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Literary love-hate

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Kathmandu is the city of legendary fables. Just as its weather is whimsical, so are its capricious moods, too. As the cacophony of discos and nightlife tardily fades away in the crisp morning breeze at Thamel, this ancient city slowly wakes up to the sonorous chimes of temple bells. Then the roar of the crowds and traffic overtake everything.

All the while, the city has sheltered outsiders from all over Nepal and oftentimes even from abroad. Moreover, each arriviste has partaken in the city's heydays and doldrums, just like a loyal friend.


But alas, its inhabitants reciprocate not much of their loyalty to the host city, though.


“Kathmandu is orphaned by its own residents, especially the literati,” laments Professor Govinda Raj Bhattarai of Tribhuvan University. “Literature is said to be the mirror of society. If this definition is anything to go by, Kathmandu, unfortunately, is seen as the destitute city which no one wants to take responsibility for.”


According to the Professor of English, who lives far away from the din of Kathmandu in the quiet laps of Kirtipur, approximately ninety percent of Nepal's litterateurs permanently or temporarily reside in Kathmandu. Somehow, though, they have not been able to own up to this city in their write-ups and are still gripped by the nostalgia of their villages, from which they had emigrated for one reason or the other in the first place. Therefore, Kathmandu does not possess their belongingness, as in normal literature of the world. There is hardly any James Joyce to side with his wretched Dublin. Consequently, the strangeness of the chronic strangers is the hallmark of the city-bred literature in Kathmandu.


“For example,” Professor Bhattarai again illustrates, “despite having lived in Kathmandu for over the decades, Madhav Prasad Ghimire's poems always chronicle the magnificence of his native Lamjung, just like Dhruva Chandra Gautam's novel praises Birgunj only. So was it with Siddhi Charan Shrestha and his “beloved” Okhaldhunga! If not for its ancient residents, therefore, who else will claim this city?” he poses a question.


Perhaps disowning Kathmandu City is one way of expressing their longing for the ancestral land they had to leave, or even lose. However, if we follow the latest trends of some poets, they have even come up to the point of chiding and denouncing Kathmandu.


Some examples are Rudra Gyawali's poem Sala Kathmanduma kehi chhaina, Sahila and Yubraj Nayaghare's Kathmandulai Korra, wherein both poets stigmatize the perversions and shortcoming of Kathmandu.


However, this urban frustration is not just limited to within the national frontiers. Even Nepali writers from their Diasporas, such as Samrat Upadhyaya and quite occasionally Manjushree Thapa, for instances, have stressed poignantly on its defects in their works.


Nevertheless, things were not always the same. Once upon a time, Kathmandu was that magical city which prompted Adikavi Bhanu Bhakta Acharya to pen his famous poem Kantipuri Nagari, whose every consecutive verse elevated the glory and beauty of the Kathmandu City. And again, it was the same city that had left Bhupi Sherchan awestricken and spellbound.


So, what justifies this literary transition?


“It is perhaps because of the socio-economic transition Kathmandu itself has gone through,” explains Bhattarai.


“Beginning as the city of mercantile prosperity and technical virtuosity, Kathmandu emerged as the realm of infinite hopes and opportunities for many. However, as time passed, people realized its shortcomings and the perversions brought upon by its hybrid culture. So, perhaps this literary transition is the result of this disillusion and frustration.”


Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that this elevated sense of rustic beauty and simplicity might have been inherited from the European Romantic movement as well, he adds.


Sharing his ideas, litterateur Narayan Dhakal says, “This pooh-poohing is perhaps the result of the difficult transition from their villages into the competitive urban life.”


Had his countryside beauty been enough, Dhakal himself would not have bothered to pay a hectic visit to Kathmandu everyday. Residing in the village of Kavre, he comes everyday to Kathmandu, which takes him approximately half an hour's ride on his motorbike. Of course, as he mirthfully adds, if it does not run out of gas, which it usually does, due to the occasional shortage.


“I must travel because it's the very city that gives me a platform to propagate my ideas and make my voice heard. Therefore, though I'm mused by the picturesque beauty of my village, I'll always have to take refuge in the city to share it with others,” said he, beckoning to the facilities of the city, which also provides him his livelihood.


Centralization of facilities in the city is good in many ways, as it helps villages to maintain their natural rusticity. On the other hand, though, it also means overpopulation which is the major culprit of city-centric perversions and mismanagement. Therefore, perhaps the tragedy of Kathmandu lies in this infallible truth that it is the center of all hopes and opportunities, where things can go awry, too.


And in many ways, this is also the destiny of many a cities.


However, if we observe closely, it becomes apparent that ever since the dawn of history, it is always the cities that help protect the art and literature. Be it ancient Rome or Kathmandu itself, they have always conserved art, music, culture and literature in museums, libraries, and galleries.


Thus, it becomes the duty of everyone of us to love and protect this epicenter of creativity. Fortunately, we have quite a few creative people who agree with this.


One among them is poet Shrawan Mukarung from the eastern hinterlands who insists that although Kathmandu lacks in rustic sensibility and beauty, it has other virtues good enough to compensate for the shortcomings. He says, in effect:


“I don't mean love is blind, for it is not. It sees through a thousand and one eyes but it forgives all the shortcomings. Therefore, if we genuinely love Kathmandu, firstly, we should accept that it is not a perfect city, just as no other cities are, but just an average metropolis that has its own fair share of wear and tear. However, the same city can be made better if we all join our hands together to promote and support it.”




Posted on: 2007-10-12 20:01:38 (Server Time)

Source :City Post

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