Prasiit Sthapit (b. 1988) is a visual storyteller based in Kathmandu. He graduated from Manipal Institute of Communication, India with a Bachelors in Arts (Journalism and Communication) and was a recipient of the Dr. TMAPai Gold Medal for Best Outgoing Student 2010. That is when he decided journalism was not for him and started looking for other avenues to tell the stories he wanted the world to hear. He is currently associated Fuzz Factory Productions, a multimedia collective based in Kathmandu.
Change of Course
The first time I arrived in Susta, I had to walk for around three minutes from the riverbank and across a sandbar to get to the village. There were two small huts there, selling tea and fish. About a year later, when I arrived again in Susta, there were no huts. When I asked a local woman, she said, “Somewhere there,” pointing towards the river.
The settlement of Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, long considered the border between Nepal and India. But the river has changed course, cutting persistently into Nepali territory. Susta today finds itself on the east bank of the Narayani. India maintains that the new course of the river is the international boundary while Nepal disagrees. Susta, thus, remains contested – claimed by Nepal, hemmed in on three sides by India and on the other by the Narayani. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have come under Indian encroachment thus far.
There is the ‘Save Susta Campaign’, a local movement protesting Indian advancement, but locals are also concerned about the advancing Narayani river, which is an immediate threat. Every monsoon, the Narayani expands further. Locals surmise that the river has advanced roughly 100 meters inland this year alone. Caught between India and the Narayani, Laila Begum, a Susta local, asks, “How many battles must we fight?”
This is a petition to the people of Nepal and the world, for change in Susta – resolution of the dispute between the two countries and the building of retaining walls along the banks of the Narayani. This is a poem dedicated to the people of Susta, their sorrow, their grief, their determination, their resistance, their persistence, their isolation.
“A petition is a poem, a poem is a petition.” (The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci)
(The poem presented as the second photograph in Nepali)
Purna Bahadur Tamang
We once were Susta and Susta we stayed
But lately we feel more like an outsider
Narayani blows a whistle and grants us neither
Shawl nor shame, all the same, we feel betrayed.
This July we received a guest from the capital
We’re relaying a message to the state through him.
We may align the stars Sir, but the progress path is too grim
White silt of Seti, gushes down with Kali, then turns Trishuli dull
All of which sinks further into the Bay of Bengal.
In the past we’ve asked help from the King and his palace
But it came to a sudden halt at Thankot and turned callous
In 2052, when a Rolpali stood for us we believed in him too.
He now rides the land cruiser or Prado,
Hides behind the shaded glass
But we can still make out his shadow.
The situation here at Susta is a show and tell
No houses to lodge or live
No food to hand out or give
No field for farmers to earn from
As Narayani turns the land into a ghost town
Only sand and boulders here to cash and sell.
We hear that Koshi and Mahakali might join the ranks of us soon
When droughts or floods force villages to move every monsoon.
Can someone please give us a heads up?
So we can use the time and treasure to usurp.
For who could revive the laws of Susta around here?
Resurrect the plinth of borders that have fallen from fear?
We, the people of Susta are slow like retards,
We don’t get politics, yet guard their house of cards.
We once were Susta and that’s how we are to stay
But lately we’ve turned into a stranger
Narayani whistles and demands us danger
Our shawl becomes threadbare, our shame unfair
Susta, soft and slow we thrive in daily delay.
Translated to English by Pooja Gurung.
To view more of Prasiit’s work, please visit his website.