Black Hill Journals - 29
Historic Literary Pursuits
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan and Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan, as we all know, are famous for their pioneering task The Chandra Nursery named after their father Taksari Chandrabir for his remarkable contributions to the society, state, government and the country without whose foresight, grit determination and dedication, Sikkim would not have been what it is today nor we. Many, however, do not know how they were also behind for sowing the seeds of literature in the soils of Sikkim as well. Some excerpts translated for the benefit of my readers is given here from the dissertation 'Sikkimma Sahityako Sfuran ra Pragati' by none other than the well-known literary face from this place, Dr. Shanti Chettri. She was delivering her findings for Madan Vyakhyanmala 2016 in Varanasi last year to a literary gathering while being conferred with the prestigious Madan Smarak Samman, equalled to what is Madan Puraskar in Nepal by none other than the doyen of Nepali literature Kamal Mani Dixit* during similar function that I attended in Siliguri earlier last year to honour then ailing Kitab Singh Rai* with Madan Smarak Samman 2015. I get this confirmed by my friend Prem Pradhan, the convener for the Nepali language in the Sahitya Akademi, who too was present along with Durga Dai of the Uday, Dr. Jiwan Namdung and many literary faces of the society there. The other receipients of the Madan Smarak Samman from Sikkim are Tulsi Ram 'Kashyap'* and Sanu Lama. Lama was conferred with in a similar function held at Siliguri that I happened to attend way back in 2000. Here Lama had Sikkimma Nepali Sahityako Gatividhi for Madan Smarak Vyakhyanmala. It was a rare opportunity for me to be the chief guest on similar function while in Banaras for bringing out our 'magnum opus' Sikkim : Three Decades towards Democracy in the year 2005 and hand over this prestigeous Madan Smarak Samman to K. B. Nepali* of Lumding, Assam for his remarkable contributions to Nepali literature including the literary quarterly Bindu for more than half a century. Bangshree Krishna Singh Moktan, known for his classic novel Charandhuli since our school days, was similarly conferred with this Madan Smarak Samman in 2013 and the octogenarian travelled all the way to Banaras for the love to be in this ancient holy city once again very much like our Dr. Shanti Chettri last year!
"Human being first tries to know the society he finds himself located in. Sometimes society makes one popular while it is him/her who raises the society high up. We can, therefore, say that human being, society and literature are complimentary to each other. Literature provides both education and entertainment as well. Dramatics recognized as the fifth Veda after four Vedas being included in the literature fold, I could claim that it was my birthplace Rhenock Bazar where the seeds were first sown and germinated and safely vouch for it because of Chandrabir Taksari and The Chandra Nursery, the names well-known in Sikkim since the days immemorial. First such literary activity generally believed to have started in Sikkim was the Apatan Sahitya Parishad in 1950, whereas Chandra Dramatic Club was already established in 1930! It was started here under the leadership/patronage of Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan and Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan. Among others, well-known figures of the time like Jyotishacharya Harishchandra Sharma, Tulsi Prasad Pradhan, Harka Lall Pradhan, Lalchand Agrawal, Kesang Wangdi and Durga Prasad Pradhan were seen in the group of some 50-55 people in the picture taken (in front of the Kothi) was a wonderful team.
"In early days human being expressed their feelings of joy through dialogue, acting and singing. There being no easy/convenient printing facility available, hand-written dramas might have served the purpose. I remember that the same club had staged dramas written by Paras Mani Pradhan* 'Satya Harishchandra', 'Balak Dhruva', 'Gautam Buddha' and other social plays on temporary stage prepared for the purpose in the decade 1950-60. World War period of 1940-45 might have put all such activities to a halt. It can, therefore, we can staunchly vouch and safely conclude that the foundation stone for literature in Sikkim was first laid by the Chandra Dramatic Club of Rhenock.
"By 1869 the Company government had started providing education by opening primary schools in Sikkim as well. Many Nepalese people from Nepal were brought in Sikkim for various activities like mining, agriculture, roads and bridges, forest and business. It was at Rhenock that in 1980 there was a big fight to protest their growing influence. A police station, therefore, was started (at Aritar with Lal Bahadur Pradhan* grandfather of Daju Mitra Kumar Pradhan as the head) and due to The Chandra Nursery the first post (and telegraph) office came here with Harka Bahadur Chettri as its Post Master (this writer met his son Hemant was here later during 1962-63 teaching for the School Managing Committee at Rhenock School, perhaps.) Since the Company government allowed the entry of Nepalese (for the developmental works, they too were accorded the status at par with the Bhutia, Lepcha inhabitants and that enable them to promote their language and culture as well.
"Taksari Chandrabir and his sons established Dhaneshwar Shivalaya at Rhenock and festivals like Shivaratri, Janmashtami, Gaijatra, etc. are being held by Newa: Guthi till this date (of late Shivaratri by their family members.)
"While Hari Kumar Pradhan, Mani Kumar, Sundar Kumar. Mohan Prasad Pradhan, Vani Prasad Thapa and his father Khardar Bajey (Tabla and Harmonium player) were the managers for the dramas, Prabhu Narayan Pradhan used to compere (sutradhar) and Dal Bahadur Pradhan used to be comedian. (They are all except octogenarian Sundar Mama gone.)
"The Newa Guthi used to sing devotional songs from religious scriptures like Geet Govindam and Dash Avatar in Nepali and Newar languages once in a week in the Shivalaya. This practice is continued by the Sai Sangthan these days. The devastating fire of 1949 and 1957 engulfed the copies of these devotional songs. With the advent of Ramlila era, the Dramatic Club also became inactive.
"Kazi-Thikadar system needed a court/Kutchahari (or cutcherry, formerly in India, public administrative office/judicial office collectively - Dictionary.) There was also one at Rhenock Bazar. Ram Pradhan was the able petition-writer for this honorary court. He was expert in drafting very well in Nepali language and he was conferred the title of Honorary Magistrate in 1971-73 by the Durbar as his son Ganesh Kumar Pradhan mentions....
"Monarchy in the Kingdom of Sikkim came to end in 1975. It took some time for the people to terms with and flow in the mainstream of the Indian democracy. Convinced with the transition period on 5th September 1981 an initiative to form a literary body in the name and style of Nepali Sahitya Sammelan (presently ... Nepali Sahitya Parishad ) was envisaged/established in a meeting held at Gangtok Thakurbari with Raj K. Shrestha as its president, Radhakrishna Sharma* vice-president, Bhupendra Adhikari secretary and Shanti Chettri and Purna Rai* as its members. Later this body was registered and other activities too initiated with Raj K.Shrestha in the chair. The same ad-hoc committee also had published two issues of the Sammelan, its official organ...."
Coming back and to continue with "In 1995 Karuna Devi Smarak Dharmarth Guthi was established at Gangtok (with its head office at Rhenock.) It publishes books and honours people dedicated to the cause of literature. It had organised a story-writing competition in 2005 and had honoured young writers with prizes to encourage the upcoming talents and Katha Anushthan was brought out."
Readers might be aware that Rachna Katha Anushthan 2005 was a collection of the best 25 stories (out of 75 entries received over a period of seven months) by writers who have proved their mettle. The panel of Judges comprised of Subhas 'Deepak' (who later also edited the compilation with Dr. Vats Gopal), Dr. Shanti Chettri, Gupta Pradhan and Sharad Chettri*. The winners were Yuva Baral 'Anant', Suraj 'Dhadkan'. Anamika Rai, Prakash Rai 'Badal', Beeru Subba, Divya Giri, Anamika Rai, Srijana Dilpali, Deepak Thapa, Nima Moktan 'Nishkarsh', Jitendra Khawas 'Amurt', Vikas Subba, Niraj Thapa 'Ayogya' Basudev Pulami, Vishnu Thapa, Vidur Karki, Sharmila Khadga (Dahal), Hem Joshi, Rachna 'Anakar', Laxmi 'Meenu', P. K. Pradhan, Om Rai, Sant Kumar Chettri, Akash Pithakote and Samir Rai 'Shanti'. They were felicitated in a grand function held on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Rachna Books on 11th May 2005 in the conference hall of Nepali Sahitya Parishad, Sikkim at Gangtok attended besides the distinguished judges by glitterati of litterateurs from Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills like Mahanand Poudyal, Gopi Chandra Pradhan, Prem Pradhan, Uday Chandra Pradhan*, Bal Krishna Shrestha* among others. It needs no further elucidation here where we find the young writers positioned in the Nepali literary world over a decade hence.
Recently, Ganesh mentioned me about the interest shown by Dushyant Pariyar and Thaman Naubag for subscribing to the Uday - Nepali literature compilation brought out from Banaras since 1937, the year its present editor/publisher Durga Prasad Shrestha was born. He continues the onerous task of serving literature carrying forward the torch his father Kashi Bahadur Shrestha* lit in those difficult days of the Raj in India and Rana regime in Nepal. Ever since, more than anything else the Uday has been providing a forum for well-known as well upcoming writers of the Nepali literary world from respective period not only of India but in neighbouring Nepal as well. Their contributions have been well acknowledged by Sahitya Akademi as well as Nepal Pragya Pratishthan as both father and son have been praised and honoured from time to time. Its latest issue No. 163 for January 2017 opens with a Tribute to the doyen of Nepali literary world, their staunch supporter and well-wisher Kamal Mani Dixit handing over the Madan Smarak Samman 2016 to Dr. Shanti Chettri. Her findings were shared excerpted above from Sikkimma Sahityako Sfuran ra Pragati that appeared in this issue of the Uday. Since this column was devoted to Rhenock, the place also known as the Black Hill for reasons whatsoever, I thought our readers would not like to miss but to know this aspect of the society and about the unsung heroes here from the days of yore as well!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (*asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim by him is available at the Rachna Books.