The Loneliness of a Nationalist Madhesi
The proposed research explains the loneliness of a nationalist Madheshi writer to examine the additional features of Nepali nationalism – hill-centrism and colorism – than those already explored by the historians and anthropologists (Burghart 1984; Des Chene 1991; Onta 1996).
“All amateur writers and poets, the imitators of Thakur Baba, espousing internationalist sentiment forget that the love for the world is cultivated in one’s own country.” These lines are quoted from one of the most highly praised, read, and publicized essays written by Mahakavi Lakshmi Prasad Devkota. The title of the essay can be translated into English as ‘Is Nepal a Small Country?’ In the essay first published in 1945, Devkota refers to Rabindranath Tagore’s speeches on nationalism that he delivered after World War I. In the provocatively critical speeches, published as a book titled ‘Nationalism’ in 1917, Tagore shows the fall-outs of xenophobic nationalism.
In the same essay, Devkota writes that the people living in the plains (Terai) live with “discontent sizzling” in their “unceasingly frenzied brains”. He wants his readers to understand India as all-plain and Nepal as an all-hill country and be convinced about Nepal’s superiority as an origin of “Arya-civilization” over British-ruled India. Doing so he accentuates the aesthetic distinctiveness of Himalayan Nepal. In addition to these, he says that the birth of Mahapurush (great men) is only possible by the Himalayas. When he explains these features, he does not distinguish between the plains of Nepal (Madhesh) and India. Madhesh and India seemingly overlap as “uninspiring plains” in Mahakavi’s mindscape.
By the time Devkota’s essay was published, Bhawani Prasad Gupta—who wrote in his nom de guerre Bhawani Bhikshu—had already become a writer of considerable repute in the Kathmandu literary circle. Hailing from Kapilvastu (Madhesh), the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam (Lord Buddha), he might have chosen the name Bhikshu (meaning monk) to conceal his Madhesi identity (the Nepali plain-dwellers and Indians were derogatorily called ‘Madhise’ by hill-people at the time). Awadhi speaking Bhikshu received his entire education in India and had started a writing career in the Hindi language. By a coincidence, Bhikshu became an editor of a popular literary journal ‘Sharada’ to which Devkota regularly contributed his essays and poems.
Devkota’s writing is a telling example of how Kathmandu viewed Madhesh and its people at the time. In the nationalist milieu that Kathmandu had, how could a writer, Awadhi speaking and trained initially in Hindi, earn the reputation as an iconic Nepali writer? He probably became a nationalist to adapt to the environment. The proposed textual research delves into two kinds of writings to understand how a Madheshi intellectual, despite becoming vocal as a nationalist and being very close with the nationalist establishment, lived a lonely and despairing life. His literary writings – including short stories, novels, and memoir essays – can be read as expressions of his loneliness. Writings on him, including criticisms and biographical essays, are other textual evidence to read the loneliness experienced by Bhikshu.
Burghart, Richard. 1984. The Formation of the Concept in Nation-State in Nepal. The Journal of Asian Studies 44 (1): 101-125.
Des Chene, Mary. 1991. Relics of Empire: A Cultural History of the Gurkhas, 1851-1987. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation (Stanford University)
Onta, Pratyoush R. 1996. The Politics of Bravery: A History of Nepali Nationalism. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Pennsylvania)