Print Edition - 2016-05-29  |  Free the Words

Nepal-Britain human relations

  • Bringing out accounts of the human aspects of the 200-year-relationship would be a good tribute to history
- ABHI SUBEDI, Kathmandu

May 29, 2016-

A couple of weeks ago, the British ambassador Richard Morris invited to the British embassy a small group of Nepali scholars who had studied in Britain and those who had various exposure to the country. We informally discussed various aspects of the relationship between the two countries. The ambassador’s focus was on making the best of the training we have had in Britain for the good of Nepal. That subject is as wide as the Mahabharata because the movements of people between the two countries have spanned over 200 years. Some sections of that history have come under scanner, and some parts of it live in the artistic and literary memories with Shakespeare at the centre. I belong to the later category of the dreamers. But an article written by ambassador Morris with Gail Marzetti in this daily on May 20 puts stress on the UK-Nepal development partnership. Interestingly, that essay features the photo of a friend of mine Mark Temple, son-in-law of a Nepali British Gurkha family with a history of several generations serving in the British army. He worked in the Lumle Agricultural Centre with another friend Roger Brown some 50 years ago. Mark, though retired, still works for Nepal in some ways. 

People to people

My own texture of Nepal-Britain humanism is created by friends like Michael Hutt, professor of Nepali at SOAS, University of London; John Whelpton, now known as the expert on Junga Bahadur; and Greta Rana, a renowned writer long married into what I guess is a little mysterious Rana durbar to another friend Madhukar Shumsher. I presume the spectres of the Ranas do not haunt Greta anymore, but she has kept her interest in those spectres alive. I understand that from her picture of the women in those houses in her novels, and also from a theatrical trail for a promenade leading into the ghost house, which she had drawn last year but was disrupted by the earthquake. 

But I did not let Greta stay clear of the spectral zones. Long looking to find the grave of the wife of the English poet laureate John Betjeman who, as informed to me by a British woman poet back in 1979 in the UK, was resting at the cemetery in the backyard of the British embassy. Greta took me to see the graveyard a few times. We could not find the stone of what she says the poet’s kanchi-swasni or the younger wife, but we stumbled upon other historical graves. One of them is a big grave of the two children of Hector Oldfield, a British surgeon at the Kathmandu Residency from 1850 to 1873 and a friend of Jung.

Nepalis and Britishers as humans always make up my sense of history. I have always been evoking that as a teacher of English literature and a theatre person heavily influenced by British theatre and dramaturgy. However, we should also mention some available records to try to make sense of the long relationship between Nepal and Britain, and as far as possible, the human side of it.

I wrote a short letter to the editor of The Rising Nepal on May 21, 1974 to praise an annotated bibliography of the works on Nepal in the Kaiser Library prepared by the duo, my good friends, SB Thakur and Lindsay Friedman of the Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, now CNAS. Lindsay, as part of her rhythm to shuttle between Nepal and Edinburgh, went to the UK in February 2015 and died in March. Thakur did several other documentations of library works before he retired. My letter, especially my excitement at the bibliography that helped me make sense of the scholarship of the foreign and native scholars, had a few interesting features. We are talking about the collection of the late Kaiser Shumsher JBR of the erstwhile Rana family that ruled Nepal for 104 years.

On the Nepali side 

The Nepali connection with Britain is highlighted in the early and contemporary documents and history of Nepal. The era of documentation changed after Martin Chautari came into existence in 1991 as an informal discussion group, and started publishing extended bibliographies especially from 1997. I would like to recall here Pratyoush Onta’s book entitled Nepal Studies in the UK: Conversations with Practitioners (2004). The 19 scholars included in this book have contributed to the promotion of Nepal-Britain understanding at the level of scholarship. Not only that, these scholars 

have looked at the other side of the Nepali and British personas, especially the minds of the people here and the subtle structure of culture. Their works have triggered debates too, but while celebrating the 200th anniversary of Nepal-Britain relations, diverse topics are bound to come to the fore. 

The other side, the Nepali side, also should be brought into focus here. Because of space constraints, I would only like to allude to a publication of the Centre for Nepal Studies in the United Kingdom. 

The book edited by Krishna P Adhikari is entitled ‘Nepalis in the United Kingdom: An Overview (2012)’. I was very moved to read the history of the very first Nepali man, a certain Mutty Loll Sing (Moti Lal Sing), “who was living in London when he met and joined Janga Bahadur Rana during his visit to England in 1850”. This stranded man, who used to eke out a living by sweeping the street outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London, had written a 17-page article, the ‘first ever account of Nepalis in the UK’. Adhikari gives a history of what Nepali visitors, rulers and writers had to say about Britain.

Some publications that talk about the human side of the two hundred years of Nepal-Britain relations would be the best tribute to the people and history of the two countries. 

Published: 29-05-2016 09:05

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