Saturday, September 10, 2016

What to do? (A departure essay)

What to do? 
Often heard in Nepal translates in the lingua franca Nepali to ke garne…. an ubiquitous evolving turn of phrase that has become a useful time-marker for the circumstance of the country. Language evolves, we see that in all languages and Nepali is no exception; when I was first in Nepal in the mid 1980s you heard ke garne spoken with an air of fatalism; I am told that it had previously been said with a more a casual shrug of the shoulder and without much attribution assigned to the gesture. In 1985 ‘what to do’ had become much more a shrug of resignation, a sort of ‘laugh it off’ sign of the frustration at the follies and excesses of the shenanigans of governance by crony-infested royalty in one of the poorest countries in the world. It was a place seemingly forgotten by time… and there didn’t seem to be a sense that there was anything that could be done… ke garne.

When I returned to live in Nepal in 2013 democracy had been a slowly evolving concept at best; the political class, recently descended from systemic patronage under the royalty, had yet to relinquish it's grip on power and commensurate ‘benefits’ or to transition from ruling to governing. So thirty years later, reflecting what has become a torturously slow political process, ke garne has become more than resigned… it has become a deflated and defeated expression. People don’t know what to do anymore, it took 7 years to move through the process to enact a new Constitution (they do have one since July 2015 perceived to be a step sideways at best rather than forward). Sadly, and as a result of political shenanigans, Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, one of the most corrupt with decaying infrastructure, a struggling economy, diminishing investor confidence and seemingly intractable ethnic divides confounded by caste discrimination.

At the same time (and ironically) Nepal has huge resources in human capital including educated and experienced entrepreneurs, an incredibly inspired and inspiring creative music and art community, a rising middle-class. Nepal has the best global potential for hydro-power generation and and the most amazing natural adventure playground in the world.The people themselves are hardy, cheerful and adaptable, being down-trodden has resulted in an uptick in innovation and ingenuity. The middle-class business-folk are resistant to enter politics and be the needed change agents. They are reluctant to enter the fracas perhaps not wanting to become caught up in the lethargic inertia of entrenched government or of becoming politicized; as business-people they see it best to remain quickly adaptable and impartial i.e. light on their feet and without enemies and independent of politics. It’s a survival strategy that has served them well, better not to change up, at least not yet.

I have lived in Nepal for 6 of the past 30 years living and travelling across the world, not a long time but longer than anywhere else, definitely long enough to empathize with my Nepali brothers and sisters as we together raise our eyebrows and roll our eyes to say… ke garne.

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