The politics may be deadlocked, and the peace process may be stuck. But on Nepal's airwaves the people haven't forgotten what their leaders have â€" that all this was supposed to be about a new constitution. While political leaders sipped tea at soirees over the past month, a live radio discussion program has been using a tea shop as a venue for a lively and down-to-earth discussion about the new constitution.
Chiya Chautari, the radio drama series produced by Radio Audio in Kathmandu and aired on 24 FMs across the country, has gone viral because of the unserious way it tackles serious issues like the constitution, the peace process, and reconciliation.
"People have a right to know how their constitution is being written. Our objective is to encourage people to take an interest in the constitution so that their concerns can be addressed," says Santosh Khanal, producer of Chiya Chautari. Unlike other programs, this one avoids being preachy and eschews constitutional jargon and arcane legalese.
The easy-on-the-ear conversational format is woven around a simple plot and is enacted spontaneously, without scripts. They started off in Radio Audio's studio across the road from the Constituent Assembly building in Baneswor.
There are characters like the hilarious Ghoda Dai, the optimist Mama, the aggressive and very vocal Gharbeti Ba, the musical Madale who breaks into song every time an argument is about to erupt, and the effervescent Chiya Sauni. They all gather in the tea shop to talk about the needs and problems of their communities and how to address them in the constitution. The things they talk about are everyday issues: the deterioration in law and order, exploitation by manpower agents, the plight of war victims, and the political deadlock.
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In Chabahil on Monday, the actors voiced their displeasure at the failure to elect a prime minister and the delay it is causing in writing the constitution. The plot from this episode revolves around a frustrated Ghoda Dai, who has come to the city to demand answers from an MP for not writing the constitution on time. A heated argument between Mama and Gharbeti Ba ensues about the cause of the delay, punctuated by one-liners from Ghoda Dai that have the audience rolling about with laughter.
Looking for answers, Gharbeti Ba moves around the audience asking for ideas. "What does it matter to us if the constitution is written or not? Nothing will come out of it. The constitution will never be written," says a disgruntled Govinda Shrestha, a driver watching the drama from the roof of his truck.
Most audiences are not hopeful that the constitution drafted will serve the interest of the people. Sakhi Chand Ram, a cobbler from Sarlahi, is fixing a pair of jogging shoes near the makeshift stage. Still engrossed in his work, he replies to Ghoda Dai, "What can be expected of these thieves?"
Such cynicism is becoming increasingly common and the actors know how to respond. Mama explains how the constitution will affect their lives. A 'referee' blows his whistle and adds in a lisping voice: "We have a stake in this, let's all participate in making the new constitution." By the end of the discussion, the audience is nodding in agreement.
The drama often gets to the point where the audience takes over and the actors take a back seat. Quite like the state the country is in right now, the actors don't have all the answers. "We leave it to the audience to decide after we act out both sides of the problem," says Shri Prasad Thapa, who plays Gharbeti Ba's character.
"We don't expect Chiya Chautari to solve all the country's problems," program coordinator Shikha Sharma says. "We want common people who have no way of making their voices heard participate in the constitutional dialogue."
Chiya Chautari airs on Radio Audio, FM 106.3 MegaHertz every Saturday from 1-2pm.
Marathon man, ABHAYA SHRESTHA