Rajendra Bhandari (born 1956) is a Nepali poet of repute. A Reader in Nepali at the Sikkim Government College, Gangtok, he holds a doctorate in Nepali literature from the University of North Bengal. He has published three collections of poetry and has won various awards over the years, including the Diyalo Purashkar in Poetry from the Nepali Sahitya Sammelan, Darjeeling (1981), the Shiva Kumar Rai Memorial Award for poetry from the South Sikkim Sahitya Sammelan (1998) and the Dr Shova Kanti Thegim Memorial Award for poetry from the Shovakanti Memorial Trust, Gangtok (1999).
Born in Darjeeling and located in Gangtok for thirty years, Bhandari’s poetry has been deeply affected by his social milieu. (“My craft,” he says, “took root in the midst of a tradition-bound ethos and poverty-ridden domestic reality.”). The consequent themes in his work, he says, are social issues of “globalization, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, deteriorating bureaucracy, the plight of the common people”. His poetry has also been informed by the “political anguish” of the separatist movement in Darjeeling and the “internal imperialism of West Bengal”, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. But there’s more. While he describes his poetry as local and regional, he also acknowledges a concern with the spiritual or existential dimensions of life – an underlying yearning for “the timeless and the eternal”. Unimpressed by “verbal jugglery and over-experimentation in form”, the poetry he values employs an uncluttered cadence, a colloquial diction and a lucid style.
One of the most striking features of the poems in this edition is their preoccupation with the passage of time, with mutability and transience, reminiscent of the Buddhist world view and its emphasis on anitya (impermanence). The theme is often evoked as an organic and cyclical process, a universal law, with agrarian imagery of harvests and seasonal change. In the poem, ‘Time Does Not Pass’, Baje (grandfather) and Boju (grandmother) are presented as figures fading into an inevitable and not-so-alarming oblivion, drying up gently like grain, in much the same manner as paddy turns to haystack and grain to manure.
And yet, this harmonious continuum does not seem to extend to the present. The present is a far more uneasy place in Bhandari’s poetry. It is besieged not merely by the marauding forces of external circumstance, but by a palpable sense of inner dislocation. An unmistakably modernist consciousness suffuses the work: an ironic awareness of the coexistence of the ridiculous and the sublime, the paltry and the profound.
The persona in these poems is a restless, fearful, sleepwalking self, fitfully conscious of a world fragmenting too rapidly for comfort, with the disappearance of friends, of hope, of justice, of intimacy, of God. It is a self smothered beneath the daily barrage of trivia, beneath the appurtenances of bourgeois middle age (which Bhandari satirises with skill): the grocery bags and newspapers, bank documents and electricity bills.
And yet, a disquieting counterpoint to the mart is the graveyard, a recurrent presence in Bhandari’s poems:
From the market in the evening via the morgue I return.
The poems are accompanied by an interview Global in Gangtok in which Bhandari talks of his own work and the wider context of Nepali poetry.