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.
Its writers have lost sight of “the healthier side of the genius of our language” and they have used it as a mirror for self-admiration instead of working to secure a readership.
He does seem to forget or ignore that fact that in 1958 only a tiny proportion of the population was literate, but he retains great faith in the democratising power of literature: “We can make the masses read us, if we read their innermost visions first.” Devkota satirises Nepali society whimsically by investing certain animals with stereotypical human characteristics.
Padma Devkota suddenly published a collection of 30 essays his father had written in English in or around the year 1958, the penultimate year of his life.
The book contains some fascinating autobiographical fragments.
“I have ten million protests against the thing called religion”, he writes. It is what the people live by.” In the light of this, Devkota says he has assured himself that “the intense humanism underlying the true spirit of religion is all that matters about it so far as its practical application to a social system of living is concerned.” Elsewhere, he notes that the holy texts of all religions have embodied in them “almost identically basic principles of humanism and spiritualism” and admits that “you know inside your own depths that there is a spirit, a heaven and a hell for it, in spite of the violence of your reactions to the seemingly irrational demands of a race-religion which you cannot completely ignore.” Devkota’s reflections on his own Brahminhood, with which he has a complex relationship, are often agonised.
On the one hand he admits to having “ancestral instincts (born a Brahmin) which I have not been able to completely override” but he implies that he has fallen short of standard expectations, and that in Benares it was so hot that he felt that he was “being burned at some aerial stake for my Brahminic apostasy.” When he writes of ‘the Brahmin’ in the third person, however, his critique is both direct and devastating.
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.
I think it must be rare for any voice to emerge from a nation’s past and speak to its present with such passion and clarity.
Devkota led a delegation of Nepali writers to the Afro-Asian Writers Conference in Tashkent in 1958, and this experience informs and influences many of the essays.