Sunday, January 18, 2009

Knowing Me, Knowing You

It turns out we have an Indian citizen in our cabinet and 17 others in the constituent assembly. Across the border, Udit Narayan Jha is battling allegations that he is not an Indian. And Indian author Aravind Adiga’s Booker-prize winning debut novel “The White Tiger” is accused of belittling Nepalis.
The UML has vigorously denied that Local Development Minister Ram Chandra Jha is not a Nepali. How does it know? Because the Election Commission validated his papers before last year’s elections. Nice way of passing the buck, especially when it’s a Maoist making the allegation in court.
The cases against the legislators may be on flimsier ground than it seems. Of the 17 CA members, some received their citizenship after getting married to Nepali nationals. Others acquired Nepali nationality on the basis of family linkages. We can’t as Nepalis really disown them unless we are ready to disown Girija Prasad Koirala, right? (A quick question: how many of them got their papers after People’s Movement II?)
Across the border, things seem stuck harder. Critics contend they have conclusively proven that Congress I legislator Mani Kumar Subba is not an Indian, but he doesn’t think so. Surely, Subba knows himself better than anyone else does. He insists this is a case of mistaken identity. He is an Indian whose forefathers hailed from Sikkim. (When it was still a country, if you really want to stretch the point.)
Indian Idol Prashant Tamang has had a hard time drawing crowds overseas because far too many NRIs consider him a Nepali. Udit Narayan blames the controversy over his citizenship to jealous zealots who want to scuttle his chances of winning the prestigious Padmashri award. Critics claim Udit was born in Saptari district in southern Nepal, while the singer insists he was born in Supaul village in Bihar. Guess fame comes with the territory, or, to be exact, the open border. There must be a way in the statute books for President Patil to clear the way for the investiture ceremony.
For a while, we claimed Tenzing Sherpa was a Nepali. The legendary mountaineer, who at the age of 18 left Nepal for Darjeeling where he hoped to be able to join one of the British expeditions to Everest, was fed up with the feuding. “I was born in the womb of Nepal and raised in the lap of India,” he once told a reporter. He went on to head a mountaineering institute in Darjeeling. But that didn’t stop another author from claiming he was born in Tibet.
If we really wanted to be celebrity snatchers, we would have pounced on V.S. Naipaul’s claim a few years ago while accepting the Nobel prize for literature that his ancestors had come from Nepal – and proved that by their surname. Deadpan silence.
Considering our identity crisis, we are a pretty hardy bunch. Prithvi Narayan Shah forged the nation in blood, tears and sweat – in that order, detractors say – but couldn’t emotionally unify the petty principalities. So his statues are considered worthy of destruction. It took UML leader Modnath Prashrit to vouch for Nepal’s founder’s eternal relevance. He doesn’t seem to have impressed too many people around him, much less Ram Chandra Jha.
So when Adiga’s novel is criticized for perpetuating a distorted view of Nepalis among Indians, it is tempting to chuckle. At first glance, Diamond Shamsher Rana’s attorneys might have a stronger case for suing for copyright infringement.