Meaning Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask. The Kathmandu Post
Click to enlarge. TKP:07.03.10

By Dinesh Wagle

I lost my confidence in my nasal hairs last month.

I wonder how my former science teacher would react to this news. Buddha Pramod Rai had full faith in his nasal hairs. While teaching science at Adarsha Janapremi High School in Bhaktapur in the 90s he used speak confidently about their capabilities. “You don’t need to wear a mask,” he used to say. “Trust your nasal hairs. They are capable of stopping dust from entering into your lungs.”

I trusted him till last month.

The last time I wore a mask was in 2005 when I was agitating and blogging against the then autocratic royal government. It was part of a political statement. Journalists were rallying for freedom. They wanted to show, by covering their mouths with black masks, that they didn’t have freedom of expression. As a statement against the autocracy, I kept that photo of mine—mouth covered with a black mask—on the front page of my website for several weeks.

This time around there is no king to protest against.

Now, a mask is a key part of my pollution survival strategy. I wear it whenever I walk on the streets or ride pillion. Over the years, the Kathmandu environment has deteriorated to the extent that it’s almost impossible to walk around in the city without wearing a mask if you don’t want to get sick from air pollution. Vehicles are the primary (and most visible) culprits. With the dark exhaust billowing out of their pipes, most buses (of all forms: micro, mini and large) deserve to be banned from roads. Gurujis lack basic driving etiquette. Somebody needs to tell them, perhaps the traffic police, that keeping the engine running for extended lengths of time (like 10 to 20 minutes) when the bus is not moving is a crime against the environment. It is bad for the economy too—just look at the long queues snaking from the petrol pumps.

Our ‘polluted image’ has gone international.

Internet forums are rife with complaints from foreigners regarding Kathmandu’s environmental condition. “Air pollution in Kathmandu is pretty bad,” writes a traveller on an internet forum. “I felt as if I was standing on the top of the factory chimney facing down.” World-weather-travellers-guide.com writes: “Air pollution in Kathmandu is known to cause considerable respiratory problems for travellers.” Continue reading Meaning Behind the Mask