Devkota : The Child of Fortune

October 31, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, 1 Comment
Devkota : The Child of Fortune » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Santosh Raj Pathak
Padma Prasad Devkota was a former teacher of English literature at Tribhuvan University. He is also the only surviving son of Nepal's most beloved poet Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota. For this Laxmi Pooja, which also happens to be the birthday of Mahakavi Devkota, DREAMS team sat down with Padma Prasad Devkota to talk about his memories and assessment of his father. 

Early memories

I remember going to Darjeeling with my father. That was in the year 2011 BS. I pestered my father to buy me a toy airplane. There, my childlike eyes saw for the first time a remote controlled plane, which the shopkeeper flied around the shop. I was fascinated, but since it was too expensive, my father bought me a normal plane and a book of alphabets which was as big as me. We took the plane home, an adventure. Back then, there were only two taxi services in Kathmandu: Laxman Driver and Sitaram Driver. From the airport we took a taxi, Laxman Driver, and my new toys got left behind in it. They lived nearby at Kalikasthan. We went back the very next day to get my toys, and once I got them back, I promptly drowned the airplane in a tub of water.

I remember in Darjeeling we lived at the house of Surya Bikram Gyawali. Since I was very young, I troubled my father a lot. He had literary meetings to attend, and wanted to leave me at home with unknown females. When I protested, he pointed a policeman out to me and said, if you cry, the police will take you away and keep you for the whole day. So I stayed behind. Devkota3


In the year 2015 BS, my father asked me. “You are a big boy now, don’t you want to go to study?” “Yes, I do” I said, though I did not really understand the question. “I will admit you to a school, will you go?” he asked, “yes” I said, though, again, I did not know what a school was. So he had me admitted to Padmodaya High school, with my permission.


At home, we children were engrossed in our childish games, we did not really ask for our father’s time. But when we wanted to be with him, he never turned us away. We climbed on his back and pulled his hair while he was writing, and he never reacted.  He was always like that, calm and never coming to temper. He was the same at home and outside. His private and public personas were not different. He was what he was, wherever he was. If someone is different in private and public, then we need to understand that there is something wrong.


I have inherited no qualities of my father. I feel that he loved me least of all his children, even though I loved him the most. I may be mistaken though. Two of my elder brothers had died when I was very young. I was the only son my parents had left, and also the youngest child. Maybe that is why my father used to take me around with him often. I remember going to literary conferences with him, and meeting Bhimnidihi Tiwari, Madhav Ghimire, and other contemporary poets. Later, at school, I was more interested in the poems of Madhav Ghimire or Kedarman Vyathit, but not so much in Indra Bahadur Rai’s.  I was biased towards people I knew.


While my father was alive, we took him as a normal father. But after his death, I was traumatized. I was studying at St. Xavier’s in Jawalakhel, and was in grade II or III. Bandhu Prakashan had published my father’s biography, a thin volume with a blue cover. The cover had the famous smiling photo of him. I was a boarder at the school. I took the book with me, and during study hours, I would take it out and put it on the edge. Father Downing used to walk by, checking if the students were reading. I wanted him to notice the book. For many days he did not, but one day he stopped by, picked up the book, and asked. “Is this your father?” When I got the opportunity to say yes, my heart filled with pride.


Devkota’s writing

Because my father passed away when I was not even ten, I felt like I did not understand him when he was alive. When I grew up, I began reading his works in a bid to understand him better. I found surprising revelations. Many people assume Devkota was a modern poet, or a free verse one. Probably because the poem Paagal is so famous. His other famous work, Muna Madan, adds to his image as a folk writer. But this puts his classical talents at shadow. He was a classical poet, first and foremost. He could write in the most complicated meters and make it sound lyrical. All of his works were imbued with deep philosophy. His writings had the lofty and sublime quality, and a representation of the collective unconscious through mythology, that I find missing in most contemporary literature. I say this though I am no expert of Nepali literature. Writers of today write more for individual identity, while in my father’s age, writers like Bal Krishna Sama, BP Koirala, Guru Prasad Mainali and Lekhnath Paudyal wrote for the nation. There were barely a hundred good Nepali books then. Devkota and his contemporaries wanted to enrich Nepali literature, give readers quality art, and develop a national corpus.


I like all of my father’s creations. I do not have favorites. However, I avoid political poems. Which is perhaps the reason I do not consider Pagal, perhaps his most popular work, to be his finest. Though it is a laudable poem in itself, it is mainly a poem of political rebellion. It is not artistically strong as his other creations. It is too simple. It has easy contrasts, for example, I smell sound, and I hear the inaudible. Anyone can say this. There are instances when even Pagal is poetic: “where the moonlight smiles on iron, and there I see Padmini.” But it is not consistent. I like Jureliko Gaan instead, which is very poetic, I have translated it myself. And when I read the poem Saghan Tamishra Prati (To the dark night), I was so awed by it that I memorized it when i was very young. I still know it by heart. But many would not even understand the title of the poem, because the language is so rich with Sanskrit inputs.


Devkota’s personality Devkota1

My father was eccentric. You have to understand that to understand his writing. Sometimes he would be so engrossed in writing, he would not come to eat hours after the food was ready. He slept when he wanted, went where he pleased, gambled as he liked. He did not follow the clock. Sometimes he would be gone for days, and sometimes give away prized possessions. And yet, because we saw people come looking for him and respect him, we admired him as children.  Naturally, for every child, their father is a hero.


There were many who were enthralled by his personality. He was multitalented: a polyglot who spoke Nepali, Hindi, Tamang, Sanskrit, Newari, and a few other languages. He could compose effortlessly in all of those. He was a master of literature, mythology, folklore, and philosophy.  He often experimented with language. Coleridge had said in his introduction to lyrical ballads that he wants to express the ordinary in extra ordinary ways. Devkota has done the same, writing even about sisnu and dust with symbols and metaphors. Not everyone can do that. When he spoke, he could mesmerize the audience with the fluency of his speech and power of his arguments. His ideas were lofty, his poems sublime. No wonder, he was famous for the entirety of his persona before people could even get to his writings. I see nothing wrong with that. To admire a beautiful lyrical poem, you need not understand the words. The beauty of the meter (chhanda) itself can entrance you. My father was the same.


Devkota’s vision

Many say that Devkota was ahead of his time. But what do they mean by that? Today the debate of whether or not to teach children in their mother tongue has gained wide currency. But Devkota knew even then that limiting yourself to a local language was not the answer. In the poem Rastriya Gaan (which few people have read), Devkota has unified the languages, ethnicities, and castes of Nepal. In an impassioned speech in the parliament, he had rejected the proposal of making Hindi the national language of Nepal.


In a book called Nepali Bhasa, Devkota wrote an essay of the same name, along with some other earliest linguists of Nepal. “If there is a universal language that can communicate to people of the world, we will learn it. But until then, our national language must be Nepali, because regional languages cannot reach out to wider audiences. We must develop regional languages along with the national languages, ignoring national language will come at a huge cost” he had said. Our leaders could just have read a few lines from this essay to make the people understand that the nation is not limited to a region.


After 1951, Devkota went abroad, and realized that while the nation is important, the outside world could not be ignored. His began moving towards an international nationalism, writing about international issues. VS Naipual has written a novel called mimic men, about people who copy imperialists. But Devkota had known about these mimic men long ago. He called them labarpaande, people who only copied India and did nothing else. Why do we realize that these concepts exist only after foreign writers make theories about them, while we ignore the insights of our own gems? Devkota’s ideas are still relevant today.

Mother Manadevi

My mother Manadevi was used to my father’s eccentricities. She nurtured him and the family out of love. After my father’s death, she was the one who brought the family up, despite struggles. And yet, history has not judged her kindly. Just recently, there was an article in Nepal magazine about her. The writer Basanta Sharma alleged that my mother took my father’s salary from his coat pocket before he had even entered the room, and spent it at the Kunja. The insinuation was that the Mahakavi’s wife frittered away his fortune.


Now, it was well known to the world that my father was eccentric. When he was coming home from work, he could very well have given away money every step of the way, to debtors and to anyone else who asked. He could have given away even his clothes to a beggar. He lived in his own world, did not care how the world ran itself. And my mother was the one who took the brunt of his eccentricity, trying to run a house with what little he could spare from his whimsical activities. Naturally, she wanted to take and keep safely my father’s salary. When he had any left in his pocket, that is.


After 2004 BS, my father was forced to go to Benaras after a fiery political speech. My family was isolated. People knew of my father’s association with the Nepali Congress, and feared to come close. Not even my mother’s maiti visited herWe were still very young. Imagine the burden it placed on a lone, illiterate woman to support her family, when she had no way of getting a job. And one of my brothers had just died. To get away from the pressure of these worldly problems, my mother sometimes went to listen to Bhajans at the Kunja. Wealthy women of her community may well have donated to the Kunja, but my mother had no fortune to fritter. I am pretty sure Basanta Kumar Sharma did not see her do so, he was writing merely on heresy. It is a shame that responsible journalists do not make the effort to check their facts before they make allegations.


Devkota’s legacy Devkota8

If Devkota had just written the Muna-Madan, he would still be a great poet of Nepal. But he has given us so much more. There may be just as many younger writers influenced by his writing as with his personality. Jagdish Ghimire confessed that when he sits down to write, all he can think of is Devkota’s style, and tore away an entire Khandakavya. Poets like Bairagi Kainla, of the generation that immediately succeeded Devkota’s, told themselves and their contemporaries that their writing must be different from Devkota’s. So in a way, their writing, which consciously moved away from Devkota’s style, was influenced by Devkota as well. But a full study of the impact of his writing is yet to be carried out.


People come to me every year and ask about how many children he had and what his habits were. But I do not think these are important. Yes, there are many facets of Devkota unexplored, but they can all be found in his words. Despite his visionary ideas and his multiple talents, Devkota’s most enduring legacy is that of a poet. A poet’s duty is to change the society through his words, and that’s what he did.


Devkota is like another Himalaya in Nepal. We know he exists, we praise him, but we never really understand him. Instead of introducing him as an object, we need to focus on his vision. Every Laxmi Pooja, I am happy that Nepalis everywhere celebrate him. But I plan to stay at home and avoid the hullaballoo myself. Journalists come once a year, and ask me how many siblings I had, they don’t ask about Devkota. When I say anything about Devkota, they misquote me. And if they can, they criticize me for hindering the conservation of Devkota’s house. Why would I hinder it? It is easy to criticize, but the reality is that people just want to take credit for doing the work, but no one really wants to work. I am always concerned about preserving my father’s legacy through the Devkota Study and Research Center. We are a small organization, voluntarily run, and not given much to publicity, but if you want to learn about Devkota, you are always welcome there. 




Text by: Sewa Bhattarai in conversation with Padma Devkota (Laxmi Pd. Devkota’s son)
Photographer: Santosh Raj Pathak
Historical (B/W) Image Source: Documentary on Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota by Yadav Kharel

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One comment on “Devkota : The Child of Fortune

  1. Dipak Devkota says:

    It would seem from the above that the only surviving son is Padma Devkota. There is another one who survives to this day, that’s Dipak, Padma’s younger brother.
    This is a nice piece of intimate conversation.

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