Nepali Times Asian Paints
Moving Target
Ganatantra at 30,000ft



Ever since RNAC, our once reputable flag carrier, dropped the royal 'R' to become merely NAC (No Airplane Coming) the spirit of New Nepal has controlled the skies.

Who needs a national airline anyway, with the nuisance of irate customers who insist on adhering to a tiresome schedule? Better let the People's Republic's people simply take over all flights destined for Kathmandu. This is Naya Nepal, after all, where seizing the assets of others is official party policy of one third of our parliamentarians and a right soon to be enshrined in the constitution.

No better chance to see this new trend than on flights coming from the Middle East, where rowdy passengers and their raucous demands overwhelm hapless staff.

Like any gathering of Nepalis these days, passengers soon split into rival factions competing for attention. The political conflict that wrecked this country was always about access to resources. In a crowded plane, access to whisky, snacks and bathrooms is the jet-age equivalent of grazing rights and import licenses.

The Hand fully appreciates the allure of free booze, especially after being stuck in the Gulf for years. As for the bathrooms, it's strongly advised to take care of bodily functions within 20 minutes of take-off. Answering nature's call any time after that is hazardous to one's health, and not only because of the filth and fluids covering all surfaces.

While queuing for the toilet on a recent flight, a young man with a bandana on his head barged forcefully to the front of the line. When a woman old enough to be his mother objected he turned on her with implicit menace, asked whether she knew who he was, and told her to shut her mouth or he'd fix her when they arrived in Kathmandu. Though clearly taken aback, she challenged him to show her what he had in mind. He hissed she'd find out who he was soon enough and slipped into the stall. Moments later, a drunk fat man fell on his face in the aisle behind us, lightening the mood considerably.

As Naya Nepal spreads its wings, one doesn't actually need to arrive in the kingdom-cum-republic for a taste of where this country is heading. The chaos at Tribhuban International Airport and the madness of downtown traffic can now be enjoyed at 30,000 feet. Staying clear of lurching drunks is akin to dodging crazed motorcycles, and the sight of harassed flight attendants placating the rowdies reminds one of helpless traffic police. The Hand's personal favorites are those who insist on wearing headphones while talking loudly to their mates, reminiscent of our politicos who always prefer yelling to listening.

Nor does one have to reach home for the threats to begin. The YCL reportedly has members working in the Gulf and their network of informers insures the Maoist party gets a cut of earnings. Bandana-head sat with half a dozen others, the only coterie drinking without a grin.

In the past, a well-developed sense of the absurd was all one needed to get by in Nepal, but if the culture of intimidation has become so routine that YCL goondas are willing to attack anyone who stands between them and the bathroom, it may be time to take up judo.

Wheels barely touch the ground before everyone jumps up to pull their huge hand-luggage from the overhead bins, the drunker ones getting knocked backwards by the sheer weight. Shouting stewardesses and the flashing seatbelt signs do little to deter these stalwarts of empowerment. For the rest of us, at least, this cartoon that started hours ago is good preparation for the free-for-all that waits in the airport and beyond.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)