Nepal | August 09, 2020

A professor par excellence: Remembering Kamal P Malla

Suwarn Vajracharya
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Death of Kamal P Malla, a writer, historian and retired professor of linguistics, is an irreparable loss to Nepali studies, particularly in the areas of history, linguistics and Nepal Bhasa

Malla was one of my respectable academic supporters outside my alma mater. He took personal interest in my research on language politics and state language policy and guided me with his immense knowledge on “language politics and policies” in Kamal P Malla, a writer, historian and retired professor of linguistics, died on November 17 (Nepal Sambat 10/01/1139) in Atlanta, USA. He was 82. He was a professor emeritus of Newar studies at the Tribhuvan University, where he worked as rector, founding Department Head of Linguistics and Head of the English Department. After retirement from the TU, he had been living in the USA.

Nepal and elsewhere. Hence for me, his death is an immense loss. But at the same time, his demise is an irreparable loss to Nepali studies, particularly in the areas of history, linguistics and Nepal Bhasa in and outside Nepal.

Professor Malla, having completed his PhD in linguistics from the University of Edinburgh, UK, became the head of the Department of English at TU in Kathmandu, the first full-fledged university in Nepal. During his tenure as the head of English Department, he also launched an initiative to establish a separate department for linguistic studies for the first time in Nepal’s history of linguistic studies in tertiary level education.

He believed that the new department can train scholars, who in turn will contribute to the development and preservation of Nepal’s multi-lingual society. Thus he became the founding head of this new department.

His teaching and research were not limited to English and linguistics though. He went on to conduct research and publish articles and papers on a wide discipline of socio-cultural studies. There are a large number of joint and single-handedly conducted researches to his credit. He has written several books on Nepali history with an alternative viewpoint.

“The Road to No Where” is his most famous work published by Sajha Prakashan.

With regards to language policy in Nepal, he was the first to reveal problems related to state language policy making. He published his findings in Nepal in “Perspective” edited by him jointly with Pashupati SJB Rana and in Studia Turcologica Cracoviensia in 1973; In INAS in 1976; in Road to Nowhere in 1979; in Kailash in 1981.

There is a large number of Nepal Bhasa advanced study materials such as Nepal Bhasa grammar, Classical Nepal Bhasa literature and dictionary published together with several Nepal Bhasa scholars in Nepal to his credit.

Professor Malla was also a pioneer historian, who wrote about history of Nepal Bhasa and about Nepal valley, the land where Nepal Bhasa originated. He also worked with senior historians like Dhanavajra Vajracharya in publishing the Gopalarãjavãmsavalĩ (published by Steiner Verlag, a German academic publishing house in 1985).

Epigraphy, lexicography were his other interests. He worked with scholars such as Yogendra P Yadava, Tej R Kansakar and Warren W Glover to name a few.

He became known in Europe for the review of “A History of Nepal” by John Whelpton published by Cambridge University Press in 2006.

Unfortunately, “From Literature to Culture” is listed as the last contribution to his credit that was published by Social Science Baha and Himal Books in Yen (Kathmandu) in 2015.

His contribution to Nepali studies, however, does not end here.

In addition to his overall service to the tertiary education sector in this country, Professor Malla was also admired for his socio-academic contributions to his community and the Nepal Bhasa speaking Nepalis, whose language has been left unattended for the “One country one language” policy imposed by the Panchayat government (1960-1990).

He led a team of Nepal Bhasa scholars to publish the first ever comprehensive classical Nepal Bhasa-English Dictionary in a project that lasted 10 years (1986-1996). This great work is titled “A Dictionary of Classical Newari.” The team adopted the term “Newari” — instead of its original name “Nepal Bhasa” — for he was concerned that it could fail to see the light of the day even in 1996 when the country had already embraced constitutional monarchy.

The published dictionary brought thousands of Nepal Bhasa words, which would have otherwise been forgotten, into public domain. As editor-in-chief, he took up this work with total dedication. He informs us, the readers, that this work for him was an opportunity as well as “a challenge to understand the genesis of my own language and therefore the culture and society of which I have been a part so long”.

I think the greatest tribute to him would be to teach this language of the land in a properly organised manner. Every government that has come to power after the end of absolute monarchy has promised that it would support the teaching of Nepal Bhasa in government schools. But none is yet to fund teachers and teaching materials.

I hope the incumbent government will deliver on this long-awaited promise, which will be a true tribute to Professor Malla.

Vajracharya, a PhD in International Public Policy from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, chairs Nepal Study Centre Japan, and writes on language, culture, language politics and state policies

A version of this article appears in print on November 29, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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