Birgunj Truly Represents Nepal
-Vishnu S Rai
Place: Kailash Hotel, Birgunj
Date and time: March 8, 7 PM.
We are standing at the threshold of the hotel to greet the members of the Asian English Teachers’ Creative Writing Group (AETCWG). There is excitement in the air. People are expectant: cameras ready.
A Hias approaches us slowly and stops. The doors open and produces Jay from Malaysia, Iqbal from Pakistan, Kanokon from Thailand, Li Wei from China and Moti, Sarita, Tapasi and Maya from Kathmandu in a row. Then, slowly from the open door emerges the saintly figure of Alan Maley from the UK. Cameras start clicking, there are handshakes and the sounds of pleasures, “Nice to see you again’, ‘Welcome to Nepal’ are heard. The group is joined by Kirk from the USA and the group slowly enters the hotel.
They are the members of the AETCWG who have come to Birgunj from different parts of the globe to meet at their annual meeting and produce creative works that can be used in ELT classrooms on one hand, and to help develop creativity in those English teachers of the region who aspire to be creative. They are here to break the myth that only the god-gifted people can be creative.
Man is not anything by birth
He is what he makes himself
9th March: Workshop Day 1
The first day of the workshop starts with introduction of the new members from Birgunj. They are Sajan Kumar, Suresh Shrestha, Ram Abadhesh Ray, Praveen Yadav, Kamalesh Raut and Jyoti Tiwari. The best thing of AETCWG workshop is that there are no formalities of opening, etc. It starts its works like a big family. There is no President or General Secretary and there is no membership fee. Anyone can be the member of the group provided that they, from the bottom of their heart, want to write.
Alan does some warm activities and then the members start looking at each other’s writings for the sake of discussion, constructive comments and feedback. They work for the whole day until it’s time to stop. One example is given below which is based on the painting ‘Nighthawk’.
With light and all
With lost soul.
Lots of food
But no apetite
Lost in thought
Nothing to share.
Neither they want
to show nor to be seen
In this very world
We pay for our sin.
10th March: Workshop Day 2
The group is ready to go for a writing trip. Each member has been asked to observe things on the way and make notes which can later be developed into poems and haibuns. The group reaches Trikhandi –the crystal clear water of the river is hurrying down like someone who hurries to meet their love. People are bathing in the river and the goddess watches them benevolently from her little temple perched on a rock just over the river.
The group later visits the martyr park and pays their homage to those brave sons of Nepal who sacrificed their lives for us so that we could breathe in the free and fresh air of democracy. The group returns to Kailash at 6. An example from the writing trip is given below in the form of a haiku.
A chimney and a
Hospital stands side by side
Demand and supply
11th March: Workshop Day 3
The group members present their creative ideas and activities that can be used in the actual classroom situation. For example, the members were asked to pick up a stone which they liked and observe it carefully: its colour, shape, size, touch everything, and then write about it in the first person as if the stone was telling its story. The same could be done with the students. I picked up a small stone which was smooth by touch and had the shape of a heart. Here is what I wrote about it. Other members also wrote about their stone and each writing was different
I’m a stone.
I’m the heart stone.
You might think how could there be a heart stone.
But I am.
I’m the heart stone.
Look at me!
You see my shape? It’s like a heart.
Do you feel my softness?
No, no. Please don’t rub me with your rough fingers.
Put me onto your cheek and then you’ll feel how soft a heart is.
I’m not a heart made of stone.
I’m the heart stone.
Would you pick me up?
I suggest you should.
You can take me to your love, to your sweetheart.
They will be so happy.
A heart stone as a souvenir from a river of Nepal.
And what’s better than making your love smile which brightens your own heart.
Would you now pick me up?
For I’m the heart stone.
The workshop ends with the discussion of publishing the workshop products and the next meeting of the group in some other country.
12 March: Conference Day 1
The conference starts one hour late which is unusual to the foreign guests. Some muttering and grumbling are heard but later they realize that it is not a big deal in Nepal to be late.
How time flies for non-Nepalis
When they are having fun
It travels slowly for Nepalis
Like a penguin walks in the sun
The conference was inaugurated by Prof. Dr. Gobinda Raj Bhattarai which was followed by the presentation of the keynote speaker Prof. Alan Maley. Next: Dr. Kirk form the US gave his plenary talk which was followed by the concurrent sessions.
It was a pleasant surprise to find participants in such a great number from the adjacent districts viz. Dhanusha, Mahottari, Bara, Makwanpur and as far as from Kailali.
13th March: Conference Day 2
The second day of the conference started with the plenary from Prof. Dr. Bhattarai, followed by Dr. Vishnu S Rai and Prof. Dr. Jayakaran Munkundan. After the lunch break concurrent sessions started.
One of the special features of the conference was that at the end there was poetry recitation programme for one and a half hours in which poets recited the poems in five different languages viz. English, Nepali, Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Punjabi. Here is a poem recited in the ceremony.
My Child’s Eyes
I walked through the windows
Of my child’s eyes
Into a world of wonder
Where the grass is always green,
No sky is ever anything but blue,
The sun shines eternally from one corner,
Houses puff dainty smoke for ever –
And people never cry.
A land of bright-eyed foxes,
(Occasionally flying upside-down),
Daddies and mummies,
And people who never die.
And then I walked out again,
Crying for the innocence she’ll lose.
I walked through the window of my child’s heart –
Trying not to break it.
The members of the group were overwhelmed by the generous hospitability of the host. They were taken to different local members’ home for dinner to taste typical hill and Terai dishes of Nepal. They ate Gundruk and Dhindo, Dahibada and Kadhi, Mohi and Lassi and what not. Nepal is a multilingual, multicultural country and the work/conference reflected it in its papers, its poems, its food and its cultural performances. This was a great experience. Birgunj truly represents Nepal –a town where Hills and Terai and their different cultures and languages meet together and turn into a mosaic.