Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nepali Society
Wagle’s wanderlust

Narayan Wagle was pleasantly surprised when his article on Thinley Lundup Lama, the charismatic and crusty salt trader in Caravan, triggered off a wave of goodwill for the Dolpo resident. "I knew it was one of the best interviews I had taken. You know, that restless feeling, you're not able to sleep, all the details churning in your mind.trying to organise them. But I never thought it would help Thinley cover the cost of his son's treatment in Kathmandu," says a modest Wagle.

It's not the first time that Wagle's empathy for his subject, the common citizen, and his articulate writing, have evoked unexpected responses from Nepali people and policy-makers alike. His reportage from Humla two years ago forced authorities to address the food crisis that the country's remote western districts have faced for thirty years now.

Recalls Wagle: "I was actually wandering through the area, getting away from the city, when I saw a herder I had met six years ago. He was standing in line outside the food depot." The carefree, independent herder, who'd been on his way to Tibet to trade sheep for salt when Wagle met him on the remote mountain trail to Kailash, was a shadow of his former self. Community forests had occupied his grazing land. With the pastures gone, he had to sell his sheep and bid goodbye to his way of life. Says Wagle: "What could I do but write about him? This man didn't have a voice."

In a decade-old career, Wagle's taken strides not many can match. Few people would link the writer of the popular weekly "Coffee Guff" column to the man who presently occupies the news editor's desk of Kantipur, the country's largest Nepali daily. "I came up with the name while drinking coffee at a roof-top restaurant in Thamel. It's a fiction of facts, a platform to write about all the interesting people I meet but can't fit into the limitations of daily reporting," says Wagle.

A workaholic according to colleagues, Wagle's zeal is today focused on grooming a younger set of journalists and strengthening the role of Nepali media. Since his first piece, about films, was published in a weekly while he was still at college, he's been hooked on journalism. "Nepali media, to a large extent, has not been able to enjoy the trust of the masses," says Wagle. He wants to make the profession as respectable as that of doctor, engineer, or IT professional.

His present responsibilities may have curtailed his time for exploration and adventure-a dusty pair of leather sandals has replaced his trademark hiking boots-but it certainly hasn't checked the lanky scribe's wanderlust. Wagle's ultimate ambition is to follow in the footsteps of Dr Harka Gurung, the eminent geographer, and Dor Bahadur Bista, the anthropologist. There's a slight trace of envy in his voice, and a certain wistfulness. "They've visited every nook and corner. Been to all 75 districts of the country." Wagle's been to "only" 65.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)