A linguist’s views on the prehistoric habitation of the Himalaya and the Nepali language need discussion, says Kanak Mani Dixit.
A reader responded to this writer’s last column (‘Country on Auto-Pilot’, January 31, Page 6) suggesting that it was delusional, with the optimism on national prospects following the November 19 elections completely out of order: “The entire article is a day-dream and detached from the grim reality of the country.”
There were some others who too refused to accept the contention that the country is poised to emerge from the doldrums of nearly two decades. Mentally, I took recourse to my belief that weakness in comparative study (contemporary and historical) of other societies—including Thailand and Ukraine as we speak—helps maintain the Kathmandu intelligentsia’s unyielding cynicism.
It was against this backdrop that I was happily taken aback by the unabashed enthusiasm for Nepali society shown by linguist George van Driem, speaking at a seminar at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia University on Tuesday. Based in Bern, Switzerland, Prof van Driem has been studying Nepal and its indigenous languages for some three decades. He is also an expert on the prehistory of Asia’s peoples, taking support from the fields of genetics and linguistics to archaeology, palaeo-botany, palaeo-climatology and anthropology. His comments at Jamia pointed to a deeper explanation for the resilience of Nepali society against the interminable manhandling by its rulers.
Prof van Driem, a Rolex Fellowship awardee and a Pokhara hang-glider, was profuse in his praise for the vibrancy of mid-hill Nepali culture as made possible by Nepali/Khas Kura. With his background in phylo-geography (historical processes explaining the distribution of populations), van Driem raises the curtain of our prehistory when he states that the mid-montane Nepal was a funnelling point for the habitation of East and Southeast Asia.
Read the full article here: http://www.ekantipur.com/2014/02/14/opinion/more-a-cradle-than-a-refuge/385327.html
First published in The Kathmandu Post on 14 February, 2014
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