Saturday, April 23, 2011

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur


Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

Chapter 7: Letter From Ministry

It was one December morning, unusually bright, as the mist of pollution had settled down with the rains day before, making snow visible on the mountains far beyond in Nagarkot, like a deity. Sky was clear and spotless, sun felt cold as the wind blew unkindly. I put on my big jacket which I had bought in Buffalo.

It felt good walking and most things passed unnoticed, in the joyfulness of the morning.

Unlike most other ministries, health ministry was in a modern new building, with the red bricks wall. Just beside the main entrance, there was a small army post, with two army personnel pointing the gun towards the gate through a hole, each had the finger on their trigger; it seemed comical as it implied, they sure knew the trouble will start in the front. As I entered the gate, one of them called and asked me for the identity card. I showed my citizenship card. They inquired about the purpose of my visit. I need letter of statement from Health Ministry for my training in United States, said I. They were amused hearing United States. They asked with great interest about America.

With some brief, but delightful conversation on their calm curiosity, they asked me to sign my name and let me in. I walked to the information desk, and asked a smaller looking fat man behind the glass about the secretary’s office. The man was talking on the phone really loud, as if the person on the other end were deaf; his hands movement mimicking some kind of chorea, continued at his leisure showing no sign to end.

Seemingly annoyed at my intrusion, he pointed up with the fingers, with unrestrained irritability.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

I took stairs. There was no sign of inefficiency or lack of economy in the building; the erection of monument, for it’s paradox, was aesthetically indefensible as it represented health of a country where maternal mortality was still highest on this planet, but I invited no other thoughts beyond a shame. In few minutes, a man readily approached me and asked, if he can help. At the time of insurrection, strangers wandering in the building must have made him paranoid, but his tone lacked any of those concerns. He took me to Nirakarman Shrestha’s office, the health secretary then.

A gentle looking woman, in red sweater and red scarf, sat at a desk, in front of the secretary’s office. She was the personal assistant of Nirakar Man Shrestha. I approached her and explained to her about the letter. She seemed familiar with the kind, I was talking about. She asked me to come in a week, she will have it ready. The conversation was unusually simple and straight. Considering, I just had come from United States, still little delirious of its effects, her courteous manner struck me as Déjà Vu. I thanked her, promising to be back again. Next week, she told me that Dr Shrestha was on vacation, and I might have to wait another two weeks. I went back twice after that man had returned from his vacation, but couldn’t see him, as he was always in some kind of meetings; it frustrated me.

Almost after four weeks of my initial visit, I had a chance to see him. The meeting was marked by brevity and refusal to give me the letter I needed. He dismissed me saying “Nepali Government has decided not to issue the letter.”..... Law of the land changed overnight, but his curtness stunned me. He pressed a buzzer on his desk, the door opened and the secretary lady anxiously asked me to come out.

She had a look on her face “What happened?”, as for sure, she had not anticipated any problem.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

Just few weeks old, I was puffed up with conceit, rapidly it evaporated like a monsoon rain in Terai. My rage was so acute to find the odd secrets of where I stood in my own country, that my pride receded in disappointment and my worthiness filled suddenly with doubts.

“We could do nothing without his signature.”- She told me, in a casual easiness, as if her perverse sympathy begged the conclusion of a justifiable horror. I looked back on her, ungrateful and unimpressed. For few minutes, couldn’t think straight, knowing not what to do, I implied not leaving until I see someone else.

She showed weariness to the vicissitudes of event, but her promptness to admit the unacquaintedness of similar case gave me a fresh misery and strengthened the distaste of everything and everyone around. I was furious, knowing most people, who applied for the same letter, had received without any inconvenience before.

Confused lady hurriedly took me to different office, seemingly, happy to get rid of me, at the time.

This new person (I hardly remember his name) seemed to have a good eye contact, and was engaging in conversation.

With a degree of moderation and composure, which seemed consistent with the common feelings of an educated man, he offered to explain, at times, in a tangential manner, about the brain drain. His lecture lasted about twenty minutes before he asked me anything.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

One was utterly rude and hostile, another was articulate with ostentatious wit; message was plain and simple. I felt betrayed by own health ministry. The concept of brain drain seemed to have been constructed to coerce me, and I, surely, made no effort to appreciate it’s austerity.

Unrestrained anger, I could feel a throb chocking my throat during his lecture. He was done talking.

“What is your Name?” he asked.

“Ajay Thakur, Sir. I have a residency spot in University of Pittsburgh in America that requires Letter of statement from this office.” I felt pity for my self-pity.

“I can’t promise but I will take a look, meet me tomorrow at 1 p.m.” he suggested.

I left with a whispering thank you.

Crash course of Nepali bureaucracy had lasted for at least two hours, but seemed longer to me, now with cumulous cloud of uncertainty - felt almost endless. What if they don’t change their mind tomorrow? It already had dragged longer than I expected. I remained anxiously hopeful in human fallibility, not just in virtues but also in their vice.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

The army waved at me on the way out of the building, the fact that they were protecting somebody like Nirakarman Shrestha was inexplicably incomprehensible to me. Embittered and filled with rage, I set to walk back to my clinic, following the curves at Singha durbar, in front of Bhrikuti Mandap and through Sahid gate. On the way, I noticed unusual nakedness of December trees, dishcloth Bhrikuti Mandap, and barrenness of Tundikhel. I noticed thick fog of pollution, barely seeing beyond a mile.... The constant honking of mini-bus terribly loud..... I noticed the street kids collecting plastic bags, running back and forth, across the street......they were so free, free of all the necessity to identify themselves of any relevance, and here I was, with profession of highest order in my country, carrying a meaningless piece of paper (citizenship card) which identified nothing. Nothingness loathed me, as I dragged on my feet.

I reached life care clinic looking sad. Rauniyar and Tripathi, still seeing their last patient, asked me “what happened?” They knew, I had gone to health ministry for a letter.

“They refused to give me letter, saying health ministry changed the law.” I said.

“My brother is a politician and he knows people, I will talk to him.” said Tripathi, looking at everyone in the room, but talking to me.

Conversation on the subject of prevailing prejudice and corruption lasted for another hour. Artless representation of their sympathy seemed to take a quality of identification, as if I gave them a chance to feel victimized. Whatever the merits of their argument, the skill with which it was put together made me uncomfortable. It gave me a sense that prejudice would yet prevail based on which side one is born; pahade vs. madheshi, high caste vs. low caste, politically connected vs. unconnected... so on and so forth. The distinctive ugliness of recrimination would fly thick and fast between these feuding classes even with reversal of their fate. It would read like a palindrome no matter what.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

Despite all his education and authority, a psychiatrist by training, Shrestha had lacked any introspection into his own moral decay. But it wasn’t just the Shrestha that surprised me. It was also Tripathi whose abhorring counter arguments made me sick. His flattering effort to be useful and narcissistic account of political self absorption was disturbingly annoying.

At the moment it seemed to reduce me further, of any particular significance. He represented the phoniness of post-1990, prosperity and self satisfaction of few Madhesi over the wretchedness of multitudes. He belonged to class of people who always seemed to add to the insult of many for being insignificant without them. He equally lacked any reflection or earnestness, despite his impatient desire to show solidarity with me.

At 3.30 p.m., it was time for me to finish and go home.

As usual, I took the mini-bus to Jorpaty. I sat in one corner and opened the window. Whispering breeze filled with dust and smoke seemed to express some feelings- not the insolent kind, like the one I felt few minutes before. In that forty five minutes journey to my home, as a result of some interference in my hypothalamus, kinaesthesia impeded dysesthesia and my dizziness seemed to relieve. I liked the solitude of that moving bus.

I reached home, and Kavita was waiting for me, all excited to go out. Unable to commit anything, I simply said, I had a bad headache and lied on my bed. She brought me tea and sat beside me. Her body had softness and great warmth. As if fear of failure had caused an eruption of greater tenderness inside me, I held her tight and fell asleep...

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

I woke up about the dinner time, half delirious yet the throb of headache coursing through my head was impossible to ignore. I called my father from a local booth explaining the day. My father, realizing I was upset, tried to explain with lots of pause and silence on his end, letting un-intercepted ventilation. At times, he wondered if I was calling him from a prison, as the degree of abhorrence made him hard to believe, I came through all those perils unscathed. He saw the danger in my perverse insistence for the letter, as it might somehow be mistaken for an association with violent groups or the ongoing act of subversion, he thought. The conversation ended inconclusively, as to volunteer listening to him was too much an effort, I found.

I had lived my life unconcerned to the matters like this, at times, indifferent to my own Madheshi background, but now I felt so naive to suppose my indifference was shared by the people on other side of social geography. As a matter of fact, it was not too bad until I had a dream or a future. In Buffalo, I had witnessed a qualitative shift in the way some stranger would treat me, but here I was faced to seek the good of men filled with prejudice, as sanction for my right to pursue the future that I want. The burgeoning of a fragile dream seemed receding back, even before it had begun.

My father must have had his share of imposition; everyday refusal of acceptance, denial of a dignity, and so many other things he would never talk about. He had admirably adapted to its course, with the load of unearned guilt he came to deserve for belonging to Madhesh, and that had remained largely unknown to my grandfather. He endured it, without ever complaining; I was the one impatient kind, mistaking his carefulness for his lack of empathy in this capricious climate.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

It would become clear to me, in years to come, that survival depended on quality of his, in the places like Nepal, which I would have yet to learn.

All night, I could not sleep. I inhaled and held my breath, and then painfully releasing it, making Kavita acutely aware what was going through my mind. I tried to perceive the provenance of my contentious past, revisiting the history in absurdity. Next morning I felt worse. I asked Kavita if there was enough water for me to take a bathe, she said no. I dressed up and went to clinic disheveled; humidity made my cloth stick to my skin and it felt uncomfortable all day. Later at noon, I walked to the ministry again. The lady smiled and handed me a folder. I thanked her, in earnest.

Two months later, I was notified by ECFMG, about a mistake in that document, and it would need correction, my heart sank!!

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Brain drain, no doubt, is a tremendous problem and countries facing it are overwhelmingly undeveloped. Migration of human capital is the greatest loss. However, what one has to understand is that developing countries are poor not because everybody in those countries are poor, but because it has the worst economic and opportunity stratifications. The difference between rich and poor is not just the assets, but the distance and degree of access to the information and education and well beyond. An educated young man from privileged minority has easy transition into adult life within the country or outside; one from humble majority confronts obscurantism. (According to Nepal Living Standard Survey (NLSS) 2003/04, during the last eight years, Gini-coefficient which shows the inequality of income distribution has increased from 0.34 to 0.41 which indicates that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased further.)

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

For all its benevolence, the entire philosophy of brain drain seemed to me, a cryptogram to coerce others or deny them the freedom of choice based on class. It bestowed favouritisms. It was pitiable for them to give me lectures about it, as I knew one of theirs daughter too was coming for the residency the same year. I am sure the law of the land didn’t apply to her.

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Janakpur is land of Maithili people. Mark Moxon in his travel diary wrote “Janakpur is an Indian town in all but geography”, that is part-true and part-tragic. Any central government treated this region as far from source of beauty and grace, not to mention, not sexy like mountains. (Tourism never happened in Madhesh). The fertile land was treated as mistake by all kinds of people in Government, and it was a liability to be born there, I would come to know.

Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur


Enduring Everest By Ajay Thakur

Madhesi Self Hate

1 comment:

Paramendra Bhagat said...

More Madhesis need to talk about their personal experiences like this.