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Bhupi Sherchan (1936-1989)
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Bhupi Sherchan (1936-1989)

Bhupi Sherchan, who died in 1989, was probably the most popular and widely read Nepali poet of the previous twenty years. The reasons for his popularity are easily identified: his poems are written in simple Nepali; they address issues crucial to all Nepalis, not just to the educated elite; and they are distinctive for their humor and anger.

Bhupendraman Sherchand was born in 1936 into a wealthy Thakali family of Tukuche, a settlement on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River in the remote district of Mustang. The Thakali are a distinct ethnic group in Nepal, and their cultural orientation is basically Tibetan. Because their main towns and villages are all situated on an historically important trade route leading to Tibet, they have become one of Nepal's most enterprising and prosperous communities and in recent years have sought to distance themselves from Tibetan culture and to identify more closely with the mainstream of Hindu Nepal.

Initially, Bhupi seems to have rebelled against the commercial traditions of his family and community. It may be that he felt some sense of rejection when his mother died in 1941, a feeling that could only have been heightened when he was sent to Banaras in India to begin his college education before he reached his teens. In 1956, when still a student in Banaras, he published a book of songs in the jhyaure meter of Nepali folk songs. This collection expressed views that reflected Bhupi's conversion to communism, a fact also evinced by his adoption of the pen name Sarvahara , "Proletariate."[1] Some four years later, he came to live in Kathmandu, where he was subsequently jailed for his activities in an obscure political group, the Bhadra Avagya Andolan (Civil Resis-


tance Movement). In jail, he developed colitis and several other related complaints and was never completely healthy again. At about this time his second book, Nirjhar (Waterfall ), described by Subedi as a "collection of lyrical poems" (1978, 73), was published.

Neither of Bhupi's early collections seems to be at all well regarded; both are unobtainable, and none of the poems they contain has been reprinted elsewhere. Bhupi did not make any real impact on Nepali poetry until he dropped his pseudonym, shortened his name to Bhupi Sherchan, and began to submit his startling poems to literary journals, notably Ruprekha . As he explained to Uttam Kunwar, "I used to give importance to an '-ism' when I wrote, but later I began to write about whatever theme attracted me—although I must say that I still do not believe in 'art for art's sake'" (Kunwar 1966, 93).

A collection of forty-two prose poems entitled A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche ) was first published in 1969 and was awarded the Sajha Puraskar. A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair has since become one of the most influential and acclaimed collections of Nepali poetry and is already in a fourth edition of 2,100 copies. Despite the fact that no subsequent volume of his poems was published, A Blind Man established beyond dispute Sherchan's reputation as one of the most important Nepali poets. The poems translated here are all drawn from this collection.

Sherchan was a man tormented by the great questions of his age and by the contradiction between his family's wealth and his own strongly held socialist beliefs. Comparing the poetry published under the pen name to Bhupi's more recent work, Khanal observes, "Gone is the easy and confident feeling ... of having found answers to the questions that he asked as a teenager. The question returns and continues to plague him" (Khanal 1977, 272). Kunwar (1966, 96) claims that Sherchan often felt suicidal. Whatever the truth of this suggestion, his addiction to tobacco and overindulgence in alcohol became almost legendary during the last years of his life.

Sherchan worked for most of his active years in the family business and as a building contractor. His duties took him to various parts of the country, particularly Pokhara, Kathmandu, and Bhairahava. His intense dislike for Bhairahava was expressed in the poem "Bhairahava," which sums up like no other the hillman's contempt for the plains:

You can hear only transistor radios,
Swimming on the air,
The cough of bronchitic trucks,
The revving of ancient buses ...
Dry, disgusting Bhairahava,
Bellowing like a buffalo emerging from its wallow.


He also seemed to find Kathmandu decadent and oppressive and so he resided mainly in Pokhara until he was awarded membership of the Royal Nepal Academy in 1979. This perhaps ameliorated to some degree the frustration he expressed in his interview with Uttam Kunwar about the fact that his writing could not support him financially and that he was obliged to rely upon his family's wealth.

Sherchan's poetry, like that of Rimal and Koirala before him, was largely without precedent in Nepali. As Khanal points out, the poet's philosophical vantage point was unusual: he came from a minority ethnic group of a fairly remote region, whereas most of the better known Nepali poets before him had been upper-caste Hindus from central Nepal or Darjeeling. This fact lent him a certain detachment from the Kathmandu elite that he satirized with such success and set him apart from the intrigues that pervaded the atmosphere of the capital city.

The prevailing tone of this poetry is ironic, although Sherchan was often passionately angry. His irony is expressed most clearly here in "A Poem" (Ek Kavita ), in which the speaker contemplates the sleeping body of a beggar boy on a Kathmandu pavement, and in his most famous poem, "A Blind Man in a Revolving Chair" (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche ), a cruelly satirical depiction of a man in a position of authority who is corrupt, narrowminded, and insensitive. Bhupi's anger bursts out almost uncontrollably in "This Is a Land of Uproar and Rumor" (Yo Hallai-Hallako Desh Ho ), a long cry of patriotic rage against the corruption and lack of intellect he considered to be his country's most crippling weaknesses. His anger over the low status of poets and writers in Nepal is expressed in a reference to Devkota, Rimal, and Parijat:

where the great poet must die an early death to pay his debts
and a poet, driven mad by the pain of his land,
must take refuge in a foreign hospice;
where Saraswati's lonely daughter
must live her whole life shriveled
by a sickness untreated in her youth

Sherchan repeated his criticism of Nepal as a country of "gullible fools" in a long poem entitled "We" (Hami ) in which the fable of Dronacharya and his disciples from the Mahabharata epic was reinterpreted to argue that a disciple should not accede to his guru's every demand without question. This reinterpretation was in direct contradiction to the intended moral of the original tale:

We practice our archery constantly,
developing skills far greater than the guru's own disciples,
but Dronacharya comes to each generation,
surprised and alarmed by our expertise,


demanding his guru's fee.
Joyfully we cut off our thumbs and present them to him,
erase our existence and surrender to him,
then we rejoice at our devotion and our self-sacrifice.
So we are brave, no doubt, but we are gullible fools.

"We" is considered an important poem by Nepali critics, but it is somewhat repetitive and does not compare especially well with the poems translated here. Many of Sherchan's shorter poems are explicitly personal and express a profound disappointment with life, but in general he believed in poetry as a medium that should be used to convey a social or political message. So that his poems could be readily understood, he developed a style of Nepali almost totally devoid of the Sanskrit-derived vocabulary that filled the poetry of earlier writers, such as Lekhnath and Devkota. Sherchan also rejected the idea of metrical verse out of hand: "meter is an artificial thing, and any attempt to systematize the tears and laughter of mankind is an even more artificial thing" (Kunwar 1966, 92).

Although he was not the first Nepali poet to try dispensing with Sanskrit vocabulary (the trend dates back at least as far as Sama), Sherchan was probably the most successful and influential purifier of the language of Nepali poetry. "In Bhupi's poetry," writes Khanal, "Nepali has been restored to its pristine glory" (Khanal 1977, 268). Despite the admiration and respect accorded to Mohan Koirala, it is Sherchan's language that is emulated by the majority of younger poets today.

Bhupi Sherchan's poems are collected in Nayam Jhyaure (New Songs, 1956), Nirjhar (Waterfall, 1958), and Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche (A Blind Mind on a Revolving Chair, 1969).

Always Always in My Dream (Sadhaim-Sadhaim Mero Sapnama)

Always always in my dream
countless young mothers come before me
and sing this song as if insane:
"Now my milk is worthless,
my motherhood has no meaning,"
then they show me dirty piglets
suckling at breasts tight with milk,
and all at once they beat their breasts
and tear their hair
and beg me for all the sons they have lost.

Always always in my dream,
countless old men come with timeworn bodies,


countless old women with minds torn asunder,
they all collapse before me,
kicked down by life, unredeemed by Death;
they beg for the thread of the unfathomed future,
beg for their lost and only son.

Always always in my dream,
countless young widows come before me
and strip themselves quite naked,
showing me black blisters
where the world's salacious eyes
have burned their snow-white bodies;
they beg me for some support for their lives,
they beg me for some end to their journey.

Always always in my dream,
consumptive orphans come before me;
they beg me for school fees, money for books,
cricket bats, and a father's kiss;
they ask for protection
and a night of sweet sleep.

So always always in my dream
a great ocean forms:
the tears of the men in Malaya;[2] a corpse rises up and a corpse sinks down
in every ocean wave,
regarding me with hatred.

Ah in my dreams I am loathed
by the history of my awakening.
(1959; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)

Midday and the Cold Sleep (Madhyahn Din Ra Chiso Nidra)

In the newspaper's "wanted" column,
I seek the face of my future,
I search for a foothold in every procession,
every assembly, every speech,
I look through the files of each new plan.[3] On the lips of the new budget
I seek some reassurance,


from radio announcements I beg
two words of consolation;
my family's age I measure
with a new pay scale, made young again
by the news of each vacant post;
each time I hear from my interviews,
life stinks like sweat in an armpit.

Somebody is mixing despair
into even my mother's love,
even in my father's encouraging words
a cold, impatient sigh can be heard.
It is as if vermilion fears
the parting of my daughter's hair,[4] and my wife is always serving up
satire on my plate.

An age has passed:
with a face like an application letter,
I have wandered from door to door,
I have called from house to house.

A cold sleep always tries to engulf me,
I know that if I sleep this time
I shall never wake again.
Oh you who form lines like caterpillars,
chant more slogans, chant them loud;
I do not want to sleep today.
Wake me up! Wake me up!
(1960; from Sherchan [ 1969] 1984)

I Think My Country's History is a Lie (Galat Lagcha Malai Mero Deshko Itihas)

When I pause for a few days
to look at these squares steeped in hunger,
these streets like withered flowers,
I think my country's history is a lie.

These gods, dug in all down the street,
these knowing men who are deaf and dumb,
these temples ravaged by earthquakes,
these leaning pinnacles,
these statues of great men at the crossroads:
when I see all these, ever present,
never changing, all alike,


then I think it is a lie,
the history of these men who share my table.

When I constantly see young Sitas[5] in the streets, the alleys, the markets,
in my country and in foreign lands,
stripped bare like eucalyptus trees,
when I see countless Bhimsen Thapas,[6] standing still and silent,
shedding the songs of their souls,
like kalki trees[7] with their hands hanging down,
I really feel like mocking my blood.

I hear that Amarsingh[8] extended the kingdom to Kangra,
I hear that Tenzing climbed Sagarmatha,[9] I hear that the Buddha[10] sowed the seeds of peace,
I hear that Arniko's[11] art astounded the world;
I hear, but I do not believe it.

For when I pause for a few days
to look at these squares steeped in hunger,
these streets like withered flowers,
I know that this is the truth of my past,
and I think our history is a lie.
(1960; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche)

Dozing and regretting all day long,
like a withered bamboo lamenting its hollowness,
opening wounds all day long,
like a sick dove which pecks at its breast;


weeping softly all day long,
over sorrows which are unspoken,
like a pine forest in its solitude,
my feet are set in a tiny space,
sheltered by a mushroom umbrella,
far from the vastness of earth and sky.

In the evening,
when Nepal shrinks down to Kathmandu,
and Kathmandu shrinks to New Road,[12] which breaks up, trampled by countless feet,
to newspapers, tea shops, paan shops,
various rumors come and go,
each in a different guise,
newspapers pass by, clucking like hens,
and here and there the darkness
climbs onto the sidewalk, terrified
by the headlights of the cars.

The hive in my brain collapses,
I stand up, alarmed
by stinging, buzzing bees beyond number;
I rise like a soul on Judgment Day,
but I do not find the Lethe,[13] I river of oblivion,
so I slide down into some wine to forget
the past, my previous lives and deaths.

The sun always rises from the kettle,
and sets in an empty glass,
the earth I inhabit goes on turning,
I am the only one who cannot see
the changes all around me,
the only one who is unaware
of all this world's beauty and pleasure,
like a blind man at an exhibition,
forced to sit on a revolving chair.
(1961; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


This is a Land of Uproar and Rumor (Yo Hallai-Hallako Desh Ho)

This is a land of uproar and rumor,
where deaf men wearing hearing aids[14] are judges at musical contests;
and those whose souls are full of stones
are connoisseurs of poetry;
where wooden legs win races, and bayonets of defense
are held by plastered hands;
where, basket upon basket,
truckload after truckload,
souls are offered for sale
along the roads, in front of doors;
where the leaders are those who can trade in souls,
like shares on a stock exchange;
where the men who presume to lead our youth on
have faces wrinkled like roofing steel;
where the "wash and wear" creases of honor
are never spoiled by any malpractice,
and even the prostitute's terylene skin
cannot crease, whatever her crime;
where seeds which double production
are displayed at farmers' fairs
which fill with news of drought and famine;
where beer and whisky flow instead of sacred rivers[15] and people come to our holiest shrines
less to receive the food of the gods,
more to consume the forbidden fruits
of Adam and Eve in the gardens behind;
where the sugar factory makes booze, not sugar,
and mothers of freedom give birth to soldiers instead of sons;
where the great poet must die an early death to pay his debts
and a poet, driven mad by the pain of his land,
must take refuge in a foreign hospice;
where Saraswati's lonely daughter
must live her whole life shriveled
by a sickness untreated in her youth;[16] where a guide describes to a tourist
Nepal's contributions to other lands,


then departs, demanding his camera,
where young men sing the songs
of forts and foreign conquests,
marching in parades ...

In this land I am forced to say,
clipping a khukuri to my tie and lapel,[17] tearing open my heart:
compatriots, nation-poets of this land,
who sing the songs of my country's awakening,
respected leaders of my people:
if you wish, you may call me a slanderer, a traitor,
but this land is mine as well as yours,
my hut will stand on a piece of this land,
my pyre will burn beside one of our rivers;
I am forced to say, made bold by this feeling,
this is a land of uproar and rumor,
dig deep, and you find hearsay
heaped up beneath every home,
so this is a land of tumult and gossip,
a country supported by rumors,
a country standing on uproar:
this is a land of uproar and rumor.
(1967; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

New Year (Nayam Varsha)

Like a postman newly transferred,
who carries a parcel of sun in his sack,
Baisakh[18] is walking on the roof,
moving with slow heavy steps,
making the walls swing like a pendulum.

The sun grows dark
and lies down to rest with a despairing face:
a downpour of bad weather,
a constant rumbling from the clouds,
the sky has diarrhea; it must have drunk
the Bishnumati's choleric waters.
From the shehnai[19] there comes a tuneless sound;
cholera germs are coming, unseen and countless,


at midday, fierce sunshine,
all the trees scratching their limbs.

So once more
New Year has come,
so once more
I must hang my life's visa
in a new calendar on the wall,
so once more
I must draw up a list of my friends,
once more, sitting beneath rockets
and airplanes bearing horrific bombs,
I must write my dear ones letters
wishing them success,
long lives.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967)

A Poem (Ek Kavita)

For the lad who says "I am hungry"
there is neither a meal nor a home,
but even so he lives, he grows up,
this beggarly youth on a New Road pavement,
trampled beneath many feet.

This boy was shot into outer space,
an unknown, uncertain future,
in the speeding rocket of someone's carnal pleasure,
no space suit, no oxygen,
no guide or direction;
but he came down safely from his brief experience
of irresponsibility, unburdened freedom,
onto the New Road pavement,
wrapped in a dirty parachute.

This child was born
like Jesus,
from a virgin mother's womb,
and now he sits by the wayside,
supporting a lamppost: his cross.

On a night so cold the hair stands on end,
he sleeps tucked into a bend on a sad, empty footpath,
wrapped in a dirty sack, an old newspaper;
on his breast in huge letters lies the news of Children's Day:
a minister's official address,


the presentation of sweets and prizes,
announcements of progress for boys and girls.

Sleep, little boy,
sleep, wise child,
sleep, little king,
sleep like this, carefree,
the day will come when your clothes,
your dirty sack and newspaper,
will hang in a museum like Kalu Pande's.[20]

And then historians will write,
"At that time in Nepal
there were two kinds of men:
one rested on newspaper headlines,
he was important news,
the other wrapped himself in them to keep warm,
surviving the winter oblivious . . .
. . . then Nepal was like an old paper:
completely out of date."
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Dove of Two Delicate White Hands: Your Greeting (Dui Seta Kalila Hatkelako Pareva: Timro Namaste)

You were standing on a rooftop,
your head bowed demurely,
in blushing haste you tossed
a dove, two delicate white hands,
into the air toward me:
your greeting.

All day it flies
through the skies of my eyes
on the white wings of your purity.
In the evening your youth
spreads across my heart's horizon,
in the night, the seven colors of your bracelets
are set into the rafters of my sleep.

And from now on your laughter,
your solitude's silent entreaty,
will always fill my heart, my eyes.

You were standing on a rooftop,
your head bowed demurely,


in blushing haste you tossed
a dove, two delicate white hands,
into the air toward me:
your greeting . . .
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

Cold Ashtray (Chiso Aishtre)

Those who come
come with hearts full of fire,
with flames on their lips,
but those who live here
live with hands full of ash
and eyes full of smoke.
Those who leave take with them
a bundle of extinguished beliefs,
the stub-ends of their dreams.
Such is this Valley of Four Passes,[21] it's a cold ashtray,
this Valley of Four Passes.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Cruel Blow at Dawn (Prata: Ek Aghat)

Every day,
dawn comes secretly like a thief,
and it squeezes me a little.
I am woken by the touch of sunbeams,
I see the bright, white teeth of the east,
scrubbed regularly clean;
there falls upon some corner of my heart
a light but penetrating blow:
ah, my life is going toward its end;
a certain amount passes each day,
squeezed out like toothpaste.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)


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