17-23 July 2015 #767

Cheeky, provocative

May a diverse clutch of clever, witty, young writers always find room under Nepali Times's tent
Anagha Neelakantan

Cartoon: Subhas Rai

I still don’t know why Kunda Dixit thought a shuffling 23-year-old US-educated Indian would be a good copyeditor for an A-team of English-language Nepali journalists. But I am incredibly grateful that he did and that in the autumn of 2000 I started on an intense, life-changing crash course on Nepal at the cheeky, provocative new weekly, Nepali Times.

The remarkable diversity and talent in the newsroom and among the columnists gave me an enduringly valuable appreciation for Nepal’s profound social and political complexity, as well as a less salubrious fondness for sugary lemon tea and Wai Wai noodles. Colleagues down the hallway at Himal Khabarpatrika, Himal South Asian and Wave were an invaluable source of edification and amusement, particularly during the early Deadline Wednesdays.

NT set out to do a new sort of journalism — incisive and critical, but also light-footed and entertaining. It was the weekend paper, yes, but it made readers think about uncomfortable things and insisted that they shed lazy or outdated habits, including using the word “Nepalese”. As much as Kunda protested that he just wanted to put out a fun paper, the editorial aim was also to illuminate the subtle and obvious tendencies, issues and schisms that define Nepali society, politics and mainstream culture.

Fifteen years ago, NT’s attention to some issues may have seemed whimsical or notional or academic. Yet some of the paper’s early concerns are today’s most pressing debates: what does it mean to be Nepali, for example, and how different communities relate to each other; and the urgent need for people-focused disaster preparedness, and fair, environmentally and culturally appropriate urban planning and development.

Looking back, the early Nepali Times seems cosy, like a garden party, lots of clever, witty people gathered under a marquee on a late spring day. The war certainly changed that over time, and NT’s coverage was sharp and at times essential. It is no longer possible — if it ever was — to hold on to the idea of cosy, coherent Nepal except through nostalgia. But Nepali Times was also early to suggest that Nepal could look inwards, at its own rich linguistic, artistic, architectural and other cultural traditions to define its new contours. It has also nearly always given space to sharply-held opinions it disagreed with. Here’s to the next 15 years, NT. May a diverse clutch of clever, witty, young writers always find room under your tent. As for the asses, there’s plenty of room in the backside.

Anagha Neelakantan was Desk Editor at Nepali Times from 2000-2003, and Executive Editor from 2006-2007.

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