CAN I HELP YOU: Narayan Khakurel at his Coffee Talk cafe at the Marco Polo Hotel in Kathmandu.
The coffee shop near the metro station was neat, clean and orderly. After all, this was Singapore.
I was sipping coffee with a young Nepali who told me of his dream of going back home to do something good for his country. He looked around, and said he could set up a coffee shop just like this one.
Narayan Khakurel connected with me through Facebook while I was in Singapore on a journalism fellowship a few years ago. “I’ve had a wonderful time here,” he told me, “I have learnt a lot not just about myself but also about how countries get ahead. I will take this knowledge and experience back to Nepal.”
Overseas Nepalis tend to be a bit idealistic when they are away, but mostly, the fire in the belly goes out a few months after being back. I wanted to believe my new FB friend. He was committed, and sounded sincere. Still, I was skeptical.
South Asians, without exception, are impressed with the progress Singapore has made. The wide and well-paved roads, the lush greenery, smooth traffic and superb urban transport set standards all urban planners aspire for. I was learning about good governance and leadership that had produced the results that have made communists and capitalists alike admire Singapore.
It all seemed a world away from the dusty, noisy, chaotic and dark streets of Kathmandu. Our politicians often promise to turn Nepal into Singapore. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, the first prime minister after the 1990 People’s Movement
, was full of optimism when he dreamed of the day when Kathmandu’s streets would be washed down with water. Today, there isn’t enough water even for drinking.
Narayan had tried his hand at organic farming
in Nepal, but didn’t succeed. He had been lured here by a vacancy ad for managers at a local KFC, which was where I met him next time. “Everyone can learn from experience if given the opportunity,” he said.
“The job isn’t easy,” he added, between attending to customers. “But I know that if I can successfully manage a place here, I can do it anywhere in the world.”
After returning to Kathmandu, I often wondered what had become of Narayan Khakurel. I tracked him down and found out that he had fulfilled his dream of establishing a café and bakery chain in Kathmandu.
It is called Coffee Talk
with outlets at Marco Polo Hotel
and opposite the US Embassy
. Narayan has even started Coffee magazine, and trains young Nepalis in brewing and serving coffee, so that if they go abroad to study they can earn some money on the side working at a Starbucks
Narayan is busy and excited about the future, and although reading newspapers makes him despondent at times, and despite all the shortages and problems, he admits being happier than when he was working abroad. “I’m on my way to the top, the best is yet to happen,” Narayan says humbly.
Narayan embodies a new breed of young Nepalis who have returned to the land of their birth, hoping to make a decent living with creativity and entrepreneurship. There are thousands of Narayans all over Nepal. You can tell when you get into a taxi in Kathmandu that the driver has come back from Malaysia or Qatar just because its interior is neater than other dilapidated cabs. Many have returned to start vegetable farms
, or raise livestock. These are Nepali heroes who sweated it out for years in the Arabian desert, and have come back not just to earn a living but create jobs in Nepal for fellow-Nepalis.
Every time I pass Coffee Talk in Lajimpat, I stop by for a chat with Narayan. He is not the one to complain about everyday crises, instead he talks about how he has overcome them. Narayan doesn’t just sit around lamenting the state of affairs, he gets things done. “Lau na kehi garaun, dai,” he tells me often, hoping that perhaps the politicians will listen to the media.
Every time I meet Narayan, I have the image of him sipping coffee at a café in Singapore where he first told me about his dream. A dream that he made sure came true.
Remitting knowhow, Ashutosh Tiwari
Turning Singapore into Nepal, Kunda Dixit