Letters. We columnists live for them. A response to a piece of writing means-at the very least-that someone has read it. Even though in my case, it's the all too frequent scoldings and scorn that crosses the desk of my esteemed editor here at the Nepali Times. They are most welcome.
It's somewhat of a golden rule in this business that the reader should get the final word, even if he or she is sadly mistaken in their analysis of the columnists intent, as happens from time to time. The assumption in such a case is that the writer is at fault for not conveying their message clearly enough. Mea culpas all around. But what does intrigue, even rankle, is the reader who misses the point entirely, or chooses spurious minor quibbles over addressing the main point in question. When I bray my all too predictable opinions on the aid and development business, I get some dandies. Deservedly so. Most people I know who work in The Sector are well-meaning, erudite and have more first-hand data than an ill informed opinionist like your correspondent.
When the editor prints the letters from such people, they are usually a
pleasure to read. Usually they off set or perhaps even complement my own
clumsy attempts at putting aid into perspective. So, too, the odd foray into art, literature, film or the world at large that gets a response from the readers. If someone takes the time to reply to such seeming ephemera, then may their gods be kind to them forever more. Even if it's to tell me that I'm a philistine of little better than middling talent, a failed novelist, painter or screenwriter, a hopeless case who should leave his keyboard alone more often. No problem. Keep the cards and letters coming.
But I have to say, at risk of breaking the golden rule, that I'm more than a little puzzled by the responses to 'Lak in Lukla' (#166) in this space about the thrashing of a porter by an APF member. So far, public opinion measured by letters to the Almighty Editor is against the piece. One man questions whether I know where my Nepali ethnic communities live and another says I'm careless with the cost of an air ticket. I am accused of breaking up the country. Uh huh, that was me with the stick, whacking the porter on the back of the neck. None of this school of thought has so far addressed the main point that I hoped I was getting across.
Unwarranted police brutality or violence creates the conditions for anger, possibly militant violence. You make Maoists when you mistreat people. Especially on what can be interpreted as ethnic grounds. So many of the rebel fighters that I've met in Rolpa, for example, tell tales of parents and relatives killed or brutalised during the police action against Maoist rebellion in the early years of the uprising. That was the misnamed Operation Romeo. And it's not just me who holds this view. Similar information is found in the pages of the excellent analysis of the Maoist movement by Deepak Thapa and Bandita Sijapati, A Kingdom Under Siege, this year's must read book for any and all in Nepal who care.
Even more than poverty, even more than political alienation. The police should not break sticks over people's necks unless they're engaged in riot control. Curfews are a measure of last resort in a situation of desperate civil unrest, not a way to enable the evening's drinking to proceed uninterrupted in the barracks. Public harmony is the best way to achieve peace and order in a community, and for that the police and citizenry have to work together with mutual respect and dignity.
A more samizdat exchange has been taking place, going along with the gist of my piece and wishing I was far more hard-hitting, more willing to slam the authorities for ethnic exclusionism and brutality and so on. One wishes that an occasional sentiment of that nature makes it into print as well. In the interests of balance, of course.
Even golden rules, it seems, were made to be broken. And something tells me I'll be hearing about this in the weeks to come...