Discovery of Nepali (Satis Shroff)
Nepali was spoken at home but it was in the English school that I learned Nepali literature when it was introduced as a subject for the Senior Cambridge. We read the short stories of Guru Prasad Mainali, a fisher story ‘ The Price of Fish,’ and other writers Nepalese writers.
I learned Nepali as a mother-tongue, spoken in the simple way as in the hills of Nepal. It was the advent of the Gorkhapatra and Radio Nepal, when everyone seemed to be varying a battery-run transistor radio that more Sanskrit words came into usage. The Nepali school curriculum has Sanskrit as a compulsory subject so school children learn it early. It’s the elderly folk in the hills who speak the simple Nepali.
Both Nepali and Newari (Nepal Bhasa) which are spoken in Kathmandu and the diaspora in Assam, Darjeeling area and where the Gurkhas and the Nepalese students and workers have settled down. There are other language such as Maithili spoken in the Terai, Thakali, Tibetan, Tamangbhasa, Magar, Gurungbhasa, Kirante (language of the Rais and Limbus).
The script used in Nepali, Newari and Hindi is Devnagari and many words have their origin in the Tibeto-Burman language group, from English since the British Raj. Anglicism was brought to Nepal by the Gurkha sepoys, who worked for the British in India, and in their many battles all over the world where British interests lay, competing with France, Portugal and Spain in carrying out trade, exploiting these countries and also nabbing and selling humans as slaves. It might be noted that slavery was abolished in Nepal as late as 1924.
The Nepali language has 36 consonants and 12 vowels and there aree other sound-words like ‘ada’ and ‘addha. The consonans have the following sounds: guttural (voicebox): ka, kha, ga gha, ang.’ Palatale sounding (using the front of the palate) are: words cha, chha, ja, jha, anga.
Then we have the retroflexe sounds (the palate is touched by the tip of the tongue): ta, tha, da, dha na.
There are also dental sounds (teeth sounds): ta, tha, da, dha, na.
Labial sounds (using just the lips):
Half vowels: ya, ra, law, wa
Zisch sounds: scha sha sa
Ha, akshya, tra, gya ada addha
Nepali is a delightful, colourful language spoken in the foothills of the country. Prithvi Narayan Shah, who became the king of Gorkha in 1743, conquered Kathmandu Valley in 1768 and united Nepal in 1794. Till then, what now is Nepal, was a heterogenous collection of rival principalities. Nepali was introduced as the Lingua franca. In neighboring India, since there were so many languages, the British colonialists decided to make English the official language of the subcontinent, and all government correspondence, gazettes and newspapers were printed in English. The vernacular languages Urdu, Hindi, Sindhi, Bengali, Gujerati, and the Dravidian languages Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam existed in the background. When the different ethnic communities took pride and wanted to speak only in their languages, the catastrophe of a language-salad would have been perfect for the Indians themselves, and for the colonial powers (Portugese were in Goa and the French in Pondicherry).
Everyone is a poet in Nepal and most Nepalese poets use pseudonyms. Bahuns (priests) who had gone to Varanasi (old Benaras) could read and write Sanskrit verses, scriptures of Hinduism and perform long recitals of mantras and sutras in Sanskrit. The world of Hindu rituals, pujas, birth and initation, marriage and death ceremonies were where the Sanskrit-educated agitated as mediators between humans and the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. As a jotisi you could get a high position as a royal astrologer (Raj Guru) in the King’s court.
The Chettris and Bahuns peak grammatically correct even in their homes, and differentiate between male and females tenses and suffixes which makes the
language sophisticated in comparison to the simple spoken Nepali of the hill people, especially the tribals. The Bahuns and Chettris belong to the privileged caste due to their differentiated and grammatically correct language. The Bahuns (priest caste) are intellectually well-versed in Sanskrit, extroverted because they do a lot of socializing by visiting different families and communicating with them before and after performing their vedic puja rituals.
The Nepalese vocabulary increased immensely when the Panchayat System was introduced by King Mahendra. The Panchayat system was based on Hinduism in which five village elders from the village were elected, all males, of course.
In the aftermath of the Maoist revolution in Nepal women became warriors and fought with men fired by the socialist, communist ideology but when the war as over it brought women-fighters who made their way into society. In spite of that it is still a society dominated by the macho males and patriarchs. Women now join the police and army and work a female Gurkhas in Britain and the Nepal Army.
The hard-working women’s place was, like in Germany where women were responsible for Kinder, Küche and Kirche, that is, looking after the children, cooking and going to church to pray. The earning as done by men, who carved out more rights for themselves in the patriarchal society, where women were lesser beings fond of clothes, cosmetics, setting up a good home and learning to put on airs in conversation parlours and dancing schools and Fasnet celebrations. Moreover, women were given lesser pay. But things are changing for the better as conservative governments change and more is being hoped for in Germany’s new ‘Ampel’ (traffic light) government.
In times of Corona we have seen how underpaid and vulnerable the nursing and caring profession actually is, exposed as they are to the deadly viruses, exhausted, overworked, and yet going to work. What a sacrifice. These are the heroines and heroes of the societies all over the world’s hospitals and Care Homes.
Have the ears become inferior to the eyes in this age of tik tok, meta, youtube, twitter and other social media where everything is translated into images? Poems are expected to be short and not epic, texts short and to the point, not long essays. Films have to be cut to size. Short episodes in demand. Don’t have the muse and time for a fat novel? Read a novella. Writing is re-editing.
Time is money, eh?