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.