Nawaraj Parajuli’s School: How Musical Poetry Came to Challenge Nepal’s Education System

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You are in the 21st century and in this era of modernization and technology, people’s perception towards the world and its various aspects has changed drastically. However, there are some things that people don’t change their minds about and that are stereotyped. Education is one of those things.

You still want your child to get standard grades on exams. Instead of letting them focus on extracurricular activities, you want them to stay focused solely on their studies. If children fail an exam, you consider them weak and make them desperate for their careers. In education, especially in a country like Nepal, such a stereotypical mindset is prevalent.

Although such a mindset can have a huge impact on a child’s psychology and career, there is very little discussion about these issues. But recently, poet Nawaraj Parajulithe musician Rhythm Kandel and the director Anil Subba have together proposed a play which tends to break the stereotyped idea existing in the Nepalese educational system.

Here, the creators – Nawaraj Parajuli and Rhythm Kandel – share the background story of the piece and their intention behind it.

Questioning the system

Nawaraj Parajuli – the reciter, composer and writer of School – strongly believes in “learning by playing”.

School, the musical poetry of the famous poet Nawaraj Parajuli, challenged the entire education system. He describes how the Nepalese education system fails students and how it has remained detached to explore the potential of students.

The 21-minute piece also shows how difficult it can be for a student who is good at sports and aspires to be athletic. Likewise, the verses of the poetry also tell why schools have not been the right place for a student with such kind of aspiration.

Nawaraj Parajuli – the reciter, composer and writer of School – strongly believes in “learning by playing”. Parajuli, who has also been a teacher, says: “Extracurricular activities are not supposed to happen only during leisure time. They should be connected to education all the time.

All of the characters depicted in the poem – would-be sportsmen, scientists, activists or otherwise – are his true friends from school at master’s level, the poet says.

“These friends were geniuses in all sports, but they failed exams,” Parajuli explains. He discovered two reasons behind their failing the exam. In one of the verses he explains these reasons.

First, sport was everything to them, but sport was not integrated with education. The second reason was the language barrier. If they had been asked any questions in class, they could have given the answers brilliantly in their mother tongue, but they lacked command of the Nepali language. In fact, they could discuss the matter for hours in their native language. But unfortunately, they weren’t able to use their own local language, says Nawaraj Parajuli.

Meanwhile, a verse says: Tyo kheladi fail Bhayo hau / Khelnema pass bhayo / Lheknema fail bhayo [That player failed / He passed in playing/failed in writing.]

Exams and their failures

Similarly, Nawaraj Parajuli expected his friends to compete in international tournaments, but none of them participated in the international level competitions. He also discovered that none of his friends were involved in the industry he was good at during his school days.

“Then I realized something was seriously wrong with this whole system and that prompted me to write School,” he says.

This work of art can be linked to thousands of individuals whose prowess in extracurricular activities has been overlooked and unrecognized by schools.

Then this poetry also reminds you of the traditional idea that schools still follow. For them, each student holds a similar potential. They believe that only those who are good at math or science are smart. This belief not only seems illogical, but it has also affected the lives of thousands of students, discouraging them from pursuing careers that interest them.

The poetry also pointed to a flaw in the examination method based on an unfair system of recognizing student abilities. One of the verses of the poem says, “Our education examined the birds and the fishes by making them walk in the street and swim in the mud respectively.”

“Our exam doesn’t check what the student knows, it only checks what they don’t know,” says creator Nawaraj Parajuli. Adding, “We have lost many potential personalities like Paras Khadka due to our existing educational model.”

The piece of musical poetry featured 11 languages. “I discovered that these people from various communities are connected to the story of the poem, so I decided to include their voices in it.”

A new approach to poetry

“This project gave me the opportunity to explore myself more, musically,” says Rhythm Kandel. Photo: Facebook/Rhythm Kandel.

Along with the strong message and arguments, the poetry is also accompanied by moving and deep music. He experimented with various musical instruments such as violin, cello and santhali bells, which are rarely used in Nepali music.

The musical arranger of the poetry, Rhythm Kandel, says it was a very challenging project for him.

“This project gave me the opportunity to explore myself more, musically,” he says. “Similarly, the project also taught me to give a new approach to poetry through music.”

It took nearly a year and a half for the team led by Nawaraj Parajuli to complete the project. Several times his verses were rewritten and the music rearranged.

Similarly, Kandel also says he has a special attachment to the poem as he could identify more with its line.

It has a particular close connection with the line which reads: Mero schoolko mantra ‘Lhek Lhek Lhek Lhek Lhek’ thyo / Mero sathiko mantra’ ‘Khel Khel Khel Khel’ thyo. [My school’s motto was “Write write write write write” / My friend’s motto was “Play play play play play”.]

“With the exception of a few schools, many of them still do not view ACE activities as an important part of a student’s life,” says Kandel. “Because of such a culture, we have lost many talents who were potential artists, sportsmen and others.”

The art of interpretation

The visual presentation of the poetry looks interesting. It features a portrait of Nawaraj Parajuli wearing a perungo, a mask made of bamboo for cattle to prevent them from eating crops. The mask at the end of the poem changes shape and turns into a cap.

According to the mastermind of the piece, Nawaraj Parajuli, there is a very significant message in this cover, but he does not want to divulge it.

“I want the audience to interpret the image for themselves,” Parajuli says.

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