Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Late nights in India


Ah to visit this fair city in the month of May. That 40 degree heat! Those power cuts! The feeling of being frazzled at the end of a long day dashing between meetings in an un-airconditioned taxi driven by a pirate. All those other drivers trying to kill you. The senseless antics of many politicians.

But then, then.there's the taste of an icy cold beer as that long day wanes, there's the buzz of literary, political and journalistic conversation as the evening becomes late night. In turn, that renews your energy and you find yourself talking and arguing, laughing and listening, long past midnight, an army of empty Kingfisher bottles marching across the table.

No, I don't come to India for a buzz from drinking, or even staying up late. But I do come for the edge, the feeling of bigness and the humour that resounds around almost every question of national interest or anguish. Yes, they're learning to laugh at themselves in India and have been capable of doing so for some time. As Delhi and Islamabad start the strained semaphore of peace yet again-and we all, dutifully, wax hopeful-the old jokes are trotted out.

My favourite is in the perennial chestnut that goes like this: "Say, did you hear that India has offered Kashmir to Pakistan? No way, say it's not true. Oh yes, it is, but there's a catch, the Pakistanis have to take Bihar as well." An oldie but goodie. Where are the political jokes in Nepal at the moment? Save in the excellent cartoons in many papers, including this one.

Anyway, back to India. Everything's big there. The issues, the talk, the television chat show hairdos, the crash in software company share prices. It's nice to revel in the anonymity and comfort of people around you worrying about big things. There are also huge advances in the quality of journalism, at least in print. Outlook magazine, the Indian Express, The Week and Frontline are rigorous and principled publications that hold the country's elite and lunatic fringe to account. They are consistent in their commitment to democracy, inclusion and transparency, their opposition to hate-mongering, corruption and cant. And they too have good cartoonists.

But my point here is not to draw unfavourable comparisons between Indian and Nepali journalism. It's to ask a simple question. Why are there no Nepali reporters based in Delhi, reporting on India? The relationship between the yam and the southern boulder is crucial to both, especially to the yam. Nothing provokes more outrage in the Himalayan kingdom than being ignored, or worse, insulted by a source based in India. As we know to our cost, even forgettable film actors can set fires in the middle hills with remarks they never made.

I wonder if the gap in understanding between these two lands of South Asia isn't almost total. And if so, that's ridiculous. A small first step to building a bridge over that chasm might just be the stationing of a decent correspondent-adept at Nepali, Hindi and English-here at the heart of the Indian power machine. Someone who could network and chat up the policymakers and hangers-on, catch the gossip and watch the trends. Had such a person been around in the past seven years, for example, I dare say we'd have known a few more things than we do about the Maoists and their India policy. A longer list of stories would quite obviously include the problems and concerns of the Nepali diaspora, foreign policy of course, economic debates that might affect cross border trade, India's security concerns and so on.

Even this newspaper and its sister publications, which try far more than most to understand life outside the Valley, don't get regular, incisive reportage from India. And I don't want to hear anything about costs and money, Delhi rents and so on. There is cash for good journalism in this country. There is a need for understanding what makes cross border relations as they are. Money should be no object.

I know, I know, that's easy for me to say. It's not my money. But I volunteer to forgo my fee for this column for awhile, just to see if we can't set someone up as our man/woman in New Delhi. It can only benefit the country, and I may have less money to spend on Kingfisher when I long for another late night in India.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)