Saturday, December 8, 2007

This is the Way in Nepal?

This is the Way in Nepal?

What's there to do: A culture of resignation ails Nepalis, says DR. J.

Ke garne? Nepalma yestai ho... What's there to do? This is the way in Nepal

So many brainy heads and even dim-witted people have come up with so many theories on why Nepal is a society that it is. There are both sanguine theses and gloomy renderings of the Nepali sense of failure and helplessness.

Not to hurt the self-esteem of many we-will-make-a-difference-type Nepalis from the younger generation, first, some seemingly bright propositions: Nepalis can do. They were always an independent type, and they are. Given the freedom and the means, they will make it to their dreams. They can write their own fate. And they can lead a revolution, too.

Don't you see, for instance, what Prashant Tamang has become, of late? Also, forget not Manisha Koirala, or perhaps an already old-timer Udit Narayan? If you follow the news, we beat even the modernizing Koreans in English language tests, which you should agree is a sort of a doorway to possibilities. For so many of us today, it is an ordinary feat to casually commute the high-tech subways of New York and London and Tokyo, and as we do that, whisper on cellphones to our folks in Nepalgunj or Lamjung or Tikapur. Can't you recall some tales of our ancestors who returned home because they could not learn how to flush the toilet after they pooped, use a credit card, or speak English? The fear of the unknown is not an issue for the young generation. Blah, blah...

Now the pessimists would clamor: Not in Nepal, not ever. Ke garne? Nepalma yestai ho... What's there to do? This is the way in Nepal.

It is a perennial question, almost philosophical-- What is it that it is? Where is this there? What action does doing involve? Who is the doer? And a little beyond the obvious-- to what end is the action?

The answer-- this is the way in Nepal-- is perennial, too. What is this? What does "the way" stand for? And "in Nepal?"

The reality is, the pair of question and answer short-circuits a sense of resignation that is deeply embedded in the Nepali culture. Blame, it does Nepal, not necessarily Nepalis. So the contradiction-- the very Nepali who makes it big abroad will have to slouch low at home because this is the way in Nepal.

There is nothing to do, except the way it is in Nepal. For more than 2 hundred years, since Prithvi Narayan Shah, we have a battle for a political what that is going on in Kathmandu. This is the way in Nepal. We don't know for sure, what that what is. We never tried to define it clearly, and still today we vacillate between many extremes, ranging from an antique monarchy to a modern republic to a radical democracy. Ke garne? We cannot together say Yehi garne, let's do this. Rather, we have an easy way-- this is the way in Nepal.

At a practical level, Ke garne is a brilliant question. It directly speaks to our need for priorities. But the philosophy behind the question has overwhelmed our sensory faculties. We always look for a big redemptive answer-- as if there is one BIG answer, a single answer, a key to all our worldly problems. Every little "what" has become a question of the last judgment, the hereafter. That is an ethical probe, seeking a "right" path, so often emphasized in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other isms in the West.

This principled arrogance will lead us nowhere, because the ultimate remains unresolved. The pragmatics are workable. Whereas there are a million little answers because there are a million little needs: Don't be swallowed up by the echoes of your own question that you answer yourself, or at least think you already have an answer for. Solicit more voices beyond the proverbial repartees. Why seek votes when you are not interested in someone's answer. The "what to do" about the proposed constituent assembly elections is here for us to reflect our resignation about the way that things can be in Nepal. There are answers that we don't want to accept: Pick up the trash that is everywhere around us because this should not be the way in Nepal as it is in many other world cities. If you are bothered by political chaos or unemployment or other personal failures, stay awake to ponder on some nikash, a way out. It is incredible that a mega city like Kathmandu is a ghost town as early as seven in the evening-- people fall asleep so quick as if they are a very happy lot and the worldly troubles are nowhere around them. Perhaps they find solace in their dreams-- they can escape their stale answers that have led them nowhere. But what about peeing on the street, spitting in public, disturbing your neighbors with a loud family fight in the middle of the night, shouting obscene slogans, and concocting a bogus wedding with a guy who just got a DV visa for the US of A, just because this is the way in Nepal? There are many more examples we all share.

Perhaps we must reexamine who we are now. The news media are supposed to help us in that process. Journalists are supposed to spotlight a diversity of actors and current affairs. Unfortunately, the headlines in newspapers and the soundbites on air convey little of that. There is talk of inaction, there is talk of deadlock, and there is talk of helplessness. Deviation has become commonplace and the ordinary has become deviation. So look beyond the headlines, in the inside pages, in the dramas and profiles, to read the real news, to come to refute that this is not the way in Nepal, rather these are the ways in Nepal.

A businessman helps streets boys. A Maoist cadre resigns to protest violence and discrimination. Nepali doctors find cure for blindness among poor. Villagers bring light to their town... the list is endless... What isn't there to do? These are the ways in Nepal

Dr. J is pen-name of a Nepali Journalist based in the United States.


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