Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Poor seek identity among rich Kathmanduites

Razen Manandhar
No wonder, Kathmanduites are rich. They have (or used to have) fertile lands and skilled hands to fill their greenery. This treasure not only made their houses beautiful but they also constructed hundreds of temples and stupas in the small valley. But a new type of rich people here have over-shadowed any hereditary millionaire.

People in the capital have not yet recovered from the shock they got after hearing that a junior clerk in the Revenue Department can earn over 7 kg of gold. At least some have proved that earning money is not difficult in the capital. If you happen to sit in one of the "lucky seats" of the "lucky departments", you can set an example by saving as much in a year as others may not be able to earn in a decade.

People like the 22 national heroes have given Kathmandu an image comparable to Las Vegas in the past decade or two. They have proven that this is only a city of "rich" people (unfortunately, their image are now lost, luck has it, what can we do?).

Well, we would have to consult an astronomist before buying vegetables with the government salary, but the government officers are buying building after building that their grandfathers never saw even in their dreams. When they first enter the city, they didn’t have money to pay off room rent. But those who finally win the lottery of having a job at those targeted positions, change their lifestyle in a year or so. They come to the city of dreams and turn their dreams into a reality within a wink of time. Do they bring a magic rod from their village houses?

It was not only those 22-type of servants who made this city a paradise by extravagant demands. There are political leaders who lead the poor Nepali praja to an abyss and they themselves jump directly into Pulchowk quarters.

Everybody knows, today’s pot-bellied leaders, used to depend upon "New Road ko Bhauju’s" mercy for lunches and dinners. They used to share even razor blades and walk in the streets flapping their Hawai Chappal. I have not heard the God of Forest offered any of them a gold axe for their sincerity (I’m referring to a story I read in my schooldays). The leaders in power are paid scantily and others who just wait outside the Singha Durbar only receive "try again coupons". And, most of our politicians are professional politicians. That is, they have no other "profession" than doing politics. How can this uncertain profession make Bill Gates with Pajeros out of Chappal-chhap activists within a year they hold power?

By any means, those sincere servants and sincere leaders of the sincere government have established an unwritten principle that this Kathmandu is really rich. Regardless of the per capita income, their purchasing power rocketed overnight and the city-dwellers have become so affluent that their hands never compromised with Nepali products or Indian economic goods. They
started fancying the most expensive, luxurious items. The ordinary Kathmanduites are astonished — where does the money come from?

It would be all right if only the unnaturally rich people did not cast an impact on the general public. But they also have made a general concept that being a khardar is buying a car and being a subba is buying a bungalow in a VIP residential area. That means wives of sincere, hard-working and intelligent staff think their husbands foolish and eunuchs. Living in the same city is sharing a same standard but the two types of people can never compete.

The fact of the matter is that the people, living in this city, are not only those who rush to the newspaper stand every morning just to see whether the CIAA has published their names. Quite a lot of people living here need not be afraid of what they have earned — they eat what they sincerely earned and do not have to say that his son’s property is not his. Moreover, quite a few people here go to the bed without buying dinner.

Along with urbanisation, the number of urban poor is also increasing. According to a non-government organisation, working for the squatters and urban poor, Lumanti, there are over 15,000 people living in some 60 such settlements, mostly by the river banks, who live far below the poverty line. They are such a group of people, whom the local government neither discards or evicts as illegal, nor provides any facilities that other city-dwellers take for granted.

On one hand, in the city, which has to bear the burden of immigrants under this or that excuse every year — either unemployment, or Maoist terrorism, landslide or floods— this extra pressure of squatters cannot be tolerable. As a geographic unit and a bureaucratic circle to provide basic needs to the residents, the population of Kathmandu Valley must have a limit. On the other, most of the pathetic residents in temporary huts along the river need not be really homeless. Instances are that even those people who own concrete buildings capture the huts, just to squat upon public land and snatch bits of government facilities.

Nevertheless, one has to admit that there is no comparison between the 22 government staff and those people in slums. Most of them have or had their land in the villages and possibly living decent lives too, but it is those 22-type of servants have allured them here. Or they are the ones who could not include them in that herd of CIAA targets. Be it unfulfilled or shattered, they do have dreams. In the condition of not helping them increase their population, will anybody stand up and say that they also deserve at least some attention?
[Kathmandu, Wednesday September 11, 2002 Bhadra 26, 2059.]