By P. Kharel
Noted scribe Pradeep Nepal, who is also a politician of “progressive” brand, is known for his sharp and generally candid comments. He wrote in the Gorkhapatra daily in May 2017 seeking Nepalis to write own history instead of depending upon foreign nationals who wrote our history under their biased and incenses mood. It is only fitting to note here that perhaps Sujit Mainali has been persuaded to jot down similar points and come up with the book, Breaking Nepal, as one of the publishing gifts of 2017.
Writing history is no easy task, especially in Nepal, where a full-fledged critical and substantive genre covering Nepal is an extremely rare read. In fact, only a few history books have been written covering various periods. It is a Yeoman’s service to locate and go through the three score or so books penned by people from foreign lands. No one had gone such length to unmask the biases that quite a few foreign “historians” had in them.
Inspired and actively encouraged by Dinesh Satyal, better known as Saurav the scribe, who contributes a brief but meaningful prelude, Hami Publications’s latest offer, Breaking Nepal, is a book that makes compelling read, stirs how and where history reading and interpretation of many a scholar has gone awry. The tendency of many Nepali scholars is to rely on “phoren” scribes as if the ultimate authority in historical interpretation.
One actually needs to go through the series of excerpts from three scores of books penned by foreign nationals to get an idea of how blatant biases for many decades after decades went as historical facts for scholars within and outside Nepal. Breaking Nepal seeks to change all that. Those who read it cannot fail to note such obvious heap of discrepancies.
As for foreign writers, men of their own faith and “values” are found the most reliable for their reference on account of colonial mindsets. Theirs was supposed to be the benchmark for everything. Some ridicule Dharara as Bhimsen Thapa’s “folly”. They might be the ones who sing praises for the white column piercing into the skies of Washington D.C. They think the same but they do not want to comment on writers like Rudyard Kipling and white man’s burden to “liberate” the “barbaric and savage” with massive infusion of “liberal values”.
An example of the racist bent of mind at work and in a hallowed institution like Harvard might serve a point. An enslaved man named Renty on a South Carolina plantation in 1850 was a sort of guinea pig for Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz who formulated idea about racial difference between the white and the black people. The idea is now discredited but for many decades it was embraced without qualms by Harvard and its peer institutions across the United States. The photograph of the shirtless Renty was found in 1976 Harvard’s natural history’s museum, compelling some scholars to revisit the long years when racist ideas were accorded academic recognition and honour, and the few venturing to raise doubts over the racist theory were criticised, sidelined and intimidated humiliatingly.
Not long ago, Drew Gilpi Faust said: “Harvard has been directly complicit in slavery. Only by coming to terms with history, can we free ourselves to create a more just world.” In 2001, a group of Yale graduate students produced an independent report on the school’s selective celebration of its abolitionist past. The New York Times recently reported “There were gasps when Daniel R. Coquillette, co-author of a recent history of Harvard Law School, recounted how Issac Riyal Jr., a West Indian planter whose financial gifts led to the founding of the school, helped brutally put down a slave rebellion on Antigua during which dozens were drawn and quartered or burned at the stake.”
Today, too, the attitude is the same, only the style has changed and emphasis shifted. The people they downgrade are the very conduit they sponsor, fund and arm elsewhere in the less civilised world. Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II, was in the opposition benches at the House of Commons when he ridiculed India’s freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi as a “half naked fakir”, and vehemently opposed India’s independence, as it would deplete the “glory of Great Britain” and the British monarch’s “Jewel in the Crown”.
Writing unbiased, fact-based and impartial interpretation of events is history; all else is fiction or fiction mixed with facts, and hence unworthy of the status they falsely claim. Those who write with trade, profits and conversion as their prime religion in the guise of “global values” take a dubious academic path.
The revelation is absorbing and illuminating. The two intelligent minds have helped portray an account of ill-intentioned and misinformed narratives on and about Nepal and Nepalis. The tragedy, the ideas continue to colour many an outlook and conclusion even in the 21st century. Remarkable reading exposing the baser of works that until recently were widely lauded as gems of wisdom. We should heed the lessons from the accounts to alert and energise people from falling into the traps and tricks of falsehoods strews in works brandished as “history”.
Waking Up Nepal
By P. Kharel