At home, in K-city

July 29, 2008 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

…..Before I left America for Kathmandu, friends had warned me of a culture shock. Streets teeming with throngs of people were supposed to irritate me. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there was no shock in store for me. That’s not to say there have been no changes in Kathmandu. The most visible of them is an increase in the number of vehicles – private vehicles, taxis, and public transport. That was already happening at a rapid pace when I left for the US five years ago. What I see now is mostly expected. The population of the city has increased and consequentl the pollution levels. But it is far from being overcrowded – unless of course, you are a rich prick who grew up riding around in taxis or your daddy’s car, believed that Thamel was the center of all things evil and shopping in Bhat Bhateni was the most hip thing to do.

…..Putting aside my penchant for bashing the rich, what has happened in Kathmandu is a simple migration of villagers to the city. It used to happen before as well, but in the past 4-5 years there has been a dramatic increase in migrant volume. With Maoists causing all kinds of havoc in villages, the exodus to Kathmandu is expected. After all, to protect their political integrity, the former government and the former King provided security to Kathmandu only and no other city or village. Kathmandu being perceived as a safe haven, it was only a matter of time before the entire nation congregated to the city.

…..Another trend that has contributed to the dramatic rise in Kathmandu’s population is the proliferation of decent paying jobs for the majority of village immigrants. This has in turn enabled them to invite families from villages and permanently settle down in Kathmandu. These jobs range from working in a hotel as a waiter to being an office boy running errands for the hakim. Quite surprisingly business operators have managed to increase the pay for such unskilled labor over time.

…..The emergence of this new lower-class segment has made the city unappealing to the former middle-class segment. I call them former because in the last five years this segment has amassed massive amounts of wealth. How? I am not sure and they are not revealing it. They have gradually moved to the outskirts of the city where new real estate development has taken place. Entire cookie-cutter suburbs have appeared complete with parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and gyms. These suburbs embody the Western influence and lofty, ego-fulfilling aspirations of the new business class. Who lives there and what they do for a living is anyone’s guess as the inhabitants of these swanky residences tend to interact only among themselves. However it is highly likely that these people hold top managerial positions in business establishments in the city. It is also very likely that their kids are studying abroad and are not likely to return to Nepal ever. Speculations aside, income inequality today is one big glaring problem that has gone unaddressed by the government, media, NGOs and everyone who should be addressing it. The aftershocks of this widening gap are yet to be felt and they could very well take a form of terrorism worse than the Maoist insurgency of the past 10 years.

…..As for the Maosits, they have found a new group of supporters in the newly formed lower-class K-city dwellers. They might have not approved of the Maosits’ violent ways earlier. But now with the Mao Premier at the helm of national politics, they are prepared to rally and organize bandhs to get their point across – their point being ‘a move towards a more socialist society to lessen the inequality gap’. In other words they are jealous of and angry at the filthy-rich of Kathmandu. After having seen the comfort and grandeur of their lifestyle, it is only a matter of time that the lower-class will resort to guns just as the Maoists did.

…..To prevent this from happening, it is imperative that the newly formed government of New Nepal takes calculated steps to shore up the lower-class and create a Nepali middle-class. As of now, the Nepali middle class is m.i.a. They have all (at least the majority have) fled the country and are settled abroad – legally or otherwise. This vacuum in the middle-class needs to be filled as soon as possible if any form of development is to happen in the future.

…..Finally I would like to add a humble & cautionary note that these are my opinions and views as a result of a 1-month stay in K-city after a prolonged absence of 5 years. There is every possibility that my views and opinions have been skewed by my personal beliefs and travel patterns within K-city. Anyways, please do not waste your time typing a scathing comment to the post. Thanks!

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Entry filed under: On Development. Tags: , , , .

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