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WORDS THAT DANCE IN DARKNESS & LIGHT

Bhushita Vasistha is an aficionado of Nepali Chhanda Kavita, a special genre of lyrical and metric Nepali poetry. She writes and recites it, “I have an emotional attachment with Chhanda Kavita”. Her melodious voice gained recognition when she recited the Chhanda Kavita of legendary Nepali poets at the Paleti musical series in April last year.

Bhushita is a student of English Literature and works with a daily newspaper as a writer. She has currently taken the lead of the editorial segment of Nepalaya curating some interesting books this year. She says, “We are looking for new styles, genres, tones and issues. The political consciousness the country has acquired in these few years is massive, but we are still in the dearth of books that can astutely reflect this evolution. My focus will be on curating and encouraging these kinds of books.” Her talents are not limited to writing, she is admired as an actor too. The character of Anindra played by her in Kumar Nagarkoti’s play Bathtub had her share the stage with veteran artistes Neer Shah and Brajesh Khanal.

In conversation with WOW’s Pabita Dahal, she talks about Chhanda Kavita and what it means to her. Excerpts:

Photo file: Beni Waiba

What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry, to me, is that sacred window through which we can peer into the illogical, irrational, and molten state of the beauty of the world, which often gets overlooked in the prosaic precision of everyday life.

How did you get into Chhanda poetry?

I grew up in a household where these prosodies were the very part and parcel of life. I would wake up to the sonorous sound of mantras being chanted. Sometimes to chastisement for being asleep late into the morning too was rendered in lyrical poetry. But of course, I grew up to study Journalism and English Literature. Nepali Chhanda poetry was gradually lost to the oblivion. And about two years ago, I hit a rather low point in my life. Rather desperately, I tried to pick up the scattered pieces of childhood memories to reconstruct my happy place again. In this process, these sounds slowly ebbed back to me. Chhanda poetry is my happy place, my den of solace.

How do you define it and how is it different from the free verse?

They say the prose is the triumph of idea over style and poetry is that of style over the idea. There certainly is a difference between free verse and Chhanda poem, in terms of their composition, grammatical structure and poetic devices like refrain or rhythm, etc. However, any good poetry, be it Andrew Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress or Devkota’s Ek Sundari Beshyaprati, they liquidate that rational rigidity of mind and make you more receptive to those feelings or emotions that preceded language, those that were more visceral and real.

How do you relate to Chhanda poetry as an individual?

I am an aesthete, my religion is that of beauty. While I find it particularly distasteful and dehumanising to idolise a person as a saviour, I am convinced of a higher state of order – call it God, or nature or any other name if you may – because of the immense beauty that oozes out of this world. The mountains, the play of breeze on pine needles, the intoxicating perfume of night jasmine, the crimson flame of rhododendron forests in April bloom – I live to experience these scattered moments of exaltation and to gradually imbibe them, their colour, their melody, their stillness. Chhanda poems! I would have been a lot poorer in my soul had there not been chhanda poems, they are my hymns to beauty.

You sang the Chhanda poems of legendary Nepali poets at Paleti. What was the experience like?

I think joy is contagious. If you do something out of joy, it ripples out and regardless of the act, everybody who experiences it, is embraced by joy. It was such a moment of joy for me to sing those poems and that joy gently fell into the hearts of the audience and the ripple just kept expanding. It was pure joy.  I don’t even know what to say because the love that I received afterwards was a very special achievement. But, soon after, I was slightly stunned by the attention I received on social media. It was, as Faulkner said, too much of white noise. I felt an incessant hum all the time. There was no moment of unadulterated silence, or a slice of darkness, where I was free to unfurl as my whim dictated. So I just disabled my social media. It made me realise while I love sharing poems with people, I also like that darkness, that anonymity where nobody sees me, except myself. That darkness is essential.

You also played the character of Anindra in Kumar Nagarkoti’s play, Bathtub. Tell us about it.

Anindra was a passage of rite for me. I shed my old skin and entered into a new phase of life. It was a groundbreaking experience in more than just one way. For one, going bald and stripping off the prescribed norms of gendered identity was huge. And enacting murder every day for a month to redeem my compromised dignity and freedom was a tone-setter. I am stained by Anindra’s hunger for individuation forever. She was profound, melancholic, lyrical, childlike and surprisingly very brave. The fact that she lodged in my body for three months (during the rehearsals and the play) has left me a changed person. And every evening, Anindra murdered Mr. Rana, I murdered one of my shadows that kept me in psychological hostage. It was an experience.

What can be done to preserve the melody and culture of Chhanda poems?

If you really want to preserve something, you cannot do it out of the sense of civic duty. You need to be invested in it, you need to love it, relish it. I love Chhanda poems, I never wanted to preserve it, or rekindle people’s interest in it. I only wanted to create that unsoiled space of happiness for myself through the poems. In the process, people are beginning to appreciate it. Some people ask me if we should make an institutionalised effort to preserve Chhanda poems. Poetry is personal, just like prayers. If I really love poetry, I cannot shove poetry down people’s throat that is just what poetry is not. At the best, I can become poetry myself, that is the only service you can do to poetry.