weekendr…monthendr…

When I “reviewed” (talking lightly here) a few weeks ago some news pieces on Nepal – I had only Nepali Times as the media source from Nepal (the other – non-Nepali source – being the BBC). It is going to be more of the same today for my category “in Nepali Press”. The reasons I read Nepali Times online are twofold – first because its a weekly paper and sort of summarises a Nepali week for me without having to check the news from “home” daily. Second because I really don’t like other two news portals – eKantipur and Nepalnews because of their craze with flashy banners, advertisements and all that, and they look dirty even when I block most of those flashy stuffs with Adblock in Firefox and Pithhelmet in Safari. Both those portals are so poorly designed in terms of their aesthetics that I rarely feel like staying on their homepage for more than a few seconds to glance at the headlines when I do stumble upon them occasionally (via links on Google News or other newswires). Anyway, its been a while since I took time to read all the articles in even the Nepali times, which I did today, and have something to comment on some of them if not all. Sort of my “mono-media review” – even there aren’t much news items on BBC about Nepal these days (Burma is making all the headlines and very rightly so).

So where do I start? Well, I guess I should start with the first column that I read when I go to Nepali Times – and that is CK Lal’s column. He talks about our (Nepalis’) identity crisis, in the wake of this guy Prashant Tamang from Darjeeling winning the Indian version of the TV show Pop Idol (not so creatively named Indian Idol- well, even the Americans couldn’t find better title, clumsily naming their version of the show American Idol!). Anyway, I actually didn’t know about the whole affair until I saw quite few headlines about this guy winning the Indian Idol on Google News the other day, strangely under my personalised news heading “Nepal on News“, which obviously made me wonder whether a Nepali had won the Indian Idol and if that was possible (i.e., if it was possible for a “Nepali” to partake in an Indian TV show whose aim is find an “Indian” Idol). Well, turned out he is an Indian national after all, but of an ethnicity commonly associated with Nepal. Anyway, headlines like Nepal celebrates Prashant’s victory in Indian Idol show or Nepalis dance in the streets for Indian Idol Prashant to name a few did catch my eyes but couldn’t generate enough interest in me to click to read the whole thing.

Now that I read CK Lal’s take on all this from what he witnessed in Nepal after this guy’s “victory” in that show, I couldn’t help wondering about our identity myself. In a week I read about Kapilvastu (actually I did read about Kapilvastu incident, first on BBC and then on Nepali Times last week but being so distressing and upsetting news as it was, I thought I should just forget that incident at that moment in time (yea, sounds cruel and arrogant, but I needed to at that time to be able to focus on my work here and not spend too much of my working/waking hours trying to comprehend what was going on and think about all those people killed, shops and houses looted and burnt mindlessly) and focus on my work here, given that I am more than a month behind my planned schedule!!!) sufferings and displaced people both sides of the border – the sufferings that seem to encompass caste, creed, religion, ethnicity and nationality even, and anything that the society has created to separate people from each other, it is quite something to read about this hysteria in Nepal for a TV show in India, just because the winner was a Tamang. Furthermore hearing about these people spending millions of rupees (in aggregate) sending SMS votes while people in Kapilvastu are struggling to find food and shelter seems not just ironic but simply ridiculous. Where does the priority of Nepalis in a position to do something lie? And who do we want to associate ourselves with? Simply put, what is our identity? OR as CK Lal puts is – “Who are we, and why is Prashant Tamang our hero?”

My take on this issue goes like this – First of all, we Nepalis like to take credit for things that turn out to be/considered desirable, successful, good and distance ourselves from the things that turn out to be/considered less desirable, unsuccessful, bad. We like to boast that we come from a country where Buddha, the symbol of peace and good virtue, was born more than twenty five centuries ago (although current Nepal didn’t exist then and that Buddha spent most part of his life, including the time when he achieved enlightenment, in places that are now in India ((By the way, Amartya Sen calls Buddha his “illustrious countryman” in his book Development as Freedom, and as we know most Indians consider India to be Buddha’s birthplace and Buddha to be “theirs”)) but quietly forget about the massacre of the whole royal family only a few years ago, or that hundreds of people were being killed every year by the Maoists and the government forces only until a year ago or that people are still being killed almost on a daily basis in many parts of the country, like those in Kapilvastu. Do we ever care to introduce ourselves to come from a country with all these troubles and that too in recent times and which did not take place more than 2500 years ago? Of course not. Although I admit I myself used to be one of those Nepalis introducing myself to come from the land of lord Buddha or that of the Mt Everest – but, it all changed suddenly the day after that fateful night in 2001 when King Birendra’s entire family was massacred. It suddenly became much easier for others (read foreigners) to identify Nepal as the country where the royal massacre took place, and although its not what a typical Nepali would like to identify himself/herself with, I found it much easier to introduce myself to come from the country where the royal massacre took place than where the Buddha was born. From that day onwards, whenever people don’t know which country I am talking about when I tell them I come from Nepal, I remind them about the royal massacre of a few years back and they know which country I am talking about! And I have absolutely no problem introducing myself as coming from such a country! And, those who know Nepal know it as country of Himalayas and all that anyway, so no need to introduce yourself in those terms (viz. Buddha’s birthplace or that of the royal massacre).

As I said we like to associate ourselves with what we consider to be good and disassociate ourselves with what we consider to be bad. We like to boast about never being colonised but forget about being ruled by the Ranas under the protection of the British – and in essence being under an indirect colonial rule. Worse, we don’t like to admit failures, mistakes or that we don’t know something (i.e., our ignorance) – and this last point tells a lot about us – Nepalis. I myself learned to admit my lack of knowledge/my ignorance on things only when I started my university education in the UK. When I was a (high-school) student in Nepal, a teacher knew “everything” and he/she was never wrong. If a student tried to correct a teacher or a younger member of society tried to point out the mistakes of an elder, it was often taken as an insult – a deliberate action to embarrass the teacher, or the elder. I remember being one of the quietest student in my class; and one of the major reason was that I was afraid of insulting/embarrassing my teachers in case I asked things they didn’t know – afraid of putting them in difficulty. Later on I was afraid of embarrassing myself by asking silly questions, so stayed quiet. Only when I started my university education in the UK that I felt liberated. I wasn’t ashamed to learn the ABC of “citing” other authors and “referencing” for the first time during a 4-week technical writing course in the autumn of 1999 – at an age of 20! I just hope Nepali high-school and higher-secondary education standard has improved now compared to nearly a decade ago when I completed my schooling there.

I found Ghana somewhat similar to Nepal when it comes to people (not) acknowledging their mistakes or their ignorance. Here too, people seem to find difficulty accepting that they don’t know something. When they have no alternatives but to accept that they made mistakes or that they don’t know something, the first thing they do is to try to justify/find/give reason(s) as to why the mistake was made or why they didn’t know the thing. And almost always its somebody else who is at fault – be it the government, chiefs, their friends and colleagues, or even their relatives/family members – but rarely themselves. No wonder I feel at home here in Ghana 🙂 . I have even started to form my theory as to why there are so few “researchers” trained within Nepal or within Ghana for that matter – because when we are within our respective societies we don’t like to be “ignorant”, don’t like admitting we “don’t know” something – and when you do that, then you don’t see/find any reason to learn, to research. There is no need to learn if you think you are not ignorant about things or that if you think you “know”. Again, I just hope things have changed back home in Nepal in these 9 or so years since I finished my schooling there.

Coming back to CK Lal’s question, “why is Prashant Tamang our hero?”, I think it is because of our inherent desire to associate ourselves with the success(ful), and in this case by invoking the ethnicity of the victor, considered to be of Nepali origin. CK Lal sees it slightly differently –

… Prashant’s popularity has exposed the hollowness of our modern nationalism: behind the mask of sophistication, we are all tribals. We place ethnicity above nationalism.

Just to round-up this issue of a “Nepali” winning the Indian Idol, Artha Beed has, not surprisingly, an economic take on the matter, and the last few lines from his column sort of summarises his views nicely.

Prashant … has now become an icon of Nepaliness in India, and a mascot of nationalism in Nepal. He provided an opportunity for Nepalis who always suffer from an identity crisis to be someone each Nepali could relate to.

Of course, the millions spent on “electing” Prashant could have been donated to build schools or hospitals. As one wag put it, if we had given the money to Indian Oil instead of Indian Idle we may have some petrol in our tanks.
But all we did was make ourselves feel good briefly and make the franchisees exceedingly rich.
The Nepali identity is never linked to prosperity but to poverty, migrant labour and mercenaries. Prashant could be a brand ambassador who could change all that. Even if it is just for that, perhaps, the investment may be worth it.

Well other than “Indian Idle”, as Artha Beed put it, there are the usual suspects making the headlines – literally, as the headline news piece is about the political crisis (this has become probably the cheapest phrase to describe Nepali politics in recent years) and the attempt to find some kind of “deal” to break the “deadlock”. The Kapilvastu story continues to make it to the news, this time focussing on the plights of the displaced. There is a lighter, mildly humorous piece about an architect detained by the US Embassy security in Nepal for taking pictures of their newly built embassy building! And a piece about PM Girija attending this year’s Kumari Rath Yatra as the “head of state”.

Well, after covering almost everything on Nepali Times, I was thinking of at least checking the headlines on other two popular news portals, at least for the sake of balance if nothing else when my RSS reader notified about two new entries on Zade X-Press. I thought why not check those first before I checked the headlines on eKantipur and Nepalnews, and its here that I came to know about Maoist blocking (I’m not clear on why, how or anything on this; and honestly didn’t feel any urge to check further on this than to read about it on this blog entry!) the publication of Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post. Well, in any case, I couldn’t check those news portals later on as there was a sudden lights off and I had to be content with reading those pages that had already been loaded on my browsers, offline, and on battery power. And it seems this will be my take on Nepali press this month (and a bit of blogosphere).

Well, as an endnote I should mention that I wrote the above paragraphs yesterday (Friday, hence the title weekendr 🙂 ) and today my newsfeeds’ headlines show that Prashant Tamang has arrived in Kathmandu for a concert and that even the PM has found time to meet/greet him…Kathmanduties must be having a great time while their fellow countrymen in Kapilvastu and elsewhere continue to suffer…