CK Lal's column "Corruption, Nepalis and the Expat" (#32) in response to your interview with the US Ambassador was, as ever, thought-provoking and made some good points. Yet, at least as much as Frank's remarks, it failed to get to the heart of Nepal's development problems, or acknowledge the sincerity and deeply-felt frustration of most foreigners and Nepalis who work in development. Nepal faces several severe disadvantages beyond its control in trying to move forward. Here and there at grassroots level, where technology has been appropriate, local people have had 'ownership' from the outset and leadership has been strong but consensual, noteworthy successes have been scored at very low cost. However, these are hardly ever duplicable on a larger scale. Why?
Is corruption at the root of the problem or is it merely symptomatic? Nepal carries the dead weight of those in positions of power at all levels of society who cannot see beyond their own narrow interests and have no thought for their own community let alone the country as a whole. But Nepal also has men and women of vision, integrity and dedication who campaign for change at considerable personal cost and show real leadership potential. So why do they make so little impact? Are Nepalis simply better at talking than actually doing? Or is it because so often good people work alone, or in small, narrow groups not even united with others who advocate the same causes? Could the answer have anything to do with the experience of foreigners who arrive believing in a society of supreme tolerance, but as they stay longer become increasingly aware that Nepalis don't talk to each other, and that society is here, in fact, deeply divided, fragmented, and hierarchy ridden.
Can the most civilised, educated, fair-minded Nepalis, who have no difficulty in working with 'neutral' outsiders, really not forge bonds of trust to work for a common cause with fellow-citizens of different ethnic background, caste, education and interest group? Will the day never come when a majority of Nepalis of all ethnic groups and religious persuasions are united behind a government that acts and speaks for them all, and so assists them in developing their country themselves in appropriate ways. Then, far from allowing foreign consultants to soak up funds meant for Nepal, government could say to the donors, "We Nepalis have our own vision of what our country can and will be, and it doesn't match the development model fashionable at the moment, so if you want to help us it will be on our terms and only where we feel we want help."
Nepal is a wonderful country with incalculable riches in her geography, her magnificent cultural heritage, and the warmth, dignity and spirituality of her diverse peoples in their brave struggle for survival. But she cannot attain her potential and proper place in the world, or give the world the many gifts of wisdom she has to offer unless her more privileged sons and daughters take the lead in listening to, identifying with and trusting other Nepalis, accepting them as having an equal stake in her future, and working together with them for her advancement.
Culinary fire hazards
25 years of burning my tongue at home and abroad allows me to talk with authority on chillies.
Thanks to Sujata Tuladhar for making my mouth salivate like melting glaciers with the mere mention of Honacha's aalu (Kathmandu's red hot melting pot, #33). I could imagine my nostrils flaring up, my heartbeat accelerating, my ears all red, and my tongue on fire, even though I was thousands of miles away from Patan Durbar Square. I wish I was at Honacha's right now.
Having had the experience of burning my tongue with chilli peppers at home and abroad over a span of 25 years, I thought it would be appropriate for me to add some of the things that I know about chillies. First of all, jeeray is called jeeray not because it originated in Jiri, but because it is as small as a jeeraa (cumin seed) and as potent as well. A jeeray is a fire hazard, and the kind of chilli for which your need a fire extinguisher handy in the loo the morning after. The bird chilli, which Ms Tuladhar calls the bird's-eye chilli, is a little bit bigger (fatter, and longer) than a jeeray. This chilli gets its name because birds eat it and the seeds come out intact in bird-droppings. That is why bird chillies grow in the wild.
Compared to jeeray, Thai chillies are much hotter. They are more slender and shorter, like their fellow countrymen, than our common khursani, but have far more fire-power than your garden varieties of chillies. Jeeray are hot, but not as much as the dulley and the akabaray of eastern Nepal. Ask anyone from Bhojpur, Panchthar, and Ilam about akabaray and dulley and you will hear sob stories-stories of runny noses, sniffling, and snivelling. Akabaray, as the name suggests, is named after the emperor Akbar, and is the emperor of all chillies. And if the akabaray has the majesty and power of Akbar, the dulley is a VC-winning WWI Johnny Gurkha, short, round, fast and lethal.
The jyanmaaraa, although it looks like an akabaray, is in fact quite mild. It takes something to be an akabaray. It is mostly confined to the Valley and its periphery and is considered-falsely-by the Valley community to be the hottest chilli on the planet. American chilli lovers boast that the haba?ero-the neutron bomb from the Caribbean-is the hottest in the world, as it measures 400,000 Scoville units-on the scientific scale used to measure the hotness of chilli peppers. Bird chillies go up to 150,000, and our garden variety (baariko khursani) measure between 40-80,000 Scoville units. Haba?eros also have a wonderful flavour, unlike our dulleys and akabarays. I have looked around, but it looks like as yet nobody has measured the hotness of our dulleys and akabarays. I can vouch that dulley and akabaray dais from the Nepali Hills are far hotter and raunchier than the Caribbean coastal se?ors. What the Americans do not know is that we, in Nepal, might have the most lethal weapon in the spice world. Since our athletes always come last in international sporting events, and we have nothing to boast of other than the mountains and the temples, we might as well start internationalising the issue. A day will come when the international community, especially the Americans, will have to recognise Nepal as a condiment superpower. Dulleys and akabarays will join Mt Everest and Lumbini in adding lustre and fame to Nepal in the years to come.