Chandra Gurung ‘My Father’s Face’ Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee
Chandra Gurung My Fathers Face

‘My Father’s Face’ Chandra Gurung

Rubric Publishing (India)

Chandra Gurung’s ‘My Father’s Face’ is a collection of Nepali poetry translated into English by Mr. Mahesh Paudyal, a poet, critic and translator. It’s main concerns are family, living in exile and memories of a homeland. Family are important to the poet. From the title poem, 

‘A sun rises every morning to carry the burden of a new day

And returns, at the end of the day

Carrying little parcels of joy

Hiding every line of sorrows

Making the house and the patio bright

On that face

Narrow are the eyes that read the world

Pug is the nose that looms with raised self-respect

Wrinkled are the cheeks where joys and sorrows glide

Chapped are the lips, where smiles stage a march-past

And the entire Mongol identity has been smoldered by heat.’

It ends with the sentiment of delight at being told the poet looks like his father. The link is stronger than a blood bond, the poet acknowledges his father hid sorrows and worked to make the home a place of happiness for his son. Perhaps this is something the son appreciates all the more for being absent from it. While home has been happy, the world outside it less so. In ‘Ill Omens’, the aftermath of a riot is described, 

‘The television will show the chaotic scenes

The radio shall air the tales of misery

Time shall be beset with crisis

And shadow of ill omen

Shall rule people’s minds and hearts

Trust, from the heart, spills all over

A ghastly collage of suspicion hangs from every heart

A kite of terror flies all over the firmament of brain

Our old grandmother clearly saw—

An evil omen lurking freely on the road.’

This is more than just about cleaning up the destruction left behind by the rioters. It’s also about how trust and a sense of community is eroded. People’s mindsets have changed from optimism to pessimism, looking for signs of division and trouble rather than signs of community and solidarity. 

Moving away brings its own sorrows, in ‘A Shower of Memories’, 

‘When you are away

There is a deluge of reminiscence

A rain of forlornness flows from the eyes

And every moment is thoroughly soaked.’

For the narrator, life continues to be viewed through the prism of what was left behind. The left-behind homeland is viewed through the witness of an old boatman in ‘Land of the Old Boatman’ which starts with the description of riots and protests and subsequent clampdowns, 

‘Dil Bahadur Majhi stares—

At several dejected porters moving town-ward;

At several needy lives moving across the border.

In the fish net of musings, he snares–

The cheap deals of blood and sweat that spill abroad

The paradoxical reverberation of the slogan “Aayo Gorkhali”

In a war in an alien land

And the darkness of a red-light area in Mumbai

Like in the chest of the old boatman

This country aches in hearts.’

The boatman knows why people are leaving and feels sorrow it is necessary for them to do so. He also knows that those who have left will carry that loss with them. 

The final poem, naturally, is ‘Mother’,

‘When nimble brooks

Drifted away from the earth’s lap 




And singing

Return in the form of rain,

The countenance of the earth glows

Gaily, like flowers.

The way my mother’s countenance glitters

When from a land far-off

I return home.’

Like his father, his mother too made home happy. She also knows you need to let children grow and become independent. But, if a parent has done their job properly, even independent adult children will return. The metaphor of water flowing away downriver and returning in the form of rain is an echo of the earlier poem ‘Shower of Memories’.

Chandra Gurung uses broad brush strokes to build his images. Now and again, I’d have liked him to focus on a detail, such as naming the flowers or being more specific rather than just refering to ‘chaotic scenes’. ‘My Father’s Face’ overall does the job of exploring exile and family links, the pain of separation and joy at reconciliation.