Tide of Times Crush On Column Writing
Scribing seems to be an exacting undertaking for even people projected as “experts”. Many individuals projected by the news media -- print and broadcast -- have a big appetite for being seen and heard but they shrink and cringe when faced with suggestions that they put down their valued views to pen and paper. Writing regularly, apparently, is an exacting effort. Producing a weekly column is by no means everybody’s cup of tea. Nor is it so for this scribe who has undertaken such venture for more than 40 years, come rain or shine.
Not many summon the will and energy to write opinion pieces. Some are reluctant to offer space to those seen as even remotely potential threat to their editorship in an industry where demands for editors are very sparing.
Monday has always been my date as a columnist with TRN in print, though the write-up is faithfully submitted at least two days ahead to be consigned to print. The choice was on account of the fact that Saturday had less distractions at office with fewer staff around and less activity. By the early 1980s, Saturday was my regular weekday off. This gave me a free time for opinion crafting.
In the spring of 1976, a few months after Mana Ranjan Josse succeeded the founder editor Barun S. Rana the previous winter, this scribe made a debut as columnist carrying the slug Potpourri. They included Reporting Times, Far & Wide and, at times, EagleEye.
My seniors and contemporaries have written, taken breathers and resumed writing their columns. Probably they had better things to do. Scribing, admittedly, is not the sole choice for anyone. I happen to keep going, as long as I am given the space and modest remuneration. This novice in 1973 was paid Rs 45 per an occasional piece when the monthly salary was Rs. 525 for a sub-editor. To put the records straight, Mana Ranjan Josse remains Nepal’s senior-most newspaper columnist -- and with the most consistently researched contents all these 50 years and more.
Only twice have I been interrupted by rude stoppage of the column -- in 1994 and 2006 -- in the wake of sweeping “political changes” in the country. Once, in early 1993, the Column In Black & White, launched in 1992, nearly received a red rag but for the vocal support of Yuba Nath Lamsal, who expressed dismay on finding that I was about to stop writing the column altogether on being quietly told not to write on political issues. In a well-attended editorial staff meeting, Lamsal defended the column, “His is the most widely read column, and yet I hear that it is not appearing any longer. If true, it would be a great loss for the paper.” That created an electrifying effect on the whole assembly, and Editor Tara Nath Sharma responded, “I only suggested that he write on any topic other than politics. But he is free to write on any topic.”
One of the points against me was that the column’s “Without Comment” segment carried Nepali Congress leader Ganesh Man Singh’s public remark: “A revolution devours its own child.” Many thought that it alluded to the incumbent Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. The column continued, offering its scribe the space for pen-pushing as usual.
A year later in November 1993, I stopped contributing to my professional alma mater after quitting the executive editor’s job at TRN but continued writing for the Sunday Despatch, as its founder editor who planned, designed and led it during its most formative stage. But a year later, when I quit TRN, I was informed by the Sunday Despatch editor Lok Deep Thapa that he had been under relentless pressure to scrap my column. Wearing a visibly forlorn look, Thapa said: “But our days will come.” When I returned as TRN’s chief editor before the year 1994 rung out, the Despatch editor was among the most enthusiastic ones to see his former colleague return as the head of till-then the largest circulating English daily, with 10,500 copies in daily circulation.
Barring a year of rejection, I have unfailingly filed my columns to TRN every week since the first Monday of January 1995. Came the 2006 political change, and I was informed by its chief editor Ajay Rana that the management did not want my column to be carried any more. Barely a year later, Lamsal, donning the new chief editor’s hat, invited me to resume contributing to the paper. There have been no breaks—so far. By now, I am very indifferent to such amusing antics and eventualities, having been witness to a variety of ups and downs in the national political and professional scenes. The fact, however, remains: Of the record 3,000 articles I have written, no less than half of them have been for TRN.
Articles by politicians heavily dominating the opinion pages’ top slot should be a matter of consternation. Occasional sparing space for political leaders and activists might not be out of order but to allow too many of them too much space does not bode well for a news outlet’s professional variety and credibility. Lack of variety in the opinion pages makes a newspaper bone dry.
TRN seems to be the only daily willing to give space to its critics -- a tradition that was initiated in the earlier days of the only newspaper in English to celebrate more than 50 years of uninterrupted existence.
In 1968, Editor Barun S. Rana asked Kamal Prakash Malla, of the English Department at the Tribhuvan University, to write a review of three years of the daily launched in December 1965. The invitation itself was courageously unusual then, as it is also now. “Three Years of The Rising Nepal: For Whom the Bell Tolls” was a blistering critique from start to finish. But it was not the critic but the editor who got kudos from readers for inviting someone to vent vitriolic views on the paper’s contents, publish the conclusions and duly remunerate the scribe for the same. Malla’s 3,000-word tirade including the line: “Reading The Rising Nepal is like watching the wrinkled breasts of a ... woman.” I have not found any major news media doing so in the past 44 years.
A major daily’s editor in 2010 had asked me to write a “weekly or, if you choose, fortnightly column on media”, to which I bought some time to answer. A few days later, the editor switched gears, “On second thoughts, I realised that criticism of fellow journalists and their media could be painful for them. The other day, Nagarik carried an item criticising us, and I felt bad. Similar would be their experience if we carried critical articles commenting on them.” In the same breath, the apologetic editor, revised his offer, “Instead, you could write on other issues.”