The book is, however, silent on some aspects, such as the relation between the Maoists and the Indian government, despite a chapter devoted to this theme where the latter supported the former, as disclosed by higher Indian officials. Similarly, the financial irregularity in the party is another subject which remains unaddressed in the book
A rare autobiography has recently hit the book stalls entitled From Revolutionary to the First Lady.
This stunningly absorbing book is authored by wellknown architect Hisila Yami, a former minister and the consort of former Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattarai. She took an active part in the People’s War launched by the Communist Party of Nepal, the Maoists.
We have often seen how nature turns a caterpillar into a butterfly. The life of Hisila born in the meandering streets of Kathmandu’s core leading the revolution and later rising to become a minister and the first lady of Nepal reminds one of such incredible transformations.
The history of autobiography goes as far back as second century BC when a Chinese writer, Sima Qian, wrote Shiji. If we turn towards the West, the letters of Cicero of the following century immediately come to mind. In India, Babburnama was authored by Emperor Babur in the 16th century.
In Nepal, old autobiographies, though short, exist in the form of stone inscriptions.
Accordingly, there is one inscription in the precinct of Chabel Stupa in Kathmandu of the year 499, though earlier said to be one of the first, where a lady had made donations for its construction in order to take birth as a man in the after-life having suffered a lot in a male-dominated society.
The first recognised autobiography is, however, that of Prithvi Narayan Shah, known as Dibya Upadesh, or divine advice, of the year 1775. The most quoted autobiography is certainly the Atma Britanta written by former Prime Minister B. P. Koirala, a legendary politician and writer.
What makes this autobiography different from the others? Well it is certainly for getting to hear from the horse’s mouth regarding what transpired behind the political curtain during the People’s War. Written in three parts, the first one begins with the upbringing of Hisila in Kathmandu in a house where her father was a poet as well as a politician.
His house was visited by Rahul Sanskritayan, a well-known writer, and P B R Ambedkar, father of the Indian constitution. Her mother was a political activist and had an untimely death due to frequent cases of imprisonment by the tyrannical Ranas.
Hisila went to Kanpur, India with her eldest sister Timila who was studying engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, who provided motherly care after the demise of her mother. She had her school education where she excelled in sports, dance and music notwithstanding multiple problems. Later, she joined Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi.
There she came in contact with Babu Ram Bhattarai, who was doing his Masters in Architecture and later ended in wedlock. She took part in a flurry of political activities like protests and demonstrations.
In the second part, she describes about her full time engagement with the party going underground.
She has described indifference meted to her by some senior lady politicians. The illicit sexual relationship between top party leaders and their suspension is another laudatory feature of the book. The action taken on Babu Ram and herself leading to their solitary confinement is really mind boggling.
The fight between Babu Ram advocating for a democratic alliance with the political parties and Kiran Vaidya promoting unity with the king where Babu Ram had the last laugh amidst the vacillation of Prachanda in between has been very interestingly described in the book. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, her appointment as a minister and several reformatory measures that she undertook also form the spinal features of the third part of the book.
She has made some frank admissions, which is, in fact, the hallmark of the autobiography.
She writes how her relatives advised her father to marry again after he became a minister because her mother, who had in fact already delivered seven children, was not fit to be the spouse of a minister.
Mahatma Gandhi has revealed in his autobiography how he was made to drink by some of his mischievous friends and taken to a brothel.
He met one girl who cried showering tears so heavily after being asked about her unsocial livelihood that Gandhi committed himself to work for the betterment of women for the rest of his life.
Hisila has made a very interesting comparison of Prachanda, Kiran and Babu Ram, terming them as the heart, lung and the brain respectively driving, cleaning and directing the party.
She considers herself as an extrovert and Babu Ram as an introvert.
Being an architect, she has also lamented about the rise of the ugly concrete jungle against a backdrop of beautiful Newari architecture.
The book is, however, silent on some aspects, such as the relation between the Maoists and the Indian government, despite a chapter devoted to this theme where the latter supported the former, as disclosed by higher Indian officials.
Similarly, the financial irregularity in the party, which is held responsible for the party’s split into bits and pieces, is another subject which remains unaddressed in the book.
At a programme held at the Indian Embassy last week, Hisila said that the Maoist movement led to the political transformation of the country with the establishment of the Republic.
The future generation should work hard to achieve social and economic transformation, which is essential for stabilising the political change, according to her.
This book, written by a lady in a developing world, is something which never happened in the past nor will it happen in the future.
Because there are examples of people being a revolutionary but not a minister like Che Guevara of Argentina.
Again there are many who have become revolutionary and ministers but not a writer like Shailaja Acharya, a former lady Nepali minister.
Besides, Hisila had the distinction of becoming the first lady also. She has thus been like a fairy tale character despite being a real one.
A version of this article appears in the print on January 17, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.