Kathmandu :

But no matter how rough the poet may be We don’t shoot him with a gun

These lines by Nigerian poet Ismail Bala might strike a familiar chord in today’s turbulent Nepali society. The poem remains one of the 100 poems dedicated to environmental activist, Ken Saro–Wiwa.

I got opportunity to get acquainted with him through British African poet and editor, Kadija George at one reading in London. Kadija asked me to write a poem for a Ken Saro anthology entitled Dance the Guns to Silence: Hundred poems for Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Before I could browse through the details of Ken Saro’s world to capture some lucid moment to

devote to the great African activist, leader, politician, poet, writer and environment activist, I received

an email from Kadija. She had selected, she wrote, a poem named Content Metamorphosis from my recent anthology and said it would be fitting tribute to the late leader.

Kadija’s choice also pointed out how there is a disquieting correspondence between these two far-flung continents. Coming from Nepal where violence had been raging for a decade, belonging to the Ken Saro’s world was effortless, reassuring and elevating. There are worrisome parallels between Nepali and Nigerian political turmoil and the creators and upholders of truth in both nations have often faced jagged blade of oppressor’s dagger. That unknowingly I had written a poem decade ago that Kadija thought fit to suit Ken Saro’s vision was a testimony to this.

“I’ve lived six or seven lives,” Ken Saro once wrote to his son from the detention cell. He was executed in 1995 along with other comrades, the Ogoni 8 as they are called, under General Sani’s Abacha’s regime in Nigeria following a show trial denounced by the UN and international observers.

In the preface to the anthology, his son Ken Wiwa points out how though the world knows him as an environmentalist, deep down he would have loved to be remembered as a writer. “The writer is my cause,” the son quotes Ken Saro and reflects, “His pen was sharper than a bullet and whether it was a full scale war of novel, battlefields of journalism or the guerilla combat of the poem, he used all the tools of his trade… still it is the poem, for me, that best articulates the heroic narrative of Ken Saro Wiwa.”

Reading the anthology edited by Ghanian writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes and Kadija Sesay, I wondered if the anthology was prepared for the contemporary Nepali mood. “Peace, what is it?” This is how one of the poems begins and goes on asking questions we here often ask: Is it an animal? A bird? A plane? A mineral? A colour? Is it a verb? A noun? An adjective? A prophet with no pockets? Circling our paragraphed lives? (Sonia Sanchez)

That’s the beauty of the anthology; it doesn’t have a timid, melancholic and stiflingly formulaic tone. Instead of working on stringently elegiac and dogmatic dedications, it’s the secular global temper that the editors had their eyes focused on. The poems cross borders and spread out over continents... the poems race over the continents only to pick up one common strand — human suffering resulting from ecological hazards and disorders caused by multinationals and the mighty.

Remembering Ken Saro also teaches us how political activism demands stricter and sterner artistic discipline.

In our parts of the world we have seen how non-literary, artistically weak party cadres can easily take on the literary fronts.

The Saro anthology walks on the tightrope of artistic integrity and party activism. The balance between artistic excellence and political activism remains the touchstone of such ventures. Sadly enough, political activism often turns out to be handy crutches for artistically lame, pseudo-writers and artists.