Monday, April 18, 2011

Flashback: A Metaphor For Nepal’s ‘Newness’

Usha Bista has become an apt metaphor for the tentativeness of our trudge toward a new Nepal. A member of the Loktantrik [Democratic] Everest Expedition 2007, Bista was part of a much-hyped endeavor to show the rest of the world how Nepal was advancing toward a post-monarchy pinnacle.
Teammates, firm on setting records of all sorts, ended up abandoning the 22 year old at an altitude of around 8,400 meters. That was after she fell nearly unconscious from swelling in the brain resulting from a scarcity of oxygen.
Earlier this year, expedition members had met with the top leaders of all the eight parties, whose flags they ventured to plant on the summit. As the marginalization of the monarchy proceeded as the one-point national agenda, Bista was at the center of another spin.
She was the first woman from the far-west region, from the Terai as well as from the Chhetri community, to mount an attempt on the world’s tallest mountain. The implication, of course, was that all but one of the Nepali women atop Everest belonged to the Sherpa community.
Discovered beside a path at the so-called “Death Zone” by a member of the Canadian Air Force, Bista was helped down the mountain to the South Col camp. There, British doctors, who had established a laboratory to explore oxygen deficiency in the blood, gave her emergency treatment. They escorted Bista down to a point where she could be picked up by helicopter.
In a nation where platitudes are being peddled as well thought-out plans and policies, Bista’s plight encapsulates the perils of our path. Of course, callousness is not new on our mountains. Two high-profile desertions last year triggered worldwide condemnation, prompting Sir Edmund Hillary to attack the degeneration of a once-lofty adventure into trophy hunting by the wealthy.
This mission was different. Members had an opportunity to prove that loktantra – loosely articulated as democracy without the monarchy – was really anything beyond a slogan epitomizing the Seven Party Alliance’s and the Maoists mutual antipathy for the monarchy.
The fact that climbers continued to tout their own achievements by abandoning a fellow team member in utter distress was bad enough. The reality that the Nepali media was complicit in a cover-up as long as they could is emblematic of loktantra’s manifestation as an exclusive tool for the perpetuation of the SPA-Maoist combine’s monopoly on power.
Surely, those unwilling or unable to go along with the current ground rules are doomed. Anything perceived to stand in the way of a nebulous newness is demonized as feudal, exploitative and antiquated. But when catalysts of change like Bista are abandoned at the first sign of incapacitation, what hope can there be for those outside the establishment perimeter?
There is a more poignant metaphor, though. Nepal is indeed lucky to have foreign friends and well-wishers ready to clean up the debris from our free fall. Surely their patience for platitudes cannot outlast ours.

Originally posted on Monday, May 28, 2007