Sitting in the plush environs of the restaurant at Radisson, Kathmandu, with the head of our company’s advertisement agency, I casually enquired, Why do Nepalis hate Indians? At first he evaded the question with an incoherent mumble. I laughed. He couldn t fool me, I informed him. It was evident and there was enough documentary proof available for this. On a small persistence, he opened up, and what he told me was something that I was aware of, but that day it hit a bit harder. What he said can be paraphrased as such: Nepalese are not born hating Indians, certainly not the way we do our other neighbor, but there is a significant number of Nepali students who go to India for studies. There, they are subjected to ridicule, called unfriendly names like Bahadur and chowkidar and they return with a strong and seething resentment. (This is a simplistic view, without taking into account the political policies, but still it is a strong ground).
For years, we have been taught about the disparaging attitude that the Britishers meted out to Indians in our own country. The dogs and Indians not allowed tag-line is a sharp hook where all the hatred gets concentrated at whenever there is a talk about the British Raj. We bleed even if we merely brush against the pointed barb of this statement. Our films (ever the barometer of social temperature in their exalted and enlarged kaleidoscopes and collages) have always brought this sentence in be it the classy The Legend of Bhagat Singh or the crassy Kranti. Any self-respecting Indian would spit on the racial connotations of that age.
Thankfully, that era is over. The times have changed, the era has melted away, and the heated wind has blown over. Yet, however light it may be, the stench of that racialism lingers on. In the neo-world of global village, it might not be overt, but yes it does manifest itself surreptitiously. A few months ago, in a vitriolic post, Kaush (who lives in the grand capital of commericialism, the United States of America) had written about the racialism that she faces at some unwanted and unwarranted situations.
Are we not guilty of doing the same that the Britishers did to us some hundred years ago? Is not the situation of the Indians in America (or anywhere away from home, but in a better and higher land, commercially at least) similar to that of the Nepalese in India? Then, why do we screw up our noses at them, and flare our nostrils when the Americans do it to us?
When I told my friends that I was leaving for Nepal, I was subjected to endless jokes about chawkidaar and shalaam shaab kinds. Even now, when I talk to my friends (online), I still get similar responses. A joke or two is fine and acceptable; it is imperative that as a mature nation we do learn to laugh at ourselves; but often, this crosses the limit of being just humor. I have stayed in a hostel which had a lot of North-Eastern and Nepali residents; often the fun exceeded the limit of propriety. Our films have typecast this stereotype in an iron mould. (I will not blame the film-makers for they are ever-ready to underline sociological good/bad with their blunt and dull pens till the time the parchment sears).
Having stayed in Nepal for eight months now, I can say with conviction that as a race, Nepalese are as good or bad as any other on this planet.
Spare a moment as you read this, and think what would be our reaction if we have a Nepalese sitting right next to us in a bus? (Perhaps, I am highlighting a more North Indian viewpoint, but that is because I have my origins from there and can speak more vociferously about it).
It happens. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the distrust of fellow human beings, or racialism, does happen. Often, it happens without thought and sometimes even without intention. It is more likely to flow from the more successful to the lesser one. The Americans will do it to Indians, the Indians to the Nepalese, and perhaps the Nepalese to the Bhutanese. The chain continues.
But there is a scarier side to it as well: the discreet racialism that happens within the own country. Widening the scope of the discussion, leave alone Nepalese, as North Indians, we wouldn t be too kind to our own fellow-brethren from the south or (God forbid), if the person happens to be from the eastern part of the country (the vice-versa is equally true). The physical difference is marked, and immediately our distrust antenna starts whirring convulsively, without even logically seeking any explanations. If we can tide over that, the religion will sneak in! Like the gnawing sand-trail of a termite, it stands visibly and eating away into our social woodwork! I do not have to mention or write anything more than this; as a Hindi phrase goes a clap is completed with two hands, both sides are equally in the wrong. It always takes two to tango, or tangle.
The Unity in Diversity is an excellent slogan, but in the end, it remains just that – a slogan. Like a Coke or Pepsi catchline, we will utter it thoughtlessly, but following it becomes a bit of an issue. The only time we unite is when we have a common enemy, be it the Britishers, the Pakistanis or the Chinese. Beyond that, we are still a fragmented country.
As E.M. Forster wrote, Centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man !
Nepalese and Indians (largely) share the same greeting Namaste. When within this umbrella there are so many differences, joining a salaam to it is asking for the moon.
We have still a long way to go when Salaam Namaste becomes a joint catch-phrase of the nation, and not merely a name of a forthcoming Hindi film!
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