From where it all began

Features Issue 146 Jan, 2014

 Holding on to old stories is necessary to remind the next generation of often overlooked achievements

Time tells a lot of stories but we only hear a precious few of them. And even those fade away when unfolding our own tales to the world. Maybe, for that very reason, we forget to appreciate the stories that came before ours; stories that recount the beginning of important achievements and the losses that came after. When talking to Frederick Selby, the author of ‘Postcards From Kathmandu’, I felt like I was indeed hearing an ancient tale, one that I needed to hear and remember for the priceless efforts engraved in it that recounted the efforts of people that made Nepal what she is today. Much of what he talks about is wrapped deep beneath in time and a lot are forgotten, only remembered once in a blue moon.

Selby’s stories revere the indelible works of Boris Lissanevitch, Father Moran, Edmund Hillary, Col. Jimmy Roberts, Werner Schultness and Toni Hagen -  figures who did everything they could to take Nepal to new heights but are often overlooked. In 1960, while working as an industrial advisor from the U.S Government for the Nepal Industrial Development Corporation, Selby became a part of many lives –  from that of King Mahendra to those of his brothers, Prince Basundhara, Prince Himalaya and his brother-in-law Maharaj Mayurbhanj. He produced the first picture postcards of Kathmandu and lent a helping hand in developing the industries of Nepal. Returning to the country once again to immerse himself in old memories with his daughter and grandson in tow, he tells me how Nepal taught him to appreciate life. “The early 1960s in Nepal was a time for idealism,” he says in his book.

Much has changed since he was last here. When asked if he feels bad about it, he gives me a very sensible answer. “People have to progress. Wanting Nepal to be the same as it was when I left would be selfish. Although I love the culture, I cannot tell people to hold on to it for me while other countries are making rounds of development.” Selby’s love for Nepal is irrevocable and so I ask him a question about an issue that has confused me - why would he want to be in Nepal when half the young population is heading out to his country? “People are lovely in Nepal,” he replies, humbly.

Writing everything down to tell a story to the world is a difficult job and Selby confesses it was the same for him too. “My country did try bringing development to Nepal and so it has on many levels but it forgot to create job opportunities for the people while helping to secure lives,” he says. “I won’t blame the people for their condition for they didn’t know much but the ones who did should have encouraged the population to get to work.”

Nepal has forever changed. ‘Postcards From Kathmandu’ vividly captures a moment in time – a time that continues to exist but only in different stories. As Selby writes in his book, “We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes.” Realizing this, he pleads to God to not let it happen to him. Maybe we should do the same.

Shelby says
“Students who come to the U.S to study should go back to Nepal. The country needs them. There are about 150,000 Nepalis in the U.S. They are everywhere now - we take a taxi and the driver says he is a Shrestha.”

“No American I talked to knew where Nepal was when I was preparing to leave for the country.”

 “In 1960 when I came to the country I stayed at Hotel Royal. At the time it was the only hotel in all of Nepal”

 “I blame foreign countries for Nepal’s incompetence – we provided sanitation and development programs leading to a population explosion but we failed to create job opportunities for them.”

“The Nepalese know how to work with hands – their handicrafts are one of the best in Asia.”

“I hope the culture doesn’t go away but I realize people have to progress.”