KATHMANDU, Jan 18: A beautiful Buddhist stupa stands tall inside a rather peaceful complex in Lalitpur-Dhobighat; a sober reminder of a man whose whereabouts remains a mystery for the last 20 years.
Nagarik editor Gunaraj Luitel met Dor Bahadur Bista in his Jhamsikhel home in 1995. Back then Bista was openly waging intellectual discourse on fatalism and caste-based societal structures.
The stupa at the home of Dor Bahadur's son Keshar Bahadur, 64, was a silent observer of our three-hour long interview with his son.
Better known as the father of Nepali anthropology, Dor Bahadur remains missing since the last 20 years and the mystery behind his disappearance continues to deepen. His absence has left a huge void in Nepal's sociological and anthropological studies.
Editor Luitel's interview with Dor Bahadur created uproar in Nepal, and particularly in the royal palace. The headline boldly read: "King's ancestors are Magars." King was still a powerful man in the early days of Nepal's democratic practice. After the interview, families close to the palace and Kathmandu elites felt a sense of unease about the stated link between Shahs and Magars.
Dor Bahadur had in fact given the manuscript of "Fatalism and Development" to King Birendra to read before sending it to the press. "I knew that King had read the book before it came out," Keshar Bahadur said.
Bista pictured by John Hames in 1991 in an undisclosed location in Nepal. (Photo Courtesy: Bista Family)
Bista wanted to meet King Birendra soon after his return from Jumla. Keshar Bahadur says meetings with the King used to be easily arranged through palace secretaries. Dor Bahadur had sent a message to King Birendra through the royal aide-de-camp Tara Bahadur Thapa. After getting no reply from the palace for over two weeks, he became angry.
"I wasn't going to ask the King for any personal favors," Keshar remembers his father telling him after the episode.
King Birendra told Dor Bahadur that it makes no difference if Shahs shared lineage with the Magars. The king was not angry about the fact.
One day, then Minister Keshar Bahadur and Dor Bahadur were separately invited to a dinner at the palace. Keshar Bahadur was present during the conversation between his father and King Birendra.
"Father felt that King might have become angry at him after the interview was published. He wanted to have an important meeting with King Birendra before his final departure to Jumla, and it kills me that the meeting never took place," Keshar Bahadur says.
King Birendra and Dor Bahadur were close. Dor Bahadur even borrowed a pistol from King Birendra before he left for a study tour on Rautes, least studied last nomadic group back then. Dor bahadur returned the pistol to King Birendra after his field trip.
Dor Bahadur was 72 back then. He would be 92 today.
A telegram came from Chaudabisha of Jumla to Nepalgunj to Kathmandu. Locals in Jumla wanted to meet him. However, Bista's family was confident that he was still in Jumla.
One day, he had left Chaudabisha-Jumla for Nepalgunj, picked up his expired passport from Nepalgunj airport and had disappeared.
That's when the family knew about his disappearance, only after a month of the whole incident.
"A person is considered alive until he is 100, but somewhere deep I feel he is no more with us" Keshar Bahadur told us Sunday.
King Birendra also inquired about Dor Bahadur's disappearance with the family. Nepal government helped in the search for Bista. When information came that Bista was in Haridwar, King Birendra sought the help of Indian intelligence to locate Bista.
Keshar Bahadur left for Haridwar with his wife. They searched for him at more than 125 mathas and mobilized over a thousand Nepali students in Haridwar.
"We aren't here to take him home, if he wants to stay here. We just want to meet him," Keshar and his wife pleaded with students.
Their search in Haridwar was in vain and Keshar Bahadur even fell ill. He then met Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, then Nepali ambassador to India, in New Delhi. Dor Bahadur had to renew his passport in New Delhi's Nepali mission were he to travel abroad.
Narayani Bista, Dor Bahadur's wife, passed away nearly two decades ago at age 69. She was always worried about her husband. She died peacefully while watching Santosh Panta's popular tele-serial.
Mother Narayani's death became another strong reason for Bista's family to continue the search for Dor Bahadur. The family published an obituary of Narayani in newspapers hoping that Dor Bahadur would learn about the death if he were alive.
Dor Bahadur never came.
Bista's family wants to remember the man who pioneered Nepal's anthropological studies. The family has been working to set up an independent study center. They have been searching and publishing his previously lost works. "Castaway Man," a recent documentary by Kesang Cheten on Dor Bahadur has once again excited conversations around his disappearance. Another documentary is in the pipeline.
"We missed him badly even during our mother's shraddha [a ritual performed usually on death anniversary] and decided to build this stupa in 2010 with his personal belonging inside the structure," Keshar Bahadur said pointing to the stupa in his front yard.
"I feel he is watching us. I talk to him every morning in front of the stupa," Keshar Bahadur said winking his tears.