A Far Cry From America

SATURDAY BLOG by Deepak Adhikari

How do you feel when, one fine morning, your acquaintance comes up carrying a slim book of poetry collection with an abstract art in its cover? I, for one, was pleasantly surprised to find out that my teacher at Ratna Rajya Laxmi College, English Department, Mr. Hriseekesh Upadhyay has a penchant for poetry. I recalled him teaching Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott in our Postgraduate classes, but never knew he was clandestinely following their suits.

In the first week of March, his poetry collection In Love of America and Other Observations saw the light of the day. In fifty one pages, he has put together 30 poems; from half page long to 8-page long title poem. I confess: I’m still a novice in terms of technical aspects of poetry. I love reading them but can not fathom much beneath the surface. Not a review or anything, here’s just a primer:

The first poem titled ‘The Need for Proving Yourself Constantly’ begins with the following stanza:

I live poetry
I see poetry in triumphs and trepidation,
I have poetry in me like in everyone else.
Though I don’t wear them in my sleeves.
Yet, every time I’m asked where’s your new poetry.

Most of Upadhyay’s poems pivot around him and his milieu. He has dedicated two poems to his son Paras and one to his daughter Sujana. One such poem ‘Only The Strife’ (for Paras) talks about the generational gap between father and son. This is a commonplace story of almost every Nepali household. The father wants the son to be someone else while the latter’s mind may be occupied in something entirely different. But, this strife, seen in a larger canvas, results in demonstrations, strikes etc. Another poem ‘In my World’ dedicated to Sujana, is about a computer savvy teenager who indulges in her server: Just a click away/I surf on sites and sights/ What the fancy follows.

It is said that one writes best about his/her own world. In ‘With Eyes on the Prize’ he creates a familiar world of University. It deals with the expectations, dreams and desires of MA students. The title poem ‘In Love of America’ is amazing. It evokes the Nepali version of shattered American Dream. The poet must have picked these characters in his sojourn for Fulbright Fellowship in the US. The story of Nepalese who have embarked upon American odyssey, that of Biru, Rajina, Jagan, Bismrit is superbly depicted. Here’s Biru’s story in a fragment:

He gave himself to the sweetshop
Grilling day in day out.
In mechanical round
Odd hours jobs his specialty
The only option open to him.

Another character Bismrit enrolls in Creative Writing course in American University and weaves tales of strange characters from his homeland:

Bismrit got noticed
In the little circle of foreign land
Exoticising their former homeland–
As steeped in occult beliefs;
Queer sexual mores.
He won a prize or two for first-time writers
A thank you for maligning your own roots
His books come out in rapid succession,
Love in the Himalayas and Livido Avatar.

It’s a satire upon writers exoticising Nepal to embellish the writings.
The second last stanza of the same poem is wonderful:

America sells its Jacksons,
Bombards the world
With its Madonnas
Shellshocks the innocents
With its Demi Moors.
I love America
At a distance
It’s best
You can escape it all.

In an underdeveloped county like Nepal, America is widely regarded as a promised land where everything is utopian. But, when a Nepali eventually lands there, the sweet dreams turn sour. We here in Nepal make a big fuss over the success stories of Nepalese making it big in the US. They are only handful of in comparison to other South Asians. Most of them work in underpaid jobs. In this regard, the collection’s America related poems portray stark reality.

‘Sunrise–Sarangkot’ talks about a beautiful vista while ‘Chitwan Reconfigured’ is about this variegated terrain district with “Tigers, rhinos, ubiquitous elephants.”
‘Two Diaries’ depicts two facets of same individual,

The other entry
Of the diary book
Paints another picture
Of different depth and dimension.
Every step in a jig
Opening uncharted vistas.

This poem is reminiscent of Willim Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. His poems are simple yet subtle. They are replete with the subjects as human irony, snobbery, pressures of modern life etc. One poem titled Look Back in Delight sums up my experience of reading Upadhyay’s poetic endeavor. Its a delighful reading. I also look forward in delight for some more meaningful poems from his pen.

3 thoughts on “A Far Cry From America”

  1. While I was doing my masters in RR college, Hriseekesh Upadhyay was department head. I wanted to write a thesis very badly and I along with my friend Sanjay Nepal went to visit him.
    I found him nothing than a jerk. Very difficult to deal with, demands his own format and most of the sentences written in a way he wanted. How could he be a teacher not allowing his students with their own creativity. Not only Hriseekesh Upadhyay, but most of the English department teachers in TU are dictetors. They all use old formats and make students curb their creativities. Funny!! Hriseekesh Upadhyay is right to acknoledge that his daughter is tech-savvy and most of the teachers in TU do not simply follow the tech-span of the world. (But there are some young bright teachers who always encouraged me and my friends and they are/were always great)
    Pradip Karki

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  2. I have really mixed experiences about Hriseekesh Upadhyay. As my thesis advisor, he has tromented me to the brink of tears. He has even denied to recognize me as his student at RR. When I went to meet him at Guheshwori temple (near to his house) as he had asked, I faild to find him right away. He used foul language when I next met him there. He said: “There are hundreds of ugly faces in RR and I don’t know who is who.”
    I dreaded him (the mere visualization of his face in the eyes of my mind made me shiver) and it made me work meticulously. It took more than a year to complete the MA thesis. Apart from his sweeping comments and harse words, I did not get much from him. But I vaguely know that had it been another guy with sugar-coated words as my advisor, I probably would not have done better. I did an excellent job by my own standards.
    Hriseekesh stands, in my memory, as a dreadful father figue whom I can just salute from a distance. He had really asked me to stand some steps away while speaking to him. He is a fusion of a fudal Brahmin and the Western mind.

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