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MY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH OUR FOURTH ESTATE

I eagerly awaited the daily delivery of the The Motherland newspaper at home because I could see the advertisement of the films running in the local cinemas of Kathmandu: Ashok Cinema in Patan and the rest of them were in the city, Ranjana, Bishwojyoti and Jai Nepal Chitra Ghar. It was a challenge how to get to the first show of a new release but some of my friends who were more centrally located were clever enough to secure tickets to them, Dipak Bir Singh and Pitamber Rana my school chums come to mind.


The Motherland was one of the first English daily to be published back in 1958 A.D. and circulated every morning, all 1800 copies of it! There was not much else to read in the papers then; the king and queen, sporting dark glasses and gloved hands, were always inaugurating something new for the benefit of their shirtless subjects, the prime minister and his ministers were singing paean to the party-less Panchayat polity deemed most suitable to the soil of Nepal. We studied the system at school, the soporific afternoon classes blissfully livened up by the the idiosyncrasy of the teachers if not the system itself. We all sniggered when a particular teacher announced, "History is the incident and accident of the past" while making himself more comfortable at his crotch. Those were more innocent times. There were no strikes and chakka jams, no notable cases of embezzlement and bribing, not even a pop of a small firearm to make an eye-catching headline. Papers were boring to read!


Actually The Commoner started by Mr. Gopal Das Shrestha as its editor back in 1956 A.D. was the first English language daily in Nepal. It had only 4 pages of national and international news.
I found overseas news interesting. Reading about the colossus of the times, leaders such as Nehru and Sukarno, Nkrumah and Nasser filled us with awe. The Cold War was actually pretty hot in those days with proxy battles of USA and the Soviet Union raging across the globe. Non-alignment made sense to the Third World.




Gorkhapatra the vernacular broadsheet was much more informative for those who read Nepali well, a feat not always mastered properly by us studying in the English medium in boarding schools. Gorkhapatra was the first newspaper in Nepal started by the liberal minded Prime Minister Maharjah Dev Shumsher in May of 1901 A.D. during his three short months in power. It was probably the time in Nepal, much like in Mao's China later, when they let a 'Hundred Flowers Bloom', the flowers were soon to wither away in Chandra Shumsher's long wintry rule.



Actually the first Type Printing Press was brought by Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana from his visit to England and it was kept at his private residence in Thapathali for printing important government publications including his Muluki Ain, the legal coda for Nepal. As the printer had an embossing of an image of an eagle as its trademark, perhaps mistaking it for a vulture, the Nepalese nicknamed it "Giddhe Press". It was this press that was first used to print Gorkhapatra the vernacular broadsheet by Dev Shumsher. Only after 59 years of its publication did it become a daily newspaper from 1960 A.D. The Rising Nepal English daily was started by the government in 1965 A.D. with Mr. Barun Shumsher Rana as its editor and it is still being printed today almost as an act of defiance since its earlier relevance has been lost as it cannot compete against the richer private publications.

We have come a long way since. The press is vibrant in Nepal today and regularly reports on the malaise in society and malfeasance in governance. However the problem I see today is that the press has started to take sides and has become mouthpieces for the political parties. Unless the Fourth Estate is loyal to Nepal our motherland, there is a danger that I will stop reading them but look for movie advertisements only - just like in those days of my youth!

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