In Praise of Heritage
One-to-One Talk – Revisiting Sir J. C. White
Being with Sikkim Newar Guthi at Rhenock
We were last at Smileland 15 years ago as Basudev reminds us, to attend the reception invited by Ganesh Kumar Pradhan on his daughter Udita’s wedding. Much water has flown down the river Rongni Chu i.e., Rani Khola and Basudev share with us more about their ventures as we congratulate him for excelling all fellow Newars. While as a Contractor he feels blessed to be endowed with plenty of sand and stones, the main material resource, proper care was taken to the large mango trees adding plenty of greenery so much needed for sun-parched riverbed. A huge rock eroded and etched with marks of time embedded in the earth was kept well-protected and fenced as we adore such pieces (a few small ones could be seen at our Rhenock home) with much respect as a tribute to the bountiful Nature, like in America or in Japan Basudev adds. A riverbed divested by the 1968 Flood, as he revealed, they had acquired a kilometre-long stretch of land from the owner Bharat Singh Basnet knowing well the risk of developing properties nearby a river, but life is itself a risk, we all know!
What many might not know was about the bust of Sir J. C. White that was going to be sold as scrap and lost forever into the oblivion. It was after the place where the Sikkim Public Works Department building presently Nirman Bhavan is located and stored caught massive fire some decades back. It was Basudev Pradhan, a Government Contractor by profession, happened to be there to intervene and stop the deal. Instead, he acquired it himself paying the valuation done for 80 kgs. of the scrap at Rs. 100/- per kg totalling a sum of Rs. 8,000/- for this neglected heritage piece of historical value and significance as an ancestral legacy not for him or his family or the Newars in Sikkim but for everyone here in Sikkim and beyond as descendants of Sir J. C. White visited his place years later accompanied by our legend Keshab Chandra Pradhan. Great Great Granddaughter of Sir J. C. White Claire Nena Hartley from Keno Hill, Isle of Seil, Argyll AA 344 TN, UK sent a letter thanking Basudev after visiting “J. C. White’s Statue… Sir J. C. White and really hope to meet him again as they find so much still for them to discover about.”
My salute to all our ancestors for what we are today blessed with and also to the great statesman and hero Sir John Claude White (1853 - 1918) for making Sikkim what it is today. It was constructed as a tribute to the great soul who raised from a petty surveyor with the Government of India to be the first Political Officer for Sikkim and Bhutan in 1889-1908 to survey and conquered not only the heart of the people here but ruled supreme. Even the then Chogyal (King) had to make way for him and go in exile across the border in Tibet now the autonomous region in People ’s Republic of China (Source: Wikipedia 20 February 2011.) I wonder why, may be their unfailing Loyalty to the authority in the Newar blood like Bravery attributed to the Gorkhas, only Newar landholders here in Sikkim had the honour to subscribe to be his obedient servants on their own behalf and on behalf of the other Nepalese Residents of Sikkim. The prominent Newars who came together for this cause to be remembered here today are:
- Hari Dass Prodhan, Rai Saheb,
- Lambodar Prodhan, Rai Saheb,
- Tulsi Das Prodhan,
- Kalooram Prodhan,
- Latchmi Narayan Prodhan,
- Dirghbur Prodhan,
- Dalbahadur Prodhan,
- Sherabahadur Prodhan,
- Ratna Bahadur Prodhan,
- Durga Shamsher Prodhan,
- Hira Lall Prodhan,
Since space and time here do not permit to reproduce the whole text of the Felicitation# in length, a few lines are excerpted to have an idea fair enough for a glimpse of the long lasting impact on the people, society and the land a century ago. “Prior to your taking over the exalted position you have held in Sikkim, we had neither roads nor bridges. But ever since your advent you have constructed a large number of good roads and bridges all over the country and have thus ensured facility of traffic that was quite unknown in this region – a facility which has vastly improved the Commerce and Industry of this State. This will forever be a living monument to your administration of Sikkim and you will be gratefully remembered by its people for this act alone, if not for anything else.
“Besides traffic facilities, you have conferred upon Sikkim many other blessings too numerous to detail in a short address like this. Permit us, however, to mention a few. You have founded Charitable Dispensaries, established Nepalese and Bhutia Schools with Boarding houses, opened Weaving Schools, laid out Beautiful vegetable and fruit gardens and encouraged gardening by afree distribution of seeds and grafts, and above all you have always guided and helped us by your invaluable advice and counsel.”
(#Courtesy: Beryl Hartley, Great grand-daughter of Sir J. C. White, Oxford University, England – 2610.07 Through: K. C. Pradhan, Gangtok – Sikkim 23.11.08)
Their names appear amongst those who signed the Felicitation at Gangtok, Sikkim on the 27th June 1908 to bid him farewell on his retirement after long innings here since 1889. Two decades almost was pretty long enough a period if one cares to make all the difference in the State and the society! Sir John Claude White passed away in 1918 and White Memorial Hall was built in 1932 in his memory and so was this bronze bust installed there as centre-piece in the sanctum sanctorum by the public/Newar landlords, unless proved otherwise.
V. H. Coelho, Political Officer in Sikkim writes in 1967 in his book Sikkim and Bhutan (1970/1971), “John Claude White, the first British Political Officer, has described this period in the following term:
‘Chaos reigned everywhere, there was no revenue system, the Maharaja taking what he required as he wanted it from the people, those nearest the capital having to contribute the larger share, while those more remote had toll taken from them by the local officials in the name of the Raja, though little found its way to him; no courts of justice, no police, no public works, no education for the younger generation. The task before me was a difficult one, but very fascinating; the country was a new one and everything was in my hands.
‘These words, descriptive of the state of the country during his residence in Gangtok are perhaps over exaggerated, but partial credit is due to Claude White. He made a sincere effort and with his help Sikkim progressed from a primitive and with his help Sikkim progressed from a primitive feudal country to reasonable efficient one.”
“Such was the environment in which one lived and worked. One could not but admire Claude White‘s grit and determination spending eight years in Sikkim consolidating the British hold on Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim. And he was a civil engineer by profession!” writes B. S. Das, who was the Chief Executive to the Government of Sikkim, in Sikkim Saga (1983).“