Nepali Times
State Of The State
Peace in our time


The mountains aren't grieving. The sky isn't weeping. The trees aren't shaking with rage. The sun isn't breathing fire. The air is as cool as on any other Sunday morning in Kathmandu. And then over the FM comes the day's headline: nearly five hundred might have been killed in security operations around Lisne Lek in Rolpa. Five hundred? I choke, and splutter into my morning tea. I want to weep.

The heart bows to the coping mechanism of the mind. I begin to rationalise: Maoists had brought it on themselves, the chances of "collateral damage" in the middle of a forest is minimal, or the figures may have been inflated for propaganda value (the security forces badly needed a victory).

I settle for the ever convenient escape of the urban middle class: why bother about things that you can do nothing about? Life has to go on, no matter what. Lenin was right, it's one death that is a human tragedy. Any thing more than that is a statistic. The higher the number, the more numbing the fact.

I plant a Jerusalem Berry in the flower pot, pluck ainselu from the garden fence, take the dog for a walk. Buy bread, milk, vegetables, today's newspapers. There is a call from BBC World Service, and it is difficult to hold back the frustration. Since it's impossible to make sense of the clouds hovering over Rolpa, I try to see the silver lining instead-the Maoist insurgency began in Rolpa, and it's symbolic that the beginning of its end should also happen there. Life goes on despite a deep, dull ache in the heart.

A friend suggests that I applaud the appointment of Dr Narayan Khadka as the Vice-Chairman of National Planning Commission. Dr Khadka is believed to be a Canadian of Nepali descent, but he has also written at least two erudite books on the politics of foreign aid in Nepal. Given his expertise, he may understand the present predicament of the Nepali economy a little better.

Besides the usual complaints of falling exports, shrinking tourism, burgeoning regular expenditure, the diminishing investment in infrastructure and the resulting lower growth rate leading to loss of jobs, it's the looming debt crisis that National Planning Commission needs to worry about. The government spends more on servicing debt than on education and public health combined. The next budget has already been decided by the ministry of defence. Dr Khadka has his job cut out for him, and he can start with the debt ledger.

This government is unlikely to approach donors for an outright loan write-off. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's priorities are different in Washington: his eyes are firmly set on the promise of $20 million worth of "non-lethal" arms to fight "terrorists". Then there is the possibility of another $20 million for development. It's a lot of money, as much as what the South African space cadet paid to get ten days on the International Space Station.

Along with VC Khadka, the Singha Darbar think-tank will have Dr Jagdish Chandra Pokharel, Dr Shankar Sharma, Dr Minendra Rijal and Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat. The good doctors are all graduates of prominent US universities, and not even one of them is what Nepali Congress stalwart Pradip Giri would call an "organic intellectual", these being intellectuals who gain wisdom indigenously and not through their Harvard case studies.

As the day progresses, reports from Rolpa keep pushing the casualty figure up. But Kathmandu is a well-shielded Valley, even grief can't get past the Thankot check-post. At a reception at the Radisson in the evening, the buzz is the brand of Hari Prasad Pandey's car. During the cocktails hosted by the management of Kantipur Television, discussion veers effortlessly from Famous Grouse whisky to the diversity of investments in the Nepali media. The headache turns into throbbing pain.

On the way back, I find my face wet, and it's not raining yet. The storm is gathering over Chandragiri, lightning flashes and the dull drum of distant thunder from the west. The full impact of the news of one of the worst one-day carnages in the history of Nepal hits me between my eyes, right there as I pass over the Balkhu Bridge.

Those who died (and are dying every day) may have been killers, terrorists or martyrs. These are labels-affixed by the living on the dead. It doesn't alter that 500 Nepalis died at the hands of their brothers.
Maybe the time has come to be a brave warrior for peace. To be courageous enough to call for an end to this senseless violence. Do the Maoists have the courage to stop the war? Can the political leadership of the country stand up for peace?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)