Loss of Compassion is a Big Challenge: Rashtrakavi Madhav Ghimire

[Poet Madhav Ghimire was conferred the title ‘Rashtrakavi’ of Nepal. He basically wrote songs, epics and lyrical dramas in meters, and there are several books to his credit, including elegiac short epic Gauri, lyrical drama Malati-Mangale, lyrical drama Aswatthama, and several other poems. Former Academician, Poet Ghimire was 98 when  Mahesh Paudyal, had this exclusive interview with the Poet. Presented herewith is the edited excerpt of the interview first published in Nepal Academy’s annual translation journal Rupantaran.]

 Kaviji, what have you been doing, of late? 

 I am working on my latest creation Hritambhara, an epic. It basically tackles two of the direst problems of our time: nuclear terror, and gradual loss of human compassion. The epic is rooted in eastern mythological and philosophical tradition, and I am likely to finish it by the end of this year. Next year, I will turn 99, and I want to finish it as soon as possible.

You are 98, and are still so active, both in health and in creativity. What is the secret behind your sound health and ever-present creative fervour?

 In fact, our health is in our own hand. It’s nature made, and as every other natural thing, it requires a balance of water, air and light. I am watchful of these things. I carefully select my food, keep myself away from alcohol, and refrain from overeating. Milk forms a compulsory item in my meal. I lost my mother when I was about one and a half year old; my father raised me solely by feeding milk. This is the secret behind my fascination for milk.

I also go for light yoga, which I call ‘laya yoga’, the yoga of rhythm. In fact, there is a permanent music resounding inside each one of us; we should concentrate to feel its rhythm. Together with it, I go to bed in time and rise in time. If the passion of poetry mounts, I sometimes compromise with my routine. Otherwise, I am watchful. As regards such a routine, I find my inspiration in the Bhagawat Geeta:

Yuktahara-biharasya yuktacheshtya karmasu
Yukta Swapnavabodhasya yogo bhavati dukhaha (6:17)

[Yoga becomes a destroyer of sorrow of one whose eating and movements are regulated, whose effort in works is moderate, and whose sleep and wakefulness are temperate.]

As for creativity, I find it to be the best way to keep the mind away from vices. When we are creative, all we do is create something, and to do so, we need to avoid everything else. By the same token, we also keep ourselves away from all sorts of negative inclinations.

When you entered writing many years back, what were the challenges, considering the fact that the rulers were not supportive of free writers?

I was pulled into writing by folk songs that were sung around hills where I was born. At school, I once got an award, consisting of Gorkhapatra—published weekly then—and a few Nepali books. In one of those books, I read a poem by Lekhanath Paudyal. On reading it, I was inspired to write my own verses and I started. I used to send them to Kathmandu, and they used to be published. I wrote not only for myself, I too did it for my friends.  Those days, we didn’t hear much about the state’s control upon writing. So, there was nothing of the sort. But as I grew into maturity, I became aware of the stringent Rana regime, and the need for freedom. I wrote a poem to this effect entitled “Visha-bandhutva”. It was published from Darjeeling, not from Nepal. I was against any sort of totalitarian regime, and also against ‘controlled democracy’. I have always stood in favour of  civil rights and freedom.

Then you came to Kathmandu. But your writing continued to reflect folk and rustic flavour. It seems, Kathmandu could not enter your personality. How did you manage to resist the influence the cityscape of Kathmandu in your writing?

 In fact, the landscape that influences or impresses one the most finds the most permanent stay in a person’s memory. The same happened with me, perhaps. I grew among hills and Lamjung, and the nature there provided the most powerful influence on me. So did the language spoken in that part of the world. I am aware that outside that landscape too, one can find extremely powerful impressions and such impression influence a person’s thinking. But in my case, perhaps, I didn’t find anything so impressive in the city.

Let’s turn to poetry now. What constitutes poetry in your opinion? Where does a poet discover his/her poetry originality?

 My first poem was “Baigraya Pushpa”—flower of non-attachment—that I wrote when I was a child of fifteen. When I look back, I am surprised how such a grave subject of non-attachment came to a boy of fifteen. Those days, however, all I did in the name of poetry was I re-presented things I heard from others, and crafted in my own way. But then, originality in poetry came much late, when I started presenting my world-views even inside apparently ordinary things. Look at Lekhanath; his poetic maturity spilled in his Ritu Bichar! His line:

Dharatiko divya saundarya na-ataayera patta bhai
Phuti bahira niskyoki, pushpako roopama sabai 

[With a sudden burst, did all the divine beauty of the earth, unable to be contained within, come out in nature’s beauty?]

Similarly, Devkota saw flowers as reflection of the grandeur of God. That is an original thing.  A poet takes a long time before discovering this matured, original self. In such poems, a poet articulates his world view on a certain subject. As for myself, I became aware of such poetry when I could accomplish verses like the following, which answer  what my world-view on love is, for example:

Chautarimaa bara-pipalako bota naulo lagaun
Chhahariko talatira basi geeta euta ma gau
Aaai kahilyai pani nasakine chaita-baisakha mera
Lai kahilyai nasakine preeti nau-lakha mera

[Wish, in springtime, I would plant a new pair of banyan and peepal, and underneath there shade, sing a novel song. After all, my spring is never done with recurring, and in tune, my love is something that’s not exhausted even after innumerable cycles.]

I am of the conviction that truths are two types: static and dynamic. The static truth is always there; the dynamic one reappears after an interval, but is never dead. This later conviction I have expressed in the verses above; they assert that love is never spent; I recurs like the coming back of the spring season.

You are often invited to launch the poetry of present-day poets. Perhaps you read them. What is your impression on today’s poetry?

 I am man of meters; so I read metrical verses more than free verses. I have found brilliant poems coming from poets of new generation too, but there also are a few that are weak. As for prose poems, I scantily read them. But I am aware, writing high-quality prose poems is equally challenging. Take Devkota’s ‘The Lunatic’ for example. Perhaps, someone charged Devkota of being a lunatic, and he was inspired to write the poem. But this poem is decked by a beautiful internal musicality as well. Such poems are beautiful in my rating. A few of modern day poets too have delivered such poems.

You have also written a lot for children. What is your stance on children’s literature?

 When we were young, there was nothing called children’s literature in Nepal. All we had were some folk songs, and I knew many of them, thanks to my rural background. Later, Devkota wrote some poems for children, and then I wrote too. I read Laxmi Prasad, and Rabindranath Tagore, and got into writing for children in the midst of these three influences: folk songs, Devkota and Tagore. All we need to do in children’s literature is to impart moral values in an entertaining and understandable way. Let the child discover himself inside the text. The child reflects upon those lessons later, years later, when he is in higher classes. Instead of loading children’s literature with a complex ideas, we should fill it with entertaining stuffs with lessons camouflaged in those lively presentations.

Before winding up, a return to Ritambara! A poetic who dealt with romantic contents in most of his writings is suddenly dealing with two realistic problems of universal concern: arms and loss of compassion! What inspired you to pick up such subjects?

 I had dealt with universal human concerns in my Aswatthama too. In Hritambhara, that will be ready by a year’s time, deals with two universal problems: atomic terror and loss of universal compassion. I am aware, the atomic arms that are manufactured today are many times dangerous than those dropped in Hirosima. This atomic terror has the potential to wipe the human civilization. Another problem is, more that the fine waves of human emotions in the heart, logics, rationality and technology is becoming more powerful, but universal human compassion is shriking. Look at the rate of divorce today; there is less commitment between husband and wife. I admit, science is expanding; people are discovering newer planets and just by observing colours, they are finding mines and other details there. Things are hardly believable; there have been progress. But then, what are we to do, if our emotional aspect dries out? Look at family values today! Children leave the parents alone, or send them out to the orphanage. A family with children and grandchildren, thriving in love and stories, was  different. These days, children drive their old parents and grandparents out! This loss of love is regrettable.

My Hritambhara deals with such a subject.  ‘Hrita’ means truth—something that remains eternal. It is a higher kind of wisdom.  It deals with life, and calls for love for the earth, and love for heaven. I would have finished writing it earlier, but a few years back, I fell down and got hurt, and my writing got halted. I will finish it soon.

Thanks for your time and blessings!