Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bryan Adams in Nepal: Perspective of a Nepali Youth

A brilliant piece on the rockstar’s tour to Nepal.

by Ushaft

The attendants of the at Dasarath Rangashala last week expected no more understanding from the cynics among us than what we are already known to be capable of. The performer hasn’t been known to be an active promoter of drugs like many other rockstars are, and I would be surprised if his lyrics would offend anyone reading this piece. He represents a brand of music bordering between pop and rock, that is easy to understand and popular among many youths in Nepal, a country which is said to have “opened up” after the late 80s’, which incidentally happens to be the hey-days of this artist. This is why I failed to understand the rationale behind all the self -righteous comments, blogs and some video commentaries on the internet, describing why they don’t belong to the crowd that flocked Rangashala in almost an uneducated and outdated manner, at a time when the writers had more important things to do and take care of. All such pieces came from young men and women, inside and outside Nepal, and from both sides of the political spectrum.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

The economic realities of Nepal’s middle class didn’t allow most children to attend expensive boarding schools and feel-as-one with the western culture, or even the English language. Most of these families used to, and still do live outside Kathmandu, and believe it or not, even the luckiest of people in some of Nepal’s big cities only got to watch Nepal Television years after it started broadcasting in Kathmandu. FM Radios didn’t happen until a few years ago. While Kathmandu was humming the tunes of Def Leppard and AC/DC, many kids in Nepalgunj, Butawal, Dhankuta and Hetauda were still dancing to Mithun Chakravorty’s “I’m a disco dancer,” and later Michael Jackson’s beats, if at all they were dancing or singing. I think kids in other lesser known cities were dancing to Kumar Basnet’s “geets” or the “madals” and flutes in their own locality.

If  I can attend a concert, why can’t my countrymen do that in Nepal?

Few years later, people in mofasal (a nepali word that means: part of the country excluding the capital city)  would move on to boybands and pop music, and more often than not, Bryan Adams’ voice would be the one they’d first listen to. The AC/DC generation would move on too. This process continues today also. A majority of the educated ones from other districts come to Kathmandu after their higher secondary school (earlier, they had to come right after the school, but things have improved a bit) and almost a proportionate number of Kathmandu’s youth leave for the West to pursue their dreams. A country of modern nomads, our people continue to migrate from mountains to hills, from villages to towns, from hills to plains, from outside to inside Kathmandu and from Nepal to abroad. All in search for a better and respectable lives for themselves and their children.

I have observed that that most pundits who loathed the Rangashala crowd are the ones who have themselves already attended rock concerts elswehere. You and I can shrug our shoulders for being trendy cosmopolitans, not knowing who Bryan Adams is, but for many in Kathmandu, the city where thousands of students from all over the country come to study, dream and work, he is still something. When Scorpions (another 80-90s band) toured India 2007, I remember my friends lamenting why western rock bands could not come to Nepal when they could go as far as Shillong. Artists like them tour many parts of the world every year, and people pay money to see them everywhere. This one was the first of its kind for Nepal, and people were naturally excited. It should not have been a big deal.

Let’s talk the issues now

It is always refreshing to have diverse arguments and opinions, but they should not come at the cost of deliberate omissions of facts and fallacies of  reasoning. I agree that the concert tickets were expensive. There was no connection between the concert and Nepal Tourism Year (some people still confuse it with “Visit Nepal Year”) or development and it was just a propaganda, a rather poor one.

It’s not about a concert

Come to think of it, aren’t the reactions brought out by this one concert the symptoms of our other social diseases? Also, if just one concert could evoke such reactions, doesn’t that speak for itself of the more deep-seated issues?

We are a country discovering itself, in search of a new identity. Yes, we are very much in search of even the most insignificant of things that we think makes us visible around the world. We have an obsessive fascination for foreigners and especially fair-skinned people. We think that the world loves us because we are the best country in the world- with a wonderful history, marvelous landscape and amazing people. Did we already forget how some people were killed in the aftermath of a rumor that some actor down South said something bad about us? We are so much in search of our lost (or yet-to-be discovered) pride and recognition. The things we do in search for attention could be compared to a toddler crying for sweet. At the same time, we are also a very young population, almost half of our people were born after the 80s. We are restless, very ambitious and maybe stupid. But our national issues mostly revolve around boisterous arguments over issues that most people never cared about. While our youth population knows what it wants, they perhaps don’t know how to achieve it. Neither does anybody show them the way.

Why humiliate the youths?

In response to a very long general strike called by a political party last year, thousands of youths spontaneously came out to the streets asking for peace and freedom. Everybody knew there were armed goons in the streets to beat and scare them away, there were strong worded warnings and the civil-society’s leaders were literally peeing in their pants (there were on and off rumors of cancellation of the event). By and large, it was a gathering of educated, young (middle class) people, including those who couldn’t attend it. But another day, some top notch leaders called names and criticized those who attended the protest. Almost at the drop of a hat, there were pieces in big media that said that the gathering went a bit too far, carried the agenda of the regressive forces and was made to appear big by the trickery of camera lenses. Nobody defended the young people and even those who used it for their political mileage said no word about clubbed goons in major streets who were intimidating people.

If one has to criticize the way some newspapers crossed the limits while mixing business-promotion and news, one should remember our newspapers also promote the annual pen-drive sales named CAN Infotech, education-consultants’ events and regular (also insignificant) meetings of political parties in similar ways. I despise the way the event organizers were given media space but how no coverage was given to the disrespect Nepali artists had to face at their hands. But let’s not mix symptoms with causes here – these are topics for a separate debate.

Similarly, the spending habit of our people might be another subject of debate, as can be how quick-riches has become more of a norm than exception in our society. Then there’s also how consumers in Nepal are looted at every step, and there’s no monitoring whatsoever these days. But I also know many self-earning, hard-working young people attend the concert- why let our personal biases come in the way of them trying to have some fun?

If we’re a poor country, there are already plenty of things we do that we perhaps shouldn’t be doing. We have lavish and gold-studded marriage parties in Kathmandu, all the imported goods in our malls and expensive Japanese SUVs that crowd our roads. At a time when our exports have hit rock bottom, we have the most corrupt leaders in history and a lifestyle where we can’t grow our own vegetables. At the same time, we have public commentators who criticize the youths for attending a concert, as if a crime was committed. Let’s not compare apples and oranges- attending a concert of a artist you admire is one thing, and its another thing if the media blew the story out of proportion or if I smell foul in the way the concert is organized and promoted. As goes a popular movie quote, I missed the part where that’s my (concert-goer) problem.

A friend tweeted last week, about the way concert goers were criticized: it is as if we are entitled to live in agony, always talk about poverty, beg for fund and rant about bad politics. Of course, anyone who takes the newspapers too seriously should not forget that some of them sold us a bloody war, many of them sold us a futile revolution and went on to their usual business when things started getting less interesting.

[This article was originally published in Ushaft’s blog.]

Bryan Adams in Kathmandu: What Does That Mean to Nepal

[This article first appeared on Sunday’s (feb 20) Kathmandu Post. Bryan Adams performed in Kathmandu’s Dasharath Stadium on Saturday.]

Bryan Adams in Kathmandu Nepal

Brinda Singh, who went on stage from the crowd, clings to Bryan Adams after singing “when you are gone” with the star

By Dinesh Wagle
Pic by Narendra Shrestha

KATHMANDU: Were things better here, Bryan Adams’ arrival wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Over the past two decades or so Nepali society has opened up to the outside world—especially Western culture and values—like never before. More people are going abroad. English language schools have proliferated. The reach of radio and TV has widened. Credit for this change should be given to the open economic policy adopted by the first government of Girija Prasad Koirala after the restoration of democracy in 1990.

But the arrival of Bryan Adams became a big deal because we are in a far from ideal situation.

The signs of progress that we saw in the middle of the 90s quickly disappeared into the smoke coming from the violent Maoist-police clashes. The economy stopped growing as politics failed to deliver the basic expectations of the people and the business community. Bloody conflict ended without concrete relief.

bryan adams in nepal Kathmandu Post 20 feb 2011

As a result of these and other issues, it seems society has hit rock bottom. People no longer hesitate to put aside morality for the smallest of things. Opportunities are so rare that the slimmest chance to earn money creates intense rivalry and conflict. We’ve all seen dogs on the street fight over a small piece of bone, haven’t we?

This past week I got to see the preparations made by the organisers of the Bryan Adams concert in Kathmandu up close. They wouldn’t tell me the exact figure of the deal that had several groups, including an Indian team that was responsible for setting up a stage and managing the sound system at the venue. But the red tape that they had to go through and the hassles they faced to make that event happen were clear to see. Every concerned authority, from police officers to the sports officials who rented Dasharath stadium for the gig, wanted their share of the profits. And there were countless demands for free passes. Those in powerful positions, including senior police officers, wanted the most expensive tickets free for them and their families. Others only demanded free access to the cheapest seats. “There are so many people who are envious that we are bringing Bryan Adams,” a person associated with one of the organising groups told me last week. “Everyone wants to pull our leg. There are obstacles at every step.”

 

It’s not surprising that earning money is one of the most difficult feats in a society that is one of the world’s poorest. But everything has a limit. We seem to have crossed this line.

The chief and a member of the sports council reportedly each asked for separate kickbacks. The chief denied asking for a bribe, while the member in question said he wanted money for ‘sports’. Organisers denied bribing officials, but it was hard to believe that they didn’t. Agitating employees, who were waging a separate war of sorts with the management, locked the stadium gates. They unlocked the gates only after securing volunteering opportunities during the concert. Simant Gurung, one of the organisers, hinted to me that the organisers unofficially promised to voluntarily donate some money to the agitating employees’ group. By the time of the settlement, some damage had already been done. Vandals had burned the closed-circuit television cables put in place at the stadium complex.

And there were friendly expectations. Friends of organisers wanted photo opportunities with the singer. Some wanted to see Bryan at their restaurants in Thamel and Durbar Marg. “That bhai at Tamas (restaurant) asked if I could take Bryan to his restaurant and make the singer sing just one song,” Simant said last week. “Another bhai from Lakhe had the same request. I would love to bring the singer to my own restaurant (Simol, Durbar Marg) and make him sing a few numbers if that was possible!”

The exposure to Western ideas and values that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, is mostly limited to television screens. A few hundred thousand Nepalis may have directly experienced Western societies by visiting and living in them. But celebrated personalities from the West don’t come to us that often.

The reason, again, is our poverty. We can’t afford to buy the expensive tickets for their programmes. We don’t have the money for their authentic CDs and DVDs. We can’t spend money on the merchandise that they hope to sell during their tours. This is the reason many Western celebrities who come to India (which is becoming a lucrative market) don’t step foot in Nepal. We are not important enough for them to come because we are not rich enough. Of course, there are those Nepalis who are rich enough to attend every such concert and buy every merchandising item on sale. There are many others who know Western songs by heart and idolise Western celebrities. But those numbers are not high enough to gain the attention of mainstream Western celebrities. That is why people like Nilesh Joshi, a guitarist with Nepali rock band Cobweb, feel bad every time Western celebrities tour India but skip Nepal.

Here enters Bryan, into this gloomy scenario.

With his arrival, many of us may feel that our existence has been recognised. Many of us may feel that we have finally been accepted into that advanced world we aspire to be a part of. Bryan may have instilled some amount of self confidence in us. But all this, I must clarify, may only be felt by those who know about Bryan and are familiar with his music. For those who don’t know the singer, like the spokesperson of Kathmandu valley police who thought Shree Bryan Adams was a “British national” and a “band but not a person” all these things may not matter much.

[The article in print version introduced Nilesh Joshi as singer of the band Cobweb. He is not. He plays bass guitar for the band.]

Reasons to Come Home

reasons to come home:  kathmandu post sunday 13 feb 2011

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

I came back to Kathmandu last week after completing my two year tenure in Delhi. “Welcome back to darkness,” some of my friends said.

Load shedding is not a new phenomenon in Kathmandu. But the continued and unacceptably long hours of power cuts have fueled further frustration. Not to mention the ‘deadlocked’ politics and lack of developmental activities. I was mildly surprised to learn that some of my friends preferred to see me in Delhi (meaning anywhere out of Nepal) than in Kathmandu.

This familiar love-hate relationship with the homeland—can’t live with it, can’t live without it. You may run away from home to escape problems but you cannot live away from it for long. You may want to earn a degree or work abroad for a few years but you do not want to die there. The desire to return becomes so strong that at one point it overwhelms you. You will start feeling uncomfortable even with the relatively comfortable life there.

People want to share their happiness with their own. In a foreign land, however many good friends they may have, they can’t communicate their excitement with foreigners as easily as they can with their friends, relatives and neighbours back home. Even if they do, foreigners won’t understand them. They also want to show off their progress—not to their newly acquired foreign friends but to their folks back home. “A Nepali won’t feel validated without showing off his colour television set to his neighbour in Nepal despite earning millions of rupees in Japan,” a senior journalist colleague once told me.

That’s true because there are many other millionaires in developed societies where personal achievements aren’t taken as the significant step they would be considered in Nepal. This is true with any other nationality too. For some it could be the other way around. I have come across many Westerners who have decided to spend their life in third world countries like Nepal and India because they get ‘royal treatment’ and ‘attention’ here. They can’t get the same level of importance in their native society because there are so many other people just like them.

Another very important reason for people to return to their homelands is their desire to do something for their society. After gaining knowledge or amassing wealth, they want to come back to serve their motherland.

My case is slightly different. I do have a strong desire to serve my society and uplift the quality of my profession, but I didn’t go out of Nepal to study or seek employment. And I didn’t come back to show off or share my happiness and progress with my family. In fact, my significant other is still in Delhi studying, among others, econometrics. While in Delhi I was working for a Kathmandu-based company, this newspaper and its Nepali-language sister publication, as fulltime staff. Very few Nepalis work for Nepali companies from outside of Nepal because of the nation’s frail economy.

But Delhi is no New York or Tokyo. This is the capital city of a country where tens of thousands of unfortunate Nepalis toil day and night for meagre earnings. During my stay in the city and trips to other parts of India, I didn’t meet a single Nepali who was very happy or proud to be where he was. And Nepalis are everywhere. From Jammu to Kanyakumari, Mumbai to Shillong, Lucknow to Hyderabad. In all these places I saw Nepalis working at dhabas and shops. Not a good sight. I overheard them talking loudly in Nepali about their difficult life. Not a good sound. All of my attempts to track a Nepali who has done a great deal of ‘progress’ (apart from Udit Narayan and Manisha Koirala) resulted in encounters with momo sellers or small-time liquor sellers in Delhi. I have realised that Nepalis do not go to India to seek success. They go there to sustain their lives. India is not a land of opportunity for us, but a temporary escape from our reality.

But India is not to be blamed for our misfortune. The problem lies with us, not with them. If you are poor and divided, others will look down upon you.

Instead, I feel, India is doing us a favour by allowing us to enter its boundaries without asking. Of course, it does so because of its own compulsions and to safeguard its own strategic interests.

Despite all the hype and hoopla about India being a constitutionally secular country, in my understanding, this is not the case. India can’t become a secular country because it is not just a country. It’s a continent in itself and, more than that, it’s a civilisation. This civilisation is different from that of, say, the Chinese or the West or Muslims. It’s the Hindu civilisation. You don’t have to be a Huntington to understand why a nation that has the second largest Muslim population in the world fought twice with Pakistan and is fencing its frontiers with Bangladesh with barbed wires but is so keen on keeping the border with Nepal open. Jawaharlal Nehru once said something about the Himalayas being India’s final frontier and Hindu nationalists in India continue to believe even today that Nepal is part of what they call the Bharat Barsha.

My understanding is that India has no problem with Nepal as long as it remains a predominantly Hindu society. All the rhetoric that comes out of Delhi that Nepal is ‘tilting’ towards China or becoming ‘a hotbed for anti-India activities’ is lame. This happens despite knowing that Nepal can never be as close to China as it is with India because of civilisational differences with its northern neighbour.

This article was first published in today’s Kathmandu Post. Nepali versionof the same was published in Saturday (12 Feb) edition of Kantipur.