Nepali Times
Leap sideways


In the 19th century, my country Hungary was the breadbasket of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Very good soil and expertise went hand-in-hand with immense breatkhroughs in engineering. Agro revenues were funnelled into education: it has the largest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita of any country in the world, prompting Nature to famously declare that 'the 20th century was made in Budapest'. (The fact that 10 out of the 11 Hungarian Nobel laureates were Jewish and that they were forced to leave, is another story). The 20th century forced industrialisation, then Communist mass-production destroyed all that. Hungary only became a poor copy, a failed economy.

Nepal has been hurtling towards 'development', which is often used synonymously with 'Western'. Actually most of Western society, as we can see from the way it treats nature and animals and the quagmire it is in today, is in dire need of a 'Nepali approach'.

To change something, first we have to understand what it is. That takes patience, a slow approach, a clean slate, not seeing what was, nor what should be, but what is. These are things that are sorely lacking in the approach of the educated towards their own countries. Understandably so, since my feelings towards my own country are also such a jumble.

And maybe that leap forward will mean just as much a leap backward. Like going back to age-old farming techniques coupled with modern eco-friendly appliances like solar drying chambers.

Most countries are doing that what Tom did running from the telephone pole felled by Jerry. He ran forwards, or backwards, but was always in the trajectory of the falling log. And blam, he got hit in the head. As a kid, I never understood why he couldn't just make a step sideways.

Difficulties can be blessings in disguise. Lack of industrialisation could mean pure produce, isolated valleys could become micro-greenhouses for unique species of rice, the Himalaya could serve as natural protection against all the chemical use of the plains. With simple processing, drying, jobs would be created for premium prices. Whoever said industry is the only way forward, and who ever believed it?

Along with the Amazon, the Himalaya are the world's number one biodiversity treasure trove for medicinal plants. It is great that now we can buy Parma ham at a deli in Babar Mahal, even though only half a percent of society can regularly afford to shop there. But what if one day a Newari deli opened, with just-as-high quality produce, for a fraction of the price?

Nepal should leap neither backwards, nor forwards. It should combine the two and leap sideways.

In Hungary today, there is a small revolution taking place: cottage industries are springing up and finding a great resonance with European tourists who have always known of the high quality paprika, wine, salami and fruit brandy the country has offered. These produce are also sold to discerning customers in the best food halls and delis
of Europe for decent prices. There is even a small Hungarian section at Harrods.

What if Nepal was brave enough once more, and said: this is what we are. Whenever I talk to Nepalis they ask me what I like here. And whatever I say, they say: but Nepal is a poor, dirty country, the politics is terrible. I agree with the last two. But looking at the people, nature, the cultural heritage of the Valley, the community forestry models, religious and ethnic tolerance, and looking into the eyes of Chiri Bhai (see alongside) my answer is: hell it ain't poor.

Bal痙s Sz疽z is a Hungarian writer dividing his time between his home and Nepal.

Read also:
Chiri Bhai, superstar
An organic farmer who doesn't know what that term means

1. Anonymous
We need more of radical thinkers such as Balazs Szasz, who can instill fresh and alternative perspectives into our minds and help us raise the level of our self-awakening. It is high time for the Nepalis to go for self-soul searching, recognize our own inner strengths, and open our eyes to the inner spirit of the Nation. Let's stop blindly copying and mimicking others, instead let's start becoming more imaginative, creative, and self-determined. Isn't that the essence of 'Swayambhoo'? Bravo Mr. Szasz, you are a true friend of Nepali people!!

2. Raghu

Great Article. We like copying negative aspects of western culture and discarding good aspects of our own culture. It should be the other way round.

3. Ram Baharu
What's with all these do-gooder foreigners creeping across Nepal. First we had Comrade Arthur and now we have a Hungarian giving us lectures on our agriculture. Leave us alone

4. Nepali
My friend our leaders are equally wise and same time stupid result Zero.Peoples are helpless !!

5. Arthur
Wow! Is there such a shortage of reactionaries advocating backwardness in Nepal that you had to find one from Hungary?

6. Al Einstein

Also, a ratherツodd aside, Balazs...

"(The fact that 10 out of the 11 Hungarian Nobel laureates were Jewish and that they were forced to leave, is another story.)"

It's kind of you to mention that 10 of your 11 Noble Laureates were Jewish --ツbutツmore thanツa bit ingenuousツto claim them as Hungarianツheros whenツyour painfully understatedツ'forced to leave' conscientiously obscures theツfact thatツmany Jewish-Hungariansツwere sent to concentration camps for extinction, if not merely deportation.

Nepal is a beautiful country, it's true -- but lessons from Hungary should be a bit more revealing, if you chose to claim the originsツof the 20th C. -- unless that 'made in Budapest' tag includes the painful realities of the Holocaust...ツ

Your feelings about your home country are 'a jumble'...ツ rightfully so...

7. Dhedu Badar
Good Piece. This kind of peace needs to be circulated among readers outside the regulars of the Nepali Times. Simple is good, original is good, your own culture is good, complex is not always good, imitation means a sure death etc. But the issue in Nepal is beyond recognizing the need to "side step" as the author calls it. It is about the process of side stepping which is as confusing for the Nepalis as it may be for 2 dimensional Tom. It is about economics again, if selling your produce/product or running Newari deli becomes less cumbersome and makes economic sense then it would be already done. The market is not ready and the simple people doing organic farming or running a newari deli don't have the means to create and venture out into new expanded market than the one they already see and have. Its easier to recognize the value but more difficult the harness it. What Nepal needs right now is a bit of stability and sense of order supported by good policies, which given the fact that "politics is terrible" is not certain when or if it is going to happen. But nevertheless the author has made good points although they are the same that the Nepalis have heard from the 1950s when it opened up to the world...simple is good, original is good, Nepal is not poor and all along pushing itself into the abyss of bad case of modernization. Nepal can go a long way even if the Nepalis can just adhere to one mantra..."clean is good, dirty is bad".

8. Salil
Well written. A thoughtful piece.

9. Balazs
Dear テつ Al,テつ

were You all-knowing, as your name might suggest, You would know that from the Twenties on, Jewish populace was forced to leave due to very strict laws limiting their participation in public life, education, etc. The Holocaust came two decades later; thus the fate of the Hungarian Nobel Laureates, who left the country, has not much to do with the Holocuast per se.テつ
Hungary's record with the Holocaust is extremely mixed, too. It was the last country under German influence to start deporting the Jewish; it could hold up, heroically even, all demands for deportation from the German government until the spring of 1944. However, then it all happened with frightening efficacy: the public co-operated in ways unseen in other countries.テつ
All said, today Hungary's stance in the question remains mixed. On one hand Budapest has the only remaining and alive Jewish quarter in Central Europe and Hungary is the preferred country for Israeli investors in the region, on the other, right-wing and anti-Semitist forces are also strong and are represented in Parliament. So yeah, a jumble it is.テつ

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)