Sunday, July 5, 2015

The darkest of aftermaths

JUL 05 - Dear Dr Ghorle,
Anxiety is all around us. I am gradually realising that I cannot blindly trust the security, the integrity, and the confidentiality of our communications. I am sorry for being so ignorant and not responding to your encoded messages promptly. Because of war, and self-doubt, it was difficult for me to decode your brain-computer encoded messages. I am proud that you are writing a piece on Nepal’s Third Great Earthquake in one of the top magazines in Nepal to inform the readers about its consequences and what can be done to overcome the effects of the disaster. I must say, it is an interesting read. I was very young when I first visited Nepal with my father and my memory of the place is a blur. So I might not be of help in improving your piece. Perhaps you could ask my grandmother, who still lives in Chitwan. My grandmother resides in Ratnanager, 2nd Street, Chitwan. That is my home address, too. She will be glad to offer you 
her help. She also remembers the First Great Earthquake of 1934 and the Second Great Quake of 2015. I would have joined you, but I am deprived of the luxury of air travel, after the war.
Regarding  my sister Maya, unfortunately, I am unaware of her whereabouts. She has been out of contact ever since she disappeared right after our father’s death anniversary a year ago; nobody has heard from her since. The worst I fear is that she may be dead by now. Some of her friends reported that they were planning to go on a picnic to Pokhara.
Father, as you have ascertained, spent most of his life working on the antinuclear programmes for some secret research company that we were unaware of. When home, he would spend his time reading piles and piles of research journals, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember what they were about. When the Third World War started, he was busy working for this private contractor, and he always used to say that his invention would change the course of the entire world. He later built a small laboratory next to our barn. Ms Molly, the only love of my life, used to live there then—I love her so much. Most of the time, Father would lock himself up in his lab, doing his experiments and what not. Smoke fumes would rise from the vent. Sometimes strange sounds—like a sonic boom—would shake our house and the neighbouring buildings. I do not intend to be insensitive, but I have some idea of how it feels to be inside a shaking building. 
Out of my father’s thousands of great experiments, one small one was on how to stop earthquakes from occurring. He never published his findings in any reputed scientific journals of his time, perhaps because he knew that companies or secret government organisations would patent his inventions, and they would make a business out them. I have some of his manuscripts—the ones that I was able to save—that I want to send to you. But before that, I would like to give you an account of what has happened in our lives since.
The day before he died, Father seemed very happy. He said that his research team had been successful in developing antinuclear machinery that could block nuclear missiles, irrespective of where they had been launched from. I remember him telling me that he was very proud, and that he had become ‘life’, a saviour of the world. He left for work early the next day, but he didn’t come back. That was on the eve of Dashain.
From what Maya told me later, I learned that I was playing with Ms Molly that day; the TV was on. Masha and the Baby Bear was interrupted to telecast an emergency news report. Soon, bomb explosions consumed the TV screen and within minutes the power was cut. The phone rang. Mum, a few minutes into the phone conversation, collapsed on the carpet. Then, we didn’t know what had happened, but later we were told that father and his entire team were murdered. 
Maya later explained to me that his team had been asked to join a meeting with the top delegates of all nations. These people, who were admired and respected throughout the world, saw Father’s invention as a threat to their political agendas. They gassed him in his own 
Back to the manuscripts: they were always lying around in Father’s laboratory. Some of his greatest secrets were just there, lying untouched. Later, Maya turned it into her personal property. She never gave it to me or to Mum. She said that his works were nothing but bits and pieces of rotten and boring prose, scrapped drawings, and mathematical jargons. According to her, there was nothing in the papers for us to gain and learn from. I remember, once, she tried to burn them up. But somehow, she has managed to keep them a secret from everybody. Even the people from the National Security agencies could not find the papers.
Some years later, it was in the news that a blue-turban-wearing young man had started some anti-nuclear-missile experiment and that it had saved our part of the planet from the political elites. I think I don’t have to tell you all this as it was reported in both parts of the planet by the leading news media houses. You must have heard that in my part of the world, the citizens had stoned these political elites to death for starting the war. The war led to the plummeting of the population from billions to a few millions. We were lucky to have survived this great catastrophe in our region.
I do understand how you feel right now; in the aftermath of the quake, you want to motivate and inspire some of your people to return home. But that’s not easy to do when the world is so divided. We are so divided that I don’t even know what your part of the earth is called now. 
The place you live, do you still call 
it Nepal as it was called before 
the war?

I want to inform you that I feel a bit hesitant to respond to your proposal to come back to Nepal and start a new life there. I would have tried to find my way to you if it were not for Ms Molly. I love you, but you know how I love her more. I don’t know whether this comes as a surprise to you or not, but I am already married to Ms Molly now. We have been together for the last 27 years.
I still remember the day when Father brought Ms Molly home. I was one. She didn’t have a lot to say as she used combinations of the utterance ‘Meow’; but that was more than enough for us to communicate. You may wonder if she is able to fulfill my desires, but I want to tell you that she has grown big. She is five-feet-six-inches-tall now. She is less a cat and more a human now. She protects me. She is there when I need her the most.
You also write that you want to raise a family with me. It would be one of the nicest things to give birth to your babies. But yesterday, I stayed up all night and thought about it. What is their use? What use are they when people in power will continually start a new world war every few year or so? What use are they when every day a new calamity strikes the earth, killing millions? What have we done to this world?
Enclosed with this letter are 450 manuscript pages written by my father. It is a walkthrough on the process of subduing the effects of an earthquake when it strikes. In our part of the earth, we have implemented this scientific process, and I hope you can use these pages to stop earthquakes from happening in your part of the earth too. 
I cannot wait to read your reply.
PS: Please do send me your brain-computer transmission of words more securely.
Sent from: sessiK dna sguH
Posted on: 2015-07-05 08:42
Published: The Kathmandu Post (under different name in print)

To Err is Human?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Road to Nowhere by Kamal P Malla

Selected quotations from Kamal P Malla’s collection of essays, The Road to Nowhere:

Three Years of the Rising Nepal
The editorial staff [of The Rising Nepal] are overworked; they naturally do not have time to read through them, edit them, or assess their comparative values. The life of a professional journalist is hectic, indeed; the machines must be fed in time; ‘the formidable deadline’ should not be crossed; so few hands, so much to do. We the consumers have, therefore, to be satisfied if for days there is nothing readable except the weather of the day we had lived through and console ourselves with an incomparable tailpiece or two.
Education: The Road to Nowhere
At least, in seminars on the examination system in committees on higher education, or in sore little opinionate essaysin our periodicals, we are ineffectually brandishing our mediocre ideas pleading for ‘change’ in the present educational system in Nepal…At times of reformistic euphoria we even decide for ‘the change.’ Yet when we come to implement our decisions for the change, we drift exactly to the opposite, by succumbing to a failure of nerves.
…education in Nepal has become something like Frankenstein’s mechanical monster. The master has lost control over the machine. The master, therefore, is no longer able to tell what the monster is going to do next. It is now the toy that plays with the master or masters.
The rich confusion and profusion of authority or educational matters, this intersection of the academic, the administrative and the political interests is an incomprehensible make-believe in Nepal.
Our graduates’ problem, however, is not that they are unemployed but that they are not employable. Their education is pathetically out of tune with the society in which they have to survive. Their education is totally divorced from the agonies of a society in transition where the pressing needs are not just of MAs in English or MScs in Physics, not just of the white collared workers, but also of the drainage experts, the plumbers, the masons, the pipe-layers, the skilled electricians, the mechanics and so on.
…the simple naked truth about our situation: we are confused about our educational aims. What do we aim at in education, and through education, in the rest of our society? Particularly through the liberal education on a mass, debased and commercialised scale?
If cancer is just a name for the wrongly multiplying cells, I imagine, it is no morbid psychology to describe our educational establishment as a malicious form of cancer with which our body-polity is increasingly threatened.
…I have a creepy feeling that education in Nepal is a lost cause: education is no longer education; it is either a political game between the authorities and the students or a commercial enterprise conspired by the academics and the degree-hunters.
The teaching profession as such is ‘permeated with upper-caste traditions’. The authors observe that especially strong is ‘the attitude towards manual effort, physical exertion—these are for the lower castes and it is self-denigrating to lift, carry, or otherwise work with the physical world’. This upper class prejudice is reflected in the curriculum of Nepal’s schools as well as in teaching methods. It is not for nothing that the courses taught in Nepal are highly abstract, with very little consideration of possible applications of the material learnt.
In a social structure like ours where education is accessible mainly to the upper-class child, where caste distinctions and tribal affiliation are still effective, where under the yoke of a strong joint-family system the women have less opportunities than men, the achievement of modern educational goals are fraught with powerful and crippling constraints.
The Importance of Being Critical
In Nepal the educational authorities have always believed in the sheer excellence of the old and the ossified. Here promotions are guaranteed and automatic. Naturally men grow old and prosper involuntarily. A youthful effort is neither a qualification nor an obligation. The only thing one should expect, if expect one must, from the Establishment is a grudging condescension which is already a great favour.
Mr Verma seems to think that literary criticism is an esoteric activity and that the literary critic is an equally scheduled class. The truth, however, is that every reader is a critic and every ‘conclusion drawn from study’ is literary criticism. If the ideal critic, as Dr F P Leavis put it, is an ideal reader, every discriminating student of literature is a critic who has a rightful place in the chain of critical being.
A critical essay is not a loose sally of the mind. Moreover, the literary critic differs from, say, the music critic or the art critic in that the literary critic has to use the medium of words, which is also the medium of the art he is responding to. So his claim to the title is closely related to the nature of the language he himself uses. The validity of a literary critic’s judgement always stands exposed by his own use of the medium.
Mr Verma’s exemplary case shows us that it is not enough to write or publish a book. The importance is not just in writing or publishing a book; the importance is, however, in doing it critically, consistently and thoroughly. The importance is in doing at least as well as one could do it.
YG Krishnamurti or MBB Shah?
At the end of the book I was left precisely where I was before I began the book. It did not make me any better reader of Shree Shah’s poems than I was before.
He steams the windowpanes and asks us to look at the world outside only to conclude on his own that the world is steamy.
Language in Nepal
During the last fifty years Nepali has taken great strides to raise itself to the status of a national language. Although nobody has ever made any objective field tests regarding the comprehension of Nepali by non-Nepali speakers, or on its use as a second language, necessity—sheer expediency—seems to have driven more and more non Nepali speakers to understand and use it in their day-to-day transactions, their inter-tribal communication and the communication with the channels of local and national administration.
The rise of Nepali, first as a lingua franca in the wake of the Gorkha military campaigns, then its continuous use as the language of authority and administration—the total ousting of all other languages from the courts and the final triumph of instituting Nepali as the national language of Nepal—completed a long and historical process that has been going on as a centripetal tendency consequent upon the political unification of Nepal.
Nepali, as an indigenous language, has no resources other than Sanskritised forms for handling an intellectual, abstract or technical discourse of any kind. More than 85 per cent of its vocabulary is similar to Hindi from which it has borrowed more words in the last 20 years than from all the rest of Nepalese languages put together in the whole history of modern Nepal. S the paradox of Nepali linguistic nationalism is that the broader the scope of Nepali, the less it sounds like a language of Nepal. Nationalism, in Nepal, in so far as it is manifestly anti-Indian in orientation, is a self-defeating aspiration, particularly when one of its major foundations is Nepali, which is bound to be increasingly Sanskritised.
Language is so much a part of one’s way of life, a code through which a people’s culture is transmitted from one generation to another. The first language policy equates nationalism with uniformity, the second language policy equates it with tolerance (positively) or indifference (negatively) while the last alternative equates nationalism with the unity based on cultural pluralism and diversity…what Nepal does with her minorities and their languages will the best test of the maturity of her democracy. To ignore them is convenient, but not necessarily the most effective way to national integration.
The Precis of Right Philosophy: A critique
A didactic and derivative frame of mind is what we have inherited from our past and it is still entrenched in our habits of thinking and feeling. This is the legacy of our abdication of the intellect to priesthood.
Words have deep roots, and precision of phrasing is possible only where there is precision in thinking.
The Intellectual in Nepalese Society
This is an essay in enquiry into the poverty of intellect in Nepal.
The tradition here is the tradition of transmission of the sacred text, the tradition of conservation or ritualistic continuity rather that of creativity, nonconformism, questioning and criticism. The preponderance of the textual over the critical, of the spiritual over the material, of the abstract over the concrete, of the magical over the empirical, of the didactic over the creative—more than anything else, characterises the tradition of Nepalese scholarship.
They [the Nepalese intelligentsia] are also a displaced stratum of society, because by their training and education (as against their upbringing and origins) they have suddenly been compelled to live in the latter half of the twentieth century without due ceremony. They woke up one fine morning from the sleep of the Middle Ages and found themselves exposed to the neon lights of an electronic age.
One plain, but primary, reason for the poverty of intellect in Nepal is the poverty of the intellectual.
The role of the intellectuals is primarily to evaluate the realities of their society. In Nepal, this is where, because of the economic poverty and bondage of the intellectual, they seem to have failed society and betrayed their ‘class obligations’—if they feel they have any. An intellectual is not just a latter-day variation on the ancient Brahmin priest: his function in society is not ritualistic…What we have in Nepal, however, is not an articulate class of intellectuals who are willing to fill in the critical-evaluative role; what we have is only a class of white-collared proletariat who work, not for wages, but for salaries of different scales.
In Nepal, however, the literate section of the population shows, not only a great dearth of idealism, or a universal paucity of effort, application and dedication, but also an endemic infection with the virus of plain materialistic success. Success—measurable material success by hook or by crook—this is the law, and for the poverty-stricken Nepalese ‘making money’ is the only visible end for which life seems to be worth living. To him the eternal choice is between ‘making oneself’ and ‘remaking society’ and making oneself is invariably synonymous in Nepal with making money.
Kathmandu Your Kathmandu
The Ranas imported everything except probably boiled rice. Of all things, they imported Western architecture and built brick and mortar labyrinths to house their harems and prodigious households. With a redeeming touch of taste, generosity and sensibility each othese Rana mansions would have been founded in an entirely different tradition. For instance, in England, ‘the great houses’ that punctuate the English landscape were built by the nobility and the gentry who were in organic touch with the rest of English society. In Kathmandu the Ranas, on the contrary, refuse even to communicate with the rest of society except for money and cheap labour. They turned their backs upon the traditional Nepalese arts, crafts and architecture. There is not a single building which shows the regime’s patronage of the homespun style.
A Rana palace is not only a depressive monument to the Western mimicry: it is also convincing evidence of a collective schizophrenia. After all, the Ranas were the rulers; they ought to feel different from the ruled; they must live differently in dream-castles inaccessible to the vulgar herd. But is not all mimicry vulgar, particularly the mimicry of a culture only imperfectly understood?
Kathmandu is not the whole Nepal. Its metaphysical absurdity lies precisely in its pretensions that it is.
In Kathmandu, Hinduism has survived, not as a creative force, but as a fabric of fossilised rites and rituals, feasts and festivals to which both the believers and the non-believers subscribe, not as an act of conscious faith, but as a matter of inherited habits.