Expanded from introductory remarks at Ceylon Newspapers Limited office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 2 Aug 2012:
There are many ways to introduce my good friend and partner in crime, Kanak Mani Dixit.
Aunty Google, as well as his own website (www.kanakmanidixit.com) can tell you the basic info about his education and career path, which I won’t repeat here. Instead, let me personalise what I know about this courageous man I’ve known and worked with for over 15 years.
Kanak is a journalist, editor and activist – all rolled into one. And if you think that journalists cannot become effective social or democracy activists, just watch him balance these seemingly daunting roles. Study how he juggles reporting, commentary writing, editing and social intervention.
Kanak came from a privileged family background, and could easily have spent his life in leisurely scholarship and endlessly doing the cocktail and conference circuits in South Asia and beyond. He CHOSE to be different.
Kanak spent a few years with the UN Department of Public Information in New York, and yet chucked up a promising international career to return to South Asia – a chaotic, unpredictable but also exhilarating part of the world that we call home. Another conscious choice.
Back home, Kanak could have watched over his beloved Kathmandu Valley and simply commented or satirised about the politics, economy and society of his impoverished land, one of 49 least developed countries in the world. He does that, too, but when needed he takes to the streets. As he did back in 2005/2006 when Nepalis rose against a tyrannical king…
He paid a price for his frontline activism. He was arrested – along with thousands of others – for defying a curfew and demanding democratic reform. He spent 19 days in a Kathmandu jail that he once pointed out to me from afar. As an influential publisher, he could have worked out some deal for a quicker release, but again, chose not to.
How many other South Asia editors or publishers do you know who won’t peddle influence for their personal gain or safety?
Some editors and publishers think of themselves as ‘king-makers’ in the political arena. This editor-publisher was literally a ‘king-dumper’: Nepal’s People Power forced autocratic King Gyanendra to restore Parliament in April 2006. Two years later, the whole monarchy was phased out.
Kanak has spoken truth to power, stared authority in the eye, and yet he has not allowed himself to be corrupted by the temptations of political, diplomatic or other positions. He continues to critique and needle those in public and elected office.
In fact, the very revolutionaries he too helped to bring into office – through elections – now don’t seem to like him much: he was recently dubbed ‘an Enemy of the People’.
He must be doing a few things right to be reviled by both monarchists and republicans!
But Kanak is much more than a media and political activist. He has too many involvements and interests to keep track of.
To cite but a few:
• He is a great believer in the idea of South Asian integration, going well beyond the bureaucratic trappings of SAARC. (His Southasia, which he insists on spelling as one word, includes Tibet and Burma.)
• He founded Himal Southasian magazine in 1987, and sustained it for 25 years with great effort and dedication. It is the first and only regional news and analysis magazine in our region of 1.4 billion people.
• He promotes documentaries as a means of cultural self expression and exchange, and in 1997 founded Film South Asia, a biennial festival that brings the best of South Asian films.
• He nurtures social science research and scholarly exchange, and is endlessly incubating new ventures or institutions in the public interest.
• He supports spinal injury rehabilitation in Nepal, having realised the pitiful state of such care when he suffered serious spinal injury himself a few years ago after a mountain hiking accident.
Amidst all this, he finds time to write regular columns and op-eds – in both English AND Nepali – as well as occasional books.
For these and many other reasons, Kanak Dixit is one of my role models, and a constant source of inspiration. He is one of the few human beings that I’d like to CLONE if and when that becomes a real prospect.
We need many more Media Typhoons like him to drive change in South Asia.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if there is more than one Kanak Dixit already! But that’s only speculation. For now, my friends, meet the one and only Kanak Mani Dixit confirmed to exist…