Monday, February 11, 2008

Subterranean homesick news

Get sick, get well, hang around an inkwell

I'm still sick as a dog. Spent most of the day in a darkened room like a vampire,
because sunlight exacerbates the migraine.

When I arrived, I had all these great plans for day trips in the Valley. But going
anywhere at all means - at minimum - a 45 minute drive, lurching and careening
over seriously potholed roads, breathing in carbon monoxide constantly, so that
by the time I arrive I'm too nauseous to do anything.

And because of the petrol shortage, the taxi fees are extortionate now - it costs
$4 to get to Boudha from Thamel. (Three times the price when I arrived in
2005.) And you have to beat the drivers down to get even that price out of
them. "Mahango chha - ma paryatak hoinna! Ma muggar hoinna! ("That is too
expensive - I am not a tourist and not a stupid chicken!")

There are privately run mini-buses (actual, officially run municipal buses are
almost unheard of in Nepal) but they creep along in the traffic, taking an hour to
get almost anywhere. And, one of them was bombed last September. Tends to make one paranoid.

If you are coming to Kathmandu, be sure to bring or buy:
-a flashlight
-candles for the frequent power outages
-sweaters and blankets, since there is no heat in the buildings and the power's
always out
-a book, since you can't use the TV, the internet or your laptop most of the day.
-a gas mask. Kathmandu is officially the most polluted city in Asia now. (The
most polluted city in the world is Mexico City.)
-I have a dormant Nepali cell phone account but don't see any need to revive it -
literally half the time the lines are jammed.
-Oh, and bring a lot of patience, and a big smile.

I still haven't figured this one out yet. By comparison, India is developing so
fast, the economy is booming, the middle class is fat and happy and yet, the people themselves are all so PISSED OFF.

Nepal, on the other hand, is just barely getting by, and the people are so gentle, smiling and humble. You see very little obesity here - Nepalis count themselves lucky to eat dall bhatt twice a day. And they don't complain.

I think the difference is, Nepalis never got fed the post-independence propaganda of being a great, important country. Indians have been indoctrinated with hype about how they're going to be running the world by 2020, ever since 1947.

This guy (Tim Johnson, Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy) has a good description of what it's
like to try to get anything done here now.

...before you congratulate me on finagling a work-related trip to Kathmandu, let
me describe the situation here.

For at least eight hours a day, there is no electricity. Luckily my hotel has a
generator, but it is only enough to power an overhead light and my computer.
There is no heat when the power is off.

I’ve eaten dinner by candlelight ever since arriving four days ago.

The roads are congested beyond belief. People complain about
traffic in Beijing.
It is nothing compared to Kathmandu.
Walking is good exercise. But not for the
reason you might think. I’ve repeatedly had to leap for safety while on the
sidewalk to avoid getting hit by careening motorcycles and scooters.

At least in Beijing, while stuck in traffic, one can work the cell phone. Even that
luxury is unavailable here. The cellular phone circuits are so congested – like the
roads – that I’ve
repeatedly given up trying to make calls after dialing 10 or 20

In short, Nepal is the least developed country I’ve visited in Asia, although I
confess I haven’t been to Papua New Guinea. Frankly, I’d compare Nepal to
Haiti, where I worked quite a bit in the early 1990s.

Speaking of power outages, anybody who travels outside of Europe or North
America these days will likely learn a new phrase – “load shedding.”

I heard it a lot in Pakistan and wasn’t quite sure what it meant.
Pakistan, or at
least the area around Islamabad, is
3-5 hours of blackouts each day.
Which seemed like a lot, until I came to Nepal.
Load shedding is the word de
jure to describe rolling blackouts designed to keep overburdened power grids
from collapsing.


apu said...

Interesting to read about the contrasts between Nepal's poverty/ troubles and the attitudes of people. However, not fair to contrast it with Indian urban life; Travel to smaller Indian cities or go rural, and I bet life will seem gentler. Urban life does tend to make people more aggressive, I feel. And about the indoctrination - yes, some of the bit about our "greatness" is hype and based on all the wrong reasons, but - when you are a country the size of India surrounded by much smaller neighbours, some sense of importance is inevitable, I think.(and not necessarily always bad, in moderate doses...)

Sirensongs said...

I'm not contrasting Nepali life with Indian urban life; I'm contrasting all Nepalis with all Indians. (There are actual cities here in Nepal.) Your rationale does not explain why urban Nepalis are also gentle and smiling and forebearing.

Size has nothing to do with it, either - Canada and Mexico - for instance - are both freakin' big places and they display none of the arrogance of the US.

India is generally home to an extremely negative, zero-sum worldview. However, one of the lasting results of that negativity was Buddha dharma ("the world is an ocean of suffering"). Negativity does have its uses.

pippala leaf said...

Take the case of Kerala. Till late 1980's people were somewhat "content" with what they had (my parents generation). After mid 1990's the scenario had changed dramatically...that 80's mind set had vanished. In its place came a new mindset "not enough give me more". This is especially true for the middle-class.
What prompted this change, this sudden unquenchable appetite? This sudden greed? Is it the globalization/economic liberalism that has open new doors of possibilities (with side-effects including rise in cost of living, cut-throat consumerism, stressfulness and complexity in life) ? I think so. And when the inadequacies of the existing system stands in their way of realizing the "heaven in hand", people naturally get PISSED OFF.  I believe this can happen in a society of any developing country that undergoes similar sudden social change. 

In my opinion the age of 'spiritual India' in it's classical sense is approaching it's end. The future India, which will be as materialistic as any western country, may not serve as a breeding ground for such spiritual masters/mystics as Ramana Mahashi or Sri Ramakrishna.

pippala leaf said...

Buddha Dharma ( "the world is an ocean of suffering") is not a negative world view. It's the realistic world view. It merely states the fact that everything that one thinks of his/her or his/her own will eventually taken away from him/her. Therefore it advise to live with an even mind without give oneself away to excessive happiness or dukha.

How can that be a negative view? If you find "India is generally home to an extremely negative, zero-sum world view", then the blame should be on the people, not on Buddha Dharma. They mis-understood the message. Same also applicable to Advaita Vedanta

apu said...

I haven't been to Nepal, so I can't argue from direct experience. The contrast of one as extremely pleasant and the other (India) as highly negative, does however seem too generalised.

c said...

Buddha was actually(ahem!) born in kapilavastu which is somewhere in nepal...or bhutan.

Maybe the original model for the buddha 's sitting pose with a half smile comes from the nepalese.

Sirensongs said...

@Apu: Of course it SEEMS too generalized, but sometimes the simplest explanations are the most valid (Occam's Razor). Countless travel writers have described this transition - going overland from India to Nepal. The mood changes instantly as you cross the border. Same geography, same gene pool (mostly), same religion - but the difference is inside.

@C: Yes, but at that time the political entitity known now as "Nepal" did not exist. Kapilavastu kingdom was just another Hindu Maharajahdom within the dusty plains contiguous with what's now Bihar (Sravasti and Magadha kingdoms). Gautama Buddha was a Hindu Kshatriya prince, and he developed his worldview wholly within what is now India (Bihar and UP).

@Pippaleaf: I just spent 20 minutes writing a considered response and the connection went out so I lost it. ;-) Will try again later.

Sirensongs said...

@Pippaleaf: I think we are in complete agreement that Buddhadharma itself is not a negative worldview. Quite the opposite. However, it STEMMED from a negative observation ("ocean of suffering all around") and the beauty of it is that it then offers a WAY OUT of that - ie, a positive solution to this situation (compassion). Sorry, I didn't extend my statement to include that....

@your other comment:
My belief, as well as that of many Indian observers (ie Osho) is that India has ALWAYS been the most materialistic place on earth. That is precisely why the Ramanas, Ramakrishnas and Aurobindos developed there - they were not the norm, but the rebels, the exceptions. As with Gandhi, the more you study their philosophy, the more you realize how a-typically Indian they really were.

Usually, the answer to the seeming contradiction is found within the contradiction itself. :-)

BTW, in case anyone misunderstands: I do not think the Nepalis or anyone else should be happy and content with all the social injustice surrounding them - nor are they, they are becoming more conscious and more active. However, unlike Indians, they do not seem to feel the need to make one another's lives miserable with their discontent. The constant one-upmanship, obsession with hierarchy and competition of "progressive" India is not present in progressive Nepal, even with the tremendous social upheavals that are taking place.

It is possible to agitate for change without being a total freaking a**hole. :-) My topi is off to the Nepalis for maintaining their beautiful smiles in the midst of struggle.

c said...

Every chareceristic you describe(maharajadom, hindu, etc) is still descriptive of nepal...or bhutan.

It contantly surprises me that people so slickly include nepal and exclude(say ) laos or Afganistan when they talk of hindu(or buddhist..or muslim) cultural influences that formed india. India as it is today, is a political creation of british india/ the losses that the britsh army sufferred in burma/ afganisthan.

About your spiritual/ material point, India has always been a crowded country(more people used to die before they improved living standards and exploded population). Now they hae all these people , mostly all looking at one a family of six living in a one room apartment.what're you going to do about all that testosterone and agression? notice how Indians taken out of india suddenly lost their world domination ambitions, and are content to take pictures near a plaque saying "Niagra Falls" or something.

c said...

And cm, I'm not arguing that there is some many nations theory among hindu (or racially Indian) groupings(such as the nepalese and the indians). Im just saying that there is historical continuity of one sort in a country(nepal) that tayed a kingdom and of a different sort in a country where the monarchies lost its position and its property.

Sirensongs said...

Again, I take the timeto leave a considered comment and the f-d up KTM connections trump me. Not ignoring you,will try again, when I'm in a country where something works! ;-)

Sirensongs said...

India has always been a crowded country(more people used to die before they improved living standards and exploded population). Now they hae all these people , mostly all looking at one a family of six living in a one room apartment.what're you going to do about all that testosterone and agression?

You say this as though it were a natural phenomenon, rather than man-made, which it is. If they didn't want such a crowded country, they wouldn't create so many people. They are aware of what causes this, as are we all.

Everyone knows the end result of overcrowding, yet they *choose* to keep perpetuating it.

To me, this means they LIKE IT THAT WAY. And that, to me, indicates something about national and cultural character.

India is the way it is for one reason and one reason only: the people want it that way. They are,in fact, the ones who MADE it that way.

Once they get out of the rotten, fetid, depleted soil of the subcontinent, people of Indian origin - as you have pointed out- have room to grow and develop in a more natural, less fettered way. This phenomenon is well documented-- so many Indian successes abroad. Yet, no one wants to do the things necessary to change conditions at home. It is easier to complain about "history," and to play the victim.

c said...

Whose they? the hive Indian mind...doesn't exist. Often very intelligent people are stupid when planning the big country making how many people do we need tho have before we stop breeding, or how much civic sense we need( or do I just dump my vegetable skin and discarded hair over the compound wall?).

I think this is just a (not so) passive agressive reaction Indians (in India) have developed to the fact that they have been locked into the subcontinent without a passport.

Theve just BRED themselves into becoming relevent again in the world.

Sirensongs said...

"Who is they"-?

We are discussing the general Indian population, right? "They" is the accepted English pronoun for discussing a group of people.

No one seems to get upset when one generalizes about, say, Americans vs. Canadians ("they are more violent than Canadians," which statistics bear out). "They" means the vast majority. Exceptions always prove the rule.

There are more guns in America than in,say, Sweden, because "those" Americans made it that way. That reflects "their" values. They created conditions for this to be possible.

There are more people in India than in Sri Lanka because "those" Indians - the general populace - created that situation, consciously or otherwise.

Sophists rail against generalization without realizing that about 95% of communication IS generalization.
Re: Nepal vs. India at the time of the Buddha: You are making my point for me. First I said "Buddhism came from an Indian worldview." you countered with "Buddha was Nepali." I said, "Nepal did not exist at that time, therefore this is for all practical purposes what is now known as Indian culture; meaning, a culture that originated in the sub-con and radiated elsewhere." Your comment seems to be reiterating my statement, not contradicting it...?

c said...

Oh no no I have no problem with your grouping them all together and attempting to describe a population. Im just saying that the "they" don't march in lockstep, (even **gasp!!!!** the Americans), therefore, for example, if they have been doing something usually, in the past, it's no guide to how they will behave in the future.

Sirens Im not contradicting your Buddhism statements at all. Only deepening the understanding , if Im lucky. even " Buddhism " is really many religions (your Mr Tenzing may not like me for saying this) the Tibetian shangri la, the Gandhara buddhists and the People that Thich Nhat Hanh represents have three different sources of mythology, completely than each other. being organic and tolerant as it is, buddhism almost never tries to establish a canonical heirarchy (this is somewhat true of hinduism too) of which the "true" teaching is. therefore Zen mythology and the Shambala legend are equally true . Manjushrees and the taras of tantrik buddhism sit on the same scale as the bodhisattva legend when it comes to evaluating what true buddhist thought is.

If you told me Mahavira and Jainism was a product Exclusively of Indian cultural synthesis, I would agree. Buddha is somewhat more international.

c said...

Im saying , in other words that buddha didn't singlehandedly think up buddhism. he was probably the author of stuff said in the dhammapada, but there's much old testement to that new testement that is a continuing tradition of thought that aggregates to buddhism.