The planes that fly over our skies outlived their usefulness 10 years ago. Public buses circulating in our cities emit smoke that cannot be penetrated by the brightest light, and for a moment we feel as if a sudden solar eclipse has engulfed our surroundings.
The unbreathable air of the Metropolitan City of Kathmandu suffused with the pungent smell of garbage has not reached the halls of the International Convention Center where the House of Representatives meets or the Baluwatar Mansion where our Honorable Prime Minister resides. The brunt of this preventable environmental calamity is borne by our teachers, day laborers, nurses, traffic wardens and other low-ranking officials who provide the fuel needed to run this once historic and awe-inspiring place we call our home and our capital. town.
What is the basic function of a government? It’s not about making people happy, prosperous, or helping them achieve other lofty ideals to which they tend to aspire. Each individual has arrived on this planet with their own set of genes or karmic debt (in spiritual terms) which has a huge bearing on the individual’s flourishing. However, this experiment we call democracy has certain basic principles that must be adhered to if the system is to survive and help the society it governs to progress, even at a snail’s pace.
In this regard, the fundamental function of government is peace and security and our leaders have failed miserably in both areas. It is easy to attribute “greed” and “corruption” to the mental state of our politicians for their dereliction of duty. However, I like to dig a little deeper to understand their psychological state.
Every inhabitant needs a role model, whatever their individual aspirations. Most artists, writers, singers, surgeons, athletes, coaches, etc. have someone they look up to and look up to. Unfortunately, our current cohort of leaders admires or draws inspiration from predecessors who have had no impact on governance, articulating and implementing sound policies and leaving a legacy behind.
The current waste management crisis in Kathmandu is a microcosm of the general incompetence of our bureaucrats and technocrats and our collective indifference to basic civic responsibility. As long as the walled area we live in is safe, we are content; as long as our sons and daughters receive a first-class education, we care little what happens to the children of a janitor who cleans our hospitals; as long as we drive an imported vehicle which is a marvel of modern engineering, we don’t care about the condition of the public bus we usually pass by. Since each individual tends to behave in ways that maximize their personal utility and self-gratification, we have dedicated entire institutions to caring for the collective, however, the people who run these public institutions are oblivious to the word “public”. . .
The fundamental question to ask is: what does it mean to live in a city collectively or indeed in a community? A few thousand years ago our ancestors were hunters and gatherers looking for food. We started cohabiting with foreigners mainly for economic efficiency, security and a sense of belonging. It is this “sense of belonging” that we have lost and our leaders were supposed to instill in us this concept of unity which I guess is an idea that they cannot even understand.
The planes that fly over our skies outlived their usefulness 10 years ago. Public buses circulating in our cities emit smoke that cannot be penetrated by the brightest light, and for a moment we feel as if a sudden solar eclipse has engulfed our surroundings. Our public school infrastructure resembles the remnants of a war and we complain that our current system cannot incentivize competent human capital to stay in the country. At the same time, we denounce that our powerful neighboring countries intimidate and use us without their knowledge. Why are our leaders behaving like sycophants in international arenas? When you represent a country that you have tarnished inside and out for generations, you have to carry that baggage. But alas, you can go home to your grand mansion and ponder the air quality in Tokyo.
Talk to an air quality politician in the metropolis of Kathmandu, he will quickly point you to another place like New Delhi, the capital of India, to set a standard. Why can’t Tokyo, the capital of Japan, be the city we should try to emulate in terms of environmental conditions? I forgot. We can only imitate something if the thing we are trying to imitate is in our imagination and consciousness.
Rhetoric aside, the real damage of this anarchy is that it plunges Nepal into a failed state. Look at the “sovereign” state of Afghanistan, Pakistan and some African countries. Pakistan has not held an ICC (International Cricket Council) international tournament for decades and most countries are hesitant to hold a bilateral cricket series in Pakistan. Some of these countries have become breeding grounds for terrorists and hubs for international organized crime. Ungovernable anarchy has rendered these countries. I hope and pray that my fellow Nepalese will not have to suffer this form of ostracism from the international community because our leaders have failed to protect their fundamental rights – the right to breathe pure.
The gutter politics surrounding the gutter in Kathmandu is a wake-up call to any citizen who has any regard for this place and the people who inhabit it. Every citizen must engage in public discourse. A sense of collectivism must transpire among individuals, civil society and all competent bodies that care about this country. We don’t need a natural disaster like a massive earthquake to bring us together. The garbage currently lying around the capital is a disaster on par with the earthquake we witnessed seven years ago.
(The author is an educational management consultant at Islington College.)