(Jeevan Yatraka Aitihasik Mod)
By Dayaram Bhakta Mathema
Pub. Daya Foundation Kathmandu
Price: Rs 600/-
Last week saw a review of Rewati Raman Khanal’s autobiography with the same title in this paper. Mathema’s book is yet another autographical account of his life’s experience and conclusions also largely related to the Nepali royal palace but beginning with an era preceding Khanal’s work. As such, reading the two together is a worthy academic exercise in contemporary Nepali history. Indeed, outside his private life and times, Mathema’s posthumous publication, perhaps because of inputs of seasoned academics in its publications such as Saphalya Amatya and Kedar Bhakta Mathema, has been skillfully chapterized into six parts (390 pgs.) as if to convenience the reader to separate his private from his public undertakings. Not that this delineation is too clinical as to disrupt continuity in his account of his life and conclusions. But Mathema’s picturization of life in Rana days, his entry into royal palace service, king Tribhuvan’s lynchpin role in the overthrow of the Rana system and the introduction of democracy, his challenges and frustrations, King Mahendra’s emergence, again, encapsulates events, people and places of Nepali politics in the Fifties and Sixties to the extent that the book assumes a serious academic undertaking contributing to the growing volumes in Nepali political history.
Along with Khanals book reviewed last week, one would suggest that the reader also seek out Laxman Prasad Rimal’s autobiographical account published last year(?). If Mathema is a functionary and confidante of king Tribhuvan’s durbar, Rimal is at Mohan Shamsher’s end at that epochal juncture in Nepali history that forced Nepal to shed its feudal trappings in favor of democracy. One will conclude that all accounts defy the myth that allots merely a marginal role to the monarchy for the advent of democracy in Nepal given currency by partisan political accounts of the 1950 movement and individual contributions. Mathema’s book is a clear testament to Tribhuvan’s statesmanship and diplomacy in steering a palace threatened from the Ranas after the colossal failure of the homegrown Praja Parishad movement (for which Tribhuvan was held highly and truly suspect) to his clandestine encouragement and support of the anti- Rana activities within and outside the country culminating, ultimately, in his departure to India from whence he returned as a modern constitutional monarch gradually building up national capabilities to withstand the assertive Indian activities which accompanied his return in order to provide the fundaments from which his son could emerge as a nation-builder. Mathema, as the book attests to, was among those Tribhuvan trustees (and there would logically have been more) who operated clandestinely under the nose of the highly isolationist Ranas to overthrow the regime and usher in democracy after which he was asked by his king to overtly help as palace functionary to help assimilate that obviously onerous task of establishing constitutional democracy. For this task no better gratitude from the king (and the nation perhaps) was poured on Mathema than the bestowal of esteem and trust recounted in the book. Mathema is not alone, however, in venturing details of the obstacles posed by squabbling politicians and ambitious individuals on king Tribhuvan’s mission to establish a functioning democracy in the country. Indeed, he is more forthright in suggesting that it is these difficulties that ultimately pressed the king’s ailing heart until it led to his death in Zurich.
Mathema’s is a very poignant portrayal of issues, incidents and individuals intertwining his personal experience and opinions from which the reader is left nothing but enriched. His role as confidante and trustee of a king in the vortex of historical change, his missions into politics, diplomacy and even mundane bureaucracy as well as private palace chores makes the book a virtual portrayal of Nepali society and the challenges taken up then. Of course, a conspiratorial society of closed centuries in the midst of which the royal palace was virtually and perhaps calculatedly enmeshed was not to have left the writer immune as well. And so Tribhuvan’s realistic advise to his protégé to remove himself from palace proximity because of the ill-will towards him from many. Unfortunately for him, king Mahendra’s palace would still have to reach out to him given his experience and knowledge and the challenges that Mahendra continued to face and his retention appears to have thwarted both his thirst for education and his efforts to distance himself from the epicenter of change that the palace gradually was led to assume for the country. There are ample indications in the book that Mathema does not appear to have been taken as much into confidence by Mahendra as Tribhuvan had. Perhaps his haste to pursue further education and his refusal to take up a secretarial post at the palace helped distance him further at a time when Mahendra was daring more change in he country. Mathema through insinuations and innuendos hints that perhaps the Janasewa incident had its sources in palace conspiracies the final nail to which was put with his ultimate summoning to the home of a palace secretary (on foot) in order to be informed of his sacking and the termination of his sanctioned trip to Switzerland for studies. As real as these unfortunate conclusions could be one would tend to temper it with the fact that he would have been aware as a long time palace retainer that the queen mothers and the princes Himalaya and Vasundhara and their wives would not have been in touch with him without palace sanction.
But such are the nuances of vicissitudes in individual leadership when viewed from the luxury of distance despite the obvious impressions on the affected individual. The autobiography is testament to the fact that Mathema was the affected individual which then led him to venture once again into business, a line he seems to have familiarized himself with before he was roped into palace service at King Tribhuvan’s behest. Here his travails provides the reader a glimpse into the one-upmanship in high business that led him to sponsor private banking but edged him out when it came to ownership. His success with Surya Tobacco is a relief to the author but this reader cannot but cast aspersions as to whether the demise of the Janakpur cigarette factory was totally unforeseen. But that is business, one must assume, as in politics, gain some, lose some. And that, too, contributes to Mathema’s book being a valuable account of Nepali affairs to be used also for reference material in the search for issues, events, and explanations on Nepal. – By Our Reviewer.