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Who is Daijhi?

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Richard Morley in NepalKnown in the West as Richard Morley, 'Daijhi' is the affectionate name given to our columnist by his Nepali family who live on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley.

Despite an East German upbringing and family background, he was educated at Dartmouth College and served six years as an officer in the British Royal Navy, seeing active service in two campaigns against Iceland in the 1970's. He later read History and Political Science at Birmingham and Cambridge Universities but chose a career in the Theatre, launching his own Manchester Drama Company in 1984. He wrote, produced and directed the first stage version of Evelyn Waugh's famous novel 'Brideshead Revisited' in 1985 to much critical acclaim.

From the early 1980's, with the traditional family in the West under great pressure from social change, he also worked with some University friends to develop a new structure of family unit. They created a 'Molecular' model in which individuals chose to collectivise on a permanent basis adding a new member every few years. Under his leadership, the new family flourished both financially and emotionally. He built a successful computer company, moved into Hotels and property development and became a well known millionaire with a historic country estate. But he was never far from controversy. A strong critic of Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Falklands War, he published an article accusing the Conservative Government of conspiracy to encourage the conflict and became embroiled in the huge controversy over their decision to sink an Argentine warship with the loss of 350 lives. Outspoken opinions in favour of international freedom of movement and new family structures provoked some tabloid media to describe him as 'King of the Commune Castle'. But his new family unit provided stability and a sense of purpose that has kept it strong and intact to the present day.

But it was through his association with Nepal that brought Daijhi to international attention. He first travelled there in the 1970's when the early student backpackers began to discover it. In those days a cheap direct bus service ran through Europe to Kathmandu. The journey took seven days and the weary travellers were only too happy to spend many months wandering about the mountains. Daijhi thought it was the most beautiful country in the world and so he returned whenever he could.

In 1984, he fell seriously ill whilst trekking near Daulaghiri. A policeman, Basu Khadka, ran for 3 days to the nearest telephone in Jomson and called for help. It was a gesture that Daijhi never forgot. He offered a reward but the man refused any money. Worried about his own health, Basu asked Daijhi instead to care for his youngest son should anything befall him. And so a promise was made that shaped the destiny of everyone concerned.

A few years later Basu died and Daijhi kept his word. He returned in 1990 to search for the boy and, after a two-month trek, he eventually found Jayaram Khadka working in a Bakhtapur restaurant. The boy recognised him from a photograph his father had once given when explaining how a tall Westerner would rescue him one day. Jayaram knew that Daijhi was to be his adoptive father and so he promised to be a dutiful son to him. His new father promised in turn to care for him as his own son and the pact was sealed in a simple exchange of blood from their fingers. The spoken language was difficult between them and it was gesture that could not be mistaken by either.

Jayaram was taken to England for his education but the British Government stubbornly refused to recognise his adoption. Because they would not let him stay, ironically he couldn't leave Britain either. Daijhi appealed against the decision on compassionate grounds but the legal process dragged on for years during which all chance would be lost if Jayaram ever left the country.

Their story made headlines around the world. This was no ordinary immigration dispute where the State could claim a possible cost to public funds. Fortune had smiled on Daijhi, and although he had been very poor as a young man, by 1995 he had built a very successful company.

Glossy magazines pictured the once poverty-stricken youth from the Himalayas now the son and heir to a wealthy family with a large historic estate in the heart of England. TV films portrayed the dramatic mountainside rescue and the romantic integration of a simple mountain boy into sophisticated British society. Newspapers and TV broadcasts all over the world covered the twists and turns of a story that held intensive media attention for two years. Youth magazines featured Jayaram as an icon for young girls; the tabloid press looked for sensation and portrayed the whole thing as a cult. Senior politicians from every political party were questioned on their views. The Immigration Tribunal recommended a residence visa. In a national radio poll, 80% of the listeners voted that 'Jay should stay'. Even the High Court criticised Home Secretary Michael Howard on his decision. It was the just before the 1997 General Election but still the Government refused to give way. Then came the vote.

The Conservative Party had not suffered such humiliation at the polls for 150 years. 18 years of continuous government with a massive majority in Parliament was reduced to a broken party with barely enough members to fulfil its function as the opposition. Journalists explained the general opinion that the Party had seemed to lose human compassion. The new Government certainly acted swiftly. On his first day in office, Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw reversed Howard's decision and Jayaram was finally granted residence. The whole process had taken seven years.

So it was that Daijhi and Jayaram were finally able to return to Nepal in 1997. They had never forgotten Jayaram's relatives in the Valley and his two families were finally able to unite. On the festival of Tihar that year, Daijhi formally became a brother to all members of the family in a simple ceremony at their home. It was the only solution to an otherwise complicated relationship and the simplicity of it allowed everyone to talk with Daijhi as an equal.

But there was more to do in Nepal. With a wealthy family company behind him, Daijhi had the means to help the country further. His public campaign in Britain had already provoked extra media attention to the poorly paid Gurkha soldiers in the British army, the reality of child labour and the desperate plight of orphans in the third world. Now he wanted to offer practical assistance in the development of remote mountain areas.

The King, the Prime Minister and many senior political and business figures received Daijhi and considered his project to provide homes and work for unemployed city dwellers in a new rural development zone. With a long standing home in the French Alps, Daijhi thought to introduce modern European mountain agriculture into the far West of the country. Vast areas of government land were lying unused across the mountains for want of any modern agricultural organisation and techniques. But the instability of Nepali politics struck quickly and a succession of changing governments made effective liaison impossible.

A second project was more fruitful. As a younger man, Daijhi had been something of an Alpine Ski racer and, with the highest mountains in the world, he thought that Nepal should have an Olympic ski team. Besides promoting the image of Nepal abroad, any success in skiing would encourage the development of heli-ski facilities in the mountains and an increased income for those areas. He offered to train and fund the team and worked with the Nepal Olympic Committee to create a National Ski Association. After many bureaucratic obstacles, the NSA was eventually ratified in December 2000 and the first two Nepali skiers are currently under training at their base in France. Although there is a small chance of qualifying for the 2002 Winter Olympics in America, the team is expected to make its international debut at the World Championships in Switzerland in 2003

Prem Thapa.