I was 13 years old when the Rana regime ended in February 1951. The epic impact and dimensions of the change hardly registered in my mind except that the ‘Kangresis’ will now be in power but Maharaja Mohan Shumsher still remained the PM and his brother and my grandfather Baber Shamsher would be the Minister of Defense in a joint Rana-Congress coalition. BP Koirala and Ganesman Singh would be prominent ministers.
Schooled privately by teachers inside Baber Mahal where I lived until 1966, I was sent to a school called Daly College in Indore. Then I learnt in April that my eldest brother Bharat had formed a new political party called Gorkha Dal (later Gorkha Parishad), to contest with Nepali Congress, and was later joined by my father Mrigendra Shumsher and another brother Jagadish Shumsher. And one fine day in April I got the news that Bharat had been arrested early morning, but was brought out of the central jail the same day, by a large crowd of supporters, and rearrested after a dramatic day of action and counter action.
My destiny to be a political activist and Nepali Congress was probably cast that day. I joined Congress effectively in the 1970s on the return of BP Koirala to Nepal, with the policy of National Reconciliation.
Fast forward some five decades of unprecedented political ups and downs, and sometime in the first half of the decade of the new century, it occurred to me that my two brothers and I were exceptionally the only three members of the ruling Rana family, those in the roll of succession for the office of the Prime Minister, Maharaja, who had traveled the turbulent course of a political life as a political activist representing Nepali Congress (the Gokha Parishad had merged into the Nepali Congress in 1961) to join in the bitter struggle of thirty years for restoration of democracy in April 1990 and appointment of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as the Prime Minister.
I urged my brothers to write a book based on their deeper roots but they pushed me to this task. Then I moved into the challenging but enthralling journey as an author of Nepali history.
That combination–of close family links with the Rana rulers, and socio-political link with the Nepali Congress–gave us, and still gives us the three brothers, the balance to view the two disparate sides with objectivity and empathy. I urged my brothers to write a book, based on their deeper roots but they pushed me to this task. So I moved into the challenging but enthralling journey as an author of Nepali history.
As an opening statement for the rationale of my first book Singha Durbar I have quoted Toni Morrison: “If there is a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written you must be the one to write it”.
I decided to use the English language for the book as I could type that script, but not Devanagari. Although my English grammar was and is deplorable, I am told I am a good ‘storyteller’. The second reason to opt for English is the ample store and wealth of good history books and publications in Nepali, but not sufficient (though many excellent) material in English, a language preferred by an ever growing number of Nepalis. For their ease I decided to use simple and attractive language that some feel is ‘too flowery’. Another compelling reason for adoption of this approach is to convince the alarmingly dwindling number of students of history, that history is not ‘boring’, not at all. Even the best researched and informative history book can be somewhat tedious if filled by the barebones of facts and figures, but given some human element, flesh, blood and guts, the historical evolution of our and indeed all countries are exhilarating.
I am of course quite familiar with Rana period history, helped by the constant tales and conversations shared in the (Rana) palace circle, and with the post 1951 history, through personal involvement. But for credible confirmation I consulted highly acclaimed books written by scholars in English and several fold more by Nepali historians. I decided to concentrate upon biographies, memoirs or books written on the basis of personal interviews with the political leaders or actors, those who made history, and the parliamentary records.
Both Singha Durbar and Kingdom Lost are enriched by nearly one hundred leaders, colleagues and observers with whom I have shared one to one interviews or conversations, starting first with the late Satya Mohan Joshi. Others that followed in time include late King Birendra immediately after the Constitution of 1991 was made public and at different times five Prime Ministers–Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, Manmohan Bhattarai, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Dr Baburam Bhattarai. I also had conversations with all three Commanders-in-Chief who led the Nepal Army during the decade-long Maoist conflict–Dharmapal Thapa, Prajwal SJB Rana and Pyar Jung Thapa–pominent Marxist and Maoist leaders, leaders from Panchayat era, men and women who headed the Maoist combatant forces, two seriously wounded victims of the royal massacre, one policeman who escaped alive from a camp captured by the Maoists, a wounded Maoist combatant lying near death at the Bir hospital, a Dalit who narrates the tale of their plight and humiliation ‘since the beginning of history’ and so on.
I hope the young generation of Nepalis in particular, denied by modern trends to learn our history, will read the book. A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.
These occasions of meeting and conversing with the men and women, close to history making, have been rewarding for the makeup of the two books and some of the most exciting moments of my life. I do hope you will feel the same way when you read Kingdom Lost. And I hope the young generation of Nepalis in particular, denied by modern trends to learn our history, will read the book. A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.
[The above piece is an appropriated version of the remarks delivered by Sagar SJB Rana during the launch of “Kingdom Lost” on Thursday.]