“Readers are of fundamental importance”
It is not at all difficult for a hardworking person to make progress if he is blessed with a supportive household and a favourable environment. But if a person does not work hard, their future will be dark, no matter how much they have of the other two things. Very few in the field of Nepali literature have been able to avail themselves of all of the above.
Among those few individuals was a small boy, between eight to ten years old. Before leaving for school, he would be given money from home for snacks. But he got into the habit of deceiving his parents and buying the Gorkhapatra and Nepali books. After a while, when that small boy noted the increase in the number of books he possessed, he cultivated a desire to own a rubber stamp, which he fulfilled as well. Written on the stamp was Kamal’s Nepali Collection. Just like an opium addiction, this habit of collecting newspapers and books grew stronger day by day – this was some 20 years ago.
About five or six years back, I was inside Nepal Rashtriya Pustakalaya, the national library, by myself. A well-dressed, healthy-looking, bespectacled young man entered. He seemed to be in his mid-twenties, about five feet tall, with distinct Brahmin features After a cursory browse of the rows of books, the young man’s eyes landed on the noticeboard. Then, rather abruptly, he asked, “What is the rule for becoming a member of the library?”
I had already checked out the young man from head to toe. The Sunshine cycle he rode and the clothes he wore indicated that he was financially secure. And so, I was already determined to collect a donation for the library from him. Instead of mentioning the fee for regular membership, I blurted out, “Special membership fee is four rupees.”
Upon receiving an instant response – “Please make me a member” – I produced a receipt. After jotting down the special membership number, I asked, “Your good name?”
“Kamal Mani Acharya Dixit, but please write only Kamal Dixit.”
“Shree Durbar, Pulchowk.”
Once again, my eyes examined this young newcomer’s face – Kamal Dixit, of Madan Puraskar! After making him a member, I asked, “Which book will you borrow?”
But I had also misunderstood: the young man had become a member not to access books, but to search for rare Nepali books in the library. I had not realized that then.
And back to the present. One day, I entered Shree Durbar. After noticing Kamal-ji at the entrance, I greeted him with a Namaskar. In response, he exclaimed, ‘Oh! Uttam-ji, Namaskar,’ and his hands came together smartly, just like the salute of an enthusiastic soldier. This was his specialty – a habit of sorts.
Sitting on the chair that he directed me to, I said, “Kamal-ji, I used to come to you to learn a few things about Nepali literature, but today I am here to learn something about you.”
After a moment’s hesitation, I received his permission, and asked him my first question: “How did you enter the field of Nepali literature – who helped and encouraged you?”
“In the beginning, I became involved with poetry through my classmate Bishnu Prasad Dhital’s encouragement. Consequently, my first published work was a poem titled ‘Putali’, in the Benaras-based publication Uday, in 1943. Later, around 1955, after being fortunate enough to become associated with the Madan Puraskar, I started writing research-based essays. That’s what I’m trying to do these days.” This was Kamal-ji’s straightforward answer. We were on a lawn in front of Jagadamba Press, from where came the constant rhythm of the printing machines.
“By the way, Kamal-ji, are you thinking of stopping your writing, or have you been working on something?” The sheaf of loose pages brought to the table for proofing piqued my curiosity.
Drinking from a glass of water, Kamal-ji said, – “I haven’t written anything lately but I will write if I find anything new that has to do with Nepali literature and language. Besides, whenever I come across something new while studying at the Madan Puraskar Library, I am compelled to write about it.” I followed his answer immediately with another question.
“Which writers do you like? Let’s hear about that as well.”
“I like all writers of Nepali,” he responded, giving credence to the stock phrase of a renowned scholar of Nepali history, “phurti lāi purti”.1 “I haven’t been able to read that many foreign writers but, while studying for my B.A., I was especially influenced by Hunter and Lamp’s essays. I feel like imitating their style while writing.”
While studying law and politics after graduating with his B.A. from Benares Hindu University, Kamal Dixit had to stay at the Calcutta Hospital for three months due to eye problems. Since he had studied English, it might have seemed surprising to hear that he hadn’t read much foreign literature, but his answer further strengthened my conviction. I knew it well – Kamal-ji read everything from cinema and bidi advertisements to epics, and he memorized their dates of publication and even lines from the books. But under one strict condition – these works had to be written in Nepali. The Madan Puraskar Library, which was established with his effort, is in reality an expanded version of Kamal’s Nepali Collection, and contains most books published in the Nepali language. And if one wants to read all this, where is the time to study foreign literature?
“Kamal-ji, have you studied Nepali literature thoroughly? Could you talk about its past, compared to its present state?” I was relentlessly picking at his knowledge. Here was a person who was studying Nepali literature and tracing our ancient culture and tradition, fulfilling a great need, just like the British Museum’s comprehensive study of English literature.2 But he was doing it all by himself, like a lone explorer on a mission. For a moment, I was pleased with myself for presenting an appropriate question to someone like him.
Kamal-ji tilted his head and responded with a delighted expression – “You see, in a comparative sense, contemporary literature has actually made a lot of progress, but it still has not achieved as much as it should have. It is not enough to have only one or two die-hard practitioners. For the advancement of literature, readers are of fundamental importance. It is very difficult for us to find readers. Even so, the future is bright.”
Right then, someone came by, seeking his attention. “Just a minute,” he said and went inside. This was the fourth time he had had to step away. I started browsing through the pages of a book that was on the table. It was a Nepali book, written by Tripura Sundari, queen to the Swami Maharaj Rana Bahadur Shah. The book was being published in Benaras and had been brought here for proofreading. I read it until he returned, about five minutes later.
“You see, Uttam-ji, one person has to supervise everything. My constant ins-and-outs might have disturbed you? I hope you don’t mind. Are you looking at Tripura Sundari’s book? Its publication will be an important accomplishment for Jagadamba Press…” Once again, he started giving directions to the press technician on how to break up an 18”x22” glaze paper and print “Nepali” on the cover with mud-coloured ink.
I remembered an old story. I had been here with Krishna Man Shrestha once when he was the executive chairperson of Kathmandu Municipality (he is currently the zonal head). After observing how Kamal-ji was involved with the Durbar’s internal organization as well as several tasks related to Nepali literature research, he had told me, “If a researcher like Kamal-ji could entrust someone else to manage these menial tasks and devote himself solely to research work, how nice would it be!” Keeping Shrestha-ji’s comment and this day’s experience in mind, I complained to Kamal-ji, “Since you don’t have to worry about your daily bread, why don’t you entrust someone else with these small tasks and devote yourself entirely to research work?”
“On principle, your comment is one hundred and fifty percent correct, but, you see, it’s difficult to convert principle into practice. In my case, it is quite difficult.” The answer was straightforward.
“It’s almost four. I just have one more question now. You might not like it, but please don’t take offense. Out there, people say that you have a feudal mindset. Even though I haven’t experienced it personally, it’s possible that other people may have. Are you actually like that?”
Laughing wholeheartedly, Kamal-ji refuted the accusation – “I feel that I am an ordinary person but others perhaps think differently. It’s possible that since Rani Saheb’s house is called a Durbar, and I live here in Rani Saheb’s employ, people may see me as an upstart. Another important thing – since most of us are descendants of the Takshyak Nāg,3 it is not untrue that we have a habit of bringing others down.’’ This answer affected me deeply.
I was late so I also said goodbye abruptly, feeling quite sad that I could not talk to him for longer. My sadness increased with the realization that there were very few Kamal Manis serving Nepali literature. I haven’t yet been able to decide when this sadness will go away – the future is still uncertain.
February 7, 1962
Kamal Dixit passed away on December 29, 2016 at his residence in Patan Dhoka. He was 87 years old. This is a translation by Niranjan Kunwar of an article from Uttam Kunwar’s anthology of interviews, Srasta ra Sahitya (Authors and Literature), published by the Uttam Kunwar Memorial Award Fund.
1 Meaning, in this context, to supply a ready answer.
2 The interviewer may have been referring to the British Library in London.
3 One of the heavenly serpents.