Nepal kina banena?” (Why did Nepal not make it?) is an engaging read revisiting the opinion articles of the late Pushkarlal Shrestha, publisher-editor of a high order. By the time he passed way in April 2019, he was the senior-most editor among the helmsmen of the three dozen or so broadsheet dailies published in the country.
The eventual doyen of Nepali stage and screen journalism, Shrestha published and edited the Kamana magazine in 1984, which became an instant hit, when the total number of movies produced in Nepal was, until then, hardly a dozen. But sensing early signs of the cine-sector becoming more prolific, the former national football player ventured into the uncertain sector that a few had tried earlier, only to fold up without ceremony.
Keen to expand the publishing organisation’s output, Shrestha launched the Mahanagar afternoon daily that went on to become a viable proposition. Until the end it was the leading afternoon news read but the field got too crowded and half-baked news presented for sensationalism flooded the small space. The fast emerging online journalism made the afternoon venture in print no longer a worthwhile venture.
As the latest offer from Kamana News Publications Pvt. Ltd., the nearly 300-page “Nepal kina banana?” contains 40 of the late pioneering chief editor’s bylined articles published from November 2000 to November 2018 in Nepal Samacharpatra broadsheet daily that he edited.
It is the product of highly observant eyes and engaging narratives that are at once topical and of relevance even today. His understanding of current issues in the web of ongoing discrepancies and deficiencies, aggravated by chronic inconsistencies, make formidable narratives. An energetic watchdog of events, he left his eyes and ears wide open for opinion articles essayed in a style few can match. He does not beat about the bush when bringing forth the pressing issues at stake, unsparing as he is in tossing up topics and discussing them thread bare.
Straightforward with his readers, Shrestha shares anecdotes and analogies for appropriate impact. The hazards of being keenly observant, professionally factual and impartial — he bore it all. He was at once a UMLite, a Maoist, a royalist and a Congressite — all rolled into one, which means he was nobody’s man, as his critical compass pointed at those in the corridors of power, never failing to remind political leaders what they promised and what was actually delivered.
One after another, the two score articles are a treat to go through. They present valuable information crisscrossing the whole spectrum of Nepali society— political, cultural, professional -- and what have you. The celebrated scribe gives credit to the deserving and does not hesitate to name names, whatever the consequences. A proactive editor, his views are as starkly relevant today as they were earlier.
A professional journalist pleases few among partisan groups. During Nepal’s first communist party cabinet, headed by UML leader Manmohan Adhikary in 1995-96, Information and Communications Minister Pradeep Nepal appointed Shrestha a member of the board of directors at the national news agency, RSS. Overnight, some tagged him a UMLite. Later, on being awarded the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu medal, a few whispered whether he was a Congressite, with the Nepali Congress government at Singha Durbar. He was not only granted royal audiences by King Birendra and, later, King Gyanendra, but was included in the royal entourage to the 2005 Dhaka SAARC summit, which prompted tongues wagging at him as a royalist.
His son Direklal Shrestha, who now takes the full reins of the organisation, is stating only the obvious in describing his illustrated father as an energetic, conscientious and unpretentious professional publisher-chief editor. The collection of articles is an unputdownable read, laden as it is with wide and topical appeal. The staccato narrative is strewn with pertinent points, incisive arguments and unambiguous conclusions.
The prose glides and glows bright. Secrets and emotions of the human heart are explored. The scribe has a feel for the readers’ taste and is at pace with the trend in points of argument and fact-based logic. I read him with avid interest, as I do the sparingly written comments by Naya Patrika’s Publisher-Chief Editor Krishna Jwala Devkota. Rarely do I miss Kishore Nepal’s write-ups, the senior-most among three. Nepal donned the chief editor’s hat of several news publications, including the nation’s oldest newspaper, the Gorkhapatra, and the now-defunct tabloid daily Naya Sadak.
In the introductory segment, Direklal Shrestha submits an absorbing piece accounting for interesting facts pieced together with specific names, dates and occasions but without losing track of Pushkarlal — the man and the editor-publisher. He recalls how 200,000 copies were sold out when Nepal Samacharpatra scored a massive scoop on the royal massacre. Demand for its copies kept mounting but the management had to stop the press, as the staff were too exhausted and the next day’s edition had to be prepared.
Moreover, the actual loss would keep growing when the more copies they sold, the larger the loss would be. That is the economics of the printed news, whose advertising revenue is predetermined and does not compensate for any bonanza by way of any dramatic hike in sold copies.
Direklal Shrestha, who now heads the Kamana Publications, pledges to carry on the legacy his father set. In fact, he learnt the ropes of the organisation as the director looking after the distribution department when the royal massacre occurred and Nepal Samacharpatra scooped where the rest of the media looked outdone.
As an editor, Puskarlal Shrestha stood shoulder to shoulder with his peers. His sheer vision of bringing out the cine-magazine, Kamana, is underscored by the fact it debuted as the No. 1 entertainment magazine and carries the lead 40 years after, too. Its success paved the way for Sadhana, the leading health magazine, which all boils down to hoping fervently that a postage stamp will only pay a glowing tribute to the late Shrestha’s pioneering and professional performance. He should not go unsung, lest we be condemned to being blind, dumb and ungrateful to the deserving.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)