Kathmandu 10 Aug : Harsha Syangbo, a resolute warrior of class struggle opines, “ Life is nothing more than a sibling of chilly that grows, yields fruit, and fades way wherever we plant.
We have presented an exclusive interview of a 94-year-old Harsha Syango, one of the close contemporary friends of Pushpa Lal, on the occasion of 42nd Memorial Day. Syango says, “There is one and half year’s difference between Pushpa Lal and me in terms of our age, but I respect him”. We had a very lively relation.
Syango Reading a Book
Syangbo writes letter till date recalling Pushpa Lal
Syango, who had joined the politics with Pushpa Lal, has been passing his perplexed and lonely life under a hut situated in the settlement for homeless. There is a settlement for homeless close to a river in Bhaktapur district with a muddy road linked directly with highway but almost difficult to walk along due to incessant August rain. The road to the settlement is so narrow that vehicles and trucks hardly have two-way access and moreover, one is compelled to inhale the filthy foul smell coming out of garbage thrown carelessly on the bank of the river. We had been thinking that Harsha Syangbo’s house might be among the colorful buildings a bit farther. To our surprise, we found him staying with those voiceless, marginalized, and financially handicapped laborers and workers for more than one and half decades. There we met Syangbo under a small hut with toilet and the kitchen at the distance of about two steps, cloths being hung in congested room and the main entrance almost difficult to enter without lowering down the head. Neither one can enjoy the beautiful sun nor inhale fresh air there. Harsha Syangbo was sitting on a bamboo chair in a hut built in a land full of damp. A stick for an old man was hanging near old Syangbo. We became dumbfounded and speechless for some time after we saw the miserable scene. He had written a letter in remembrance of late Pushpa Lal on the occasion of 42nd Pushpa Lal Memorial Day. We came to know his unfathomable bondage, love and reverence, towards Pushpa Lal after he read the letter for us. We kept on noting down the sense of his letter in English language which goes:
I remember you, comrade Pushpa Lal, in your memory, forty-two years since you left us. People are most frustrated to say, Communist Party of Nepal, Organized by you. People mandated two third majority and voters are intending to see stability and development. The communist leaders are loggerheads and completely involved in factionalism, groupism as their personal interest as each group. Leaders is to become a prime minister and they have become quite individualistic and given up communist ethics and ideology and became worse than bourgeoise convention and concern with wealth. They have completely given up communist ethics, values, however, we hope they will not be trained as we in the past”.
The street where Harsha Syango settles– Photo : Dhurba Adhikari
Syango’s first meeting with Pushpa Lal and establishment of Communist Party
Syango, a Patna University graduate after high School from Gorakhpur, India, had met Pushpa Lal in India for the first time. Syango was born in a middle-class family of Sindhupalchowk on 17 Mangsir, 1983 BS as the eldest son of Dawa Tshring Syangbo and Kusang Dolma. Syanbo’s parents used to work in a tea state in India at time when Britishers were exploiting tea state workers. He recalls those days and says, “I used to be distressed to see their exploitation”.Communist used to perform organizational activities in Gorakhapur too and Syangbo was being influenced by them. He met Pushpa Lal in 1948 for the first time on their way to Tajmahal with college friends. Guessing him to be aNepali Pushpa Lal himself had called him, “I am Pushpa Lal Shrestha from Kathmandu. The government executed my elder brother, Ganga Lal was and I need your support”. Pushpa Lal’s views made Syangbo’s rebellious sense awaken against the atrocities of Rana regime since he had been gradually influenced with communist. Pushpa Lal was the secretary of National Congress that time and he gave me party’s membership. Syangbo says, later they established Nepal Communist party in Calcutta in the year 1949. We organized a shell comprising of 4 or 5 members in Gorakhpur.We were not allowed to stay even in India after they came to know our communist identity. We entered Nepal through Bhairahawa to join 1950 revolution.
Janata School and Progressive Study Circle
Nepal Communist Party deputed Syangbo to Mustang after he came to Nepal with Pushpa Lal. Janata Viddhyalaya was established in Mustang for communist schooling with the initiation of Harsha Syangbo and Mahendra Sherchan. Syangbo used to teach in the day time in Janata Viddhyalaya and provide training on Marxism and Leninism and work for the organizational extension at night establishing a progressive study circle. He was compelled to leave Mustang after the government got information about his activities. Later, he became a member of a 12 member West Gandak regional committee headed by Pushpa Lal himself. Hikmat Singh was the secretary of the committee. Later on, organizational extension activities were carried in Syangja, Bandipur, Kaski, Lamjung, Baglung including other places. The first general convention of Communist Party was held in 1953. Syango also had come to Kathmandu from India. There was a pension office for retired Indian armies in Gorakhpur and old military vehicles used to ply along Bhairahawa Gorakhpur highway. Syango reached Tukuche, a small village in Mustang walking on foot for 6 days along the bank of Kaligandaki river.
Roads were not good either and moreover, there was Panchayat atrocity wherever we go. People did have strong sense of touchability and untouchability and villagers did not use to provide us even shelter at night considering that we communist were atheist. However, we used to teach Dalit students keeping them in our proximity for which the local had many times denounced me and my friends. We did not have sufficient money for our daily need. There were multitudes of challenges before us. Meetings used to hold frequently in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Bandipur where we had established our headquarters. Despite many obstacles and challenges we did not stop teaching students. But gradually the situation got improved. Janata School is still existent in Mustang district. It used to take 5-7 days to reach Kathmandu from our headquarter situated in Bandipur. At that time, we did not use to have money even to buy tea. People did not use to give us donation and we used to suffer from acute penury, Sangbo recalls his past.
Syangbo under his hut.
Democratic Marriage with Rana’s Daughter
Meanwhile we showed our interest to know about his conjugal life and asked him how his wedding had been arranged. In response of our query he said:
There was a girl named Biddhya Rana from a Rana family. She was also interested to work in communist party and she herself proposed me to marry her and work together in the party. We arranged a democratic marriage around 1953. Though he did not like to be open regarding the place of their marriage and the expense, he gently smiled and told us that their marriage was held in party and very nominal money was spent for vermilion and floral garland. Nirmal Lama had been their Priest. Syangbo did talk this much about his family and conjugal life. Biddhya Rana was also a member of Pushpa Lal Academy. I response to our query he replied that his wife passed away before 12/14 years at the age of 72. Among his two daughters, the elder daughter Smita Syangbo Shrestha also passed away recently around 2/3 months before and the younger daughter Minu Syangbo, a graduate in Botany, stays out with her husband. At his old age of 94 he had no family members to look after him, feed him during his hunger and take care during his difficult days. He has been passing his days being almost helpless. According to him he is staying with an adopted daughter, Kamala, who works out as a beautician and earns for livelihood. At present she is the one who takes care of him. He receives 3 thousand per month and with 8-9 thousand he is anyway handling the household expenses. Before he sifted to the present hut he had been staying in Champa Devi , Kirtipur based Pushpa Lal Memorial Academy. Poems composed there inside the academy has been compiled under a book entitled ‘ Awaj Haraeko Shaharma’ ( In a city where voice has been lost) .The issues that he has mentioned in his January 14/15 Diary have ben presented as an edited excerpt:
Cold weather has begun. Kirtipur based Champa Devi village is getting gradually cooler. I have come to this villages squeezed with the coldness. Probably, the purpose of my coming here was to store this refugee life. She is also no more with me this time. I have entered the academy shouldering hollowness. The arrangement of my settlement has entered to this academy. I am not sure if such isolation to old retired party workers like me is the honor to be paid by the party.
His poems also do contain these feelings:
I could not have understood
I have nothing with me
and no one
Mere emptiness and Monologues
And to obstruct them
I have remembrance of Pushpa Lal
There are mere faded glimpses of the bygone days.
From this juncture we come to know that Syango had encompassed political as well as literary journey. One of his well-wishers, Binod Ashrumali has written, “ For his revolution poems like ‘ Denjong’s innocent hills” ( Denjongka Abola Pahadharu) He has been deprived of food and shelter”. Prahlad Pokhrel names him as a strong advocate of humanitarian philosophy and Divya Giri has also written about him, “ The poems of Syangbo who faced jail life, pain, and torture for whole life in course of his progressive thinker inspire human being to move ahead along the path of peace and progress. Similarly, Rajehswor Kari and Sita Ram Adhikari has praised him as a great poet and all his feelings have been presented in his ‘ Awaj Haraeko Shahar’ , a collection of poems edited by Mahesh Prasain and published in 2010. After we go through this book we can conclude that Syangbo has been absolutely isolating him from family, society, and political journey after the demise of Pushpa Lal and his life partner Biddhya Rana.He has written:
How much revolution was the Kathmandu declaration? How much thrilling was the congress of Nepal Communist party? All those have been deceived now. Those who left the party betraying the ideals of Pushpa Lal and Nirmal Lama have become sophisticated democrats. They all have been luxuriant. They have turned to luxurious life. Our devotion and sacrifice are getting betrayed. I don’t know why my heart kept on drifting with the recollection of my youth days. That courage, vigor, devotion, and the dream of revolution have already turned off. The story of that infallible courage and energy have been already dropped. As I tried to return back to the old days viewing Pushpa Lal’s silent statue, I come to conclude that the politics for aristocrat feudal in poor country is merely a magic to lie people. The destiny of politics to keep on falling into the trap of aristocrat people is a game plan for the so-called great people to take over the power.
Syangbo’s hut . Photo– Dhurba Adhikari
Revolution is merely deception and delusion
One murmurs on Pushpa Lal’s ear
Strom swept away all the dreams.
Recalling his personal life Syangbo has written:
My wife, Biddhya, departed for the heaven. I became lonely here. The need of the companionship of wife is more felt during the later half of a husband. Two daughters too have been married. In my isolation books have been my friend, however, it becomes monotonous to read books only. That was why I have been unable to make me busy somewhere. I have been completely deserted”.
Harsha Syangbo’s life as an employee and during his jail life
Syangbo had worked in western part of Nepal from 1953 to 1957 and he came to Kathmandu prior to Mahendra’s coup. After the then king Mahendra plotted soft coup Syangbo joined underground life. He had to flee to Sikkim taking his family along with 2 daughters. Syabgbo says he had worked as an in charge of a construction company for 4/5 years as he had also studied engineering. For his revolutionary poem, “Den Jongka Abola Pahadharusita” (With Denjong’s Innocent Hills) that he had written had to be expelled from his job. Following are the few lines of the poem:
Oh! Denjong’s dumb hills
Do speak, speak
Open your feelings
Standing dumb for ages
Like a Rishi in his penance
Do speak, speak
Open your feelings
The poem with the revolution spirit that Syangbo had written in 1960 during his stay in Sikkim made him leave the job. He was compelled to return back to Nepal and he worked as an in- charge of a bridge construction company, G.M. Construction Company, owned by his in-laws who were having contract of two bridges to be built over Trishuli river. He had lied his name that time and was known as H.B. Tamang. However, the flame of communist party and revolutionary spirit never could die off. After the government found him to be involved in communist movement he was arrested and sent to jail for 2 years. He was nailed and chained in side the jail and given a room that had to accommodate 5-7 other prisoners under various charges like murdering, looting and so on. Tank Prasad Acharya had also been kept there. According to him they could not have sufficient rice to eat. The jail authority used provide them little bit rice. Moreover, he faced torture and pain in the jail. He used to pass time almost writing poems in the jail. Following are the lines that he composed during his jail life:
- Bhimsen Stambha ( Bhimsen Pillar) 1971
A night in full moon
Moon is covering the earth
Plying around Tundikhel and Shahid Gate
Complete silence all around
Amidst the city
As the Bhimsen Pillar
- My Birthday
Men and Men’s freedom
The Chain has tied on the iron
Inside this wall
And the prisoners of conscience
Have been confined and obstructed
On multitudes of charges
Making people’s belief and voice suffocated
The security guards
Guns in hand
Standing at the entrance
My birthday has fallen in that place
Let not celebrate, Let not celebrate
Is moving round the sun.
3. Mukti Chah ( Desire of liberation) written in Bhadragol Jail
… for whole night
Night blooming jasmine
Spread fragrance inside the jail
In the dawn
Brings before the jail
Like those chirping bird
When we can
jump out of the wall
The dancing glimpse of birds
Continuously keep on
Coming to our eyes
Merely the willfulness of birds
And the free sky
Eyes of captives
Apart from these poems Syangbo has composed other poems like, Religion and Revolution, Poet and the Flower, My Funeral Procession, I am a laborer, I fell in love with a stone etc. We came to know that he has written books on different subjects but he has been unable to publish them due to poor economic condition. This book, a collection of his poems, was published by Biddhya Syangbo Memorial Academy. Despite her birth in aristocratic Rana Family, Biddhya Rana had passed jail life in course of civil disobedience movement with Mangala Devi Singh during 1957. Biddhya Rana was in between two revolutionary women leaders, Sahana Pradhan and Mangala Devi. She had to survive a painful life for long time till he final days. What a mockery? We have 94-year-old Synagbo but he has lost his wife, Biddhya.
Pushpa Lal is not a Traitor but a Nationalist.
Syangbo said, “There were Indian spies at that time even within our communist party and they used to get money from Indian Embassy. India became independent in 1947. They tried to make Nepal as they did to Sikkim and Bhutan immediately after their independence. Even these days India wants to snatch our independence. Nepal must take stand against their move. In Pashupati temple there are all Indians and all the donations go to India. Culturally, politically and economically we are dominated. Though Mahakali and Gandaki are our rivers, water is our but they are under their dominance. We thought a 94-year-old Syangbo strongly opposed the blame of traitor imposed against Pushpa Lal by Nepalese politicians especially communists and analyzed the dissatisfactions in a very witty manner.
Rejection of the offer for the post of minister but active in politics again after 1990
The then prime minister Tulsi Giri had visited Syangbo at the jail and asked whether he wanted to come out of the jail or rot in the jail. Upon a written condition to pass a neutral life for whole life he had been released from the jail. Syangbo said that was his compulsion of the time. In course of our conversation we asked whether he was offered the post of minister and he responded positively but he said he rejected the offer. He said it would have been against the Dharma to enjoy the post of minister since his friends had been facing painful jail life. He said his conscience did not permit him to accept the proposal. Syangbo became active in politics after the end of Panchayat System in 1991. He competed parliamentary election from Sindhupalchowk in 1999 on behalf of CPN UML but got defeated with Rastriya Prajatantra Party candidate, Pashupati Shamsher JBR. For the electoral expenses the then Party chairman, Man Mohan Adhikari had given him 4 hundred thousand rupees and he had 5/6 hundred thousand rupees. Since people did not have political awareness they could be easily motivated by money and moreover Pashupati Shasher could spend as much money as he needed. Then after Syangbo stopped his political journey forever. He said, ‘we might not have been qualified either’.
Syangbo’s hut and the street.
Life in the settlement of homeless people for years
After his wife’s demise in 2004 Syangbo had bought a small house by the bank of Manohara river for three hundred thousand Rupees, however, it has not been registered under his name and even does not have official ownership certificate, red document’ popularly known as Lal Purja in Nepal. He said he was hopeful to continue struggle there but his age didn’t favor him. In the initial phases there were only limited houses but these days it had crossed 8 to 9 hundred houses. He has been passing his days studying Marxism, Leninism, and communism. He says, “Marx is a great philosopher and communist revolution is in the beginning”. He did not see any communist in Nepal as there are hardly 1ess than 10 percent communists who think collectively. He says, “Communism began from the very humanist feeling of ‘ Sarve Bhanvantu Sukhina’ ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ( May all become happy) without communism peace can’t prevail in the world. For this sake there needs mental, moral, and behavioral purification or cultural revolution”. Following are his pieces of poems that are still relevant.
Path Bhranti (Delusion of the Path)
I should not have been
I don’t know
Why in the settlement of
Disappeared with me
Disappeared with me
The Voice of Dead body
Oh! Dead brothers
Wake up, wake up
In this ditch
Do those who made us rot have?
Do these scarecrows have?
Over our sovereign life
The hut from where Hash Syangbo has been waiting his last hours come. Photo- Dhurba Adhikari.
Above pieces of his poem have clarified his life more. His compulsion to stay in such a slum and his devotion and love towards progressive thought.
Life, according to Syangbo
Syangbo says, “Life is nothing. It’s like a sibling of chilly that sprouts wherever we sow, yields fruit, and ultimately fades away. It is a mysterious issue. All of sudden he remembers god. He says, “ We opposed god as a communist but these days I think there may be existence of god. I may survive 2/4 years”. He has also written a poem under the title of “ Bhagwanko Mandirma” ( In the temple of God) in 1951 regarding religion and god. Following are the lines:
When the sound of conch
Sounded in a temple
The feeble voice of a beggar
Was getting slowly feeble
A piece of bread
Dhrma ra Kranti ( Religion and Revolution)
Religion for the poor
Merely an opium
With its support
For thousands of years
The wealthy class
Looting the poor
Mullah and priests
Started Shivering in fear
My destination might be the same
I got myself involved
In that revolution.
I think the present generation can understand 94 year old Syamgbo’s words and feelings very little , however, his poems are quite clear that helps in knowing Syangbo more.That is why we are linking his poems in this conversation.
We came to know from his neighbors that his legs very often swell and he has been using medicine to control his asthma. They also told us his roof leaks during rainy season. Prime minister Oli had sent his car to take him to Baluwatar intending to meet Syangbo. Most of the communist leaders have known the pathetic condition of Syangbo, a devout believer of Communism. But he is ignored by all and no one has showed sympathy towards his eroding life. He has neither some one to look after hi nor to pass time with him. Though communists have formed a government with almost two third of majority and enjoying state facilities and luxury but a warrior like Syangbo who fought selflessly for this moment to come has been uncared and neglected. He says, “I want to go to party headquarter but the taxi driver charges me not less than 1000 rupees and the books that I had published spending 50/60 thousand have not been sold. No one buys my books. Now a days I don’t have any interest. After all I will survive hardly 2 or 4 years. I don’t have more interest rather than a bit comfortable stay , two plain meals, and facilities for medical treatment in case I need. It is the law of nature that millions of people like us born and die every day. I claim myself neither unsuccessful nor successful”.
Finally, we asked him if he has something to say about Pushpa Lal. He remembered Pushpa Lal once again and said, “ Pushpa Lal did not used to have money even for transportation and we had to give him searching our pockets. He did not even used to have money for tea and bread and people did not used to provide food and shelter that time. He used to wear tattered clothes”. Syangbo reiterated, “We have to learn ethics, morality and sacrifice from Pushpa Lal. I respect him”.
(Dhurba Hari Adhikari and Sapana Thami had this conversation with Harsha Syangbo for nepalpage.com. )