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Obituary | Banira Giri: Blazing a poetic trail from Kurseong to Kathmandu

Obituary | Banira Giri: Blazing a poetic trail from Kurseong to Kathmandu

Birth: 11 April 1946, Kurseong
Death: 23 May 2021, Kathmandu

Banira Giri had wanted to study Nepali literature since her early school days. But on completing her Bachelor’s degree from North Bengal University in India, she learned that she didn’t have the option of studying Nepali there. As luck would have it, she would travel to Nepal in 1965 for an award ceremony. 

Giri had submitted a poem for a competition held by the then Royal Academy. She eventually stood second and got a medal at the hands of King Mahendra.

During a short meeting with the king, Giri conveyed her interest in pursuing an MA in Nepali literature from Tribhuvan University, and the difficulties she faced in doing so. Soon, the Royal Secretariat invited her to Kathmandu with a scholarship to study at Nepal’s only university.

After a year in Nepal, she met Shankar Giri, an engineer who always motivated her to publish. They fell in love and tied the knot in 1967. Shankar played a key role in establishing Banira in Nepali literature. In 2019, he set up the Banira Foundation—a non-profit to help writers financially and in other ways. The foundation also aims to archive photo galleries, published books, manuscripts, awards, and Giri’s every unpublished piece.

After getting her Master’s degree, Giri started teaching at Padma Kanya Campus. For her doctorate, she studied the poetry of Gopal Prasad Rimal and soon became the first woman to complete a PhD in Nepali Literature. She continued teaching at various colleges affiliated to Tribhuvan University.

Although she published countless pieces in magazines in both Nepal and India, her first published book was Euta Euta Juido Jung Bahadur. She got positive reviews for her work and soon came up with the next poem collection, Jiwan Thayamaru. Her third book was a novel, Kaaragar, a 1985 bestseller. 

She is one of the few Nepali female writers celebrated outside Nepal as well. In 1975, she was invited to attend the Afro-Asian Poet Conference in Russia, becoming only the second Nepali writer to get the honor, after Laxmi Prasad Devkota. In 1997, the Japan Foundation Asia Center decorated Giri with the Takeshi Kaiko Memorial Award for her solo poetry recitation in three major Japanese cities. The American Library of Congress has archived eight of her literary works.

Shabdatit Shantanu, a poetic fantasy, helped her win the Shajha Puraskar in 1999, again becoming the first woman to do so. The government also recognized her with Suprabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu, the second highest honor in the Kingdom of Nepal.

Of late Giri had been busy with her autobiography before dementia hit her three years ago. She had been infected by Covid-19 but it was a cardiac arrest that killed her at 75. 

Giri is survived by her husband, a son and a daughter.