The city of Jaipur was built in 1727, about 50 years before Prithvi Narayan Shah carved out the Nepali nation state. Jaipur has been one of the key tourist destinations in India and forms a golden triangle with Agra and Delhi.
On a whirlwind road trip across many cities in Western Nepal, one can find a lot of similarities with the Capital. Although construction is booming, the roads are dug up without a timeframe for when it will be re-laid, and houses are built in an unplanned manner. It’s as if the road conditions are accepted as long as there is enough space for motorcycles to pass through, never mind ambulances or fire engines. Ugly hoarding boards jostle with each other; and, if there is anything that unites Nepal visually, it is the presence of massive boards advertising Alcoholic beverages everywhere.
Last week, a consultant on a mission came to see me. This was the first time I met him. He told me he was back in Nepal for the first time since his last visit more than ten years ago. He had a big question to ask—does anything change in Nepal? He shared with me how, during his last visit, he worked as a note-taker for a person in a more senior position, but now he is the key man. Yet in Nepal, he went on to say, those people he met who held leading positions the last time he was here held the same positions this time around too.
It is very interesting to watch campaigns for the upcoming elections. While driving through town on Saturday, I had to give way to a bunch of motorcycles with party flags. They had turned their headlights to high beam despite the fact that it was mid-day and were honking continuously as they whizzed past. They disrupted traffic and it seemed as though they were heading out for a ‘gang-fight’ instead of campaigning for their candidate.
On a recent Qatar Airways flight from Washington Dulles to Doha, after completing the safety briefing, the Senior Cabin Attendant came over to speak to me and welcomed me on board. She was Nepali. We had a brief conversation and she told me she had been working with the airline for ten years. This was not the first time I had met a fellow Nepali in a similar position. And the reoccurrence of such events has set me to wondering why it is that we Nepalis perform so well in other countries, but not in our own.
Nepal will slowly inch back to normal by the end of the week, after a month full of festivities. In an agrarian society, a month’s break and the accompanying celebrations after hard physical labour is perfect. But we need to start thinking about whether we can afford to take a month long break with the globalised economy in mind. The fact that people are fine with activities slowing down for a month shows how the economy is insular, reliant on domestic consumption, and has little to do with export or the outside world.
Just after the 1990 Jan Andolan, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai became the Prime Minister. I heard him at close quarters a few times, rattling on about how Nepal will be turned into another Singapore, known for its extreme cleanliness. As a young professional who worked at Soaltee Hotel back then, I used to wonder how a person who chews on paan so incessantly that his teeth are stained, and who perhaps has never attended an oral hygiene lesson, could possibly make the whole city clean.