Nepali Times
Here And There
Canada in the global village


I got an early lesson in the notion of the "global village" as a young journalist and union official in Canada. Not to mention my first meeting with someone from Nepal.

My trade union had sent me on a course on the history of the labour movement to a university in the central Canadian city of Winnipeg. I think my more activist colleagues were a bit distressed that 1 was neglecting the class struggle and trying hard to get my bargaining unit more money for less work. That\'s always seemed a sound proposition to me, although in these days of global corporatism, it can be seen as tantamount to blasphemy.

One night, on the way to class, I heard a booming stentorian voice with an odd (to me) accent coming from around a corner. Then I ran into an even odder couple, a towering New Zealander with snowy hair and jutting eyebrows, and a short, wiry fellow with a habitual grin and an aura that combined deep competence am friendliness.

I\'d collided with Sir Edmund Hillary and a nephew of Tenzing Norgay. They were at my university to inspect classrooms with an eye to sending budding engineers from Solukhumbu on scholarships. Now, there wasn\'t a mountain for several thousand km in any direction, barely a hill or a mound of earth.

We were in the Great plains of North America. It was also the middle of winter, with temperatures around minus 30 degrees. So I asked the young Norgay about the wisdom of sending Sherpas to Winnipeg, and whether a university in a more mountainous area might

not be appropriate. He hooted with laughter. "Perfect," he said gesturing out the window at a howling snowstorm, "like being on Everest without climbing, and we can drive cars. No walking or carrying loads."

Canada used to be the last place that one would expect to encounter South Asians, but not any more. This Subcontinent, and my country are neighborhoods in the global village with close, intrinsic links And not necessarily positive at all times, as one particular recent episode demonstrates.

The Canadian postal service, seeing its business disappearing to e-mail, decided to tempt people back into the post office with an interesting scheme.

Instead of the august, never-changing features of Queen Elizabeth II, a small sum could put the photograph of your choice upon a postage stamp. You paid slightly above the cost of the stamp. And the face of a loved one, a friend, your dog, whomever-so long as consent had been given.

The idea was getting quite popular when someone at the post office noticed something odd. Thousands upon thousands of orders for stamps were being submitted, with the same picture of a 4()-something, intense South Asian man. Identification of this person, was vague at best.

Delivery of the stamps was halted while things were checked out. The man in the photograph, very nearly on the stamp, turned out to be Velupillai Prabhakaran, head of the Tamil Tigers. Those among Canada\'s Tamil community who support the LTTE armed activities in Sri Lanka had hit upon a tremendous wheeze to get international stature for their cause-their leader\'s head on a postage stamp of a small but respected nation.

The order was denied on the grounds that Mr Prabhakaran had not given his consent in writing.

Overwhelmingly, of course, the Canada-South Asia link is to the betterment of both places, although 1 hope the Indian participants of an upcoming goodwill trip to Canada think so too. Canada, it appears, is about to become a world power in the diamond business. Determined not to kowtow to the international cartel run by DeBeers of South Africa, Canadian gem miners are forging direct links with the diamond cutters of India-largely in Gujarat.

Later this year, a group of Gujarati gem merchants and cutters will be taken to Canada to see the diamond mine-in the roaring, high Arctic, thousands of km north of even Winnipeg, where my young Sherpa friend was so happy. 1 can only hope the goodwill survives the cold. If it does, it\'ll last forever.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)