Nepali Times
Here And There
The gift of time


Numbers matter, so here are a few to ponder. 3, 6, 12, 52. All are approximate, even a little arbitrary-give or take a few digits. But each needs to be considered as we bemoan the state and fate of theKingdom of Nepal.

The first is the number of months that the country has been under a state of emergency. Three months, 90 days, one-quarter of a year. If you're an insect, that's a long time, possibly a generation or six. For us Homo sapiens, it's barely a blink of our bloodshot eyes.

Six is the number of years that Nepal's Maoists have been battling for their particular version of utopia. They fired their first shots-as if we could forget-on 13 February, 1996. That may seem a long time ago but it wasn't. It was less than a decade, a third of a generation in human terms-six governments ago, if you count the caretaker administration formed before the last general election.

Measuring such a devastating revolt in years or months, then declaring it short, may seem callous when you look at the cost in lives and lost opportunity for development, but it should focus the mind.

As for 12, that's the number of years since the officially approved start of the democracy movement in Nepal-7 Falgun, 2046, now observed as Democracy Day. It's not much of a trial period, let alone a chance to really give something a good, meaningful go before pronouncing it unworkable.

The Maoists only waited six years and war is being waged against them. Who then can say that twelve years is adequate time to sit in judgement of an unwieldy yet appropriate system of organisation that was wisely described once as the "least worst" way to govern society? Not I.

Finally, there's 51, an approximate measure of the years that have passed since Nepalis were more or less quit of the cynical and corrupt oligarchy that had ruled since the Kot massacre of 1846. It's been just over half-a-century since this country started striving to be a nation-state in the modern sense. "Striving" is the key word. Accountable government, transparent relations between citizens and state, rights, responsibilities, none of these things happen quickly or by fiat. They took centuries to arrive in the west, where regimes and other centres of power like the Catholic Church spent those dark ages before the flowering of democracy making mistakes and bullying the populace. There were revolutions galore, philosophical discourse ad naseum and countless attempts and failures to reform.

None of this is an attempt to excuse failure or provide empty comfort. Nor should any sense of urgency be lessened by awareness of time and how long it takes to bring meaningful change to a bad situation. But isn't it worth keeping in mind that in the overall of march of political events around the world, Nepal is a fledgling democracy, however beleaguered?

I submit that this land, full of strong, resilient people of good will, needs to be given time to deal with its problems and decide on its approach to modernity and development.

Development, as defined by the aidocracy that exercises such influence here, is partly to blame. Countries that took centuries to develop politically and economically throw promiscuous amounts of money into places that have barely emerged from the shadow of colonialism or autocracy.

Experts on short assignments, and their political masters at home, demand quick results, quick fixes, in short, unsustainable solutions to deeply rooted, often-ancient problems. Lately, they even impose political imperatives spawned in overseas think tanks, or appealing to electorates half a world away and irrelevant at ground zero in Nepal. Measuring "human development" year on year is a good example of this. A worthy exercise up to a point, but largely unconnected to the self-evident notion that reform and improvement happen over varying and usually long periods of time.

So too the demands of democratic politics tarnish and diminish the search for meaningful change. Getting elected and staying in power are imperatives measured in days and weeks, not in the decades and generations needed for real improvement in the lot of the people. Yet don't forget, no better system has emerged to date.

And finally, there's my own lot, the media. We have a lot to answer for. We compress time into minutes and-spurred by competition and relentless demand for "fresh content"-hurl each newly apparent bit of information into the void. It all impacts upon the perception that things are poorly, and getting worse with no hope in sight. Until it heaves into view, that is, and I'm sure it will. Given time.

The gift of time is exceedingly precious, no more so than in a place like Nepal, starved of context and perspective in a modern age that seems doomed to repeat the countless errors of the past.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)