- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

He considers it a necessity for his nation to escape a cycle of poverty that makes Nepal one of the poorest nation in Asia.

English can bring advances in medicine, engineering, computers and other technology to the Himalayan nation best known for backpacker tourists and mountaineer assaults on Mount Everest, Mr. Pathak says.

“Without English, you cannot go even an inch,” he said in a recent interview.

“It is a link language. You can use this language to have access for different fields outside Nepal, or internationally. For example, scientific developments, innovations and inventions in the technical area - if you don’t know the English language, it will be difficult to know developments taking place outside the world. ”

Mr. Pathak, 75, spent the past decade, including eight years since retiring as vice chancellor of Tribhuvan University in Katmandu, compiling the largest-ever English-to-Nepalese dictionary.

The 3 1/2-inch-thick, 7-pound single volume would be hard to miss on any library’s reference bookshelf with its blazing red and yellow jacket.

Inside it contains more than 130,000 words that the professor collected from sources including news magazines Time and Newsweek; Shakespeare and Milton; and what must have been a huge assortment of scientific journals.

What’s more, it was written entirely by hand.

“I was not so confident to use a computer about 10 years ago, when I started doing it by putting my pen to paper,” Mr. Pathak said.

Scrabble masters would probably love the finished product, whether they could read the accompanying definitions in Nepalese or not.

“There are lots of scientific words which previous dictionaries did not include, such as hemimorphite, hemiparasite, hemiplegia, helminthologist,” said Allen Thrasher, a senior reference librarian in the Library of Congress’ Asia Division, while introducing Mr. Pathak to a selected audience of Asia scholars.

(The words refer - respectively - to a mineral, a partly parasitic plant, paralysis on one side of the body and a scientist who studies parasitic worms).

Even the beginning Nepalese English student, however, would find the volume useful. Take the word “cool” for example.

“There are even phrases like ‘cool as a cucumber’ or ‘it cost me a cool 1,000 rupees,’ ” Mr. Thrasher said.

An inevitable question is how will English fare in Nepal when Nepal’s Maoists take control after winning the largest bloc of seats in the April 10 elections for a new parliament charged with writing a new constitution.

Will the same party that waged a violent insurgency for a decade before putting down its weapons to participate in elections appreciate the value of English?

With the constitution-writing assembly set to convene Wednesday, the party’s primary objective is to abolish the nation’s monarchy and a feudal landholding system, in which more than a third of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Mr. Pathak, on an extended vacation to visit family in the Washington area, said he expects English to survive and hopes it will thrive.

“Whether there are people like Maoists, or communist people, or some other political group, there might be changes in the meanings of some words, but you cannot say we don’t need English,” he said.

The Maoists have indicated that they have no plans to take Nepal backward, as communists did during China’s cultural revolution or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which declared ‘year zero’ and sought to eliminate all knowledge, in part by killing anyone with a college education.

Chandra Prakash Gajurel, a member of the Maoist party’s Central Committee, told United Press International that his party was pro-business and pro-development.

He quoted party leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, telling businessmen:

“Now we are entering a new era of economic revolution. After nearly accomplishing a political revolution, our next fight is to wipe out feudalism and promote a capitalist economy - this is the true concept of Marxism.”

Mr. Pathak, a prominent economist before embarking on a post-retirement career as a lexicographer, has written extensively including several books on economic development in Nepal.

Though he avoids politics, his concern for his nation was evident in the baritone voice behind an ever-present smile.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future,” he said.

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