Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Psycho-Environment

In these times of socio-ethical laxity, political obstinacy, economic squalor, and geotropic disorientation we often, and rightly so, fret over who we are and what we have become.

I have been bothered by this lingering discomfort in my mind, especially ever since I read an article in Newsweek a decade ago, simply titled “Hi, Mom, I’m in Nepal”. The weird thing about Bret Begun’s piece (February 26, 2001) is that it has nothing obvious to say about Nepal. After a few rereads, I had to conclude that the author was referring to Nepal as a human “condition” and not as a “country”!

Begun’s perception of that condition of being encompasses a particular spatiality, economy, serenity, passion, hardship, strife and vulnerability, among others. He lists several increasingly popular destinations, from Africa to Latin America to Asia, “exciting”, “far-flung” cheap, poverty-infested and even conflict-ridden places for “adventure seeking” study-abroad American students, but nowhere in the body categorically mentions Nepal, in spite of its unmistakable title.

For him, there are so many Nepals around the world.

Nepal as a prototype of an otherworldly space, a differentiated condition, must be a product of Begun’s own unique psycho-environment, a vantage point the communicant and his intended readers alone could share. By chance, I was not among those readers or students, and that was a cause of some anxiety for me.

What is this Nepal and what does it mean to be one from there? What is my own first, spontaneous mental picture and subsequent renderings of the idea of Nepal (now qualified more often with that already clichéd “new”)?

That is when I fell into an uncomfortable vestibular kind of mental condition, a sudden awareness that I am without equilibrium, and am trying to reconcile my incoherent and faltering Nepali particularities with my yet unexplored psychological climate that now increasingly extends beyond our socio-cultural, political and geographic boundaries. I wonder how many of us natives feel this way, and if we do, what implications it has for our individual sentience and our collective destiny.

One simple example of an indigenous impression, this one of “ancient Nepal”, was projected by Dr Dilli Raman Regmi, one of the country’s most prominent historians. Dr Regmi wrote in 1949 that Nepal was a ‘triple incongruity’—isolated even though geographically a part of the relatively accessible Indian subcontinent, politically independent notwithstanding British influence on its foreign policy, and free despite a century of Rana family autocracy (1846–1950).

This is a sober perception; Nepal seen in this geo-political light was neither machho nor bhyaguto, to recast our finger-raising “fish-or-frog” play from childhood, but a consummation of both the species, as life itself is, for all its allures and repulsions, good and evil.

At one time it was a yam between two boulders; one could not help feel that the hardened rocks were, indeed, ever squeezing you, a delicate life-form, from both sides. It hardly occurred to us that they as well might have been guarding you from other foreign bodies or our own geotropic waywardness. Concurrently, a garden of varied flowers or the two tender eyes of Buddha, juxtaposed with a brutal Khukuri, or a frozen Sagarmatha, or the “all-protecting” maharajadhiraja and the peace-loving masses etc pervaded our psyche.
My own psycho environment today, rather this week, is bursting with fear and loathing and wonderment, the strife taking yet another turn in our thoroughfares, brethrens estranged from brethrens, their passion spewing insults, or their torches ejecting blotchy strings of lava on our drowsy streets, almost like ghostly fireballs of walking umbrellas, with odd interjections of street dances and musicals and trampled vendors, their discarded vegetables, and those two-and three-party ostentations, readily relayed to me via our relentless tubes.

It feels like our every brain cell, twelve billion in every head, implodes with nothing else but fire, fury, fear and befuddlement. We have offered ourselves up to a permanent sickness of anything goes, like this “peaceful agitation”, a pretty oxymoron. Not to ignore the fact, there also are those who hold that a finer gold will emerge out of this nauseating purgatory! For now, Begun’s serenity is off our limits.

We have become a turbulent, mucky lagoon with snakes biting own tails, mistaking them for their estranged kin. Do such bites have anything to do with the conventional symbolism of unity, cycle of life? Indeed, in yet our another incongruity, these snakes command multiple congregations of zealously partisan devotees, for snakes as we know, despite their poisonous spews, are deeply revered in our culture.

On second thought, Nepal conjures up an image of a neo-Circus Maximus, watched over by a fierce dragon on one side and a giant elephant on the other, and teemed with blood-thirsty gladiators self-assuredly yelling their insulting screams or battle cries, raising their fingers, feasts, banners, torches and even khukuris and clubs, delivered in the form of images and sound bites to us fidgety audiences held hostage in our own (non)living rooms.

We are a space in the waiting since long, to be taken over (repeat: to be taken over), either by our Big Brother next door or now by our own rebel reincarnates, or those “reactionaries.” We don’t have to believe this; we only have to feel it. We have been conquered by our own fears and fancies. Do we realize how our real or mediated psychotic hollers about such perceived invasion or capture of state have nourished their pride and their exaggerated self-estimation? That is more the reason for any such misadventure. We do their bidding. Our leaders or adversaries are too happy to thrive on our image of them.

Oh, how much I wish I could dream of what it should be like rather than what it is like! But it is not easy to evade these negative energies that engulf our collective psyche. As one saying has it, every Roman was a slave, for there were slaves far too many for a household or its master, and their psycho-environment pervaded the empire. Our sanity is at stake.

I earnestly believe we have geo-politically evolved into a “Hextuple incongruity’, if not more, a two-fold growth since Dr Regmi’s take sixty-one years ago: parochial even though a member of the ever shrinking global village, politically independent notwithstanding persistent cries of foreign interventions, free despite the many factional controls, ideologically crippled even as a proud participant of the greater democratic waves of our times, unified despite the threats of tribalism, disintegration, or authoritarianism, and sovereign in spite of several parallel regimes. It is never only half the picture.

What befuddles me, again, is the self-righteousness that persists among us, amid this freakish environment. We hate to accept any convergence of interest to weed through these incongruities. This flawed sylloligism seems to intoxicate us, because it is so reflective of our frantic sentiment on collaboration or consensus: Nepalis are good people. Nepalis never have any mutual understanding. Therefore, mutual understanding is bad.

Americans have a dream, Chinese an ambition, Japanese a diligence. We have nightmares, although, not too infrequently we may also boast of resilience. So we are in want of reworking our mental ambience even as we strive to rewrite our national charter or restructure our country. We need more cogitation, not agitation.

Published in Republica, 8 May 2010.