Last year Santoshi Darlami's dream came true. She had always wanted to see her father's birthplace at Baseri Eko Tol, just a couple of hours by bus out of Kathmandu. Then, on a week-long school vacation, she finally went. That's when she realised, living in Kathmandu, she had no idea what was happening in the rest of the country.
"My uncle's daughter was killed by a bomb. She was only in class two and very talented. I saw what was happening in the rest of the country, I understood what people were going through," said 16-year-old Santoshi calmly. When she was given the chance to write a poem for a nationwide competition she knew exactly what her poem would be called: Shanti. Now her poem has been woven into song by the teen heartthrobs of Aastha Band.
Back in Kathmandu, countless other stories of death and violence moved Sangeeta Thapa into action. "Over the years I've been hearing about thousands of children being out of school and many thousands more being abducted. So we got this idea to have children write poems and paint so they could pour out their feelings," said Thapa, director of Siddhartha Art Gallery.
That was almost three years ago. The gallery hooked up with World Peace Propagation Forum (WPPF), and through the forum's network of over 400 schools across the country and with coordination efforts by GTZ, CWIN and orphanages like Happy Home, children were asked to write and paint about peace. Their work was collected and brought out as Shanti: Children's Manifesto for Peace.
Last year the manifesto was circulated to all political parties and reached the prime minister's desk. In April 2003, Siddhartha Art Gallery and WPPF exhibited the children's work based on the theme 'a hope for peace'.
The manifesto was then presented to 13 Nepali musicians, each of whom selected a poem and agreed to compose and arrange a song from it. Raman Shrestha of Samjhana Audio & Video and Dewakar Pandey of ournepal.com organised the artists and are now working to release the CD and music video. The group song took the longest to coordinate.
The album, Shanti ko Sapana, will be released at a benefit concert this weekend at the BICC and the children are ecstatic. Some are class 10 students like Bigya Shah is are having a hard time concentrating on the upcoming SLC exams. "I'm so excited I can't describe it," 16-year-old Bigya exclaims. Meeting the singer (see pic) didn't do anything to calm her down.
Bigya's is the only poem in English. A student at St Mary's, she says she wrote I Wish My Dream Would Come True to address the need for peace: "Nepali children are suffering mentally and physically. People need to stop the violence because it's impacting the children, our future, negatively. Peace deserves everyone's attention."
Bajracharya had become disillusioned with charity work, seeing no tangible benefits from past performances. But this one is different, he says. Despite being one of the most popular male singers in the Nepali music scene and having a busy recording schedule for his new album, Bajracharya managed to compose and arrange a song from Bigya's poem himself. Since it was not written as the lyrics to a song, Bajracharya admits it was a challenge: "I've added my guitar touch so it's rhythmic and people can dance to it. Technically, it's been a revolution for me." He's so pleased, he wants to perform the song again.
Bajracharya is also performing a second song from a poem written by Mahendra Raj Karki, a student from Bhaktapur, which has become the title song of the event. Despite being the only artist doing two songs, Bajracharya humbly tells us, "I was touched when I read Mahendra's poem. He was really thinking about why we need peace. Everyone is seeking peace, but usually can't articulate why."
Mahendra is also grateful to Bajracharya for choosing his poem, Malai Shanti Chahieko Chha. "Everyone feels the things I wrote about, but he really appreciated my feelings," says the 18-year-old who wrote the words after visiting his hometown of Charikot recently. A family member was hassled by security forces, and though they apologised for it immediately, Karki felt it has become very difficult for normal Nepalis to work or go to school and just lead normal lives.
This is the first time artists like Nirakar Yakthumba and Nalina Chitrakar (the only female performing) can recall so many artists working together for charity. Yakthumba of 1974AD, says it's been a learning experience for him: "I realised you don't have to know literature to get the message across." Of Bijaya Poudel's poem, he adds, "You need sincerity and this boy Bijaya has that."
The rest of the artists-a truly astonishing all-star group including Karma Band, Karna Das, Sunil Baredwa and even Sur Sudha and Anil Shahi-all have similar tales of how the children's poems inspired them to devote their time to converting the words into music.
The proceeds will go to a children's park. The mayor has already allocated 11 ropanis in Sina Mangal, opposite the airport. There's talk the concert will travel to Pokhara and Dharan. "Maybe the songs will even get translated and performed by international artists," said Sangeeta Thapa, already thinking about the next phase.
But for now, the concert has got to have its strongest impact right here at home. Actor and pilot Vijay Lama, known to give his time to worthy causes, will participate in the group song at the concert and is currently involved in filming the music video for it. "It's time people who love Nepal come together and join hands against violence. The bleeding of our nation has to stop." About the group song, he adds, "This song can be a national song, not biased by politics or religion, but by Nepalis."
The Shanti ko Sapana benefit concert will be held at the BICC on 27 March at 5PM. Tickets are available at Tik n' Tok, Suwal Music and Video and all Nanglo outlets.