Benju Sharma’s stifled expressions of revolt


© Rachel Amtzis, 2013. BS SER.

The powerful cadence of Benju Sharma’s poetry cannot be ignored. The clarity of her indictment of a society that privileges half its population on the basis of gender, that tailors the male on the basis of self-conceit and the female on the basis of subservience to others, finds full force in her lyrical and well crafted poems. Within the wider context of an economically distraught and politically corrupt country whose hidebound traditions serve the powers that be, with clear intelligence, Sharma takes account of her own situation.

With the particulars of personal loss and the absence of caring she draws a map of a woman’s situation in Nepal, characterized by lack, limit, indifference and subservience to male and family concerns:

all day with palms bowed in greeting,
. . . competing
in the marathon of serving and flattery

(‘This Moment I Am Thinking’)

Sharma is not unaware of her privileges, born into a middle class family, the daughter of one of Nepal’s foremost writers, Bhim Nidhi Tiwari. Though her background sets her apart from most other women in Nepal, it only heightens her awareness of discrimination against women embedded in the culture. In the poem ‘They And Us’ she draws on the distinctions between village and city woman and weighs that against the more telling disparities between men and women. As in many of her poems, within the distillation of theme, a simple image made into a symbol of predicament anchors her expression:

you and I – 
pears of the same tree.
Make fun of me, if you wish
as I ripen above,
that is, in the unveiled town,
or be jealous of my liberty.
But you 
– women,
and I  also a woman,
the flesh inside
envelopes you as a seed
the same flesh
discards me as its skin.
We the seed and skin; they the flesh

Then foregoing the use of image and symbol she directly addresses the male and his misuse of the prerogatives of power:

It's as if our existence is effaced.
What is, only you are.
You can like warlords with the thunderbolt of victory
turn the world into ash.
It's OK
you are everything, everything's you.
nothing, nothing at all.

In the poem ‘From Experience Truth’ Sharma insists that the situation of women in Nepali society is one of captivity, where desires are transfigured to serve the captors, leaving woman with no inner reality she can claim as her own:

Our desires spoken of
as ornaments clothes and makeup
in all we do
pursued by spying eyes.
Our eyes
meant only to be cast down
our voices controlled
in the kitchen, at the oven
with clinking bracelets
playing, moving. With wood of the mud-stove
desires igniting . . . cooking ourselves with rice grains,
the mind cooks, causing pain
the brain ignites, the body wears down
our experience reduced to a single truth:
This is suffering.

Sharma aims to alter the situation by first recognizing it for what it is. With the passion of one whose passions are thwarted she asks for justice in the name of woman, and in so doing recognizes her public and private pain are one and, given the existing order, without recourse.

In which court shall I stand
begging for justice?
Within the petition 
 without the respondent 
how long shall I attend the court?


It is man in particular, as he is embodied in Nepali culture, and man as he manipulates power who is the malefactor who cannot be called to account. In ‘Talking About a Deceiver’ Sharma compares man to a mountain that is eroding and yet hypnotizes by its natural beauty the inhabitants that have long settled there: “Only deceit reigns . . . only rigged games, only envy”.

While it is the personal, the lived experience, that animates Sharma's accounting, it is public disclosure that gives her voice authenticity. The images that characterize public and private are interchangeable because the underlying elements are the same – the exhaustion of love and the failure of relationships:

a city unearthed in excavation
. . . debris
set in a lab, minutely examined
Was that love?
or envy?
was it black magic?
or a mirage?
an ancient fallen city
lying like the corpse of a crocodile

(‘Your Love And Mine’)

Sharma is done with the marathon of serving and flattery that maintains for all women a diminished status. In ‘Tradition’ she takes a symbol of obeisance, that of a picture of a forebearer she must pay reverence to, whose worn condition reflects her inner attitude towards it, and she sets it aflame:

Let flame reach the far corners
I place a lit match in its midst
Done with, done away!

© Wayne Amtzis

Source: Kathmandu Post Review of Books

• poems with audio • articles with audio

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