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Developing Nepal

Wednesday

 BISHAL THAPA
I sat down to dinner with a friend a few months after I had returned home to Nepal for good. It was the 1st of April—April Fools’ Day. Midway through the evening, my friend suddenly turned solemn.

“Given all your experience of living, working and studying abroad, what do you think is the best way to develop Nepal?” he asked.

“Simple,” I said without a moment’s hesitation. “The best and quickest way to develop Nepal is to give every Nepali a swanky new iPod.”

My friend remained solemn, displaying none of the mirth you would expect on an April Fools’ Day. If there was a club nearby, I think he would have picked it up and whacked me over the head with it. Instead he reached for his near full glass of whisky and drank it down in one large gulp. That was the last time he asked me what I thought would be the best way to develop Nepal.

Whisky, especially when consumed in large gulps, blurs a man’s understanding. So, I return a year later, exactly on April Fools’ Day to offer a better exposition of why gifting every Nepali a swanky new iPod would transform this country.

The iPod transformed my life. Not just figuratively but literally from a fat person to a much leaner one.
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After realizing that I was perhaps 20kg too heavy, I decided I had to run it off. Every determination to improve must first begin with the purchase of the best, swankiest instrument around. Naturally, I purchased an iPod. 

Every morning before I began my run, the iPod would automatically turn on, connect to the wireless and download the latest podcast of the BBC Nepali news service, the hottest Bollywood item number, the most popular story on The Economist and an audio-book. Running would never be the same again. Armed with an iPod, I’ve been running ever since. Along the way I’ve listened to Moby Dick, BP Koirala’s auto-biography and Seto Bagh, all while keeping a steady pace.

If the iPod could do all of this for me, imagine what it could for Nepal. Sometimes all that you need for development is the courage to simply imagine.

In just over a decade since its launch the iPod has unleashed an unprecedented multi-media revolution transforming the way people around the world store information, listen to music and look at photos. Within a decade of its launch, Apple, the makers of iPod, sit comfortably with close to US $50 billion in cash reserves as one of the most valuable companies in the world.

On the other hand, why is that after two decades of revolutions and uprisings Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in the world? Why is that even after the end of monarchy, removing Hinduism as state religion and turning the country into a federal republic, the people of Nepal remain trapped in the same tired old ways of thinking?

Simple, our revolutions did not utilize the iPod. We fought with guns to bring down institutions, not with imagination to bring ideas.
Take the Maoist uprising as an example.

The iPod is a modern digital marvel that can fit nicely in the palm of your hand. No Maoist was ever likely to fit nicely into anyone’s palm. You can stick photos, music, books, audio and data into an iPod, carry it in your back pocket and switch it on and off at will. No Maoist was ever willing to be carried in anyone’s back pocket, let alone be switched on and off at will.

Instead of arming themselves with guns, the Maoists should have armed themselves with iPods. The parallel between the Maoist and the iPod revolutions, therefore, makes it clear that the best way of developing Nepal is to give every Nepali a swanky new iPod.

Despite being a compelling idea for development, the decision makers of Nepal will immediately object to the idea of giving an iPod to every Nepali.

Politicians will be the first to bicker. Their criticism will be varied. Some will say that the shape or color of the iPod disadvantages this group over that. Another will argue that the iPod violates this or that point-agreement. Yet another group will conclude that the iPod led to widespread election fraud.

The donor community is also not going to be happy with the idea of the giving away iPod as a method for development. White papers will churn, experts will jet in, and in a star-studded development forum an expert will summarize it succinctly:

“The proposed Personal iPod Distribution Program (PIDP) will distort the priorities established in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and undermine the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). In the last Nepal Development Forum (NDF), the Donor Community and International Well-wishers (DCIW) committed to supporting the Sectoral Programmatic Approach (SPA)…” and so on and so forth, listing a dizzying array of impressive abbreviations, which most Nepalis will never have heard before; nor do they understand why such impressive abbreviations are relevant to their existence in the first place.

I can’t see Nepali bureaucrats and policymakers endorsing the plan either. They will cast it aside saying that iPod is way ahead of its times for Nepal—a convenient justification for opposing every meaningful idea without considering the fact that the iPod was way ahead of its times for the whole world when it was first launched.

In an environment where politicians have opted to polarize communities and people against each other; where the international community has decided to label us as a failed state; where development partners relentlessly continue to assess our broken institutions, broken polity, broken banks, broken social structures, broken lamp posts and broken everything else (just like a broken record); where the accumulated negativity has defeated every Nepali into believing that nothing is possible… in such an environment, the iPod is our one and only, and the last hope for a better future.

The iPod can’t fix all our wrongs. It can’t make us better people. It can’t correct our failures with marginalized communities, inequality and social exclusion, or overlook our willingness to allow large segments of Nepal to be deprived of economic opportunities. Nope, the iPod cannot fix all that.

But it can do more.

It can inspire us to imagine. Giving every Nepali a swanky new iPod is like gifting every Nepali the self-belief that no matter what everybody says, we can build a modern Nepal.

Clearly it is time for Nepal’s iPod revolution.

And, if the iPod can’t do all of that for us, well, there’s always the last option of using it for what it was originally designed for anyway. Put on your headset, lose yourself in the rhythm of your beat and shut out the buffoonery emanating from the constitution hall.

bishal_thapa@hotmail.com

Source: Republica

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