Thursday, August 29, 2013

Versatility personified (A profile of Hiranya Bhojpure published in the column The Living Legend)

Hiranya Bhojpure, a multidimensional artist hailing from Bhojpur, who had until recently taken up permanent residence in Kathmandu, is nowadays compelled to divide his time between the US and Nepal. I met him while he was busy throwing his things into a suitcase to leave for the US, where his two sons and daughter are living. At 70, Bhojpure still appears just as vibrant and energetic as he was four decades back when he started the Lekali Band with his friends Ganesh Rasik, Urmila Shrestha, and Tirtha Sherchan.
Bhojpure and Rasik’s names have become almost synonymous with that of the band, having been the two most responsible for introducing a unique genre into Nepali music in 1967. Collecting elements of rustic diction and colloquial languages, their compositions were a novelty for the crowds in Kathmandu. Parallel to the group Ralfa, which sang progressive songs, Lekali’s objective as a group seemed to be to use their music in voicing the problems of those people who were devoid of their basic rights. Their songs like Lahara Pahara Chhahara ko Desh, Tyamka Daanda, Hara Hara Mahadev Paani De, among others, were almost instant hits with the masses. “While many famous singers were trying to infuse Western styles into their works, we went the other way, and tried to bring originality and Nepali-ness to our compositions,” says Bhojpure. Some of their most popular songs are now collected in the album titled Ek Anjuli Ghaam.
Bhojpure was born in Deurali in Bhojpur in 1942, formerly known as Hiranya Prasad Shrestha. But when he started writing poetry, he changed his name to pay tribute to his roots, incorporating his home-district into his title. And now “Bhojpure” has also been taken up by his sons and daughter—a family legacy of sorts.
Bhojpure started his primary level education in Bhojpur itself, going on to do his lower secondary studies at the Bhadrapur High School in Jhapa. He came to Kathmandu to do his SLC from Padmodaya, following which he tried to pursue a higher degree in Science, but he ended up dropping out of college. It was only when he met Urmila Shrestha in 1963—whom he ended up marrying eventually—that he was inspired to resume his academics under her encouragement. So he joined a Bachelor’s course in Arts and later even completed a Masters degree in Nepali and Political Science.
Before Bhojpure and Urmila were married, they would meet regularly at her house, where they spent hours playing a number of musical instruments like the harmonium and guitar and singing songs. Soon, Ganesh Rasik, who was originally from Bhojpur as well, joined the team. And slowly, other members like Tirtha Shrestha, Sashi Bhandari and Nirmala Shrestha also became part of their daily rehearsals. It was perhaps inevitable that they would form a musical group. “I fist came up with the name Tyamke for the group, to which Rasik consented but since this name was a Bhojpuri reference, others though Lekali would be more appropriate,” Bhojpure remembers.
Although one would assume that writing songs and composing music is enough of a challenge, Bhojpure is equally passionate about writing and literature. Already having put out 10 books, including the novellas Chhiten and Gori, an anthology of essays titled Kehi Rang Kehi Tarang, the novel Sagarmatha Bhandaa Maathi, Ma Geetbhitra—an anthology of songs and Choubatako Charaitira, a collection of short stories. “I read and write daily from two to five pm,” says Bhojpure. Despite his prolific writing, Bhojpure’s books are not well-known among Nepali readers. He has self-published most of his works, and has not publicised his books enough to reach out to young Nepali readers, who do not know what a versatile writer he is. “Self-publishing is a choice I made because I don’t have the time or the inclination to look for publishers and negotiate with them,” says Bhojpure. In this competitive age of book publishing, self-published works often have a difficult time finding a niche in the market.
In person, Bhojpure is jovial, able to laugh off everything. In an essay that Urmila has written about her husband, she says, “I liked Bhojpure because he knew how to make people laugh. And I always loved to listen to songs and fortunately he knew how to create and sing them.” She has also described his madness, a seemingly pre-requisite trait in creative people. “Even at a time when I had no job and no money in my pocket and when I had to sing on empty stomach, I never became sad,” says Bhojpure. “And I’m happy to this day. I bet I can still compete with young people like you.” Laughing over his own words, he mock-challenges me to beat him at anything. “I could even outdo you in finding girlfriends, eh?”
Despite his jocular front, one gets the impression Bhojpure is a man who appears to have an insight into the recesses of the human heart, one who seems aware of the joys and tears that nuance our lives. But, in all, he is a charismatic persona, blessed with a family who understands him and has internalised his oft-fluctuating moods. As I set out of his Sunakothi residence at six in the evening, Bhojpure has just begun his daily drinking session, waving me goodbye with a glass of Newali aaila in his hand and a smile on his face.
Posted on: 2011-08-20 09:19 (The Kathmandu Post)


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