Nepali Times
Hostile territory


Apalpable sense of bitterness pervades our biosphere. Try unburdening your heart with anyone these days and you are likely to be weighed down by a volley of soul-destroying lamentations from your interlocutor. A lot of people don't seem to like what everybody else is doing. Others complain they aren't getting credit for what they are doing. Add the cumulative stress induced by apathy, bloodshed, corruption and drift to this grumpiness and you get a real feeling of the cynicism that has set in. We've been carrying so many chips on our shoulders for so long that the blades of hostility have become the hallmark of our defense mechanism.

The beats of agitated hearts and the heat of distraught minds can be felt almost everywhere. Politicians can't understand why the people are so fixated with corruption when everybody knows how expensive a career in public service has become. The people can't figure out how their leaders can be so insensitive to their concerns and still have the impudence to come knocking at election time. The security forces complain how the people's representatives' reluctance to camp in their constituencies is undercutting the campaign to draw rebels away from their guns. The insurgents can't understand why the country is losing sight of their ultimate cause just because the armed wing of the party happens to have gained supremacy over the political commissars now. Bureaucrats don't know how many masters they are expected to serve. Civil society worries about how fast courtesy is disappearing from the national discourse.

Nattering nabobs of negativism have pushed the nation to new depths of despair. We've spent the last 12 years squabbling over the source of our sickness and reaching out for a remedy within our rifts. Those in power have prospered by pointing to the perennial infancy of Nepali democracy. Remnants of the ancien regime take satisfaction in the endless stumbles the new political elite have made a habit of taking.

Those in the sidelines have been forced to witness a spectacle they clearly didn't expect and certainly don't like.

Sure, things could have been a whole lot better. Singapore was too ambitious a goal our inexperienced leaders tried to impress us with. But, remember, we did start out with more opposition MPs than denizens of Lee Kwan Yew's city-state could ever dream of. Talk of the sun rising from the west was an insidious symptom of the compulsions of our hung parliament. But we could have tried to complete the Mahakali detailed project report before that part of Uttar Pradesh turned into Uttaranchal. The ruling party has consistently failed to act on its pledge to provide a stable government. But our eternally bickering Kangresis could have ensured that the opposition did not end up having the final word on who the prime minister should be.

It probably doesn't hurt to hit rock bottom once in a while to reflect on missed opportunities and to reach out to our possibilities. One time-tested therapy for despondency is to think of how much worse things could have been. (Exercise No. 1: Make a list of three things we might have been worrying about today if we didn't have a Maoist insurgency, endless corruption allegations or sickening power plays.)

Does this approach smack of escapism? Not when there aren't too many refuges around. Is it fatalism? Our life is too heavily influenced by predestination for another few twists of fate to make much of a difference. Do I have a roadmap for renewal after all this carping? No. Especially not when those who are paid to prepare one have hardly spread out their drawing boards. But that doesn't mean I'm about to give up my right to rant.

But here's my two paisas anyway. Since we have to make the best with what we have, we must confront our quest for freedom and dignity with brutal candour. Perhaps a good place to start would be the rapidly diminishing space between nostalgia for the predictability of the partyless decades and the promise of a one-party paradise. Discussions on panchayati atrocities would serve little purpose anymore without acknowledging that opponents of the status quo used murder and sabotage as political weapons long before the Maoists rose up against the state. How Kangresi hijackers and communist head-hunters pitted against the putrid panchas in the 1970s eventually recognised the need to build a common platform two decades later is crucial to understanding the undercurrents of our political flow.

To be sure, this catharsis will reopen old wounds. People whom we've spent a lifetime deifying may come down crashing from their pedestals in no time. In the wisdom time so graciously bestows on us, some sullied personalities may succeed in redeeming part of their reputation. In any case, we have to stop playing this blame game if we want to avoid becoming a nation of misanthropes. The deconstruction of the myth that a few have a monopoly on political virtue would eventually have a therapeutic effect on the nation's conscience. (Exercise No.2: Let's try to find out if we have the compassion to absolve each other-and ourselves-of crimes we may or may not have committed.)

You know what? Maybe we should set up a truth and reconciliation commission where we can sob, wail, moan and bang our fists for as long as we feel like. Once we run out of grudges, we just might start liking each other.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)