Till the end Amber Gurung’s heart still beat with the same deep love for the Nepali nation that had stirred us with Naulakha Tara.
At a Paleti concert in Nepalganj in 2009 (pictured), Amber Gurung already looked frail, his voice fraying at the edges. At 73 then, he needed help to walk, but there was still a distinct twinkle in his eyes. I remember he ended the concert with Naulakha Tara and it roused the audience into singing along for the famous line: ‘… niyali hera hamilai bhijeko chhaina parela’ (‘look closely at us, we don’t have a dry eye’). Indeed, in that packed hall our eyes glistened with a strange mixture of sadness and pride.
Amber Gurung was brought to Nepal from Darjeeling in 1969 under King Mahendra’s campaign to support a vision of Nepali nationhood that transcended the boundaries of Nepal. Till the end — in a hospital bed in Kathmandu on Tuesday morning — Amber Gurung’s heart still beat with the same deep love for the Nepali nation that had stirred us with Naulakha Tara, and with the anthem of the new republic, Sauyaun Thunga.
The haunting words take us all back to an era of innocent national pride, of diasporic longing for the motherland. A time when life was simpler, and violence and discord had not torn apart the fabric of the country.
In Nepalganj that night seven years ago, tears welled up when he spoke from the stage of youth and friends gone. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief when young musicians broke into Shanti Thatal’s Samalera Rakha and other songs by Aruna Lama, the lyrics of which he had written 50 years prior to that.
Earlier that day, Amber Gurung had visited the People After War photo exhibition held by nepa~laya in Nepalganj. Lingering near the photograph of a father being embraced by his daughter and son who had fought on opposite sides during the war, he said, “This was a war between siblings,” and expressed the hope that he would one day work on a song dedicated to the reconciliation between Nepalis. But he had already done it: our new national anthem, in which he adorned Byakul Maila’s lyrics with a folksy beat and a melody that exuded a strong sense of Nepali-ness.
Amber Gurung’s Ma Amber Hun and Ukali Lagda Pasina Puchhne … are about longing, forbidden and unrequited love. His voice broke when he sang them, and he stopped to let his student, Aavas, sing the remaining stanzas.
As Aavas sang Jasai Kesh Timile Phukayau, Amber Gurung closed his eyes and smiled at words written long ago — about the simple sight of a woman’s hair flying in the breeze — that had made him marvel at the joy of life: ‘Jindagi hera muskurayo …’ (‘Life is smiling’).
Avaas at the Paleti