Thursday, August 29, 2013

The life and times of a caustic writer

"Our effectiveness depends on our capacity to be audacious and astute, clear and appealing. I would hope that we can create a language more fearless and beautiful than that used by conformist writers to greet the twilight.”
-Eduardo Galeano
 Galeano, Uruguayan writer of the acclaimed book Open Veins of Latin America, explains in this quotation what good writing entails. Here in Nepal, Khagendra Sangraula’s writing is one that measures up to his words. Sangraula picks up words and expressions of rustic Nepali and gives them his own spin, creating what is known as Sangraula-style. The fiery wordsmith that he is, his words often make caustic remarks against society’s ills. He does not flinch from speaking the truth and burns the corrupt spectre that surrounds power and his subversive voice always rings true to the masses that listen to and agree with him.
Sangraula has written short stories, novels, memoirs, and political commentaries with an unbeatable flair for language. Of late, he has been consistent in writing political columns in national dailies. No writer is as scathing as he is in his commentaries and his craft makes even a forthright attack a good read.
The writer’s skills are equally matched in the art of oration, where his ability to calculate the length, breadth and depth of his subject extemporarily adds eloquence to the ideas expressed.
In the second Jana Andolan, he traveled to many parts of the country and spoke about the necessity of a Constituent Assembly and a Republic Government among the people, which added fuel to the uprising. Speeches by Devendra Raj Panday, Krishna Pahadi and himself were magnets for the masses during the civil movement in 2006. “I am inspired by the eloquent speeches of Osho Rajneesh, and have learnt to condense my own listening to the deliberations of political leaders like Nirmal Lama and Ganesh Man Singh,” he says.
Born in 1946 in Subang of Panchthar district, Sangraula completed his high school in his village and started teaching at the same school after passing the seventh grade. Teaching henceforth was to become a consistent career alongside his political involvements.
At the time of Sangraula’s birth, modernity was still a far cry in his village, which was medieval in terms of economy and education. “It was at that stage of my life that I jumped to Shakespeare and Marx, and then to Gorky. I started writing. By this point in my life, I feel like I have seen more than three centuries,” says the sexagenarian.
Sangraula was politically active in Kathmandu where he came to pursue further studies, and spearheaded the movement against the Panchayat rule. He also taught at J.P. high school while pursuing his M.A. in English. His leftist political orientation compelled him to discredit the education system, and deriding university education as a “bourgeoisie” construct, Sangraula quit college. He recalls those days in today’s disillusionment.
“I thought the revolution would be successful within 10 years and that college education would be useless. With this simplistic understanding, I had set out to accomplish kranti and gone off to Lamjung with a rucksack full of Mao’s Red Books.”
Sangraula taught at the school in Lamjung as well, but as he was always under surveillance by the King’s henchmen, and could not remain in one place for too long. So he escaped to Tanahu and then again to Chitwan, continuing to teach at different schools. Kathmandu, however, became his final resort and he started writing for left-inclined newspapers and magazines like Garjan, Jana Ekata, and Mulyankan.
“I grew intellectually at a very crucial time. The Cultural Revolution had taken place in China, the Naxalite movement started in India, and Vietnam had fought against the US,” he remembers. This communist sentimentalism and revolutionary zeal poured into his first novel Chetana Ko Pahilo Daak which he wrote in 1971. His second novel Aamako Chhatpati came in four years’ time. The novel was confiscated by the police not for its content, but for its cover which featured a  sketch of people carrying sticks—the police deigned  it controversial. 
The communist movements in China, India and Vietnam enticed him and brought him closer to left leaders like Nirmal Lama and Mohan Bikram Singh of the popular Choutho Mahaadhivesan (Fourth General Convention). But this did not mean that he worked as a cadre for any political party. “I am close with the communist parties ideologically, but communist parties are often like cages where dissent is not allowed, and as a writer I never wanted to be stifled,” he says.
His participation, however, was apparent in all political movements for democracy, including both the Jana Aandolans. After the royal massacre of 2001, he wrote Bhatij Dipendra, Malai Maaf Gara, an acclaimed article in which he used fiction to nullify the rumours dispensed to the masses. He also strongly condemned the atrocities of the Maoists and the government
during the insurgency. When ex-king Gyanendra announced a state of emergency and curbed the freedom to express, Sangraula continued to voice dissent in his columns.
He created a second self—Kunsang Kaka—in the column Belaako Boli in Kantipur where he did not spare any leader who could not meet the aspirations of the people. 
In the year 1999, his meticulously researched novel Junkiriko Sangit became another cause for controversy. Based on the Dalit community of Parbat district, the novel elicited strong objection from the Maoists. Noted researcher Pratyoush Onta wrote of it in the The Post saying, “The novel put the ball of recognising heterogeneity and pluralism in all its avatars squarely within the literary and political court of the Maoists. But instead of rising to this challenge, the Maoists responded by vilifying Sangraula in their political and literary registers.” Interestingly, people these days take Sangraula as a vehement supporter of the Maoist party.
Given all the controversies and debates his writings have sparked, Sangraula has become a much talked-about author—people read his works, whether they like him or not.
“I don’t know whether that is good, but I have become so public that no secrets are left,” he says.
But fully aware of his social responsibility as a writer, Sangraula claims himself to be a Marxist but also admits to the anarchist in him. “You can understand me to be a semi-anarchist Marxist,” he says with a laugh.
The anarchist in him never led a routine life. He was never worried about this either as he was convinced that “one cannot be a writer without being an anarchist.” For him, a writer breaks tradition, dismantles established notions and sheds light on things new and worthy.
As a full time writer, Sangraula works during the day and with load shedding as his alibi, does nothing but drink with his friends at night. He is a good friend to writers, political leaders and journalists—most of whom are young and upcoming. Writer Yug Pathak, who is in his 30s, expresses, “Every time we sit with Khagendra dai, we feel thoroughly invigorated.”
Sangraula is all set to release Aafnai Aankhako Layama, a collection of criticisms and memoirs. But in recent times, he has been reminiscing on life and writing about some big regrets. “The people of my village helped me reach these heights and attain the position I currently enjoy, but I haven’t been able to give anything in return,” he says emotionally and turns silent. The prolonged silence is uncharacteristic of this firebrand persona, but it lets me reflect on how sincere Sangraula is about most things in life.

Posted on: 2011-05-21 09:50  (The Kathmandu Post)


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