KATHMANDU, Jan 25: Had Swar Samrat Narayan Gopal Guruvacharya not identified the makings of a fine lyricist in him, Kali Prasad Rijal, 72, would have just been a civil servant, and by now would have been leading the tranquil life of a retired bureaucrat.
More importantly, had the two not met and not developed a bonding of friendship and creative cooperation, the repertory of Nepali music would never have had the good fortune of possessing timeless hits like “Ankha Chhopi Narou Bhani Bhannu Parya Chha” (Hiding my eyes, I have to tell others not to weep), and “Jhareko Paat Jhai Bhayo Ujad Mero Jindagi” (My life has become like a withered leaf), among other songs.
It was just coincidental that when Rijal was the director of Department of Information -- then located next to where Jam E-Masjid stands today -- circa 1976, the Emperor of Voice was employed by the Sanskritik Sansthan at the Rastriya Naach Ghar and was also reading Rijal´s poems with delight.
On a fateful day, Narayan Gopal burst into Rijal´s office whistling. Meetings that followed developed a bond that produced a dozen unforgettable songs.
In the course of their frequent get-togethers, Rijal, who had taken to writing poetry giving up writing songs in 1958 after having the good fortune of listening to poetry recitals by the likes of Bal Krishna Sama, Lekhanath Poudyal, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Siddhicharan Shrestha, Bhim Darshan Rokka, and Bhupi Sherchan, accidentally impressed Narayan Gopal with his strong grasp of music.
Back to writing songs
One morning, Narayan Gopal asked Rijal to write songs for him. “I told him it had been two decades since I wrote my last song. But he insisted,” Rijal reminisced, adding, “It was strange that he was very confident I could write good songs, while I myself wasn´t.”
By then, Rijal had learnt quite a lot about Narayan Gopal´s moody side.
“I had seen him tear apart and dump lyrics that were brought to him, leaving lyricists red-faced and terribly hurt. I feared similar fate and hoped that my good friend would forget the request. Still, I sat down to write a song one Saturday. After writing one I wrote another, reasoning that giving him two songs improved the chances of my lyrics being accepted,” Rijal related at his modest residence in Chucchepati.
But Narayan Gopal was dead serious about the request he had made. He arrived at Rijal´s office to ask for the songs, read them several times, and left without a comment. He didn´t meet Rijal for quite sometime after that, making the latter believe that his lyrics were rejected and his friendship was in peril.
“But he arrived one day, gave me records, asked me to listen to them, and comment on them,” Rijal said.
After reaching home that day, the first thing Rijal did was rush to his music system to listen to the songs.
“Both my songs had been recorded in a single sitting,” he said, still displaying remnants of the immense pleasure he must have felt that day.
The songs immediately catapulted Rijal to fame and firmly established him as lyricist. But “Ankha Chhopi Narou Bhani Bhannu Parya Chha” nearly cost Rijal his skin.
Almost charged for sedition
After playing it several times daily for months, Radio Nepal suddenly stopped playing “Ankha Chhopi”.
It later turned out that someone had filed a complaint at the royal palace complaining that the director of the Department of Information writing such a song was tantamount to sedition and therefore he must be hanged. “To this day, I don´t know who lodged the complaint,” Rijal said, amusedly.
It was late Dhuswa Sayami, who was then working at an Inquiry Center inside the royal palace, who informed Rijal that Radio Nepal and the Ministry of Information had launched an investigation into the song´s lyrics, but had fortunately concluded that it contained nothing seditious.
“You survived, Baje, you survived,” late Sayami told Rijal.
“It was quite scary. Back in those days, a person could have been easily made to disappear,” Rijal said.
Though Narayan Gopal gave his voice to many lyricists, he made it a point to reserve special rights to whatever Rijal wrote.
“It was clear that he was attached to me. As soon as I wrote a song, he took it from me and did not allow anyone to compose music for the song. He himself composed music for the dozen songs of mine that he sang,” said Rijal, who deeply regrets that his friend did not live longer to sing more of his songs.
Rijal has written lyrics for nearly 200 songs recorded so far, apart from producing eight books, including poetry collections, song collections and a play.
Retirement has given the father of three sons more time to write songs. Singers of the new generation like Ram Krishna Dhakal, Kunti Moktan, Rajesh Payal Rai, Lochan Bhattarai, Yam Baral and Ananda Karki have given voice to the lyrics penned by Rijal, who was acting secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communications when he retired from bureaucracy.
The man from Dharan, who came to Kathmandu in 1957 after completing SLC just because he wanted to meet the creators of poetry that his mother recited to him during his childhood, rues the fact that despite the expansion of market for music in the country and presence of dozens of FM stations, a lyricist still cannot survive comfortably writing lyrics.
“Piracy is rampant. These days, more investment is needed to produce music as you also need to make music videos. But the return is still poor,” said the lyricist, adding, “It is saddening to see many talented singers like Sharmila Bardewa, Yam Baral, Karna Das and Sapna Shree leave the country.