the kind you wish to make on your readers, who would it be?
Hands down, Bhairav Aryal and Bhupi Sherchan. I keep going back to the works by these writers. Both their works are very witty and extremely powerful. Their books work as both critiques and a window to the socio-political evolution that Nepal has undergone. Aryal’s Jay Bhudi and Sherchan’s Ghumne Mech Mathi Andho Manchhe are such impactful commentaries on who we are as a society. I grew up reading them, and I have to say that every Nepali youth, no matter where they come from, should read these two authors.
Are you critical of your own works? What is the most important quality a writer should have?
I have written over 2000 poems.
I have scrapped off many of them. But, I am not critical of the work that I take out to the masses. They are out there because I feel they are good and capable of moving the listeners (or readers). The most important quality that a writer, or a human in general, needs to possess is honesty. Without honesty in what you are feeling or what you are doing, there isn’t much you can do in life. There is no peace of mind.
What is it about poetry anyway?
When you write an essay or a story, you have to put an effort to expand and elaborate the smallest of details, smallest of emotions. It‘s the opposite when it comes to poetry. You take a big idea, you take a whirlwind of emotions and communicate it in the most concise and most powerful manner.