Thursday, August 29, 2013

The living archive

 A passage which leads to the study room of Shiva Regmi has been narrowed by tables and shelves full of books. The room adjacent to his study and the one opposite to it are packed too. As I enter his study, I ask him how many books he owns. “More than 10,000,” he says. But to my astonishment, his study includes several magazines stacked in shelves and spread across the floor and table. “I have almost every issue of nearly 100 Nepali literary magazines,” he adds. The 69-year-old writer—also a renowned researcher of Nepali literature—is currently completing a comprehensive history of Nepali literary magazines. In doing so, he is also analysing the roles played by these magazines in the development of Nepali literature.
A habit of collecting and reading books and magazines led Regmi to edit and write books on Nepali literature. His edited works include Gorkhapatra Kaa Ek Saya Ek Nibandha—a collection of 101 essays published in Gorkhapatra from 1968 to 1999, where one can find literary writings of poet Siddhi Charan Shrestha, memoirs of Narayan Gopal, and the spiritual deliberations of Yogi Narahari Nath. Regmi also edited Shankar Lamichhane ka Nibandha and Bhupi Sherchan ka Kabita, where he anthologised Lamichhane’s essays and Sherchan’s poems that were published in magazines, but never collected otherwise. “Future readers of Nepali literature will be devoid of these gems if they are not collected now,” he says.
Encyclopedias that track the evolution of Nepali literature is no doubt lacking in current archives. “But we do not have to worry as long as we have Shiva Regmi,” says journalist Devendra Bhattarai, who considers Regmi a source for writing stories on Nepali literature. Regmi possesses the first issues of magazines like Sharda, Yugbani, Garima, and Madhuparka which are historically important as they heralded modernity in Nepali writing. His amazing collection also includes the first work by the first Nepali translator Gambhir Dhoj Shah, which was published in 1914. These magazines and books surround Regmi in his study, where he shuts himself away to write from 10 am till 2 pm. “These books and magazines are my friends and I am addicted to reading or writing about them,” he says.
Regmi remembers the days when he used to buy Madhuparka for Rs. 1.25—a sum difficult for him at the time. He lost his mother when he was three and his father passed away when he was nine. Born in Kathmandu in 1941, Regmi did his schooling from Juddhodaya Public High School in 1958 and started teaching in a primary school. But after teaching for four years, he left the job to volunteer in public libraries. “I volunteered in Nabin Bikash Mandal Library of Thamel and also in the Rastriya Pustakalaya in Pyukha where I used to sit all day to read,” he says.
After passing the SLCs, he did not enroll in college and did not hold a job for nearly three years. The only thing he did was read. As financial conditions at home became worse, he joined the Ministry of Law as a clerk. But without a formal university degree, Regmi found it difficult to get promoted. He thus joined National College for an Intermediate degree with history as his major, and later attained a Master’s degree in Nepali literature. Regmi additionally earned a B.L. (Bachelor’s in Law) degree and eventually became vice-secretary in the government, working in several ministries including the office of the Prime Minister. He retired from government office after serving nine years at the Election Commission. “In Nepal’s bureaucracy, people are not allowed to work. They are encouraged to waste time talking. I was not interested in that, and so I used to read books wherever I worked,” he adds.
While many readers and scholars of Nepali literature know him as a researcher, very few know him as an ex-administrator. Regmi thinks that his passion for reading and research has added more value to his life than his career with the government. Today, he continues to read good writings published in decades-old magazines. This piques his interest in researching those writers, thus bringing to us information about those who had talent but could not become popular. “I have received calls from relatives of the writers I surface, who thank me for reminding Nepali readers about them,” he says.
Regmi has realised that there are very few people who understand the value of writing in Nepal. Though he wants the government to understand the importance of literature and to preserve the books and magazines collected by writers like him, he does not want to handover his own library unless assured of its preservation. Pointing at his numerous books and magazines, he says, “I am worried what these good friends of mine will do after I am gone from this world.”
Posted on: 2011-03-26 10:02 (The Kathmandu Post)


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