It was an ordinary day in an outer city Kathmandu neighbourhood. I'd paused by the side of a steep, gravelly incline when the rattle of a motorbike alerted me to a youth straining up behind me, too close for comfort. He swerved and passed me, two children hanging onto the back seat, but the machine couldn't make the grade, and he slid backwards and toppled over in slow motion.
Any other day this might have been quite amusing. But we started arguing.
'Why didn't you give way?
"Why didn't you use your horn? Why didn't you pass me on the right?"
"Don't you see you were in the way? How could I pass you?"
It was true, I was standing on the smoother, more navigable part of the road. But I certainly wasn't going to concede the point to someone half my age who was now swearing at me, demanding I apologise or he'd fix me.
I should have taken him at his word when he flicked out his phone, ranting all the while. As a passing local tried to mollify him, I slowly walked away. It was too late. Once more, I heard the bike roar up behind me, and before I knew it, two of his friends had joined him and began to kick and punch me. Luckily, a few more locals managed to pull me away and push me up the slope, away from the raging youths.
It was a shock. Never mind my own anger. What struck me was how easily violence came to these kids, and how easily one could be caught up in it.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been. God knows I've seen and heard of enough senseless, unnecessary violence in this country, from drunken scuffles among friends to the burning of buses involved in accidents, to yes, the civil conflict that claimed the lives of 13,000 Nepalis.
But the incident did make me wonder?- do Nepalis have an instinct for violence (cultivated assiduously through the mythic figure of the mercenary Gurkha) that is beginning to override the equally mythic, peace-loving, ever-smiling Nepali? The late king Birendra, of course, bore the brunt of this impossible contradiction?- he pushed for the declaration of Nepal as a Zone of Peace, only to perish in a hail of gunfire in his own home, at the hands of his own son.
There is a general sense that criminality and violence is on the rise in Nepal. Some would lay the blame at the feet of a state unable to provide security and deter crime in a society still plagued by poverty. But could it reflect a fundamental change in the Nepali character, if it is at all possible to generalise? Is it true that if we are not necessarily more likely to murder than we were two decades ago, we are at least much more likely to 'fix' each other at the drop of a hat?
If this is indeed the case, if Nepalis have become more violent as a society, it is not so difficult to attribute causes. The conflict is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. A whole generation of Nepali youth has grown up thinking violence is an acceptable means to whatever end, thanks to the example and encouragement of elder statesmen across the political spectrum.
Migration, too, has precipitated a breakdown in traditional notions of family and community, and urbanisation brings many more strangers into uncomfortable proximity. You're far more likely to punch a stranger who grazes your car in midtown traffic than your uncle in downtown Raigaun whose cycle has just knocked into your cow.
Certainly we're misguided if we imagine foreigners think we are all happy-go-lucky smilers welcoming them to their beautiful land. Every single time I've had a visitor from abroad, some stupid Nepali has contrived to destroy that illusion?- the taxi drivers who refused to let our hired Russian jeep pass from Naya Pul to Pokhara because it was 'their route'; the guides in Bhaktapur who called me a 'hero' because I told them none of my friends needed their services; and last week, a Thai friend had to intervene to stop a fight between children wielding rocks.
There used to be a time when we studied etiquette in school. In the gnarly, uncouth polity in which Nepalis are barely managing to co-exist at present, such a conceit seems laughable. But perhaps it's time we took a good, long, hard look at ourselves, and consider if our ready anger is really worth the consequences.
I am beginning to sense that you are venting your disillusionment about a Nepal/Kathmandu long vanished. Your most recent fantastically written article called Fist Happy doesn?t take into account every single city, country in the world becoming more and more violent.
is going through difficult times with our leaders not quite knowing what to do first so there is a law and order situation in the country. And yes there is a growing schism, but the happy smiling Nepali and fierce Gorkha are actually one and always will be one.
. Violence comes not from inherited character traits inbred in the Nepali but what he is subjected to.
Consider the Sukumbasis. Consider other marginalized people and in the end you just consider the lack of morale and you have violence. Road rage, gang fights are just a few of the manifestations. Most important was our recent insurgency setting an example.
We can?t lose hope else we?re doomed to a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. during the Naxalite regime. I?ve lived through the earlier partition of and assure you that the people north of the Vindyas can be more violent than any Nepali. Consider the gangs taking over of Bollywood where I once worked.
26 FEB 2010 | 12:49 PM NST
However my small observation and suggestion to ALL NP columnist... There is more to Nepal that just Kathmandu.. You folks keep refering to what happens in KTM happens in the rest of Nepal ;-)
Maybe its "The kathmanduite character is caught between warrior-like Gurkha and smiling peacenik "
26 FEB 2010 | 2:59 PM NST
nice picture and article, but you guys really need to sort out your font, whats with the random question marks instead of apostrophes.
26 FEB 2010 | 8:18 PM NST
Nice article- 15 years too late. It' the same in rural areas too, especially in places where the Maoists are most active and claim to have most influence.
It's not Nepali character, it's Nepali image that is caught between the two.
27 FEB 2010 | 2:52 PM NST
i think nepalese youth look more violent than they are. many of my friend complain that some of the nepalese guys dress up , facial expression and how they speak is so violent that they even don want to be friend with them . though most of them may not be like that. certainly its true that we dont have as much as sense of humour as we should have. some people feel good to be violent and agressive just look at the public transport in ktm and the guys who travel in bikes with high speed. i think everybody will scare to talk to them in first glance and most of them feel proud of the fact that they are terrifying somebody.its all gurkha legend .
27 FEB 2010 | 8:52 PM NST
6. R RAI
Excellent writing - high lights this very important issue of how our society is degrading so fast. Of course, a decade long violent insurgency has traumatised the psyche of our children and adolescents - and its effect will last for a long time.In fact the psychological damage is likely to be passed into future generations.Violence begets violence-damaged psychology propagates bad psychology.
However, there are other factors as well e.g. effect of rapid urbanisation,rootlessness,ever-present violence in Hollywood and Bollywood,modern education udermining the religious faith(I am not talking about religiou fanaticism) and very importantly the rise of materialism and superficial values at the cost of traditional family values.The result- a "me generation" who has no respect for others even authorities( I am not talking about corrupt arrogant authority).
Also, those "people who have nothing to lose" i.e. very poor and who had been mistreated in the past have become more "assertive" and enjoying the current "freedom".
Perhaps for some time, I think at least for a decade or two we need someone like LKY to lead our country( the other columnist from Singapore may not agree with me)
27 FEB 2010 | 10:52 PM NST
Between reaching out for a not too clear future and pining for a long lost Shangrila, one can get stuck in a rut, bemoaning the present state of things. But all is not lost in the state of Nepal. We are, after all, not unique in the sense that the apparent breakdown of all societal and civic structures is only symptomatic of the travails suffered upon any modern metropolis in the subcontinent. This virus of Violence, crime, rampant road rage, lawless vigilantiism has visited and infected each and every hemisphere ,and in most cases been neutralised slowly but surely; it is now making its virulent presence felt in all its avatars upon a once "peace loving" country of Nepal. Ha. Nothing new. We will live through this. Saner minds will prevail, wisdom will manifest one of these days, hopefully sooner than later into decisions that guide the destiny of the common junta into a better Nepal ( not new ) we all hope for in desperation. I can empathize with Mr. Rabi Thapa's acute sense of mortification for his having faced the brunt of a "bashing up" ( as we called it in those halcyon days of our Boarding School era ) from a bunch of punks. The very idea of decency must have vanished with the first punch. But let's not throw in the towel. Who could have imagined that the mean streets of NYC would clean up within a mayor's term when New York was bankrupt morally and financially and everyone had almost written this city off. Let's look at our neighbours down South and we can realize that the road to renewal is slow but if there is a committed focus on improvement, things will improve. India shining could just as well be Nepal's Glitter, corny as this may sound. There is'nt any pat solution to what ails us. We can't always blame the politicians for the sorry state of affairs. We've seen the disease and its within all of us. You may discount my optimism as foolish naivete but I have seen what is possible and what is being done in this very own Nepal each time I return and for that reason alone I know we will have our New Nepal.
28 FEB 2010 | 6:57 AM NST
It might have escalated even more in recent years, but the tendency to resolve conflicts by violent means is no new culture in Nepal. I still remember the good old days when every major intersections in Kathmandu used to have these local dadas who indulged in so called :gang fights for anything and everything. None of the culture programs in campuses and concerts ended peacefully. Here are some more real life scenarios when our peace loving youth used to go berserk and became fist friendly or khukuri friendly. (Now the time has changed, they take up guns).
You stare at some one, you get beaten up by the gang. Next chance you get, you beat them up.
"You tease a girl, she happens to be related or fancied by a rival gang member-you get beaten up. and the saga continues.
If you are a student, you beat up the conductor, because he asked for the bus fare.
You are defeated in a soccer match but came victorious in the fight that followed the match.
Fender-bender always ends up in a fight. It does not matter how good of a driver you are, it is important that you know how to fight.
You beat up a doctor because he failed to bring some miracle, beat up a teacher coz he failed you.
I think as long as every individual is held accountable for his or her actions, this can not be changed. Resolving problems by violent means has become a part of our lifestyle.
28 FEB 2010 | 10:37 PM NST
I remember sitting in the back seat of jeep driving on the highway in Gurkha in 1997 when a bunch school children were throwing rocks at the vehicles driving past and one actually hit me on the head, pretty nasty. I guess rocks soon changed to grenades thanks to Baburam and co. My family was stopped by an unmarked vehicle on the highway to Gurkha in 2000, asking bogus questions claiming to be the police but not showing any I.D,. a few moments after leaving that site a bomb blast went off killing all the soldiers in an army convey which was just behind us.
01 MARCH 2010 | 9:12 PM NST
10. Dr Jaankri
Everybody wants to be King of the Tole
01 MARCH 2010 | 9:47 PM NST
It's not the violent nature of people . Now a days you can get away with murder in Nepal if you have "afno manchhe" at right places. When you don't have to punished for any crime and do as you wish, well......, violence is the just the tip of the iceberg. I think we have far more grave concerns before us.
01 MARCH 2010 | 3:14 AM NST
The photo on this article captures the state of lawlessness in Nepal. We are living in a Hobbesian nightmare--"ko bhanda ko kum" (the rule of the jungle). The "New Nepal" concept has ushered in awareness & self-realization amongst the peoples. Everyone in our country, knows their rights but only for their own self-interests. Everyone wants them to perpetutate their own survival at the cost of others, may they be politicians, doctors, teachers, workers, bureacrats, petroleum dealers, transport sector, janjatis, terai basis, pahadis etc. However, we have never fulfilled the other part of citizenry that is just as necessary as preserving our rights in a civil society, which is, duties of a citizen (dhrama). Duties of a citizen, is to follow the rule of law & practise pluralism and tolerance. Until, we learn these dharma, we will never emancipate from our solitary, poor, nasty, brutish & short character.
02 MARCH 2010 | 7:58 AM NST
the photo is deceptive. give the biker a space in the road to ride on and he will not jump over onto the pavement. this is not an issue of 'culture' or 'character' - that is overkill - it is merely a result of lack of road of infrastructure. I drive a car and I swear, if my car fit on the pavement I'd drive the damn thing on it too, given the kind of traffic there is :)
you had and altercation and you got beat up.... but lets also consider the possibility that you might have been rude/patronizing even snobbish towards the youth during your argument. I'm not making assumption but from the tone of this article, I won't be surprised if you had been a bit patronizing when you made your point to the youth. That tone works well in the confines of a publication such as Nepali Times, but let's face it in the street that doesn't go down.
nepali 'character' is something out of the scope of this article.... but the changing nepali IDENTITY is what you might be worried about. IDENTITY of a nepali is a very relative thing... we have so many social classes, castes, education level, lifestyles... let's face it our society is so heterogeneous it is pretty impossible for a large segment of the nepali populace to subscribe to the nepali IDENTITY or IMAGE that makes sense to you. I hope you think about this.
Finally, don't feel bad about this incident. If you are a skinny sort of fellow, perhaps it is time you gave darwin his due and started hitting the gym. Trust me, it works. Better to look menacing and thus deflect trouble that get beaten up cause you look like a skinny git with a loud mouth. True story.
Some lessons are learnt better from living. Padhera janincha ya parera. I am confident if you look at this incident from a positive light.... then well... because it didn't kill you, it made you stronger.
02 MARCH 2010 | 11:07 AM NST
Surely the author is more than a little hypocritical. We have a situation in Nepal where the fruits of violence has bee lauded and appreciated by NT and presumably by the author too. So, we are happy to use violence to achieve and keep the fruits of violence but complain when ordinary citizens do the same. You have no problem with describing the CA, the removal of the monarchy, the whole chaos which can loosely be defined as the "new nepal project". Why is it wrong to use violence to achieve political objectives but wrong to use the same violence to get a few rupees or to massage your ego?
02 MARCH 2010 | 2:53 PM NST
Looking at this photo, I'm actually surprised that only one motorcyclist decided to go onto the pavement, so there are still Nepali motorists who are some what law abiding. Unfortunately, Nepal like many countries in the world driving is about the bigger more powerful your vehicle the more right you have on the road and pavement in this case. A zebra crossing is just for show, wasted painted lines on the road but I bet if the traffic police clamped down on bad driving practices in the capital it would all change very quickly. If traffic police just decided to target a notorious intersection, with the back up of the armed police force and started handing out on the spot large fines, for missing a red light, driving on a pavement, driving past a zebra crossing I'm sure things would change dramatically.
02 MARCH 2010 | 7:41 PM NST
I appreciate and support NGS' optimism.This country is growing like anything .One needs to have his eyes open to see the energy, hope and excitement in the new generation of the nation.That 'military-mercantilist' media groups cultivate negativism and pessimism to mould an esteemless national pscychology in order to serve their own interests doesn't mean that everything has fallen apart. I request people to have courage to see things in better perspectives !!1