Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nepal First! (People's Review, 16.7.2009)

The last display of nationalism, or at least a variation of it, which I saw came about in rather an ironic fashion. An Indian Policeman from Darjeeling won the “Indian Idol” song competition in 2007 and Nepalis went wild with pride and joy. This is not to take anything away from Prashant Lama. A clean cut young man, who probably looks more “Nepali” than you or me, he has a beautiful voice and sings Nepali songs from the heart. The irony, obviously, is that the show of Nepali nationalism could squarely be attributed to the musical talents of a foreign policeman. Where then are our Nepali icons and idols?

Nationalism is defined as “Patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts; policy of national independence” by the Oxford English Dictionary. In today’s Nepal, nationalism means different things to different people. It is a concept either mutated for political convenience or, more often, ignored altogether. What makes us proud to be a Nepali and how do we express this pride? Certainly it is foolish to be proud of our current development status, economic or political. So we need to look elsewhere to fan the sparks that can ignite the flames of our patriotism. History is an obvious area, but there are other not so obvious areas which can provide us with these sparks too.

While it has become recent fashion to debase our history for political reasons, we cannot ignore our glorious history. During the last truly national war, Balbhadra Kunwar displayed his bravery at Kalapani earning the respect of his British adversaries; the names of Kazi Amar Singh Thapa and Bhakti Thapa also shine on from that war. Bahadur Shah’s consolidation of his brother’s work in forming Nepal is a lasting legacy. The great poet laureate Bhanubhakta Acharya; the literary giants Lekh Nath Poudyal and Laxmi Prasad Devkota; more recently, Appa Sherpa, mountaineer supreme who has climbed Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) more times than any other human – we must take pride in these heroes and many others. And the name that reigns above all is one Pritihivi Narayan Shah, who founded Nepal by means of his leadership and military genius and with the gallant support of his army, composed, it might be noted, not only of chhetris but numerous other ethnic groups, a great majority of which were magars. This is the same Pritihivi Narayan Shah whose remembrance day, a national holiday termed “National Unity Day”, has now been stricken off the calendar. The same individual without whose feats, none of us would be Nepalis today. Alas, nationalism is but a pawn these days of power politics.

Besides history, we must be proud of our country’s natural beauty. Agreed, hungry stomachs cannot appreciate nature’s bounty; but that’s another issue, already mentioned above. We live in the shadow of the great Sagarmatha. Our rivers rush down from the Himalayas in torrents of silver streaks. The beauty of Nepal draws tourists from all over the world making it one of the prime trekking and mountaineering destinations. The artistry of our temples awe all. Not least, the gentle hospitality of the Nepali people is appreciated by the world. Given the events of the past 13 years, all of this may sound maudlin and laughable. But if we are to recover from those gory 13 years, these items of pride are the very instruments which will aid the recovery.

We do seem to have very little to be proud of today, in these times of lack of law and order and the hawking of our sovereignty to foreigners. But the trick is to rise above our condition and to act with vision and courage for a better future, one that we can be truly proud of. This effort, in itself, is Nationalism. We must not forget that we are a proud people never subjugated to colonialism, That we are Nepalis first, seconding our ethnicity for the greater good. This is not a dreamer’s wish. If we are to survive as a nation, we must all be Nepalis first. We can safeguard our ethnic heritage, but never forget that we are first and foremost Nepalis. We need to inculcate in ourselves discipline and fairness. For example, Switzerland has 10 times the number of vehicles as compared to Nepal, in an area less than 30% of Nepal’s. Yet the chaotic traffic that we see here is unheard of there. The simple reason being Swiss drivers know traffic rules and follow them strictly.

Sports is one area in which Nepalis are doing well while much more still needs to be done. The haul of tae-kwon-do medals garnered by our athletes in international competitions is something to be truly proud of. Our under-19 national cricket teams, men and women, have also done us proud. Our film industry has not risen to the challenge of nationalism. The Indian film “Chak De India” (we seem to be looking south for all our examples, but that, in itself, is no sin) made Indians proud of their nationality. Why not have a film that inspires Nepali nationalism, which could also be commercially successful at the same time? The theater arts and music also bend well to inspiring nationalism. I remember vividly Ganesh Rasik’s song of the 1960’s with lyrics dripping with nationalistic fervour - “Hatki hoena dati ladne Nepali ko bani huncha/Kahiley najhukne seer utheko swavimani Nepali huncha….” We must use lines like these to motivate us, to work harder, to be proud of being Nepali.

Prashant is a gifted singer who sings also in Nepali with brilliance. Our nationalism however must be stirred by stronger stuff - true pride, made in Nepal. We have much to be proud of if we can only shake off the lack of confidence our economic condition bestows on us. We are indeed a poor country. We must strive for progress. Meanwhile, let each of us do his or her part in making us proud of being a Nepali. Let us never lose our self-respect. Thank you, Prashant, for giving us a glimmer of nationalism. But now we want to do it our own way – the Nepali way!


Subodh said...

Perhaps the nation-state is not the same as various nationalities within the state. Prashant is a hill Nepali by origin, is an Indian national, and sang very well Hindi Songs to win the Indian Idol competition. He would not identify himself with the state of Nepal despite the fact that he is a very proud Nepali functioning within the state of India. I remember earlier times when Tenzing Norgay of Everest fame took Indian citizenship and started living in Darjeeling. At heart he was always a Sherpa. If both the hill Tamang and high altitude Sherpa represent Nepali-pan, then what are the Madhesis going to feel? Perhaps a time has come to rise above these petty communal differences and reward and recognize the persons who contribute most to the Nepalese state irrespective of cast, creed, religion and colour. Of course, both our president and VP are of Madhesi origin but will we hill people ever accept them as our own in the heart of our hearts? Are we celebrating Tamang and Sherpa, both Indians, as Nepali heroes and failing to celebrate the achievements of those two Madhesis who are Nepalis? Nepal should come first!

HORATIO said...

Not celebrating Prashant Tamang as a Nepali hero. Only pointing out that his Nepali roots galvanized patriotism here in Nepal when he won the Indian Idol contest in 2007.

As for our Prez and VP, I think the Prez is an honourable man though he got where he is simply because of horse-trading among the political parties. NC wanted the presidency, Maoists did not want to give it to Girija - enter Dr. Ram Baran Yadav. The VP is there because he represents the MJF, another horse-trading result. He took his official VP oath in Hindi wearing a Hindi outfit. He is no nationalist by any stretch of the imagination.

Most certainly, Nepal must come first (Nepal the country, not the PM).

Anonymous said...

These are indeed trying times for Nepal and the issue of nationalism is going to have many interpretations. The key is to transcend the potentially narrow definition of this delicate topic. One way which you brought up is by doing whatever we are doing to the best of our ability with conscience, competence and compassion ( the 3 Cs) as our constant companions guiding us even now, especially now. This may sound like a lot of bull in our world today but I dont have any other options.Of course not all of us are going to be Appa Sherpas but we just want to do a good job even if our lives are mundane. lives.