Friends from India, Singapore and other beehives of industry and workaholism often remark on how little I seem to do these days. I tell them that I'm a great believer in observing the pace set by society. And in Nepal, we move, amble perhaps, at our own pace-a very sensible one. Take the past month of festivals and holidays and pujas. I had a wonderful time, again as part of an exercise in being in tune with local sensitivities. I learnt this the hard way.
A few years ago I rang a colleague in Kathmandu, grandly announcing that I was arriving the following week with my camera crew and I needed a list of things done in preparation for my visit. My colleague laughed and said it was impossible. "Nothing is impossible, let's get cracking," was my somewhat tart rejoinder. "But Dasain is next week, then Deepawali, then Bhai Tika and we take about a month off to observe all the festivals. The government does too, so your list of interviewees will all be too busy, having too much fun, to see you." I sputtered in outrage. "But, but, don't they know who we are (we were giants of international television journalism, or so we thought)? They can't just take all that time off. We have identified a time to cover Nepal, and that's it." My colleague's gentle but unbending insistence that I was doomed to fail if I insisted on my schedule won out in the end. I came later, at Nepal's convenience and had a very nice trip indeed. Productive too.
There are quite simply too many demands made on our limited time in this cyber-driven, obsessive web-based world we live in. In other parts of the world, people are rich in material goods, technology and the latest of everything, but they have no time. No time for reflection, contemplation, medication, vegetation or an afternoon nap. What's the point, I ask myself, staring out my office window at the Ganesh Himal. Well, for one thing, to avoid being devoured by all those who have a different outlook on time.
Those without it don't steal it from others; they try to deny the time-rich the opportunity to enjoy their wealth. And they usually succeed. Take the example of Ladakh, an outpost of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Like Mustang, it's a proud enclave of Tibetan Buddhism protected by soaring mountains that only the hardiest of traders and explorers ever passed through. The arid landscape is pockmarked with oases of green around the mighty Indus river where intricate and ancient irrigation canals water the paddy and barley crops. Visit Ladakh in summer and people toil as if they're driven by demons. Come back in winter, and it's different story.
The cold season in Ladakh is one long party, punctuated with periods of contemplative silence, with plenty of afternoon naps. People do nothing for weeks at a time and they enjoy themselves immensely. Their larders are full, there's chchang brewing in the bowl and the toil of summer is a distant memory. Even now, with Ladakh promoting year-round tourism and cybercafes springing up everywhere, people still relish their long winters of nothing to do but enjoy life's passage. And Biharis do the labouring, Kashmiris run the shops and hotels and the Ladakhis increasingly become spectators in their own land. It's tragic and inevitable. Someone should do something to stop it, but of course no one will. They're all either too busy doing something else, or doing nothing at all. But that's not exactly true. Ladakh is going through yet another bout of anti-outsider violence that does little but make things worse for the very people it's trying to help.
Sad thoughts to end a lovely festival season, but in the end I suppose I'm trying to urge myself to get back to work and start using up some of this time on my hands. if only some dotcom whiz kid somewhere would come up with a way to sell time on a web site....