Mahesh Maskey and Mary Des Chene

Remembering Parijat....

First published in: The Nepal Digest, 9 June, 1999. Slightly revised for MIA, August, 2002.

[Baisakh, more than any other month, brings memories of Parijat. Every year in her memory I have presented some of her own works, or some works written about her, to the TND readers under the title "Remembering Parijat...". This time we remember Parijat through the poems of Ahuti, a poet who seems to walk the same path as was trodden by some of the heroic characters of Parijat's own unforgettable works. - MM. Baisakh [April-May] 1999]

"Song of the Hungry Ones"

            –Mahesh Maskey and Mary Des Chene


Introducing Ahuti's collection of poems to readers, Parijat wrote:

"For listeners who hear his poems in his own voice and style, how moved, how touched to the quick and agitated they are rendered, this need not be asked of anyone. Truly, Ahuti's poems are spellbinding. Not to say this much would be an injustice to the poet.


        Your tears I will keep

        on the very mainroad

        where heart's beat walks


        How many are the tears?

(from: Bagmatiko Kinaarai Kinaar/
Along the Banks of the Bagmati)


        Like glistening blisters on a palm,

        about to burst

        A pair of hungry, thirsty, gleaming eyes

        I cannot look

(from: Samarpan/ Dedication)


        I too may have stirred

        inside the small belly of a woman

        I too may have cried at birth,

        as if making a sign


        Returning from quietly discarding me

        somewhere in a rock crevice/somewhere on cemetary's edge

        I too may have tried to hang onto the skirttails of that woman


(from: Tuhura Maanchheharu Aaphantko Khojimaa/
Orphans in Search of their Kin)


If poetry seeks its own introduction, then the above words can be dispersed unhesitatingly. By affecting the state of mind, to compel humankind to look into the mirror of society... perhaps it is this very thing that is the duty of poetry. Poet Ahuti is fulfilling this duty through the medium of his own poems." (Parijat, Introduction, Tapasvika Git/Ascetic's Songs).


Agreeing with Parijat, it seems to us we can say this too, that Ahuti's poems not only speak for themselves, but in his hands the poem itself becomes a medium for the rebellious spirit of humanity - giving it voice as it lives in the poet, awakening it where it sleeps in the listener. Identifying himself with the millions of famished and wretched of the earth, Ahuti sings the song of a different kind of ascetic in the poem, 'Ascetic's Song':


I wrote poems

        not for daily bread

I planted my poems

        not in rice begging bowls

                set before glutted ones

I planted poems

        in the brows of the children

Glutted ones may say

        Not poem/not song

        I sang only slogans

But the ravaged nipples of my mother's breasts bear witness

        I sang a new way of life

What have I to fear?

I sang the song of the hungry ones.


Ahuti's ascetic does not seek to remove himself from worldly life but instead places himself right amidst its most evil manifestations. Renouncing personal security to brave the gun, placing his heart between its barrel and the hungry ones, he sings the songs of the ascetic-like discipline and ardor of those who dedicate their lives to transformation. He sings of a new way to be in the world:


And so in this time

standing close by the martyr's grave

levelling heart's stem

        at the landed ones' gun muzzles

to plant a moon just like pure gold

        in the brows of the children

I sang the devotion of martyrs

sang a poem not to be left unsung

Let the glutted ones say

        I sang not songs only slogans/

        not poems only rebellion

But the ravaged nipples of my mother's breasts bear witness

        I sang a new way just like the victory of light

What have I to fear?

I sang the song of the hungry ones.


Not by withdrawing from society into solitary contemplation, but by walking among the people and feeling their wounds as his own, Ahuti's ascetic refuses to close his eyes to ease his own heart, refuses to sing false songs or silently bow his head before what is:


In such barbaric times

standing close by the martyr's grave

how can I sing false songs?

Standing before erect Sagarmatha

How can I

        like a sniveling coward

        survive by bowing my head?


It is not difficult to speculate that such a life would not be a bed of roses. Difficulties and defeats would abound in the path and even death may come before reaching the final destination. But the poet in Ahuti sings a death-defying song: "I scatter immortal seeds that sprout in thousands where one falls". Notice the similarity in the imagery of 'planting poems in the brows of children' and, in another poem, 'distributing the flares of 'guintha' (dungcake coal)':


I, nature's beautiful lineage/ along with nature

        taking up truth's satchel

In the satchel fire of dungcake coal/ saying "awake sleeping ones"

        slowly slowly like the sun

        I'm hurtling toward brightness

        igniting wet logs and brush


While I'm walking on

        or fighting on in the war

Searching for the morning

        or tearing apart the night

If I fell/ if I died

        or restless with hunger fell asleep on the pyre

O! my beloved never bending Sagarmatha

this satchel becomes your care/fire of dungcake coal your care

Under shade of this sky/ in the palm of the earth

Tomorrow, and the next....a hundreds years,

        let us even say - till the end

To be the true sons and daughters of the earth

To wash the pain of mankind with blood

        or, let us say, to be enrolled in this just war

Thousands of heroes and heroines/seeds of bodies of steel

keep on taking birth, keep on sprouting up

Sagarmatha! this satchel/this fire of dungcake coal

hand it over to them/give them the care of it

The morning I could not weave, give them the weaving of it


(from: Guinthako Aago/ Fire of Dungcake Coal)


What makes Ahuti different from many of the contemporary writers in Nepal is that he not only is a skilled wordsmith, he makes every effort to live up to the firey messages of his poems. He has not only identified himself with the hungry majority of Nepal and the world at large, he has participated with all his energy in the struggle for a better life, and is making effort to touch the most dispossessed of Nepali society. In so doing, perhaps an activist-poet does not have adequate time for his literary creations. It has been long that we have read just a few new poems by Ahuti, not to talk of stories and novels. It is one of the well known rules of life that it demands the most from the ablest of people. Such people, faced with conflicting demands, often develop attitudes which reflect their priorities and compromises. A poem by Indian writer Katyayani, translated into Nepali and often quoted by Ahuti, perhaps accurately reflects his situation.


Could not build

a peaceful, elegant study room.

When it was time

to write an excellent poem

I was writing on walls, the slogans

When it was time

to write the most talked-about story

then too, I was writing the leaflets of agitation

(from: Shokgeet/ Grief-song)


It remains to be seen how history will evaluate the literary contribution of talents like Ahuti, whose agitational priorities leave less time for literature. Besides his poetry, he has also established himself with his widely appreciated novel "Naya Ghar" (New Home). With his poetry collection, 'Tapasvika Githaru' (Ascetic's Songs) he became the youngest winner of the Krishnamani Puraskar in the line of such names as Yuddha Prasad Mishra, Devi Prasad Kisan, Govinda Bhatta, Ninu Chapagain, Rudra Kharel and Khagendra Sangraula. While the quantity of his poetry may be affected by more pressing needs of the daily struggles of impoverished Nepali people, it is not difficult to see that it is in the writings of such poets that one can find the striving to hear the heartbeats of the labouring people that is the fountainhead of progressive literature.


Compared to the imaginative brilliance of many a talented writer who shy away from the task of joining their imaginations to the foundation of the everyday realities of the masses, such creations, though numerically small, have a better potential to communicate the joy and pain, hopes and aspirations of the faceless makers of history. Giving a deeper meaning to revolutionary action as entailing a transition from student agitation and the sacrifices of urban political struggle, to unity with the labouring masses in the villages for carrying out socio-political transformation, Parijat posed a challenge to the heroine of 'Anido Pahad Sangai' ('With the Unsleeping Mountain') in these words: "...A revolutionary life was laughingly speaking to her 'do you really want transformation? Either you accept me or reject me'."


It can be safely stated that Ahuti would be regarded as one of the few writer-activists who have accepted that challenge. Born into a society whose dominant Hindu elite define him as "untouchable", and his sole tasks in life to be the hauling of dead carcasses and the repair of their shoes, there is a crystalline clarity to the class consciousness evident in Ahuti's writing and a corresponding unwaveringness in his activism. If Parijat is correct, the literary creations of poets like Ahuti will keep on bringing to us, in new and varied forms, the meaning of revolution - not only in a political sense but the one that encompasses the multifarious dimensions of the socio-cultural life of the downtrodden and the marginalized. At a time when the lofty dreams of the 1990 people's movement are being smashed and corrupted by some of the leading parties of that movement, when politics have turned away from the plight of people to the perks of power, and when the literatii seem to have forgotten their duty to lend voice to the voiceless, perhaps writers like Ahuti can help us to realize why and how the hope resides in the vast majority of illiterate people of the lower depths of our society, why the economically poorest section of the Nepali people teems with the creative power for rebuilding the country, why they are capable of changing the face of the nation.


We remember Parijat as spring blossoms once again to the accompaniment of the hungry ones' song, beating if anything yet more loudly and insistently than at the moment of her death. It seems to us that, in this time, although a little disappointed in not getting enough from Ahuti's pen, Parijat would have been happy, and proud, to see a poet walking the same path as was trodden by some of the heroic characters of her own unforgettable works. And that she would wish now, as she did then, "May his poems reach to those characters he heralded in his poetry; may grasping of them not be narrow."


In this context, it should also be remembered that, however passionate the author may be about their subject matter, Ahuti can be accused of writing slogans, not poetry, in a few of his poems. In those cases, criticism cannot be dismissed as coming only from 'the glutted ones', and demands serious pondering by the poet himself. Tucked away within Parijat's praises and encouragements one often finds warnings as well, warnings about tendencies she saw that might lead an artist away from the fullest realization of his or her abilities - which for Parijat meant the fullest flowering of those abilities not just as art, but as a medium of social transformation. In her introduction, singling out a few particular poems, Parijat also reflected on slogans:


"Just as poet Ahuti is rich in pathos, to the same extent he is also rich in slogans. ..... In a few special situations slogans too come to be beautiful poems, but these poems are not like that. Sometimes I feel that if Ahuti had not been given a poetic cast of mind, perhaps he would have written only slogans. In these slogan-type poems his pen doesn't flow as it does in other poems. Does the poet realize this or not? My question...." (Parijat, Introduction, Tapasvika Git/Ascetic's Songs)


Poet Ahuti and ascetics like the one he portrays are unlikely to be worried by what the 'glutted ones' think of them. Nor should they be. But they will have to be sensitive to what fellow travellers read and feel in their poems and songs. They will have to be ever alert to see the contours of their own images reflecting in the eyes of those who, like them, strive to 'plant poems in the brows of the children'. These sensibilities are vital not only for the sake of art, but for their own being and attitude as a medium of social transformation - as 'engineers of the human soul'. Except at those special moments noted by Parijat, slogan-like poems can drown out the song of the hungry ones rather than giving it voice.


Whether Ahuti ever writes another poem on paper, though we hope for many, is not so important as whether he plants poems in the brows of the children as he walks through this wounded land. Those who carry slogans to the people are many. Poets, in Parijat's sense and agitational ascetics like the one of Ahuti's "Ascetic's Song" are few. Ahuti is one of those few who, as Parijat saw, combine talent and commitment in equal measure. We hope he will always continue down the path leading to the heart of the hungry ones' song. The path that Parijat saw he has the special qualities to tread.


Parijat. 2049v.s. [1993] Palm Blisters, A Pair of Eyes: Ahuti's Poems. Introduction to Tapasvika Githaru (Ascetic's Songs).

Ahuti. 2049 v.s [1993]. Ascetic's Songs. (poetry collection). Kathmandu: Chintan Prakashan.

A few more recent poems by Ahuti have appeared in the pages of such literary publications as Vipul, Kalam, Janamat and Bedana, and in Jana Ekata weekly and Mulyankan monthly.