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‘Ralfa’ and the People’s Anthem

 

by Pranay Limbu and Dambar Krishna Shrestha on the making Satisaal in the Inferno

‘Ralfa’ and the People’s Anthem by Pranay Limbu and Dambar Krishna Shrestha on the making Satisaal in the Inferno
Saatisal in the Inferno is the untold history of ‘Ralfa’, the group that breathed fire against the autocratic Panchayat system by echoing the villages of Nepal with songs of people. The troubadours sang for social transformation and political emancipation from the regime, which had held sway since 1960.

Raamesh, who uses his first name only and who may be called the ‘lead singer’ of the group, first visited Kathmandu in 1961. He went with his friend Rayan to participate in Radio Nepal’s National Folksong Competition. The noted litterateur Parijat became a fan after hearing the duo’s song. Soon, the ‘Ralfa’ group was formed, with the poet Manjul joining in.

The songs of ‘Ralfa’ became the rallying cry of the oppressed, not only against the Panchayat, but against the
autocratic, unfeeling, Kathmandu-centric state in the later decades. The songs that have reverberated across the hills and valleys, sung by many others, include the evergreen:

‘Gaungaunbatautha, bastibastibatautha’ (Rise from the villages, rise from the settlements)
‘Ek joog ma ek din ek choti aauchha ‘ (The day comes only once in an era)
‘Aau milau hamra haat haru’ (come, let’s join our hands)
‘Sangrasha jo jeevan’ (life is a struggle)
‘Rokneko ho dur darshi bicharka dhara’ (Who comes to stop the stream of visionary thoughts)
‘Sunko bihana’ (Morning of the glory)
‘Koi ta bhane jahaj ma sarara’ (Some fly on the airplane)

These lyrics, the zestful singing and the music firstly rang across the hills and valleys in the deep Panchayat years of the 1970s and 1980s, when they were considered treasonous. They supported the people during the 1990 People’s Movement for democracy, and again during the 2006 People’s Movement for peace and democracy.

Even today, activists, communities and groups that seek social and political change use these songs as the people’s anthem. They are classics, but they are still used as a contemporary call to arms.

The new generation has heard the prominent songs of ‘Ralfa’ and Raamesh, but in the process of filmmaking we
discovered that there were many other songs which need-ed to be re-introduced to the public. Further, the public at large by now knows very little about ‘Ralfa’ and its members. And it goes beyond the activist oeuvre of ‘Ralfa’ – the generation that grew up singing ‘Chi musi chi’, ‘Lekka hami ketaketi’ or ‘Aaitbaar bihanai’ in school grounds does not know these children’s songs are composed by Raamesh.

Raamesh, Rayan and Manjul are very much with us, but with the passage of time and earthshaking political events
every few years, less and less is known or remembered about these poets and singers who added entire new di-
mensions to Nepali music in the modern era. That is what got us committed to producing this documentary. We have
made ‘Satisal in the Inferno’, to help the contemporary Nepali-speaking world understand the life and times of ‘Ralfa’, as also other groups with similar objectives of the same time, ‘Sankalpa’ and ‘Astha Pariwar’.

Raamesh, 73, is at the center of ‘Satisal in the Inferno’. His colleagues Manjul, Rayan, Ganesh Rasik, Shyam Tamot, Ram Krishna Duwal, and J B Tuhure speak to the audience, bringing alive the politics, music and personalities of the times. Not only the participants of the musical campaign of ‘Ralfa’, but the contemporary politicians, actors, writers and critics influenced by the group and its music appear in the documentary.

Raamesh says, “Our songs should not only talk about love and affairs, but should raise the voice on behalf of the people, their challenges and difficulties.” He has turned this belief into the creation of the songs of the people, and thus he became the ‘Jana gayak’, the people’s singer. Raamesh is unflinching in his belief in the people, and he puts the citizenry ahead of the political parties, who tend to meander in their commitment. Indeed, many political personalities have fallen into disgrace, brought down by their deeds in spite of revolutionary rhetoric. But Raamesh has stayed the course, in thought, words and deeds. That is why he is rare,
he is the ‘satisal’ in the ‘inferno’, the pine tree that survives the forest fire.

It is possible to tell some stories of music that talk more to the heart than to the brain through the fictional medium. But some subjects of history can be done justice to only in non-fiction. This is true of Raamesh and ‘Ralfa’, hence ‘Satisal in the Inferno’.