Friday, January 16, 2015

Political Rage: A review of Bhoj Raj Neupane's poetry collection "Chhuteko Jutta" छुटेको जुत्ता

This appeared in Republica on January 16, 2014.

Poetry is the expression of sensibilities. Emotions and ideas knock any sensible person but only a poet can express them in words. A poet´s success is measured by the ability ofhis/her poems to touch the readers´ sensibilities. By this yardstick, young poet Bhoj Raj Neupane can be called a successful poet.

Neupane´s poetry collection "Chhuteko Jutta" (Missed shoe) contains 37 simple poems with the general theme of the pains of common Nepalis. Ten years of insurgency, absurd politics, inhuman rituals, gender discrimination, and many other social evils have subjected the commoner to grief. The poems give voice to these commoners. In the poem "Kehi Sana Sapanaharu" (Some small dreams), a conflict victim addresses the poet and recounts the death of her daughter at the hands of militants. Other victims too pour out their pains to the poet and urge all not to engage in war again. Even if the poet calls it a dream vision, this unfolding of events used to be an everyday reality of the conflict-hit people whose cry for justice is still unheard.

That Neupane is a politically aware poet is clear by his choice of making politics the major subject of his poems. It is unfortunate that Nepali politics deserves only the scorn from all quarters because of its waywardness. The Maoists fought a bitter war against the state in the name of bringing revolutionary changes in the country. But once they got the power, they forgot all their ideals and became part of the same system they were supposed to change in the first place. Having made use of commoners to wage the war, the leaders conveniently forgot them after joining mainstream politics. Many combatants were left wounded and disabled.

"Chhuteko Jutta", the most powerful poem in the collection, paints the picture of a former Maoist combatant who lost his legs in combat and is now left behind to fend for himself in the streets. By showing the death of mobility of a commoner, the poem sharply satirizes the apathy of the leaders for their activists.

It is due to the directionless politics of Nepal that many youths choose to become migrant workers.

In "Bhagda Bhagdai: Ek Chintan" (Fleeing: A Thought), the speaker declares that he has become an anti-national person by trying to go abroad as nothing good can happen in this country. The speaker tried to stand on his own feet but the cartel and syndicate-dominated system brutally murdered his dream. The only alternative is going abroad. All the ideals of nationalism fail to retain a youth when the country is in such bleak conditions.

Similar is the emotion expressed in the poem "Maatoma" (Under the Soil) in which the speaker tells an interlocutor to put him under the soil as he cannot make proper use of his brain and brawn.

Not only are the current situations disappointing in Nepal but even the future seems murky as leaders are mulling over splitting the country along ethnic lines and thus preparing for a long strife.

In "Naakko Katha" (The Story of Noses), noses of different dimensions, signifying different ethnic groups, fight against each other and a situation arrives when all the noses are cut off. Later, in a twisted political decision, the entire noseless people are given capital punishment. Through this dystopian narrative, the poet warns the leaders of the perils of federalism along ethnic lines.

Whether it is the extension of his rage against the absurd politics of Nepal or his oversensitivity, Neupane appears misanthropic in some of his poems.

In "Dhunga" (Stone), the poet compares the heartless stone with duplicitous and conniving people and puts the stone on a higher pedestal.

Similarly in "Charaaharuko Bibek" (Birds´ Conscience), the poet praises birds for their freedom and borderless movement while humans are divided by the borders of castes, religions and nationalities.

The evil aspects of humans have been recorded in most of the poems which may lead the reader to think that the poet is an incorrigible pessimist.

Simplicity is the hallmark of Neupane´s poetry, but at times his poems appear simplistic. Many reactive poems—those written after reading a news piece—like "Lati Bishwakarma" (Mute Bishwakarma), "Aasuko Nadee" (River of Tears), "Kapilvastuki Amrita" (Amrita from Kapilvastu) appear to be mere structuring of words in verse, lacking depth. It appears as if Neupane´s journalistic past has superimposed his poetic sensibility. What he couldn´t react in the news dispatches gets expressed in the poems.

The above analysis has made it clear that Neupane writes realistic poems. The reflection of society´s ills is what his poems are all about.

A question can be raised here: Is the poet supposed to function like a mirror and merely show the society as it is or is s/he supposed to be a lamp and spread light in the darkness? Rather than complaining about society´s ills all the time, a poet can spread hope and become agent of change.

Contemporary Nepali poetry seems to have overlooked this fact and thus political poems have appeared in abundance these days. I hope Neupane doesn´t limit himself to writing these kinds of poems. It would be a waste of his poetic sensibility.

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