November 8, 2016 Sujeev Shakya

Cultural Matters

Two events in the past week have made me think a lot. One is the way the government enforced a state-sponsored closure on the first day of the visit of the Indian President and the subsequent closure of parts of the Capital to accommodate VIP traffic. Another is the untimely death of Sanjay Neupane, a business journalist and a Humphrey Fellow who was battling cancer, and the spontaneous outpourings it prompted on social media. 

I am not passing judgement here; rather, I am looking at events that take place in our society and pondering on the why, as opposed to the what. Since I started working in the domain of life coaching, mentoring and leadership, I try to stay in learner mode rather than in judger mode. I try to think about the comments that each event elicits on social media including my own, many of which I have deleted after finding them to be judgmental. The quest for learning from one’s own mistakes continues as well.

Ease Of Closing

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid problems is to close. For example, many times during the day, when auspicious rituals are to be performed, they decide to shut parts of the Golden Temple in Patan. It took me years to learn why they do so. Perhaps telling people the reason would ensure that they do not step into the places marked holy. We see this happening in many places of worship including altars at home. Instead of finding ways to make things work by keeping things going, we just choose the easiest option, that is, to close. We close when political leaders die; we shutter offices when our demands are not listened to; we shut down institutions if they do not behave the way we would like them to behave.

No wonder the lock has become such an important part of our lives. Closing the country is perhaps easier than racking your brains to figure out how to keep the traffic flowing without compromising security. Earlier, during the fight for democracy, closing was adopted as a form of protest. It became a powerful tool to make your voice heard. While some countries have learned how to keep protests going without affecting daily lives, in South Asia closing is a tool that continues to be used. The rent-seeking culture that does not respect productivity or meritocracy further fuels the mindset of closure.

In Nepal, I see joy in the faces of people working in the private sector when a bumper holiday is declared. I get surprised as to why a plethora of private sector organisations do not oppose Nepal having the highest number of holidays in a given year and declare holidays at the drop of a hat. Perhaps we will continue seeing this until a culture develops where holidays are seen as a bane to economic growth and development.

Reason To Clean

In Uttar Pradesh, a big piece of news after Akhilesh Yadav was elected Chief Minister was that he stopped the practice of using water tankers each day to clean roads that former CM Mayawati took to work every morning. In Kathmandu, we see that happening whenever there is a VVIP visit. Roads get vacuum cleaned and all the trash disappears overnight. But it happens only on those streets that the VVIPs use. Perhaps this reflects how we live on a day-to-day basis.

At home, when we have visitors, the drawing room is cleaned and all the muck dumped into the store or the bedroom. We paint our houses not to keep them clean but to tell the world that we are celebrating an occasion in the family—a wedding perhaps. We bathe as part of a ritual; therefore, for many religious and social practices, we grew up taking ‘a passport bath’, which meant that you clean only those parts that will appear in the picture. Sprinkling water makes a place ‘pure’ even if there is a pile of trash next to the ‘pure’ place.

When I watch rituals or preparations for social functions, many questions cross my mind. The stinking toilets, the stained cups, the piles of uncollected rubbish, the dust in the files or shining on computer keyboards at offices—of course not limited to government ones—and other similar things make me ask the same question to myself again and again: Is this a reflection of how we conduct our day-to-day life? Would we accept all this at our workplace if we behaved differently at our home?

Do I Have An Obligation?

Sanjay Neupane was ready to start work at the Nepal Economic Forum from mid-November. I had met him before he got another attack to incapacitate him forever. After his death on Saturday, people flooded social media with condolence messages. We had discussed how financial strain at times of illness can make life very difficult.

I recalled a similar situation my family was in nearly a decade and a half ago. So I keep asking myself what is important. How do the messages of condolence connect with the family that perhaps needs to rebuild itself? How will Sanjay’s wife and two children cope with this loss? Who is supposed to help them? Do we have any obligations? Or do our obligations cease after we post a message?

I do not want to be judgmental here, I only want to learn.

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