If you like Nepali folk songs, you must have come across a hirsute man on Youtube, singing old, familiar songs with an unusual accent and lilt. The backdrops to the music videos are always mountains wrapped in clouds and B rolls of smiling Nepali children. The singer strums his ukulele gently, and through melancholy spreads calmness and positivity.
This is Arko Mukhaerjee, a Bengali who grew up around Darjeeling, walking the mountains and dales on the other side of the border from Ilam and Sandakphu. The hills were alive with Nepali folk music, and he grew up steeped in its melody and beat.
“As a boy, I hiked along the border with Nepal and have done the Singalila trek, walking up to the base of Kangchenjunga many times,” recalls Mukhaerjee, who has fond memories of tongba and sukuti sessions with Nepali-speaking friends who remain his best friends. He came to understand the difference between dai (brother) and daju (respected brother). It helped that his name ‘Arko’ (‘sun’ in Bengali) means ‘next’ or ‘another’ in Nepali, an icebreaker that is still the subject of endless jokes.
Read also: Moving songs from the boys next door, Sewa Bhattarai