By now, it has become common to find world references in Nepali literature. Still, writers who don't use obviously "Nepali" images can be subjected to snide remarks. Allusions to global "high culture" (such as world literature) are of course always revered; but allusions to low culture (say, rap songs) are still viewed, by those who aspire to an ideal Nepaliness in Nepali literature, to betray somewhat inauthentic sensibilities. In the seventies and eighties, those who migrated from Darjeeling and Kalimpong were particularly vulnerable to such criticism: so modern were their Nepali-language creations that homegrown writers and critics easily dismissed them as outsiders.
Poet and screenplay writer Avinash Shrestha is one such migrant writer often viewed as authoring "un-Nepali" Nepali literature. Shrestha's poems are written in an intense and passionate tenor. Aquariums, champagne bottles, blues rhythms, and quotes from world literature pepper his verses. To readers who refuse rigid Nepali/un-Nepali dichotomies (surely an anachronism in this age of mingling and mass migration), Shrestha's work is fresh and innovative: gone are the clich?s about Nepal, gone are the stock images that too many Nepali writers rely on. Shrestha's poems read as singularly contemporary, and can be enjoyed by those who inhabit today's jangling modern (or postmodern) Kathmandu.
The poem translated below is lovely to read not just because of its ardor; here, Shrestha finds beauty in dark African skin-a unique expression from a "wheatish-white" skin enamored country.
A NEGRO WOMAN: IN MY DREAMS
I saw her for the first time
in a busy street in Nairobi how pleasing
she was, how polite she was
an educated Negro woman
In dreams of my many nights: a figure of
modern Africa that woman
Her dark beauty
enchanted me and offered
to my eyes
"For that unknown beauty
calumny of one color;
a black rose."
I remembered my own woman she who is always present
in my mind, like the reverberations always present
in the veena's tight strings as with raga melodies
there only need be a slight wound
and she resonates all over my heart all over my body
She is my Indian lover flashing eyes
exactly like that Negro girl's sharp nose
long neck slender blouse I used to call her
my moon I thought-
that moon was picked off the Indian sky
given a dark complexion
and tossed, by some brute, onto African soil
The Nile is a far ways off her youth, all over the spine
of the Niger and Senegal the oases of her smiles
ease the aridity of the Kalahari and
the harshness of the Sahara I kept meeting her
again and again I kept getting to know her
In my dreams for many nights
Africa in my eyes that Negro woman
who I always met-in the passes of the Congo
the streets of Nairobi, by the shores of lakes Victoria and Nagami
and again in the dark alleys of Kampala one day I saw her
at the center of a storehouse
From time to time I kept thinking
there's only one terror in her full young breast....
terror at the fearfulness of light one contention
in the jungle of her eyes-
"Light can't swallow the dark"
Maybe that's why she came in hiding
to ask for her rights
taking strength from duskiness and sleep
always in my dreams
Avinash Shrestha edits Samakalin Sahitya, the literary magazine of the Royal Nepal Academy.