Nepali Times Asian Paints
Literature
Reaching for the Entire Sky-


MANJUSHREE THAPA


The progressive literature of Nepal has one major woman writer to boast of: Parijat. But Parijat came to the progressive field readymade, as it were: she became a communist long after her education in Darjeeling, and long after her rise, through Nepal's literary ranks, as an existentialist and absurdist novelist of the finest calibre. Those who pride the Nepali left's emphasis on women's equality should question why it hasn't produced many other women writers whose writings rival or outdo those of men writers. Perhaps Nepal's so-called progressives aren't as progressive as they claim? (Say it isn't so).

Sulochana Manandhar is one of those rare women who comes from a solidly progressive background, and also writes very well, thanks entirely to her own efforts. She was active in organising labour unions during the Panchayat years, rallying against the exploitation of labourers and the entire Panchayat system. She writes stories, poems and essays in both Nepali and Newari, her mother tongue. Her most memorable writings are perhaps her memoirs of her years as a political activist, taking disguises to elude the police, being turned away by her own family, and being pregnant without a husband to show for herself while her husband, also politically active, had gone underground. These essays speak unflinchingly of a woman's struggle to overthrow political repression while also overcoming the oppressions of culture, and they offer some of the most interesting reading in contemporary Nepali literature.

The poems below are more recent works in a quieter, more contemplative voice. Many of them are occasional poems, poems inspired by fleeting occasions-a street demonstration, the death of a child amid savage politicking. Manandhar is the author of a weekly column in Budhabaar called "Sampoonra Aakaash,"' or "The Entire Sky." Indeed, the poems below reach for the breadth of the sky; though Manandhar writes politically, she does not ignore the subtle psychological and philosophical aspects of contemporary life. Though Manandhar writes of the local, she does not ignore the universal.

Influenced by haiku and other Asian forms, these poems are brave in being brief: many of them are excerpts from the author's daily diary. As a whole, they speak of Nepal's turbulent past years, in the process revealing an author who is not satisfied to simply criticise, but a woman who wants a life of the mind, the heart, the body and the soul, a woman who will reach for the sky.

DEMONSTRATION
Many moments of life have
joined in demonstrations
but deceiving
the entirety of life
demonstrations are still ending
merely as demonstrations
(Upon seeing a demonstration in 1997)

THE ROAD
I built a road
in an empty place
It was a road:
I stepped on it
and walked onward
I don't know whether
I ever reached the destination
I found I had turned into a road

AN OBSCURED SKY
The sky is clouded over
My heart-sky is obscured
The eyesight is also dimmed
in the gloom
One does not recognise others
A stone hurled
from far away
came to my heart
with a thunderclap
I don't know if she is in pain anymore
but my heart has broken in agony
(Upon the death of 12 year-old Barsha Koirala during the Hrithik Roshan riots, December 2000)

AN EFFORT AT LIBERATION
Some soil got dug up
and the whole earth trembled
Everyone's breath almost stopped!
What kinds of upheavals are these
efforts at liberation?
When liberation came into my hands
it had already putrefied in staleness

JAJARKOT
Once you stir poison
in the entire pond
why talk of big fish
and why talk of small fish
All are bound to be killed
(Upon hearing of the murder of ordinary people in Jajarkot, June 2000)

COSTLY DESIRE
My desire is costly
:
Food and shelter are costly to begin with
education is costly
equality is costly
and even costlier is peace
The love of a father and mother is costly
and amid such costly air and water
how costly it is
just to breathe

THE POEM OF THE HOUSEWIFE
Poems well into being
like bubbles of water
in a kitchen corner
in the water of a brass pot
even in a baby's diapers
When there is no one to gather them
the housewife's poems
wilt one by one
and drop like
wildflowers in a jungle

FATE LINES
I too had headed out
to discover my fate, but
the fortune teller's mirror
was cracked
Should I seek my fate in
this cracked mirror
or draw new lines on
the palms of my hands?

THE EARTH
I had no relation of my own
with the sky
nor had I blood ties
with the sun, the moon and the stars
When I made the earth my own,
when I established relations
with a small plot of land
a sky much larger than that
the entire sky
the dawn and sunrise
the sunset, the moon and the stars
all became my own

THE PAIN OF THE AGES
Have you suffered
the pain of childbirth?
It's only felt at a time of creation
At each hour
at each turn
we must suffer in our new pains
the pain of the ages
which has no description
which must be experienced alone


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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