I hail from Darjeeling, a small town, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan region in West Bengal. My family has been living here for 65 years now. Originally, our ancestors were from a small village named Chamung which is about 55-60kms away from the main town. In those days, our forefathers were engaged in agricultural activities, mainly tea gardening. My great grandfather owned and worked in tea plantations for years and education was not easily accessible. Schools and colleges were at such distances that it was impossible for them to manage the time.
Around the 1950s, when my grandfather, Bajey, was as young as 12 years of age, he came to Darjeeling to follow his dreams. He was a very brilliant student from his young age and he always wanted to be a writer or a novelist. He was the eldest of his siblings and the first one to leave the nest to study further. His two younger sisters followed his footsteps while his younger brother stayed put in the village to take care of the family heritage. My grandfather studied in a renowned government school in Darjeeling, St. Roberts School, where he later returned to become a teacher and an assistant Head Master. He had completed his graduation and Masters in Arts in Nepali in Darjeeling Government College.
On 1st January, 1977, his first Anthology of Nepali poems titled ‘Akash-Ganga’ (The Milky way) was launched. I asked my grandmother, Boju, about the book as she was one of the first people to get hold of it. She said that the poems had no particular theme but she told me how happy my bajey was to see his image and the word ‘writer’ on the back cover of the book. She knew exactly how important it was for him then, a great achievement but yet she believed that there was more to write and more to achieve for him.
Boju also told me about the times when he wrote those poems one at a time spontaneously, sometimes in the middle of the night, without a hint that some day they would be published between paperback covers and preserved in libraries. “He was a very resilient man with a quality of compassion that had no match” she said proudly. His friends and colleagues had organized a book launch for him in his home and many writers as well as his readers were gathered to celebrate his achievement. My grandmother also mentioned about the book reviews that featured in the Nepali magazines that were publicized then in place of Nepali newspapers.
Many of his other writings that contributed to Nepali Literature emerged after to this book. He was one of the few early Nepali writers to represent our small town Darjeeling. Along with his acquaintances, he was an active member of two Nepali community associations namely, Nepali Sahitya Sammelan and Nepali Bhasa Samiti. The Nepali Sahitya Sammelan (Nepali Literature Association) is a still prevailing union of the town which is operated by Nepali literary figures. This association was established long before my grandfather was one of the members.
The ‘Nepali Bhasa Andolan’ (Nepali Language Movement/Protest) was birthed to give Nepali language a recognition in India. The Nepali Bhasa Samiti (Nepali Language Community) was founded on the year 1972 which had its head office established in Darjeeling. The members of this community, which included my grandfather, demanded the inclusion of Nepali Language in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India. Before this, such demand was only confined to Nepali magazines like ‘Diyalo’ and ‘Diyo’.
There was a long battle regarding this issue and different associations and communities were appealed as support for the cause. Official meetings with many political parties, cultural and education organizations were held constantly. Official letters were addressed to the Prime Minister and the members visited Delhi on the mission of forming an identity of the Nepali speaking community in Darjeeling.
My grandmother also mentioned a conference that bajey had attended, which gave rise to “Bharatiya Nepali Rashtriya Parishad” (National Council of Indian-Nepali) a body which had the objective of including Nepali in the Constitution. Bajey, along with his colleagues was part of the seminars conducted by the council that intended to pressurize the nonchalant Government. After a long wait, the inclusion of Nepali language in the 8th schedule of Indian Constitution was passed by the Lok Sabha on 20th August 1992. My grandmother told me how this struggle had really made the Nepali Community united. She said that till now she is sometimes invited for the meetings of the associations on behalf of bajey. In memory of him, often members would read some of his poems and letters that were documented by the Association.
Even after his retirement, bajey was a regular writer and our regular Nepali tutor. In our family, my generation studied in private schools with English as the primary language and we are inadequate in our own mother tongue, Nepali. The scant but considerable Nepali that I know now is all because of bajey’s guidance. Some years after his retirement, he became victim of a heart disease that paralyzed both his right leg and his right hand. But, it did not stop him from writing and he was determined to attempt writing with what is left; his non-preferred hand. My grandmother, who was little choked up by now but still persistent in her story-telling, told me that she would often write down his poetic thoughts for him. Bajey wished to publish another of his book of poems but he wanted to write more. Unfortunately, another heart attack and brain hemorrhage barred him from doing so. After a prolonged unconsciousness and battle with brain dysfunction, he gave in to eternal rest.
About a year after the incident, my grandmother held a book launch in our home. It was bajey’s second anthology of poems and his last contribution to Nepali Literature – ‘Ankur, phool ra pathkar’ (Buds, bloom and beyond).
My grandparents provided the best education they could possibly render to my dad and his siblings. My dad and uncle also studied in St. Roberts High School while my grandfather was the Head Master there. My grandmother expressed about how he was like a Head Master even in the house, he was a very disciplined and strict father and this reminded me of an antic metal wall hanging décor that we used to have which read “I am the Boss of this house and I have my wife’s permission to say so”.
I pushed that flashback away and continued listening to her stories. She told me stories about the times when the political situation in Darjeeling town was not good following the Gorkhaland agitation. My family has been living in Darjeeling for many years and no matter what the town faced, they were determined to live here and not move to another place. Bajey built our house ‘Udayachal’ (the rising hill) with years of hard work. No matter what happens to any part of my world, the pride of being the eldest granddaughter of Late Dil Prasad Rana, Nepali poet and language activist will always make me feel special.
The Desire to become a Poet
by Dil Prasad Rana
I longed to be a Poet
Solve a horde of emotions
In the white chest of paper
To write something at least
In the abyss/ocean of imagination
I found my unconfined emotions
Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying
And sometimes stumbling/staggering.
That was it!
It felt like I had jotted down a few verses
But realized that my ink was over!