In every epoch
a Dronacharya stands before us
and demands a fee
Without questioning, all of us
cut off our thumbs and offer to him
Erase ourselves and submit to him
And we are pleased with our devotion
with our inner strengths
That’s why we are gallant but also gullible.

(Rup-Rekha, 24)

***
“The old poems were Malla-era wars and the new ones are Yuyutsu’s game.”

***
“…Since writing does not allow us to sustain our livelihood, it’s a struggle not only for me but for every single writer.”

***
“… I believe in progressivism and I want to see literature benefitting society but not the other way around – literature should not be created in order to benefit society.”

***

“…I’m especially fond of Dostoevsky; and I like Gorky’s Mother. Mohan Koirala’s style; and Krishna Bhakta Shrestha, who is carefree despite being frustrated; and Gopal Prasad Rimal’s innovation. And I like the older poets because everyone likes them.”

***
“ …Prosody is artificial; and trying to arrange our tears and laughter in rhymes is even more artificial.”

***
These statements provide some clues regarding the character of the speaker— someone who definitely has a progressive mindset; is frustrated with life but has a sharp perception of the human condition. Someone whose works are probably as snappy as the statements above and are based on deep truths.

The clues also point at someone in his mid-twenties who is short and slightly-built. Someone with pleasant eyes and an ordinary nose whose face is marked with pimples; who is a sweet talker yet his comments are grounded in reality and seeped with feelings. And who also writes riddles and poems in the same style. Bhupendra Man Sherchan ‘Sarwahara’ who became only Bhupi Sherchan – that is the name of the young poet under discussion.

"That’s why we are gallant but also gullible." Illustration by Supriya Mananghar

“That’s why we are gallant but also gullible.” Illustration by Supriya Manandhar

Taking the general viewpoint of readers into account, I asked, “Bhupi-ji, why do contemporary poets wrestle with a sense of despair?” An hour had passed since my arrival at his abode, which was spent listening to some of his riddles and a couple of his favorite poems like ‘Ghantaghar’ and ‘Hami’.

The answer was – “It’s pointless to be emotional. Because poems that are too emotional and raw with an artificial style can’t be considered contemporary. Literature depends on situation and presentation. The imbalance in the world has created this despair. Instead, I’ve been accused.”

“In that case, literature provides a wholesome and true mirror of society, right?”

“Not only that. Writers ought to create without mixing. I totally agree with T. S. Eliot who used the ‘working principle’ of platinum as an example – it is able to catalyze a reaction between sulphur dioxide and oxygen without mixing.”

“Interesting! Impressive response,” I said and straightened up, adjusting my position on the couch. Then I asked, “You used to be a minimalist. How come you have changed?”

His answer was straightforward, his expression stoic, “I used to focus on theories before. These days, I write about anything that draws me in. However, I still don’t accept the idea that art should be for art’s sake.”

After a momentary pause, I resumed, “I think your first work is the play titled Pariwartan, right?”

“No. Before that, when I was at Banaras Hindu University during the mid-fifties, I published a booklet in the folk style.”

“How did you get there?”

“I liked to listen to people. But I used to be very careful whenever I had something to say, a habit since early teenage years. That habit sharpened into a desire to write poems. Also, I had a very good friend (now deceased) who used to recite Hindi poems as if they were his own. Inspired, I delved into writing.”

Hanging on a wall was a written warning by Dr. Harka Bahadur Gurung and a photo of pleasant-eyed Lucy. A few of his own pictures were on a different wall. Couches all around, a table at the centre and about seven ashtrays on the table. Empty packets of cigarettes – ranging from brands such as Sagarmatha to 555 – were scattered here and there. So were a few books and notebooks. Tossed in a corner was a bottle of Khukuri Rum. An old harmonium was kept at another corner; ties, coats and trousers hung from nails that were haphazardly hammered in. This was Bhupi-ji’s room, his residence in peaceful Tahachal.

After scanning the room, I focused on my own train of thoughts, “Bhupi is truly one of the poets who represents our generation, a contemporary poet of the people. He has clearly presented the realities of our lives in a simple, accessible way using the poetic medium.”

Illustration by Supriya Manandhar

Illustration by Supriya Manandhar

“The unfortunate wives paying for sons’ pasnis
using dead husband’s pensions!
The old men and women paying for their 84th year pooja
using fallen son’s earnings!
The young Gurung men wooing girls during gatherings
wearing dead friends’ jerseys!
The women getting married wearing bangles
gifted by deceased lovers!
Looks good on your chests –
The Victoria Cross and the Parambir Chakra medals.
But can’t you sometimes smell
the dankness
of your loved ones’ corpses?”

(Rup-Rekha, 41)

Remembering those lines, I mused, ‘Our lives are truly harsh!’ And caught myself grappling with Bhupi’s words:

I’m searching for my future
in the newspaper’s Wanted column.
***
News after every interview
makes life stink like a sweaty armpit
***
Feels like the wife
always offers satire for dinner
(Rup-Rekha, 3)

An image of Kathmandu’s numerous paint-flaked buildings flashed before my eyes. Bhupi was adept at expressing the struggles of middle-class families. That’s why I hope it’s not an exaggeration to call him a “contemporary poet of the people”.

I needed to snap out of my musings; so I asked, “You are probably in a writing mood all day and all night, right?”

With a light smile, he responded, “Not twenty-four hours. Mornings and evenings, usually until midnight or so. Evenings make me melancholic and I feel distant from everyone, the way one might feel in the midst of a dense forest. I get isolated and start writing.”

“I heard that you are working on a memoir?”

“That’s true. I am writing about the intimate relationship between literature and my life. My ultimate goal is to complete that to the best of my ability. It might take another two to three years for me to revise and edit it.”

Bhupi Sherchan has extensive wishes and great intentions. To develop literature, he wants to be like a banyan tree that spreads out in all directions. But personal and social obligations have limited him. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to compare his situation to that of a banyan tree planted inside a small jar.

It seems like pain has been part of his life. Since he lost his mother at the age of five and did not have any sisters, he was deprived of motherly affection. Besides, they were hoping for a girl and since he was the first-born, the family became indifferent towards him. When he was around eleven, he started living in Banaras to pursue education, becoming further cut off from family. He returned to Kathmandu after dropping out of college and, contrary to his gentle nature, participated in political protests that got him arrested. Inside the jail, he suffered from a few different diseases such as hyper-acidity, cerebral pressure and colitis. Even though he receives support and sympathy from his family, he is not satisfied by that; he is sad at not being able to fulfill his responsibilities. He gets so dejected at times that he has even considered suicide.

Bhupi Sherchan has extensive wishes and great intentions. To develop literature, he wants to be like a banyan tree that spreads out in all directions. But personal and social obligations have limited him. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to compare his situation to that of a banyan tree planted inside a small jar. Perhaps he also feels the same way, sometimes even wonders whether he will live longer than a couple of years. He even says it: “I only think of the next two to three years; I have a severe death wish (Although he has apparently been saying this for the past six to seven years!).

Having learnt about his gloomy circumstances and his equally dark attitude to life, I can’t explain the extent of sorrow that washed over me, especially because this poet was about to break into the Nepali literary scene and shine. All of a sudden, I thought of his poems ‘Ae Joon’ and ‘Mero Bigat Asafal Sapanaharu.’ I also searched my memory for some lines from his classic work, ‘Ghumne Mech Mathi Andho Manchhe’.

To escape my own dark thoughts, I diverted the conversation, “Are you hopeful about the future of Nepali literature?”

“The future looks promising; seems like the literary scene will be able to establish itself within the next five to seven years.”

“What are your thoughts on the two organizations meant to develop Nepali literature, Nepal Academy and Madan Puraskar?”

“The Academy was a necessity and the current members are well-appointed. But it hasn’t been able to accomplish a fraction of its work. It would have been appropriate if someone vigilant like ‘Byathit’, who is familiar with the classics and the contemporary, was also a member. At least, he would have represented his generation. And all I have to say about Madan Puraskar is that its intention is admirable but some of the rules undermine a writer’s self-esteem. It’s important to improve those.”

After listening to this long answer, I was curious about a few things regarding his personal life but his adopted younger sister was also in the room. Still, in a hesitant voice, I asked, “What about your hobbies? I have heard various rumors so I wanted to clarify.”

“Oh, gladly!” he exclaimed and proceeded, “I’m interested in drawing and music. And since I have trouble sleeping, drinking has also been a sort of a hobby.”

That question was actually a preface to something else. After receiving his permission, I asked, “I have heard that you have a difficult time keeping your word.”

“That might be because I tend to get a bit careless with friends. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to keep my word.” A nervous chuckle accompanied this response.

“And the other thing – it seems like your friends take advantage of you a lot when it comes to financial matters. Why do you allow it, despite being aware?”

His answer was clear – “I allow it in order to keep myself in a happy mood. To witness an educated person from a certain social standing fall at my feet and ask for money just to get some cheap entertainment and food – that gives me great pleasure! I am amazed at their lowliness – that’s it.”

And after some small talk, I stepped out of his rented room. While descending the stairs, my thoughts drifted back to the beginning of our conversation. Bhupi-ji had said, “The literatis reacted to Rimal’s mental illness by saying ‘It’s not Rimal who is crazy, it’s Nepal!’ To redeem themselves, they must do something about Rimal’s treatment and provide financial support so that he can get back on his feet.” Bhupi’s words contained grains of absolute truth. I also thought of the following lines (the future will hold us accountable) –

Illustration by Supriya Manandhar

Illustration by Supriya Manandhar

There were two kinds of people
in old Nepal
One kind
rested on newspapers
using headlines as pillows
Became important news;
the other kind
used the same newspapers
to cover themselves
to protect themselves
from the wintry cold
Became unaware
…the old Nepal
was news outdated.

(Rup-Rekha; 33)

Such bitterness in Bhupi-ji’s words, and within the bitterness, such truth – extremely important truths!

April 26, 1962

Bhupi Sherchan is regarded as one of the most successful Nepali poets. He was born in Mustang district. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 53. This is a translation by Niranjan Kunwar of an article from Uttam Kunwar’s anthology of interviews, Srasta ra Sahitya (Authors and Literature), published by the Uttam Kunwar Memorial Award Fund.