Print Edition - 2015-03-22  |  Free the Words

Her Nepal odyssey

  • Four senior expatriate women in Kathmandu are marks of Nepal’s warm contact with the Western world
  • Words & echoes
- Abhi Subedi
Her Nepal odyssey

Mar 21, 2015-

As an academic whose subject of study is Western  literature in English, making friends with Anglophone expatriates in Kathmandu is a common experience for me. Some of these figures are well known among politicians, artists, and litterateurs alike. The narratives of some are in order.

Lindsay’s life

The evening of February 28 was no different for me in any other way except that Lindsay Criper Friedman, in her 84th year with silvery short hair and a long flowing robe, looked unusually calm and cheerful in her apartment. She spoke in her old style, making frank and unsparing remarks about people, places, and patterns of life here and in Britain. At that farewell party, she told me that she did not know when she would return to Nepal, but she wanted me to read a draft of her memoir, a planned text that she had committed to a blog, and give her my suggestions. She mailed me the text the same evening. Before I had time to open and read it, Nirmal Man Tuladhar called me a week later and said, “Lindsay died in London in her sleep on March 7.”

I hurriedly opened her text and read its first sentence, “The contents of these writings reveal more about the writer than about Nepal. They are a miscellany of personal experiences of a foreigner, non-Nepali, from the early 70s to 1983 and further experiences of Nepal from the mid-90s.” I read the entire text in a frenzy. All I can say about it is that it presents her story and a picture of Nepal since she came here up until now. She says little about her academic involvements because of which we had met her as a teacher of linguistics and an advisor and a colleague. She was a good linguist who worked on the Newar language with linguists like Austin Hale and Ishwarananda Shresthacharya and on documentation with SB Thakur.

Lindsay came to Nepal in the 1970s as the spouse of an American doctor who worked for the World Health Organisation. After their separation, she made Nepal her second home. In her memoir, Lindsay writes of incidents of her life in Kathmandu and the experience of mothering two daughters, one adopted here. Lindsay made more friends than enemies. She was a great human being.

Two years ago, when I accompanied her to John Whelpton’s lecture to MPhil students at the invitation of the Central Department of English in Kirtipur, Lindsay joked that she was one of the ‘three witches’, three expatriate women in Kathmandu who had soft spots for ‘the revolutionaries of Nepal’. But that was as much a rhetorical expression as it was the confession of a person who had become wise by living in the shifting Nepali times. She was neither a revolutionary fellow traveller nor a member of the Shakespearean witch-trio. She was a simple humanist who predicted neither violence nor anybody’s downfall. Lindsay took great delight in supporting several orphan children and educating them. She wrote a book entitled Conflict in Nepal: A Simplified Account in 2005. That is a highly enthusiastic description of Nepali society and people in the aftermath of the political change of 1990. She was a candid persona who spoke what she thought was right.

Remarkable women

Another persona is Barbara Adams, a North American who became the consort of prince Basundhara for several decades and a naturalised citizen of Nepal after a long battle in 2009. Attended by political leaders, including the Maoists, whose help she acknowledged to me, social workers, artists and writers, the granting of the long overdue naturalised citizenship was celebrated at her residence in Naxal as a significant occasion. In March 2011, Barbara launched the Youth Volunteers Nepal under the Barbara Peace Foundation. It also marked her 50 years in Nepal. This social critic and journalist, who has three books of writing, is now fighting illness. She is a friend and a very remarkable humanist.

I would like to mention the names of two other remarkable senior expatriate women who have made Nepal their homes and made contributions in different fields. Jan Salter, a friend like Lindsay, is very well known as a portraitist of Nepali faces. Her oil works, ink drawings, and their reproductions can be seen in offices, colleges, and homes. She is known for her book Faces of Nepal (1999), which includes an introduction by Harka Gurung. When I first knew Jan, she lived in Lazimpat. Her two enthusiastic and friendly dogs stood on their hind legs whenever I visited. Jan’s love for the animals and her concern for the plight of stray dogs in Kathmandu led her to set up a charity organisation known as the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT Centre), which treats street dogs and helps them lead healthy lives.

Another remarkable octogenarian is Elizabeth Hawley, who unlike Lindsay, Barbara, and Jan, is not a personal friend. But who does not know the remarkable Elizabeth Hawley in Nepal, especially in Kathmandu! I was first introduced to her as one associated with mountaineering journalism and record keeping by the late Rishikesh Shaha. She was sought after by climbers and trekking companies alike.

Came and never left

There is one thing common to all these remarkable women. Each of their short resumes is marked by a common expression—she came to Nepal and never returned. Barbara came in 1961 to cover Queen Elizabeth’s visit as a journalist for an Italian weekly, Mundo Nuova. Though the queen had already left when she arrived, Barbara stayed on. Similarly, Elizabeth Hawley came to Nepal in September 1960 and never left. Jan Salter too came to Nepal in 1967 and was hired as a hairdresser by the Royal Hotel of Boris Lisanevich. She returned in 1975 and never went back to her native Britain. These expatriate senior women mark Nepal’s years of human and warm contact with the Western world.

Still, not to see Lindsay now at concerts, painting shows, the theatre, discussions, and seminars will be a very sad experience indeed.


Published: 22-03-2015 08:07

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