Thursday, August 29, 2013

A cultural giant

What makes a man old? Is it age or the mind? Perhaps a combination of both works to make one world-weary, but Satya Mohan Joshi looks nothing like it even at 92. Joshi, one of Nepal’s foremost cultural experts and writers, is as active in his work as he was when young. He says, “I cannot sit idle, so I am as active today as I was 40 years ago.”
Joshi is the present Chancellor of Nepal Bhasa Academy, a self-governing corporate body that works for the preservation of Nepal Bhasa, the mother tongue of Newars. He also established the Arniko Gallery in Kirtipur and  started an FM radio station which runs its shows in Nepal Bhasa. The    shows basically focus on the conservation and development of Nepal Bhasa and the rich culture of Newars. Moreover, Joshi remains busy attending different cultural and social programmes, where he is invited either as chief guest or as the main speaker. “I cannot deny the invitations because people expect  me to be there to share the experience and insights that I have drawn through my research and study,” he says. 
Born in 1920, Joshi learnt his first letters at home and later joined Durbar High School, where he completed his secondary education. Joshi pursued his studies as a student of Humanities in Tri Chandra College, “but as I was pursuing my B.A., I took up a job and went to Tanahun,” he says.
He became a researcher in a government-affiliated institution—the Department of Industry and Commerce Intelligence—which surveyed the entrepreneurial potential of all industries in Nepal.
“Initially, I got very bored in the village as I was born and brought up in the city, but could not quit my job, for the Rana rulers meted out strict punishments to those who did,” he remembers. “But I adapted to the village and its culture slowly, working in the daytime and attending different religious and cultural events like Rodhi Ghar, Bhajan-Kirtan and Ghatu in the evenings.”
This was a unique experience for Joshi as he wondered how the village folks, who were uneducated, could sing such beautiful songs extemporarily. “I was fascinated by the words they used and the ideas they expressed in their folk songs,” he says.
Joshi started collecting these songs and sent them to Sharda, the literary magazine in Kathmandu. “Gopal Prasad Rimal, the editor of the magazine liked the songs and asked me to find the context in which they were composed and sung,” Joshi explains. This paved the way for most of Joshi’s cultural researches and along with the socio-economic research he was assigned by his employer, he also researched local songs, festivals and rituals in Tanahun.
Later in 1955, the Madan Puraskar Guthi was established. A notice was published in Gorkhapatra asking for nominees for the book prize. This encouraged Joshi, who started collecting his published materials, boosting them with additional research. He submitted the manuscript of Haamro Lok Sanskriti for which he was conferred the first Madan Puraskar in 1956. “This award encouraged me to work relentlessly in this cultural field,” says the laureate.
While he was enjoying the vocation of cultural research, the Nepal government offered him a training in statistics under the United Nations, to count and record the population of Nepal. After training in the subject in 1950, he got involved in census-taking which revealed the population to be nearly 8.5 million that year. Joshi also worked in the Department of Archaeology and Culture formed by the Nepali Congress-led first democratic government of Nepal in 1958. But after this government was sacked by King Mahendra in 1960, he quit the job. Unemployed during this period, he started studying the old coins he collected for the department. Research on these old coins resulted in the publication of Nepali Rastriya Mudra, which also won the Madan Puraskar of 1960.
Joshi’s popularity by then had the Chinese government hire him to teach the Nepali language to some students in 1962. These Chinese would later run radio shows in Nepali in Peking Radio. One of his students invited him back to China in 1978, and Joshi stayed on for more than two years researching the artist Arniko and his works. This research, of course, led to the publication of Kalakar Arniko and the writing of an epic in Nepal Bhasa, which was later translated into English by his son Anu Raj Joshi and published by the Canadian publication Trafford.
Before writing Kalakar Arniko, Joshi had also become an associate member of the Nepal Academy, with whose sponsorship he went to Sinja Valley of Karnali Zone, regarded as the place of origin of Nepali language. Along with experts like Sthir Jung Bahadur Singh, Bihari Krishna Shrestha, Chudamani Bandhu and Pradip Rimal, Joshi researched the Valley’s language, geography, culture and socio-economics. This extensive research was later published in Karnali Lok Sanskriti, a magnum opus of five volumes which also won the Madan Puraskar, making Joshi the only writer to have won the prize thrice.
Joshi’s life produced several other works—a personal impression of the government and economic policies of New Zealand being one, upon visiting New Zealand for the first time. More recently, Kathmandu University has announced that Joshi will be honoured with a D.Litt (Doctor of Letters) in the near future. If not for the space constraints of this column, I could have made a long list of the litany of his achievements, but what perhaps is more important to realise is Joshi’s role as an inspiration to the young—a man who works hard, perseveres and who has not lost his spirit even at the age of 92.

Posted on: 2011-07-16 09:50 (The Kathmandu Post) 


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