आइतबार, चैत १६ २०७६
काठमाडौं ०५:१७
वासिङटन डिसी 19:32

A Nepali who says “I love Nepal” isn’t telling the truth

इनेप्लिज २०७६ चैत ५ गते १०:४७ मा प्रकाशित

People are quick to judge without getting the facts. The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” points to that same tendency. When Nirad Chaudhuri published The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, in 1951 with the following dedication:

“To the memory of the British Empire in India, which conferred subjecthood upon us but withheld citizenship to which yet every one of us threw out the challenge “Civis Britannica Sum” because all that was good and living with us
was made, shaped and quickened by that same British rule.”

he was severely criticized by his fellow Indians. At first glance, this dedication looked somewhat pro-British. But his critics misunderstood the meaning of the Latin phrase “civis Britannica sum.” Chaudhuri was, in fact, critical of British rule and the missed opportunity by the Indians to oppose British hegemony. He was alluding to the situation of the ancient Sicilians during the Roman Empire, who sought respect and dignity from their imperial overlords.

The Latin phrase cīvis rōmānus sum, originally used by Cicero in Verrem as a plea for the legal rights of a Roman citizen, was a political slogan against the ruler, the British in the case of India. Chaudhuri cleverly switched the word Romanus to the word Britannica. Many Indians who hadn’t read Cicero’s Verrem couldn’t make the connection. Chaudhuri was a well-read man whose knowledge allowed him to make a meaningful connection between ancient Rome and modern India.

In 1969 while I was in Baroda, India, Chaudhuri published an article entitled “Why I Hate Indians” in Illustrated Weekly, a journal which, at that time, I used to read with interest. Then it was India’s only illustrated news magazine, much like Life or Time. Unlike Chaudhuri, I will not use the word hate in my piece here, but I find myself baffled while describing my fellow Nepalis. They tend to go for 15-minutes of fame, but do not have the time to do constructive work that lasts and will benefit posterity. Let me explain. They will find the time, energy and money to organize parties and rallies and attend them all. They claim that they love Nepal and will do anything to help the country. True, some have given money to build schools, clinics, hospitals and create scholarships for poor students. In 2015, when Nepal was hit by a mega earthquake, everyone that I know of gave a ton of money to the cause. (Where did that money go? That’s a different story.) But other than that, they haven’t supported worthy causes that preserve Nepal’s rich artistic heritage or a book project like the one of which I will speak shortly.

My purpose in writing this piece is to raise the question: Why don’t Nepalis do something that lasts? Why do they gravitate toward something that gives them only instant gratification, which has an incredibly short life span? Who’s going to remember if someone organized a rally, a party or a show? What good does it do to the country, other than bringing monetary benefit to the organizer or the artist herself or himself? If we preserve Nepal’s artistic heritage from decay or if we do research on Nepal’s rich cultural, social and historical events and accomplishments, and publish them, they will remain for centuries as treasures for our children and their children’s children to read and enjoy after we are long gone. If you love Nepal, preserve Nepal’s artistic, cultural, religious, historical, ethnographical, and natural resources. Don’t spend your time and money on frivolous acts, such as parties and rallies. Rallies are for politicians.

We are on earth just for a short time, in which time we must produce something to leave behind that will benefit our family, community, country and the whole planet. The past is made alive through history because events, people, their actions and their works were recorded or written down. Even when there was no paper, people wrote on rock, metal, tree bark, palm leaf and even on animal hide. That is how we know so much about the past, although there is still much we don’t know because either events were not written or they were just lost. It will be through writing that our history, our work, and our ideas will be preserved.

During ancient times, before writing was invented, the cave dwellers drew figures on the walls of the caves in which they lived. Thousands of years later those images are still there, giving us a glimpse into their lives and their beliefs. That is a form of writing. In the same way, a book is a rich repository of knowledge. Therefore we must promote books. A literate society has many books available to and read by its citizens.

In September 2019, I along with a few colleagues embarked on a project called Nepal Memory Project and we constructed a website dedicated to the project (www.nepalmemoryproject.com) with the intention of collecting memories of Nepal from the Nepali diaspora and publishing them in a volume. We publicized the project through social media and other news channels with a call for papers. I also contacted friends and acquaintances personally, but only a handful of them out of hundreds of thousands of Nepalis who are living outside of Nepal submitted their memories of Nepal. I find this disheartening.

I classify their apathy as having two sources: 1) Either they have no memories of the country in which they were born and lived a significant part of their lives, or 2) They are just not interested in the project. How strange! If you love Nepal, you must have fond memories of your country in which you were born. Everyone has indelible memories of one’s childhood or adulthood—good or bad. The past is not forgotten. We are made of the past, just as our present will make the future.

The collection of memories from a large number of people from every section of society preserved in a book like this will give a window through which to see and understand Nepal as it was in the past—a nostalgic view of a country that has changed drastically over the past few decades. It’s true that nothing remains the same. As the Buddha said, change is inevitable. That’s the nature things. But it’s necessary to remember that we are intimately connected with the past. So we can’t be separated from it no matter how hard we try to distance ourselves. If we don’t know the past, we cannot entirely understand the meaning of today. Although we always move forward, we need to preserve our awareness of our past to remind us who we are. The Nepal Memory Project is therefore a vitally important contribution to the preservation of our past through writing and photographs so that our children and their children’s children will realize their connection with us.

It’s possible that some of you may not have heard about the project or may not have had the time to write. So we are extending the deadline until April 10th and earnestly encourage all of you to participate in this historic, first-of-its-kind book. We are not demanding a very long article, although you are welcome to write a long essay if you like. Writing a short piece of about 800-1000 words is do-able and surely not too much to ask. In college, everyone is required to write much longer essays of 3,000-6,000 words. So go ahead and submit your piece on any subject related to Nepal—be it about a person, place, event, food, custom, experience or whatever you remember of your life in Nepal. As they say, in terms of topics, the sky is the limit.