Nepali Times
Here And There
When the going gets tough


It's become a habit almost everywhere for politicians and leaders to confront crisis with a call for introspection, for people to assess themselves and what's around them. The motive is usually evasion of responsibility by the politico, or frantic buying of time to see if events will sort themselves out.

Me, I long for a different sort of call from the public podium. When the going gets tough, I want someone to tell us all to stop thinking about ourselves and our little microcosmic points of time, space and attitude. I wish someone, sometime would tell the people to get real, grow up, get a life and start making the best of what they've got.

Even here in Canada. We hear it again and again and again. Oh how dreadful things are in Nepal. The Royal massacre on top of bandh after bandh after bandh. The Maoist rebellion swelling and smouldering over the dreamy western hills and the foreign investors charting a steady course away from our shores; our deteriorating environment and the ever-gloomy aid community waxing bearish over beers during their paid home leave each sweaty monsoonal summer.

Well I'm tired of it. It's time to count some blessings Start with the basics. This is the world's most beautiful country. Bar none. Along the splendid heights of the Himalayas from Kangchendzonga to Api-Saipal this is a land of unmatched natural splendour and beauty. Not just the peaks and high valleys, the middle hills with their rice terraces and impossibly situated villages put other countries to shame, even the fabled Philippines or Bali.

The Kathmandu Valley is a lush cradle of civilisation, a natural temple to human creativity, whatever the depredations wrought by modernisation and growth. And the tarai is sheer bliss. It's what north India would be without so many people and a stultifying caste system, a neat, green patchwork of sustainable farms and scrubbed villages. The Nepali people are a truly phenomenal bunch, however full of self-loathing and angst the tiny intellectual elite may be.

The plains, don't forget, were feverish jungles of death not two generations ago; the middle hills had no development, new crops or foreign ideas. Now, whatever the drawbacks and social challenges, there's a ferment of change and development that doesn't come from a northern European aid agency boardroom or a document written in gobbledygook by a multilateral organisation or a foreign government "expert" dispersal department.

Whatever one may think of the Maoists and their tactics, trying to see their activities as at least an attempt at self-help by a people denied development and you'll perhaps begin to understand what I mean. As for the hill folk, does anyone have to hold out begging bowls for the Sherpas, Manangis, Thakkalis or others? I think not.

But oh, I hear you say, Kathmandu is a wretched mess, a blot on the landscape full of parasitic, bloodsuckers and corruption. Frankly, what national capital isn't seen that way by the citizens. Washington DC certainly has such a reputation, and deservedly so. Me, I see Kathmandu as the nation's best hope, an urban cauldron of ideas and lively young people, where an entrepreneur or an activist with an idea can break the chains of caste, tradition and rural poverty; where democracy is still in its infancy, and doomsayers get paid by the predictions, and where everyone forgets that it has only been eleven years since democracy began.

I write from Canada, another nation prone to introspection, gloom and squabbling over things that seem meaningless to outsiders. There are many here who lack perspective and ponder whether, after 134 years of existence as a modern nation, this place somehow lacks relevance. It seems ludicrous to someone familiar with Nepal's travails, but ask a citizen of Sierra Leone or Guatemala if they wouldn't prefer Nepal's problems to their own. You'll get a flood of requests for visas.

No, Nepal isn't a bed of roses. Yes, there are many things to be gloomy about. But my calculator tells me that the blessings, the attributes plus potential, factoring in the amount of time allowed for development, are still on the positive side of the ledger. And that's where the introspection should end.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)