In praise of Heritage
My Tryst with Old Guards
Celebrating the Age
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Having performed the Shraddha last Tuesday in fond memory of my forefathers I thought why not I pay some tribute to my elders, the old guards of our society, who are active to inspire us all in their own way and style attune to the ensuing Dashain festival.
For this Pitri Paksh I had my favourite old story Ma Shraddha Garnechhu that the news-daily Samay Dainik carried incidentally coinciding the solemn occasion of the Punya Tithi of my late father Jai Shanker Lall Shresta. I had translated it from the Hindi devotional monthly Kalyan from the Gita Press stable about a decade back that was then carried in the local news-daily Hamro Prajashakti, weekly Wichar and the quarterly Uday courtesy their editors Anjan Upadhyay, Subhash Deepak and Durga Prasad Shrestha. I do not remember if the English version that I sent to Pema Wangchuk Dorjee was then carried by the Sikkim Now! like most of my writings till recently but the Sikkim Express published I shall perform the Shraddha this Pitri Paksh. Otherwise, Amit Patro shares the space that helps me reach my readers every Sunday these days. I wish we had more Sundays and me more days each week to share my writings to be known as a prolific and well-read author. Otherwise, I am now facing a space crunch in my laptop (external hard-disc supported) besides those in the old faithful desktop computer that my son Raman avoids using unless compelled for some printouts from the printer dedicated to it. Some friends want them all in the shape of a book they are willing to support, if needed. I had not noticed that the Samay Dainik had Dilliram Dulal as its editor in its print-line with Paras Mani Sham gone pursuing his PhD on the subject he likes best journalism and I wish him all success. I do not know the person behind in the Hamro Prakashakti who brought a change in content and style trying to reach out to its readers more outside Sikkim these days perhaps that my stories on Thinking local are not of much relevance to them - acting regional perhaps. Otherwise, I am always with them since our early days and online edition that others lack. Himali Bela with Bhim Rawat and Swarnabhoomi with SR Sharma also share their space and readers occasionally as my friends reach me the news of having read there.
Writing about the media we have the news of opening of the Kailash-Mansarovar route through Nathula in Sikkim being agreed upon with the Chinese President Xi Jinping now visiting India. I recollect my second tenure in the Cultural Affairs and Heritage Department as the Principal Secretary when I had the rare opportunity to propose vote of thanks to the visiting Vice President of India Bhairav Singh Shekhawat* in the public reception and cultural show held in his honour on 18th August 2006 in the Chintan Bhavan. The Nathula trade had just started and I had voiced that we the people in Sikkim want more than this trade route from Nathula, "The presentation was our effort to showcase the ethnic composition of this Himalayan State that bridged the gap between two great Asian nations after a lapse of 44 years just a few weeks ago with Sikkim attracting the global attention on this historic moment! In fact Sikkim is looking beyond Nathula and cross border trade. We are thinking of the day when we could reach Kailash Mansarovar besides a bus service plying between Gangtok and Lhasa to promote tourism in the region.” I do not know if this remains recorded in the Information and Public Relations Department archives but the visiting dignitary must have taken the message back home that could have made the BJP government initiate the matter on assuming the power in the Centre. “It makes Kailash Mansarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial for older pilgrims. It offers a safer alternative in the rainy season, makes the pilgrimage shorter in duration and will enable a much higher number of pilgrims to go there,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Pradyuman Shrestha was here last Tuesday with his copy of Indrajatra 2014 Smarika edited by him for the third year in succession successfully in spite of all the hurdles usual. I must congratulate him for this brilliant work this year too. Inspired by my writing style taking a cue he tells me that his other article is an attempt recollecting 1997 days. I do not wish to write much about the Sikkim Newar Guthi as I have many other good things to share about with my readers but what I miss here this year too is their Annual Report with Balance Sheet for the previous year/s like the other Newar organization for the Bhansaris carried in their annual not very long ago.
Pradyuman also updates me about the senior citizens who are in the Sikkim Senior Citizen’s Society who met the other day for the change of guards. They found an executive body of 9 heads was better than some 27 members earlier and two years was enough for a term to serve and look for fresh blood to instil in the body, which should honour the good works and re-elect if they wish. This they have done with the top three while six others are in support. Since I am confined to my cocoon as friend since college days D. B. Shrestha finds me trying to rope me in their fold while my senior in school D. K. Gajmer tried it too.
A few days back while in the town to get my monthly dose of medicines, it was nice meeting Alok Kumar Srivastava, who greeted and complimented me for my writings. He enjoys reading them and finds nothing that reveal my age taking me over. I tell him I have one written with a picture on meeting him first time as a young probationer at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration when there with P.T. Gyamtso, L. B. Rai and Lobsang Bhutia for a month-long refresher course. He recollects his 1985 days and I congratulate him for conducting the recent Elections successfully as the chief secretary in Sikkim. I see former chief secretary Sonam Wangdi inside the Lifeline - crowded I go to their next shop. I had read once Bharat Prakash Rai of Darjeeling wrote that medicine shops are more crowded than the ration shops these days. There at Lifeline we meet quite often old guards including C. D. Rai, whom I mentioned of his article on the illustrious Taksari Newar family of Rhenock and requested for a copy of the same as one with me was misplaced. He said that it was there with him in the file of the Gangtok weekly he used to edit and bring out in the 1990s.
Dr. M. R. Kotwal has been kind and quite helpful in getting some of my problems solved while I was about to retire and thereafter. Earlier in 1980s I had doubt of my shaky hands and he got my blood tested from the Lal’s Laboratory in Delhi to find nothing wrong with me. Later in 2006 I mentioned him of my flowing ear and he advised me to get tympanic surgery done at Prof. S. K. Kacker’s as he had his own got done recently there. Otherwise, Dr. Ongden Gyatso used to help me its regular examination and eardrop after Dr. D. K. Subba retired. He has his clinic nearby to take my wife Ranjana for her sore throat after attending the Indrajatra celebrations at Singtam and still to come out of it back to her best as always.
Dr. S. M. Rasaily too helped me to get over with my GRD that his senior Dr. Kotwal had diagonised. Later in 2010 I had a sudden bout of diabetes in an alarming way to leave me shattered that I could soon overcome after some weeks on his medicines and eye check-ups courtesy Dr. Hitler Pradhan. Otherwise, the previous evening while returning from Rhenock I found each and every electric bulb on the way back lighting with as many as eight in a circle. Reaching home to find pictures on my television also blurred but my reading glasses making them crystal clear! Dr. Rajen Pradhan at the Lion’s Siliguri was also of help later when we were there for Ranjana’s surgery. Little changes in my lifestyle has made things better to keep in control after almost a year that I took to overcome and enjoy my life as usual at its best writing reminiscences like this every morning. My age is definitely overtaking me slowly but gradually and I try keeping it away thus before my regular Yoga practice.
Another veteran old guard I came across those days was Jigdel T. Densapa* whom I worked with him as the Additional Chief Secretary in charge of the Finance Department. He was senior most next to Sanu Mama Mohan Pratap Pradhan* and both were in the Interview Board beside M. M. Rasaily and T. S. Gyaltshen*(later chief secretary under whom I worked in Home department coming back from two year-course) perhaps in my Sikkim Civil Services Examination 1971 and 1972. Sanu Mama had excused himself when my turn came for the viva-voce. After his retirement Densapa was seen often in the STNM Hospital helping patients to get proper medical attention. Once he happened to drop in at Rachna Books and was surprised to find me there in place of Raman when abroad holidaying as me too was to meet him years after I retired. I thanked him for the visit and kind patronage. I treasure a piece of paper with his signature complete enquiring of some books he needed. Similarly, it was nice meeting my senior in school Dr. C. Pulger looking for a book from Darjeeling where his family was mentioned. He used to be quite helpful when working here.
Kunzang Sherab was in the trio of old guards with M. M. Rasaily and J. T. Densapa who played a key role in the Chogyal regime. While the latter two opted out he volunteered to come under the Indian Administrative Service-fold on merger of Sikkim with the country. He knew with the training I had, my style of scrutinizing well the proposals from the departments and he even told his colleagues chasing the file personally if it should go to me too. He was the Finance Secretary once again in the changed scenario and I had the opportunity to work with him. Otherwise, he was more popularly known as FS for he held this post long during the Chogyal regime. I had once found the proposal for construction of a bridge that was supported by two supporting towers only against four in the four corners. Had I let it go escaping the scrutiny, it would have been engineering marvel indeed not only for Sikkim but for the world – a bridge suspended on two towers only against usual four! Working as the Commissioner-cum-Secretary Science and Technology I had his son K. S. Tobgay* as my Joint Secretary - dedicated IIT Delhi graduate and a nice person to work together. This thus gave me a rare opportunity to work with both the father and son during my 35 year long career!
Tulsi Prasad Sharma was our Nepali teacher briefly in Sir Tashi Namgyal High School in 1958. He was rural development secretary who came once looking for his files and had told me that while our grandfather Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan used to provide drinking water kept in earthen pitchers to thirsty travellers in scorching summer days at Tarpin and surrounding areas of Rhenock here you are not clearing files needed urgently. Walking on foot was the only common mode of transport those days and as a student of the Sanskrit Vidyalaya at Lingse West Bengal before joining regular school he might have known about coming from Tareythang nearby.
Another old guard I got the opportunity to work with while in Finance Department was Govind Prasad Pradhan and we were together for a week-long training at IIM Kolkata. Of the same age is Bhim Raj Pradhan, known for his grit to overcome health problems since long to celebrate 50 years of their wedding last year and Jankwa last March. Age is catching up him fast and his wife Bindumati joined the Facebook and added me recently. She was my joint secretary while in the Information and Public Relations Department in 1995. This Guru Purnima day I was with my teacher Bhai Chand Pradhan to felicitate him. I found him as fit and cheerful as we saw in our school days always with a smile to acknowledge our greetings. He too was honoured by his children performing the first Jankwa last year.
I had the rare honour of performing the second one when my Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta* completed sighting of one thousand moons on 30 and 31 May 2000. It was held in a grand two-day celebration that stretched to 5 days to make it a historic event in a bid to revive and re-establish Jankwa as a socio-religious cultural tradition we should feel proud of. When Pramod Mahajan* and all had difficulty in calculating a thousand moons for Atalji Bihari Bajpai, I had brought to the notice of my friend Hare Ram Pradhan then heading the Bharatiya Janata Party unit in Sikkim our way of calculating it correctly. I do not know whether he forwarded my suggestion to the concerned or not but another friend of mine in Nepal Maheshwor Shrestha shared it with NESOCA enthusiasts. NESOCA is incidentally the effort that later took the shape of the World Newar Organization with headquarters at London with Dr. Bal Gopal Shrestha heading it since 2011. Jankwa has more appealing names and the second one is known as the Sahasra Chandra Darshanam or Maharatharohan for the chariot the honoured parents are taken in around the locality and to conclude with burning of one lakh battis or lamps in the temple which we did at Sri Sri Sri Dhaneshwar Shivalaya Mahadev Mandir at Rhenock bazar. We had also celebrated it for Jamuna Maya Bajai, wife of Durga Shamsher Pradhan* here in Gangtok on 18 December 2008 on an initiative by his son Bidhan Mama.
The book Sikkim: Three Decades towards Democracy reminds me of another old guard and veteran politician B. B. Gooroong, who happened to visit Rachna looking for a copy when his own was taken away and not returned by a needy friend. He shared with Raman that he cannot do without it as a regular source of information handy. He is a good friend of our Rhenock family as he mentioned to Raman too during this visit when I was not at home that day. Badri Narayan Pradhan* has a beautiful account of helpful him in Chyakhung Diary that his son-in-law Anmole Prasad sent us a copy for our Jai Smriti Shodh Granthalaya. My Muma Indira, who and his wife Shankha Gooroong*were together as students in St. Joseph’s Convent, too enjoyed reliving those days with Kalimpong relatives mentioned in the book. She finds this Diary so revealing of good days as well as bad that she does not want me write every details unveiled for the glorious Chandra Nursery (1910) days she saw as the youngest sibling of the family.
The other day when visiting Bidhan Mama our cousin Begum of the Underground Villa too happened to come there. When asked about their good neighbour old guard Dr. Ratna Kamal Dewan in his 90s we wanted to visit and pay respects, she shared with us that he is fine health-wise but his memory fails him sometimes as he cannot recognise his own family members. She had a nice moment of his life to share with us. As usual he is full of courtesy and whenever someone drops in, he just gets up, welcomes accepting a Namaste and offers the visitor a place to seat. It happened so even with his daughter-in-law Lalita back home from her work recently!
On way back from the clinic last week, I met Tsering Namgyal in his 90s but still active and often seen smartly dressed even with a hat on befitting the season and occasion – also sometimes on shorts too! With his failing ears, no more morning walks until a few years ago that he used to take before the day break to the Tsukhlakhang monastery and back. He is giving a new look to his house with a traditional Tibetan touch - beautiful contribution to the neighbourhood. He was kind enough to share with me Coronation souvenir book for my Sikkim: Three Decades towards Democracy. He too enjoys reading me and on himself in one of my writings. I tell him we have to sit together to know many things from him when he is a bit free. Next to him is the former Parliamentarian K. N. Paljor, who is as fit as he used to be in his earlier days. He is seen offering prayers early morning and reading newspapers enjoying the sun on the terrace if he is not out for a walk or returning after attending social or official functions. He had provided me a picture of him for my abovementioned book.
Another old guard found walking on the road commonly is none other than Dong Babu known since my childhood days that he was pleased to read about him mentioned in my writings still remembering for the anti-rabies shots he gave us at the Happy Valley in 1958. If not seen him recently I must be spending more time with my laptop these days churning out my best in quest for the best yet to come!
To me old age is always fifteen years older than I am (Bernard Baruch) and better I concentrate more on octogenarians and my nature keeps me confined to the four walls of my house. Therefore, I try to reach out to numerous friends and well-wishers who compliment me for sharing the good old days when we meet in person or on phone. One young reader in his 20s, however, likes my style of writing and found me good enough to inspire him to make me his Guru as well. I wrote him if interested in literature I have Rachna Katha Anushthan that give fair knowledge on story writing and some of the writers who participated in the Rachna Silver Jubilee Story Writing competition or Mahanand Poudyal project in 2005-06 have excelled and earned a name for themselves by now. If inclined to farming organic or otherwise I have Vikasko Goreto: Grameen Proudyogiki (2001) to help. He has an eye in politics as well and it is good if one thinks of bringing about a social change. For this what could be better than my Sikkim: Three Decades towards Democracy to have a glimpse of our own land since the days of yore.
Lastly, speaking of the old guard readers might have found someone amiss in the whole story above. Yes, he is so eminent a personality and holding fort to head and advise many a social bodies in and around here as also the seniors. Besides my three mentors (Buba, Thulo Mama and Sanu Mama), the other two Mamas I owe to are Nirmal Chandra Prakash Pradhan / Kasaju* who advised me to go back to Gangtok and once here it was Keshab Chandra Pradhan (then the divisional forest officer east) to give me the letter of introduction that the conservator of forests at Samchi needed and me to come with to get employed as a game warden at the Manas Game Sanctuary in the Royal Government of Bhutan. This was a year before I joined the Sikkim Civil Services in 1972. I did later have the opportunity to work with and to learn from him to be tactful but a streak I lack perhaps and wish I could imbibe. As the joint secretary III I once complained him of the status reduced to mere that of a glorified clerk. He found me trying to be difficult and sent me to income and sales tax wing of the Finance department to deal with the horrendous task of keeping the central income task at bay. Businessmen here still remember me for the same but not to write about. I was not surprised when my name as other colleagues’ was not found mentioned in his memoirs either. Recently he wrote me, “You should divert your attention and vast experiences in areas which Raman has ventured into so articulately besides your family Guthi after Didi Karuna Devi. There are more areas where fruitful contributions could still be made keeping oneself aloof and be at peace - only extending your matured advise only when sought for.” I thanked him for the advice and wrote that it would guide me in coming days. Though I have been inducted as an advisor to the World Newah Organization I shun for the same reason even before. I do not know what made him write me thus but it has opened and shown me the avenue as people now find me writing more often and enjoy my sharing with them. By now a prolific writer I may be and a well-read too but by readers.
I am enjoying the bliss sharing at least something which I can contribute regularly to repay the society so often!
Disclaimer: This is just a personal account from my memories to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route. It is, as such, not a research work of a well-read scholar or a prolific writer of repute either but an attempt to share with the readers who may take it as such only. No malice whatsoever intended. Names with *asterisk show those near and dear ones no more amidst us. Help correct/supplement contact me by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9434022677 / 94340 202677 or at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.
1. Blessed with Buba and Muma celebrating the Age.
2. Procession entering Rhenock Bazar
3. Rathyatra with Lakhey Natch