Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Between anger & industry


In these times of many uncertainties and an unstable politics that often tests our temper we live with a constant desire for a more predictable future. However, the noise of the perpetual NOW has so utterly pervaded our lives that we can’t foresee any banda not starting the next morning.

This craving for a stable future is so powerful that we bought into the illusion of the “new now”, enough is enough; we can be what we should be; this year will surely be different. In our escapes into the near future with resurging images of cheerful tourists and foreign visitors in our streets, squares and mountain trails, we did not see our leaders and political parties reneging on their pledges this time around.

Now we see another prime minister under fire even before his cabinet gets full shape, and the drama of “ex-tension”, like our ex-king, keeps lurking in our midst making us all the more anxious. We were told that it won’t take any longer, but the constitution has become like an unfinished novel of a neophyte hack fiction writer. I, for one, can’t imagine being perpetually on the draft of this article and never finishing it! It is just too much pins and needles.

Our future remains veiled from our persisting sights of doubts and deceptions. We resort to the past and “the now” for our many answers, and these experiences constantly offer us with a stubborn mental cushion to cope with the trauma of an unchanging change.

These days I find some relief in the Hollywood sci-fi movies that are tailored made to tickle the short attention span of people who live this perpetual now. We don’t have to wait for years to witness great human and scientific breakthroughs or apocalypses; they are made to happen now, or in our near future. As movies like 1984, 2001 or 2010 show, even the most futuristic of events take place in the vicinity of our lifetimes.

Such short-range predictions of some of the most drastic human transformations yet to come help us visualize our futures as if they were happening now. So the potential of future to deliver the (un)imaginable doesn’t have to be measured by the numbers of years to come. It can be gauged by the intensity of fire it ignites the coal in us. These momentary escapes into the world of make-belief transport me at once to a time not in the distant future, but a future that many of us are very likely to shape or see for ourselves.

As I mentioned in my earlier article (When I’m Sixty-Something, May 11) I have mixed feelings about the many scenarios of that future, both optimistic and dystopic. Before I try to paint those scenarios, let me briefly establish a link between the “new now” and the generational shifts taking place in our country that have fundamentally defined our socio-political systems.

The repression and deprivation suffered by the mute generation of the pre-1950 era gave rise to a mumbling, and sometimes rambling generation that for the first time advanced the idea, though incoherent that ordinary citizens deserved better. The screaming generation of the 1990s and subsequent years appeared unequivocal in their grievances, shouting custom-made slogans of nothing but “people power” and ultimately uprooting the old order.

The violent ways of the angry tribe took everyone by surprise, like a school shooting incident often does in America or China, inviting split sympathies. Now that in principle it has been established that people are indeed powerful, some “people” continue to feel they are more powerful than the others, and they also have the right to be perpetually angry since it was this very anger that led to change. The danger now is that this angry tribe has many clans and manifestations, and that rather than a meaningful change, anger has fed more anger.

At the same time today I see a gradual rise of a new generation today that appears composed and yet vibrant and steadfast in its pursuit of varied on-the-ground goals and tasks. This optimistic lot is pulsating with positive energy and work ethics. It’s a complex mix of vocal professionals, goal-seekers, new adventurists, techno evangelists, novel revolutionaries, and even drifters.

It’s Nepal’s “bee tribe”, an industrious lot, looking for their honeys, taking all the risk to move far and wide across the nation and the globe. They are found buzzing around our community forests, cooperatives, private college campuses or schools, health care centers, media and IT ventures, etc and as far away as the restaurants of Baltimore, the construction scaffolds of Bahrain, or the fashion ramps of New York City.

Nepal’s future will be largely determined by this emerging clash of anger and industry, by the per capita share of this honey among the buzzing tribe and the angry tribe, and the not-so-angry types. It’s either real-world utopia, or dystopia or in-between or none.

Thus, an extended ideological battle is sure to ensue. The conflict between totalitarianism and unquestioned acceptance democracy, oppression and emancipation, one’s values and the values of others, have defined every republican experiment even in their mature stage.

The present offers a distance and clarity to look at the future. I can fancy one of the following scenarios, or a mix of all three in twenty years, when I am sixty-something:

The first is the “oh, no” scenario, in which the country will slide into further deterioration. The angry tribe reluctantly and with much delay writes a constitution, which they hail as one of the best in the world. But that does not make much difference since the leaders continue their old, corrupt ways. People will demonstrate calling for food, water and electricity. Some groups will even launch violent rallies demanding a name change of the country since they argue that it is unfair to other states to be parts of “Nepal”, traditionally a term reserved for the Kathmandu Valley.

With reports of regional communal violence the country shows increased signs of disintegration, giving the old regime a chance to make a comeback. The rebels also renege on their promise not to recapture the state. The constant battle between these forces eventually encourages a totalitarian takeover, leading to the isolation, internal repression, international interventions and humiliation of the state. I live in turmoil even as an old man.

The second is the “hurray!” scenario. Nepal makes magical leap in development and infrastructure. My daughter is the manager at Microsoft, and so is your daughter at Adobe. My brother owns a hotel in Monterey, California and so does your brother at Baltimore. My son teaches at Princeton, so does your son at Harvard. But they will soon relocate to Nepal. Most of the multinationals are based now in New Kathmandu (NKT). The liberal economic policy of our “clean” government has lured mega investments and high-paying tourists, and has helped establish excellent governmental services to the people. There are jobs everywhere and no one is unemployed. We are the center of Asia, with the Asian Union headquarters based in NKT. And listen to this: We can travel anywhere without visa because we all possess the coveted Asian passport. Our Asian currency is now the strongest. We are an advanced nation now, and we have truly integrated ourselves with the global economy.

Many find it incredible that a rocky mountain country of “tea farmers” has made such a leap in just two decades. So, although old in my body, I am young again in my spirits!

There is yet another scenario (“Yestai Ho”), which is more realistic, perhaps. Nothing much happens even with a good constitution. Although we see some gains made in the private sector, things remain more of the same in the public sector. Occasionally, we get to see bouts of successes by Nepalis at home and abroad, the general life of the people does not improve much because the staggering gap between the poor and he rich continues without restrain. I have to work hard even in my old age. Only that my buzzing generation has a moderating voice, and we can discard one incompetent government after another through the power of our ballot, although elections have never been perfect.

Published in the Republica, May 25, 2011