Nepali Times
Forgetting to remember BP


I never got to know BP Koirala well. He came to a couple of seminars at Columbia University in New York where I taught for many years. I remember one meeting that was very crowded, BP came toward the halfway point, and I instantly recognised him. I asked him to come to the front. He politely refused and sat cross legged on the floor in the back with the students.

I later met him once more when he came to New York for medical treatment. He gave a talk at the weekly brown bag lunch at the Southern Asian Institute, and it was then that I saw the charisma of this man and learned why he remained the most respected and loved of Nepali leaders. At one point in his talk, he announced his return to Nepal. When someone asked what King Birendra might do to him, he said wryly: "I don\'t think that he will kill me." Unfortunately, I never saw him again, and he died shortly thereafter of the disease that had plagued him for so long.

Sometime after the Jana Andolan of 1990, I received a call in New York saying that a statue of BP was to be unveiled on the campus of World College on Long Island and would I attend. I consented gladly, and in the company of several Nepali friends made the journey to Huntington, the home of the college. There, in a quiet grove on the school grounds, the ceremonies took place and the image was unveiled.

The statue itself, done by a Bulgarian sculptor, was an attempt at a likeness of BP in bronze that sat on a tall salmon-coloured stone base. It was, though no one said anything, something of a disappointment. The sculpture was not a full bust or head of BP but a small part of his face that emphasized his nose and his glasses. The guests, including Ganesh Man Singh, made the appropriate remarks, and we disbanded.

A couple of years after the installation, I received a call from a friend, saying that World College was going to close due to financial difficulties, and we had a limited time in which to move BP\'s statue. Otherwise, it would be bulldozed with the rest of the school. The question arose, however, as to where the sculpture could go. Would Columbia accept it and find a place for it? I volunteered to talk to the authorities and see what could be done. The answer at every level was a polite but firm "no". The Director of the Southern Asian Institute, the most appropriate place for the statue, said that there was simply no room. The famous had already cluttered the small seminar room of the Institute: Ambedkar, Tagore and Tarakh Nath Das. As time passed, it became increasingly difficult to find a place for BP. There being no room at the inn, I then volunteered that temporarily, for a
few weeks or months, I would house the statue in my own office rather than have it undergo some undignified fate.

Years passed, and of course the statue remained in my office in Kent Hall, often garlanded by people who had learned of its presence. Even Girija placed a garland on it on one visit to the Columbia campus. My office had become part shrine.

In the end, the statue stayed until I decided to retire and depart myself. I remember well when first my books and papers were packed in cardboard and tape. I then watched as the movers covered BP with the same tape and cardboard.

When we got to our new destination, I decided to keep BP safely wrapped until I could find an appropriate place for him. He stood for a long time on the back porch of our house near Washington, safe but gagged and bound, invisible but always present. I took to saluting him to remind myself of who was behind the tape and wrapping paper.

More time passed, and my family and I decided to return to Nepal for an extended visit. Where to put BP so that he would be safe and out of our tenants\' way? We decided that he should live in Rappahannock County, Virginia, deep in the backwoods of rural America.

And that is where he is now, far from his own country, unnoticed either there or anywhere else. Still bound and gagged. Alapatra.

Ted Riccardi is a retired professor from Columbia University now living in Kathmandu.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)