April 22, 2015
Mikel Dunham speaking at the Kathmandu launch of Elizabeth Hawley’s monumental work, “The Nepal Scene.” To the right is Lisa Choegyal, (Honorary Consul of New Zealand), Peter Bodde (American Ambassador to Nepal) and author Hawley.
The Nepal Scene: Chronicles of Elizabeth Hawley (1988-2007), a two-volume set focusing on one of the most tumultuous eras in Nepali history, was launched yesterday at Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu. Published by Vajra Books, the two-volume set is edited by Lisa Choegyal and Mikel Dunham.
Peter W Bodde, the US Ambassador to Nepal, innaugurated the program, which also saw the presence of foreign as well as Nepali dignitaries. Guests included former foreign minister and seasoned diplomat Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, author-publishers Kunda Dixit and Kanak Dixit, former chief of the Nepali Army Rookmangud Katawal, Christian Manhart, UNESCO Director, and Australian Ambassador Glen White, among others.
Today’s issue of Kantipur included details about the actual production of the book, which was two years in the making:
“While Lisa Choegyal, who is also the honorary consul of New Zealand to Nepal, contributed in editing and standardizing the entries for publication, Mikel Dunham, who is an expert of Nepali and Tibetan affairs, played an instrumental role in fact-checking and creating its glossary.” Book design and cover art were also by Dunham.
“The book also owes its publication to a kickstarter campaign initiated by Dunham, which brought in donations from all over the world.”
All proceeds from the book will go to the Himalayan Trust and the Himalayan Data Base.
Mikel Dunham’s speech at the launch:
For seven or eight years, the raw version of this book had been languishing, incompletely organized, on a shelf in a passageway in Elizabeth Hawley’s home.
How I came to discover it was quite by accident. I was at her residence filming an interview, which morphed into a free-flowing conversation that somehow funneled into my main passion for Nepal, it’s political history. It was during that conversation that Miss Hawley mentioned in passing that she, herself, had kept monthly chronicles of Nepal’s political situation for many years.
I was a little shocked. I’d never heard about her chronicles and couldn’t believe that in all my reading and research I had never come across her book.
“What’s the title?” I said. “I need to read that book.”
“There is no book,” she answered. “It’s never been published.”
“But the manuscript exists.” I said.
“Of course,” she said. “Go down the hall, continue past the dining room, take a left and right behind you, you’ll find it.”
I followed her instructions, went down the hall, past the dining room, turned left and there they were, in all their dusty glory, in oversized binders with the year of the contents written on the spines.
It was no accident that the first binder I took down from the shelf was labled “2001”. I turned to “June 1” and began reading her report on the palace massacre. I’ve read a hundred versions of the tragedy. What was exciting about her entry was that it was written in real time, or almost real time…at any rate written within days or, at most weeks, after the massacre took place. And wha was unique about her “voice” was Elizabeth’s abiding sense of sobriety and reliability because her information was carefully underlined by scrupulously identifying all of her many and varied sources. Miss Hawley is nothing if not an ironclad verifier of facts.
I pulled down other folders and scanned other passages. In one of the earliest volumes she was detailing the constantly shifting building blocks of what would eventually profoundly inform the 1990 Jana Andolan, told at just the moment when that cauldron was beginning to simmer and about to boil. All of this priceless information! It was thrilling. It was buried treasure.
I don’t know how long I remained standing there…certainly long enough to feel what I imagine an archeologist must feel when he stumbles across a shard protruding from the ground, and when he starts digging around it, and realizes that it’s just the tip of a magnificent artifact begging to be retrieved.
Eventually, I returned to where Miss Hawley was, by then, busying herself with something else. In the interim, I had become resolved to sit down with the author and convince her that I was the man to help her get the Chronicles published. Later that day, I returned to my hotel with a provisional agreement.
Since I am based in Los Angeles and would be working on the editing process from there, I needed a partner here in Nepal – a partner with a good working relationship with Miss Hawley, the energy of twin jet engines, the wit of a Rhodes scholar and a friend, tried and true. There was only one person on my Rolodex who fit that bill: Lisa Choegyal. I called her and she immediately signed on to the project.
I also felt strongly that this, of all books, must be published in Nepal. My next call was to Bidur Dargol, the publisher of Vajra Books. He, too, immediately signed on.
It was incredibly easy to get the project off the ground. There were hurdles, of course. One was that only part of the manuscript was in hard copy and the rest was stored in Miss Hawley’s computer and some of those files, at least in the beginning, were difficult to locate. Transcription was going to be an arduous undertaking. My personal assistant Govinda Rijal was one of several Nepalis who came to our rescue in that department.
And then there was the question of how to finance such a huge book. When all was said and done, the manuscript was nudging toward 2400 pages!
For that, I turned to social media and created a kickstarter fundraiser and people from all over the world made generous contributions – some of you are here today. Thank you very much. You and I and everyone else who contributed in their own fashions may now share the honor of having played our parts to save Elizabeth Hawley’s 19-years of brilliant work from oblivion.
The two-year publication adventure ends here, today, with Vajra Book’s beautiful first edition. But the historical importance of this book … today is just the beginning.