Beyond lip-service

Yesterday, the birth anniversary of Laxmi Prasad Devkota was observed. But this time, the occasion was special, as it has begun the centennial celebrations of Nepal’s greatest poet. In this year’s budget, the government has set aside Rs.2.5 million for the purpose, but it is not known yet how the money will be used. Private organisations will, in their own ways, mark the birth centenary of this Aanshu Kavi (a poet capable of composing flowing poetry at any moment). Devkota could write poetry in nine languages, and he originally composed in, or translated some of his work, including the epic Sakuntala, into, other languages. He wrote the Sulochana epic in ten days, the Sakuntala epic in three months, and Kunjini, a long poem, in one night. Apart from his rare literary merit, he was a progressive, as he had at that time made a clarion call for caste equality and inclusiveness (e.g. Munamadan), seen in the service to the poor and the needy the real devotion to God (e.g. The Pilgrim), and made a point of uplifting the downtrodden (e.g. The Poor) — themes that the advocates of New Nepal have taken up these days. He was a great patriot, too. And his ethos had been deeply moored in the Eastern philosophy, though he was receptive to Western thought. In life, he practised his humanistic belief, e.g. in being generous.

In a natural, uninterrupted flow of creative literary energy, he was inferior to none in world literature. He wrote almost in all genres of Nepali literature; and in the gift for writing subjective essays, he has no peer in Nepali literature, as he picked up a very minor topic and expanded it into a large theme. More stories

and legends have grown around Devkota’s life than around that of any other Nepali literary figure.

His most famous work, Munamandan, a long lyrical poem, remains the largest-selling book in Nepal

to this day. On his death about half a century ago, the great Indian scholar, Rahul Sanskrityana, paid tribute to him by saying that Devkota was Prasad, Pant, Nirala (these three Indian literary figures of eminence) all rolled into one.

But many Nepalis do feel that Devkota suffered neglect at the hands of the State while he lived, and that this has continued even after his death. One therefore hopes that at least during the yearlong celebrations, Nepalis should go beyond paying lip service, and the State should take the lead in redressing the past imbalance. We could take a leaf out of many other countries in duly recognising the contributions

of our artistic and literary gems. One of the good ways in Devkota’s case would be by turning his home

in Kathmandu into a museum or a Devkota study centre, preserving all things that belonged, or were significantly related, to him. The royalties that the sales of his books still generate alone could go some way towards that end. Why, for instance, can the

National Academy itself or one of its top prizes, or TU, in whose establishment, Devkota had played an important role, not be named after him? Sadly, no Complete Works by Devkota has been published yet. But Devkota, without any promotion by anybody, lives on in the hearts and minds of the Nepalis people as their best-loved literary icon, and as one of the most popular of the outstanding personalities in the whole of Nepali history.