Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Odisha odyssey II

The famous OTDC bus
Leaving the Chandrabhaga beach, we drove on the marine drive leading to the famous religious town of Puri. There was something special about the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) bus. It ferried the India and Australia teams to Cuttack.

The bus driver and conductor narrated the story to our Oriya friend. Then he translated the experience to us. They were kept in 24-hour scrutiny for days ahead of the trip to Cuttack. While driving the team to Cuttack, a cavalcade of security personnel accompanied the bus. Not only that, during the entire match period, they remained in the bus guarded by tight security. They were thoroughly checked before even entering the bus. The bus itself was checked many a times to ensure that nothing suspicious was lying around. Still they were happy to tell that they served the cricket players who are held as superstars in the country.     

I imagined – might be the helicopter shot hitter Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the prolific run machine Virat Kohli had occupied the seat I was sitting on.

Lord Jagannath and the largest open-air hotel in the world
While driving from Chandrabhaga to Puri, our host friend told us the importance of the Jagannath Temple. Being one of the major four Dhamas (the most sacred centre of pilgrimage and worship) for the Hindus, the temple and the surroundings remains crowded most of the time. And only Hindus are allowed inside the temple premises. Our friend also admonished us not to be trapped by the Pandas, the priests at the Jagannath Temple. They start following the pilgrims and dupe them in the pretence of leading to the darshan (sighting) and pooja (worship) of the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the temple.

The Jagannath Temple, also known as White Pagoda, has four gates – the east facing is called the Lions Gate and the ones facing north, south and west are similarly known as the Elephant Gate, the Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate respectively. The temple is said to have been built by emperor Anangabhimadeva, historically identified as Angangabhima III belonging to Ganga dynasty. Some historians are of the opinion that the construction commenced during the reign of emperor Chodagangadeva, the founder of the dynastic rule in Odisha.

As we entered the temple along with the sea of other people, we had to cross two barricades of Pandas to get the darshan of Lord Jagannath from a distance. In spite of the cacophony of the crowd peace and tranquillity prevailed in the premises. There was a feeling indescribable, the devotion overflowed from within. 

While I was doing rounds of the temple, a huge crowd had gathered at the eastern end of the temple. All necks were craned towards the temple top. A Panda was climbing the 214 feet and 8 inches tall temple to change the flag. It was a daring task and even more dangerous to climb the platform on top of the Shikhara (Sanskrit word for mountain peak, Hindu temples are either of pagoda style or shikhara style).

We waited for a while, watched the spectacle and then went to Anand Bazaar (Happy Market), the largest open-air hotel in the world, as described by our friend from Bhubaneswar. There are stalls everywhere having huge earthenware pots containing cooked rice, dal (cooked lentils) and different types of vegetable curry and sweets. The good thing about the stalls is that devotees irrespective of caste and creed eat the Mahaprasada (offered to Lord Jagannath) together. The blessed offering (prasad) is called Mahaprasad as it is believed that Lord Vishnu bathes at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and rests at Dwarika. Dry sweets are also available at the Anand Bazaar which are preferred by the tourists to carry back home.

Towering Lingaraja
Returning back to Bhubaneswar, I visited Lingaraj, the largest temple in Bhubaneswar. The 180 feet towering temple is dedicated to Harihara, a form of Lord Shiva. Harihara is referred as Tribhuvaneswara (also called Bhubaneswar), the master of three worlds – heaven, earth and netherworld. It's a must visit site in Bhubaneswar. But only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.    

The temple is believed to be built by the Somavanshi king Jajati Keshari in 11th century.

Missed Chilika
Luckily, I had to go to Aska in Ganjam district of Odisha. I had wanted to visit the place since the cyclone Phailin struck on 12 October 2013. On the way, I could estimate the size of catastrophe. Everywhere I could see huge trees uprooted. Houses were damaged and at places the destruction done could be seen in the fields.   

Returning back to Bhubaneswar, we stopped by a roadside tea stall. Like mango trees on planted along the highway in Nepal, cashew nut trees adorn the roadside. The tree was new to me and to my camera as well!

While sipping tea, I roamed around the small shops making a beeline along the National Highway. At the end of the shops few women vendors were selling fish. Seeing a horde of varieties I asked the source and to my surprise one of the ladies said Chilika.

Being a conservation enthusiast, I had heard a lot about Chilika Lake. Chilika is the largest lagoon in India and ranks second in the world. It is a Ramsar site of international significance and home to many migratory birds during the winter season. Covering an area of over 1,100 square kilometres, it is lifeline for many villages and fishermen residing in the area.   

When I clicked pictures of the catch, the fisherwoman requested me to take a snap of her as well. I obliged and showed her the photo. She smiled back and offered me a fish.     

Nearby another lady was selling crabs from Chilika. They looked so different from the ones found in our part of the world. I could not wait to get Chilika. So I asked the driver to take us to the shores of Chilika. However, it was already dark and there was no point visiting the site. With heavy heart, I had to return to Bhubaneswar. It was a missed chance. A precious one. After that I kept mum throughout the journey. 

Odisha odyssey I

The elastic Gotipua dancers
Young boys dressed in yellow were lined up for the show. The cool breeze was making the audience shiver with the chill. I was feeling sorry for the boys who had kept long hair-dos and looked like girls. They had been invited to perform the famous Gotipua dance at the inaugural of the Knowledge Conclave. In Oriya language, "Goti" means "single" and "pua" means "boy". The master of ceremony announced that the dance is performed by the boys dressed up as girls to praise Lord Jagannath. In old times, female dancers called "Devadasi (Mahari in Odisha)" used to devote their lives to Lord Jagannath. With the decline of Mahari dancers, the boy dancers took their places to continue the tradition.

As the boys started dancing to the tunes of harmonium and drumbeats, we were left aghast at the acrobatic manoeuvrings of the boys. They demonstrated the life and times of Krishna. Especially, when they climbed above each other to form a human pyramid, the spectators were kept gaping at the show. The elasticity of their bodies suggested that they might have started learning the dance from an early age.

Sambalpuri dance and mobile magic
The second day we were amazed by the performance of equally talented troupe of Sambalpuri dancers from Sambalpur, a place more than 500 kilometres from Bhubaneswar. They danced and made all of us dance to their thrilling beats. The dance and songs were as colourful as the saris worn by the female dancers. The male drummer was beating the drum and screaming with all his might to enthuse the fellow dancers.

Sambalpuri, the festive group dance tracks its origins to the Kosal region of Eastern India. The dance is performed by the rural people and is thought to relieve them from the day's hard work.
The dancers danced in groups and also performed solo dances. When one dancer was to perform, the music arranger played a track different than that of her choice. She then took the music instrument which was apparently a cellular phone. She was dancing to the tunes of a mobile! 

The Sun Temple in scaffoldings
In Konark, the Sun Temple also known as Black Pagoda, is a mystery in itself. As you enter the premises, the grandiose structure demeans you down to earth. We were guided inside the premises by an old man in his late sixties. His English was humorous and he didn't leave a chance to break the limbs of English.

As per his explanation, the Sun Temple is a wonder and an object of happiness to all – children, young and old. Children can enjoy looking at the bottom slabs having monuments of animals like horses and elephants. Young can get pleasures by beholding the statues depicting different Kamasutra aasanas (positions). The top slab comprises idols of gods and goddesses that are objects of obeisance for old people. According the old guide all enjoy coming to Konark and get full "satisfaction" at the temple.

The Sun Temple was built in the 13th century by King Narasimhadev I of Ganga dynasty. The temple was carved as Sun God Surya's chariot with seven horses and 24 wheels. The old man said, "The seven horses depict seven days in a week and the 24 wheels the 24 hours in a day."

The beauty of Sun Temple is unparalleled. However, the scaffolding covering the main temple in the name of restoration, made us unhappy. The UNESCO World Heritage Site which derives its name from the Sanskrit words, Kona (corner) and Arka (sun), has turned into a caged structure. In contrast to the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's words on the temple "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man", it seemed "Here the cacophony of scaffolding surpasses the beauty of the temple".   

Poor Olive Ridley on the shore
After visiting the Black Pagoda, we went to the beach near the confluence of Kushbhadra River and sea (Bay of Bengal) at Chandrabhaga. The cool sea breeze was adding to the fun. Some of us jumped into the white waves. I was clicking the pictures.

While I was busy clicking the white froths, I spotted a small dark object floating against the waves. As it neared the beach the waves overturned it. I could then sense, it was a giant Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). It might have come to the shore to lay eggs.   

Every year hundred thousands of Olive Ridleys come to shores of Odisha for the mass nesting and hatching. The mass nesting is called "arribada". I had just seen the vulnerable turtles and their hatchlings making for the seas in Discovery and National Geographic channels. It was a rare sight.

However, my excitement was meant only for few seconds. The poor turtle had wounds on its neck and it breathed its last on my laps. The casting nets might have wounded the poor thing. The only thing I could do was to caress its shell and take a parting snap. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A tale of two men

Zurich Airport

I was waiting for a connecting flight to Geneva. Being first time in Europe and that also in the German dominant city, I was keeping mum. I was just waiting on a bench and letting the time tick by.

The aroma from Starbucks next door was challenging my craving for a hot cup of capuccino. I suppressed the urge. Then a man grabbing a huge Subway sandwich, munching in between, hurriedly passed by my side. Although I had resisted the desire to have a capuccino I could not stop myself from fetching a yummy sandwich for my tummy.

As I was gobbling the piece of newly-found amusement, a young man in his early twenties approached me. He was neither tall nor short, was strongly built and looked smart in his blue uniform. "Excuse me, Sir," he initiated the conversation. "Are you a Nepali?"   

"Yes," was my terse reply.

"Oho dai, what a relief. I met a Nepali after six months. I am from Ramechhap." Within seconds, he had discarded the robes of formality and addressed me as an elder brother. Finding him in a new city was a relief to me as well. 

"It's so nice to meet with you in a foreign land, are you studying here?" I asked the young man. He was well-mannered and humble and his concern for a fellow countryman drew my interest towards him.   

He had come to Switzerland to work. He had completed his Bachelor's in the neighbouring country (I forgot the country's name) and was working for a private company in the airport. Switzerland was the best place to work in whole of Europe, he said. The companies were concerned about employee security and welfare. And he was happy to be there, though being thousands of miles away from his home. 

He briefed me about the dos and don'ts, advised me on the rules and regulations, and accompanied me to the boarding area. On the elevator, he asked about the political turn of events in Nepal. He was enthusiastic about the peace accord signed by the rebel Maoist leaders. "Now I wish our country will also be like Switzerland," he said. "I hear they are talking about federalism and inclusion. They should learn from Switzerland. In spite of being a land-locked country and smaller than Nepal, we have 26 cantons (federal states) here. The poor cantons get support from the Confederation (central state)."

I was amazed by his knowledge on the issues of federalism, ethnicity and inclusion. He was talking about a society which takes care of both equality and equity. Silently I saluted his opinions and wished the decision makers also think on the same line. "Well said bhai, Nepal should follow Switzerland," I advised, "Why don't you write Op-Eds in some leading dailies in Nepal?"

But the devil's advocate inside me was sarcastic. Might be he was saying that because he belonged to the Tamang community which was marginalised and discriminated. I was thinking about the worst examples of Nigeria where federalism has done more damage than good. My Kathmandu-centric thinking, upbringing with elites, and belief on capability (ability) and identity were taking toll on the poor guy's opinion on federalism and inclusion.          

"Utopia is what Maoists, indigenous peoples and Madhesis are talking about," I quipped. "It was so nice to meet you. Thanks for your guidance to get to Geneva."

"I hope Nepal will show the world how Utopian society can be built," he was shouting with a gleam in his eyes as I proceeded towards the boarding area.

Zurich Railway Station

I had survived the first snowstorm of the season. Never had been the trains delayed. Thanks to the heavy snow, most of the trains had to halt and take to alternative routes. And I was the one to benefit. I got to travel through many cities in Switzerland though the landscape was draped in white. I abandoned the direct train from Geneva to Zurich and followed a kind lady who volunteered to help me find the alternative trains and routes. The announcement made in the train was in German and I wasn't able to get anything, so I had to depend on her.

Finally I made to the Zurich Railway Station, kept the luggage in the locker and waited for my college friend.  

It was Friday evening and the streets were full of fervour and merriment. The snowstorm hadn't arrived in that part of Switzerland. The weather was chillingly cold and the people were in the mood to party till the arrival of the first snowstorm.

A young man had sprayed cans of silver paint on him and was entertaining the crowd. Nearby a group of youngsters was rolling tobacco and marijuana. A man was strumming a guitar and singing from the depth of his heart. 

I was amusing myself and trying to mix with the crowd. Then from nowhere, a well-dressed man, probably in his early fifties, inebriated and stuttering, came towards me. Like the young man I had met in the Zurich Airport, he enquired, "Are you a Nepali?"

I said, "Yes."

I had expected the same warmth as that of the young man. But with him it was just the opposite. Knowing that I was a Nepali, his expression turned cynical. "So, how did you manage to enter?" he posed the question with a smirk on his face. "What was your excuse to apply for the visa?"

I was irritated by the man's sneering and domineering attitude. However, I remained polite. "I had come here for an induction course and am leaving tomorrow for Paris," I clarified. "From there I shall leave for my country. I have no intentions to overstay in this country."        
"Everybody says the same," he sneered. "They come here as academicians, students, sportsmen, artists, throw their passports in those dustbins," he was pointing to two huge garbage cans, "And stay here illegally, working in restaurants owned by Indians."

I was horrified to hear the details. I tried to convince him that I was hell-bent sure that I would return back to Nepal. But he was adamant on his conviction. He even proposed to provide me work in one of the Indian restaurants if I throw away my passport down the gutter.

I have the gut feeling that with age a man mellows. He turns into a sensible fellow, with all sorts of experiences and sufferings. I took him as an exception. Probably his frustration and anger was suppressing the good man inside him.

I was keeping mum, just listening to his murmurings. It was the perfect situation to practise "selective hearing". Seeing me silent he said, "See gentleman, you need money to survive and I bet you won't be able to earn enough in Nepal." He then narrated his own story. He was a Director in one of the well-known INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organisation) in Nepal. What he used to earn was enough for a luxurious life. However, it was just the salary. His peers in the government having lesser salaries had built houses in the capital, but he was still living in a rented flat. Likewise, his classmates settled in the USA and Australia had earned enough to build houses in Kathmandu and start businesses of their own. So the only thing he could do was to throw the passport while he was in Switzerland to attend a workshop.  

"Now I have four houses in Central Kathmandu," he said triumphantly. "My children attend top-rung schools, my family members are happy and I feel that I have done my part of the job."

The only unhappy soul in his family was he himself. It appeared so to me. He was drunk, the knot of his tie was dangling near the third button of the shirt, his pants had dark smudges near his knees and his coat was in shambles.

He again babbled, "Seems you are one of those idiots who want to stay in Nepal." He solemnly advised me, "Listen, if you want to be a successful man, think about yourself first then think about your family, community and country." According to him, Nepal is a country doomed to fail.

As I was gathering facts in my mind to counter his claims, I could see my friend coming at a distance. He was working in Zurich at that time and had promised to take me around the city. "Thank you for your suggestions dai," I said, in an attempt to conclude the conversation. "Though you are right somewhere, I can't follow it. Good luck with your earnings." I waved to my friend and ran towards him.

We had met after nine years. We hugged each other and started throwing questions at each other to quell our curiosities. As we mixed in the crowd, the inebriated man was waving to me and shouting, "I am damn sure you will join me, sooner or later."  

That night we partied until dawn. It started snowing from early morning. I bade farewell to my dear friend and boarded the train to Paris. Mine was a window seat, so I got glued to the passing panorama. The white blanket of snow was a newfound amusement for me.

The TGV was gliding at a breakneck pace. The blanket of snow in the surrounding was getting thicker and thicker. And in the void of the whiteness, I was comparing the souls of the two men. One was like the white snow, pure, beautiful and welcoming. Another was like the big buildings piercing out of the white blanket of snow, like sharp nails pointing to the sky.             

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cell of change

Republished from The Kathmandu Post
(c) The Kathmandu Post

Mobile technology has greatly aided farmers in India; Nepal should emulate such practices

The hills of Almora in Uttarakhand of neighbouring India resemble the landscape in Nepal. The culture and way of life of the people are similar too. However, farmers there are a little more fortunate than Nepali farmers. They can obtain information on market prices, weather conditions, agricultural policy news, and tips on farming cycles via short message service (SMS) from Reuters Market Light (RML). The RML service is delivered in the form of a simple SMS that fits into the daily workflow of the farmer in his/her preferred language. Information can be obtained on 450 crop varieties in eight different languages. 

Mobile power
A woman hidden behind a veil narrated  to me her experience with mobile technology. She had laid out the whole lot of crop to be dried out in the sun. It was a sunny day and there was no sign of rain in the horizon. Then she received an SMS from RML. Being illiterate, she ran to her daughter who read it out. The SMS predicted rain.

All at once, she collected her crop and stored it in a safe place. It rained just after that but her crop was safe. A lean farmer standing next to her shared a similar experience. He was ready to spray pesticide on his standing crop of vegetables. But he changed his mind after receiving an SMS notifying him of a light shower. It saved both time and money.

Such is the power of information. And it is a blessing when it comes to a mobile set worth a few thousand rupees and in your preferred language. In Uttarakhand, the RML services are free of charge, sponsored by the Department of Telecommunication and the German development agency, GIZ. In other parts of India, RML services can be availed of through a paid subscription. This service is being used by over 1.2 million farmers in 50,000 villages across 17 states of India. Even the information can be personalised based on the type of crop, region of the crop, region of the country and local language. This enables farmers to make informed decisions, reduce waste and maximise their profits.

Farmers are well informed about the prices of their produce in two nearby markets. It helps them sell their products at a fair price to buyers. The service also has a provision of flashing the name and mobile number of a farmer or a trader who wants to sell or buy the commodities. The seller and buyer can then negotiate with each other for an agreeable price.

Likewise, RML flashes the name and contact number of successful farmers periodically. The farmers end up receiving thousands of calls from fellow farmers asking them about their success mantra.The farmers can also enquire about diseases and pests affecting their crops with experts and specialists through a toll-free number provided by RML. They simply need to dial the number and record their problems with the call centre employees. The problems are then discussed with experts and the caller gets a reply-call with prescribed solutions.         

With the ever-growing use of mobile phones,  farmers in Nepal are also discovering ways to make their life easier. Now they can enquire about the price of their produce at major markets and negotiate prices with middlemen, avoid unnecessary travel to fetch agricultural inputs (especially if it is not available in the market) and seal deals with buyers. Farmers in Surkhet and Dailekh in the Mid-West development region can find out the price of vegetables and fruits through an SMS service provided by the Agro Enterprise Centre. Likewise, by calling a toll-free number, they can find out the prices of vegetables and fruits through voicemail. This service was piloted by Practical Action.

Mobile innovations
While we are being hit hard by loadshedding, farmers in India have found a unique method to deal with power cuts. With the help of a device designed by Vijay Bhaskar Reddy Dinnepu, founder of Vinfinet Technologies, they can direct their irrigation pump motors to switch on and off whenever they choose.

Through the device, the motor can also call back the farmer if there is voltage fluctuation or a power cut.  The device connects to farmers’ mobiles through an interactive voice response system (IVRS). With the provision of krishi meter (electrometers measuring subsidised electricity for agriculture), Nepali farmers can now irrigate their crops even during the dry season at cheaper prices. A device similar to that of Vinfinet Technologies could help them cope with regular power cuts and they can avoid staying on their fields for the whole day and night—in the cold and heat—waiting for power to resume.

The brains that developed the popular Android application ‘Taxi Meter’ which calculates the price of the distance travelled in a taxi and prevents travellers from being fleeced by taxi drivers must not leave behind farmers and agriculture in the ‘mobile revolution’. 

Ever growing mobile users
Cellphones, which are a necessity these days, is ubiquitous even in the remotest corners of the country. People living below the poverty line, above the line and the ultra-rich, all have access to mobiles and the telecom network. What aid workers could not do in decades has been accomplished in years by mobile operators. While the thought of building toilets in every household seems to be a dream, Nepalis from all walks of life hold mobiles in their hands. The private telecom service provider, Ncell, boasts of having reached the mark of 10 million subscribers while state-owned Nepal Telecom has similar claims (including Namaste, CDMA and 3G subscribers).

Like RML in India, across the developing world, mobile services in agriculture have focussed on sharing and obtaining information. The programmes developed so far provide farmers access to research and best practices, weather information and market prices via SMS, IVR or call centres. With the rise in population and intense competition in agriculture, it is of vital importance for farmers to increase their production and raise incomes. This is possible only if they have access to right information at the right time through mobile technology.

Recently, in an Information Communication Technology workshop held in Rajbiraj, one of the presenters asked the participants about the best way to reach people who do not have access to the internet. Three hands quickly rose in unison. The answer was the mobile phone in their hands. With millions of farmers with mobiles handy, what we need now is the right technology, like RML. It could be a ‘game changer’ for Nepali agriculture.       

Read the original post here.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Three men in a college

Hostel 2, MREC (c) Ajay Deewan
Houses in old Jaipur are pink-coloured. But the hostels of Malviya National Institute of Technology (formerly Malviya Regional Engineering College – MREC) are not coloured (In recent photos I see a thin strip of yellow in between). The only colour that pervades there is the friendship among the dwellers.   

The hostels are made of stones – they absorb heat and cool off instantly. So are the students – they get into tiny fracas here and there, and again get back to their normal routine – attend the class, complete the assignments and party hard with friends. Like the agelessness of the stones building the hostels, the bonding between the hostellers lasts forever.

Circa 1999-2000. I was placed in Hostel 2. The fact is, nobody wants to land in the hostel in the final year. Hostel 5 is the darling of final year students. All students, from all faculties, from all states of India and abroad, who are just a year away from celebrating their metamorphosis into engineers, get to stay together in a hostel which is more than a home. And the few unlucky ones are dumped in the Hostel 2. 

As there is a silver lining in every black cloud, you get more time to study hard in the step-hostel. You slog through the boredom but have enough time to incubate the creative ideas that come to your young and restless mind. In my case an interesting incident happened that changed my perspective towards friendship.

It was daytime and one of my friends was resting in his room.

He hears a knock on the door. He says, "Come in". But the knockings don't stop. He opens the door to the sight of a man in his early fifties.

The intruder politely says, "May I come in."
The man steps in and goes near his bed. "May I sit on this bed."

He sits on the bed – a metal cot with thin mattress and a regular bed sheet. He feels the connection, relaxes, looks at the ceiling and again stands up. He rises up, goes near the study table and asks, "May I sit on the chair."

My friend says, "Yes, please."

The man fumbles with the pen from his pocket and seems to scribble something on a piece of paper. He is expressionless. His mind seems to be swimming in void.

Sitting on the chair, he reaches the switch board and asks, "May I switch on the fan."

What an irritating man! My friend, holding down the vexation, says, "Please Sir, go ahead." He repeats with emphasis, "Do whatever you want. Think this as your own room."

The emotionless man's face turns bright. "Thank you my friend," he utters in his glorified tone. "Twenty nine years ago this was my room. The bed you are sitting on was mine. The chair, table and the fan, all were mine. It's been 29 years and now they seem foreign to me."

Tears start trickling down from his eyes and he breaks down. My friend finds it hard to console the man. Thanking him, the man leaves the room. Feeling curious, my friend follows the man from a distance.

The man heads to the central lawn of the campus. Two men of similar age join him and hug each other. They lie down on the grass, break into tears, laughter and joy. After 29 years.

Later we came to know that the other two men had also knocked on the doors of two other final year students. They had also posed the same set of questions and broken down at the end. The three men had graduated from MREC and had been working in the Silicon Valley in the US.   
In those days, social media was a mere dream. Thanks to, they met in the virtual world and planned to meet in reality – at their beloved campus. They also met their teachers, hostel warden and roamed around the campus streets, canteen and lecture rooms.

This day whenever I think of MREC – the hostel, the room, the cot, the chair, the table and the fan – they still hover round my head. The memories are indelible.

I long to get to MREC and indulge in the colour of friendship, once again. But I am waiting for my friends to poke me and instigate the desire. To be there. With them. After 29 years. Like the three men in the college.  

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A cup of tea in the Golden City

Jaisalmer Fort (c) Wikipedia.
Author: Adrian Sulc, User: Hinterkappelen
The train was speeding past the vast sand dunes like an arrow whizzing away from a bow. The babool trees near the railway track amalgamated with the sparse vegetation and the warm wind was hitting hard on our faces. My friend Tashi's fluffy hair was rising up and falling down with the gush of wind blowing past our faces.

We were standing at the door of the railway carriage. While he was busy capturing the panoramic view of Pokharan in his analogue camera I was guessing the distance of the atomic test site from the railway track. Our friends had left for their homes, but Tashi and I had decided to spend our winter vacation in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer, the golden city, is 575 kilometres west from Jaipur and is the most strikingly beautiful city in India for travellers who have never been to a desert. It lies in the Jaisalmer district which borders with the neighbouring Pakistan. 

Both of us were Mongoloid and being taciturn in nature we could not make any friends in the journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. However, a Bihari man became good friends with us. He had been to Jaisalmer many times and the Collector (Chief Administrative and Revenue Officer of a district in India) being his distant relative, he assured us to provide help if needed.

While walking from the railway station towards hotel, we met few army men. Seeing us they asked, "Have you come to apply for the BSF (Border Security Force)?" Nearby was a recruitment camp and every year many Nepalis came there to test their luck – to get enrolled in the lucrative service. Both of us were well built and in spite of our denial they didn't believe that we were there for our holidays.

It was getting dark when we reached Hanuman Chauraha, a roundabout in the way. It was pitch dark and we were still searching a place to stay. We were worried. It is hard to get a room in Jaisalmer during the peak tourist season. Then we remembered the words of our Bihari friend we had met during our journey and went to the Collector's residence.

We had no difficulty locating him. As chirpy he was, he dialled a number and scribbled the name of a hotel and address in a piece of paper. He was sure of fetching us a room in the unknown city. With his assurance we left for the hotel.

When we reached the hotel, we felt like scolding the friend from Bihar. We had already been to the hotel and the manager had shown us a "No Room" sign. However, we decided to ask once again. This time the manager was polite and was grumbling. "You should have mentioned earlier that you are the Collector's men," he said complainingly, "I got scolding for no reason." The man's face was worth seeing. The Bihari friend had admonished him badly. Then we, at once, got the best room in the hotel. It was a sweet relief.

As we were to check in the room, the manager came running upstairs, grabbed my arm, and took me to a corner. "Sir, can you please come with me for a minute," he requested and I followed him to the reception.

"Dai (elder brother), you are a Nepali that's why I thought it was my duty to warn you," he continued.
"It is nice to meet you in an unknown place, but why do you want to warn me," I enquired.
"Isn't your friend a Bhutanese?"
"I confirmed from the registration slip," he said. "You know, the Bhutanese chased us from Bhutan. Most of them hate Nepalis and I am afraid he might hurt you at night."
"Don't worry, my friend is a very good human being," I consoled him. "Even in his dream he won't think of harming me."

I left for my room thanking for his concern for a fellow Nepali. We freshened up and were immediately on the hotel's roof to capture the amazing photos of Jaisal Fort. In the dusk, the fort was dazzling – glittering like a golden palace dropped straight from heaven. The lighting was mesmerising, it made the fort look more beautiful. As the fort is made from golden yellow sandstone, it is also called "Sonar Quila" in Bengali. The fort built by King Jaisal who founded Jaisalmer houses a thriving city with Jain temples, palace and houses of commoners.

After clicking photos till we consumed the whole reel, we set off for dinner. As we reached the main street, a police jeep stopped in front of us and the enquiry began. Since Jaisalmer is near Pakistan border the security is very tight there. The police start interrogating as soon as they come across a new face in the city.        

Waking up early in the morning we strolled to a nearby row of shanties for a cup of tea and snacks. As we went nearer, we heard a man singing a Nepali song "Yo gau ko thito ma kanchha mero nam, audai jadai garnu hai sablai Ram Ram" (I am a guy from this village, my name is Kanchha, please keep coming, greetings to you all). The voice was melodious and reminded me of Udit Narayan, the original singer of the song. He hails from Nepal and is an established singer in Bollywood. The man singing the song was a dark coloured Nepali man from the lowlands (Terai/Madhes) of Nepal. Seeing us he had started singing the song and as we went nearer he invited us to his tea shop. While sipping the tea we came to know about his hardship since he left his hometown Butwal in Nepal. The journey from Butwal to Jaisalmer was full of thorns which he hid under his forever smiling face. He had met a Nepali after many days so he didn't allow us to pay for the cup of tea. His master, sitting at the cash counter, smiled at us. To him we were his worker's friends. For him we were mere Nepalis searching menial jobs.

After tea, we went to Gadisar Lake along with a small Bengali family in a jeep hired by the hotel manager. Together with the family we went to the Sonar Quila and Patwon ki Haveli, the mansion earlier inhabited by the ministers and likes. Jaisalmer is also called Golden City, deriving its name from the golden yellow sandstones used for building the houses. Cherishing the golden memories of the Golden City, we went to meet the Nepali friend who had sung Kanchha mero nam seeing us. As we bade farewell after drinking the tea made by him, he was smiling and waving at us. But his eyes were moist with tears.

Read the Nepali version at .

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Good samaritans: The godown owner in Siraha Madar

I love to travel. During my wanderings I meet hordes of people – some are good, some not so good. Coming across people of different nationalities, whenever I encounter a Nepali, that special feeling, the love for my country starts pouring in spontaneously.

I feel, Nepalis are special – they are there, at every nook and cranny, to pull me out of trouble. Their little acts of help, genuine smile, and quick chat have turned me into an ardent admirer of Nepalis. During my travel in and outside Nepal, I have met many Nepalis who have etched indelible memories giving me ample reasons to love my countrymen.

I am always excited to meet with Nepalis who want to remain anonymous, in spite of their generous help. In my couple of postings following this, I would retell their kindness and thank them for their benevolence. 

I had never been to Siraha Madar, the small town bordering India from where Jayanagar in India is just a few kilometres' walk. I was to catch a train to Patna from Jayanagar and then to Jaipur. Knowing the transportation woes, I left from my home as soon as the clock stroke 12. It took me one hour to reach Rupani from my place. Thanks to the intermittent bus services, sometimes you won't even see a single local bus on the highway for hours. Rupani is a small settlement on the East-West Highway from where the road bifurcates, with a 10 km stretch towards south leading to Rajbiraj, the headquarters of Sagarmatha zone.

Local buses ply between Rajbiraj and Siraha Madar at least two times a day. So, I kept waiting for the evening bus. But it didn't turn up on time. It was two hours late than the usual schedule. Thus, I reached Madar when it was dusk. Just after few minutes of my getting down from the bus, the whole area was shrouded in complete darkness. Unfortunately, it was a new moon day.

My close and dear friend, who had come to Madar to receive me, lives in a village that is 2-3 kilometres from the town. However, when I reached there, he had already left. He had waited for hours and seeing no signs of the bus arriving from Rajbiraj, he had left. I know his mentality very well. He respects time, is never late for any appointment and gives his best shot to help his friends. But he is afraid of darkness, ghosts and robbers.

It had started getting dark and his village is around half an hour's walk from the town. Between his village and the town is a vast patch of deserted fields. The area is notorious for robbers and dacoits, and few days ago a man was murdered in the area. My friend might have left the town fearing the dreaded robbers and murderers.  

I had no place to go. I asked the locals whether there were any hotels or lodges in the vicinity, but was saddened to know that only in Indian side there were few lodges. While I was searching a place to spend the night, a baba (a sadhu) in the nearby temple suggested staying at the footsteps of the temple.

I had no problem sleeping on the cold floor. Only thing I was worried about was the huge rucksack containing valuable gifts sent by my friends' parents. With no options, I made up my mind to spend the night there.

Then, all of sudden, a kind-hearted godown owner who had come to offer the evening "Aarati" (worship), knowing my condition, offered me a place to sleep in his godown. He also gave me the option of spending the night at his house in a nearby village which was one and half hour's walk from the temple. I chose to stay in his godown. I was afraid whether he would rob me in the way.

He left the whole godown and goods worth millions to my mercy just to help me as a fellow Nepali stranded near the Indian border. I had always heard from my friends in Kathmandu that Madhesi people (people living in the plains – Terai/Mades) were not helpful. But he had come to my rescue as a god-sent angel. Though he was like Gabbar Singh (a famous villain of the Hindi movie Sholay) and we had never been friends, he offered me help. He didn't even try to analyse my intentions. Seeing my condition, he believed me. My dress, posture and behaviour convinced him that I would not touch his property.        

However, I could not sleep well. I was suspecting – he might send some goons to rob me. So, I clutched the rucksack and tried to get some sleep. I was determined – if somebody turns up, I would fight with the fellow, till death. While unwanted thoughts hovered in my head, the mice and mosquitoes added to the woes. The eight hours I spent in the godown seemed like eight years. 

Early in the morning, I latched the main door and left the godown. The owner hadn't returned and I had no time; I needed to catch the early train. I moved towards the main market and found a rickshaw. As I was getting on the rickshaw, my friend appeared with his huge suitcase and bulky bag. He was vexed with my timekeeping; I couldn't reach Madar on time. He had bought fish from the market and arranged a welcome dinner for me. It was pity that I could not even taste a pinch of it. Then  leaving aside our misunderstanding, we left for Jayanagar.

I am thankful to the man who let me stay at his godown. It was my fault, I didn't ask his name. He still remains anonymous. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

You ignited the fire: RIP Anurakta

A page from my school diary

I was a complete loner. I had curly hair which made me look different from other kids. On my first day at school, as we were lined up for the assembly, I could see two boys from the adjacent line teasing me. They were making fun of my hair. I was admitted in the kindergarten and they belonged to grade one. Being a new kid on the block I kept mum.

It happened again and we had a small scuffle. Seeing us fighting, my class-teacher grabbed our ears and took us to our head-mistress. Her office was on the first floor. It was a small wooden room protruding out from the main school building. The boy with whom I had fought was a well-known litterateur's son. At that time I did not have the slightest inkling what literature was.

The head-mistress and class-teacher counselled us and asked us to shake hands. The counselling made us forget our grudges; we shook hands firmly and became firm friends. The gregarious, spontaneous and bubbly boy Anurakta with his kid brother Anubandha took me in. I was introduced to his circle of friends and never remained a loner.    

From left to right: Standing - Raj Kumar, Anurakta, Bidur,
Nirupama, Sharada, Neer Kumar, Ramesh, Yalamber, Sanjib;
Sitting - Neera, Muna K, Jyotsna, Ms Sushila Khatiwada, Jayanti,
Muna P, Sushma, Maya. (c) Udaya days.
I have some faint memories – an old house with a big compound and a pine tree at the gate – that was my first school "Udaya". Udaya Pre-primary School was the first boarding school in the whole of Baneshwor (Baneshwor is now a crowded segment of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal). The house belonged to the late movie director Prakash Thapa. It was ascertained when the famous actor Bhuwan KC dropped in one day along with the beautiful Karishma KC in his red jeep.

On one side of our school was the trolley bus office. The trolley buses were a must-see vehicle for people who visited Kathmandu for the first time. Donated by the People's Republic of China, the buses ran from Tripureshwor (near the national stadium) to Surya Binayak (in Bhaktapur) with their butterfly feelers connected to the electric wires along the 17 kilometres stretch.

On the other side was the office of an Australian forestry project and next to it was the office of cooperatives. It had a huge compound and was a place of envy for us while coming to school and going back to home. Its walls had big holes (designed for aesthetic purpose) which were perfect points of intrusion for us. We never missed a chance to get inside the compound and play on the fluffy green grass.

Nearby was a small place of worship under a khari tree (Celtis australis). The adjacent building housed Deurali Club. The most fascinating thing inside the club was a blue table tennis board. I always wished to get inside and play table tennis, but most of the times the door was locked and we were just kids at that time. Not to offend anybody, the one-storeyed long house in the east of the tree was a government-run school of unruly kids.

Those were the frequently visited places before school, after school and during the tiffin-time (though we were not allowed to sneak out of the school compound). On Saturdays I liked to visit the Sarki Gaun (what it was called earlier) to the east of the government-run school. There, next to a big khari tree was Anurakta's house. Nearby at walking distances were houses of Yalamber, Bidur and Ramesh.

Then the school closed abruptly. When I returned from the min pachas (we used to have 50 days of winter vacation after our final exams), the school had been closed and my friends had moved to other schools. For a year, I had to study in a small school in Old Baneshwor with a completely new set of friends. I longed for the good times with my friends in Udaya, however, I got used to new environs, new teachers and started enjoying. 

After a year, I was admitted to English Preparatory School (EPS) which had opened nearby the old Udaya. I was again back with the gang. I was glad to see most of my friends from Udaya in EPS. It was reunion time. The similar hobbies of philately, sketching and reading comics brought Anurakta and me closer.

Once he invited me to his home. I knew his father was a litterateur, a poet in particular. Entering his house for the first time, I was happy to see a big collection of poetries, short stories and novels written by Russian and Indian writers. I borrowed the Nepali translation of Anton Chekhov's short stories from him and devoured it in no time. I also read Premchand. "First impression is the last impression" – though this doesn't hold true all the time, I became a die-hard fan of Chekhov and Premchand. The man behind it was Anurakta.

Anurakta not only enthused the literary bug inside me, but he also strummed the chords of music resting in deep slumber (inside me). My grandfather (RIP) was a well-known classical singer of his time. He earned his Diploma from the famous Gwalior Gharana (traditional house of music led by well-known gurus, musicians). His regular singing schedule starting from 4 a.m. in the morning everyday had not been able to arouse interest in me. However, listening to "Sacrifice" (Elton John) and "I will be there for you" (Bon Jovi) sung by Anurakta and his band URANS inspired me to learn strumming the guitar. But being a bookworm, I could not take it further. And later gymming erased the ABCs of guitar I had learned.

After our School Leaving Certificate (SLC), we landed up in different colleges – I was in Amrit Science College (ASCOL), a government run college while he joined National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), a private college. However, our paths crossed as both the colleges were in the same locality.  

Then he left for the United States and I went to Jaipur, India. We were completely out of touch for next six years. While I was pursuing my MBA in New Delhi (India), we got connected again through emails. It was a coincidence – he worked out and ran regularly, and I too had turned into a regular gymmer and a long distance runner. It was satisfying to compare our timings and stamina.

Like all, the entrepreneurship bug bit us and we chatted many a times to establish a joint business. But our busy schedules didn't allow us to partner on a joint venture. We hadn't seen each other for ages but still the faith was standing tall between us. We met once when he was in Nepal on a holiday trip. But the meeting was short – Anurakta, Yalamber and I had a nice time though, to remember and talk about our Udaya days.

From the last one year I have shifted to Surkhet in the Mid-Western Development Region. I am not much into chatting though I check my Facebook and Twitter accounts twice a day. I had completely lost track of Anurakta. There were no more run and status updates from him. I thought he must be a kind of busy. Then suddenly Yalamber rang me up one Saturday. He summarised the sad end of Anurakta to me over phone.  I was speechless. I had no idea what to do. I kept mum.

The guy who turned a loner into a gregarious man was silent. For ever. RIP, Anurakta.       

(Anurakta left this world on 8 June 2013. He was living in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was the eldest son of  acclaimed Nepali poet Mr Shailendra Shakar.)

Sunday, 8 September 2013


ए ऐना,
मेरो कुन रुप देखाउँदैछस् आज ?
डक्टर जेकिल कि मिस्टर हाइड ?

मलाई अचेल साह्रै शंका लाग्ने गर्छ
तैले देखाउने प्रतिबिम्बमा,
दायाँलाई बायाँ
बायाँलाई दायाँ,
कहिले कन्केभ
कहिले कन्भेक्श ।
क्यालिब्रेशन पो नमिलेको हो कि ?
कि मेरो मति फेरिएको हो ?

नारसिसस् झै तलाउमा नियालेर हेरे
तेरो नियत पत्ता लगाउन,
त्यो त झन जाली रहेछ
तरंगमै गरायो मलाई धूमिल,
केहि नलागी सूर्यलाई गुहारे
आफूलाई चिन्न,
उसले त खालि छायाँ मात्र देखायो
आफू चाहिं हासिरह्यो ।
के म क्षणभंगूर भएको हो ?
कि म भित्रैदेखि रित्तिए ?

ब्यूटि लाइज इन द आइज अफ द बिहोल्डर
आँखा आँखाको हेराइ पनि त होला नि फरक,
आँखा पनि त होलान् नि
थोरै कन्केभ अनि थोरै कन्भेक्श,
अब म कस्कस्लाई सोधूं ?
म ठिक कि बेठिक ?

त्रिशंकु (२३ भाद्र २०७०, सुर्खेत)

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Say no to peacock plumes next Krishna Janmashtami and no to water lilies coming Deepawali

A girl holds a peacok feather during Krishna Janmashtami festival
in Lalitpur near Kathmandu. (c) Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters 
I love Krishna Janmashtami, the birth celebrations of Lord Krishna. The only thing I detest is the devotees' love for the peacock plumes. I don't know whether Lord Krishna adorned his hair with a peacock plume or not. Or it was just an artist's imagination to beautify the portrait, it's still to be confirmed. However, almost all portraits of Krishna have a peacock feather stuck to his head band.

The fascination for the peacock plumes on the auspicious day brings traders selling the plumes at Krishna temples throughout Nepal. Imagine – only in the Kathmandu Valley there are hundreds of Krishna temples and at each temple there are at least two traders, each selling hundreds of plumes. If honestly calculated, the number of peacocks trapped and slaughtered for the plumes will cross thousands.

So is it worth buying a peacock feather on Lord Krishna's birthday? I would say a big NO to the feather sellers. Let's make sure that the peacocks stay safe in jungles and are not afraid of losing their lives for Krishna's birthday celebrations.   

Likewise, in Deepawali, similar is the fate of water lilies. The nook and crannies of marketplaces in major towns of Nepal are filled with water lilies. Water lilies are considered to be the best offering to Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, in Deepawali (Laxmi Pooja in Nepal). Thus, to please the Goddess and amass wealth, people pay a fortune to buy the lilies. And the lily gatherers scour the ponds and ditches of lilies, not sparing even the buds.

Imagine – what will happen if the naturally growing lilies face extinction? Let's choose an alternative to offering water lilies to Goddess Laxmi this Deepawali and not devoid the ponds and ditches of their natural ornaments.

Monday, 26 August 2013

From mundane to serious affairs in Nepal: A journalist's viewpoint

I am a big fan of Barclays Premier League. Don't ask me about the English clubs, I can tell you in detail even about the recent transfers. However, when I see students going to Liverpool and Chelsea International colleges in Kathmandu, I start pulling my hairs.

Such is the fascination for English names among the college-goers and educators that "Many sound more like American or British colleges (or English football clubs) than Nepali: Chelsea International, Caribbean College, Caspian Valley, Bridgewater Int'l, Guinness Int'l, Welhams College, Columbus, Gillette College, Golden Gate College, Thames International College, Bernhard Campus, Northfield Campus, Xavier Academy, New Millennium, Liverpool International College, to name a few".

Journalist Anand Gurung sheds his frustration towards Nepalis' fascination with the West in the article Kathmandu Capers in his debut book Journalism & Journeys. The book honestly expresses the author's impressions detailing the nuances of daily lives in Nepal in form of travel essays and articles. All 19 articles are engrossing and will take you through the streets of Kathmandu, jungles of the Terai, and even to Raxaul and Darjeeling of India.

In the article A house in the City, he laments at the concrete jungle the Kathmandu Valley is turning into. In Tragic Traffic Tales he highlights the plights of the public vehicle users, the tampering of meters by the taxi drivers and the reckless motorbike riders.

While talking about mundane affairs, Anand raises some serious policy issues in his article Mongolian Momo. He states: "The state's policy of systematic discrimination meant that the Janjatis, Dalits, Madhesis and of course, women, were completely sidelined. They were left out in the cold and had no voice in the running of the state. The state never fostered national integrity by advocating social and economic justice for them. Instead, the Kathmandu rulers forcefully tried to thrust one religion, language and culture on them to promote the sense of "Nepaliness" and partly succeeded in this attempt."   

In Wildlife Diaries, he highlights the community conservation efforts in Bardia to save the wild animals. He interviews the community based anti-poaching unit members and the Chief Warden of Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve to find out about poaching and poachers. In The Hissing Trishuli Rapids, he describes the thrills of rafting in the famous Trishuli River. Having had a similar experience in the rapids of Bheri River, I liked this piece the most.

Anand's writing sometimes turns poetic which makes the read more pleasurable. His attention to details takes you right to the action point. You never get bored and find newness in each of the writing. The articles are a mix of all sorts of jottings and cater to all types of readers. However, had the book been a collection of either travel essays or personal impressions, it would have garnered niche readers.

The above mentioned articles are only a glimpse of several other interesting articles that are compiled along with them. All the articles are beautifully written and deal with completely different topics. One link that binds them together is the mention of Nepal, Nepalis and Nepaliness. If you like Nepal and Nepalis, like reading from mundane affairs to serious issues, this book is meant just for you.    

Anand Gurung is a Kathmandu based journalist and editor of the online portal Nepalnews. Journalism & Journeys is his debut book published by Vajra Publications, Kathmandu, Nepal and Dragon Publications, New Delhi, India. The book is priced at NRs 400 in Nepal and IRs 250 in India. The book is available at major bookstores in Kathmandu.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Esperanto: Language of hopefuls

Esperanto hopes to eliminate communication barriers

Republished from The Kathmandu Post

On the way to Lao Cai from Kunming, I met an interesting couple. The man was 93 years old and his spouse was in her late eighties. As we stopped mid-way for lunch, he joined our table and initiated a conversation. Sensing that we were not proficient in handling food with chopsticks, he taught us the basics of using them. In return, he learnt a few Nepali words. He then revealed his age and said that his enthusiasm to learn had bounced back since he started learning Esperanto a year ago.

Esperanto is a universal language developed by Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. Seeing the differences created by languages, Zamenhof set out to create a common language that would bring peace and harmony among different ethnic groups. It is, by far, the most successful of a hundred or so conlangs (constructed languages) invented in the nineteenth century. 

Close-knit community
In Hanoi, three young girls, Nubo, Revo and Cxielo, welcomed us. Their names in Esperanto mean cloud, dream and sky respectively. They took care of all our necessities. They were deputed and instructed by the organisers to ensure that we didn’t face any difficulty during our sojourn. At Wuhan in China, Esperantists travelled more than two hours to welcome our group from Nepal. They offered us a feast, exchanged experiences, took us around the city and treated us to a sumptuous dinner. Esperantists around the world belong to a single family and are ready to help, guide and host fellow Esperantists.  

Easiest to learn
During our journey from Lao Cai to Hanoi, I asked many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Mongolians why they learnt Esperanto. The answer was that they found it easier to learn Esperanto than English.

Esperanto is considered the easiest language in the world. Because of its simple grammar and recognisable vocabulary, Esperanto is much easier than other languages. A study by the Institute of Cybernetic Pedagogy in Paderborn, Germany tested how long it took people who spoke French as their first language to learn different languages up to the same level. According to the research, German was the hardest, taking 2,000 hours of study, English required an average of 1,500 hours of study and Italian took 1,000 hours, even though it is similar to French. However, Esperanto learners only needed 150 hours, a tenth of the time required for English. Learning Esperanto helps learn other languages much faster too as learning a second foreign language is easier than the first.

I was amazed to see so many youngsters learning and speaking Esperanto in China and Vietnam. I met many Japanese and Korean Esperantists and the only answer that I got from them was that they loved Dr Zamenhof’s idea to create a common language throughout the world. They liked to travel and wanted to make friends across the world.

Esperantists also arrange a plethora of events throughout the year, making it easier for other Esperantists to travel by participating in such events. Some of the most popular events are the Universala Kongreso, Internacxia Junulara Kongreso and national and regional congresses. Both the Universala Kongreso and Junulara Kongreso are organised in a different country every year. Besides, smaller events take place all year round in different countries.

The Pasporta Servo comprises a list of more than 1,300 hosts in nearly 100 countries who will accommodate travellers for free as long as they can speak Esperanto.

Rising amidst doldrums
During its heyday, Esperanto had as many as two million speakers and produced its own rich literature, including more than 15,000 books. Esperanto survived two world wars and the ascent of global English. Today, Esperanto has more speakers than 6,000 other languages spoken around the world. George Soros is one celebrity who speaks Esperanto. 

Volapük, a language created in the nineteenth century by Johann Martin Schleyer, once had 280 clubs around the world and more speakers than Esperanto. However, it could not maintain its momentum as users were not allowed to coin new words. Esperanto provides freedom to the speakers to come up with new words while maintaining the system and enriching the vocabulary.

Esperanto clubs and societies provide space for people who hope to learn, mingle, explore the world and live in harmony. Like the old couple I met in China, Esperantists across the world hope to create a universal language that leads to a global village where all people speak a single language and there are no communication barriers.

Read the original post here.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Confessions of a gym addict

I was a dabbler…
Sometimes serendipity turns into a life-changer. I was a cent per cent bookworm with no traces of liking for sports. The only game I liked was football and I was always offered a defender’s role – the reason being my stubbornness to stop the strikers. I ended up hitting them hard on their insteps, shins and calves – and left no chances to bring them down. After few matches even the defender’s role became coveted for me. Everybody was scared of my fouls.

I even tried gymnastics and karate. After few spells of somersaults, my left hand got caught in a stool and I was banned to attend gymnastics classes. Same happened with karate. I was self-teaching karate with a handbook published by Indian Book House. I punched on everything, be it a rice bag, a wall that came into my sight, or a mound of sand. As my parents noticed the knuckles, the handbook and self-learning both had to be stalled.

While my friends were doing the pull-ups and push-ups, and pumping the dumbbells, I used to sit in a corner and read books – the Famous Five, Secret Seven, and the Hardy Boys series. It was a complete no-no to sports for me.

This is how I ended up in gym
Then I landed up in India for my Bachelors. One day doing the chin-ups, I fell down and hit my head hard on the cemented floor. Suddenly, the lights went off and it was a complete darkness for me. I experienced what it feels like while dying. I opened my eyes as my friends from the dormitory sprinkled water over my face.

It resulted into a deep cut on my head. They took me to the college dispensary and after first aid I was again on my toes – live and kicking. I was recommended to go for a CT scan. I was reluctant – I didn’t want my parents to know how it happened. So I avoided it in spite of fears of having blood clots in my brain.

The fear amplified as I discovered that the whole world seemed to revolve as and when I knelt to pick anything lying on the floor. I had no options – I took to gym with the faint hope that I will cure myself of this malady. I started pumping iron, eating boiled eggs, drinking packets of milk, slurping down glasses of banana shake, and sleeping like the dead.

…And I started loving gym
As the days passed, I could feel the difference. Earlier the whole hall seemed to hover over me as I lifted heavy weights while doing decline bench press. Slowly the hovering turned to light shaking and after few months it was normal. Nothing hovered or shook when I knelt. I thought – the exercise helped set the brain in the skull which had to bear a huge shock during the fall.

Then I noticed another difference. My biceps bulged and I could notice the triceps while brushing every morning. My chest inflated and I could feel the power in my hands. Then after few months I could feel the set of abs appearing on my once flat stomach. It was a huge achievement for me.      

The desire for more muscles controlled my desire to consume limitless alcohol with my buddies. As the six packs started showing, I got more and more addicted to gymming.

Then I got stuck to gymming
Then came the Eureka moment – I found the reason to stick to gymming. It’s an interesting anecdote.

I was in the third year of my Bachelors of Engineering and ragging was rampant in the campus. However, I had never ragged a junior.

One day we were returning to our hostel for lunch. It was 1 pm and the sun was shining to its might. The distance between the lecture hall and hostel was almost 15 minutes’ walk. As we were passing by the college gymnasium, we saw a group of first year students walking in a straight line. Some senior students might have told them to do so – they had formed a chain and each was holding the former’s shoulder.

I was annoyed with the teacher who had made us wait for 20 minutes more than the actual period. Going to hostel and coming back to lecture hall needed at least half an hour. We barely had 10 minutes to gulp the lunch. Seeing the first year guys, one of my friends asked me to give some extra work to them. In the fit of anger, I kicked a wild fruit and asked a guy to fetch it. He ran in the hot sand to fetch the fruit and was literally crying when he brought it to us. Then again one of my friends kicked it and asked another first year student to bring it back to us. I felt bad about it but some of my friends were laughing and enjoying.

In the evening, as usual, I returned from college and went to gym. I wasn’t feeling like pumping iron that day. My sixth sense hinted that something bad was coming my way. And it happened. As I returned from the gym, a white piece of paper was gummed to my door and it read, “Report to the Proctor at 6.00 PM”.

I was in a panic. I ran to my friends without even opening the doors. My friends knew the consequences – it had two meaning – either some disciplinary action would be taken against me or in the worst case scenario, I was going to be rusticated. My friend Atul Dev Saraf also had same sort of notice glued to his doors. He too was worried. Now we were two, so our problems halved. He was consoling me and I was sympathising him.

We made a deal – I would report first and he would follow me. With heavy hearts we headed for the staff quarters. Atul waited on the way and I reached the Proctor’s residence on stated time. With thumping heart I pushed the door-bell. To my surprise, the guy opening the door was my partner in the gym. To my good luck the Proctor was on his way to home and my friend was his son.

I narrated the story to him. As we were chatting in the drawing room, the Proctor arrived. I introduced myself and explained why I was there. He then asked me to sit down and told why I was summoned. Two first year students had lodged a complaint with the anti-ragging squad and they had identified Atul and me from the student profiles. It was obvious – they knew we were third year students of Chemical Engineering and my face was the most recognisable being a Mongoloid.

My friend came to my rescue. He told about our partnership in the gym and praised my calm attitude. The Proctor also recognised me – he had taught Physics in the first year and I was one of the good guys. This connection saved me. I told the truth – it was not a ragging as such. I was spared with an admonition. There should be no complaints against me in the coming days. I sighed with relief and thanked my dear friend and my favourite gym. They had rescued me from being suspended. Atul too followed my footsteps and he too was spared.

After this incident I became a loyal follower of gymming.

Once a gymmer always a gymmer
These days, like my friends, I too have lots of responsibilities – home, a sweet wife and a cute little daughter. Then there’s my job and my network of friends and relatives. I snatch away that one hour, at least three times a week, and pump the iron.

I made many friends in gyms in India and Nepal. My heartfelt thanks to Amar Deep Singh in Jaipur; Prashant Anand, Ashutosh Jaiswal, Kaiser Wani, Arshur Rahman and Balbir Singh in Delhi; Som Timilsina, Paras Shrestha, Rabindra  Karki and Deependra in Kathmandu; and Keshav Karki in Surkhet for keeping up with me.

It’s once a gymmer always a gymmer.

Do you have it in you?

Follow these sites to start gymming.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

कैदी आस्थाको

आज किन ताल्चा मारेछन् ?
यो च्यानल गेट
किन खोल्दैनन् ?
त्यो भुस्याहा कुकुर
कुरिरहेछ खान प्रसाद ,
अनि कुरिरहेछु म
त्यसको जिब्रोको न्यानो स्पर्श ।

ती साना नानीहरु
आज किन लुकामारी खेल्दैनन् ?
किन आउँदैनन्
पैसा बटुल्न ?
पर्खिबसेकोछु म
तिनीहरुको पवित्र प्रेम
र आशरहित श्रद्धा ।

यो सानो छुचुन्द्रो चाहिं
मसँगै बसेको छ ,
घरिघरि मलाई काउकुती लगाउँदैछ
र प्रफुल्ल भई चारैतिर दगुर्दैछ ,
मख्ख छ आज ऊ
मसँग एक्लै दिन बिताउन पाएकोमा ।

संधै उकुसमुकुस गराउने अबिर
अनुहारै ढाक्ने टीका
अनि मेरा वरिपरि छरिएर,
मलाई मेरै कोठामा पराई भान गराउने
ती पुष्प गुच्छाहरु
आज सबै गायब छन् ।

मलाई पोलिरहने दियोका बत्ती
निसास्सिने गरी
धुँवाको मुस्लो फ्याक्ने
ती धूपका झुप्पा
अनि मेरा कान फुटुञ्जेल
बज्ने घण्टहरु 
आज सबै निश्तब्ध छन् ।

लामबद्ध ओइरिने
मेरा कथित भक्तजनहरु
आज सब सत्याग्रहमा बसेकाछन्
मेरो अमूक दर्शक भई बस्ने बानीबिरुद्ध
आज सब आन्दोलित छन्
अनि मलाई कैदी बनाई आस्थाको
आज नेपाल बन्द गरेकाछन् ।
(१७ अषाढ २०७०, सुर्खेत)
Republished from 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

चिप्लेकिरा र चित्रगुप्त

हे मनुवा !
आफ्ना विजीगिषालाई लगाम दे
निमेष भरमा चन्द्र छुने
ती महत्वाकांक्षालाई तिलाञ्जली दे
कर्म गर
तर फलको आश नगर
सुस्त सुस्त आफ्नो लक्ष्यतर्फ बढ
अनि कदापि पछि नहट
आफ्नो मार्ग पहिल्याई
अनन्ततर्फ लम्कि
चिप्लेकिरा झै हताश नभई
आफ्नो गन्तव्यतर्फ ।

यी मधुर वाणीलाई
पछ्याउँदा पछ्याउँदै
एक जुग बितेछ
अनि चित्रगुप्तको वास्ता नगरी
चट्याङ्ग झै गर्जिनेहरु
चम्किरहेछन् ,
अनन्तता थपिरहेछन्
आफ्ना क्षणभंगुरतामा ।

ती फिरन्तेहरु
नीति संहारकहरु
व्यस्त छन्
लुट्न अस्मिता
न्यायद्वारको चिराबाट
किंकर्तव्यविमुढ भई
चियाउँदैछन् चित्रगुप्त ।

अब त विजीगिषा
जिजीविषामा परिणत भएझै लाग्दछ
अनि अन्तर्मन कहांलिदै
उच्चारण गर्दैछ
फगत गाँस, बास, कपास ।
हारेको छैन अझ विश्वास
सत्यको दिन त पक्कै फिर्लान नि
अनि मिहिनेतका ती डोबहरु
अवश्य देख्लान्
ती अदृश्य न्यायमूर्तिले
निरन्तर अघि बढ्दैछ
यो चिप्लेकिरो ।

(८ जेष्ठ २०७०, सुर्खेत)

Published in

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A day in the life of a goat

“Every dog has his day.”

That’s what we have heard since our kindergarten. And this is what I say whenever my near and dear ones are in distress. However, when I saw 23 goats being hauled into the dark chambers of a bus, I was damn sure those poor creatures never had had their days.

More than 10 thousand goats end up being slaughtered every day in Nepal to satisfy the greedy gluttons.  According to a Heifer International study, Nepal has a goat population of 9.19 million and the total demand of goat meat in the country is about 70,307 MT. Out of the total current supply, 8,566 MT is imported and 52,809 MT (86%) is supplied from domestic production. Still, there is a gap of 8,932 MT equalling 565,300 additional goats annually (with an average carcass weight of 15.8 kg /goat).  

I encountered the cruel goat transportation while I was on my way to Kathmandu from Surkhet in a night bus. The goats were being ferried from Chhinchu, a small town in the mid-western Nepal, to Kathmandu, the capital city.

I left Surkhet at 4.30 pm. After driving for almost an hour drive the bus screeched to a halt at Chhinchu and it was time for snacks and a bio-break. Getting off the bus, I bought some oranges. While I was busy peeling off an orange, the bus headed to a nearby petrol pump. 

Then the next sight was horrendous. Three men were hauling goats inside a tiny compartment made under the bus. The goats, tagged on their horns, were bleating with pain while the men were pulling them (the goats) by their ears. I was astonished to see them haul six goats in a small compartment at the back of the bus. There was enough space only for two goats.

The 20 minutes allocated for snacks elongated to an hour’s stop. To know about the goat trade, I cracked conversation with the jolly fellow, the conductor.

“These are one of the best goats in the region,” said the boy in green shirt. “The big ones exceeding 30 Kgs in weight draw Rs 260 (1 USD = 90 Rs) per Kg and the ones below 30 Kgs fetch Rs 220 per Kg.”  He was giggling and helping the traders haul the goats into the bus.

The goats command the price as per their weight. The goat meat of the same goat is sold at Rs 650 in Kathmandu. The transportation costs Rs 280-300 per goat depending upon its weight.

While talking with them, I was clicking the pictures with my Samsung cellphone. The boy in green got closer to me. He too had a Samsung set and he wanted a favour from me. He urged to take his picture with a goat and send it via Bluetooth to his mobile. 

He posed riding a goat and I didn’t miss the moment to get further information from him. I transferred the photo to his set and waited for the right moment to get details of the goat trade from him. 

I counted the goats being thrown inside the dark chambers under the bus. All in all they adjusted 23 goats in the bus. There was no empty space, enough not even for a handful of grass. The transporters were like butchers. How can they even think of feeding the goats?

The goats were packed like sardines inside the space carved out between the four wheels of the bus and at the back of the bus. From outside it seemed nothing unusual. There was no trace of more than a score of goats being loaded in the bus. The goats bleated for few minutes and then everything was calm. The bus continued its journey to Kathmandu.

The conductor cracked jokes and entertained the passengers on the way. “I pray the Lord to keep the goats mum while passing by the police check-posts,” he joked. “Otherwise I would need to cough up few hundreds at each check-post.”

On enquiring about the legal aspects, he showed me a permission letter from the District Livestock Services Office (DLSO). The letter stated the duration between which the goats could be transported to Kathmandu for meat purposes and the goats were free of any communicable diseases. The quantity mentioned in the letter was 20 but the number of goats loaded was 23. So, he used to be extra careful while dealing with the policemen at the check-posts.

I could imagine the pain and trauma the goats were going through. Still they remained silent during the journey, bleating only at some big jolts. They had adapted well to the situation. It might be the warmth of the companionship that was keeping them intact. Outside it was cold though not freezing.

After a strenuous ride of 15 hours, we reached Kathmandu. I was eager to see the plight of the goats. As the bus stopped, a white TATA Ace mini-truck parked parallel to the bus and two young boys started pulling out the goats from the bus.

The goats were lifeless; the bus stunk of goat urine and droppings. Lifting a goat weighing 50 Kgs and throwing it to the mini-truck was a child’s play for the boys. They were used to it.

Finally, the mini-truck was full with the bleating goats. It headed towards the butcher’s. It was the goats’ last day in this world. Alas, they hadn’t had their day in their lifetime!         

The cruel goat transportation in pictures


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Bayalkanda, the forgotten border pillar and the disappearing rhododendrons

A gust of cool wind whizzes past our ears. While the Surkhet Valley is perspiring in the summer heat, we are enjoying the breeze. We are standing at a point which is the passage of wind blowing from the mountain tops in the northern horizon down to the Surkhet Valley in the south.

Might be the place, where we are standing right now, got its name from the Nepali word “Bayal” which also connotes breeze. Bayalkanda is a few minutes’ walk from Gothikanda, the erstwhile headquarters of Surkhet.

Kapil, Om and Abhijit pose for a picture at the point that is the
passage of wind blowing from mountain tops to the Surkhet Valley.

Gothikanda – the erstwhile Surkhet headquarters
To reach Gothikanda, you have two options – either walk for 20 minutes from Chheda, a small stop-over in the Surkhet-Dailkeh road corridor, or hike for one and half hour from the hospital near Radio Nepal’s Regional Office in Birendranagar of Surkhet district. The hike takes you through a dense sal (Shorea robusta) forest, a steep hill and a pine (salla) forest. We once hiked to the top but this time we took the route passing through Chheda and Gothikanda.
The valley below Gothikanda was a dense forest and infested with mosquitoes and of course, the deadly malaria. My friend Om reminisces, “It used to be considered a sin to tread into the valley after sunset; the people residing in Gothikanda used to return by the evening to their nests.” “Only the Tharus used to stay in the malarial patches as they are considered to be immune to malaria.”

It was only after the spraying of DDT in the 1950s and promotion of the valley as regional headquarters by late king Birendra, the place got rechristened as Birendranagar. Hordes of people then started pouring in from the neighbouring hilly districts in search of fertile land and easier life.

Mesmerising Surkhet Valley and Kakrevihar
If you opt for a strenuous and tiring hike up the hill, reaching the hill-top is more satisfying. To repose and recline for delicious snacks and chilled drinks after the trek, a well-known restaurant “Chalise Cottage” is the best spot. We were tired after walking for almost an hour and a sumptuous snack of fried chicken and Wai Wai sandheko (a mixture of dry instant noodles, tomato, onion, chilly and puffed rice) was the perfect treat to our empty stomachs. Few more restaurants have mushroomed up in the area to cater to the once in a while hiking enthusiasts. 

As we walked westwards from the Chalise Cottage, we came across many scenic spots. If you look below, the Surkhet Valley looks like a tiny patch of settlement. The well-planned roads form a symmetrical patchwork. Luckily, the day was bright and the cumulus clouds above the valley made the scene mesmerising.

Kakrevihar, the famous archaeological site looks like an abandoned leveller (ledko in Native Nepali) attached to a plough. A leveller is used to level the field after ploughing. Om says, “The locals say that the King Sur forgot to collect the leveller after ploughing – later, the area turned into a dense forest.” Some describe Sur as a god while others say that he was a king. Another adage says that it got the name due to its shape. It is like the shape of a cucumber seed (Cucumber is called Kakro in Nepali).

If you look south-westwards, far in the horizon is Ranighat. Recently it has earned fame as the end point of rafting session that starts from Bheri River Bridge. It takes three and half hours to raft through the river section. (Read the piece for details of rafting in Bheri).

Nearby is the probable site for paragliding. The entrepreneur group that is running the rafting is planning to launch paragliding from this site soon in the future. Test flights were done during the second mid-west small and cottage industry fair held on 5-13 March 2013 in Surkhet. It will offer a variety to the paragliding enthusiasts who are now confined to the Pokhara environs, the only place in Nepal where one can enjoy paragliding.

Wandering souls and goat herders
A gravel road passes through the hills like a serpent connecting the villages around Bayalkanda. There is a steep hillock near the site selected for paragliding. “A bus carrying a marriage group (Janti in Nepali) was swept down the hill by a sudden landslide,” said Om who belongs to the place. “The dead souls still wander in the vicinity.”

While we were talking about ghosts and dead souls, small children were herding goats at the site nonchalantly. They were unaware of the incident and whistling popular folk songs. Goats from this part of Surkhet (Kunathari and surrounding area) are famous for their meat quality.

The forgotten border pillar
As we were enjoying the scenic panorama and cool breeze, we came across a huge stone pillar. It demarcated the earlier small kingdoms (There were 22-24 small kingdoms prior to annexation into a united Nepal).  The border stone still stands tall at Gadhi. It needs attention of the Archaeological Department. Further research and excavation must be planned to conserve the historical monument.

I remember a similar pillar being trampled down by a bulldozer near one of the Shiva temples in the south west of Birendranagar. It is sad to say that during the road expansion, the driver was smiling all the way for being successful in breaking the pillar into pieces. The locals didn’t even raise a whimper to conserve the historical pillar.

After few minutes’ walk from the forgotten pillar, we came across the remnants of an old fort. Whether it was a fort or an artillery, we could not decipher the difference. We felt sorry for the state of the monument. Only the base of the fort was standing intact. The stones were scattered in the area. Besides stones, nothing was left.

Tall tower, faltering network and the disappearing rhododendrons
Spending a reasonable amount of time in Gadhi and clicking pictures, we returned to Bayalkanda. On the way was a tall Nepal Telecom tower. However, in spite of having the tower nearby, the cellular network was miserably faulty. The reception is very bad and for a continuous and clear talk with your dear ones, you need to move from one place to another in search of the cellular network.  

We had a delicious lunch at the Chalise Cottage and while we were savouring the local chicken, a dozen couples arrived with bunches of rhododendrons in their hands. We then walked till we came to the spot in Chheda where we had parked our bikes. As we were having tea, we saw hordes of bikers and pillion riders all carrying rhododendrons in their hands.

Leaving Chheda for Surkhet Valley, we met many small groups of youngsters gossiping and loitering on the road with bunches of rhododendrons. It was getting dark but they were carelessly strolling towards their destinations. Buses jam-packed with passengers carrying rhododendrons in their hands, both inside and on their tops, passed by us. They were returning from Guranse in Dailekh district which is named after the abundant rhododendron jungles.    

I was wondering, how long the rhododendrons will last if the visitors keep on plundering the site of its precious adornment. However, one of my friends was saying that it was like fetching a pail of water from an ocean. I was murmuring, “It’s not a matter of just picking the flowers, they were lopping off the branches.”

“If the concerned authorities don’t take this issue seriously and we don’t stop destroying the jungles, the rhododendrons might disappear from Guranse.”  
Thanks to Om Prasad Acharya, Kapil Dev Gyawali and Abhijit Bhattacharya who made the journey unforgettable.