Peerless Parijat

Nagendra Sharma

The first time I came across Ms. Parijat was in a small rented flat near my own house at Putali Sadak. She hadn’t been keeping a good health despite her fairly young age. But her ailment, whatever that may have been, hadn’t affected her literary creativity or her bubbling enthusiasm, as a kind of a fiery political activist of the left-leaning variety.

Many years elapsed. The next time I spent quite a few hours with her was in a school ‘cum’ residence at Mhepi, on way from Kathmandu to Balaju. Her life-long aide and inspiring younger sister, Sukanaya, ran the school besides looking after her, while Parijat, now virtually crippled by paralysis, looked more fragile than ever. But her figthing spirit remained as unbriddled as ever.

Many of us know, of course, that Parijat was her pen-name. In real life, she was known as Vishnu Kumari Waiba alias Chheku Doma, the latter being the name given to her by Lamas, by virtue of her birth in a Buddhist Tamang family in a backward tea-garden area in Darjeeling where she had been born.

My Mhepi visit also brought about a brief meeting with late Mr. Nirmal Lama, a well-known leftist idealogue and activist of the hard-core variety, practically since his participation in the anti-Rana armed insurrection in 1950. Incidentally, I had known him since my Kurseong days where he was also a school student like me and was known more popularly as Mastaram. He was later married to Sukanya Waiba.

This meeting of mine with Parijat was in the wake of the 1990 multy-party movement that had toppled the 30-year old Panchayat system. Nirmalji had been actively involved in this movement also, most of the time having been driven underground in the process. But she somehow felt that Nirmal had been shabbily treated by the Kathmandu people despite his life-long sacrifice in the name of democracy in the country. “Can you imagine, Nagendraji,” she had said then, “even today, some elements haven’t stopped raising slogans such as Nirmal chor, desh chhod (‘Nirmal thief, leave the country’)! Do you think he deserves to face this kind of a hostility in a so-called democracy for which he himself had struggled for over forty years or so?”

I didn’t reply. For I didn’t know much of his political activities anyway. Instead, after a little while, I switched the topic over to literature for which I had gone to see her in the first place.

“When I had first met you at your Putali Sadak residence, you had been working on your now-popular novel, Sirisko Phool, no?”

“I hadn’t actually started writing it, but I vaguely remember my having discussed its outline with you.”

“You have come a long way since then, having churned out no less than nine novels during the two or three intervening decades. As you look back today, how do you compare that novel with your later creations?”

“I should say Sirishko Phool somehow brought me great laurels, whether I deserved them or not. Besides making me the first – and, so far, the only – woman awardee of the prestigious Madan purashkar literary prize, it also got translated into other languages, and has been included into a University curriculum in Maryland, USA. But coming to think of it, I also tend to consider that work as a product of my juvenile years, although it was natural for a person filled with youthful jest to write the way I did.”

Quite some years ago, I was also associated with a Human Rights outfit with her for a while. Its main thrust was to fight against the immoral trafficking of Nepali women and girls. But not for long; for I had drifted into other areas of work, in keeping with my scatter-brain attitude in life. On her part, she kept constantly lashing out at the nefarious trafficking indulged in by the people of her own ilk, the Tamangs of Sindhupalchok and neighbouring districts. What made it more painful for her was that their victims mostly used to be Tamang girls themselves that is, belonging to her own community.

“I share your sentiments and sympathies with the unlettered and exploited Tamang girls. But the lot of girls belonging to other Nepali communities isn’t much different either, is it?” – I had countered.

“Oh yes, a major paradox of the Nepali society in general is its ambivalent attitude towards its womenfolk,” she continued. “On the one hand, male supremacy doesn’t let them treat women as something more than mere chattels in real life. But, on the other, it’s these very men who often place women in the pedestal of the goddesses, such as Durga, Ajima, Dolma or what have you. The result is, women have been both goddesses and slaves, matriarchs and chattels, at the same time!”

But the intention of my visit this time was not to enter into her political beliefs or social philosophy. I was there merely to ask for a suitable short story of hers that I could include in an anthology in English that I had been working on.

“How many short stories you have penned so far?” – was my next query.

“Well, countless, so to say. As you are aware, three anthologies of mine have already come out, beginning with Aadim Desh, published in 2025 BS.”

“How about poetry?”

“Three collections again, so far.”

“Are you through with the writing of memoirs you had started?”

“No, not yet. The third in the series is yet to be published. But I have completed its manuscript.”

In between our chats, she kept on gazing out of her window, somewhat lost in pensive thoughts. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her and her physical incapacity. Such a vibrant lady, she could have worked wonders, I felt, had she not been grappling with Rheumatoid Arthritis since a very young age of 13. Neither her doctor father nor anyone else could help her out of it. And, since the time she attained 27 years of age, she had virtually been lying crippled, alas!

At the time of her sad demise in 2050 B.S., I had been out of the country. As such, I was deprived the opportunity to pay my last respects to her. Later, I came across an issue on Asian poetry brought out by Bagar, a prestigious periodical of contemporary writing. Included in its pages were three poems penned by her. Aziz and Barbara, along with Parijat herself, had rendered them into English. A stanza from “Death”, one of those poems, runs thus:

“The ragged cart-puller,
Crushed on the roadside
By the shiny car of a drunk
City official in a slick thite suit
Speeding through the night…
That was death.”

An excerpt from another one, “Red Roses”:

Recently I saw
Martyrs’ blood on roses,
Recently I smelled
Martyrs’ blood in the Rose-scent”…
[From my weekly column, “Recollections”, in The Sunday Post, March 10, 1996.]