During the occasions when I visited some major cities of India I saw book hawkers with their wares of paperbacks laid out for sale, at very reasonable prices, on the pavements. Buying books at less than the back cover printed price, one felt a sense of having availed of a bargain! This happening was because these were ‘Out of Season’ books - almost like fashion wear, an essential custom that took place every year to make space for new creations.
Such books sold at discounted rates to augment the sale of new books, found their way to Nepal. It was only the decision of the government to make the importers of such books to pay tax at the printed cost that resulted in the import of such bulk purchase books, mainly paperbacks to decline in Nepal. Happily this shortage of reading matter motivated local publishers to meet this challenge by publishing books, in both English and Nepali. Though this was beneficial, the negative more serious impact was the inability of Nepali readers to acquire topical reading materials at a reasonable rate! About six months ago the government rescinded this decision but the import of books, mainly from India did not recover to its former levels. Why? Was it because the local production of books partly met the need of the hour? Was it because of the increased printing of books by Nepali authors, both in the vernacular and in other languages in Nepal? Memoirs by many Nepalis, albeit by way of ghost writing is now an accepted trend. There has been a resurgence of books on varied subjects, more specifically in Nepali. This is good news for it confirms that Nepalis are reading books, printed in Nepal by local authors. As a result the production methods in Nepal have been modernised and improved, resulting more presentable products. In fact it was the commercial practice for Western publishers to print books for sale to readers in Asia at Hong Kong, Singapore or New Delhi. One can also recall that almost all Nepali books were at a certain period published in Kolkata and Varanasi.
Three treaties between India and Nepal i.e. that of 1816, 1923 and that of 1950 are now seen by many of us Nepalis as detrimental to our interests. The Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 CE took away much land that constituted the then Greater Nepal. The Nepal - Britain Treaty of 1923 CE, which though permitted imports from outside and production of materials within the country, had built in conditions to ensure that what was produced in Nepal was just adequate for internal needs and nothing remained for exports. The 1950 CE Treaty of Peace & Friendship is said to be detrimental to the interests of Nepal and though there had been two years of discussion by the ’10 Member Eminent Persons Group’ and the final report, submitted in 2018 to the concerned authorities of the two countries nothing has resulted. The PMs of both India and Nepal have not had time to act on it.
Nepali, as the lingua franca of Sikkim and of the Darjeeling area of West Bengal, has been accepted as a language by the Indian Constitution. Nepali is spoken by over 50 million Indians having Nepali roots, but living anywhere from Uttaranchal to across Assam. Nepali books were and probably are still being printed in Varanasi and brought to Nepal. Currently books in different languages published by different publishers of India are freely allowed into Nepal. In contradiction to such a state of affairs, it is surprising that books printed in Nepal can, as per the 1950 treaty only be sent to India following specific permission by the Embassy of India at Kathmandu. It is stated that this is to discourage the importation of seditious or harmful printed materials – pamphlets and books across the border into India. Cannot this import / export issue be also sorted out at the regular trade talks rather than by restriction of a Treaty which must be revised?
What a silly and anachronistic thought in this age of the twenty-first century! It is a Big Brother attitude restricting a younger one’s entrepreneurship. Now-a-days books and other materials can be ordered Online from different countries and businesses worldwide such as Amazon Kindle with the tap of a finger on one’s laptop or even android phone. Similarly information, true or otherwise to distance places of the earth is a daily occurrence. ‘Fake News’ has become a catch-phrase of politicians of varying shades in different countries of the world! Handling of information and its disclosure are the realities of the day. Elections are being affected in distant lands by means of unauthorised posts in Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp and various other formats. It seems that the current officialdom in many countries, whilst being aware of such happenings, is loath to take action for fear of subsequent reprisals.
Whilst we wait for the decisions on our 1950 Treaty of Peace & Friendship with India, the hope is that wisdom will prevail and that this treaty will be revised soon. It seems foolish to let matters stagnate like this in an age of internet connectivity, for current information cannot be controlled. The air-waves are free and though some control can still be exerted it is not a worthwhile effort. The success of hackers in looting bank accounts and affecting the results of elections in distant lands is proof of this. After all with the aid of Japan and NASA, three Nano Satellites - one each from Japan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have been sent into space and go around the earth five times a day. So, the sooner we wake up to the realities of the present days, the better. One is forced to conclude that the time has certainly come for Indo-Nepal Relationship to turn over to a new page.
The author is a retired medical doctor and writes fiction under the pen name of Mani Dixit also. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd