Forgotten hero

Dewan Rai pays tribute to a rebellious centenarian, a crusador who has survived the library parba that rocked the nation in 1929.

Kathmandu: Baikuntha Prasad Lakaul is now 102 years old. He has remained the sole witness to the changes that swept over Nepal in these years. There are now over 500 libraries throughout the country. When Laukal initiated the establishment of the first ever library in Nepal, he was charged of sedition. This episode that took place in 1929 is also known as the Library Coup (library parba) in Nepali history. Lakaul is the sole champion of this movement and he has survived all these years. The Rana oligarchy that ruled the country during that time wanted the public to always remain their “subjects.” They are thought to have deprived the public of their fundamental rights including the right to education. It is said that the common masses actually had their hands amputated if they went to school, so the establishment of a library was out of the question.

Lakaul’s compatriots, Mahakabi Laxmi Prasad Devkota, and Lakaul, himself, among others, however, defied these edicts and initiated a movement for the establishment of a public library. “We wanted knowledge to be accessible to every ordinary citizen,” says Lakaul. No citizen was happy with the regime. The discontent amidst the public mounted and that finally took the form of a popular movement in 1950. Democracy was ushered in and Nepali citizens were emancipated from 104 years of Rana tyranny. Though the number of libraries is burgeoning today, little interest has been shown to protect and promote them. And that irritates this rebellious centenarian. The tradition of going to libraries for information and knowledge is taken over by modern modes of information access — the Internet, telephone and television. “The new generation is no more interested in being bookworms,” Lakaul laughs. Even university students, as long as they can get away with it, avoid spending hours in the library. Some consider reading books a sheer waste of time. The utility of the library is limited within a select group researchers and scholars.

Many libraries have been established since Lakaul’s first crusade. However, libraries close down after a year or two as people find other interesting things to amuse them. Most of these libraries are housed in big schools, which suffer from an abject dearth of money. The brunt of supporting them rests on government authorities and NGO’s who are rarely interested in investment for a genuine purpose. Even community-based libraries share the same miserable fate. The government has no concrete policy for the development and promotion of libraries and seem least bothered to take an initiative yet. Lakaul, the only living fighter from the library parba, still cherishes his active days. “Convicted on charges of sedition for leading the movement for the establishment of a public library I was sentenced for two years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5,000 (then),” reveals Lakaul. However, after his mother’s earnest appeal to Maharaja Baber Shumshere his punishment was reduced to a fine of Rs 100. Lakaul was freed shortly after Mahakavi Devkota, who was also convicted under the same charges, was set free on parole. Lakaul has also made some invaluable contributions to Nepali literature that include ‘Vedma Dikshanta Upadesh,’ ‘Sajha Barnamala,’

‘Balak Bhulok’ and ‘Bir Balabhadra.’ Although he is so old, he still has a sound eyesight and memory. He retains some of his old habits like reading books and the newspaper (without the help of glasses). However, that’s a benefit not commensurate with what he’s done for us, citizens of the modern land.