How to Write about Nepal?

A take on how the western media generally projects/covers Nepal

By Deepak Adhikari

This blog entry is inspired by two Granta pieces: How to Write about Africa and How to Write about Pakistan:

Start your piece with “Nepal is a Himalayan country sandwiched between two Asian giants…” Also add that Nepal is ‘tiny’, even though there are several smaller European countries (which never seem tiny is Western eyes) than Nepal. Nepal, with the population of 28 million, is world’s 30th largest country (if you take population to describe a country’s size). Mention the population but don’t explain what it means, don’t bring perspectives—your readers just want facts about the poor countries (Don’t forget to say it’s one of the ten poorest countries in the world).

Also, don’t forget to sprinkle your report with the poverty porn: “Nepalese earn less than two dollar a day.” Forget that we don’t measure our income in dollars and there are filthy rich Nepalis in Kathmandu, outside Nepal and even in rural areas. But, the third world poverty is what sells in the West. Finley Peter Dunne rightly said newspaper (or journalism) “comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable.” So, those living out there in western metropolis in their cozy and comfy rooms need to be educated about the poor living in far flung areas. This will add to their sense of how lucky they are!

While writing about Nepal, apart from the glistening mountains and its beauty, you must also write about the Sherpas, the unsung mountaineering heroes, the Gurkhas, the brave soldiers. Write that Nepal is a mountainous country, blissfully eschewing the fact that half of the population lives in Tarai plains. Use the word Shangri-La, that beloved invention of yours (we never had that). This word can also be used for Sikkim, Tibet, Laddakh, Bhutan, among others. Write that this was a paradise!

Forget how this country came into being but don’t forget to mention the June 1 2001 massacre and compare that with some Shakespearean tragedy. Don’t forget to mention this in your report, this will make your story straight out of a horror movie!

Taboo subjects: the vibrant Nepali middle class, the recent development in sectors such as education, healthcare, media, among others. It’s literary tradition, the folk lore. Treat Kathmandu as if it is still a medieval city. While in here don’t spare the ‘living goddess’. Your readers will be amazed at this tradition of maintaining a living goddess while her counterparts in western countries enjoy their childhood. Exoticize this as well as other topics as much as you can and avoid exploring why the Kumari tradition continues after all these years. Your report should not have to be nuanced. It should resonate with your readers’ stereotypes.

Insert a sentence saying the Buddha was born in India (the way Fareed Zakaria did in his book Post-American World). Confuse Nepal with Tibet. While writing the head line, make sure you use Everest, mountain, Himalayas, roof of the world, top of the world, high (as in recent WashPost headline: Mao in the Mountains).

Even though the monarchy was abolished in 2008, write the country is the world’s only Hindu kingdom. When you write about the Maoists (the fave topic of yours), write that Prachanda means “the fierce one” or even better “the awesome”! And, compare the Maoists with their Chinese counterpart and its cultural revolution (but also be ready to discover how different they are: China’s turnaround from its own past while Maoists still stick to Mao’s dictums).

Best of luck—you can make an outstanding career as a writer or foreign correspondent in Nepal!

Editor’s note: Please add your own favorite expression at the Western press about Nepal.

UWB blogger Deepak Adhikari is a journalist with Kantipur, Nepal’s largest newspaper. He maintains a personal online diary here.