“Who says Kathmandu is boring. It is positively hopping with action these days,” Artha Beed wrote in a 2001 column in the Nepali Times. It’s as true today as it was then. And here’s the book that proves it, a collection of lively, provocative and decidedly non-boring essays by the Beed that will intrigue, inform and delight you.
I once sat next to the outgoing Nepali economist who calls himself Artha Beed on a flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu. He came across as a man with a strong social conscience. After some chit-chat we exchanged business cards. His said he was Artha Beed, but then (in a whisper) that he was really a businessman named Sujeev Shakya. He’d been writing the Beed’s column since 2001, when the Nepali Times first started up. Now in case you think I’ve just broken a confidence, I hasten to add that Nepali Times Editor Kunda Dixit states it outright in his Foreword to this little book: “It gives me great pleasure to reveal…that the Beed is none other than…”
Sujeev Shakya, as Beed, is a social critic with an avid following. What he says rings true of the life, social order and politics of Nepal as seen through an insightful economist’s eyes. He’s sharp, witty, popular, and usually ‘spot on’ in his assessments of what’s happening to the nation.
He has written on all sorts of topics, with such intriguing titles as ‘Privatise privatisation,’ ‘Bullying Nepal’, ‘For Art’s sake’, ‘Bank(ruptcy) woes’, ‘Present continuous tense’, ‘The art of spin’, and ‘Sandalwoodonomics’ (about timber smuggling). In one essay entitled ‘Nepal and Thailand’, the Beed reflects on what he’s learned about national pride in Thailand and Singapore (a subject we discussed on the BKK to KTM flight): “It is important to learn from the success stories of countries like Thailand to improve things in Nepal.” But, he says, “We don’t need to keep repeating that we want to be a Singapore. We can start by getting close to where Thailand is.”
Some of his essays deal with the issues and the agents of development, in ‘The NGO business’ and ‘The Aid haemorrhage’, for example. Another set deals directly with the impacts of Maoism on the nation in ‘Consumerism in the time of Maoism’, ‘Getting back on track’, ‘Democracy dividends’, ‘Enough’, and ‘Maonomics’,
He’s on top of a lot of interesting facts about tourism, higher education, law and order, youth, and the Nepali labor force and remittances. Did you know, for example, that between 2003 and 2007, a million Nepalis went abroad for work. Their remittances for 2007 alone add up to something close to two billion dollars! That’s 2,000,000,000 US dollars which, at the concurrent exchange rates was equal to 130 crore rupees. A tidy sum. And what are the Nepalese doing with that sort of money? Ask the Beed.
In ‘Youth power rising’, he tells us that Nepal’s “Youth power is more visible now than ever before, simply because half of our population is below 20. Now is the time to find the right ways to harness this energy for positive uses. Yes, young people will drive the future economy because of their sheer numbers but we must ensure that their contributions in all facets of our society will be positive.” Yes, indeed. He’s not alone in suggesting that Nepal needs to harness that “youth power” for social good, but is anyone listening?
In ‘Moral police needed’, the Beed is discerningly introspective and disarming. While expats may hesitate to speak out about such things, the Beed has no reservations: “Where are our civic sense and moral policing,” he asks, while probing what he perceives to be a distinct lack of moral sense: “Why are we scared to throw trash in the streets of the US or Europe but do it thoughtlessly back home? Why is it that Nepali drivers never jump a red light outside the streets of their own country? Why do we diligently queue at the immigration counter in Delhi but as soon as we land at Kathmandu airport, we fling our departure cards at the officials and ignore the queue?”, and so forth.
“Writing,” the Beed says early in this well-charged little book, “is rarely an acquired habit; it is, rather, a passion that one inculcates, perhaps early in life.” Beed’s opinions have passion, and are fun to read.