Nepali Times
Envy thy neighbour



Walking out through Delhi's new airport, all gleaming floors, smartly dressed officials and streamlined procedures (despite the fog and security concerns), you may feel this is, indeed, India Shining. My earliest memory of India as a child flying back from England to Nepal was that of crowds, sticky heat, and flies.

Such lasting impressions are further dispelled as I am smoothly propelled along the motorways to the city centre. In the wintry evening fog, humanity and poverty appear virtually non-existent. Ok, so the pre-paid taxi driver asks me if I mind him making a little extra by putting an extra passenger in the front seat, and the traffic is a little wild (though more regulated than anywhere in Kathmandu) but this is India, after all, and I am getting where I am going.

I hop on to a comfortable bus to Jaipur after an hour in a rather run-down station adjacent to Bikaner House, and the illusion resumes. More motorways viewed through reclining seats supplied with bottles of mineral water, a well-timed break at a food court, and I could be anywhere in the west. Has India really moved on, I wonder, half-admiring, half-resentful.

It's only when we turn into the roads leading into the Pink City of Jaipur that I am reminded the Old India hasn't gone away. Everything appears smaller, shabbier. There are figures huddled around fires, dogs, pigs, cows in clover, in garbage, and there are rows of tempos and rickshaws awaiting our arrival. It's the India of memory. But then a one-star hotel that's almost as good as the five-star hotel I was offered when my flight from Kathmandu was cancelled? I exaggerate, it's true, but at least the Arya Niwas didn't have a cockroach greet me at the door.

The Jaipur Literature Festival was another revelation. All may not have proceeded as smoothly as envisaged, with cancelled speakers, rearranged schedules and long lines for the food and drinks?- but this is common to all festivals across the world, and the organisers juggled the more than 100 sessions and thousands of participants admirably. It was a world-class event.

Jaipur has its fair share of poverty, of course. While Dalit rights and writes were being discussed inside the Durbar Hall of the Diggi Palace Hotel, real-life Dalits sprawled on the urine-stained walks outside the venue. Jaipur has acquired a few fancy malls and brandname stores. But modernity still struggles to overcome conservative mores, with tight-jeaned girls, scarves over their faces, retreating to cavern-like spaces such as the Karan Restaurant to spend quality time with their squeezes.

So the impression just past India's 61st Republic Day is one of impressive advances in infrastructure and a burgeoning middle class in the megacities, well-linked to less impressive provincial cities and, one imagines, much less impressive satellite towns and rural backwaters where the old India is very much present. Clearly, if Kathmandu is a destination for families of Indian beggars, the Indian state is slipping somewhat.

The difference perhaps is that past glory?- in Delhi as much as in the palaces and forts and the remarkable astronomical structures of Jaipur's Jantar Mantar (pictured)?- has not been seen as a be all and end all in Indian cities. These are good for tourists, and the tourist infrastructure has been progressively attended to. But the Indian state clearly has an eye to the future of its citizens as well, even if one does not agree with the state's attitude towards those within and without its borders who do not agree with it.

In contrast, successive Nepali governments seem content to bask in the reflected glory of a World Heritage Site they have done nothing to augment save with a cascade of ugly concrete structures almost totally unsupported by services. All we get are a series of singularly idiotic, unsubstantiated visions: Singapore, Switzerland, Naya Nepal. Here, we just want Kathmandu, Nepal, plain and simple, serviced and serviceable.

Jaipur journey?- FROM ISSUE #487 (29 JAN 2010 - 04 FEB 2010)

1. whinge
Stop whinging mate.. Nepal is this, Nepal is that.. Tell us how to improve it.. lead the way.. use your influence.. start lobbying for the beetterment..

2. Arthur
"Here, we just want Kathmandu, Nepal, plain and simple, serviced and serviceable." It is obvious to all that the rulers of Nepal just want to benefit Kathmandu and do not care about the rest of the country. But the result of such a predatory regime is that even Kathmandu is a cesspit.

3. Nirmal S.
Whinge, here is the suggestion. Look in ward what nepal can do thinking about what Indian would do to us. How can we make our leaders responsible? How to untilized our resources not being paronoid that India will take over everything. Here is other, encourage student to learn stay in school and not to strike and close school everytime they got opportunites. Aksed maoist not to close roads for days just their cadate and cadate from other party had fight. Kids fight we don't have to close whole country. I don't think mr. Thapa was whinging. you are living in denial. People progress in terms of what other has done and how we can get ahead of others. Close comparasion for us is Indian in terms of poverty, social cultural structure and other. Remember you started wearing jeans instead of labeda surwal because it looked nice on others and they seems comfortable with it. If you understand Mr. Thapa is lobbying as his capacity permits. he is not politician he is columist. He like to influnce through column. And he did it. He showed evidence how behind we are then those were in same place ten years ago. This will allowed us to think why should put our energy in our progress. Do not discourage someone who is at least doing, being rude. I like to hear your contribution. If you are writer we like to read what you have written.

4. Ram
Arthur, Nirmal, Whinge, and Rabi [if you look at these comments] mates, I know this entire comment may sound ridiculous and naive to many but what do you think of this idea: Nepalis stop asking about the 'government' to make things better and start forming, in the word of Tocqueville 'citizen associations' that stop looking for institutional solutions to their problems and take matters into their own hands. Think of this as the ordinary people who stood up against Gyanendra who said, "alright! I threw this despot off but my work is not done. I am going to care about my community and contribute to building a democracy and a better life rather than waiting for someone else to do it." I am not talking of little anarchist communes. I am talking of neighborhoods in cities, and individual villages. Let's assume that existence is a three part vortex: At the center is the individual, associations in the middle, and institutions in the outer layers. We have [insert any city, village, town in Nepal]: Basic services are in shambles; people are not happy; People need care. In this premise, we start building informal caring communities with associations that will come together out due to their shared interest/need in making a community better. Say there is a lot of trash in Old Baneshwor chowk . Citizens decide they had too much and come together to clean it on their own rather than wait for 'the government' to do it. We have unemployed people as it is. Instead of lounging around/ protesting in the streets against [insert enemy] they can help care for their communities. What is the incentive? The incentive is care. I say that if people can have inherent self-interest within them, they are also capable of inherent altruism. I realize that there are many groups that already do this. How can we replicate them? How do we change the wider society's focus from "Oh, the government should fix this" to " Goddammit! I am going to fix it myself! If they don't care, I do and I will find others like me who want to make a difference!"

5. Arthur
Ram, I like your approach. Better to organize people to solve problems than to just complain that the government does not fix them. But I see that as complementary and part of politics to change the way Nepal is governed, not as opposed to ALSO complaining about government failure with a view to actually changing the way things are done, not as a substitute for doing things. Unfortunately many problems simply cannot be solved without decent goverment so naturally people who really want to tackle those problems also first want to act to replace the governnment. Otherwise it can be like NGOs/INGOs - trying to help with various problems but not actually able to solve them.

6. Chandra Gurung
For god's sake, Rabi, please change your photo. Can't you look a little bit formal or at least, less angry? That will be a start of a new Nepal. tyo risaeko jasto garera photo khichne ta Rana haruko palama ho.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)