18 July 2009

Heat waves, load shedding and the Nepalese politics

After spending about a week in Muzaffarpur (India), I resumed my journey on 17th May 2009. I took a train bound for Raxaul (a small Indian town at the Indo-Nepal border). After approximately 4-hrs of journey by train, I reached Raxaul. In about another 30-minutes, I was about to cross the border to get into the city of Birgunj in Nepal. I felt so happy to see the Shankaracharya gate (which is also called the gateway of Nepal) which appeared standing there to greet me. I was so excited to be back 'home' after almost a year.

In mid-May, it was quite obvious to have an extremely hot weather in Birgunj. I recalled how the popular online media had reported about the quality of life especially in the Terai region (the low lying flatland) due to the pre-monsoon heat weaves and half-day long load shedding. The frequent and prolonged power cuts had made life awfully miserable. However, It appeared that people were more affected by the political waves than the heat weaves. It was a period when Nepal witnessed yet another political turnaround as Prachand led Maoist government stepped down and his party decided to continue fight for the restoration of peoples' supremacy. And newly elected Prime-minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was making all efforts to form an 'inclusive government'.

I reached home at around 5PM. I was obviously very happy to meet my family. But, my initial excitements got a blow after knowing that a power cut was scheduled in the area from 6PM onwards. With mercury shooting up beyond 40 degree centigrade, I found it extremely difficult to spend time without electricity. It was already dark outside when I looked at the wall clock wondering if it was working correctly. The great saying "time and tide waits for none" appeared so irrelevant! The electricity came exactly after 3 hours but lasted only few minutes. The frequent power tripping was repeated for quite a number of times. I called to the concerned authorities and came to know that it was due to overloading problem. In fact, people don't believe that there will be power available as per the load shedding schedule. So they try to rearrange the usage of electricity like pumping water, charging inverters and other equipments etc. Besides this, consumers and appliances are rising sharply whereas, most of the transformers are old and lack the adequate capacity. And, the unannounced hours-long load shedding continued to persist – making people upset – as they did not have a moment of respite because of suffocated weather at home and scorching heat under the open skies. It looked like a never ending wait. We decided to take a 'candle-light dinner'.

We gathered around the dinning table. Dinner was already served. I had waited so long for this moment but the weather and prolonged power-cut threatened to spoil it. Adding insult to the injury were the mosquitoes flying all over and making their presence felt once in a while with typical bites. We finished our meal, talked for sometime and then said 'good night' to each- other (though, there was hardly anything 'good' about that 'night'!).

I couldn't sleep until late night, thoughts about random things and the non-moving fan kept me up until past midnight. Many of us have an image of a home that’s so idealistic and glamorized. But at times, it meshes with reality to remind us that we can't always close our eyes and forget the truth. It was around 1AM when the electricity came and I probably fell asleep. I was obviously feeling relieved but then the next load shedding schedule was from 4AM onwards! I 'woke-up' in the morning quite early.

I had to visit Dharan (a city located in the eastern region of Nepal) in order to meet some of my family members presently living there. However, someone told me that an indefinite strike was called after 3-days by an ethnic group as a part of their protest programs. In fact, the group had postponed their protests until formation of the new government. So, I had two options available: either finalize the trip within 3-days or wait for the strike to end. I chose the first option and decided to catch a bus that day itself so that I could return back to Birgunj in a couple of days.

I was in the bus bound for Dharan. "It's too hot, isn't it?", asked nonchalantly the person sitting next to me. I responded, "yes, it's only 9 o'clock yet we can feel the heat". After some casual conversations, he opened up, "what do you think of the prevailing political situation in Nepal"? He sounded like a politician or at least someone very enthusiastic about politics. "Do you think, Prachanda did the right thing by resigning or the President's decision was appropriate?", he added. I was not prepared for these questions as response to these required a thorough analysis of the sequence of events. To me, these questions were not just objective ones. I replied gently, "see, no one can deny the sensitive political status of the country. There is a growing sense of lawlessness and people are losing hope. I think our political parties and leaders don't really believe in co-existence and politics of agreement despite of their repeated commitments. Whoever becomes the PM doesn't matter in the present context. Does it"? I could see his face changing. He appeared more focused and serious now. "I agree with most of your views regarding the leader's attitude and people's perception but what I don't agree with is the question that who should be the PM. Because, the character of a leader defines fate of the nation and hence, I thought Prachanda was a better if not the best candidate for the post", his voice was firm as he sounded like a supporter of the Maoists.

A person who was sitting parallel to us and listening to our conversation joined, "see, what we need at this point of time is the national government and so the current PM Madhav Nepal has already requested all including the Maoists to join the cabinet. Now, the action of the political parties should reflect a conscientious approach". Entry of a third person into the conversation had intensified the debate. The bus was in full swing. Frankly speaking, I was not in a mood to argue on these seemingly subjective issues in which almost every Nepalese holds his own view. Now, it was the turn of the first person, who started all this, to respond. He told a simple little story to elaborate his opinion.

A Little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was a bit concerned about the safety of her daughter so he asked, "sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don't fall into the river." The little girl replied, "No, Dad. You hold my hand." The puzzled father asked, "What's the difference"? "There's a big difference," answered the little girl. "If I hold your hand and something goes wrong, chances are that I may let your hand go but if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go." Gist of the story is that in any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond.

After telling the story he turned once again, "I agree that need of the hour is a national government in Nepal but who leads that government is indeed a vital question. The country needs to get rid of the culture of extremism. The political parties should stop seeing each-other as enemies no matter how much rivalry exists". The conversation went on and on - arguments and counter arguments! But, I thought we all have got some problems i.e. we like to win arguments. The leaders, the political activists and even the common people; we all think that 'the other' is doing wrong. Our leaders keep on winning the debates and, the country always stands at a losing point!

The bus was approaching Lahan (a city on the East-West highway). The bus conductor yelled with a smile, "lets go for the lunch, we don't have that much time here". well, time scarcity has been our national problem. We don't do anything till the last moment but suddenly become 'very active' to finish things off. The bus came to a standstill just like the political deadlock in the country. Our conversation ended without giving any fruitful conclusion. We got off from the bus and entered in a restaurant close to the bus stand.

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Anonymous said...

happy to khow that you are in you home country... bandh lock out..je jasto bhae ni aafno desh bhaneko aafnai ta ho ni ...

Alok said...

Feeling envy to know that you visited home :-). However, I too agree that we have a very idealistic and glamourized image of home in our thoughts but this image may vanish once you meet with the reality. There may be problems, but we all love home!

The second part of your story describes more than a tour diary. lol :-) Anyway, loved to see the picture of Birgunj gate. and other two cartoons are also very good.

"we keep on winning debates and the country always stands at the losing point" sarcastic yet very true!

Dilip Acharya on July 20, 2009 at 10:43 AM said...

We don't do anything till the last moment but suddenly become 'very active' to finish things off.

Yes, this is exactly what we have been doing from the beginning. But as they say हडबडको काम गडबड, everything done at the eleventh hour creates more problems than solving the on going one.

I always feel that you depict things in such a way, we can find brightness even in the darkness.

Natsu said...

That was a very good story telling by the passenger

Basanta on July 21, 2009 at 7:29 AM said...

Enjoying your travelogues! I like your description of places and people. Nepalese are addicted to politics and political talks. That may be due to the bad politics done by the leaders. Or it may be the root of the bad politics itself.

badri on July 22, 2009 at 5:02 PM said...

Very intresting!

Prajwol on July 22, 2009 at 10:22 PM said...

I have been to India just twice, so it’s very interesting to see India through your prism.

Besides adaptation, I am curious how people in Terai withstand such a severe heat. There must be some indigenous technology, especially when people have been living there for generations.

AP said...

Load shedding in Nepal is a reality now and this year it might be worse as there is very less monsoon rain fall. would like to know what do you think the government should do to combat the possible crisis?

About the state of Nepalese politics? no comments!

Anonymous said...

Milan ji, probably you are right. Still I believe that many of us have an image of 'home' that’s so idealistic and glamorized. But at times, it meshes with reality to remind us that we can't always close our eyes and forget the truth.

Alok, I am glad to hear from you as always. hope you can make a trip back home some day :-)

Dilip ji, I appreciate your thoughts. and, thanks for your boosting remarks about my posts!

@Natsu, the story told by the passenger has been rewritten without loosing the intended message.

Basant ji, I feel encouraged by your compliment. and I agree with you regarding our 'culture' of politics and political talks.

Badri ji, I am happy that you found the post interesting.

Prajwol ji, the life in Terai specially in places like Birgunj, is extremely difficult without electricity (if one doesn't have a back - up source). In rural areas there might be something indigenous but what I have come across is the so called 'hand fans'. However, people apply some traditional way of making their roofs 'heat proof'.

AP, your query requires a thorough investigation of the available alternative resources to combat the electricity problem. I will try to discuss these issues in one of my upcoming posts.

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