Dear Sir, please find attached your obituaryKamal Ratna Tuladhar was one of the last old-style copy editors in Nepal’s fledgling print journalism.
If obituaries are reserved only for the mighty and famous, the person I am writing about here would in no way make the cut. But there are often people who dedicate their entire lives to a chosen field, impact the lives and times of a small group of people with shared tastes, and leave without fanfare. And as they go, they leave a pair of shoes difficult for anyone else to fill. That was Kamal Ratna Tuladhar, the long-time copy editor of the Kathmandu Post’s Opinion and Business pages, who passed away at 67 on Saturday, January 13, in Kathmandu.
For over 40 years, Tuladhar worked behind the desk, polishing the writings of obscure journalists and writers to help them gain stardom while he himself held on to the calm of the nepathya. He was recognised by editors, writers and journalists as one of Nepal’s finest English-language copy editors, and praised by researchers and readers as a formidable chronicler of Nepal’s trade with Tibet, Caravan to Lhasa being his most-known book. He wrote Jwajalapa, an English-Nepal Bhasha-Nepali phrasebook, and translated Chittadhar Hridaya’s collection of letters, Min Manah Pau, and Siddhi Das Amatya’s collection of prose, Shiva Vilas, from Nepal Bhasha into English.
Tuladhar, who joined the Post in 2008 and remained until November last year, is remembered by his colleagues for his genial and quiet demeanour. For his colleagues, working with him was about knowing the importance of delivering content rather than making big talk in the newsroom. “He was a wordsmith,” says Akhilesh Upadhyay, former chief editor of the Post, reminiscing Tuladhar’s love for classical language and literature. “He was already a respected editor when I first met him at the Rising Nepal in 1990, and my respect for him would grow over the years, as he was a complete package with a deep knowledge of language and layout,” says Upadhyay, who went on to work with Tuladhar at the Post from 2008 to 2018.
Writer and journalist Sanjay Upadhyay, who worked with Tuladhar at the Rising Nepal during the Panchayat days, remembers him as an editor with a sharp instinct for reducing clutter. “His headlines were succinct and sonorous. ‘Ambiguity is our byword’ he would proclaim in the Rising Nepal newsroom during Panchayat rule. Yet clarity and precision always shone in his work,” he told the Record in an interview.
In the three and a half years that I worked with him in the Post’s editorial department, I met him only once; Aarati, the subeditor who has worked in the section for two and a half years, never met him and her wish to meet him after his retirement went unfulfilled, as he mostly worked from home ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and rarely came to office. It was in the interregnum between the first and second phases that I met him in office one day. Minutes into our conversation, I knew why he preferred text messages to phone calls. He was the quintessential man of the printed word.
Tuladhar held his comfort zone too close to himself, so much so that he worked on Word files and was a stranger to Google Docs. Every new entrant at the OpEd desk was told: “Kamal Sir does not use Google Docs”, to which the millennials often responded with dropped jaws. But that was Kamal Ratna Tuladhar, a copy editor of the yore who perhaps loved the process of the typefaces changing into green and red even as he edited a news or opinion piece. Over time, each of us who joined the OpEd desk learnt to embrace his technological handicap, his silence, and his absent presence in the newsroom.
At the Post, Kamal Ratna Tuladhar on the copy desk meant certainty—that he would return an edited copy within an hour or so, and there would be little chance of mistakes. Each working day, we would send him raw pieces with the note: “Dear Sir, please find attached the editorial.” After an hour, he would send back a polished piece, with the note: “Editorial EDITED Attached”. Once we realised his knack for beautiful headlines, which he sometimes drew from Shakespearean literature, as Sanjay Upadhyay pointed out in his Record interview, we would leave the headline space for him to fill.
Tuladhar was a stickler for conciseness and clarity, always careful to retain the writer’s message. He was ruthless with clumsy writing, sometimes hatchetting a 1,500-word piece to 700 words. On rare occasions, when we conveyed a writer’s complaint about his edits and asked if he could be a little lenient, he would make no effort to hide his displeasure for bad writing.
Just as he loathed bad writing, he disapproved of venerations, especially if it was about himself. When I mentioned his contributions to Nepali journalism while introducing him to Aarati, who had just joined the Post, he wrote back: “Dear Aarati, sometimes Dinesh tends to exaggerate”. It was this humbleness that made him a respected colleague, and also a mysterious figure: It was only when we interacted with family, on the ninth day of his death, that we would know about the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu honour he had received in 2055 BS (1998 AD), the several books he had published, and the books he was working on.
Today, on the 13th day of his passing, if by some transcendental powers, he could read this obituary from his new abode, he might again say I have exaggerated. But I know that his fellow copy editor contemporary Peter J Karthak, who has been up there for close to four years, would come to my defence and say, “Come on, Kamal, this chap is speaking the truth.”
Anyway, let’s get back to the editorial desk. Dear Sir, please find attached your obituary!