Nepali Times
A renegade child of the hills


MY LEFT FOOT: Nepal's own Christy Brown, the artist portrayed in the Academy Award winning movie
We meet our contact off the bus from Hile, and instead of heading down to the spread of Dhankuta Bajar hike up into the cool, damp groves of Salleri beyond which Jhamak Ghimire lives with her family. The air tingles with the scent of pine but the sky is overcast, and it begins to drizzle.

We hurry past a group of girls, all dressed up and someplace to go. It's Tij. One of them is Jhamak's sister, and we pass another of her siblings on the way. They all wave us on in the direction of their house, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. By the time we get to the modest single-storeyed house below the highway, it's pouring. Jhamak's parents greet us warmly and usher us into her room. The four of us, dripping, crowd into the small space lined with hundreds of books, framed certificates, and more books. We awkwardly arrange ourselves facing the flannelled, huddled figure in bed, feeling like intruders.

We're here to see Jhamak Ghimire, the celebrated Nepali author and Kantipur columnist. The 29-year-old is no run-of-the-mill litterateur. She was born with cerebral palsy, and can't speak, walk, or move her limbs freely. Her disability, however, hasn't prevented her from expressing her acerbic, poetic humour freely ? through her left foot.

Arriving unannounced, we don't know what to expect. But Jhamak, with a ready smile, soon puts us at ease. She reaches for a copybook and painstakingly begins to scribble responses to my questions, laughing delightedly every now and again at the jokes we exchange, completely accepting of the curiosity that has drawn us to this settlement above Dhankuta. She corrects me when I address her as Jhamak Kumari: "It's Jhamak. Kumari is just something they hung onto my name when I got my citizenship card." I apologise for my ignorance of her body of work, and try to explain that I write too, but in English. She assures me it doesn't matter what language I write in, as long as I write.

LOOKING OUT AT THE WORLD: Jhamak delights in what she can see from her perspective
We're not the only visitors, not by a long shot. Her mother, Asha Devi Ghimire, brings in some tea and asks us to sign a bulky visitor's book filled with admiring comments. It's no surprise Jhamak inspires such wonder in those who flock to see her. Being deprived of an education didn't stop her from learning how to read and write all by herself, and she has progressed so far along this path that she is today an award-winning author of 10 published books comprising both prose and poetry, mediums she traverses with equal, heartfelt facility. Dr. Govinda Raj Bhattarai's English translation of Jhamak's autobiography, 'Jiwan Kadha Ki Phul' (Life, Thorn or Flower), is due by Tihar at the latest.

Jhamak's going places, too. Father Krishna Bahadur Ghimire proudly announces she is soon moving to Kathmandu courtesy of a grant from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. Jhamak will be learning English for a year in the capital. "You're sure to have plenty of visitors there," I remark. "Will you still have the time to write?' "I need money like anyone else," she says. "So I will continue to write." But it's hard to make a living as a writer in Nepal, isn't it? She busies herself awhile and flips the copy over to me, grinning. "That's true. But I only need a little, not so much."

I look around the tiny space in which this remarkable woman has spent most of her life, and can't help commenting on the books piled up in shelves and on the window sills. "You have books on everything here, are you interested in anything especially?" Jhamak responds: "Everything in every field can be seen as literature. Law, economics, science. I don't want to limit myself." "Do you spend all your time reading and writing, or do you watch TV too?", I wonder. "I watch TV sometimes?I'm human after all," she quips.

And perhaps this is the key to Jhamak Ghimire. An insistence on being seen as ordinary, coupled with an extraordinary drive to transcend her physical limitations and accept the diverse people and realities around her. Her body, as closed as a fist, has not been able to stop her mind from embracing the world around her.

Many thanks to Srijana Hingmang for taking us to meet Jhamak Ghimire.

Of Jhamak Ghimire's poetry, translator Manjushree Thapa writes:

Poverty is an issue that is difficult to take on in poetry without giving way to flat, clich?-ridden didacticism. Jhamak overcomes this challenge through the sincerity of her voice, and the sophistication of her language. In the poem below, she takes to task the irresponsible father (the metaphoric father of the state) who has abandoned his progeny to the indifferent streets:


Baba! I'll ask you a question
if you won't shout it down
for though you can boast
a hundred thousand offspring
I have only one father

Baba! Have you forgotten me
amid the hordes of your offspring
I am your fugitive child
Have you forgotten your
sleepless communion with my mother?
How could you embrace me
a new ray rising from a wrong time?
I am the avenging apparition
of a wrong time

an unneeded offspring
added to the hordes of your offspring
a mere child who broke through
his mother's stained womb
a renegade child

Baba! I'll ask another question
though you can boast
a hundred thousand children
the union of your blood is in
the union of my blood
Questions of silent union
arise from the cacophony

Half formed by you
fully formed by my mother
am I, the child of the street
Why did you damage me
on a corner of the street?
Why did you fill my mind
with gunpowder?
Its transformation will leave
your society and you

Baba, my last question:
why are you siring
renegade children like me
who have lit your funeral pyre
before you have died
who have mourned you
before your death
shattering pebbles

Baba! Why are you siring
renegade children like me?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)