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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Anuradha as I know her

I had been planning to write this story, and my pending plan rushed me when I read the weekly “Kopila” of the Kantipur daily of Sunday, November 28. In it, Suraj Kunwar writes that Ranjit Gazmer and I had opened a school called Amar Adarsha in Baneshwor, and Anuradha Koirala came to Kathmandu to join the team. This is fictional journalism, and the “kopila” readers of the weekzine can be misled.
Had the two of us operated this imagined school, I wouldn’t still be working as a copyeditor in Kathmandu and Ranjit wouldn’t have immigrated to Bombay, now Mumbai. Hence, I must write the true story. What I write herein are mostly pickings from my already previously published columns, and I add a few more points in the second part, as the true occasion for writing this particular piece warrants.
Anuradha Gurung in Darjeeling
At Mr. Amber Gurung’s Art Academy of Music in Darjeeling, there was Ajay Gurung as a member who was an excellent tabla player, second only to another member, Ranjit Gazmer. This was in the winter of 1961/62, and the other musicians were Karma and Gopal Yonzon, Sharan Pradhan, Indra Thapalia (Amber’s miitjyu), Aruna Lama, Lalit Tamang, Jitendra Bardewa, Indra Gazmer, Puru Subba, and others – including this writer.
Another Gurung was Abhay (recently departed) who shone for many years as a national footballer in India, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Nepal. In Kathmandu, he was a guru to many national kickers and dribblers and played for many clubs.
These were Anuradha’s older brothers. Since Ajay was a fellow musician at the Academy, I visited his Toong Soong cottage where Colonel and Mrs. Gurung had deposited their six or seven brats to give them a permanent moor in life and save them the military transfers their soldier father had been subject to, as the Indian Army required.
Anuradha and her younger sister were kids to us, and they had nothing to do with our serious business – music. Anuradha was a hockey schoolgirl at Loreto Convent, and we saw her in town in her school uniform, with a hockey stick. And that was that.
In Birgunj
I graduated from college in late 1966, and I had ten months to decide my future course of actions. As people of Darjeeling fled its gloomy and misty winter, an annual event, I was visited by Phurba Tshering – a member of The Hillians whom I led. He asked me to accompany him to Birgunj in Nepal to help manage a new “English medium” school. Ranjit Gazmer also joined us. Phurba had already joined the school, so we were in good hands. So off we went, traveling mostly on railway through India – Siliguri, Galgaliya, Sugauli, Barauni and then Raxaul to enter Nepal at Birgunj. The school was in a rural flatland called Itiyahi, some dusty kilometers away from Birgunj town. When we reached our destination in the evening, I saw, to my surprise, Anuradha Gurung who already was a teacher at the school. Thus began our lifelong relationship.
In our time in Nehruvian India, Vande Mataram was having its renaissance, and everything else was “phoren” and anti-nationalistic, including the proven Cambridge education system. The opposite was happening in Nepal, and the craze for modern education continues to this day, forty-four years later. Teachers from outside Nepal, including the Northeast Hills, were hot malpuwas then, as is the case even today. We worked as choice teachers at the Itiyahi Durbar School, promoted by one Badgami Sahu.
Then something happened which, in retrospection now, was fateful in our lives, especially for Anuradha and me, the two players out of seven members in our group. We two still find ourselves in Kathmandu when more than four decades have elapsed since we arrived here.
It happened this way: When our second batch of teachers arrived in Birgunj, the Nepali Rupee had devalued against the Indian Rupee by 135:100. Previously, it had stood at NRs 101 for IRs 100. Now, there was a deficit of Rs 34, and we from India would lose by 34% in our salary. The new decision was taken by Surya Bahadur Thapa, the new prime minister of Nepal.
We negotiated with Sahu Badgami. Since I had assumed leadership of the Darjeeling group of teachers, I argued with him that our salary should be paid at the new rate in Nepali Rupees as we were Indian/foreign “imports” to Nepal. Badgami would not budge. I banged the table; he banged it even louder – it was his property, after all. It was eight in the evening when the powwow failed. Ranjit and I were drawing our first salary but Anuradha and others, who had joined the school months ago, were the greater losers. So we decided to leave the school and left late at night. There were six teachers and a kid in our group, and this was a mass desertion at one go. But since Badgami stood his greedy grounds, whatever happened to the school was his responsibility.
Badgami did another unethical thing. He charged us for our lodging and food and deducted the amounts from our salary. We avenged ourselves by spending our last night in Birgunj in Badgami’s comfortable hotel, had our sumptuous dinner at his restaurant and stuffed ourselves from his department store. His staff obliged us with the credits because we were their boss’s fabled schoolteachers from Darjeeling. We left Birgunj the next morning in Yangji Sherpa Didi’s Volkswagen minibus. We met her by chance in town, and we crashed onto the empty seats. That’s how we reached Kathmandu. Anuradha was sick and threw up at many bends of the serpentine Tribhuvan Rajpath. I don’t know how her motion sickness is these days. She also had inflamed tonsils and it gave her much trouble.
It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that we still owe Yangji Didi Rs. 28 for our ride in her vehicle. She passed away some years ago, and the due is still unpaid.
My brief memories of Birgunj are both sad and happy. I lost my beloved Bowie knife while leaving the school at night. The happy memories are of bagedi snacks downed with dudhiya in town. One special occasion was a concert held by Gopal Yonzon and Dil Maya Khati in Birgunj, and Ranjit, Phurba and I helped the musical evening with our own songs and instrumental backup.
In Kathmandu
That’s what fate is all about, I think. The devaluation was one thing, but what it caused to us is unexplainable. We were right, and Badgami was wrong; but he wasn’t responsible for what happened, either: It wasn’t in the agreement, or was there such a clause for an unforeseen turn of events? Nobody was wrong, or right, either. What Surya Bahadur Thapa’s decision caused is beyond even Kafka’s post-modernism.
There was another hitch in our journey to Kathmandu. We soon found out that except for Anuradha and me, everybody was flat broke. Why? We had lived in Nehru’s India where he stifled and asphyxiated and atrophied the Indians’ dreams. So when our other members saw Badgami’s department store laden with Max Factor makeup kits, Kirin and Sapporo beer from Japan and British and American cigarette brands, they overspent and drew credits beyond their means. Badgami duly exacted the arrears from their salaries before we left his school, and we found ourselves in dire straits in Kathmandu. I had Rs 700 and Anuradha perhaps Rs. 1,000. With that, we began our lives in this senile, strange, unfriendly, suspicious and crumbling city – its Hanuman Dhoka complex slanted all over to match the drugged swaying of Hippies all along the nearby Jhhochhen, better known as the Freak Street.
First, we welcomed ourselves to Renchin’s flat at Fasikew near Ranjana Cinema. “Baby” Renchin – the future Mrs. Gopal Yonzon – hosted the seven of us for three days and nights.
Then, as fate would have it, we met two strangers of our own age. Shambhu Poudel – now a big shot of Kathmandu – and his friend Rimal showed us an apartment in Dilli Bazaar, and the seven of us lived in it. The terrace was our kitchen. Phurba and I got jobs at the newly planned Casino Nepal as trainees while Anuradha, Ranjit and we were taken in as teachers by Basant Bahadur Shrestha at his New Model English School at Baneshwor. Soon, Anuradha lived at the school hostel as housemother; this led to her becoming Mrs. Koirala later, and the seeds of Maiti Nepal were sown during this time. Ranjit became Amber Gurung’s assistant at the Royal Nepal Academy. Phurba and I were confirmed croupiers at the casino and we relocated to Basantpur. I stopped teaching and joined Tribhuvan University for my Masters in English while Ranjit, Phurba and I became hotshot studio musicians at Radio Nepal. These are the gist of the adjustments we made for ourselves in the silly city called Kathmandu.
Why didn’t we give up in Birgunj itself and go back to where we came from, eh? Well, I, for one, wouldn’t go back after merely two months of my misadventure there. Badgami Sahu and Surya Bahadur Thapa had composed our battle cry: “Kathmandu, or bust!” Also, as a reverse Lahurey, I wouldn’t go back without money, materials and medals. Eventually, five of the original group left Kathmandu anyway, and only Anuradha and I remain in Kathmandu today. But, even at best, we’re irredents here, our native lands being overtaken by others; and as reverse migrants, Kathmandu has been our new Muglan.
Maiti, a dreadful word in Nepal
Hereupon, I have my new observations which I didn’t make before. But these thoughts find their rightful place in this concluding part of my heartfelt write-up.
I’ve never been to Maiti Nepal at Til Ganga. The Nepali word “maiti” scares me in this story’s connotation, and I’ve never had the guts to see how Anuradha was doing there. I have my own distressful reasons for this:
Firstly, the word “Maiti” has the prefixes of “ma” and “mai,” the former denoting mother and the other meaning mother goddess. Maiti is the parental house of a “cheli,” the female of the family. But in the name of the mother and daughters, the family is dominated by males, the father and his sons, who marry off their young females as soon as possible. The only psychologically reassuring recourse being, if abused by her husband, a cheli can always look back to her maiti for rightful action and justice on her behalf. But the truth lies somewhere far away: Once the cheli is married off, she’s left to her own device. “Look, you’re no more ours; so fend for yourself, la?”
This, among other causes, births Anuradha’s Maiti Nepal, as a shameful reminder to Nepali males of their impotence and inadequacy.
Secondly, Nepal and the Nepali world outside it are rare on the Earth for having males who are internationally known as brave, unselfish, chivalrous and valorous. As the snow leopards of the Himalaya, the Sherpas have carried climbers to the summits of Mount Everest and other tallest peaks of the world. The dreaded Gurkhas/Gorkhas, belonging to some six martial ethnic Nepali nationalities, need no further mention except uttering their common identity makes the enemy wobble and wet his pants. The Newars are renowned for their indomitable trans-Himalayan and risky cross-Terai commerce and industries while their fellowmen at home built the classical durbar squares of the Kathmandu Valley and spread their architectural marvels all over Asia.
What’s gone wrong, then? Well, these are unsung heroes in their own lands, for one thing. Moreover, the enemies are within who sell, smuggle and traffic their own neighbors’ girls, if not their own. Abuse is aplenty in the Nepali society. Otherwise, why would Samrat Upadhyay describe in his short story the fellatio administered by the daughter-in-law to her father-in-law? Manjushree Thapa’s novel mentions its female character being once raped by her paternal uncle, yet she visits him every Dashain to receive his tika.
What ironies on Nepali males who so effortlessly victimize their own helpless, weaker and silent lambs? Over and above, Nepali men can’t even look after their women, much less protect their virtues.
That’s why Maiti Nepal is a half-house for despair to be turned into hope, victims near death to be nurtured to survival, the doomed to be given assurance, desperate to receive rehabilitation and resolve, helping sufferers to regain their loss of minds and means.
It was not easy for Anuradha, especially when external interferences were also imposed on her operations. An example is the “accountant” wife of a British envoy who wanted to supervise the funds received from Prince Charles who sold some of his paintings to raise money specifically earmarked for Maiti Nepal. Anuradha refused to accept the unnecessary precondition, and the other party had to eventually give in. She also refused funds from some international organizations because of their fiduciary stipulations, and again she was victorious when the peace pipe was offered from the other sides.
Vote of thanks
That’s all on Anuradha because she and Maiti Nepal have now become world news. Except to say, she’s always Anuradha Gurung to me, and shall remain so. Perhaps a compromise would be Anuradha Gurung Koirala, and that would be ideal. She and I need to retain our ethnic tribal identities, to say the least.
Wikipedia has this on Anuradha: “In Hinduism, Anuradha is a goddess of good luck (Adrusta Devatha). Anuradha is the 17th nakshatra.”
Well, Maiti Nepal’s Anuradha has now become the First Sun Goddess for the ill-fated and destitute girls and women of Nepal.
In conclusion, while I say “Syabash! Kya Tarakki!!” to Anuradha Gurung Koirala, I also bow my head to the other nine CNN Heroes of 2010: Guadalupe Arizpe De La Vega of Juarez, Mexico; Susan Burton of California, USA; Linda Fondren of Mississippi, USA;
Narayanan Krishnan of Madurai, India; Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow of Scotland, UK; Harmon Parker of Kenya, Africa; Aki Ra of Cambodia; Evans Wadongo of Kenya, Africa; and Dan Wallrath of Texas, USA.
And grateful thanks to Mr. Anderson Cooper, and CNN, too! 
(Source: of My
Guitar maestros to bond over Bengal masters
Shounak Ghosal, TNN, Dec 7, 2010, KOLKATA: The maestros are coming all the way to bond over Bengal's masters. Come Wednesday, over a dozen of the world's top classical guitarists will collaborate for the first time to unveil music director Debojyoti Mishra's four compositions, including two tributes Tagore in D-minor' and Walking with Ray' at, aptly, the Satyajit Ray Auditorium at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR.
"This (Walking with Ray) is a tribute to the man who made both Pather Panchali' and Feluda. The composition is based on humour and warmth, two things we all relate to Ray with. Tagore in D-minor' has more to do with celebrating the Poet's softness, innovation and also, his emancipation," said Mishra, who has films like Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa' and Raincoat' under his belt. "This is a great opportunity for self-evaluation, and the artistes are all happy with the compositions."
Not just the classical aficionado, but rock musicians, too, are kicked about the upcoming concerts as well as the Nikita Koshkin' guitar competition, named after the Russian maestro who will be here along with the top stars of 12 countries. "Finally, I'll get to see so many international icons under the same roof. It's a dream come true," said guitarist Nilanjan Mukherjee.
While the concerts may open a new book in the city famed as the seat of Eastern classical as well as the jazz capital of India, the five days will also mark a special chapter for six guitar exponents David Zimik (Meghalaya), Jiwan Pradhan from Darjeeling, Ren Merry (Nagaland), Schubert Cotta (Goa), Kolkata's Shyamal De and T Samuel of Chennai who will be honoured with a lifetime award. "They are pioneers and doyens of classical guitar and are musicians' musicians," says the Calcutta Classical Guitar Society, the organisation that has pulled off what was probably a mission impossible to start with.
Pradhan said he is "honoured and humbled". "I'm very happy the effort that has gone behind sustaining and promoting classical guitar playing is being recognised," he said. "The standards of guitar playing here are very close to the European scene," he added. De, who also teaches at the Calcutta School of Music, is flattered by the gesture of the organisation. To him, this event brings another opportunity for his students to show their skill. "Last year, at the All-India classical guitar competition organised by the Spanish embassy, Sohini and Biplab from Kolkata bagged the junior and senior top spots, respectively," said De.
The city will love an encore, surely.

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