The late Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah spent most of his lifetime buried in books or cooking. Just last week, the 58-year-old academic and sportsman had finished reading Boutros Boutros-Ghali's Unvanquished, a candid look at the UN system. Kumar Khadga was among those killed in Friday night's royal palace shootout.
Just a week prior to his death, he had invited family members to a dinner at his home where he served Chinese food. "That was the best Chinese I've ever eaten," says Neer Shah, Khadga's youngest brother who is now mourning three deaths in the family-Kumar Khadga, his wife Sharada and the brothers' mother, Bodh Kumari Shah, who died of a heart attack on Saturday.
"Thulu was an extremely good cook who would spend hours in the kitchen. He was a gem of a person," says 57-year-old Lalit Bikram Shah, the middle brother. "The study was his favourite room. He would come here and constantly arrange and rearrange his books," another family member told us. Kumar Khadga was interested in development issues, which preoccupied him while he was with the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS) at Tribhuvan University.
The family showed us his study: hundreds of books on politics, geography, history, international relations, mountaineering and a select choice of fiction. Says Neer: "He was an all-rounder from every point of view. Within his constraints, he tried his best to make substantial contributions in the academic and sports areas and was always concerned about the country."
By all accounts Khadga was a liberal thinker, he was optimistic about democracy, but had grown increasingly frustrated with the way things were going in the country with political infighting, chronic instability and the lack of development.
Kumar Khadga was director at CNAS 1984-89. His appointment there was initially looked on with suspicion by academics who now had a royal relative as a leader. But their suspicions were put to rest once he began to take charge and is now remembered by his contemporaries as a dynamic director who was able to give the institution-still one of the most respected in Nepal-a much-needed push forward.
"Initially, when he was appointed CNAS director there was great reluctance to accept him," recalls Prof Dhurba Kumar, a researcher at CNAS. "Sceptics scoffed. They felt he had got the job because he was a royal relative." But that was not the case-after they got to know Khadga's passion for learning and pursuit of knowledge, no one questioned the choice.
The CNAS took a big leap forward after Kumar Khadga took over and helped define its scope of work with clear-cut programmes. His priorities were research, human resource development and he encouraged researchers to specialise in different countries in the South Asia region and Japan and China.
"For most of the decade, the Centre functioned as Nepal's premier thinktank on current international issues," says Sridhar K Khatri, who teaches political science at Tribhuvan University. "Kumar Khadga was able to transcend politics when it came to research."
Both Lalit and Neer remember Khadga as an affectionate and responsible older brother who took charge of family responsibilities from a young age. His first job was at the British Embassy, and with his salary, Khadga supported the education and upbringing of his younger brothers. Says Neer: "He made us what we are today."
For 57-year-old Lalit, who is now regional director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Asia-Pacific), he was more: "a friend and a gem of a person". The bereaved brothers are at their home mourning the deaths of their brother, sister-in-law and mother.
Khadga and Lalit went to St Xavier's high school at Godavari together, and then to St Xavier's College in Calcutta. Khadga graduated in political science and studied law in Kathmandu.
A keen sportsman, Khadga was captain of the hockey and cricket teams, and was also a footballer, playing with the Mahabir Club until a leg injury forced him off the field. That did not take him far from sport though, he was the first member secretary of the National Sports Council where he gave Nepali sports a solid foundation by helping the construction of the Dasrath Stadium. He stayed there as long as he was able to keep sports out of politics, something on which he differed with the then rulers. The sportsman in Khadga soon found him promoting another quest by founding the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
"His loss is irreparable because his full potential was never realised," says Neer. "Maybe he could have contributed a great deal more if he had not been a royal relative."
The Khadga ancestral household in Gyaneswor wears a solemn look this week, the two brothers dressed in white mourning cloth, and grim-faced and teary-eyed visitors lining up to sign the condolence book..