Nepali Times
The Environmental Poet-


An environmental journalist of the finest calibre, Kedar Sharma is also a poet-a poet recently returned from a long sabbatical in the world of NGOs and INGOs. (Poetry does not pay rent, after all.) In the long poem below, he speaks against the exploitation of the Bagmati river, whose waters are used, without much heartache, for sacred rites and sewerage alike. Sharma decries the hypocrisy of those who hold the waters of Bagmati holy, and he likens its abuse to the exploitation of Nepali girls who-when revered-lead the stunted lives of goddesses, or, when degraded, lose their lives servicing men.

From Baghdwar to Chobhar Flows the Bagmati

All possibilities at birth
all fancies of childhood
all upsurges of adulthood-

who can ever say they'll come to pass?

Who can foretell
where we'll walk
where we'll flow
whether over the course of a lifetime
we'll expand or wilt?

even as it forms a few pools the river advances
It moves towards a goal no matter the direction

The river can diverge anywhere
It can converge anywhere

When allowed to flow freely
it displays its own grandeur
and much pride in itself

Certain things are fixed
certain things are unfixed
in this is the river's being

A dam determines everything
and the river is stripped of force

Without anyone noticing,
the potted bodhi tree degenerates
even as it is daily worshipped

Just as hundreds of thousands of
panchakanya virgins and navadurga goddesses
lead diminished lives
though they are worshipped tens of times

Withered bodhi tree
Shrivelled life
Mastered river

The expansion of the tree
the freedom of life
the flow of the river
are they worshipped
after being forced to a halt?

Stop the ringing of bells and the blowing of conch shells!
Put out all these incense sticks and lamps!
Cast aside this sandalwood and these rice grains!
Don't place ugly stains on devotion!

Allow the tree to grow don't pray!
Allow people to progress don't pray!
don't pray!

Your prayers have cloaked all wrongdoings
Let water flow in the river
Let water flow in Bagmati

It is said
a country is neither soil alone nor soul
but the soul of the soil, and the soil of souls

What then is a river-
Or shore?

Oh, those who buy and sell dreams of healing Bagmati
by piping in water from across the high mountains-

speak with your hand placed on your heart
speak on the vow that the king be holy
standing by the riverside ghat
speak on the oath of your ancestors' ashes

Will anything brought to a temple turn into a deity?
Will anyone settled in this land turn into a Nepali?
Will anything poured in from the shore turn this river into Bagmati?

A girl sold to a whorehouse in Muglan
is sent back to the village
after contracting AIDS

Down a river of tears she flows
disgrace revulsion pity struggle to survive will to live
She must survive,
so she'll survive as long as her breath remains

A river is lifted from the shore and taken to the city
There she is played with, made to dance and to give pleasure
and when all that can be tasted is tasted and polluted
she is chased back to the shore

Down a river of her own tears flows Bagmati
disgrace revulsion pity struggle to survive will to live
She must flow,
so she'll flow as long as a trickle remains

Banished from the city

the tired, infected, wounded water
reaches Bagmati's shores and sigh

and hauling the city's much-mourned corpse
moves forward like a funeral procession

The city is elated it sees itself purified
the city is eager it sees itself vitalised

but the death rites for its values
are being performed
always, always in Bagmati

Yet the river is silent Keep going, keep going
It has no choice

A silent war rages
between a city with countless prospects
and a river that has no choice

Let's see who'll survive till the end!

A mockery:
The highway of civility, itself, suffers an accident

Shattered milestone
Shattered resting place
Shattered journey

The river yields not creativity but oblivion

Standing at Bagmati's shores
the entire city sings a song of ingratitude

It's not water that flows in Bagmati these days
it's mockery

Day after day the city is eager
for costly speeches
costly commitments
costly seminars
costly news

But all at once and sometimes with no provocation
all joys sizzle Their flames, dying out
spill onto the streets
and flow towards Bagmati

Even despair is costly in this city)

The city gets giddy on costly perfumes
and costly booze
and loses itself in costly courtship plays

Dancing, leaping about, shining as brightly as it can
it ejaculates before climax
then goes to wash up in the Bagmati

A mockery!
Even the city's impotence is costly)

Decked in costly outfits
The city consumes costly resources
wears powder, lipstick, rouge
and gorges on costly recipes

The city leads a costly life and in the end
arrives in its entirety at Bagmati's shore

(Ah, sometimes with price tags still affixed)

Three-fourths of the three cities' earnings
flow into these waters
everyone's despair
all impotence
many people's dreams
and the waking states of many others

Treachery, sin, deeds performed for purification

the rainbow shades of blood and sweat
and unseen forms, unwritten stories
are visible in Bagmati's waters

Your form is visible/My form is visible in this water
A mirror flows in Bagmati

Nepal's most expensive water
flows through the Chobhar gorge

People can always float
ford the shallows
build bridges
if not ride boats, ride ships
People will cross water by any means

But if by chance a river
flows into a current of people
gets immersed in the ocean of a city
it can't cross
it can't breathe It drowns

Through the Chobhar gorge flows
Nepal's most lifeless water

This poem is translated with the help of Wayne Amtzis.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)