The accidental archiver

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A cabinet full of old VHS tapes. Dusty piles of negatives stacked on top of each other in a corner. A rusty brown chest with four drawers full of audiovisual tapes. An old television set and a VHS player along with three LCD desktop computers. They sit in silence in a dimly lit room of Shyam Chitakar’s office in Bagbazar, as the commotion in the streets continues outside.

“There are thousands of photos and videos here, from the first domestic match in 1982 to every South Asian Football Association (SAFF) championship and South Asian Games (SAG) to date. I’m starting to get dizzy if I keep watching all of this, ”said Shyam Chitrakar, pointing to the stack of VHS tapes in the cupboard.

At 80, Chitrakar considers the contents of his sports archives to be the most precious possession of his life.

He started documenting the Nepalese sports scene in the 1970s and continues to do so to this day. He had a particular habit of capturing moments and quickly storing them in tapes and reels, he said. But he had no idea that the habit would one day become the largest – and possibly the only – sports archive in the country.

“I am an accidental archiver. It just happened, ”he laughed as he sat down for this interview on a Sunday afternoon. “As my collection grew, I realized that the archives might serve a purpose in the future. Then I started to preserve my works.

Sports photojournalist by profession, Chitrakar began his career as a footballer for the Mahabir Club.

He was one of the few people at the time to own a video camera. Sometimes he clicked on photos and videos. But at the time, there were few workshops or photography classes, so people usually learned the technical skills from the advice of other established photographers. Chitrakar thanks Nepal’s first director of photography and his brother-in-law, the late Bakhat Bahadur Chitrakar, for guiding him and teaching him photography techniques.

“I have not received any formal training. I learned everything from my brother-in-law. It was a learning-by-doing situation, ”he said.

After retiring from football in 1985, he received an offer to work for Nepalese Television (NTV).

“I was the first NTV cameraman. We were able to cover King Birendra’s visit to Australia and broadcast it instantly to Nepalese audiences for the first time, ”Chitrakar recalled.

Chitrakar started doing sports photography and videography for Nepalese TV simultaneously. Over the years, he has covered a variety of topics, from politics to lifestyle to sports. And he archived most of his works.

“If our future generation wants to watch Hora Prasad Joshi’s interview, I have it. Or one of Sharad Chandra Shah’s sports activities. Or interviews with Sita Rai or Baikuntha Manandhar, Nepal’s three-time gold medalist at SAG. I have interviews and activities from almost all Nepalese Olympic athletes such as Deepak Bista and Sangina Baidya, ”said Chitrakar.

Joshi was Minister of the Interior in the BP Koirala government in the late 1950s. He then helped draft the constitution of King Mahendra in 1962 after the royal coup of 1960. Shah served as president of the National Sports Council.

As a former athlete himself, Chitrakar believes the media can highlight the stories and triumphs of athletes, which he believes will inspire and motivate them.

He fondly recalls an incident when he read an article about his footballing skills in Gorkhapatra when he was still an active athlete.

“Players like Komal Pandey [one of the veteran sportspersons of Nepal] and Achyut Krishna Kharel [former inspector general of Nepal Police] were big names back then. I was surprised to see my name with theirs in the newspaper. The article described how I dodged my opponents and won public praise. It inspired me, ”he said with a slight smile.

Later in his media career, Chitrakar featured many athletes, from boxer Dal Bahadur Rana Magar to karateka Sita Kumari Rai to runner Arjun Pandit. But the profile of long-distance runner Jit Bahadur Khatri Chhetri, Nepal’s first international medalist, is his most cherished work.

“Chhetri was going through difficult times and he was having financial difficulties. It wasn’t right for me that such a talented athlete wouldn’t get the recognition they deserved, ”said Chitrakar. “So I did a profile on him which luckily caught the attention of the National Sports Council, and soon after he was offered a job.”

For Chitrakar, being able to help someone get the exposure they deserve is what keeps them alive until today.

“Keeping an archive is like keeping a piece of history with you that you can share with the world,” Chitrakar said. “If you ask the National Sports Council for old visuals of sports related activities, they will direct you to my studio, ‘Professional Graphic Arts’,” Chitrakar said. “Or they’ll just tell you” contact Shyam dai ‘. I have become the ultimate lender, a kind of last resort for anything related to the history of Nepalese sport.

Chitrakar has clicked on tens of thousands of photos throughout his career: national and international events, portraits of athletes and snapshots of players in action.

But there is one photo in particular that he clicked on that remained etched in his heart and memory: a full-frame black-and-white portrait of footballer Mani Bikram Shah, who played for and captain of the national team. between 1985 and 1998.

Mani was popularly known as “Nepali Maradona” for his excellent midfield skills.

When you walk into Chitrakar’s office, they are bound to be amazed to see his collection.

There doesn’t seem to be any sports-related moment that he may have missed in his life.

But there is an exception, Chitrakar said.

“I missed the Dashrath Stadium scramble in 1998 which killed at least 70 football fans,” he said with deep regret. “I was out of town that day. People still come to me and ask me for pictures of this incident. I am remorseful when I have to say I don’t have it.

Although Chitrakar happily shared his photos and videos for free when asked, he often wonders how long he should keep doing this. There have been numerous instances where people have used his photos and videos without proper attribution, he said. “It’s disheartening to see your work being used for the benefit of someone else. No press house or institution should do such a thing.

Maintaining an archive is not an easy task either. It takes time, effort, a prodigious storage system and financial means. Keeping the archives well organized is another problem. Although it is much easier to keep digital files, systematizing analog tapes and cassettes is a tedious task.

Chitrakar said he removed the tapes as needed, but often forgot to put them back in the exact spot.

He hopes his archives can be used more effectively to preserve the history of sport in Nepal. However, the apathy of the country’s sports authorities for historical records agonizes him.

“How long can I afford to do this?” I have my staff and I also have to provide for my family. I face a lot of financial burden to maintain these archives, ” he said, showing black and white scanned images on his desk.

Despite the challenges, Chitrakar remains committed to documenting and archiving Nepalese sports. He began to digitize all of his old footage and photos to keep pace with the changing times. But digitizing everything takes a long time because there are thousands of tapes, reels and cassettes, he said.

He always receives invitations to attend events.

“There is a meeting with the press at 2 pm today. We have to be there on time, okay? He said over the phone to one of his employees as he spoke to the post office and digitized his artwork.

From press meetings to matches, he doesn’t want to miss any opportunity to capture moments.

Grihalaxmi Chitrakar, his wife, often insists that he stop working now.

“You have grown old and tired now. That’s why I’m telling you to stop working, ”she told her husband.

“She continues to insist, but I don’t listen to her. We fight for that sometimes, don’t we? He joked.

However, seeing her husband working so passionately every day entertains Grihalaxmi. She often teases him: “He complains of back pain and knee pain when he’s at home, but suddenly turns into a ‘Jawaan keta‘ [young man] once he’s gone to work.

Even though Grihalaxmi wants her husband to prioritize his health and slow down, she never fails to remind him of his daily appointments.

Due to his age, Chitrakar continues to “forget about his daily appointments.”

In addition, she makes sure he has eaten well before leaving the house. It’s her way of supporting her passion, she says.

Grihalaxmi has been the most powerful support system in Chitrakar’s life. He said without her he would not have become what he is today.

“She graduated. She could have become a teacher. But if she went to school, there would be no one to take care of my workshop. She accepted my request to take over the studio. It is thanks to her that I was able to pursue my passion and become popular, ”said Chitrakar.

Despite his increasing back pain, creaky joints and blurry vision, Chitrakar still exudes an aura of energy and excitement when he talks about his journey as a sports photojournalist.

“The aches and pains are there when I’m at home but they all go away when I work,” Chitrakar said. “I can walk, work, shoot, almost anything when I’m in the field. “


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