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Beyond Recognition: The Kathmandu Post

July 24, 2014

I could be accused of once having a too-romanticised idea of life. I imagined myself living under clean skies, wide roads and lush gardens ablaze with tropical flowers. I wanted to be James Bond, escorting gorgeous women around, martini in hand. I wanted the exotic and the wild. I wanted it all.

But that was in the past and with time, I’ve discovered that like statistics, life too can be manipulated to produce a large array of conclusions. The longer I live, the more reality begins to chew away at my idealism. I look around me and the world has become unrecognisable. Blaring horns and choking fumes. Young girls offering their bodies for a few coins. A lame dog loitering over industrial graveyards in search of food, a mute victim of man’s callous greed. Is this life? Is this the life I had dreamed of? I might have foreseen big, beautiful things but all I have in my cup now is a peg of a poet’s anguish and naught else.

Every day, through my window, I can see filthy clouds of dust rolling in from the graveled narrow lanes of an offended city. Sweat soaks my shirt, and my stomach begins to churn, but not just from the denseness of that air or the stench of the garbage strewn over the streets. It is knowing the part that I too have played in destroying this beautiful city—it takes a heavy toll on me. For it is thanks to our collective indifference that Kathmandu is in far worse shape today than she was before we introduced her to the marvels of modern vehicles, household consumer durables and those ever-growing shopping malls.

Time is running out and our dilemma becoming more and more apparent. Without some attempt at bringing harmony into the environment, we can kiss our health and the once-resplendent beauty of our city goodbye. And Kathmandu isn’t an anomaly; many cities in the developing world share a similar fate. As uncomfortable as the truth might be, it is undeniable and you have only to look around to realise how much the city has been changing before your very eyes. So where do we go from here? What can we do to reverse this mad, haphazard mushrooming of ugly concrete edifices that has happened in the last few years? Or are we to just ‘sit down and shut up’ this time too, like we’ve done so many times in the past?

The answer might not be simple, or even desirable, but if not reverse what has happened, the least we can do is stop it in its tracks. Kathmandu does not have to be this way. It has, and has always had the potential for great beauty and vibrancy. Where else in the country would you find such a wildly diverse population perched together in the same small area? The problem has been a deficit in long-term planning, and proper screening of the construction industry. If political leaders could pull themselves away from their schoolyard games for just a second to address these issues, things could be a lot different.

In the meantime, I look for small consolations. I read myself to sleep with Yuyutsu RD Sharma’s poems about the mountains and let the visions of a clean, unmarred, white world wash over me, and wash away the grimy one that waits outside my window.

The grime has seeped into more than just the environment. Many times, on my way to Thamel from Ason and Jamal, as I instinctively lean away from the rot and sewage creeping out towards my feet, I am accosted by children with distended bellies running alongside me. When I stop, they congregate at my side, calling me dai and

begging for money.

I look into their eyes, and see the death of a generation. The kind of political malformation and acutely diseased bureaucracy we suffer today don’t serve or protect our future citizens, and it is here that I begin to wonder if and when foreign aid is genuine and when it is self-serving. Glance beyond these kids and you’ll see a million miles of paths lacing the wilderness—where lost dreams and hopes are played out.

Philosophically speaking, as people often say, the only thing that is constant in the world is change itself. But it isn’t enough to just wait passively for political or economic recovery. “We are too much with the world,” lamented William Wordsworth in one of his poems. Politics is a big part of life in this country, perhaps too big a part. Rhetoric abounds; people spend most of their time gossiping and complaining and little on actual fruitful and productive work. What we need is swift, clear individual action, in whatever capacity possible. Only then can we hope for collective change. Are we listening?

Thapaliya is an economist and the author of four collections of poetry


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