Sunday, March 22, 2015

Come Now, What’s With The Frowns?

It’s quite clear that we Nepalis aren’t among the world’s happiest people. But the bottom of the heap? Well, almost.
A Gallup survey released on the eve of the United Nations International Day of Happiness last week put us on the last-but-one rung of 143 countries examined in 2014. Only Bangladeshis, Serbs, Turks, Tunisians, and the Sudanese seem more morose than us.
Asked whether we experienced a lot of enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested and felt treated with respect, and learned or did something interesting the day, we ranked with Afghans, Bosnian and Herzegovinians, Georgians and Lithuanians.
No quibbling with the Afghans here. Bosnia and Herzegovina, too, has far deeper scars from its civil war. The Georgians, long wary of the Russian bear, are not convinced that the West would lift so much as a finger should the growls turn into another dangerous prowl.
The way the Lithuanians are behaving inside the United Nations Security Council these days, you have to know that they, too, are haunted by the specter of the Soviet Union. Yet, remarkably, Ukraine, where the Brezhnev Doctrine has been updated and is playing out in full, remains a bit happier. (Maybe Gallup oversampled the eastern part of that country, would you think?)
The point is: the fact that we’re squeezed between two giant neighbors doesn’t explain our gloom. Among our neighbors, Bhutanese are happier than Americans. (The former’s much-hyped Gross National Happiness index wasn’t quite enough to gain extra credits, much less catapult them to the top).
Sri Lankans feel better than the Chinese, who were ahead of the Indians. Your status as an island, a subcontinent or a civilization masquerading as a nation – none of those count. Pakistanis’ happiness approximated that of the Congolese (Democratic Republic), Croatians and Liberians. Feel free to read into that juxtaposition whatever you want.
Among the other powers, the Japanese and Russians were almost equally happy. Notwithstanding Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb and the Ayatollahs’ commitment to wiping Israel off the map, Israelis and Iranians were perched on the same echelon of exhilaration.
Coming back to Nepal, yeah we’re a bit confused about who we are and who we want to be. Six basic laws in the last six decades have failed to impress us. We now have to promulgate the seventh one to find out what’s in it.
Frustrating as it is to see the political contortions, life hasn’t been that bad. Foreign investment, we are told, is going gangbusters. Remittances have been doing so for a while. The Chinese and Indians have been pampering us with pledges of new massive financial assistance, if not actual disbursements.
Sure, we’re clueless about what really transpired between the monarch and the opposition parties before he restored the parliament in April 2006, only to have himself sidelined and ultimately removed. But neither do we know the full details of the events surrounding the Delhi Compromise of 1951, the midnight deal in April 1990, or the 12-Point Agreement of November 2005.
Our movies and music are flourishing as are our books and magazines are becoming glossier. Nepalis are high on the list of visitors of salacious and sensational sites on the Internet. A Nepali is a Forbes billionaire, the diaspora has spread far and wide, and workers abroad have established their diligence and discipline. Hey, even the Indian prime minister fully and formally affirmed that Lord Buddha was indeed born in Nepal.
So what’s with the frowns?
Maybe the premise is wrong. Gallup clarifies that low positive emotions don’t necessarily mean high negative emotions. For example, people in the former Soviet Union countries typically report some of the lowest positive emotions in the world; however, they also report some of the lowest negative emotions in the world. (Thanks for explaining that in the bottom of the third page of the eight-page news release!)
The polling company also says results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older. Nepalis were asked those questions in Nepali.
That’s it. So here’s probably how your average interview went:

Q.    Did you feel well rested yesterday?
A.    What kind of question is that? With all my head and body aches in total darkness amid the tumult in the neighborhood?

Q. Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
A.  Yeah, cheated by the storekeeper, lied to by the leaders, yelled at by almost everyone around me. I tried respecting myself a little, though, if that counts.

Q. Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
A. Are you kidding? What’s there to laugh about in this country cursed by sati? I might have laughed at myself at times for having expected otherwise.

Q. Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
A. Yeah. To expect tomorrow to be lousier than today and not be bothered.

Q. How about enjoyment?
A. You got that one right. That clerk they nailed on corruption? His son was always making us feel he was better than us. Just because my dad never got to poke his finger in the national pie.

Throw in the scowls, smirks, tenor and tantrums, and Gallup would get the kind of result it did, wouldn't it?