Journey to the Word Warriors
When I was younger, I was never told not to cook. I’ve been cooking since I was 8, since my mummy used to come home late from work. Everyone likes the food I cook for them every day. Every day, they tell me that I am the best cook. But for those five days, my family can’t accept me: their own daughter, their own granddaughter, and their one and only sister.
I was only 12 years old. It was in November and it was cold and I was banished to my neighbor’s because we didn’t have a Chhau goth at our home. I slept in their shed on the floor on a straw mat and used my jacket as a pillow. I wasn’t allowed to return home for 13 days. I wasn’t even allowed to look in the direction of my house, or even talk to any of the men from my family. I love papaya, and I remember, vividly, being told that I wasn’t allowed to eat the papaya because it was considered a holy fruit and if I touched it, the entire tree would rot. I couldn’t drink cow’s milk for the same reason, because the cows symbolize Goddess Laxmi mata. It is believed that if a girl drinks milk while menstruating, the cow will stop giving milk because of the curse. I couldn’t oil my body or my hair. I couldn’t touch the water source, I couldn’t go to the kitchen or any of their rooms and couldn’t physically touch anyone.
And after those 13 days were over, bathing early in the morning wasn’t enough, and only after I had purified myself by drinking those salty drops of cow urine, I was taken back home. Ridiculous.
I respect my culture and religious beliefs, but menstruation isn’t sinful or a curse. In fact, this is a natural occurrence in a woman’s body. However, I don’t want to be blamed for any misfortune that might fall onto my family, so I still follow the practice. It’s hard for me to make everyone understand.
Word Warriors: Feeling for Words
I turn off the gas and leave the boiling potatoes on one stove and the beans on the other. I go to my room, take out a pen and a sheet of paper, and I start writing whatever comes to my mind about my period days. Because this is truly an outdated tradition, one that I consider more of a superstition than a religious practice, I often think of eliminating this tradition someday from my own family. I spill all my feelings on paper. I can’t do much about it, but I can express my feelings against the tradition that I have been practicing for more than eight years. Maybe raising my voice through spoken word poetry could be my first step.
Five years ago, I was a normal student going to school, eating, doing household chores and doing my homework. Every day, I used to cook dinner for my family; I was so interested in cooking. Cooking was my first interest, poetry came later. when we would read poems with words that rhymed, in our textbooks, they were so hard to understand. Besides, I thought of becoming a Nephrologist, since I was suffering from Lupus.
In 2012, Sarah Kay, who is a famous American poet, came to Kopila Valley and introduced us to Spoken Word Poetry. She took a class of 45 minutes and taught us poetry, introducing us to sensory details. I remember her performing her poetry, “I see the moon, moon sees me…” It was very sweet, and more like a song than a poem. Because it was a short class, I didn’t write any poetry at the time. My English was weak, and I didn’t get everything she was explaining to us, so I was still not interested in poetry. After she left, I, as always, continued to work on my own.
Everything changed in 2013, when Word Warriors came to my school, everyone looked so natural, introducing themselves on the stage. I had goosebumps when Ujjwala didi performed her poem, ‘Ratna Park to Lagankhel’. And I was like what??? How can this be a poem? It was an entire story, not a vague poem with rhyming words. And when Sanket dai performed one of his English poems, I was blown away, my heart beating so fast. He was speaking rapidly, without a single break, and I could easily see the anger on his face while performing, his hands pointing out someone in the crowd.
Now I was inspired. I also wanted to write my own poetry, and perform them on the stage. At the moment, I told myself, yes, I will participate and write poetry. It made me very curious, and inspired me to write my own stories in the form of spoken word poetry.
Finally, I got selected to attend a Spoken Word Poetry workshop and participated in Slamming in Surkhet 2013. I shared with everyone that I take 10 pills every day because I suffer from a chronic disease. I shared that when I was child I burned my brother’s hand with plastic because he wouldn’t give me a slice of bread, but my little brother didn’t tell my mother that it was me who did this, because he was scared she would beat me. Since then, my love for my brother has increased.
I shared that the smell I like the most is the smell of night jasmine, the smell I like least are the socks my brother has been wearing for a week. I don’t like the sound of rubbing dishes with sand. I shared that medicine is my food every day, and it’s what keeps me alive. Coming up with our own, real stories and sharing them with people in the form of poetry was the best platform for me. We shared a lot of personal things, and discovered a lot in common too. I liked it very much when I performed my written work on the stage.
After two years, when I saw a post in Spoken Word Nepal about National Poetry Slam, I was curious. I talked to Ujjwala didi and she filled me in. I asked if it happening in Surkhet, too, but she wasn’t sure. After a few days, she told me that Surkhet could also participate, but we would have to organize the Regional Slam on our own, and four selected participants would get to come to Kathmandu to compete with 6 other Districts in the semi-finals.
Word Warriors emailed Kopila Valley School, and it finally happened! After winning the Regional Slam in Surkhet, we had Yukta didi as our coach. I was still writing about women in Nepal, rather than my own life, so I had to rework on my poem. It made me dig deeper and deeper, because she was trying to get us to think of something new.
I wrote “Old fan” during that workshop. Then, I came up with a poem about my mom. I captured very little things that my mummy does for me. I was going to perform it at the semi- finals. I was very nervous, seeing so many people around, and also because it was a competition. When my turn came and I went on stage, there was a very bright spotlight on me and I couldn’t see the audience. That made me feels better. This was the first time I was performing in a theatre. I enjoyed performing. I was afraid of forgetting my poem, but that didn’t happen. It was my story of my mummy, and it came up so naturally, one line after another.
Unfortunately, my team couldn’t make it to the finals. But that’s not the point, the point is poetry. We stayed together and watched other team performing till the finals.
A year after National Poetry Slam, I travelled with Word Warriors to Nepalgunj, to work with 20 girls from 5 rural Districts of Nepal. Shadowing Ujjwala didi right after the instructor training was more like a practical part like a test for me. I was very focused on the prompts that we had. While teaching them about spoken word, I enjoyed doing my part everyday. I also learned how to make others understand metaphors and similes in detail. I liked the story of a ghost in the jungle that Ujjwala didi made from the list of sensory details. It gave me more ideas about making others understand poetic devices clearly.
I was very close with those girls. Sometimes, I would go to their rooms and talk to them about their schools, friends and family. On the last day of the workshop, I also worked with them, while giving them feedback: “I felt this one could be even more better”, “work on this”, “think of what your mom does to show you love”. Most of the stories brought tears to my eyes. When a girl talked about her step mother “meri aama huntheu vane tyo basi bhaat ko satta suru ma paskeko tato bhaat ko thaal malai dintheu hola”, “aama ma timlai kurirxu”, “apaanga huda sathi hrule jiskauxan”.
I myself performed my poem, “Old fan”. I was called for an interview. It surprised me that my interviewer was from the newspaper Republica, because I had been seeking out Republica few months ago, and wanted to submit my poem to be published on the newspaper.
That day, I felt proud that Republica had found me instead, because of my poem, and that I was going to be published on a national newspaper soon. I explained, in this interview, my relationship to this old fan. I explained that I go to the hospital every three months, but this fan has been constantly hanging on the ceiling for 12 years. I get treatment when I am sick, but this fan doesn’t.
We did celebrate our last day with singing and dancing. I sang a song for everyone, and we danced together. We ended the journey. When I had left, I had only my story, but while coming back I brought stories of Kalikot, Dailekh, Banke, Bajura and Achham with me. Learning and teaching poetry was different, but now I had gotten more ideas on how to teach others to write spoken word poetry.
Magic within Word Warriors
There is real magic in words. We never even thought of repairing the fan, or of buying a new one, until I shared a sad poem about the “Old fan” hanging on the ceiling for 12 years. On hearing ‘Old Fan’, my dad called home from India, and he told my mom that their daughter was sharing a sad poem about our old fan a lot. He wanted to see if the fan could be repaired or not. My mummy then called an electrician. A few parts of the fan were replaced, and it didn’t cost much at all! The old fan that was hanging on the ceiling for 12 years finally got fixed. Its wings flew fast again, eating the delicious current, spinning cool air through every season. My words gave life to an old fan.
On the same day, I wrote a new, happy poem about the ‘Rotating Fan’. Now, I feel incomplete if I share my poem ‘Old Fan’, so I share both stories about the fan. Every time I perform part-1 and part-2 about my trusty, old fan, I feel proud of having written this poem.
What word warriors does in a simple way is helpful to everyone. Even for me – I was a totally different Deepa before I met Word Warriors. The times I spent working with word warriors: doing intro tours in different parts of Nepal for sharing our poetry, teaching and inspiring youth to write spoken word poetry, which has always inspired me to write and express my feelings through words. I got more interested to continue working in the Arts. I had been looking for possible ways to involve myself with Word Warriors, so that I could explore more in the field of arts, write more poetry and improve my writing, and at least be clear on what I want to do in the future.
So then, taking guidance from the Word Warriors, I sent an email to Pranab dai and Suvani didi, along with the cover letter and my C.V. They responded to my email. I felt like my dream of working with Word Warriors had come true! They accepted my application, and wanted me to come to Kathmandu to work at Quixote’s Cove.
Now I am finally here. I have passed my internship phase. I also attended Book Bus instructor training this year. Now I am working with Word Warriors, Satori Center for the Arts and Quixote’s Cove as a Programs and Operation Associate. I make mistakes sometimes, but I’m also learning more than I ever expected to learn. I enjoy doing the work that I do, and I am so very happy that I am in this place, where we are encouraged to write, to speak up and try our level best to end the discrimination we face. Word Warriors and Spoken Poetry has taught me that, though I might still have to suffer that thin, raggedy mattress on the cold floor of the shed, and though women might still be regarded as sinful and cursed during their periods, I don’t have to suffer anything quietly. With my poetry, I can raise my voice, and express my feelings. With my poetry, I can make a change.
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