There is some quaintness here, of course: he is fond of the obscure word ‘casuistic’, for instance, and frequently refers to sycophancy as ‘toad-eating’, a formulation which is new to me.
with a heart devoid of feeling; for in the high fever of political fervour those days we thought that the nation must be in any case served at the cost of a family.'” He was allowed to return to Kathmandu three years later, on the basis of a “strangely worded permit, with abundant verbal jugglery” which insinuated that he was seriously ill with “symptoms parallel to those of insanity” and would be permitted to return “on condition that he no longer continued the public expression of his political vagaries and mutterings.” Elsewhere in the book, he recalls how at an earlier stage in his life he acquired and rode a bicycle at a time when commoners were not allowed even to ride horses in Kathmandu because it might set them above the heads of their Rana rulers.
He writes of riding around the Tundikhel on moonlit nights, on the only tarred road in Kathmandu. Some readers will probably assume that the poet’s son, who was until his recent retirement a Professor of English at Tribhuvan University, must have edited his father’s handwritten texts during the process of their transferral from the page to the computer screen, but I believe they would be wrong.
One of the essays takes up the case of a couple found guilty of eating their own child, a case of which I had never heard before.
Devkota describes them as “dressed in filthy rags with Mongoloid features” being dragged from court to court in the capital tied with ropes, “bewildered by a jeering, jostling scandalised world.” But he sets out not to condemn but to defend them.
Devkota recalls that he “kicked away a Professor’s chair for Nepali literature in the Tri-Chandra College, Kathmandu” and “travelled with Mr.
Prem Kansakar through mountains and forests to join our political colleagues at Benares.” The poet “left behind him ‘a family of six, with a helpless wife and small children…Although stray Devkota poems, including several scribbled on the backs of cigarette-packets, continued to emerge for some years after the poet’s death, I think that by the 1980s the Nepali world had probably concluded that his published oeuvre was complete.It therefore came as a complete surprise to me, and I assume also to many others, when his son Dr.As I explored Devkota’s poetry in its original language, I came to love (‘Prayer on a Clearing Morning in Magh’), among many others.I began to read Devkota’s essays, which have few parallels in Nepali for the richness of their language and originality of thought.He fears that he may have cast too many slurs upon it, but writes, “…if I love my people, I can only tell them the truth about themselves so that they understand themselves better and live better and work better.” In Moscow he appreciates the “decent application of science and reason to the field of social and political organisation” and adds, “[t]he Brahmin merely preaches what Moscow actually practises.” He envies Soviet writers their government-funded Writers Unions.While these receive crores of government patronage, Nepali writers don’t even have cowries and their cultural unions are “stepsons to cabinets.” Devkota describes writers in his own country as having been “pushed back by a political tide, started by ourselves, that has rushed so far ahead of us, towards exploitative heights that we are left behind merely like scum and filth.” What has been created, he says, is “a democracy without the people” in which “the ever frustrated, ever busy about nothing band of ruling personalities, temporarily installed on the cabinet chair with the sword of Damocles overhead, shuffle, shilly-shally, tell tales that ever end in smoke.” In the long essay, , Devkota pours out his anguish over the constraints of life in Nepal and the lack of any space or time for individuals to think of the greater, national good.He had already been diagnosed with cancer and was admitted to a hospital in Moscow for several weeks of treatment.In one of the longer essays, which compares his home city with Moscow, his depiction of the inequity, hypocrisy and corruption of Kathmandu society is piercing.In the essay , Devkota paints a rich textured picture of the Singha Durbar and its chief resident, the ‘Lion Man’, and the way in which the whole atmosphere within was dictated by “the tone of his daily digestion or of his sexual or religious satisfactions or frustrations.” After the Lion Man’s fall, writes Devkota, the “towering Ranas left the country with their heavy bags, a measure of their noble patriotism!” and the “helpless lingerers of the family” had to come to terms with the need to use politer pronouns to address those they had always considered beneath them, though in their hearts they still considered themselves ‘superior gentlemen’.