Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Grishma Bahadur Devkota’s Magnum Opus

Harsha Man Maharjan


Many people might have come to know about scholar Grishma Bahadur Devkota (1917-1995) through his multivolume books on Nepali politics that meticulously document important happenings from 1950 to 1982. In the field of media studies, he is famous for his magnum opus, Nepalko Chhapakhana Ra Patrapatrikako Itihas (History of Nepali Printing Press and Newspapers).
In his lifetime, Devkota was involved in party politics, and held positions in government organisations. Born in Naradevi, Kathmandu in 1917, he was educated in his home. He joined Prajatantrik Congress Party, and then worked as the publicity Secretary of Samyukta Prajatantra Party of Dr. K. I. Singh. He was a member of Management Board of Gorkhapatra Corporation since 1972 for long time, of Royal Press Commission formed in 1981, of Press Council in 1981, and of Rajya Sabha Sthai Samiti.
He wrote five books. Among them, four volumes were on Nepali politics: Nepalko Rajneetik Darpan [1960], Nepalko Rajneetik Darpan: Aam Nirbachan ra Tespachhi (1977), Nepalko Rajneetik Darpan: Panchayat Byabasthako Pradurbhab (1983), and Nepalko Rajneetik Darpan : Janamat Sangraha Ra Tyaspachhi (1983). In its issue of 15 April 1960, The Motherland wrote the first book “has all at once done the assimilation and collection of those valuable cuttings out of the debris of newspapers, brochures, press statements and public speeches of various party leaders and like materials from press and publications.” This also applies to other three volumes. Last one is Nepalko Chhapakhana ra Patrapatrikako Itihas (1967), a big volume discussing different aspects of the history of Nepali periodicals/newspapers.
The chapters under early four parts do fit well. The first part contains message from kings to newspapers, and sayings of dignitaries about newspapers. The second part discusses the history of printing presses. The third part provides information on different kinds of newspapers and periodicals published mainly in Nepali. However, the chapters included in the fourth part may look scattered as it informs about different aspects like writing editorials and editors’ names, periodicals published by women and women contributors in periodicals, publication of cartoons and photos in newspapers.
Nonetheless, some chapters put together in remaining parts do not fit. The fifth part contains not only the chapters on news agency, national and international organisations of journalists, but also the chapters on the condition of economic condition of newspaper, government support to newspapers, and circulation of newspapers in other countries. If we think that this part is about media organisations such as news agencies and journalists’ association, the author could have kept the later chapters under a different part. The sixth part deals with everything related to foreign from Nepali journalists’ visits to foreign countries, their participation in different assemblies organised by journalists associations to order to representatives of foreign journalists to leave Nepal.
The seventh part includes the chapters having the information not fit in pervious chapters such as radio broadcasting, archives and libraries, advertising agencies, and exhibition of periodicals. In this part, we clearly see that the chapter on broadcasting, archives and libraries go beyond the scope of the title of the book and hence excluded from the book. The chapters included in the eighth part are not only about press commission, code of conduct of journalists in Nepal recommended by the Press Commission and such codes in some countries, but also about copyright Act. Like part seven, the chapter devoted to Press Commission seems odd in this part as all other chapters except this one, are related to ethical and legal issues. The part nine is about constitutional and legal provisions related to press and publication. The tenth part, which covers, more than a half of the total pages of the book, is about legal action taken by the governments to newspapers, and six appendices.
Though author was not able to put his chapters well under different parts and included some chapters beyond the title of the book, these weaknesses of the structure of the book have not reduced its importance. Scholar Rishikesh Shaha rightly said that this book includes whatever information the author was able to collect. Shiva Regmi called it a ‘dictionary’ and a valuable book for anyone interested to conduct research about periodicals. He also thought that earlier books were incomplete in comparison to this book. Rishikesh Saha also aptly described the contribution of book, in his introduction.
Scholar Dharma Adhikari translated a part of it into English in his column published in Republica: “Given that we have here a culture of expressing our opinions based on speculations and hearsay, especially on public topics, I have no doubt that the efforts of the likes of Shri Grishma Bahadur Devkota have created a path for the future genesis of wisdom and ideas based on scientific and actual truth”. In my previous columns, I have discussed that Grishma Bahadur Devkota expanded the tradition followed by Bhagawati Prasad Shrestha who wrote two small books on periodicals. This book is more comprehensive than the previous ones. It is very useful to know ‘everything under sun’ about the history of Nepali periodical/journalism and hence scholars often read and cite it.
Scholars have to make sense of the making of the book and the mind of the creator through it. As we only have access to his writings, one way left for scholars is to read and re-read them to understand him and his research. We might be able to find some clues by tracing Nepali and foreign resources he took help to write this book. Further research about him by comparing his writings with other contemporary researchers in the field of media studies is necessary.

(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.)