Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
In the meanders of history


TEDHI - Village boundaries in the Kosi floodplains are fluid-they keep changing with the seasons. Living without a fixed address comes naturally to those who have to survive in the proximity of any primal force, be it ideological or natural.
BP Koirala spent the formative years of his life in one of these villages along the Kosi River. In his memoirs, Atmabrittanta, BP has fond memories of his childhood in this nondescript village, a settlement along one of the western tributaries of Kosi. He writes about the time he was spanked for speaking the truth while those who lied got away. "If one speaks the truth, one should be prepared to pay for it," BP concludes.

The moral foundations that guided BP in later life were laid here along the Nepal-India border where the Kosi flows by with a hushed murmur.

A monsoon flood on this mighty river washed away the Tedhi that BP knew, and the town has now shifted to the road embankment further away. The Greek historian Herodotus said "all history must be treated geographically, and all geography must be studied historically." The Marxists, whose ideological meanderings are as fluid as the Kosi floodplain, regard all history as the history of class struggles. That is one way to look at it, but the very nature of class formation and struggle is largely geographical. The living condition of hill farmers was the precursor to the rise of the Gorkha Empire, as Fr Ludwig Stiller explains in The Silent Cry. And it is also in geographical conditions that we may have to seek some of the answers for why an armed insurgency is sweeping through the same hills nearly 300 years later.

What would have happened if BP Koirala had spent his childhood in Dumja, Sindhuli-the village where his father Krishna Prasad Koirala was born, instead of here in Tedhi? In an age of inter-disciplinary studies, it's quite likely that the impact of geography on the psychology of leadership has already been explored. But theories need expert interpretation. It is the very lack of such a knowledge that allows me to frame a sweeping hypothesis: Hills make their inhabitants restless and rebellious, and the lazy meanders of a mature river make people who live on its banks reflective and cautious.

BP writes: "We lived five/seven years in Tedhi. Then the Kosi's floods began to threaten us...the family began to discuss where to move." Like a lonely man in a boat, BP found himself "calmly disturbed" and buffeted by the crosscurrents of history. Re-reading Atmabritanta here on the fog-bound banks of Kosi, you begin to empathise with the loneliness of boy who grew up with the unpredictability of a temperamental river.

To those not aware of the circumstances of BP's imprisonment by King Birendra in 1977, his English prison diary from Sundarijal (being serialised by this newspaper every fortnight, see p 13) reads like a monotonous log of an old man fighting his own frustrations. But that impression is only partially valid. More importantly, it records the valiant attempt of one man to transform extreme loneliness into profound solitude.

Like an addiction to drugs, the involvement in an armed struggle is intoxicating. The exhilaration of carrying a gun, and that too for a higher political purpose, seems to be so intense and heady that revolutionaries get hooked to the rush. Renouncing violence induces withdrawal symptoms. Instead of hectic political activity to keep his mind off the relatively easier option of relapsing to armed struggle, BP found himself in near-solitary confinement at Sundarijal.

BP's most trusted lieutenant Ganesh Man foresaw then the choice before the Nepali Congress leadership: it was "between a slow death in India, and dramatic suicide in Nepal". King Birendra tried to induce "slow suicide" by putting BP Koirala in prison while simultaneously drumming up a clamour for his head. BP realised, quite accurately, that his immediate fight was to save his own sanity. Prison diaries, as a genre, are testimony of the power of a determined mind. When the entire country was one gargantuan prison, perhaps it was natural for BP and Ganesh Man to find themselves once again behind bars at Sundarijal. But while Ganesh Man tried to steel himself for failure, BP fought to keep the flames of freedom alive. It is an irony of history that it was Ganesh Man who lived to see that flame lit again in 1990.

Produced by his loyal acolytes, the feature film Bir Ganeshman effusively depicts the many exploits of its near-mythical hero. But the film fails to show us the fuel that fired his energy. It came from BP Koirala, who in turn had his destiny shaped by the currents of the Kosi here in Tedhi. When Ganesh Man refused the offer to be made premier in the 1990 interim government, the first interpretation was that he did so due to health reasons. That could be true.

The second inference was that he considered himself to be less worthy for the post than the man he proposed in his stead-K P Bhattarai. This couldn't be true, for any one who knew Ganesh Man would know that that he knew about Bhattarai's limitations more than any one else in the Nepali Congress. Could it be, then, that Ganesh Man's refusal to take up King Birendra's offer of premiership was a sincere tribute to his late leader? It may also have been a subtle snub to a well-meaning monarch who let Nepali history meander needlessly for so long.

As we live through another twist and turn in the flow of Nepali history, it makes sense to re-discover Ganesh Man, and re-read BP Koirala. In their lives, we see the reflection of our own aspirations and frustrations. And we find hope.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)