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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Gorkhapatra Keeps Moving Steadily

 

Yuba Nath Lamsal

“I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever”

These are the excerpts from Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Brook’ in which the poet beautifully portrays the life and journey of a river that begins as a small rivulet to grow bigger before joining the vast ocean. Like the poem, the Gorkhapatra had a humble beginning and grew slowly and steadily to become the proud and living history of Nepali media industry.

Writing about the Gorkhpatra is, thus, writing the history of Nepali newspapers and journalism. The Gorkhapatra is the pioneer newspaper in Nepal which began in 1901. The Gorkhapatra is the seed from which Nepal’s journalism grew fast and steadily to become a vibrant media industry.

Generally newspapers and media industry begin and prosper in the open and democratic ambience. The Gorkhapatra publication started when the country was reeling under the family oligarchy of Ranas that denied free expression and dissenting voice. Rana rulers considered education and information as an instrument that may dig a dipper grave for their own demise. Even a sane person would not opt to begin a newspaper when country’s literacy rate was less than 5 per cent, let alone the number of people who could buy newspapers and read. But a reform minded Dev Sumsher Rana took this initiative that sowed the seed of journalism and newspaper in Nepal.

Jang Bahadur Rana, who began the Rana family oligarchy through what notoriously called as the Kot Massacre, visited Britain in 1850. Jung Bahadur Rana was highly impressed by the prosperity and development of Britain. He saw the tradition of British aristocrats reading newspapers during the morning breakfast. It is believed that Jung Bahadur Rana brought a hand-press with him to Nepal from London, perhaps, with the idea in mind to begin a newspaper in Nepal. But it is only the guess work as it did not materialize in Jang Bahadur’s life time. Even his successors did not show any interest as newspapers were considered inimical to the then regime.

Dev Sumsher Rana, who took power after his brother Bir Sumsher Rana’s death, was a reform minded ruler. He tried to introduce some positive initiatives to bring about reforms in the country. Dev Sumsher Rana began the publication of Gorkhapatra, which was also a noble idea of that time as the literacy rate was exceptionally low. It is, perhaps, due to his reforms and liberal approach, Dev Sumsher was forced out of power from his own siblings within a short period of three months.

The publication of the Gorkhapatra started not in a planned way and not with much afterthought. It began with the cynicism of a ruler. As goes the hearsay, a few copies of Gorkhapatra had been printed when Britain’s future king Edward VII was invited for a hunting in Nepal during his visit to India in 1890. Ranas had heard that British royalties and aristocrats had the habit of reading newspapers during their breakfast.  The Ranas ordered to print a few copies of Gorkhapatra to show the British dignitary that Nepal also had newspaper. But Edward did not come to Kathmandu and returned from the far-western Nepal after hunting. This is not in record and has remained merely a tittle-tattle.

The Gorkhapatra has continued its publication without any interruption for over 121 years no matter how difficult and tumultuous period and circumstances it was. There are a very few newspapers in the world with such a long and continued history as Gorkhapatra has. The Gorkhapatra is owned by the government owing to which it is called the government’s newspaper. But the Gorkhapatra is a history and heritage of Nepal and the entire Nepali media fraternity.

In its long history, the Gorkhapatra has been a witness to many tumultuous changes and political upheavals. It saw the Rana family regime, monarchical multi-party system, Panchayat regime under king’s absolute power, restoration of democracy, and the present republican system. In the 121 years, many regimes came and disappeared. Several newspapers were born and perished. But the Gorkhapatra, like Tennyson’s ‘Brook,’ keeps on going and continues its journey. The beginning of the Gorkhapatra was, of course, humble as a weekly one. Later it came out twice a week and finally a daily. Now the Gorkhapatra has become a publishing house with some sister publications like English daily ‘The Rising Nepal’, monthly Literary magazine Madhuparka, Children’s monthly magazine Muna and youth magazine ‘ Yuva Manch’.  

However, a question always hunts the Gorkhapatra as to whom it serves. Being a government owned newspaper, this question will always keep on striking. In response, a former editor of The Rising Nepal had once said ‘The Gorkhapatra serves the people by serving the government’. After the restoration of democracy, another frequently asked question is: Should the government own and run the newspaper in a democracy? Here lies the onus for the Gorkhapatra to give the answer by action and prove its worth and relevance in the days to come.

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