Nepali Times
State Of The State
Time to get the story straight


They are widening the road to Budhanilkantha, and contractors are trying to frantically finish the work before Dasai. A roadroller takes up half the road, the other half is taken up by vehicles waiting to be checked by a lone security man.

Kathmandu's SUV-set driving to suburban mansions and commuters crammed inside vintage vans jostle to get ahead at the bottleneck. It takes 30 minutes to cover a distance of 12km. At the end of it, Budhanilkantha School stands in its austere majesty. Built by the British to groom Nepal's best and brightest, the school has now become the cradle of the Nepali diaspora: every year, more BKS graduates go abroad than stay in Nepal.

In the shadows of Shivapuri, private promoters have built Siddhartha Colony, a haven for the city's upwardly mobile. It has some of the most expensive dwelling units in Kathmandu, and is a cacophony of architectural styles that cry for attention: a Rana-Roman palace here, a mock-baroque villa there and a faux-White House tucked in between. This is where Kathmandu's movers and shakers increasingly move and shake.

Here live the people who read Time magazine and watch Star News to find out what is happening in their own country. However, nothing in Budanilkantha gives the impression that "it could all go up in flames". People are building new houses as if there were no tomorrow, and building a house is the biggest endorsement of faith in the future. The present reality in the Valley may be bleak, but the Nepalis' belief that things will get better still seems to endure. Imagine if there were a long-term truce.

The management and the staff of the elegant Park Village Hotel here aren't as worried as Gautam Rana, who is featured in last week's issue of Time, worrying about his personal safety. Times are bad, there are very few tourists around, but the Park's lobby is bustling with Nepalis attending this seminar or that workshop. When asked how is business, a staffer is frank: "Not all that good, but we are hoping it will get better soon." If she harbours any fears of her world falling apart, she isn't showing it. She is paying closer attention to getting the ashtrays emptied before the next lot of seminar participants arrive.

It would be foolish to pretend that it's business as usual in Nepal, but how did Alex Perry of Time get the impression that Kathmandu is "in danger of rejoining the rest of the country in the Dark Ages"? Perry's story isn't his personal failure. It is generic to all ambulance-chasing journalists who hunt in packs and have to either trash a place or praise it to high heavens-nothing in between. There are no greys in the black-and-white world of parachuting media mercenaries. You jet into town, not seeking a story but confirmation of a preconceived script, meet the people who are waiting to meet you, mangle the copy of the local stringer, liberally sprinkle hyperbole, and then file a feature that refracts reality.

All of this wouldn't have mattered if this particular multinational newsmag weren't distributed free in every hotel and airline in the region. We hear some sightseeing tourists even cancelled their Nepal trip after they got to Bangkok airport! But how do you explain the Australia-based Asia-Pacific Human Rights Forum cancelling its annual meeting which was to be held 22-24 September in Kathmandu? They probably read Time. Spooked by Perry and warned off by knee-jerk embassy travel advisories, we can understand tourists cancelling, but human rights activists fearing for their safety? Don't they listen to their contacts in the United Nations in Kathmandu? In this sad and costly seven-year war, it is ordinary Nepalis who have suffered and died. They are the ones who face threats, extortion and fears of safety every day. Not foreigners. Not tourists. And especially not international human rights activists meeting in an international hotel. When will the 'Nepal Desks' at overseas ministries so quick to put out travel advisories to protect their behinds understand this? When will South Asia correspondents in Delhi stop behaving like birds on a wire? There is a moral in this for our own paranoid elite: next time be careful what you tell parachutists. They care not for the truth and will twist your words to suit their script.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)