Bhola Bikram Rana, another mentor, had also asked the monarch in a formal interview. Again, his denial didn’t seem to matter. Others said it had to be a former biggie out to cash in on the regime change. Still, others said it couldn’t be a Nepali because a royalist couldn’t write in English.
Gen. Rookmangad Katawal, given his public past with pseudonyms, was another candidate. My first boss and great teacher, Mana Ranjan Josse, conceding his status as a middle son and a Bahun, came out with a full denial more than once.
Was Maila Baje young or old? In Nepal or abroad? A Nepali or a foreigner? Male or female posing as one? Heck, was I even one person or a composite? When, to my surprise, Janabhawana weekly started translating my posts and publishing it as a weekly column, everything took a whole new form.
Dipak daju later told me that while he did suspect me, he was also skeptical. Maila Baje was writing about events, the news of which had not even crossed the Ring Road in Kathmandu. Anyone not living in Kathmandu and in the thick of it all could not even be aware of these events let alone comment on them. On Twitter, he recently offered anyone who correctly identified me a nice recommendation for the world’s top investigative journalism award. (Thank you, Dipak daju, for the deflection).
My good friend Rabindra Mishra once asked me point blank. I gave him a flat denial. He couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t see his facial expression because he was on the phone line from BBC Nepali Service in London explaining my assignment for the morning. My lie must have infuriated him. I’m sorry, Rabindra ji. But I believed I had a good reason.
The blogosphere had already given me enough space to wander at will. Pseudonymity added to its appeal. As time flew, Maila Baje acquired a personality of its own. Coming out of the shadows would stifle him. Any time I had any inhibition, I would shut my eyes and imagine Nepal’s map and its position on a slowly revolving globe. It always felt like I was doing something good.
Nepal has never ceased to amaze me. Being squeezed between giant opposites India and China provided the element of space. Time, too, was of essence. I grew up as Indian parliamentarism and Chinese communism contended with American capitalism and Soviet collectivism. Born into a family that allowed me varying levels of proximity with royals, the Nepali Congress and communists of all hues, curiosity abounded as the same story differed with the teller.
My profession afforded me contact with foreigners who had something to do with Nepal or knew a lot about the country in ways a Nepali did not. The more I looked around Nepal, the more I saw so much to uncover. That’s when I began understanding something I was once told by King Mahendra. A nine-year-old standing on the line waiting to welcome the monarch during his visit to Thailand—where my father was posted—I bowed a respectful namaste when my turn came.
As my father introduced me, the king glared at me for a few seconds before saying: ‘Consider yourself very fortunate here. Study well and use your education in the service of Nepal, no matter where you may be.’
Condescending and even royally conceited? Not at all. Years later, when I happened to meet B.P. Koirala in New Delhi, I began introducing myself. He remembered meeting me a few years back and wondered where I was in my engineering studies. Stunned, I told him I had changed disciplines. ‘Whatever you study, study it well and be of use to Nepal, wherever you may be.’
Only if these two great men had been able to work together. I refuse to believe that politicians really resemble their caricature. They are not in the game to intentionally harm the country and people. There is something up there that’s just different. Compulsions, compromises, enticements, intimidations all end up taking their toll. Sure, some individuals are more vulnerable and vicious than others. By and large, though, it’s the nature of the beast.
Nepal, somehow fertile ground for initiatives and experiments fair and foul, is perhaps more susceptible to superfluous influences, alien and local. Things just don’t just happen here in a vacuum. Trying to make sense of it all is strenuous but still fun. Conspiracy theories instantly run wild. But that doesn’t necessarily make them irrelevant. Pulling these seemingly disparate strands together into a coherent 600 words every week or so has value. ‘If you can’t solve things, at least expose the problems you see’ seems to be a good motto.