Date: March 2000
Venue: Mandarin Chinese Restaurant,
The Everest Hotel, Kathmandu
The topic of conversation over lunch was a soon-to-be launched premium English-language weekly newspaper in Kathmandu. It was to be a lively, yet serious, tabloid that looked at Kathmandu and the Nepal beyond.
Dubby Bhagat was even more excited than I was about this new venture, bubbling with ideas about content, style, design. “It’s going to be an extraordinary paper,” he said, and even now I can still hear clearly the crisp British intonation in the way he said “extraordinary”.
But we had to scratch our heads to come up with a name for the paper. After going through a shortlist that included Himalaya Post and Nepal Chronicle, I proposed Business and Political Weekly of Nepal, thinking the name would give the new publication intellectual heft, and a certain gravitas. Dubby cackled out loud, and shot it down with a decisive stab of his chopsticks. But he immediately became solemn, and said: “Nepali Times”.
There was a palpable silence. We savoured the sound of that, let it roll around in our mouths —with the tasty morsels of Sichuan chicken — and minds. Yes, that was it. Nepali Times it was.
Dubby Bhagat had come to Nepal with that refugee wave from Calcutta’s Junior Statesman that included the likes of Desmond Doig and Utpal Sengupta. They arrived in a Kathmandu 35 years ago that was a green jewel under a dark blue dome of a Himalayan sky, across which raced puffs of dreamlike clouds.
Doig and Dubby worked on all manner of projects together: writing on Everest for National Geographic, toiling on a book on Mother Teresa, helping out with top-end hotels including the Shangri-La, Yak and Yeti and Everest. They were working on a glossy travel magazine of the Himalayan region that would have been a path-breaking publication, had Doig not died in 1984.
They shared a great affection for Nepal, especially Kathmandu Valley, which is evident in the books they wrote together: Down History’s Narrow Lanes and My Kind of Kathmandu.
After Doig’s demise, Dubby stayed on in Kathmandu, adopted a son and made Nepal his home. He wrote eclectic reviews for The Himalayan Times and spent most of his time raising his granddaughters.
In the last 16 years, every Friday morning without fail there would a phone call from Dubby dissecting the content of that morning’s paper from cover to cover. He would read out loud choice sentences from the back page — Backside, by The Ass — guffawing uncontrollably until he broke into a cough. He would also mercilessly dismiss insipid and mediocre content, and was in this way the unofficial quality controller of a newspaper that he had helped birth.
At the 15th anniversary function last year at the Shangri-La, Dubby spoke about how proud he felt that the paper we had founded was now a vibrant, irreverent adolescent, complete with pimples, the hint of a moustache and a strong-willed personality.
Dubby had become an honorary Nepali, aghast at what his home country could do to his adopted one during the blockade in 2015, and did not mince words in describing the perpetrators as “imbeciles”. He delighted in simple pleasures like reading and watching movies, and enjoyed the world with all his senses. Walking down Jhamsikhel past Herman’s Bakery on a morning after night-long rain, he would say: “Take in the smell, take in the sights.”
A month or so ago, the Friday morning phone calls stopped coming. Embroiled in the ongoing day-to-day crises, I was unable to make a visit after hearing that he was not doing well. The end came after a heart attack while being taken to hospital on 20 July.
Miss your extraordinary presence, Dubby.
Thoughts for food, Dubby Bhagat