L B Thapa

Pokhara:

Ali Mia’s has several facets — folksinger, soldier and poet. A believer of all religions, he does not regret those opportunities that he let go. Though a Muslim, Ali Mia is well-versed in the Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Vedas. He prays to Allah and reads the Gita simultaneously. Ali Mia is the epitome of universal brotherhood.

Ali Mia was born at Mianpatan, Pokhara, in 1918. When merely 18-months-old, he lost his mother. "My father was shocked by the unexpected demise of my mother but he tried his best to fill the void of a mother’s love. My father too passed away when I was only three. I was an orphan. I drifted into melancholia," says Ali Mia softly.

At the age of 10, Ali Mia was enamoured with folksongs. He was born with the ability to sing from the depth of his being. He liked the villagers singing them in their deep mellifluous voices. The charisma of his songs remain though he is now an octogenerian.

Ali Mia can sing throughout the night without taking a break. "Those days were the pinnacle of success. Gone are the days when a host of people would gather around me and listen,”says Ali Mia, a smile flickering across his wrinkled face.

As a young boy, Ali Mia fetched fodder and firewood. While his friends looked for firewood and cut grass, Ali Mia would sit on a boulder and make songs about nature. Until the age of 20, Ali Mia could neither read nor write the Nepali language. His illiteracy was a major handicap because he could not write down his songs. Realising his weakness, at the age of 20, he began to study the Nepali language. Thereafter, he wrote down several beautiful songs.

Ali Mia wrote his first book of poems ‘Birakti Lahiri’ which was received well. He began reading Hindu epics like the Ramanyana, Mahabharat, Veda, Gita, and the Upanishads. Thinking that his brother was going astray, Ali Mia’s elder brother decided to get him married. After initial refusals, he gave in.

Ali Mia was married to a woman from Bhirkot, Syangja. Hardly had their matrimonial happiness begun when she died. This left him heartbroken. For many months he lived obstinately refusing to follow normalcy. It was long before he recovered.

In 1943, a Gurkha sergeant cajoled Ali Mia into

joining the Indian Army. At that time India was under the British rule. Since World War II was about to

being, the British officers desperately wanted to recruit a large number of Gurkha boys.

"Many of us joined the Indian army out of sheer curiosity. After a few months in combat training, our platoon was deployed in Rangoon and Burma, where we had to fight the Japanese forces that were better equipped. At the crack of dawn, British commander White ordered us to make preemptive attack on a hill in Rangoon. We sustained major casualty. Many soldiers were badly maimed while others lost their lives. Commander White ordered us for making a final assault, he said ‘do or die’!," narrates Mia.

With insufficient ammunition, it was impossible for them to retaliate. "I can still remember that critical moment when death hung over our heads," continues Mia, "but we vowed to eliminate our enemy. We wielded our khukuris and jumped into the Japanese trenches slaying them mercilessly. We won but I was severely wounded. I am indebted to my commander, who carried me on his shoulders to the army camp."

Ali Mia returned to Nepal on a three months special leave and got married to Nurnisha Begam in 1946. He began a new life with his beautiful wife but lost her in 1961. They had two daughters and two sons. In 1961, Mia lost both his daughters. He was grief-stricken.

Though he met many misfortunes, he never gave up writing poems and singing folksongs. At 85 plus, Mia still writes and sings. Though his body is frail, his voice slurred, his strength of will is still strong.

With his writings, Mia made even King Mahendra smile and ask for encores. Impressed, King Mahendra offered him 25 ropanis of land and Rs 20,000 cash reward in 1958. Humbly, Ali Mia refused. "Your Majesty," he said, "that you should like my songs is prize enough. Nothing could be dearer than your liking my songs and poems. That is my greatest reward."

Ali Mia is fondly called ‘People’s Poet’ and has received awards such as ‘Indrarajya Laxmi Puruskar’, ‘Prabal Gorkha Dakchhin Bahu’, and ‘Narayan Gopal Samman’. His published works are ‘Birakta Lahiri’, ‘Mahendra Lahari’, ‘Nyauliko Pukar’, ‘Pahadko Udgar’, ‘Setiko Sutkera’, ‘Aatmakatha Ali Mia’, ‘Ujjayalo Bhaisakyo’, ‘Samjhanako Diyo’ and ‘Ali Miako Aawaj’ is due to be published.

As I was finishing this article, a friend told me that Ali Mia was very ill. Distraught, I went to meet him. He was lying on a mat and in much pain. He opened his eyes and tears welled up in mine. Barely, a month ago I had met him, hale and hearty. He could not speak anymore. I could only be silent and pray for him.