Source: The Kathmandu Post dated Sep 30,2011
The poetry anthologies that I am given to review these days are more a collection of grammatically-incorrect long sentences, broken down into several short phrases. Other than form, short phrases do not constitute poetry. Few months back I wrote an article on what Nepali writing, although produced in large quantities, lacks acutely. To quote a line or two from the same write-up is worthwhile here: “Take a poem written on the issue of corruption. This verse does nothing but repeat the boring ideas of an idealistic thug. High-sounding, idealistic thoughts prevail throughout the book, but the writing is so bland that I am reminded of a poem I wrote on ‘nationality’ in the fifth grade.”
Amidst this dismal scenario of poetry writing, now and then, I do come across some good anthologies. They include Hajaar Barshako Nindra (Bhupin Byakul), Buddhisagar Kaa Kavita (Buddhisagar), Aandhiko Aaveg (Manu Manjil), and Baduli ra Sudur Samjhanaharu (Swa. Swapnil Smriti). And along the same lines, I can rate moderately high even this collection—Monalisa ra March 8 by Umesh Akinchan Rai—which I hold in my hands.
What generally grips a reader’s attention in poetry is its economy of words and the powerful emotions that flow in the blank spaces between. I often cite many verses that I remember from poems I have read. But this would not be attributed to a sharp memory—it is, rather, the power of the verses which compel me to remember them. I believe this is what most poets strive to achieve. Some stanzas written by Akinchan are firmly etched in my mind at present, too. Take one from the poem titled Prashna, a question:
Why does not he understand, a bald-headed economist, that he is buying a golden comb from the money he’s collected as remittance
This last poem in the anthology asks some crucial questions that have dangled in the face of the Nepali polity for years, but have not been resolved. The poem can be interpreted from sociological and economic perspectives. The serious questions posed in it can only be raised by someone who is able to scrutinise our complex society. It could only have been written by one who has realised deeply how our young Nepali men and women have worked to contribute to the annual national budget through the remittance they send. The poet has felt deeply the essence of the remittance which enters Nepal at the cost of the life and spirit of many young Nepalis.
We can take many of Akinchan’s poems as specimens that prove the competence of the poet in finding new and appropriate metaphors and creating a real picture of what he sees and feels. The poems collected in this anthology are not ones that could’ve been written while sitting and throwing pebbles into a beautiful lake or leaning against an easy chair. Poems like these that depict harsh social realities demand that the poet undergo the harshness too. Let me take another stanza from the poem Mahanagarma Euta Chhora:
Why do my dreams precede my footsteps in this narrow alley of a metropolitan city?
The subject of this poem is representative of young men who migrate from the far away and remote villages of Nepal to Kathmandu and make difficult endeavours to attain their ambitions. They arrive dreaming of an ideal life and end up being exploited by a corrupt network of politics.
Other poems like Soltini Sahar, Monalisa ra March 8 and Aamako Samaadhisthalbaata are also well-crafted, powerful expressions. And though many commentators, following the release of this book few weeks ago, cited Akinchan’s poem Barack Obama, I am not much impressed by it. The glorification of Obama, a black man who succeeded in becoming the president of the United States feels relatively juvenile to me. Though the poem is aesthetically good, one can question the idea behind it on the grounds of whether or not Obama really does represent the marginalised of his society.
Akinchan’s poem Monalisa ra March 8, on the other hand, is an award-winning work, having bagged an award worth US $1000. He was given the honour by the Nepali Sahitya Pratisthan in North America, who also published this anthology. It is with the intention of allowing readers the joy of discovering this poem for themselves that I have not explained the poem in this review. Ultimately, the anthology is an interesting and insightful read and an appropriate venture in the spare time that one finds during this festive season.