Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Shah's poem in her calligraphy

Red, Love, Women, and Revolution

Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Shah's poem in her calligraphyThis is a photo I took of a photo of a poem, in Photo Kathmandu’s Women in Public Exhibit in Mangal Bazaar, ending Nov. 16, 2018.

This poem was written by Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Shah, daughter of the progressive playwright Balkrishna Sama, and wife of Jagat Prakash Jung Shah, a member of Nepal’s royal family. The exhibit caption says: “After Jagat Shah was killed in action during a revolt against King Mahendra’s government in 1962, Rashmi Rajya stayed in Calcutta as a political refugee before she committed suicide in full bridal wear a day before Teej of the same year. The poem was penned during that time in memory of her husband.”

The caption on Nepal Picture Library’s own site adds another interesting note: “Son Naveen Prakash Shah recalls that it was only after her husband’s death that she fully adopted the red insignias of a married woman.”

Exhibit captions further tell us:  They were both fully involved in the Nepali Congress Party-led anti-Rana movement in the 1940s, and in the 1950s, she worked as the assistant director of Radio Nepal. She and her husband both fought against King Mahendra’s coup in the early 1960s. They held feudal land rights (birta) in Nuwakot, Jagat Prakash ran for parliament from that area in 1959 (the last year of democracy before King Mahendra’s 1960 coup), and Rashmi Rajya was involved with a Tamang women’s uprising against King Mahendra’s government in 1961. In 1962 Jagat Prakash was killed in another uprising against King Mahendra (and there is a school named after him, Shahid [Martyr] Jagat Prakash Jung Shah Sanskrit Secondary School, in Nuwakot). The photo of the poem is from their son Naveen Prakash Jung Shah’s collection in Nepal Picture Library.

This has me thinking about how to interpret her suicide in its time, as protest, in the context of the imagery of sacrifice for the greater good–from Yogmaya to Gopal Yonjon’s Deshle Ragat Mage to Nepali Maoist imagery and songs of blood and sacrifice to Tibetan self-immolations–to the echoes of sati and the possibility that she simply could not see how to go on living without the love of her life. And also about translation.

The calligraphy here is Rashmi Rajya’s own; the translation below is mine. Another translation can be found on Nepal Picture Library’s site. I did my translation without knowing of this one. Mine is a bit more literal–or maybe just a bit more bloody due to my years of reading and listening to Nepali Maoist songs and imagery–than the other. Are both translations “presentist” in their own ways, mine steeped in the communist imagery of the past 50-60 years, the other leaning away from communism and so making the blood imagery more metaphorical? How to read and translate this poem in its historical context? They were Nepali Congress, not communist, revolutionaries, so is all the red imagery mostly…Hindu? And if mostly Hindu, then is it also mostly feminine? What kind of red revolution would she have supported had she lived, and what kind of red revolution was her death meant to ignite, as she imagined it while writing this poem and adopting all the red symbolism of love and marriage to highlight at her chosen moment of death?

मेरो स्वामि, एकदिन My beloved, one day
तिमीले मलाई देख्यौ You saw me
मैले तिमीलाई देखें I saw you
उनि— And—
आफ्नो जीवन उदयको रातो घाम You made the red sun of your life
तिमीले म मा थन्क्यायौ Rise in me
मेरो सिउँदोमा सिन्दूरले With the vermilion in the part of my hair
तिमीले आफ्नो जीवनको तस्विर कोर्यौ You drew a picture of your own life essence
मेरो निदारको रातो टीकालाई You saw the red tika on my forehead
तिमीले आफ्नो जीवनको ऐना मान्यौ As a mirror of your own life
मेरो रातो गालालाई My red cheeks
तिमिले आफ्नो सर्वस्व ठान्यौ Were your everything
त्यो दिन देखि म म भइन From that day on I became not me
तिम्रो रातो दुलही भएँ I became your red bride
हामीले हाम्रो जीवनलाई Our life–
रातो पोतेको ओरीले With the donning of red beads
एउटै वन्धनमा वाध्यौ We bound it in one vow
यसरी हामी एक भयौं Like this, we became one
त्यसपछि म रातोलाई प्रेम गर्न लागें After that, I began to love red
रातो! रातो! रातो मेरो सौभग्य भयो Red! Red! Red became my luck
अहिले तिम्रो र मेरो विछोडमा पनि Now, even as you and I are apart
मैले रातै रगत ओकलेँ I’ve sustained red—blood
त्यो रगतको रातो सौन्दर्य समेत And the red beauty of that blood
मलाई सवभन्दा राम्रो लाग्यो Is the finest thing to me
त्यो रगत तिमीले पठाएको साइपाटाको  I felt that blood is like the wedding gift you sent
मेरो अमर सौभाग्य सिन्दूर हो जस्तो लाग्यो The vermilion of my undying luck
स्वागत सहित पालना गरेँ I welcomed and followed it 
अव रातै सपनामा सदैको लागि Now, with red dreams forever
यो पट्टल वन्द हुने वेला भयो It is time to close these eyelids
यो संसार सित अन्तिम श्वाशले With my last breath in this world
रातो क्रान्ति माग्छु I demand red revolution
–Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Shah