Saturday, 4 December, 2021
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OPINION

Tek Bahadur Khatri: An Early Media Historian



Harsha Man Maharjan

 

After I decided that I will join RR Campus to study Journalism and Mass Communication in the late 1990s, I think the first book I saw in a senior's home was a photocopy binding of Tek Bahadur Khatri's Nepal's Mass Media. I borrowed that book which later became my best guide to the history of mass media in Nepal. I did not care about the author at that time, though. While working on this piece, I came to know that he was born on December 3, 1933. From journalists Dhruba Hari Adhikary and Jayadev Bhattarai, I also knew that Khatri passed away on December 21, 2005 (Poush 6, 2062). After I joined Martin Chautari, I found his other books on mass media.
Khatri was a civil servant. He joined civil service in 1954 as an election officer and was appointed the chief editor of Nepali newspaper, Gorkhapatra, in 1956. It seems he worked at the Department of Information.  He became the deputy director of this department in 1967 and the joint secretary of the Ministry of Communications in 1974. He also became the General Manager of Gorkhapatra Corporation in 1970.
Khatri seems to have written about 15 books. Among them, Choita (1960) and Mera Kehi Choitaharu (1985) contain his poems. Eight books were not related to the media: Nepal Bharat Sambandha: Mitratako Gatha (1963), Nepal:  A Glimpse (1964), Panchayat Aaja: Nepalko Sambidhanko Dosro Samsodhanusara (1976), Development: Concept and Strategy (1982), Fairs and festivals of Nepal (1982), Panchayat –prashnottar (1982), Sahi Nepali Senako Itihas (1984), and Nepalko Panchayat Pranali (1987). He also wrote five books on media: The Postage Stamps of Nepal (1971), Mass Communications in Nepal (1976), Nepalma Sarbajanik Sanchar (1976), Nepal's Mass Media (1983), and Nepali Sanchar kshetrako Chinari (1984). He stopped writing books on media after 1984, but we don't know why.

Prolific writer
Two things become clear if we go through his five books. First, we don't see other authors as prolific like him when it comes to writing books on media during the Panchayat period. Second, he was one of the early authors who paid attention to the evolution of means of mass media in Nepal.
It was not that there was no attempt to write about the history of media before Khatri's books came out, but those previous attempts were focussed on one or two aspects such as printing press and newspapers. Its best example is the magnum opus of Grihsma Bahadur Devkota, Nepalko Chhapakhana Ra Patra-patrikako Itihas published in 1967. In this book, the author has discussed vignettes of the history of printing and newspapers in Nepal and about half of the book is dedicated to highlighting the action taken by the government against newspapers.
However, the books on media, especially four-- if we don't count his books on postal stamps-- show that he has paid attention to almost all aspects of mass media. This becomes evident with the use of words such as "mass communication" or "mass media" in the titles of the books.  While reading the books, it becomes clearer that he wrote the books also with an intention to discuss the evolution of mass media in Nepal. That means though the title does not reflect that these books are the attempts to write history of media in Nepal, the chronological presentation of facts proves that he was interested in history. Often he starts his discussion from the past and ends it in the present. For example, the first paragraph of the chapter, "Information Services" in his book, Mass Communications in Nepal, discusses that in 1948, Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher Rana appointed his son Bijaya Shumsher as the director general of the Publicity Department and the department published an informative booklet. Then, the next paragraph deals with the situation after 1950. In his "forword" Radha Prasad Ghimire, the then Minister of State for Communications, said: "Mr. Khatri has traced the chequered history of Nepali mass-media and has presented an overall picture of this field in a broader perspective". The phrase "chequered history" highlights that what Khatri wrote was indeed history and sometimes his narrative was not so linear.

No historical bent
Still, we should not forget that the content he has included in his books is not entirely related to history.  If we look at the same book, we do not find the chapter "Mass Media and Development" with a historical bent. It is rather an essay on the possibility of using means of mass media for the development of societies. Despite this, we can agree that he was one of the early historians of media who helped understand the evolution of means of mass media in Nepal. 
Khatri was undoubtedly an early historian of media in Nepal. Before him, scholars had written history of the printing press and newspapers, and we don't find any attempt to understand the evolution of overall mass media in Nepal. After Khatri, the next such attempt was made by Shiva Regmi and P. Kharel in their book, Nepalma Aamsancharko Bikas (2002). This time, the authors used the word "bikas" in the title to make clear that the book indeed falls under media history. This book is a refined and updated version of the work Khatri did in his lifetime. 

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