At a Paleti concert in Nepalganj in 2009, Amber Gurung already looked frail, his voice fraying at the edges. At 73 then, he needed help to walk, but there was still a distinct twinkle in his eyes. I remember he ended the concert with Naulakha TaraÂ and it roused the audience into singing along for the famous line: â€˜â€¦Â niyali hera hamilai bhijeko chhaina parelaâ€™ (â€œlook closely atÂ us, we donâ€™t have a dry eyeâ€). Indeed, in that packed hall our eyes glistened with a strange mixture of sadness and pride.
Till the end â€”Â in a hospital bed in Kathmandu on TuesdayÂ morning â€” Amber Gurungâ€™s heart still beat with the same deep love for the Nepali nation that stirred us once with Naulakha Tara, and with the anthem of the new republic, Sauyaun Thunga.
The haunting words take us all back to an era of innocent national pride, of diasporic longing for the motherland, and a time when life was simpler, and violence and discord had not torn apart the fabric of the country. Amber Gurung was brought to Nepal from Darjeeling in 1969 under King Mahendraâ€™s campaign to support a vision of Nepali nationhood that transcended the boundaries of Nepal.
In Nepalganj that night seven years ago, tears welled up when he spoke from the stage of youth and friends gone. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchiefÂ when young musicians broke into Shanti Thatalâ€™s Samalera RakhaÂ and other songs by Aruna Lama,Â the lyrics of which he had written 50 years prior to that.
Earlier that day, Amber Gurung had visitedÂ the People After War photo exhibition held by nepa~laya in Nepalganj. Lingering near the photograph of a father being embraced by his daughter and son who had fought on opposite sides during the war, he said, â€œThis was a war between siblings,â€, and expressed the hope that he would one day be able to work on a song dedicated to the reconciliation between Nepalis. But he had already done it: our new national anthem, in which he adorned Byakul Mailaâ€™s lyrics with a folksy beat and a melody that exuded a strong sense of Nepali-ness.
Amber Gurungâ€™s Ma Amber Hun andÂ Ukali Lagda Pasina Puchhneâ€¦are about longing, forbidden and unrequited love. His voice broke when he sang them, and he stopped to let his student, Aavas, sing the remaining stanzas.
AsÂ Aavas sang Jasai kesh timile phukayau, Amber Gurung closed his eyes and smiled at words written long ago about the simple sight of a womanâ€™s hair flying in the breeze that had made him marvel at the joy of life: â€™Jindagi hera muskurayo â€¦â€™ (â€œLife is smilingâ€).
Photo Courtesy: Amrit Gurung
By Kunda Dixit