Nepali Times Asian Paints
Basanta Thapa


I went to listen, recently, to one of the hot rock bands of Kathmandu. I had heard very high praises of it over the years, and was curious to hear whether it lived up to its considerable reputation.

Its music was, indeed, great-the drums, the bass guitar and the lead guitar were all jiving with occasional riffs of the flute, and I was thoroughly impressed: here, I thought, was sizzling talent. Here was a band to match Kathmandu's verve and dash.

Until the band's members began to sing. Suddenly, the lyrics spoiled the performance-not because they were bad, but because they came from a very different sensibility, the sensibility of sentimental songs such as those sung by Narayan Gopal, Amber Gurung, Fatteman. The down-in-the-dumps laments and woe-is-me wails that belong to the gazal-derived tradition of modern Nepali songs sounded plain flat accompanied by the raucous music of the rock band.

If this example and the songs that are daily belted out by the FM radios are anything to go by, songwriting is an art that is little evidenced in Nepal's rock and pop music scene. To write a song, one must have a basic sense of music and meter; but a songwriter must also have a poetic bent to her/his words. There must be a union of lyric and music. Writing lyrics to set to rock music would require one to abandon the high sanskritic tones of written Nepali, and to begin to express the less pathos-drenched emotions of anger, lust, waywardness, rebellion. Young spirit is, after all, what rock and pop are about.

The songs below are written in the sentimental tradition, the tradition that express the typically South Asian mix of emotions of longing, frustration, despair, sorrow...Their author, Basanta Thapa, is a writer and well-known columnist, and is thus an emblematic figure of the sentimental tradition, in which the songwriter is a philospher-poet, a man or woman of letters, a world-weary thinker, an intellectual.

Some take it to be a tear and so they cry it
Some take it to be flesh and so they grab it
Life has so many meanings-
We must live it, so we give it our own variations
It is an ailment, it never stops hurting
It is a wound, it never ceases inflaming
Life is water, water-
It flows always, without stopping
Some take it to be a game and so they play it
Some take it to be a drug and get high on it

In places it swims in abandon and joy
In places it drowns in sorrow and grief
It walks on till it reaches
That place where all of us take rest
Some take it to be a lament and so they sigh it
Some take it to be a laugh and so they expell it

You are right here
In my presence
No matter where you go
You stay with me night and day

In my heart is grief
And in my eyes
Are the rains that just won't pause
And memories of you
Who at all times are in my presence
Like blood
Inmost in my heart

Where is this stream going
Getting buried beneath landslides
Getting blocked by all these hills
Dashing against boulders
Hiding, losing itself, trilling
It rushes on and on-
Why does it hurry so?

Flowing to mix elsewhere
To vanish into a river
To lose itself there
And yet to flow on without cease
The essence of springhead to confluence
That is all you can say of a stream
That which we call life is also like that
Stream, stream, and stream
The essence of birth until death

These are, as one can see, songs for the timeless old soul, songs to listen to while looking at the setting sun, or at the stars, or while taking a romantic walk with one's lover-who one does not dare to touch in public, for one is of that generation that does not touch in public. These lyrics are not suited to the kind of music that more intrepid lovers would publicly groove by.

Till they figure out how to find lyrics energetic enough to match their music, rock bands may be best advised to stick to music, and leave the singing to the sentimental singers.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)