Siddhicharan’s birthday in a Baroque palaceA remarkable power of Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poetry is the play of time and space
The occasion was unique. The context was the 107th birth celebration of poet Siddhicharan Shrestha (1912-1992), and the venue was a wing of Bahadur Bhawan, a palace made in Asian Baroque style, which has become the residence and office of the vice-president of the Republic of Nepal. Vice-President Nanda Bahadur Pun gave the Yugkavi Siddhicharan Award to poet Tulsi Diwas, and the Siddhicharan Youth Journalism Award to Ganesh Rai. I introduced both recipients of the award instituted in 1982 at the request of Rabicharan Shrestha, the guardian of Siddhicharan Pratisthan. I introduced Diwas as one of the prominent modernist Nepali poets, a folklorist and one who has established wide contacts with writers around the world.
I mentioned the major contributions of Ganesh Rai, his creative writings, his long work as a journalist, and above all, his writings in the Bambule Rai language which, according to Bairagi Kanhila, the president of Siddhicharan Pratishthan, is spoken by hardly 30,000 speakers. The VP read out a carefully scripted speech by Siddhicharan Pratishthan, but added his own patriotic fervour and his love for the Nepali language in a free speech. The erstwhile guerrilla said whatever he knew about the language matters, and challenged those who are trying to discourage the Nepali language in favour of English.
The other wing of the palace houses the office of the Election Commission. The old Rana buildings have gone down in history as structures that have preserved spaces in the otherwise choking metropolis. Democratic Nepal over the last seven decades freely destroyed the plebeians’ or nagarik spaces in the metropolis and relied on the autocrats’ palaces and spaces for kamkaj or daily essential use.
Now the irony is that only these palatial premises provide some free spaces, and the last trees that have survived the free-style cutting stand inside these compounds.
The late Desmond Doig (1921-1983) had said to a group of us, youths, in the early Seventies that he had given a good character to Bahadur Bhawan by putting several minarets on the roof. Honestly speaking, I find Doig’s style ugly. But I am an admirer of his ‘kind of Kathmandu’. This palace was the setting of Han Suyin’s autobiographical novel The Mountain is Young (1958). Han Suyin was invited to attend the coronation of King Mahendra in 1956. Poet Siddhicharan Shrestha was very familiar with all these historical events and the Royal Hotel that this Bahadur Bhawan had housed then.
A world of its own
Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poetry presents narratives that engage the readers and draws them closer to the everyday consciousness. His words lead readers into the interstices of his poetry that is suffused with the lyricism of the times he has experienced. The other remarkable power of Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poetry is the play of time and space. His evocation of space is phenomenal. His play with the spatial experience is both his jouissance and his agony. He muses on time in space as both gain and loss. His Okhaldhunga poem is the strong example. Time consciousness subsumes physicality, and that combination creates a sense of loss, a third dimension of experience as in the poem kasariaja ma chattisalagen/ hayakathaiyomanaruncha in which he laments how he ‘turned thirty-six today’. That is what I would like to call the poetics of spatiality, which he achieves unlike his contemporaries who either resorted to flights of imagination or to the very dexterously and philosophically created texture of words, through a projection of space savvy consciousness.
We find very eloquent examples of that poetic power in the corpora of his creation. But the poet knows he lives in different times. His superb combination of geography and the new times in a poem girigawharalebhinnabhai aba/ manujabasnakaichainasambhaba came at a time when the first major encounters of localism and global perceptions were taking place in Nepal. He wrote a poem that says, “No more do human beings live separated by mountains and valleys,” when he returned after attending an international writers’ meeting abroad.
Potraying his own self
Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poetry, by confidently putting the simple imageries, some given metonymic status, challenges the parochial nature of consciousness. He does not universalise what writers in this country and in South Asia openly universalised the values of Europe, which one scholar of Indian origin working in Chicago University, Dipesh Chakrabarty in Provincialising Europe (2000), deconstructs as not universal but parochial. Poet Siddhicharan, neither being too exposed to the European literary values, nor to the Indo-scholastic tradition, developed his own uniqueness as a poet. Each of his poems speak that reality eloquently. Critics here neglected Siddhicharan’s unique power. He was ignored by a canonical scholastic school of critics and admired by native Newa critics. Both schools failed to encompass the wide range of his poetry that spans many areas of experience and transcends boundaries. Only a few critics like Ganesh Bahadur Prasai and Yadunath Khanal wrote about this uniquely powerful poet’s creative works and his ontological anxiety that he weaves with utmost honesty and seriousness in his art/work?
Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poetry creates the sublime of simplicity and presents the first ever caricature of his own self. The doyen of Nepali drama and poet Balakrishna Sama (1902-1981) recognised the alterity that Siddhicharan was evoking in that poem, and responded by writing a poem in the poet’s style. The poem is Mero Pratibimba. French philosopher and critic Jacque Derrida says, “Place and self are conjured, and unsettled, through haunting rather than
dwelling.” But the poet creates his image not through spectrality but through a process that sutures the diverse experiences of Nepali poets and writers when this poem was written. In one of the two short poems that Siddhicharan Shrestha wrote for a postcard that king Tribhuvan wanted to send to people, he expresses a profound sense of wellbeing. The poem expresses the poet’s humanism. I conclude by translating the poem in the following manner:
Luminous, lofty-future—Conscious mass, strong nationTides of New Year rising each moments
To usher in progress in full strength, Coming are they all with great avidity Spreading the dear, auspicious moments: Such are the tides of my wishes Floating out for the welfare of all!