Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thriving in creative conflict

Outspoken would be one way of characterising Durga Prasad (DP) Bhandari’s personality. And he is equally unrestrained when it comes to his writing. A controversial line he once wrote, well-remembered by his readers, testifies to how forthright he is: “The genitals of a saint of Pashupatinath is more beautiful than the nose of a corrupt bureaucrat.” Some might criticise him for being so unabashed but he responded quirkily to this criticism in one of his interviews. Bhandari said to the interviewer, “My extremely shy nature has ended up in outspoken writings. This is the simple contradiction of my life. But look how shameless the powerful people in this society are, who have ended up being insensible.”
Beneath his blunt expressions, however, you will find poetry. Infusing each line with his meditation upon life, love, human relationships and spirituality, even Bhandari’s prose has elements of poetry in it. He initially wrote his essays in the form of letters in Saptahik, the weekly magazine under Kantipur Publications, which earned him bouquets from young readers and few brickbats from those who thought him unbearable. His essays read as love letters addressed to female-names like Meenakshi, Elina, Ambalika, Bihani, etc, but they were neither romantic rants nor philosophical discourses. Bhandari had deftly incorporated in them the current debates on politics, literature and culture among others. “The choice of putting my essays in letter-form was because I thought it would allow me to converse more easily with my readers,” he says. “They gave me a medium to express the conflicts in my own mind and to say the things I really wanted to say to people.” Almost all these essays have been collected in his books Mrigasthali, Niro Bansuri Bajaai Rahechha, and Roti ra Phool. The remaining pieces have been collected in another book titled Tyo Dharti Tyo Aakash, which will shortly be published.
Though it has already been awhile since Bhandari has contributed to newspapers and magazines, he still plans to write a new book. “Writing has become difficult because of my health but I do want to pen a memoir.” He even has a title in mind—Hitler & Butterflies: An Autobiography of a Himalayan Shepherd. The juxtaposition of two far-fetched things—Hitler and butterflies—reflects his own life, he says. “When Hitler was killing the Jews in German, I was busy killing butterflies in my village.”
Born in the remote community of Niroli in Doti district in 1936, Bhandari had learnt his first letters in the village itself and his initial education began with religious scriptures in Sanskrit. He was sent to school in Kathmandu but could not stay long and soon returned to the village again. “My parents were worried that I would drop out so they sent me to Dhangadi after that,” he says. But wherever he went, more than books, it was cattle that interested him—walking with them and taking them to the pastures with his friends from the village. “The idea of being a shepherd was always a fantasy of mine,” he says. In fact, just listening to Bhandari describe his penchant for the rustic life and his desire for a nearness with nature—the reason behind his wish to write a memoir—reminds one of the exultations of the Romantic English poets of the 19th century.
Insistent on getting him back on his academic track, his family shipped him off to Haridwar to study Sanskrit, but instead, he was admitted into an English school, where he finished off his higher secondary education. For his further studies, Bhandari went to Dehradun and got a bachelor’s degree in English literature from DAV college. And upon returning once again to Kathmandu, he applied for the Colombo Plan scholarship and was awarded a grant for a master’s course in English literature at a college in Mujjafarpur, affiliated to Bihar University. Bhandari also completed his PhD at the University; he chose the plays of WB Yeats for his doctorate research and completed his PhD in the same.
Soon, he was teaching at various colleges of Tribhuvan University, eventually joining the Central Department of English and even heading it for a time. The senior teachers and the students remember him fondly for his irrepressible personality, and have many memories of ‘Bhandari Sir’. Now retired, he stays with his wife at his residence in Purano Baneshwor.
It was here that I met him, perched comfortably on his verandah reading a book titled Saanch, Saanch aur Saanch by Osho Rajneesh. Bhandari, who is, of course, well versed in English classic literature, often cites from a number of spiritual gurus like Osho, Vivekanada, Shankaracharya, etc in his essays. As for the Nepali firmament, he says there are very few iconic writers like Devkota that he really admires. “We lack a sense of beauty and our taste is also below par,” he says, laughing over the tendency amid Nepali critics and readers to praise and eulogise unnecessarily. Monikers like Mahaan and Vilakshan Prativa given to mediocre writers is farcical, Bhandari believes, proceeding to deride even some of the more well-established names in the literary scene. Borrowing a line from a critic he once read, he says, “When we quarrel with others, we produce rhetoric. When we quarrel with ourselves, we create poetry”, hinting that Nepali writers are more preoccupied in quarreling with others.
“It is the creative conflict in a man’s mind that results in good writing, which we don’t often see in Nepal.” For Bhandari, literature, like life, is made sweeter with conflict and contradiction, not self-congratulatory pats on the back; he is staunchly against complacence in any shape or form. And listening to him, it’s difficult to disagree.
Posted on: 2011-12-10 09:44 (The Kathmandu Post)


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