M: I also read the book you wrote on Saddam Hussein; a book of love poems dedicated to him. Were you really in love with Saddam?
S: (Smiles). After I wrote a biography of Bill Clinton, a journalist called Pradip Thapa Magar told me that a writer should always be unbiased and balanced. Since I had written about Bill Clinton, he suggested that I write about another leader who is fighting against everything Clinton stands for. He encouraged me to write about Saddam. But I could not find much on him in Nepal at that time. Pradip told me that if I wrote about love, then I wouldn’t have to research much. (Laughs). So I began to think about the qualities I could love in Saddam – What could they be? Certainly, he was brave, I thought. To stand against a superpower like America, one has to be courageous. I wrote a book praising his fearlessness, and titled it, My Blood for Saddam.
M: Okay, so, you were never in love with him?
S: I did not even know the guy. But my own Tharu community began to call me all sorts of names. A Tharu writer, Ram Ekwal Chaudhary, published an article in the papers about how a Hindu Tharu woman had disgraced her community by falling in love with a Muslim man. Eventually, it blew over. He later apologised and I forgave him. But, what drama!
M: In your poem, Mulyankan (Evaluation), you claim diary writing to be useless and a waste of time, that you wish you had written something else. What would you have written instead of the diary?
S: It is not like I do not believe in diary writing, I just do not believe in the idea that a diary should be kept hidden, like a secret. Diaries should be public. Whatever you write in a diary, you should be able to write for everyone, because often times these are things that need to be written and shared. I was young when I started writing books in a frenzy of wanting to set some delusional world record. I laugh at myself now. I had such young and unbridled energy, but what happened? I churned out low-grade books that did nothing for literature, did little for the country. Now I want to make good literature, write poems better than the ones in Hamar Dudhu (My Mother). I want to write things that feel true, and I want to be the pride of our country. I want to be known as a Tharu’s daughter who left an impact on Nepal and its literature.
M: It is admirable and confusing to me that despite your struggles with the state for all your social justice work, you still believe in this project of a nation.
S: The country is innocent. It is the people who run it that make it hard for us. But, I have always believed in fighting for others. (Pauses). I did not think I would share this with you, but I have been homeless for the past month and a half now. Why? Because I live in Gwaldaha, Dakshinkali, where the CDO is building his home over indigenous Nagarkoti land. I am taking him to court. He did not like what I was doing, so he encouraged my landlord to kick me out of my apartment. I had to leave in the middle of the night with one sari and my backpack.
M: Where are you finding home in this city? With your son?
S: No, not my son. I would not feel comfortable reaching out to him. But I am staying with a few kind people. I do their dishes, clean, and sweep their homes and they let me stay the night. It works for both sides. Also, they give me clothes – this blouse, this sari, and these slippers I am wearing are not mine. It is frustrating not to have my books when exams are around the corner, and to not be able to go to my own place, but we have to fight for the right thing, and for others. My time will come, but right now it is not about me. Fighting for one’s own self, well, even cats and dogs do that. If we do not fight for others, what difference is there then, between us and dogs?
Translated by Muna Gurung
Hey, Good Person
if you say,
time might stop
certainly, it will halt–
I would go to my village to build a home.
I would go to my village and
not to the city.
I would build a home in my village that
cannot be inherited
by my own, but
only by those who labour, those who serve.
Hey, Good Person
you know what I will say then–
I will say, Look, an ugly woman like me set an example
I would build a home in my village with
simple, big thinking
14 March, 1997
Lightroom Conversation is a monthly page in Nepali Times profiling Nepali literary figures. Muna Gurung is a writer, educator and translator based in Kathmandu. For more of her work, visit munagurung.com.