Nepali Times
Further from home, closer we are


During the riots that wracked Kathmandu in September following the deaths of 12 Nepalis in Iraq, I whiled away time spent stranded by the curfews online, reassuring Nepali friends all over the world: yes, things are OK, serious but OK, and yes if you insist, I can try calling your mother and make sure she's OK too. I remember being slightly irritated at their apparent agitation: riots, unrest, tear gas. So what else is new in Kathmandu?

Five months later, on the opposite side of the globe, I'm finally getting it. Logging on to MSN Messenger on Tuesday evening, a message flashed up almost instantly from a friend studying in New York. Something has happened in Nepal.

And so it began. Five hours later, I was still online, trawling the Internet for new developments, keeping one eye on the tv for sketchy reports from BBC and CNN. I wasn't alone, slowly my online contact list filled up with young expatriate Nepalis, living everywhere from Australia to India, China to the UK.

Links to news sites were exchanged, reports on the latest attempt to call home and of course the inevitable (after all, we are Nepalis) unfounded speculation and beginnings of conspiracy theories.

The real kicker is this: these young Nepalis I knew when we were 'back home' never had an interest in politics. The last time the state of emergency was declared in 2003, I doubt many of them even noticed except perhaps to moan about the heavy police checking on the way home from an evening in Thamel. Politics and the state of the nation are generally vague concepts for my generation of young, educated Nepalis. We live in a war zone and yet can be blissfully unaffected by it all, at least, until that holy grail of a scholarship and visa have been attained.

And then, as soon as that plane has taken off, the borders crossed and the entry stamps stamped, we begin to care. Suddenly logging on to becomes a daily ritual, ears perk up at the mention of Nepal and the word Kathmandu always seems to jump out of the news bar.

Ironically, news about Nepal travels far faster around the world than it ever does in the eye of the storm in the home country. Distance somehow transforms us into a concerned and vocal community, and not just the younger crowd. Opinion pages and letters to many Nepali papers and magazines, including Nepali Times, are filled with non-resident Nepalis commenting from outside the country, passionate tirades on political and social detail from expats who haven't been home in over a decade. Forums, message boards and chatrooms on Nepali websites are also full of Nepalis posting from abroad. Meanwhile, there is an awesome silence on the home front.

Stockholm Syndrome? A perverse impulse to watch a disaster narrowly escaped? A desperate attempt to retain some identity? Just homesickness and worry for those left behind? The psychology of exactly how absence makes the heart grow fonder is beyond me but no matter what happens in Nepal, we can be assured that the diaspora will be watching, passive perhaps but definitely present. Here's a choice phrase from Nepalis online on 1 February: Ke garne? Jai Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)