Preferred Citation: Hutt, Michael James. Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

Banira Giri (b. 1946)

Banira Giri (b. 1946)

Born in the town of Kurseong, near Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal, Banira Giri is one of the very few Nepali women writers to have established any reputation outside the kingdom. She moved to Kathmandu with her parents when still a young girl, and most of her writing therefore refers to the environment and society of her adopted home, rather than to her birthplace. The poem "Kathmandu" (Kathmandu ), for instance, expresses a mixture of affection and contempt for the city:

Kathmandu makes my poor, dear son
cry out in his dreams every night ...
I have come to live in Kathmandu,
but Kathmandu does not live in me.

Banira was educated at Tribhuvan University during the 1960s, and her philosophical and intellectual stance is typical of the generation that grew up in Nepal while its age-old cultural isolation was rapidly coming to an end. The same generation has produced several other notable women poets, such as Prema Shah, Toya Gurung, and Kundana Sharma.[1] Having completed an M.A. and an M.Ed., Banira became the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. by Tribhuvan University, for her thesis on the poetry of Gopalprasad Rimal. She is an ambitious and energetic writer with several literary awards to her credit and a teaching post at Padma Kanya Campus, a women's college in Kathmandu. She participates regularly in literary conferences at home and abroad, having traveled to Tashkent for the Young Afro-Asian Writers' Conference and to New

[1] Nepali preserves a distinction between a male poet (kavi ) and a female poet (kavayitri ).


Delhi for the International Writers' Seminar in 1976 and to Bhopal for the Kavita Asia Festival in 1988.

Banira's voice emanates from the new urban professional classes of Kathmandu. Her poems first appeared in Ruprekha and are now published regularly in various journals and newspapers. Their tone is generally cerebral, and many adopt a feminist viewpoint, employing metaphors drawn from the experiences of Nepali women. Banira's best poems are her earlier compositions; these are articulate, terse, and beautifully constructed. Some of her more recent poems have been criticized as contrived or pretentious, and Banira has begun to diversify by writing novels and publishing acutely observed essays on contemporary social issues in Madhupark .

In "Time, You Are Always the Winner" (Samay Timi Sadhaimko Vijeta ), one of Banira's finest poems, references to Pauranic mythology mingle with symbols that are unmistakably modern in their description of the transience of human life. The nature of time and history are common themes in Banira's poems, and her symbolic representations of time are often extremely well conceived. Like the dimensionalist poets, she makes frequent reference to mythological figures but restricts herself to the Hindu myths of her own tradition. Although these require explanatory footnotes when presented to a Western audience, most would be readily comprehensible to Banira's own readership. Her femininism is expressed more overtly in a simple poem such as "Woman" (Aimai ), based on the story of the blind men and the elephant. This was published to mark International Women's Day in 1986 and caused both controversy and delight.

Banira Giri has published three volumes of poems and two novels, The Prison (Karagar , 1985) and Unbound (Nirbandh , 1986). Her works are now included in the postgraduate curriculum of Tribhuvan University. Her latest poetic work, My Discovery (Mero Avishkar , 1985) is a series of fragments based on subjective experience. Many poems have been translated into Hindi for publication in India, and a slim volume of poems "adapted" by the Indian poet Yuyutsu R. D. into English with a most laudatory introduction was published in Jaipur, India, in 1987.

Most of Bainira Giri's earlier poems are collected in Euta Euta Jiundo Jang Bahadur (Each One a Living Jang Bahadur, 1974), Jivan Thayamaru (Life: No Place, 1978), and Mero Avishkar (My Discovery, 1984).

Time, You Are Always The Winner (Samay Timi Sadhaimko Vijeta)

Snatch me up like an eagle
swooping down on a chicken,


wash me away like a flood destroying the fields,
fling me from the door
like my daughter carelessly sweeping out dirt.

In infinite wilds I lead
a solitary life,
just a naming ceremony,
set aside, forgotten;
even in the Ramayana, Lakshman's line
had first to be drawn
before Sita could cross it.[2]

Time, you are always the winner,
I bent my knee before you
like Barbarik faced by compulsion,[3] like King Yayati faced by old age,[4] I fell prostrate like grandfather Bhishma
before the arrows from your arms.[5]

Touch my defeated existence just once
with your hands of ironwood;
how numb I am,
how hard to grasp, how lifeless
in the presence of your strength and power.

You spread out forever like the seas,
I rippled like the foaming waves,
you blazed up fiercely like a volcano,
I smouldered, slow as a forest fire.
You are power, wholly embodied,
ready to drink even poison,
we follow—my fellows and I a party,
we descend on a wheel of birth and death,
bearing bags full of gifts,
gifts of alcohol and oxygen,

[2] This is a reference to an event in the Ramayana epic.

[3] Barbarik is mentioned in Hindu scriptures such as the Skanda Purana. He lived his whole life under a curse, inherited from a previous life, that he would be killed by Vishnu. He was therefore compelled to worship various deities to preserve his life (Vettam Mani 1975, 107).

[4] Different versions of the story of King Yayati are told in the Padma Purana and the Vishnu Purana. Both, however, agree that his amorous disposition and infidelity to his first wife brought upon him the curse of eternal old age and infirmity from his father-in-law. Dowson [1879] 1968, 376.

[5] In the Mahabharata wars, Bhishma took the side of the Kauravas on the condition that he should not be called upon to fight against the warrior Arjun. Goaded on by another warrior, however, Bhishma attacked Arjun and was pierced by innumerable arrows. When he fell, mortally wounded, from his chariot, the arrows that filled his body held him above the ground. Dowson [1879] 1968, 52-53.


blood and cancer,
tumors and polio.

My grandson will be born
with sleeping pills in his eyes,
his potency already dead,
needing no vasectomy.

Perhaps he will be born as a war,
embracing every cripple,
perhaps he will be born as a void,
to replace the meaningless babble
of revolt, lack of faith, and being.

Perhaps he will even refuse to be born
from a natural mother's womb;
Time, you are always the winner:
revealed like a crazy Bhairava,[6] keep burning like the sun,
keep flowing like a river,
keep rustling like the bamboo leaves.

Upon your victory,
I will let loose the calves from the tethering post,
fling open the doors of grain stores and barns,
hand over my jewels to my daughter-in-law,
and lay out green dung, neatly,
around the tulsi shrine.[7]

So snatch me up like an eagle
swooping down on a chicken,
wash me away like a flood destroying the fields,
and, like my daughter carelessly sweeping out dirt,
sweep me from the threshold with a single stroke,
sweep me from the threshold with a single stroke.
(no date; from Giri 1974)

I am a Torn Poster (Ma Euta, Chyatieko Poshtar)

Man, do not vary the meanings you give
to pieces of splintered sentences,
I have forgotten my story.

Beside the fireplace in the dead of winter,
an old man tells the children a tale:

[6] The Bhairava is a fearsome emanation of the god Shiva who figures prominently in the religious iconography of the Kathmandu Valley.

[7] The tulsi , or sacred basil tree, is often grown in special shrines in front of Hindu homes or in domestic courtyards.


Parohang and Lempuhang descend,[8] and from the old man's eyes it seems
he is the Shiva of some era, who has lost
the goddess Sati in Daksha's sacrifice.[9]

He tells the story of Lal and Hira;[10] he chases Lal away on the white horse
of centuries ago, whose hooves still issue
their orders to the ears of Time.
How helpless, those men, we men,
that old man telling stories.

Has he contrived to cut loose
from the pulling of Time, the commands of Time?
Has he managed to break
Time's heedlessness and deceits?
How did Moses cut through the ocean?
How could he part the seas?
Yes, here I discuss matters of faith,
of belief and the lack of belief.

My truths, my faith, they are sold off,
auctioned at the Harishchandra Ghat,[11] even my beliefs walk fearfully now,
like a scavenging dog in the midden.

I am cursed
by this womb, these flowers,
like a broken pot, thrown away, useless,
like a grape with no juice,
dried up, inedible.

After centuries I stand, a folktale,
upon a bank of Time,
my Time is ragged and thin,
it feels its scars and its wounds.
Our feet leave only prints,
soon erased from the desert's breast,
the cold mountain breeze, like drunkenness,
adds more pain as it leaves next day,

[8] Lempuhang and Parohang are legendary kings from the folklore of the Limbu people of eastern Nepal.

[9] Daksha once incurred Shiva's wrath by failing to invite him to partake of an offering he had made to the gods. Sati was the daughter of Daksha and the wife of Shiva. Unable to endure the quarrel between these two, or to take sides, she took her own life by entering the sacrificial fire. Dowson ([1879] 1968, 76-78, 287).

[10] This is a popular Nepali folktale that relates the love of Lal for the princess Hira. A white horse is traditionally regarded as an especially auspicious animal.

[11] Harishchandra Ghat, is the platform beside the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath temple where the Hindu dead of Kathmandu are cremated.


lightening by a miscarriage
of belief and dreams, security, rights.

We walk boldly upon corpses,
the earth itself stands over a grave,
we build our homes, we eat our feasts,
we live our lives upon a grave,
we summon our corpses from the grave.

Now betrothals are all decided
by Shiva's bow at King Janak's court,[12] nowadays even Lord Rama's sons
flow past in the muddy Tukucha;[13] Man's faith needs somewhere firm to stand,
a resting place to lay down its load,
some attachment if it is to love—
if it is to love its death.

A life of more than one hundred years!
Life is an invalid, the very thought is madness;
this is no commentary on an epic,
nor the start of an autobiography,
nor an edition of my own works,
I puff out this life from a chimney,
and boil a pot of rice,
onto a mirror I breathe out one life,
and see my own face dimly.

I am a torn poster on the wall of Time,
Man, do not vary the meanings you give
to pieces of splintered sentences:
I have forgotten my story.
(no date; from Sajha Kavita 1967)

Kathmandu (Kathmandu)

Kathmandu is a heater inflamed
by one hundred thousand volts;
this capital's orphan girls sit waiting,
like Sita[14] on her pyre of fire,

[12] This is a reference to the betrothal of Sita, daughter of King Janak, to Lord Rama. Rama gave evidence of his divinity by breaking the mighty bow of Shiva.

[13] The Tukucha is a stream that runs through the center of Kathmandu. There is a popular belief, to which the poem refers, that women often dispose of babies born of illicit unions in this stream.

[14] Sita, the spouse of Lord Rama, was obliged to undergo a rite of purification by fire to prove that her chastity had not been besmirched while she was held captive by Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka.


ready to brand their bodies of gold,
snared by the noose of its love.

Snow-white doves fly the endless blue sky,
there's a prison in each citizen's eye,
as Rani Pokhari[15] floods with color,
there come dark smugglers and sneaks,
fat hypocrites and backbiters,
and all are made pure.
Pipal trees, comb trees, mimosa,
kalki and juniper in rows wave their fans
at inhabitants pure and foul,
but Kathmandu is not just cool calm,
Kathmandu is hocus-pocus, too.

And isn't it also that white-wheeled Toyota
which gulps down its petrol,
never satisfied?
And isn't it also Nanicha's wine store
where young men come in swarms each day:
Gunjamans, Ram Bahadurs,[16] heads held high,
who go home to beat their wives?
A Toyota's tire marks deep on the street,
green bruises covering women:
samples perhaps of each Kathmandu day.

Kathmandu makes my poor, dear son
cry out in his dreams every night;
half I understand, half I do not,
but still I wish to hear,
hemmed in and oppressed
by past attractions, repulsions,
I find that many will curse me,
I find there are few who like me:
I have come to live in Kathmandu,
but Kathmandu does not live in me.

The countless processions of these city streets
pour forth each night in my dreams,
my nights are weighed down by uproar,
they belong to Kathmandu,
covered entirely by mist.
How silent my cold mornings,
as if the city's dead have waited all night,
and are rotted completely away.

It is an interesting epic, beloved Kathmandu,
full of stories, sweet and bitter:

[15] Rani Pokhari, the "Queen's Lake," is near the center of modern Kathmandu.

[16] These are common Nepali male names.


the opening verses of tremendous speeches,
the communal song of wants and needs;
wages—the happy chance of increase,
prices—the miserable rise,
an unremitting struggle of loss and gain:
oil for the lamp, and sugar,
everything is here.

Wretched Kathmandu,
dear to everyone, abused by all,
its people narrators of Satyanarayan ,[17] forever repeating the ancient tales,
of Lilavati and Kalavati,[18] always singing the same forest creeper,
always walking the same back streets,
always keeping the same feasts,
always observing the same holidays,
always celebrating the same occasions;
ceaselessly they chant, like kakakul birds,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu.
(1979; from Pachhis Varshaka Nepali Kavita 1982)

Woman (Aimai)

Unclothed, unrestricted,
undoubting, unhesitant,
a woman stands at the crossroad
in her pure primordial form.

A crowd of blind men are eager
to discover the nature of woman;
the first strokes her smooth, flowing hair
and mutters, "Woman is a waterfall, she is the Ganga,
flowing down from Shiva's head."[19]

A second feels her arm, her fingers,
and happily declares,
"Woman is the lotus of Saraswati's hand."[20] A third grasps her shapely thigh and jabbers,
"Woman is the soft bamboo of the marriage pavilion."
A fourth feels her lips,

[17] The Satyanarayan puja is a ritual that is frequently performed in Brahman and Chetri households to dispel evil and bring good luck.

[18] This is a popular Nepali romantic folktale.

[19] This is a reference to the mythological origin of the Ganges River.

[20] Saraswati is the goddess of the arts.


which hum the sweet song of Creation:
"Woman is a ripened raspberry."
A fifth strokes her breasts,
motherhood's undying boon:
"Woman is a pot filled with Lakshmi's gifts."[21] The sixth discovers the half-secret
of the inaccessible place of Creation:
he leaps up and cries out,
"Woman is just a contemptible hole!"

Her eyes grow wet
at the blind man's revelation;
a seventh feels her tear-filled eyes:
"You evil fools! Woman is not just a hole!
She is also Gosainkunda,
She is also Manasarovar!"[22] (from Samiksha weekly, March 7, 1986)

[21] Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

[22] These sacred lakes are important pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas.


Banira Giri (b. 1946)

Preferred Citation: Hutt, Michael James. Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.