BY STEVE MATZKER:
As I waited for my early morning bus to take me out of the Kathmandu Valley through the foothills of the Himalayas and into the flatland of the Terai, a mix of marsh, grassland and forest, I watched as the peaks jutted from the clouds that lay heavy across the city.
It was one of the few moments I saw the mountains. Just as quickly as the peaks were revealed, they vanished again; foreshadowing my thoughts about cultural progress in Nepal.
After a 12 1/2 hour bus ride to Biratanagar, about 300 miles from Kathmandu, and talking with a local professor of sociology and anthropology, Dilli Prasai, I realized that the clouds and mountains were a perfect symbol for the tug of liberalization that Kathmandu feels.
Prasai said that the difference between Nepal as a whole and Kathmandu is there is a sense of individualism in the capital.
Things are different in Biratnagar, the second largest city in Nepal and the industrial and agriculture center of Nepal, just like the Midwest we know. “Here in Biratnagar, there is still the traditional feeling of Hinduism and dependency on community,” Prasai said.
He said that individualism creates disconnect from other individuals. But he also admits it can create a sense of equality, such as in the case of gay rights.
This sentiment is echoed in twenty-three year old Aliana Gaudam, a student of sociology in Kath-mandu. Gaudam wears thick, black-framed glasses, skinny jeans and a cardigan, to break the chill of the mountain night, over a blouse that could be found in any American clothing store. She reminds me of a Nepali hipster.
Gaudam tells me that Kathmandu is more liberal than the rest of Nepal, her generation desires change. But she is quick to add that it is not change in Nepal’s culture they want, but more of a change in Nepal’s worldview.
For example, she said it is still next to impossible to marry for love; an arranged marriage within social castes is still the norm. To avoid controversy, a Brahmin, or upper class Hindu, must marry another Brahmin.
The Nepalese people, or as they prefer, Nepali, Gaudam said, are very rigid in their belief that life as it is now should not change. Because of this, a parade calling for gay rights would never happen in Biratna-gar or anywhere else in Nepal for that matter.
“It is a slow process,” Prasai said about change in Nepal. He said since the people’s movement toward democratization in 1999, change has been occurring, mostly in the emigration of its younger generation. Prasai said they desire to progress and modernize, and view the west, and Middle East, as the only es-cape; some for money, others for an education.
And the problem, he said, is the people never come back.
Similar to small towns across the United States, Prasai said one thing holding back the development of smaller communities in Nepal is the absence of a newer generation — a generation, he said, whose ambition lies in the desire for a modern way of life without the ambition to earn it the hard way. Those who can move to Kathmandu and eventually to the west in an attempt to find this way of life.
But Prasai said this lack of youth desiring a simple life lies in contrast to the spirit of Nepal. A spirit he said is rooted in a deep sense of community and family: “A spirit strong enough,” Prasai said, “to keep the country together.”
So there exists in Nepal a constant tug between traditional dependency and modern individualism.
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