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TRACKING HEROES
  Poet whose words fueled storm of change  
 

BIKASH SANGRAULA

KATHMANDU, July 20:

Raising its tail came a bullet
Aiming at my chest
I asked it -
Why this way?
It answered -
To protect you

If he wore a saffron gown, he could pass for an ascetic, aided by his long, disheveled beard. But Arjun Parajuli, whose simple, contextual and sharply satirical poems dictated the mood of the masses in the run-up to people´s movement of 2006, is too engrossed in the country´s politics and his publishing business to be one.

For a poet who hasn´t published a single anthology of his poems and hasn´t been graced with any major literary award, Parajuli´s popularity as a poet is surprising.

“It was an opportunity,” said Parajuli, 45, about his memorable recitals of anti-monarchy poems during mass street gatherings prior to the 19 days of nationwide protests. “Many said my poems would kill me. I decided that getting killed while fighting an autocratic monarch was better than living with acceptance. Even today, if someone wants to reinstate the monarchy, he´ll have to kill me first,” he said raising his tenor like he does while delivering the punch line of a poem.

It was this valiant, combative spirit of his poems and his deliberately repetitive and lyrical style of reciting them that made him a darling of the masses. But that was in 2006. Parajuli had to survive many tsunamis to make it to that year.



Crushing Poverty

Parajuli was born in 1963 in Jyamdi VDC-1, Kavrepalanchowk, as the eldest of five sons of his parents who couldn´t feed the family for more than six months a year with what they produced in their small farm and strips of plantation in a nearby forest. For the remaining six months, they worked as wage laborers.

Parajuli had to almost discontinue his studies when he was in his third grade as his parents had to choose between educating him and feeding him and his siblings.

He was fortunate that a teacher from his school agreed to pay for his education. Soon, he got scholarships that aided him until SLC.

“From grades six to 10, I walked for a total of eight hours everyday to and fro the school,” Parajuli said Sunday seated on a comfortable sofa in the office of his business -- Bhundi Puran Publications. At the entrance of his office is a notice that screams: No Entry to the Corrupt!

A teaching job after SLC and subsequent job as clerk at the central zone´s Regional Court near Bishwajyoti Cinema that he got after passing the Public Service Commission exam helped him finance his studies until he earned a bachelor´s degree.

But early years of deprivation and a deep realization that fundamental changes were needed in the country to uplift the poor had awaken the rebel inside him making him unfit for a regular job. He would later give up employment for good. For him, employment is servitude.

He joined demonstrations during the people´s movement of 1990. “I saw protestors torch Bishwajyoti Cinema. I saw security personnel posted at the Zonal Commissioner´s office in Ghantaghar shoot at protestors. I was there when protestors who tried to dismantle Mahendra´s statue at Durbarmarg collapsed after being shot at,” Parajuli said.

After the movement, Parajuli participated in the civil servants´ agitation and was jailed for a month in Hanumandhoka. After being released, he gave up his job, took his provident fund, and with a few like-minded friends started Halchal daily. Six months later, there was no money left and the daily was folded up.



From Jokes to Prosperity

While Halchal daily literally brought Parajuli on the streets forcing him to sell clothes on the pavement at Ratnapark, the publication debacle had taught him one valuable lesson.

“I learnt that jokes sell more than serious stuff,” he said. In the years that followed, Parajuli collected jokes, wrote some and was publishing monthly issues of Bhudi Puran.

“At one point, we were printing as much as 20,000 copies of an issue,” he said. Bhundi Puran´s success paved way for other publications such as Chankhe, Fu Mantar, and the annual Gaijatre.

Selling jokes has enabled the Parajuli family to own the Bhudi Puran Publication that prints some 400 varieties of textbooks and literary works today.

The joint family of the Parajulis -- numbering 17 members -- owns a house in Balaju.

Parajuli´s son recently completed graduation from a college in Bangalore, and his daughter is in the final year of MBBS. Their education was totally financed by their father.

“We are a well-to-do family now,” said Parajuli, who refused to pocket even a paisa he received while reciting poems between 2006 and 2009.

“I came to Kathmandu with five rupees in my pocket. For people who are willing to work hard, it´s impossible to remain poor in Kathmandu. Whatever sector you enter, there is so little competition. Money is not a problem for me today,” he said.

Power of Poem

Parajuli was an accidental inclusion in the Citizens´ Movement for Democracy and Peace (CMDP) that had the popularity to gather thousands when political parties barely managed hundreds.

“I was first invited by CMDP to recite my poems in the mass gathering in Baneshwar where leaders of political parties had been invited not as speakers but as spectators. I recited the poem Satra Sal Bhag Dui (1960 II). It clicked and soon I was a regular in CMDP functions,” he said.

His other poems, such at Janga Bahadur Sanga Punarmilan (Reunion with Janga Bahadur), and short pieces written in sync with the political context drove the masses crazy. Soon, he was kept as one of the last presenters in any CMDP function. Keeping the best for the end ensures that the crowd stays put.

Of his hundreds of recitations -- he as recited his poems in 53 districts in the past three years -- the one in Tundikhel after the success of people´s movement of 2006 holds a special place in Parajuli´s heart.

“The crowd went berserk after Sushil Koirala informed that Girija Prasad Koirala was not attending. Water bottles came flying from the crowd and landed on the podium. Political leaders, artistes, and civil society leaders tried their best to clam the crowd down, but to no avail. Finally they invited me to recite my poems. As I recited, calm gradually descended and soon the crowd was cheerful enough to hear out Madhav Kumar Nepal,” he recalled.

That day, Prajuli realized the power of poetry.

Controversy

The CMDP that started a movement that eventually brought an autocratic monarch on his knees found itself in controversy recently.

About CMDP´s stand against the reinstatement of Army Chief General Rookmangud Katawal, Parajuli had this to say: “The army must abide by an elected government. If the prime minister issues unreasonable orders, people are there to punish him. But the army must obey him."

Parajuli said a hypothesis that the Maoists are planning a takeover is not sufficient reason to undermine an elected government. "If the Maoists were indeed planning that, they would not have succeeded. The people who successfully fought a king who was aided by a well-equipped and well-trained army can bring any dictator on his knees,” he said.

(All photos by Bijay Gajmer.)

bikash@myrepublica.com

 
Published on 2009-07-20 00:00:01
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Poet Whose Words Fueled Storm Of Change
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LATEST COMMENTS
Thanks a lot for writing about a legend of Jana-Andolan II. Arjun Parajuli´s pro-republican poems still vibrate our minds against monarchical system. He is bold and direct in his poems to move people against the autocracy. His role to bringing the Republic in Nepal is tantamount to Lady Gregory´s in Irish Independence.



Second, Arjun Parajuli is another best example that scarcity is man´s best teacher. So was it for the Great Poet Devkota. We expect m [more]
  - Kalyan Koirala
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