Nepal, the Japan of India!

Currently I am reading this book – Secret Tibet by Fosco Maraini. The book was originally published in 1951, and I am reading the revised 1998 edition, translated from Italian by Eric Mosbacher and Guido Waldman. I must say the translation is pretty good, for it does not feel I am reading a translated book when I read this one, which often spoils the pleasure with so many of the translated works. Anyway, I was thinking of writing about it once I finished the book but for the following passages. After I read these I couldn’t help but share it with my readers, most of whom I suspect are Nepalese! In the following paragraphs, the author describes the inhabitant of the then Kingdom of Sikkim, who I suppose still constitute the inhabitants of Sikkim today, but the Kingdom is no more. I just liked the way the author describes/contrasts three different groups inhabiting Sikkim at that time – the Lepchas, the Tibetans and the Nepalese.

The people that live in these valleys, the Lepchas, are small, furtive and silent. The excesses of nature in these parts – the terrifying rivers, the destroying, devouring forests, the ice-bound peaks vanishing into the sky – seem to have completely overwhelmed and subdued those who came to live here in ancient times. Or was it only by creeping, hiding, evading, that adaptation was possible? Today I heard a barely perceptible rustle behind my back, and two barefooted men emerged from the dense green undergrowth. One was aged about fifty; the other was his son. Both had long hair, as is still the custom in these parts, but neither had the trace of a beard. The boy, whose name was Gu-lung, was nineteen years old, but he behaved like a girl of thirteen or fourteen, full of shyness, timidity and blushes. The Lepchas now number only a few thousand, and most of them are to be found in the neighbourhood of Mangen, Sing-hik and along the valley of Talung.

The Government of Sikkim is in the hands of a small ruling class of Tibetans who invaded the territory from the north some centuries ago. On the whole they and vigorous, enterprising people. The majority of the population of Sikkim, however, consists of recently immigrated Nepalese. Like the Lepchas, they are little men, but they are extremely active, and spread all over the place like human ants. There is some resemblance between them and the Japanese. (Nepal, the Japan of India!) They are gradually spreading East and West. They work hard, co-operate with each other, organize themselves, multiply and always talk Nepalese. In the country they always go about armed with a curved blade called a kukri [sic]. I bought one yesterday from two Nepalese who looked at me unpleasantly. I thought that buying their weapon from them was the one means of enabling me to rest really peacefully. The kukri [sic], complete with sheath, subsidiary dagger, flint and steel, etc., weighs about 5 lb.

Following our stony mule-track we come across Lepcha dwellings every now and then. They live in huts, of the kind typical of the whole of south-east Asia, built on piles of varying height. From Japan to Java, from Burma to Bengal the details vary, but the structure is the same. At one point we met some Tibetans by the side of a stream. They had erected a tent, had been bathing, and were eating and drinking. When I greeted them in Tibetan they insisted on my joining them to drink some chang. The differences in character between the human groups that inhabit these valleys are most marked. The Lepchas are small, shy, silent, childlike; they are always concealing themselves, and know all the secrets of the forest. The Nepalese are small and silent, too, but they are active and vigorous, continually bestirring themselves like ants. The Tibetans and big, noisy, expansive, the least oriental of orientals, men made to stride like giants over their endless plateaux, always ready to drink, sing, or believe in a miracle; merchants, bandits, monks and shepherds.

Of course, Nepalese are no Japanese – at least not in Nepal – as we seem to be not far off in terms of progress compared to where we were in 1951; whereas Japanese have come quite a long way from where they were at that time!! On the other hand, Tibet as it was then is no more, and likewise for Sikkim. Change (and so called progress) is not always good, as we can see especially in case of Tibet. Will certainly write more about this book when I finish it, or may be before I finish it like I am doing here. Anyway, its a fascinating book, which I believe by reading just 3 chapters! In fact I thought that when I had read only a few pages at a friend’s place early one morning in Nepal when I was there in December. So thanks to her for (indirectly) introducing me to this great book. I bought it as soon as I arrived back in York!