Resilience has a face, and it can be found in plenty in Nepal. Except the internet, every other aspect of life in this fiercely proud country is suffering the terrible consequences of the blockade of essential items, allegedly imposed by the Indian Government. Yet, not a single Nepali that I interacted with during the last few days, and I spoke with many, was bitching about India. They are braving a terrible hand of fate, and we call ourselves a compassionate nation.
Instead of bad-mouthing my country for being inhuman to an entire nation, they appear baffled, and disillusioned. To them, India meant everything. In a nice way, they took us for granted; for a very long time, they have been drawing comfort from India’s reassuring presence in the region. Suddenly, they find themselves in deep water, abandoned and left to deal with impossible challenges.
There is hardly any fuel in the country, and whatever little there is, comes at a great cost, not necessarily in terms of money, although for the record, it is costing 106 rupees. Every fuel station in Kathmandu is witnessing 2-3 kilometer-long line of cars and bikes. For a mere five-liter petrol/diesel gallon, people are forced to remain in line for 10 days at a stretch. On the 11th day, if their stars are suitably aligned, you will receive your Government-allotted quota of five liters. There is always this hovering risk that by the time your turn comes, the fuel is gone, done for the day. So you stick around for another day, a little closer than before to your objective of laying your hand on a five-liter gallon.
Deepak Shrestha, my driver who drove me around, told me I was his first client in many days. For the last 10 days, he had been sitting at home because he didn’t have fuel. There are many like him, surviving on an average of 10 liters of fuel in a whole month, because of which the low-income families are forced to live hand-to-mouth. In Delhi, we consume that much roughly in a day.
I asked a local where I could find the town’s best momos joint, and his response killed my appetite. He said there are no momos in Kathmandu because there is no gas. He said it matter-of-factly. The idea that there are no momos in Nepal because there is no gas has long lost its impact… they have all become used to it now, made peace with it, and left it to our better judgment. That’s a little too lenient, I’d imagine, for a country that’s hurting because of us. But that’s Nepal for you, forgiving and still carrying hope that normalcy will return soon.
Govind Koirala, an 18-year-old educated, well-groomed young man expressed shock at India’s indifference to their worsening plight: “I don’t care what the political compulsions are, I would have wanted India to put us common people ahead of their political pressures. It hurts to see India only concerned about the Indian-origin people of the Terai region… we don’t mind that, but why leave us in the lurch?”
A middle-aged Nepal Police officer, after we incidentally ally met at a coffee shop and warmed up to each other, said he was deeply touched by Prime Minister Modi’s pledge to further bring the two countries closer when he visited Nepal after becoming PM. “I was also greatly moved by India’s swift response when earthquake hit Nepal… but this? Should I think that India’s show of solidarity with Nepali people, which Indian leaders speak of in their speeches, a political ploy?”
There were many other thinking individuals who echoed similar sentiments, of disillusionment and despair. There are hardly any cars or bikes on the roads, tourism is barely a concept, cab drivers, understandably so, charge 500 rupees for a mere three-km ride, milkshakes are selling for Rupees 275, without ice-cream. Basic items like rice, pulses etc have become scarce, adversely affecting millions of humble homes. There is an air of gloom all around, a sense of betrayal that the Indian Government quickly needs to address.
Modi’s words should carry weight, his commitment to help steer Nepal towards progress and peace must mean something, whatever the political compulsions may be.