Thursday, August 29, 2013

A novelist, a poet

As I enter through the tall gates of her residence, poet Banira Giri welcomes me and leads me through the stairs flanked by several flower pots, to her living room. We enter a beautifully designed room which I look at with awe for the unusual architecture and large windows. Sensing my curiosity, she explains, “My engineer Gyanchandra Malhotra, who is no more, designed this house with a sensibility in par with a poet.” Her book shelves hold Tolstoy’s volumes and also Dostoevsky’s books and one can see different flowers blossom outside in the garden through each window of the room. The entire house is no less beautiful than the poems Giri has written.
You touched me
I’m purified now
To attain such purity-
is to become the golden-haired Sunakehsari maiden
bathing in lake Mansarovar’s redolent waters
on awakening from twelve years of sleep,
is to drop gold coins of experience
into the heart’s treasure box,
is to make one’s way along gardens
of marigolds and chrysanthemums
(Translated from Nepali by Manjushree Thapa)
Giri has been making her way along her own garden of marigolds and chrysanthemums and writing such verses. Born in 1946, she developed a penchant for poetry since childhood. “My mother who recited Sanskrit verses and prayers every morning enchanted me and her recitation of aarati was my first experience of poetry,” she says. As she was born and brought up in Durpin Danda of Kurseong, India, the hills, the trees, and the fog and clouds that usually covered the place prompted her poetry as well. 
Being a diligent student in class, Giri’s father wanted her to be a medical doctor. She completed her secondary education from St. Joseph’s school of  Darjeeling after which her father sent her to Kolkata, where she pursued the I.Sc. (Intermediate Science) degree as per her father’s wish. “Studying zoology was really difficult for me because my teachers wanted me to cut animals, which I could not do,” Giri remembers. This was enough to make her realise that science was not really her cup of tea. The poetic sensibility enriched within her heart had her gravitate toward reading poetry and other literature, and as she had no interest in pursuing the medical sciences, she returned to Darjeeling and started teaching at St. Joseph’s high school.
Giri also enrolled simultaneously in the humanities faculty and completed her Bachelors degree. “During this time, I read many books on Nepali literature. I never forget the grammar book written by Parash Mani Nepal, which has been helpful throughout my life,” she says. Her reading of Nepali literature and language encouraged her to write and start a hand-written magazine called Mutu. 
With the completion of her Bachelors degree, Giri came to Kathmandu and participated in poetry competitions. In a competition held in 1965, she stood second while the other acclaimed writer Bhairav Aryal bagged the first prize. Soon after, Giri got awarded with a scholarship to study Nepali literature at Tribhuwan University. After completing her Masters degree at TU, she began to teach poetry in Padma Kanya College.
Giri’s favourite poet in Nepali literature is Gopal Prasad Rimal, on whom she wrote her PhD thesis. But she is equally moved by the writings of B.P. Koirala. Rabindra Nath Tagore’s poetry and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina are others from which she has taken inspiration and churned out some critically acclaimed novels like Karagar, Nirbandha, Sabaatit Santanu and poetry anthologies like Mero Aawiskaar, Jeevan Thayamaru, Parbat ko Arko Naam Parvati. Giri was also awarded the popular Sajha Puraskar for her novel Sabdaatit Saantanu.
In the recently held Kathmandu Literary Jatra, her anthology Kathmandu Kathmandu, consisting of poems collected written on the love and hate relationship with Kathmandu, was released. Though the manuscript was given to Nepal Academy, the institution withheld its publication for more than 12 years. “Eventually, I asked my manuscript back and gave it to Ratna Pustak Bhandar, which brought this book to the market last week,” Giri says. In the anthology, she has written about her conviction towards poetry saying that “poetry is my first love, which I can never give up till I live.”
Giri lives with her husband Shankar Giri, a retired engineer, who has been helpful in creating the environment for her reading and writing. Helping each other and rejoicing in their lively garden and beautifully built house, the two live here in Kathmandu while all their children and grand children live abroad. In the relative loneliness of her house, Banira Giri reiterates one of her favourite Bengali verses by Tagore:
Jodi Tor Dak Soone Keu Na Asse
Tobe Ekla Chalo re
Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalore !
Posted on: 2011-09-24 09:28 (The Kathmandu Post)


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