Nepali Times Asian Paints
Ramesh Tufan


In a recent literary meeting, writers loudly bemoaned the fact that their voices were not being heeded despite the freedom of expression that the country enjoys. They may well turn to the quality of their works to explain why this is so. Few writers in the past decade have taken to heart the challenge of finding the art to express the widening democratic aspirations of Nepal. Instead they have churned out easy cliches, tired doggerel, insipid slogans and trite nationalism. They have allied themselves cliquishly with the political parties, apologising for their mistakes and benefiting from their connections. Or they have remained completely aloof from the social sphere, as though our lives could take place in an absence of the collective.

With a very few exceptions, writers today simply do not match the fire of someone like Gopal Prasad Rimal or Bhupi Sherchan, who shattered empty icons and killed off old forms in order to demand of the times the liberation that Nepalis deserve. Ramesh Tufan's poems, translated below, give us a sense of what our writers today have been saying when they do speak of liberation. In the first poem, Tufan writes of personal desire and unfulfillment, which is the basis for a greater demand for rights:


A person here comes to life
bearing the wish
for the thrill of victory
and after birth
forgetting oneself
the errant life
of a lone person
waged in a game of dice

At this time
don't ask
why his own dogs have
mauled their master's legs
Only upon regretting
does a person understand
his own life force
and after that
begin to see in his defeated eyes
dreams of the thrill of victory

and on the travels of life
begin to seek a new path
on the long travels towards fulfilment

In the two poems below, Tufan's demand for liberation becomes larger, and his critique becomes more social-though it remains rooted in personal experience.


Humanity is lost
in a thicket of human beings
Let us not try seeking it out
for the ambushing beast
sprung from the mind of man
has long ago devoured it

One cannot say 'Death to this era'

Like the ornate letters
spelling words of welcome
before passengers at the airports
and at the border gates
the city stretches across the way
an aged ravenous tiger

The city knows how to entice people
and how to suck them dry
leaving skeletal remains
Like the aged tiger
dissentors too here roar
to satisfy their own greed
Like dogs in the season of heat
desires here rove desperately
having been robbed
by the newly arrived travellers
of compassion

Neither can one embrace this era

The city is no civility
Nor is it any culture
If you can loot
If you can't have others loot for you
The city is a beast in ambush
The city is an aged ravenous tiger
The city is a dog in the season of heat


A stranger came to me and asked
Don't you recognise me?
Paralysed by uncertainty
I stared for a long time
but couldn't place him
and said Forgive me Sir,
I don't know who you are
He said You don't recognise me? Me?
I am the stifled sigh of your existence
the truth you cannot live without
your liberation
Everything between us remained pending
The wish to hear and learn more stayed
as another person a stranger
insinuated himself between us
and sighing in monstrous satisfaction
bound us with his wrathful eyes
and said, There's a warrant in your names
I have orders to bring you in
These two parts of unrecognisability
One of them reminds me of my life force
the other erects himself
as an obstacle to my liberation
In this age when obstacles must end
the obstacles to my liberation
must also end

These poems raise the question: What, in these regressive times, can writers do in order to continue establishing an argument for the expansion of democracy? What new expressions and what new forms can honor the complexity of our times' demand for liberation? Where is the literature that voices the freedom that is due the country?

Ramesh Tufan's poems are found in the collection Ramesh Tufan Naam Hunulai (To Have the Name of Ramesh Tufan), published by the Royal Nepal Academy in 1996.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)