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Himal: The South Asian Magazine Volume 13, Number 5, May 2000 Dixit, Kanak Mani May 31, 2000

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hven though history is a record of the past, it lives in the
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 Vol 13 No 5
COMMENTARY
The league vs the bench
Armed peace
Peace pipeline
Wanted: localised chroniclers
COVER
13
Tourism's promise
Mangrove and mud
by Afsan Chowdhury
A country that sells itself, poorly
by Kanak Mani Dixit
Looking to regain a lost paradise
by Tharuka Dissanaike/
Christine Jayasinghe
Actually getting rich
by Tharuka Dissanaike
Tourism and ideology
by Manzur Ejaz
Floating over Kathmandu
by Rupa Joshi
"It is all in the Access"
Bongs, will travel
by Rajshri Dasgupta
MEDIAFILE
38
FEATURE
40
Beyond a peace mela
by Rita Manchanda
Peace dividend in Mizoram
by Prabhu Ghate
VOICES
48
Loss of branding
REVIEW
50
IC8U hijacked!
reviewed by C.K. Lai
LITSA
54
Seed dispersal patterns of the
dipterocarps of Sri Lanka
by Neil Fernandopulte
LASTPAGE 60
 HMAL
Editor
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Deepak Thapa
Copy Editor
"Shanuj V.C.
Contributing Editors
.Colombo Manik de Sriva
' dhaka     Afsan Chowdhury
Lahore    Beena Sarwar
new delhi Mitu Varma
Prabhu Ghate
: Toronto Tarik Ali Khan
Editor, MISA
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I Layout
Chandra Khatiwada
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1 Bilash Rai (graphics)
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Contributors to this issue
C.K. Lai is a Kathmandu-based civif engineer and newspaper columnist.
Christine Jayasinghe is a freelance journalist from Colombo.
Manzur Ejaz is an economist and bureau chief of Daily Pakistan, Washington D.C.
Nasim Zehra is based in Islamabad and specialises in political reporting.
Neil Fernandopulle lives in Sri Lanka. The short story in this issue is from the award-winning
collection,  Shrapnel.
Rajshri Dasgupta freelances from her base in Calcutta.
Rita Manchanda, writer and peace activist, is a national committee member of the Pakistan-India
Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy.
Rupa Joshi is a development professional and columnist in Kathmandu.
Tharuka Dissanaike is a Colombo journalist.
Cover collage by Bilash Rai shows the contrasting tourist landscapes of South Asia, from
Chomolongma/Sagarmatha to the Maldivian atoll. Meanwhile, the South Asian sunbather
eyes the region's tourism prospects.
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 BANGLADESH
THE LEAGUE VS
THE BENCH
FOR ONCE, this is an issue in which the ruling
party Awami League (AL) is not locked in battle
with its diehard opponent, the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP). This time around, the
AL is tussling with Dhaka's senior judiciary
over the issue of the latter's independence and
accountability. The matter has come to a head
with the delay in the review of the death sentence
awarded to a number of people for the 1975
killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's
first president, leader of the nationalist struggle
and father of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Wajed. In the process, the traditionally
sacrosanct position of the judiciary in the
Bangladeshi polity has been challenged like
never before.
The League has let loose its shoguns against
the judiciary, most prominently Homo Minister
Mohammed Nasim who does most of the
thunderbolting on behalf of his party. He has
spoken loudly that the judiciary should be
answerable to the people and the legislature.
He did so in the Sangsad, which has given him
immunity from the ire of the justices. Sk. Hasina
herself has had to meet President Shahabuddin
Ahmed, himself a much-respected former chief
justice, to explain a remark she made on the
judiciary.
The bench, particularly at the apex,
constituting the Supreme Court (High Court
Division and Appellate Division), have alwavs
been considered to be beyond the purview of
criticism. Its members, especially the previous
chief justice, a renowned jurist and Islamic
scholar, have been stout defenders of the
Supreme Court's independence and self-
accountability. The position they hold is that the
judiciary should be accountable first to its
conscience and then to the Constitution, and
beyond that, to nothing and no one else.
Critics have an obvious problem with this
reasoning, since it seems to place the judiciary
above the law, a position not seen to be in line
with an egalitarian state. More specifically, the
AL government has taken offence at what it
thinks has been the judiciary's lenient attitude
towards accused criminals or under-trial
prisoners, which it says has taken the punch
out of its own anti-crime drives. Human rights
groups support the rights of the arrested
including political prisoners, while the AL
leaders scoff at the practice of too-easy
granting of bails.
And so we come to the "August 15 killers"
as Sk. Mujib's murderers are known. Their
fortunes have swung with whoever is in
power, the AL or the BNP. In the 1980s, the
BMP-dominated Sangsad gave them immunity
after a special amendment was passed to that
effect. When the AL took over in June 1996, it
successfully challenged the amendment in
court, and tried to haul in all those involved.
The majority are now serving the death
sentence, while the government continues to
seek the extradition of a few who have moved
to the United States and Canada.
The relationship between the courts and the
ruling party soured considerably when the
mandatory review of the death sentences on Sk.
Mujib's killers reached the Supreme Court in
November 1998. it evolved into a crisis when
it appeared that given the backlog of cases, the
review would take almost two years just to be
heard. Rallies and processions followed,
where the AL leaders aimed strong words and
veiled threats. The unnerved justices went on
to meet the president. Meanwhile, to add
another twist, Mohammed Nasim, the son of
Mansur Ali, the home minister in Sk. Mujib's
cabinet who was killed inside the Dhaka
Central Jail in 1975, took it upon himself to
promise security to the judges and their
families.
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2000 May 13/5   HIMAL
 The history of Bangladesh is
replete with killings—constitutional, extra-constitutional, or
of the plain street variety—of
political leaders.
In all this, the stance of President
Shahabuddin Ahmed has been positive as
expected. The former chief justice headed a
neutral caretaker government in December
1990, a role that helped defuse a constitutional
crisis. The manner in which he conducted
himself then earned Ahmed immense respect
and credibility. He was later elected president
by the Sangsad as the AL candidate. Ahmed
has stood his own ground as president, not
shirking to criticise inter-party conflicts. In the
present context, he has steadfastly demanded
that the Bangladesh judiciary be allowed to
remain unfettered.
It is not that the judiciary has been squeaky
clean. Indeed, corruption and influence-
peddling are not
absent among the
justices, and more
so in the lower
rungs. So much so
that the chief
justice has made a
public statement
that all corrupt
and incompetent
judges from all levels would be weeded out of
the system. However, the present charge
against the courts does seem to be motivated
by a partisan agenda, even though the origins
of this agenda —the bringing to book of the
killers of Sk. Mujib —may have positive
elements.
Meanwhile, the present controversy has
been rendered even more knotty with the
involvement —and how could it stay away? —
of the opposition BNP. Its leader, Begum
Khaleda Zia has said that before any other trial
is conducted, there has to be proceedings
against all those involved in the killing of some
300 of her party activists over the years. On the
other hand, there are those who want re-trials
of some cases decided by allegedly pliant
judges during the Begum's husband Gen.
Ziaur Rahman's rule; some even accuse the
late general of involvement in the assassination
of Sk. Mujib.
The history of Bangladesh is replete with
killings —constitutional, extra-constitutional,
or of the plain street variety —of political
leaders. This trial will add another chapter to
that long hunt for a proper process by which
those culpable, belonging to whichever party,
are kept within the reach of the law. For that,
the judiciary will have to enjoy a free run,
without interference from any quarter. It must
be left to search its own soul and set its own
accounta-bilitv standards. i
NEPAL
ARMED PEACE
IT IS sometimes said that peace depends on
the ratio of coercive power held by the
government compared to those who might be
tempted to challenge it in a civil war. Secure
peace is always armed, with its use strictly
regulated by law and overseen by a strong 'civil
society'.
A Maoist insurgency has been raging in
about one-third of the country's administrative
districts for over five years now. Nearly 1500
Nepali lives have already been lost. The
necessity of using effectively the coercive power
of the state, in addition to negotiations and
other constructive engagements, is being
acutely felt. Normal 'policing'—some of it
indiscriminate —has not succeeded in controlling organised assaults by a motivated and
armed group adopting the techniques of
guerrilla warfare, and that too in a rugged
terrain amidst a population plagued by acute
poverty.
In the hill regions affected by insurgency,
fear reigns supreme. Caught between a rock and
a hard place —demanding Maoists and vindictive policemen —the people have started to lose
faith in the government administration, which
has been effectively confined to the district
headquarters in more than one place. In certain
pockets, there are what can only be called
Maoist administrations in place. Clearly, the
Nepali Congress government needs to resort to
something drastic, and quite quickly too, if it is
to retain credibility and live up to the promises
it made to the larger populace in the general
elections of a year ago.
The coercive power at the command of the
Kathmandu government is of two types: the
Nepal Police, the force which has 'handled' the
Maoists for the past five years; and the Royal
Nepal Army, which has remained firmly in the
barracks till now. Nepal has nothing in between
in the form of a paramilitary force.
During the Rana oligarchy which lasted till
1950, it was the army that oversaw law and
order, with civil administrative officials
routinely holding military position. The Nepal
Police was raised only after the Ranas were
overthrown, with leaders who had faced the
fire of the soldiers during the first struggle for
democracy committed to separating law-and-
order and national security functions.
A relatively younger force, much closer to
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 the people and made to sway under the whims
of the political leadership, the Nepal Police has
the image of a poor cousin of the elitist army. In
comparison to the soldiers, Nepali policemen
are poorly paid, ill-equipped, inadequately
armed, and consequently, less motivated. To
make things worse, at the latest instance, the
police was thoroughly politicised during the
coalition government of the Rastriya
Prajatantra Party (Chand) and the Communist
Party of Nepal (UML), when its feisty home
minister Bam Dev Gautam went about dismantling the command hierarchy established
over the years. No thanks to Mr. Gautam, among
others, the Nepal Police has turned into a force
that does the politician's bidding —hardly the
ideal organisation to respond to the complexities of a Maoist 'people's war'.
The Royal Nepal Army, on the other hand,
commands fearful respect in Nepali society,
partly because it is associated with the name of
the king (note the'Royal' in the name, not given
to the police), and partly because it has not yet
had to prove its worth in a possibly messy
internal security assignment. Still essentially
commanded by the Chhetri elite of Nepal, the
army has not had to fight an external war
since 1858 {with Tibet, and a losing proposition
at that), and uses its time protecting the
king and the national parks, conducting
ceremonial displays, and building the
occasional highway. Nevertheless, in the
minds of the people, the army remains the
weapon of last resort if national society
really begins to fall apart as a result of a
wildfire insurgency that the political class of
Kathmandu cannot contain,
Deploying the army is not a routine government decision, however. According to the 1990
Constitution of the Kingdom, of Nepal, which
in so many areas reflects points of compromise
between the royal palace, the conservative
classes and the democratic forces, the army can
only be bought onto the streets by the king upon
the recommendations of the National Security
Council. The Council, which has never been
activated over the decade of democracy,
consists of three members —the prime minister,
the defence minister and the commander-in-
chief. With Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala
himself holding the defence portfolio, the
effective strength of the council is two, and
judging by their public utterances, both Koirala
and the C-in-C Prajwalla SJB Rana appear to
be in favour of deploying the army to control
the Maoists.
A third option has now been suggested by
a commission set up by the previous govern
ment (of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai) to explore
the possibility of establishing an armed police
unit. Chaired by Khem Raj Regmi, a former
home secretary, this commission has come up
with the idea of a paramilitary unit at the direct
disposal ofthe government, said to be modelled
on India's CRPF. Tentatively named the Armed
Security Force, initially the group would be
composed of the existing riot police and the
commando unit of the Nepal Police, and
an equal numbier of trained personnel from
the army.
There may be questions about costs, composition and line of command, but eventually
such a force may have to come into existence,
especially if the police cannot be brought
back to professional stature. The state does
need a specialised unit to face the challenges
of increasingly sophisticated insurgents who
are not engaged in merely a political movement, but have actually
declared 'people's war',
and are acting according to
its violent precepts, fhe
government docs need to
have something to fall back
upon when a situation is
neither just a civilian law and order problem,
nor an outright attack by an external enemy.
Even while the Regmi Commission's report
was doing the rounds, Prime Minister Koirala
set alarm bells ringing by wanting to 'activate'
the National Security Council. The Kathmandu
intelligentsia fears, perhaps with sound
reasoning in the context of the less-than-
respectful postures of the army brass towards
the popularly elected government, that
Koirala's action will let the military cat out of
the bag. The army, itching to play a role, may be
reluctant to return to the barracks once brought
out, and it would also definitely claim a bigger
share ofthe national revenue —it is well known
that the generals and their paraphernalia come
dearer than the inspector generals. But the
counter to this argument is that the Maoist
insurgency has spread as fast as it has, precisely
Nepal Police
chief Achyut
Krishna Kharel
(!) and the army
C-in-C Prajwalla
SJB Rana.
The army, itching to play
a role, may be reluctant
to return to the barracks
once brought out ...
2000 May 13/5   HIMAL
 because the underground leadership knows
that the army is not within the direct control of
the government. In such a context, it needs to
be said that any action by Prime Minister
Koirala to take the final step of wresting the
army from the ambiguous grasp of the
royal palace and under fuller command of the
elected government, can only lead to a further
strengthening of Nepali democracy. If the
politicians try to 'politicise' the army like they
did the police, the army brass as well as media
and the academia, as also the palace, should
fight it.
While the debates on setting up of the
paramilitary force and/or galvanising the NSC
take their course, perhaps the government can
try out a solution which would even render
these two proposals defunct for the moment.
The best course for now appears to be for Prime
Minister Koirala to take firm steps to mobilise
the army, but to keep it confined to a supportive
role in the insurgcncv-affected regions. Ihis
would allow the police to face the heat with the
confidence of a fall-back option, while at the
same time saving the government from the
embarrassment of having to make obvious use
of the army to fight its own people. (For the
moment, with the government still unsure of
its authority,  the suggestion of the  RMA
providing support to the police has the colonels
coming back to the home minister with their
calculators and asking for 'x' amount of rupees
before the jawans come out.) Such an approach
will necessitate the establishment of a civilian
command to coordinate the efforts of the
army and the police in the field, and in this
context the (one more) idea of appointing
regional governors does deserve serious
attention.
Fighting battles is an unpleasant but
essential task if the Kathmandu government is
to re-establish authority and restore peace in
all of the hinterland. No amount of political
correctness amongst Kathmandu's intelligentsia—rarely known to do its homework —
can cover this fact of public affairs in present-
day Nepal. And if and when the government
reallv comes up with the will to go to 'war'
with the insurgents, rather than stay in holding
pattern, the role of media and the larger civil
society will be that much more crucial, to ensure
that the innocent and deprived peasantry of
Nepal are not caught in the crossfire. There is
terror in the hills, and no credit is due for the
violent ideology of the Maoist leadership nor
the heavy-handed police action of the government in the years just past. i
- C. K. Lai
PAKISTAN • INDIA
PEACE PIPELINE
THERE IS potential for a gas pipeline to
achieve what bilateral diplomacy, international
diplomacy and 'track two' diplomacy have not
been able to achieve in the last 20 years; a first
step towards indirect trade between what
are now South Asia's nuclear neighbours.
Pakistan has agreed to allow a pipeline carrying
Iranian natural gas to traverse its soil to reach
markets in India. This can be regarded by the
imaginative as a fundamental development in
regional politics, except that the media at large
and India's in particular, has not given it the
importance it would seem to deserve.
To begin with, the very consideration of this
project is linked to a reviving Pakistan-Iran
relationship, which had plummeted earlier due
to the Taliban Afghanistan factor. The thaw
began with General Pervez Musharraf's
December visit to Tehran, with the Chief
Executive particularly keen to discuss trade
possibilities with Iran. Pakistan's trade deficit
this year is expected to touch DSD 1.6 billion,
due some extent to the tripling of world oil
prices. The unannounced conclusion of the men
who run Islamabad was that cash-strapped
Pakistan cannot afford the exclusive Afghan
focus to define Pak-Iran relations.
While other arenas of trade will obviously
pick up steam in the days ahead, the most
significant outcome of Gen Musharraf's Tehran
visit was actually a trade project where
Pakistan only provides its territorial good
offices. This was the long-mooted gas pipeline
project to feed natural gas from the Iranian fields
to the population centres and industries in
North India. The Iranians have expressed
pleasant surprise at how unusually efficient
Islamabad's response has suddenly been.
Indeed, for a subject that is potentially such
a minefield —for allowing India to rjenefit from
a project that actually physically uses Pakistani
space— there has been great speed and no dillydallying. The Iranians, at least, put this
development to Gen Musharraf's personal
interest in the project, which got the Ministry of
Commerce and the Ministry of Petroleum
activated.
All this indicates a significant change in the
mindset of Pakistani policy-makers for the
moment not having to worry about what the
'opposition' might say. Indeed, the military men
in the driving seat in Islamabad seem to be
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 viewing the pipeline project positively rather
than reactively, and that is refreshing. And,
while certainly, the project does not equal to
opening up trade with either Iran or India, the
fallout of goodwill vis-a-vis Iran and (more
significantly) India can be unprecedented.
The pipeline was first proposed by Iran in
1993, to supply gas from the South Paras gas
fields (in Khuzestan province, presently
operated by a French company) through
overland pipeline, to Delhi, probably via
Multan. The exact route of the pipeline and the
commercial aspects are yet to be worked out,
because the all-important factor till now had
been Pakistani acquiescence. On the technical
side, the ouday of the project is said to be about
USD three billion. In addition to the Australian
firm BHP which has already expressed interest,
other companies are expected to join an
international consortium which will finance
and build the project. Pakistan, meanwhile, is
expected to earn USD 500 to 600 million
annually as transit fee —a tidy bonus for
agreeing to support the needs of a presently
hostile neighbour.
Although both the Mian Nawaz Sharif and
the earlier Benazir Bhutto governments had
examined the Iranian pipeline proposal, they
were unable to clear it for a number reasons.
These included reservations within a section
of the army, of the possible impact of the project
on Pakistan's position on Kashmir, the stance
on bilateral trade with India, and the fact
that the sitting opposition could be expected to
raise a controversy. Some within the Indian
establishment, too, had rejected the idea of a
pipeline which traversed Pakistan, instead
proposing an off-shore pipeline. This, the
Iranians maintained, was not financially viable.
At one point, responding to Pakistan's
reservations on the Iran-India pipeline project,
Tehran had proposed to work on an Iran-
Pakistan pipeline. However, differences over the
price of the gas to be supplied stalled that
project. Other factors served to muddy the
dec is ion-making at that time, including the
American company UNOCAL'S proposal to
bring down an oil and gas pipeline to Pakistan
from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan.
Ultimately, all discussion ceased as spiralling
distrust enveloped Islamabad-Tehran relations,
on the matter of the Taliban and sectarian
violence within Pakistan.
With matters in military hands, the reservations within the GHQ of the Iran-India gasline
through Pakistan disappeared. Tire project was
then examined for its commercial considerations, and the prognosis was that it would be a
2000 May 13/5  HIMAL
win-win for all the three parties concerned,
including Pakistan as the intermediary. And
so in March, Pakistan's secretary of petroleum
travelled to Tehran to convey Islamabad's
agreement in principle to the proposed project,
lt was agreed that the Iranians would draw up
a political Memorandum of Understanding to
be signed by Iran, Pakistan and India.
Obviously, the concerns of both Pakistan
and Indian have to be taken care of. New Delhi
has every right to insist on a guaranteed
continuous supply of the gas, which becomes
a key issue in view of the perennial tensions
between the two countries. On the Pakistani
side, the insistence is that there will be no
Indian manning of the pipeline, although
Islamabad will allow neutral international
monitoring of the section that passes through
its territory.
The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, indeed seems to be all win-win. But it is
important not to count chicken before they
hatch, especially when the matter involves
South Asian geopolitics. Suffice it to say that
Islamabad has shown a degree of maturity,
going beyond the rejectionist and self-damaging mindset vis-a-vis New Delhi. If New Delhi
is willing to receive a gas line that is provided
partly courtesy Islamabad, then that alone will
serve as a harbinger for peace. The pipeline is a
third-party project, but at a time when India
and Pakistan are not talking direct trade, this
is as good a beginning as any. 4
- Nasim Zehra
DIASPORA
WANTED:
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CHRONICLERS
THERE IS a charming persistence to the chronicler Jhumpa Lahiri's writings. Her eye and interests rest on tilings and events that do not
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As sure as taking it there yourself
 interest many writers, especially those from the
Subcontinent. Admittedly, Interpreter af Maladies (Harper Collins, 1999) is languid, and stubbornly refuses to probe any of its characters in
depth, but because it moves like a home video,
slowly through the lives of the Sen and the Dixit
families in downtown America, it fulfills the
promise of readability.
The success of Maladies lies in providing
the North American readers with a panoramic
view of the life of two South Asian families,
who have for more than two decades lived unobtrusively amidst them. Now that their prosperity can no longer be ignored — remember,
even Bill Clinton made a pilgrimage to the Subcontinent—Americans have decided that they
are now curious about all these engineers and
academics who have suddenly burst into the
scene, no longer slinking into a tenement in
Jackson Heights, but commanding prime property in Summit, New Jersey. Who are these
people —Ms Lahiri provides the readable
guide, and this explains the Pulitzer.
Lahiri has a unique advantage in that, although she was raised in an Indian family, she
can write from the perspective of an American
writer. Her eyes therefore catch nuances that
escape both the India-born and the American
writer. She unravels the lives of an Indian
household from the perspective of an enlightened second generation, much like she might
have done for her curious American friends in
college. She tells stories that have quaint locations and settings, yet her main characters and
their life problems are strikingly familiar to the
American audience.
There is a lot to be learnt from Jhumpa
Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. They
are excellent chroniclers. They know the market they write for, and are not sidetracked. Most
of all, they do not believe that all fiction should
dazzle, and that words should leap off the page
with clever alliterations and cleverer metaphors. Sometimes one wishes that the Subcontinent could produce such chroniclers too, to
do for us what Ms Lahiri has done for her North
American clientele. It would be good to have
someone writing with a dogged eye and a capable pen, who could settle her/his gaze on
different communities and cultures that are part
of , say, South Asian metros. Someone who
would write less about tortured childhood, or
torn identity in a caste-based society, someone
less self-involved, more willing to observe and
take notes.
Will this mundane stuff, without angst and
vivid pictures of tourist hot spots, sell? The answer is an unequivocal yes, and that it will sell
2000 May 13/5  HIMAL
in our South Asian cities
without having first to receive an imprimatur from the
Booker or the Pulitzer. It will
sell because, like in America,
there exists in our metros a
large English-speaking readership, not even necessarily
the class elite, which is unaware of the diversity of its
city, which is removed from
the reality of so many sectors
and communities. This readership, too, like its American
counterpart, likes to read,
can buy a book, and is curious about its surroundings.
It would like to know about
the Bangladeshi immigrants
living in trans-Jamuna colonies without having to make
friends with them.
A writer does not need a
crisis of identity to write like
Lahiri; although longing for
one's homeland helps to sell
a book. One needs to have the
maturity to look beyond fhe
"troubled self". It's not easy,
because the cities of the Subcontinent are more like a
conglomeration of small
towns built like fortresses,
ready for war. An environment that breeds infatuation
with the self, and leads to
novels based on the narrow
premise that a reader will be
interested in the eternal verities that the main character
spouts.
The chronicler's craft
lies in the unerring eye,
which manages to catch the
essence of what it is to be
human, by describing characters that do not fidget and
obsess, and are beautifully
real. R. K. Narayan created
Malgudi. Today a writer
does not have to aim that
high. In truth, a writer, if he
wants to sell, should not
even try and recreate a
world, all he needs is to
observe patiently, and reproduce simply. Or she. 4
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 ourisui's Twiiise
The interest and the ability of people to travel make up the industry known
as tourism. The term encompasses a large variety of travel, from pilgrimages by devotees of Lord Pashupatinath come to his abode in the
Kathmandu Valley to worshippers of the sun who fly down to the Maldivian
archipelago. Himal's interest in tourism arises not so much from the need
to inform the potential tourist of the attractions and best 'deals' in South
Asia, as the need to ensure that this industry lives up to its promise of
spreading income amongst South Asia's people.
While keeping in mind the need to preserve the cultural and environmental attributes of the host countries and regions, tourism must be used
to: a) deliver maximum income from
high-value tourism; and b) ensure
the optimum equity in distribution
of the income among the people.
South Asia is rich in its untapped
tourism potential, much of which can
be exploited only when there is true
peace across this vast and varied
region. Even within the variously existing situations, however, it is possible for South Asia to be earning
much more from domestic as well
as international tourism than it is
presently. The challenges to doing
this are as diverse as the peoples
and cultures of South Asia - from
the very ideology of the state in Pakistan, to the Indian government's
unwillingness to go for 'open skies', to Nepal and Sri Lanka's entrapment
in the morass of high volume, low value tourism.
There may be something to be learnt from the fact that the tiniest states
of South Asia, Bhutan and the Maldives, have the most dynamic tourism
policies in the entire region—which leads us to believe that tourism is managed best when it is left to the 'local' communities—with control resting, for
example, in Kumaon instead of Lucknow, the Khumbu instead of Kathmandu,
Ladakh instead of Srinagar, and Chitral instead of Islamabad.
South Asia tourism is a vast arena, and in this issue we have but nibbled
at the edges, hoping to present readers with some interesting aspects.
Always, we must remember that tourism must be embraced so that it can
serve the people of South Asia, and not South Asia 'serve' the tourist.
Tourists target
Makar Mela
(Maghey Sakranti)
bathers at a
Benaras ghat.
2000  May 13/5  HIMAL
13
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Amar Sonar Bangla, alright, but where are the tourists?
by Afsan Chowdhury
Pictures from a
Biman ad,
clockwise from
above:
'The unspoiled
nature'.
'The blue
waters of The
Bay of Bengal'.
'The Royal
Bengal Tiger'.
The colourful
tribes'.
'he no-frills Bangladesh Biman airlines come-
on that announces the longest beach in
the world, the mangrove forest that is the
Sunderban, or the rivers lazing through the
swampy land/ gives ample sense of what the
tourism managers believe are the country's attractions for the Western visitor. And the poster
of Parjatan, the national tourism corporation, is
properly philosophical when it says, "Visit
Bangladesh before the tourists come". Waiting
is a part of life
This is how the Parjatan brochure describes
Sunderban: "A cluster of islands with an approximate area of 6000 sq km forming the largest block of littoral forests... Sunderban means
beautiful forest and is the natural habitat of the
world famous Royal Bengal Tiger, spotted deer,
crocodiles, jungle fowl, wild boar, lizards,
rhesus monkeys, and an innumerable variety
of beautiful birds."
This "beautiful forest" lies in the southern
extremities of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. It
is, indeed, the world's last and largest mangrove swamp, with most of it in Bangladesh
and some of it in neighbouring West Bengal.
But marketing has been poor, and the 'tourism
infrastructure' poorer still. One gets there by
flying to Jessore or driving to Khulna, and continuing on a river launch through the canals.
Few pick up the courage to get off the boat and
into the ban once there, however. Only an indigenous tribe of honey collectors dares walk
inside the swampy jungle, offering meagre
bribes to the Ban-Bibi, the jungle goddess. It is
rarer to find tourists in the Sunderban than the
Royal Bengal tiger, which may be seen swimming in one of the thousands of placid creeks
that sustain the mangroves.
For the moment, the Sunderban interests
only the naturalists and oil companies. Parjatan
has yet to set up infrastructure that can pamper tourists because the tourist flow doesn't justify the investment. It is a bit like the chicken or
the egg. To prove that it is not absolutely uncaring about the Sunderban, Parjatan does run a
three-storied guesthouse at Hiron point, deep
inside the jungle. There are also a couple of
forest department bungalows, and boats are
available for travelling through the creeks. In
parts of the jungle stretching to the sea, trekking through grassy meadows attracts a few
hardy types.
"With all the interest in saving the tiger and
forests, how come nobody wants to visit
Bangladesh?" asks a frustrated tour operator.
However, he admits that swamps and mudflats have limited ability to attract tourists.
Those few who just have to see the Sunderban
get a better deal across the border in India, for
there "you get to see a few other things as well".
Dark and long
So what are some of the other tilings Bangladesh can offer? Well, there is the longest beach
14
 in the world, right? While it is not clear who
has gone out with a tape to measure the various stretches of sand around the world, one
may be forgiven for accepting the claim that
the one which reaches down the eastern coast
of Bangladesh at Cox's Bazar is the longest of
them all. But fairest? The reason there are no
lines of tourists sunning on the beach at Cox's,
it is said, is because the sands here are dark-
complexioned. These are local Bangati sands,
and the fair-skinned tourists certainly have
shown a preference for Goa, unmindful of the
sheer stretch which is the supposed selling
point here.
There are other reasons for the beach's lack
of popularity. The area is more "Bangla
friendly" than touristy. Booze is hard if not impossible to come by, and there are no casinos
about. Till recently, it was home to the Rohingya
refugees who lived in camps by the beach, and
foreign intelligence agencies did their bit to sustain the local economy. And the other claim to
fame —that of being the area where hundreds
of thousands have died, hunted down by cyclones-is hardly the stuff to attract visitors by
the droves.
There is no organised night-time entertainment-of any sort-in Cox's Bazar. Bangladeshis are used to a life without entertainment
after dark, but for the tourist the fun cannot go
down with the sun. Plus, and this is a factor for
Parjatan to take good account of-tourists do
not like it when the natives stare at ladies soaking in the sun.
Watching the catching
The river cruise out of Dhaka is the excursion
of choice for the thousands of development professionals and diplomats who keep Dhaka's
real estate market humming. With Dhaka wallowing ever-deeper in pollution and urban
chaos, the popularity of the weekend getaway
is catching on. Over the years, cruise management has developed as an organised activity,
and a number of private operators as well as
the state-owned Parjatan offer river trips.
Guide Tours Ltd., in its brochure, offers the
following highlights of a river cruise: "Swimming, watching the catching of the famous
Hilsa fish and breathing fresh air". The company prudently asks guests to bring their own
towels, mosquito repellants, sun-burn lotion,
swimming gear, and hard drinks if you need
them as "we can not serve that". Guests will be
picked up from Gulshan, Dhaka's poshest suburb, as well as from the two top hotels, the
Sonargaon and the Sheraton. The voyagers will
be driven to Narayanganj, an hour out of the
city to the west, from where the M.V. Aboshar
will sail through Shitalakkhya river, enter river
Meghna, and anchor overnight. "If the weather
is favourable, swimming will be an option before our barbecue dinner is served."
No particular activity is planned for the next
day, with the focus remaining on serious unwinding. Swimming, visiting nearby villages,
board games and lazing on the boat are suggested. After lunch, the boat will come to the
confluence of the Padma (Brahmaputra) and
Meghna for anchor. At this point, guests are allowed to watch the sunset, and dinner is served
before hitting land for the road-trip back to
Dhaka.
But then this deltaic region was never a tourist spot. Once, its jungles offered some of the
best shoots, but the forests are gone and so is
the game. This is mudland, and you can only
watch so many hazy sunsets, and so many
catchings of Hilsa fish. Because this is a flood-
plain where the marks of ancient civilizations
have been washed away, and because Bangladesh is essentially made of silt and mud where
there are few surviving ancient architecture, the
country has almost no archaeology to grab touristic interest. It is not that there is no history in
Bangladesh, it is just that there is so little standing to provide visual accompaniment.
It is not advertised enough, but Buddhism
spread from the monastic communities that
were rooted in present-day Bangladesh.
The northern part of the country was once
Pundrabhukti, the last frontier province of imperial India. During the Pala rule in the 9th
century, it soared as the only Indian kingdom
spiritually rooted in Vajrayana Buddhism. The
Palas built some of the grandest Buddhist religious architectures in the world, located at
Paharpur and Mahasthangarh. These monasteries are the architectural progenitors of the
more famous cousins at Angkor Wat and
Bourbadour but while these kingdoms flourished under the followers of Buddha, Bengal
ceased to be a Buddhist land. The dust of neglect swallowed the terra cotta constructions
and the link with the past was lost. They have
reappeared today not as heritage sites but as
archaeological digs. With no modern packaging techniques announcing 'Ancient Buddhist
Bengal", the tourists too are absent.
A large part of Bangladesh will disappear
in a matter of few years, what with global
warming. Perhaps the BPC poster should be
saying, "Visit Bangladesh before Bangladesh
disappears." ^
If Bangladesh is
such an
untouristic
country, what
were the
173,000
foreigners who
visited the
country in 1999
doing here?
Well, according
to people who
should know,
almost 60,000
of the total were
Indians, while
the second
largest number,
20,000, came
from the United
Kingdom, the
bulk of them
would-be
generation
Bangladeshis,
arriving from
London and bypassing Dhaka
altogether and
flying straight to
Sylhet, their
hometown.
More than
12,000 US
citizens visited,
as did nearly
8,000 Japanese
and over
12,000 Pakistanis. Over
6000 Koreans
visited, obviously bound for
the Export
Processing
Zone factories,
But what were
the plus 5000
Nepalis doing?
Mostly, going to
medical school.
15
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A country that sells itsell poorly
Nepal's travel-traders seem to know how to run every sector
of tourism into the ground. _..    _     —     —
by Kanak Mani Dixit
he two biggest problems of Nepali tourism are
over-supply and under-cutting. The market is
saturated with 'vendors', and each tries to un-
der-price the other —among lodges, hotels, airlines, travel agencies, trekking agencies, rafting
agencies, wildlife safaris, and even porters and
n'/rs<7-pullers. A five-star hotel in downtown
Kathmandu will provide bed and breakfast for
as little as 20 dollars, and nowhere in the world
but in the Thamel tourist quarter can you have
clean sheets and attached-bath for as low as two
dollars a night.
In whichever sector, Nepal's tourism has always started at the high end, but then the 'service providers' proliferate and the asking price
plummets. The country becomes a tourist
heaven and tourism hell —enough to begin asking whether the industry is here to serve Nepal
or vice versa.
The oversupply of 'capacity' itself is not a
problem (and it does represent a more 'democratic' sharing of the pie). The issue is a terrible
failure to market the country so as to fill all those
extra beds. There are by today more than 300
trekking agencies in Nepal, vying for about
100,000 trekkers annually, many of whom actually prefer to walk un-organised. The hotels in
Kathmandu are running at 36 percent occupancy — i t has been years since the top hotels got
top dollars. There was a time when high-end
trekking used to go with ease for USD 150 a day,
but the average now is about 20-25 dollars.
White-water rafting, even till five years ago, was
at USD 40 a day, but today the asking price is
less than half of that.
It is true, as Edmund Hillary once told this
writer, that even the "impecunious" have a right
to travel, but the interest of the host country,
Nepal, is to, first, maximise income from tourism, and, two, maximise spread of that income.
The way things are today, Nepal seems to be
focused exclusively on pandering to the impecunious, as a result of which there is precious
little to share around. Last month, some European millionaires were revelling in the Everest
region of Khumbu for USD 40 a day. When snow
blocked their progress, they casually chartered
a helicopter for USD 2000 an hour and toured
the Everest Base Camp area, and then returned
to rejoin their trek group.
No one can deny that Nepal's tourism has a
lot going for it —a small country of South Asia
blessed with great variety in culture, antiquity
and geography. The Himalayan mountains are
a permanent asset and the quality of service in
Nepali tourism —warm and natural —is by all
accounts one of the the best in Asia. When occasionally a policy goes right, the response is immediate—as with the surge in domestic civil
aviation when it was deregulated in 1991-1992.
But when you speak of international aviation, that is where the problem begins. The government-run flag carrier Royal Nepal, despite
having competent management, has been bled
by the politicians and bureaucrats over the last
decade, to such an extent that its fleet today is
half the size of 12 years ago. The airline is in the
doldrums, its international 'network' stretching
laughably from Osaka to London, supported by
two narrow-bodied Boeing 757s. The glut in
supply in every sector of tourism would be
taken care of if Royal Nepal were to be allowed
to fly as a real airline, but travel operators have
waited two decades for this to happen,
Besides Royal Nepal's incapacity, the other
major lack is in marketing the country. Over the
years, Nepal has essentially 'sold' itself, but
today's traveller has discovered so many more
'exotic' places in the Orient —and not just
Bhutan, Ladakh, Tibet and Mongolia. Nepal
now needs marketing, which is why a couple
of years ago the government hived off its Department of Tourism and created an autonomous Nepal Tourism Board. With two percent
of the total turnover of the private industry
dropping into its coffers, NTB was to be a dynamic agency 'selling' Nepal. Suffice it to say
that it has not quite worked out that way, and
Nepal's marketing is actually done gratis by
films like the large-format IMAX presentation
Everest, which led to a surge of arrivals to the
Himalaya over the 1998-1999 seasons and is
spilling over into 2000.
When it comes to holistic promotion, the NTB
and private sector as a whole do precious little
other than to hope for such promotional bonanzas like Everest to land on their laps. (The travel-
traders do, of course, market their own busi-
16
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 Jk._
ft .:„._.._        -    ft
nesses.) They lack commitment and creativity,
as seen in the inability to adjust to Kathmandu
Valley's changing cultural landscape. The holistic ambience of medieval urbanism has vanished over the last 15 years, sacrificed to pollution and cement-concrete, but the travel agencies are still trying to sell the Newar inner-cities as they did in 1980. The need now is to introduce 'micro-tourism', focusing on individual
temples, monastic courtyards (bahals) and palaces, where Kathmandu's old-world charm can
still be found.
Indeed, private industry has exhibited a remarkable capacity to squeeze tourism income
out of each sector without evident concern for
long-term sustainability. Thus, the industry kept
quiet over the 1970s when the Valley lost much
of its free-standing statuary to idol-theft; over
the 1980s when the streetscape crumbled to the
concrete onslaught; and over the 1990s when ah
and water pollution devasted Kathmandu's environment. All of these downturns affected tourism before anything else.
There are many ways in which Nepali tourism can innovate, but it requires creative savvy,
Like the Himalaya, Lumbini as the birthplace
of the Sakyamuni has an eternal potential to attract pilgrims and tourists. However, the East
Asian tourists in particular seem to be staying
away, perhaps because they realise the
potential of Nepal's tourism mandarins to convert the place from a spiritual haven to a crass
Disneyland.
Kathmandu's Thamel has evolved from a
budget-traveller's refuge into a destination in
its own right —probably the most cosmopolitan
place in all South Asia, where Western 'cafe culture' can be enjoyed at middle-class prices. The
place is a magnet not just for Western tourists,
but also for English-speaking, travel-oriented,
high-spending city elites from Dhaka, Karachi,
Bombay or Bangalore, who would come to
Thamel if they were told about it.
Like Lumbini or Thamel, so with casinos.
Largely limited to the Punjabi weekender from
New Delhi, the four casinos of Kathmandu have
not been able to entice the other great gamblers
of Asia, the Chinese who populate the east and
the southeast. Trekking, the home-grown industry, has yet to 'upgrade' itself from a backpackers' delight to high-value tourism injecting better income into the villages.
True, there are some matters which are beyond the control of Nepal's tourism operators
and government. For example, tourism is an
industry that is extremely sensitive to bad news
on the telly, and it does not help that Nepal is
right in the middle of the volatile northern half
of South Asia, a region described aptly by William Jefferson Clinton as "the most dangerous
place in the world". Nepal's travel trade is therefore at the mercy of little wars and potential big
wars, bomb blasts, nuclear tests and sectarian
killings. Even if they happen hundreds of miles
away, before you can say 'Chomolongma', the
fax machine will be spewing a slew of cancellations.
The extended nature of the 1C-814 hijack
drama in December, the fact that the flight originated in Kathmandu, and that the Indian government chose to punitively and summarily
cancel all Indian Airlines flights to Nepal, has
affected tourism grievously. The summer tourist season in Nepal has been mostly filled by
Indian tourists, many of them honeymooners,
but the first quarter of 2000 saw a
drop of 38 percent over the previous year of Indian tourists arriving by air.
The summer tourism season
is by now a certified disaster, and
so the need now to salvage at
least the autumn season, which
for Nepal is the peak. And therein
lies the whispered prayer of all
Nepali tour operators —that the
violent Maoist insurgency of the
past five years will once again
spare tourism. But this year the
prayer may not be answered. The
long-dreaded US State Department 'travel advisory' went out
on 21 April, stating that "the level
of civil unrest and terrorist violence throughout Nepal has escalated in recent weeks and is expected to remain at heightened
levels". It continues, "In a break
from past practices, in three recent
incidents, Maoist insurgents have targeted tourists or tourist facilities in different parts of
Nepal.,. Although no injuries have been associated with these confrontations, the targeting of
tourist groups and facilities indicates a heightened level of risk for travellers in Nepal."
Tourism will be devastated, and all the attendant impact visited upon Nepali society, if
the underground Maoist leadership fails to understand that, even at its most inefficient, the
industry does help the economy and the population. There is a lot of room for the government,
the NTB and the private sector to improve their
performance, but they will have no space to perform if the threat of violence, tragically, keeps
tourists from the one-time and would-be
Shangri-La that is Nepal. ^
The impact of Indian Airlines'
hijack and flight suspensions on
air-tourist arrivals in Nepal; data
for the first quarter of 1999 and
2000 (courtesy Immigration
Office TIA and Nepal Tourism
Board).
TOTAL TOURISTS
1999 2000 % change
94353 83561 -11.4%
(% change for same period in 1999
nver 1998 was +5.4%)
THIRD COUNTRY TOURISTS
1999 2000 »/o change
68.238      67,376      -1.3%
(% change for same period in 1999
ums+6.8%)
INDIAN TOURISTS
1999 2000 % change
26,115      16,185      -38%
(% change for same period in 1999
was +1.7 "/.,)
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
17
 .
nRMS999ffi&R9&
ftSsftj
m®
.
worn
±a&o.
w:
m
-m®
'.• £. eticulously designed, painstakingly crafted the ageless
exhibits at the National Rail Museum are indeed precious jewels
gracing the history of Indian Railways. The Fairy Queen
' (Guinness World Record holder), Morris Fire Engine,
The Maharaja of Mysore's Saloon, Fireless Steam Locomotive
and many more timeless masterpieces pay rich tributes
to the bygone sra.
Sprawling over ten acres, this treasure trove of history,
heritage, romance, Fun and leisure, lavishes its wealth
of information upon you.
Come, discover the glittering grandeur of Indian Railways!
QjLdisgiaxi 79 real size exhibits. Various small exhibits,
working & dummy models, coat of arms, records, historical
documents, photographs and charts depicting growth of
Railways, Souveniers.
Other Attractions : Multimedia presentations, Video Cassette
Library, Digital Guide, Mono Rail Train Ride, Island Cafetaria,
Well Stocked Library. (Special arrangements for the blind &
physically handicapped)
APRIL - SEPTEMBER : 09.30 - 19.30 hrs.
Last Admission 19.00 hrs.
OCTOBER - MARCH : 09.30 - 17.30 hrs.
Last Admission 17.00 hrs.
National Rail Museum
Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-110021, Phone : 6881816, 6880939; Fax : 011-6880804
E-mail : rajesh_agrawal@vsnl.com   Internet : http://www.railmuseum.com
It
11
 More than the
beach:
Entrance to
Sigiriya's
massif.
o a Sri Lankan tour operator or hotelier, 'boom'
is a dirty word. For, the LTTE's suicide bombers
over the past 17 years, have eroded the emerald island's lustre as a prime South Asian destination, and other well-endowed tropical destinations have lured the tourists away.
Just when the tide seemed to have turned in
1999 with a 16-year high in tourist arrivals, the
Tamil Tigers struck again...and again. Serial
explosions rocked Colombo during the presidential poll campaign and the blasts continued well into 2000. No tourist was harmed, but
the industry bled. The tourist season, which is
supposed to peak between November through
March, hobbled to a weak finish.
There was another reason for the relatively
poor showing, according to some, and that was
the expectations for the millennium winter arrivals from Europe having been notched too
high. Prices climbed wildly in anticipation of a
flood of bookings; but hotels and travel agents
had reckoned without the Y2K scare, which
had beach-lovers going to Brighton instead of
Bentota. Colombo's five-star hotels were forced
to slash prices by more than half during the
Christmas-New Year season. Still, overall arrivals were up 15 per cent in 1999, recording a
total of 436,440 and earning the industry SLR
18,518 million.
The relatively cheaper rates have always
been a lure for the mostly low-spending tourists who come to the island; but this too threatens to become a thing of the past. A 12.5 per
cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) comes into
effect this April. Trade association heads had
appealed for a rethink, with petitions going all
the way up to the President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, but in vain. The GST will straight
away raise prices, and so the Sri Lankan tourism product must sell higher for companies to
stay afloat.
Having already pared their rates down to
the minimum, hotels will now struggle to make
even marginal profits. "The GST will have a serious impact on this year's arrivals. It will be
impossible to pass this on to clients," Michael
Elias of Walkers Tours says. Another travel
agent: "We are in a price-competitive market.
Tour operators abroad will refuse to sell Sri
Lanka, opting for cheaper destinations in the
2000  May 13/5  HIMAL
19
 lift^ftftft^ftftft.!:.: :'.:ftft:,';ftft..:;..:.ft:^^.ft/.ft:Jft:'ftft:::ft'^^^-:^:''ft.::'i.:':ft:ft: ft:
Postcard
Lanka:
Lighthouse at
Galle.
region. In general, it is the low-spending tourist who comes here, although you do have pockets of high-spenders."
Most package tour visitors who have paid
up-front for food and board are chary of loosening their purse strings on what is essentially
a cut-price holiday with very good facilities.
"The problem is, we have two-star tourists staying in five-star hotels," said a Colombo five-
star hotelier. The Sri Lankan Tourist Board says
foreign holiday-makers spend an average of
USD 55 a day.
The travel and tourism sector sees one
chance of escaping the GST—its recognition as
an export industry that would qualify it for tax
and duty concessions. The industry has long
been lobbying for this, its argument being that
though tourism does not export a physical
product, it ranks among the country's top five
foreign exchange earners. But the cash-
strapped government, which needs all the income it can try and squeeze, has not bought the
argument.
Meanwhile, even as the industry whines
and complains, the government and the Tourist Board have their chins up. The government
has set a goal of 535,000 tourist arrivals this
year. According to Charmari Maelge, the
Board's director of marketing, its budget has
been increased four-fold over the last year, up
to SLR 350 million from SLR 88 million.
The bulk of the money will go on promotion, and in March the Board announced a USD
10 million (SLR 730 million) campaign to boost
the country's image in key foreign markets. The
After the terror, the tax
TOURISM IS the most volatile of industries, and it
is bad policy to have a civil war on if you want to
cash in on turo-dollars. For decades now, Sri Lankan
tourism's marketeers have been fighting the civil
war—the negative media reports it generates, and
the 'travel advisories' it sparks off in the major markets from New York to Nagasaki.
The latest advisory, this one from the US State
Department, issued in December 1999, says: "Although US citizens have not been specifically targeted, LTTE operations have been planned and executed with the knowledge that Americans and other
foreigners may be killed or injured."
Says the Sri Lankan Tourist Board's director of
marketing, Charmari Maelge, "We sometimes find
these travel advisories exaggerating the situation.
Then we bring it to the notice of the relevant authorities," The Board's website {www.3anka.net/
ctb) has this to add: "While only the bad news makes
it to the television screens, for the most part life in
the majority of the island continues undisturbed
and in a peaceful manner."
It is hard to hide the fact that the separatist war
that has claimed more than 55,000 Sinhala and
Tamil lives does often spill over to other parts of the
country, especially Colombo. An LTTE attempt on
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's life at her 18
December election rally, which killed 26 people and
blinded her in one eye, turned back what was
amounting to be a tide in tourist arrivals. In March,
eight suicide bombers made a daring rush-hour attack on a major highway leading to Parliament in
Rajagiriya with an as-yet-unnamed politician as the
likely target.
It's not easy painting the image of a tropical paradise over the grim images on television. There was
little the Board could do when the luxury passenger
liner Queen Elizabeth It decided against making a
scheduled 12-hour stopover in Colombo, seven days
after an LTTE attack in 1116 capital. The liner made
its way to India instead. Similarly, the MB Victoria
and the MB Oriana which dropped anchor in Colombo the day after the incident, refused to let their
passengers disembark for the city tours. The tour
agent, Mackinnon, lost USD 40,000 on the cancellations. The passengers, who were on leisurely7 round-
the-world cruises, belonged to just that class of
wealthy, dollar-laden visitor that Sri Lanka can least
afford to lose.
20
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 Board is to provide half of the tab, and the industry must put in the rest. The industry, made
up of travel agents, tour operators and hotels,
says that it is more than willing to pitch in, but
on the condition that the promotional campaign must be carried out professionally, so as
to beat the competition, especially the Maldives,
Thailand and Indonesia.
The truth is that over the years, the trade
become more and more sceptical of the Board's
ability to sell the island to tourists, and Parliament is looking at a new Act to change the nature of the Board and set up a Tourism Promotional Authority with private-sector involvement. But despite everything, hope runs high
in the private sector, which claims it kept the
trade afloat through the stormy years with little
help from the government.
Bullish bent
Every month, private sector proposals for new
hotels and tourist recreation facilities flood the
Board office in Colombo. Investor interest is evident in the number of upmarket hotels that are
coming up. Earl's Regency, the new five-star
riverside resort in Kandy, 117 km from Colombo, is a USD 11-million investment by a
Japanese businessman and a local jewellery
magnate. In Wadduwa, 50 km from Colombo,
an exclusive four-star beachside resort built
with Swedish funds is ready for visitors. John
Keells Hotels, a large chain of resort hotels in
Sri Lanka and the Maldives, has two projects
on the drawing board, one for a picturesque
new golf links in Kandy and the other for a
safari-type wildlife resort close to Yala, the
country's largest national park. Uma Sharma,
an Indian businessman, has just bought 98 percent of Colombo's Intercontinental Hotel and
is spending USD 10 million to do it up.
Today, the industry pats itself on the back
for surviving the tough times and continuing
to persuade tourists to visit the island in the
teeth of negative publicity of the civil war
beamed around the world. The war stories and
pictures have taken their toll, though. Countries that lagged far behind Sri Lanka in 1980
have grabbed large chunks of the tourism market segment where Colombo should have been
leading. The Maldives, for instance, is today
an upmarket beach resort. Seychelles and
Mauritius too have geared themselves to a
high-end clientele. Sri Lanka, on the other
hand, has slashed and slashed its room rates,
and today sells rooms at the same dollar rate
as it did in 1982.
The country has not been able to polish up
its image, and still attracts mostly low-spend-
. 'ft.':ft:-ft'ft..'' ft ~::
ing package tourists. Many resorts adopt the all-
inclusive concept imported from the Caribbean,
where unlimited food, drinks, certain alcoholic
beverages and entertainment are all thrown in
at a set price. Officially, resort hotel rates vary
between USD 25 and 50 a night, and Colombo
room rates are USD 70. However, the actual selling prices are much lower.
There is a growing consensus within the
industry that Sri Lanka should aim higher.
Three years ago, the government declared a
duty concession to help hotels and resorts to
spruce up, and many did upgrade. The newer
hotels have been wooing a higher class of tourist, offering luxury interiors, high-tech rooms
and quaint ethnic touches. One such is
"Ayurveda tourism", in which Europeans are
treated for high blood pressure, stress, diabetes and arthritis through assorted herbal methods. Some entrepreneurs have gone the whole
hog, setting up exclusive Ayurveda resorts
where rooms cost USD 250 a night.
Fresh focus
Together with upgrading and going upscale,
there is also agreement among the travel folk
that it is time Sri Lanka stopped selling itself as
a beach destination. "We cannot compete with
the beach resorts in Thailand, the Maldives and
Bah, so we must develop a different unique selling point," said a hotelier from Kandy, which
lies inland.
This shift in focus is evident in the recent
promotional materials of the Tourist Board and
the resurgent national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines (formerly Air Lanka). The adverts and
commercials now tout Sri Lanka's culture and
history, its nature and wildlife, and the hill sta-
Prabhakaran is
not in
relaxation
mode: the
advance by the
LTTE on the
Jaffna
peninsula in
late April once
again brought
the war to the
world's notice.
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
21
 More Serendibs:
competition in the
Western Indian Ocean.
Mauritius
Seychelles
i
Vj
Maldives
Sri Lanka
tions. The beach is present almost as an
afterthought.
Sigiriya, a fortress capital built on a 600-
foot rock massif in central Sri Lanka, is to be
the hub of future promotions. The authorities
have been plugging this fifth-century architectural marvel as "the eighth wonder of the
world", and there are plans for a sound-and-
light show and a large museum.
Inland-based adventure sports is also regarded as an arena for diversification, but it is
still a fledgling with just three professional companies providing packages for white-water
rafting, rock climbing, canoeing, mountain-biking and paragliding. But most travel agents do
offer safaris, birdwatching, 'elephant trails' and
tea garden visits.
There is also a renewed accent on conferencing and 'incentives tourism'. The Tourist Board
has a unit to handle MICE (Meetings, Incentives,
Conferences and Exhibitions) travel. This market, though, is overly sensitive to the security
situation, particularly in Colombo, and will
probably have to wait for a definitive advent of
peace before it will fulfill its potential.
So near, so distant
About five years ago, the tourism entrepreneurs
of Sri Lanka began looking north to India
for their clientele. More and more middle-
class Indians are travelling abroad on holiday,
so why not lure them into Sri Lanka?
But though large sums have been pumped
into promotions in Indian metros, and the
Tourist Board now has an office in New Delhi,
the Indians are just not coming.
Several problems have been identified: Indian tourists like to shop, to gamble and maybe
(just a few) to visit the resorts. Sri Lanka has
failed to adequately meet these demands. Only
the Taj Group's luxury beach hotel in Bentota,
70 km south of Colombo, gets a fair number of
Indians. Another problem is that, unlike Nepal
which attracts a fairly large number of tourists
(it also has casinos), the Indian rupee is not
exchangeable in Sri Lanka. Indians must bring
dollars and pay dollar rates. That apart, the
high-end Indian guest does not see Sri Lanka
as a prestigious destination, and the Hindi film
industry has done its bit to divert the spending
Indian noveau riche to the Maldives and
Mauritius. Additionally, there is a severe shortage of airline seats to and from India. Sri Lanka
has been talking with Indian authorities to
increase airline capacity, but without much
success.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Airlines, now managed by the Dubai-owned Emirates, has
adopted an aggressive tourism policy. It began
flying to Stockholm last November, trying to
rekindle what was once Sri Lanka's best
market in Scandinavia. The trade has also
welcomed the airlines' new, direct thrice-
weekly flight to Australia. The carrier now
flies daily to London and has increased flights
to Germany (Munich and Frankfurt) and
Japan. It also runs tourism campaigns, each
targeting a specific country. Whether all this
will give "boom" a nice name, only time and
the LTTE can tell. 4
22
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 Vajra (literally-flash
of lightning), is an
artists' condominium,
a transit home for
many, providing a
base during months
of hibernation and
creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and
peaceful ambience,
make an ideal retreat
from the clock of
pressure.
Ketaki Sheth
Inside Outside.
I stayed a week at the
Vajra, by which time
I had become so fond
of it that I stayed
another.
John Collee
The London Observer:
Vajra, a serene
assembly of brick
buildings, grassy
courtyards,
ivycovered walls and
Hindu statuary is a
calm oasis over
looking, chaotic
Kathmandu.
Ttma
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swayambhu, Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone: 977 1 271545, 272719 Fax: 977 1 271695 E-mail: vajra@mos.com.np
 Actually
Maldives segregates the locals
from the tourists, and sells sun,
sand and coral.
?:-:
by Tharuka Dissanayake
I n the late 1960s, a foreign advisor on foreign
investment had struck tourism off the list of
potential industries for Maldives. At the time,
Male's airport had only a makeshift runway,
and transport between islands was restricted
to traditional dhonis. The economy was dependent on fish and almost everything else had to
be imported. The expert could see no local
funding to develop resorts in this necklace-
shaped group of idyllic islands scattered
southwest of India's southern tip, west of Sri
Lanka. Certainly, he did not foresee any foreign investor pumping money into tourism in
a country that at that time did not even have a
bank to its name.
But the Maldives lure nevertheless managed to attract adventure seekers. The uninhabited islets, the perfect white beaches, the coral
reefs and the deep blue of the Indian Ocean,
turned out to be attraction enough. The adventure-tourists spread the word, and slowly investment trickled in for the setting up of resorts.
At first, they were crude cabana-type hostels
with makeshift toilets, and lacking even a freshwater supply. Gradually, the offerings improved. In the mid-1970s, the government finally shook off the legacy of that long-departed
investment expert and decided to accord priority to tourism. It began to organise for future
growth in a planned manner.
Today, a visitor to the Maldives finds a high
level of luxury attached to the rustic ambience
in the 80-odd resorts that cover the Maldives.
The Hilton, Four Seasons and Banyan Tree
each have an island for themselves, and
the biggest yet, Sun Island, is an investment
of USD 47 million, a project of local
hotelier Quasim Ibrahim. Hotel groups
from neighbouring Sri Lanka have also invested
24
heavily in the Maldives.
The archipelago's tourism development is
upheld today as a model for countries that still
market stereotypical beach-holidays for low-
end travellers. In addition, the Maldivian holiday has made it fashionable to go rustic while
paying top-dollar. While developers elsewhere
were still stuck on putting up ugly hotels by
the beach —rooms piled upon each other, concrete and artificial lighting —the pioneers here
dared to be different. They stayed with the
single-storey cabana and outdoor concept. The
success of the thatched-roof cabins —with the
sea for a swimming pool —went far beyond
their own estimation. Europeans loved it
and no price was too dear to be locked away in
a private island with the sea at the your
frontdoor.
Maldivian tourism has maintained its high
product price. Even when competing destinations were slashing their rates during the Asian
financial crisis, the Maldives sailed on unperturbed. When other beach destinations were
selling as low as USD 10 or 20, the Maldives
resorts managed to maintain their prices at
above USD 50. (The rates generally range from
USD 65 to 500 for two, inclusive of meals.) In
keeping prices high, Maldives tourism has developed a niche market —a segment that looks
for quality and tranquillity. The government,
too, has been keen on restricting the industry
to the 'right kind of tourist' and is less than
keen to merely pump up statistics by concentrating on quantity.
Tourism is a year-round business, but the
best season is from October to April. Last year,
arrivals to the Maldives topped 350,000. At
over 75 percent, room occupancy was very
high, and average stay per visitor was eight to
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 .■<-#
nine days, which is rather high for a country
with beaches, corals and little else to show. Over
20 percent of arrivals are those who have enjoyed previous holidays in the Maldives.
Environment-conscious tourism, which is
now all the rage, actually began almost inadvertently here. The earlier developers, out of necessity, kept things modest and incorporated
their resorts into the island environment, using local materials as far as practicable. The
clients loved this, and a whole new kind of
beach tourism was born. Guests arriving at a
resort see little beyond the tall coconut palms
and thick ground vegetation—the rooms and
restaurants are cleverly tucked away. Besides
using natural materials in building, the government and private sector are both aware of
the need to preserve the lagoon, coral and mangrove eco-systems, and to keep the beaches
clean of garbage and sewage. These unwritten
rules were being adhered to by hoteliers long
before the government brought in regulations
for eco-friendly tourism in the late 1980s.
Today, the Male government enforces a strict
set of rules for developers. It allows a resort to
build in only 14 percent of an island's land
area. If hoteliers are building cabanas on stilts
over the water, an equal area must be kept free
inland. Every island must incinerate its waste.
Plastics are discouraged and littering taboo.
The Maldives does not have industries that
spew effluent, nor large rivers that dump silt
into the beaches, and so the lagoons remain
clean and the waters clear.
Gayoom's baby
Another aspect unique to Maldivian tourism
is that, by governmental directive, tourism is
confined to individual, otherwise-uninhabited,
islands in several atolls. The tourists may visit
the islands inhabited by locals to buy knick-
knacks, but the resorts must themselves be iso-
lated. Meanwhile, the one-resort-per-island rule
allows the tourists maximum space, comfort
and privacy —which is also why the industry
is able to demand premium prices. As far as the
government is concerned, the separation of the
local and the tourism population protects the
locals from cultural 'despoliation'. A positive
aspect of this arrangement is that the problems
of a beach culture transplanted in an unprepared society — prostitution, drugs and thuggery—rampant in neighbouring Sri Lanka, are
avoided.
All of the Maldivian experience with tourism has happened while Maumoom Abdul
Gayoom has been president, since 1978. A 10-
year tourism plan was drawn up almost as soon
as he came to power, and a bed tax was imposed to make the industry worthwhile for the
state. A five-year tax holiday encourages investors to bring in foreign dollars. Airport procedures have been relaxed and now visitors can
get visas upon arrival.
Proposals for resorts pile up at the Ministry
of Tourism in Male, but not every one is approved. Nevertheless, 20 new resorts are presently under construction. In 1972,
arrivals were at 1097, today they
top 350,000. In 1982, tourism accounted for 20 percent of the GDP,
today it is over 28 percent. Employment generation has been so huge
that neighbouring India, Sri Lanka
and Bangladesh —and even faraway Nepal—have stepped in to
meet the shortage in supply. While
the Maldivians get rich and richer
on tourism, it is perhaps not unfair
that other South Asians at the very
least make some employment out
of this particular pot of gold.
The most proximate environmental danger to Maldivian tourism is the possible disappearance of the archipelago itself—
if some scientists are to be believed, the ozone
hole, CFCs and resultant global warming, will
end up melting the polar icecaps and raising
the sea level by just so many inches that the
Maldives may be wiped off the southern Indian
Ocean map. Given that most of the tourists who
dip into the Maldives come from the very nations which create the environmental conditions for global warming, the Maldives does its
bit to sensitise the tourists so that they carry
back the message home. If global warming is a
myth, then Maldives can hope to cash in on
tourism into the distant future. If it is a scientific fact, then the government will have to start
making plans. ^
Can you spot
the hotel?
2000  May 13/5  HIMAL
25
 ■ ':   ' ■'. .    '■■
:■!",:■'; :; ■. ::        ■   '' ' 7-   "■     7:
WMMHWW
. '..      . ■    ■' ■
mdhara art at Lahore museum.
The history ofthe people of
Pakistan is re-written while the
history ofthe Pakistani landscape is allowed to disappear.
by Manzur Ejaz
he ideological orientation of the Pakistani state
tends to obliterate the possibilities of social and
economic advancement of the country in many
areas. Tourism is one, an industry whose potential to provide income to a cash-starved nation remains largely untapped.
Pakistan is in many ways like Egypt, its landscape bristling with antiquity. This heritage
goes right back to the Indus civilisation, whose
silent testimony is to be found in the stones
and seals of Harappa and Mohenjodaro on the
Punjab plain. What is today Pakistan was also
the centre of Buddhist learning, with Texila as
just one such monastic centre.
Unfortunately, the rich historic and artistic
heritage represented by the Gandharan Buddhistic art, which manifested itself on this soil,
finds only the rare connoisseur among those
who have inherited the land. From recent history, Pakistan has to show Nankana Sahib,
birth place of Guru Nanak, one of the holiest
places for the Sikh community. In Lahore, is
the capital and fort of the great Sikh king Ranjit
Singh. The mountainous northern region is
considered rugged and exotic—Hunza, Chitral,
Baltistan-—the very kind of terrain that extracts
tourist dollars by the millions elsewhere in the
Himalaya-Hindu Kush, from Ladakh to Nepal,
Darjeeling/Sikkim, and Bhutan.
Pakistan, thus, has the 'products' to attract
visitors horn the West, and from Southeast and
East Asia. But tliere is too little of them, and the
tourists who move around in Pakistan today
are the domestic travellers, mostly the noveau
riche from Punjab and elsewhere heading up
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 for the cool of the hills of Murree and further on.
Those who would develop Pakistani tourism must realise, however, that the challenge
is greater than a simple strengthening up of
the tourist department. The state ideology itself is in the way of tourism. To preserve the
ancient artefacts and monuments—for their
own sake and for tourism—requires a certain
type of societal mindset and an open-minded
socio-political environment. On the one hand,
the elite as well as the public at large must develop in themselves a love for the ancient heritage of the land. On the other, they must have
the desire to create a welcoming environment
where the foreigners feel comfortable enough
to experience the ecstasy of being in a land of
antiquity. Despite its corrupt ruling elite, Egypt
has managed to do this. Pakistan has not.
Certainly, Pakistan also lacks the kind of
infrastructure that encourages tourism, including roads, railway, air facilities, hotels and the
service ethos, which lies at the centre of tourism. The lawlessness is also a stumbling block,
for who would want to vacation in a region
where gun-touting extremists can at any time
come around the corner, where religious sects
go at each other with murderous intent, and
where it is not extraordinary for dacoits to take
hostages for ransom.
Much of these perceived threats to security
can be resolved by strengthening law and order, but it is the ideological mindset of the Pakistani state that does not permit the preservation and propagation of history which would
"legitimise" the very heritage which would be
the centrepiece of Pakistan's ability to attract
tourists. Through political orations, through
schoolbooks and tomes of politically-correct
history, generations of Pakistanis have been
conditioned to negate this heritage, and taught
instead to take pride in having roots in other
parts of Asia. This includes the tendency
among the elite to claim descend from migrants
from the Arab-Persian shores.
Although most Pakistani Muslims are indigenous to South Asia and converted to Islam
at a very late stage, the history and social studies books teach that history essentially started
when Mohammad Bin Qasim made landfall
on Sindh in the eighth century AD. The history
of the medieval period is nothing more than
simplistic idealisation of the Muslim rulers of
India. Students are informed about the benevolence and ingenuity of the Turk, Afghan and
Mughal rulers, and even casual invaders from
the north such as Mahmood Ghaznvi and
Ahmad Shah Abdali et al, are idealised.
In short, the history of the people is re-writ
ten while the history of the landscape is allowed to disappear. As a result, among those
who define the ideology of the state, there is
visceral anathema for the Indus civilisation and
the great Buddhist era. Similarly, Guru Nanak
is considered to be a religious leader of the
enemy rather than the great reformist intellectual and poet he was. The cumulative result of
this is that today the Pakistani public has no
reverence for its past and no aspiration to preserve vestiges of its history. What it does not
appreciate, it therefore feels no need to share
with the rest of the world.
In the early 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and
some left leaning intellectuals, particularly
Major Mohammad Ishaque of the Mazdoor
Kisan Party, did try to rehabilitate the historical linkages. However, that effort did not make
any headway in face of the ideological onslaught of the state, which was at that time moving swiftly towards theocracy. In the latter years,
the descendants of Bhutto and Gen Zia ul Haq
and other elite plundered the national historical treasures and started shipping them
abroad—the sale of a Buddha statue to the
Smithsonian only one of the many examples.
The corrupt elite, which knows better, has been
blinded by greed. It cares nothing for preserving the greatest historical sites and preserving
the remnants of the long-gone eras. Members
of this elite, rather than seeking long-term
income for the people through tourism, do
not think twice of plundering ancient sites
to export artefacts to Western collectors and
antique shops.
A new ideological framework about history
has to evolve, one which appreciates the non-
Muslim heritage of present-day Pakistan even
while remaining fully cognizant of the monumental contributions made by Muslims to the
Indian civilisation. Like the Arabs, Iranian and
other Muslim nations, we have to respect our
history—all aspects of it. If Egypt can revel in
and take economic advantage of its pre-Islamic
past, so should Pakistan. However, if the Pakistani state remains prisoner to the present ideological parameters, and the economic elite limits itself to heartlessly allowing the plunder and
destruction of ancient heritage, an industry like
tourism will continue to lack space in Pakistan
in the years to come.
The irony in all this is that, by default,
present-day India has become the heir and custodian of the Indus Valley civilisation and the
ancient Buddhist civilisation of South Asia—
no matter that Harappa, Mohenjodaro and
Texila happen to lie across the border. Pakistanis have no one else but themselves to blame. ^
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
27
 On 9N-AFV,
there is nothing
between you and
the Valley below
and the Himalaya
upfront.
by Rupa Joshi
Hence... That is what hits you. Silence almost
eerie as you hang from a hot-air balloon 5000
feet above the slightly misty landscape. Underneath, a Kathmandu Valley that is slowly waking up to a spring morning. Suddenly there is
a roar from the propane gas burners and the
VHF radio that communicates with the control
tower crackles. But then it is back to floating
quietude and calm.
Equally amazing as the silence is the stillness. Anyone with the 'wind-on-your-face' idea
of a balloon ride will be taken by surprise at
how calm it is. Because tire balloon goes with
the air flow, you do not feel movement. In fact,
other than when the balloon is rising or descending, it almost seems as if the balloon is
stationary. We seem to be stuck in one place,
like an eagle frozen in mid-flight, no flapping
of wings, no gliding in circles, no obvious
movement at all An unobtrusive eye in the sky,
And then the view. Unparalleled. So much
to observe, and in so relaxed a manner. It actually takes some time to get used to the 360 degrees 'spherical' view of the Valley and surroundings. There is the Himalayan panorama
to the north, the ancient city-centre and the
modern sprawl of Katlimandu below, and hills
that fold and unfold themselves into the hori
zon. There is something for everyone to see from
up there—the mountain addict, the naturalist,
the environmentalist, the sociologist, the geologist, the poet, the artist...
It is early in the morning in late March. The
air is crisp and clear, just as mornings a day
after the rains are supposed to be. As we arrived at the lift-off site at Gatthaghar, just east
of Tribhuvan International Airport, the eastern
sky was already glowing orange. Sprawled on
the dew-laden field was the canopy of our craft,
call-sign 9N-AFV. It is owned by Balloon Sunrise, Nepal's and South Asia's only commercial balloon operator, which pioneered this extraordinary early-morning floating tour over
Kathmandu Valley.
As the passengers sipped on coffee, pilot
Chris Shorten, an Australian from Alice Springs
in the centre of the Outback, was trying to make
contact with the air-traffic controller at TIA in
order to prepare for lift-off. Meanwhile, his copilot Sunil N. S. Thapa, a Kathmandu mithane
(local), was directing the ground crew to fan
hot air from the gas burners into the 'sleeping'
beauty. Slowly, the balloon with tire signature
Buddha-eyes unfolded, expanded and stood
upright eight-storeys' tall, plump and ready
to take flight.
28
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 The queen-size cane basket with standing-
room space for nine-seven passengers and two
crew—and with propane gas cylinders attached to the sides, is not a confidence-building sight at first. No rudders, no handles, no
steering wheel. The only navigational aids on
board are a tiny Global Positioning System
meter, aVKF radio for contact with the tower,
and a UHF radio to keep in touch with the
ground crew and catch-up vehicles.
The only means to control this craft are the
burners and vents, which aUow vertical ascent
and descent. Doubts nibble at the corner of the
mind about the wisdom of suspending oneself
half way to the heavens in this open basket.
mandu
But all doubts vanish with the receding ground.
Says co-pilot Thapa. "Passengers worry as they
get into the basket, but all apprehension wears
off the moment we head for the skies!" Lifting
off is memorable mainly because it is so imperceptible. The sights below gradually begin to
shrink, accompanied by a simultaneous enlarging of the landscape.
As the 7-o'clock sun whitens the sky, the
balloon levels at 9000 ft. The neat-rowed potato patches and the irrigated wheat fields below us have nearly blended themselves into
general green expanse. The smoke coming from
the numerous brick kilns billow westwards—
as polluting as they are to the residents on the
ground, they help the pilots monitor the wind
direction.
"We're completely at the mercy of the winds
for the direction we take," says Thapa. "The
only control we have is on the elevation, and
the rotation of the balloon. We have to constantly adapt our flight path to the direction of
the ah flow at each level," Shooting a burst of
propane into the canopy, Capt. Shorten adds
"that flying in Kathmandu is a breeze as far as
the wind is concerned. "There are very light
winds, and virtually no ground winds, which
makes for very smooth landings."
Himals across Nepal
For the passengers, the view is absolutely
astounding. All across the northern horizon
is the Himalayan range resplendent in the
fresh powdering
of yesterday's
snow. They loom
large and regal,
above the navy
blue hills. The
Himals east of
Phurbi Ghyachu
can just be seen
outlined against
the white morning sunlight, The
nose-up Chhoba
Bhamare, the
twin embrace of
the Gauri Shanker, and Cho Oyu, Melungste
and Everest with its signature plume
of snow. It is the mountains directly to
the north of the Valley, the reclining
Langtang, the pyramidal Gangchempo,
and the towering hump of Tibet's
Shishapangma, that put their best face
forward to the slanting sun. Over to the
northwest, there is the conglomeration of
the Ganesh Himal peaks, majestic
Himalchuli and Manasulu a little further on,
and across the Marsyangdi the crescent of the
Annapurna Himal, wearing the 'topi' of the
windswept massif of Annapurna n.
"The mountains never seem the same," says
Thapa, as he democratically rotates the balloon
to grant an unrestricted northern view to passengers who are facing south. "Every season,
they have a different shading, sometimes dark
and daring, and at other times dazzling with
snow. From one harvest season to the next, the
valley below metamorphoses from green to yellow to golden."
As we glide silently along, thousands of feet
over the airport, we can make out the large number of aircraft queuing up by the side of the
runway for the 'mountain flight'. As the planes
take off one by one, the voices of the air traffic
controller can be heard over the VHF, warning
them to avoid the balloon at 9000 ft. Which they
thankfully do. Royal Nepal's large white
Boeing then takes off for Delhi, starting on the
runway below us, but ending up high above in
the sky by the time it leaves the Valley via
Chandragiri Pass.
Increasing ah traffic in the valley's skies, is
one of the challenges that this sightseeing balloon faces. An average of 16 flights leave in a
rush for the mountain flight towards Everest
in the mornings, and then there is the other
rush of STOL aircraft flying to Lukla and other
mountain airstrips.
The small planes all circle and mostly fly
2000  May 13/5  HIMAL
29
 Balloon
Sunrise eyes
Ganesh
Himal.
east, while we silently skim westward, over the
shoulder-to-shoulder houses and temples of
Kathmandu city. The clusters are only broken
here and there by algaed ponds, some open
grounds (too few), and dark meandering
streams. With permission to descend a thousand feet, the balloon catches a swifter
wind layer and we are soon heading towards
the distinctive Swayambhu stupa, with the
Nagarjun hill sprawling behind it like a great
green dragon. We come close enough for
Swayambhu's all-seeing Buddha eyes to take
in the balloon's own unblinking eyes. All too
soon, the encounter is over and we are past the
stupa, and beginning our final descent.
The other distinct challenge to the pilot of
Ballon Sunrise is making a landing in a rapidly urbanising Valley where power lines, concrete pylons, half-made buildings and boundary walls are sprouting everywhere, even in
the remote kaanth (the rural areas). Capt. Shorten
cautions, "Folks, we'll now have to keep a
watch for power lines, and please don't hesitate to tell us if you see something we've not."
He and co-pilot Thapa lean over the side of the
basket to look out for power lines and other
obstacles. The passengers enthusiastically join
in the lookout.
The balloonists have to be equally careful
about landing on farmlands and crops. If forced
to land on fields, the company reimburses the
farmers for the crop damaged. The crew says
that, in this the fourth season of their operation
in Kathmandu Valley, they have always had
safe landings, with no untoward incident other
than the slightly bumpy landing when they
were blown over the hills into windy Panuati,
one valley over to the east.
As the ground draws nearer, the sounds of
the city pierce through the silence, firstly as a
muffled roar of the Ring Road traffic, then by
die barking dogs of the villages below, warning of the great looming orange bulb over their
heads. Lower still, and the barks are overtaken
by the chatter of the youngsters who have abandoned a nearby government school to swarm
over the terraces following the balloon in its
westward glide. There is also a sudden stream
of maroon amongst the youngs ters—these are
pupils from the monasteries which dot this area
behind Swayambhu.
The company jeeps have followed the balloon as far as the roads will allow, and thereafter the crew gives chase on foot and finally is
able to grab the guy wire dropped by the pilots.
The balloon is guided into a postage stamp
patch of green next to a graveyard of old vehicles on one side and a small pond on the
other. The touchdown is the gentlest ever, and
after the passengers alight, the ah is released
and the balloon is slowly laid on its side. Its
day's work done. i
30
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
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INDIA'S   TOURISM
"It is all in the Access"
Subhash Goyal is the president ofthe Indian Association of Tour Operators, besides being the chairman
of STIC (Student Travel Information Centre) Group, and a long-time spokesman for the Indian tourism
industry. What follows is his conversation with Contributing Editor Mitu Varma, taking in
the critical aspects of the Indian travel industry.
TVJiat is the size of India's tourism industry, and what do
you make of its potential?
The total inbound tourism to India is about 2.4 million.
Maybe this year it will reach 2.5 or 2,6 million. The outbound tourism is about 4.6 million, about double of the
inbound. Inbound tourism is very important for India—it
generates foreign exchange, a lot of employment, and it is
one industry with a minimum requirement in terms of
investment..
Whatever a good tourist destination needs, India has.
There is no other country in the world which is bigger and
better in terms of tourist attraction. India is the greatest
show on Planet Earth. It is the birthplace of four great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism. The Sufism
aspect of Islam was introduced here, and the most fascinating Sufi shrines like Ajmer Sharif and Allauddin Chishti are
found here. Few other countries can point to a spot where
one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas, is buried.
There is no other country in the world which has so
much rhythm, music, so much cultural diversity. India is
actually a continent of 25 or 26 'countries'. You can do them
in one shot if you have the time, otherwise you have to come again and
again. This is why the length of stay
of tourists in India is the longest
anywhere.
But are these attractions generating the number of tourists they
should be?
The tourism volume is not there
for some reasons, and the primary
reason is air-seat capacity. Ninety-
five percent or 98 percent of the
people who come to India arrive by
air. Now the total air seat capacity of
India is around five and a half million—tliat is, five and a half going
and five and a half coming,
altogether 11 million seats. That is
not enough to take care of tourist
and non-tourist traveller to and
from India,
So a foreign tour operator, if he
were to really market India, he needs
2000   May 13/5  HIMAL
air fleets. For 50 years, we have had a very restrictive aviation policy which has suffocated the tourism industry. The
result is that tour operators and travel agents are fighting
for the same piece of cake. But one good thing this government has done in the last four months is that 13 bilateral
agreements have been signed, and about 1 million seats
have been arranged. The new airlines that will be coming in,
in order to make their routes viable, will advertise India.
Tn air cargo we had a problem, our exports were not
going out, so the government opened up the skies for cargo.
Now our exports have shot up, and today we export more
goods to America than we import from them. There is a
boom in exports. Likewise, we have to open up our airways
because you can not have tourism without civil aviation.
At one point, Air India marketed India and brought a lot
of tourists; does it still play the same role?
Every airline gets tourists, and Air India has a tourism
department. But if you want Air India to continue to play an
important role, you have to give its professional managers
an independent hand. If tire government and the Members
of Parliament want to interfere in
everything, then Air India wdll die
a natural death.
What about the domestic airlines
sector?
I feel that you cannot have halfway liberalisation. If you want to
liberalise, you have to give a level
playing field. You cannot say that
for Sahara or Jet we have one standard of regulations and if Tata
wants to come in, we have another
standard. That is not healthy, it
sends wrong signals. If the managers of Air India and Indian Airlines
were to be made answrerable to
shareholders instead of parliamentary committees, they would
be able to do a better job.
What about privatisation?
I am for privatisation, for
globalisation. But on the one side
we are allowing foreign collabora-
33
 tions in Pepsi and Coke and Domino's Pizza, and on the
other, in the case of Indian aviation where high sophistication, standardisation and global competition are needed,
we are not allowing it. You know the whole aviation world
is going towards strategic alliances, and if we do not become part of a global strategy, we will not be able to serve
even our niche market. We want our national airlines to be
global players. If both Air India and Indian Airlines were to
be merged, there will be economies of scale and a lot of
things can happen.
What about marketing India?
There's a defect in our marketing strategy. We have been
marketing India as India, but India as itself doesn't mean
anything, it does not provide a real mental picture. Take
America, it doesn't have a ministry of tourism, and every
state does its own marketing. Each of the 25 states of India
has its own beauty and charm, but only three or four states
are doing the proper marketing. Kerala is being marketed
as God's own country—lush green pictorial forests, the back
waters, and the elephants. Rajasthan is also marketing effectively—picturise maharajas and forts, palaces, desert and
camel safaris. Kashmir was marketing itself, but it has been
spoilt by militancy. Now Himachal is marketing itself, but
unfortunately it does not have an airfield where big planes
can land, so tourism is restricted. If tomorrow there's such
an airfield, you will see that Himachal will beat Kashmir.
Goa is also selling itself well, but the rest have not done their
homework.
Incidentally, it makes no sense to have an international
airport unless you grant traffic rights to foreign airlines. For
example, Cochin has an international airport but we are not
giving traffic rights, so it's meaningless.
WJiat are the main source countries for tourism?
Number one is the UK, followed by Germany and the
USA. Fourth is Sri Lanka. We get a lot of people from Sri
Lanka.
Is domestic tourism just a poor cousin?
It is not a poor cousin, it is a very important cousin. But
again, for it to have a multiplier effect on the economy, you
need a particular segment of tourists who are willing to
spend that much money. That segment is now growing.
The total number of domestic tourists in the country is
around 160 million, out of that about 100 million are going
for religious purposes. The rest make up about 60 million,
and it is a big chunk. Domestic tourism is much larger than
international tourism, but the spending power
of the domestic tourists is low. Except for about
a million who stay in five star hotels and spend a
lot—maybe it has grown to two million now.
There has been domestic tourism since
time immemorial. You know Shankara-
charya started the Chaar Dhaams. Right
from the South there is a dhaam with
Tirupati Temple, the Shobanath Temple in
Gujarat then the Pashupati-nath temple
in Kathmandu. All these dhaams were
made so that people of the North
could go south and vice versa. The objective
was that people could sec the whole
country.
What are the expectations from mountain tourism, cultural tourism, beach tourism and so on?
I can't say that we can only depend upon adventure
tourism, or on cultural tourism, or on sports or business
tourism. In every marketing activity, there has to be a product mix, and tourism is no exception. If I were a tourist, I
would be interested in everything.
What has happened to the tourists who used toga to Kashmir?
The other hill stations are getting the share. For example,
if earlier I had wanted to go to the mountains, 1 would have
gone to Kashmir, now I'm going to Kulu-Manali, to Nepal,
to Bhutan, or to the hill stations of Mussoorie, Shimla,
Nainital. All these places are getting a boost. Plus, a lot of
people arc going abroad. A person who has to go on a
vacation will go on a vacation, he will not wait for terrorism
to end. It is for the people of Kashmir not to allow these
foreign infiltrators and terrorists to spoil their livelihoods.
Do you think the Himalaya is a wasted tourist resource?
No, it is not wasted. The Himalaya will continue to be
there. Something that is wasted is something that finishes. It
has been a lost opportunity these past years, but the
Himalaya has the potential.
Is Northeast tourism affected by the need for special
permits?
Yes, but they are quite liberal now. If we have international flights coming into Guwahati, that will be a big help. A
foreign tourist has a week's holiday, and wants to go into
the Northeast straight and spend the seven days there. Today this can't be done. You have to first go to Delhi, Bombay
or Calcutta, wait for a day or two to take a flight. So it takes
two to three days to reach Guwahati. Then you have to take
a bus from Guwahati to wherever you want to go. By the
time you reach your destination, three to four days are
gone. What is happening in the Northeast is the sheer failure to capitalise on what god has given you.
Do tour operators have special plans for the Northeast?
Tour operators have a lot of plans, but then the Northeast has to be made accessible. That can only be done by the
government. What the government has done now is that it
has declared six more international airports, out of which
Guwahati is one. But again, in order to make this opening
viable, the government has to give up its stranglehold on
traffic rights. They will have to allow foreign airlines to come
in without having to pay compensation to Air
India and Indian Airlines.
So it's political will that is lacking?
Yes, no! Political will is there. But what is
lacking is political action. Implementation! We
are very good at making policies on paper, but
the real thing is to make them happen, in time-
bound fashion.
Is not India's image still stuck on fakirs,
snake-charmers and the Taj?
No, tour operators project everything.
Frankly, the tourists who are coming to India
today, sometimes have more knowledge of
India than we have. You cannot fool them. And
34
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 of course, India is just not the Taj, there is much more to
India than the Taj. There are many buildings as beautiful as
the Taj if not more, they just have to be seen and appreciated. The Taj has become famous because it is close to Delhi,
and everyone comes to Delhi.
Why is the Indian government so poor at marketing
tourism?
The Ministry of Tourism works with its hands tied. What is
[reeded is coordination and I feel there should be a combined ministry of tourism, civil aviation and transport. There
has to be an integrated approach. That is why the industry
has been asking for a tourism board where all the other
ministries are involved. Now, we have formed the board
but it has had just one meeting.
Today, the finance minister and everyone else is talking
of information technology, but information technology is
not going to solve the problem. It will give us billions of
dollars for software development and all that, but it is only
giving jobs to the people who are computer literate,
whereas in other places there will be downsizing. So, for
tbe uneducated youth in the villages there is no benefit.
But tourism can help the uneducated youth too. If a tourist
g.^es to a remote area, he buys local handicrafts, hires a
coolie, and spreads the word. IT doesn't do that.
You think the private sector has done its bit in promoting
tourism?
We are all doing our hit, but when there are no air
seats, it becomes meaningless. The result is that the hotels
and the tour operators start fighting with each other for the
same piece of cake. The size of the cake needs to be
enlarged.
Are there new places which could still be marketed or see a
lot of tourists?
There are so many wonders that are hidden, of which
the world is not aware of, which even we Indians are not
aware of. Now look at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, it is
one of the wonders of the world, but it is not marketed, and
it is not accessible. All the 25 states must have international
airports and thev must have independent flights. Look at
Europe. All of Europe can fit into two Indian states of UP
and Bihar, But neither UP nor Bihar has an international
airport! Europe has 300 international airports. Now Ihat is
being accessible. London alone has four international airports. We are a large country, a Subcontinent, we must have
at least 25 gateway cities, and every state chief minister must
try to market his state as a tourism destination.
The government has a stranglehold on the tourism industry, unless it loosens up and make India accessible, we
cannot make tourism an instrument of economic change.
There are some positive signs in the media and the public,
and the demand is being created, which I think, will force
the politicians to loosen their stranglehold, because ultimately tourism will create jobs. To create jobs, you have to
develop a labour-intensive industry, and tourism is the largest labour-intensive industry in the world. One out of every
nine new jobs being created in Lhe world in crcntcd by ,i
service industry. So if the politicians are honest about giving
the people jobs, then they have to develop tourism. They
have no other choice. >
ff
THE FORD FOUNDATION
320 East 43rd Street
New York, NY 10017
Program Officer, Human Rights and Social Justice, New Delhi: Working with lhe Representative and other Foundation staff in New Delhi, the Program Officer will develop and manage program activities in the field of human rights and
social justice in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The program officer will implement and strengthen a grantmaking strategy
to build the capacity of organizations working to secure democratic and human rights values in the region. Program
priorities include supporting marginalized communities: promoting gender equity: strengthening legal and human
rights institutions; and facilitating reform within law enforcement institutions. The Program Officer will also be responsible for building the capacity of human rights and social justice groups to be more effective regional and global actors.
Specifically, the Program Officer will solicit, review and respond to grant proposals, and will prepare recommendations
for Foundation funding. S/he will explore and deepen collaborative programming with other Program staff in New Delhi
and worldwide on issues related lo human rights.
Qualifications: The position requires significant experience in human rights, public interest law and social justice with
a broad understanding of these in the South Asian context; a postgraduate degree in law, the social sciences, or other
related field; excellent analytical, organizational and management skills; strong oral and written communication and
excellent facilitation skills. Previous grantmaking experience and fluency in one or more Indian languages are preferred.
To apply: please send resume, cover letter, and brief writing sample to Ms. S. Gordon at the above address, no later than
19 May, 2000.
Equal employment opportunity and having a diverse staff are fundamental principles al The Ford Foundation.
 Will Travel
In domestic tourism,
the Bengali was there
first, before the
Gujarati, the Punjabi,
or the Maharashtran.
by Rajshree Dasgupta
ou can't miss the lively family of grandmother,
second cousin and toddler screaming and
jumping over the rolling waves at the sea beach.
You can spot the group of naturalists in the
hills armed with monkey caps, flasks and
white keds on the prowl for that rare butterfly.
If not that, they will be found, monkey cap still
firmly in place, playing gulley cricket in the
hotel foyer back at the hill station. You can hear
a distinctively cadenced chorus singing songs
of nostalgia in the high bugyal meadows, or
haggling over the price of a clay Shiva in some
temple town by the sea.
The ubiquitous community of sightseers
and holidaymakers can only be Bengali, for as
passionate as they are about their homeland,
the Bengalis are also keen connoisseurs of the
wide world. They are the most mobile of South
Asian communities, and the first to take to tourism, a behaviour pattern imbibed from the
shahibs of the Raj with whom they were in closest proximity. Bongs, as they are endearingly
addressed by other Indians, are cultured. And
the yen to travel is an aspect of being cultured.
Welcome to the "land of Tagore, Ray and
Teresa", proclaims the hoarding to visitors arriving at the airport at Dum Dum in Calcutta.
Indeed, the Bong is equally conversant with
Rabindranath's last poem, Satyajit Ray's soul-
searching films and Mother's saintliness. But
what is interesting is that the Bengali is also as
knowledgeable about every nook and comer of
the country that is India. At least two breaks a
year, one short and the other long, are as essential components of life for the Bengali as fish is
to rice in their diet. An extended weekend or
the end of the school term, if he has nothing
else, the Bengali will slip out of home with the
proverbial lota and blanket. There is a world
out there to discover.
There are all kinds of Bengali tourists, but
essentially three categories, defined by class:
the MNC executive and noveau riche, the genteel bhadralog traveller, and the packaged ones.
The 'true tourists' of West Bengal are of this
last package-tour kind. Gregarious, genial and
generous, they take along their extended fam
ily of third-cousins-in-law and even their
friends twice removed. They are the government
and bank employees, and teachers —who
would not be caught dead spending those two
vacation breaks a year riding the Calcutta tramway. This category loves to sight-see, and is
wont to break into a delirious Tagore song at
the sight of 'natural beauty', or insist on buying a gift for the 'neighbour' who lives two full
blocks down the road. Lyrics are devised for
every mood and occasion.
If it is an extended weekend, such as during
Easter, you could bet your last paisa that
Calcuttans have transported themselves to the
calm, shallow sea at Digha, one of the most
popular spots in West Bengal. A little further
out, Puri in Orissa is another favourite because
it doubles up as a beach-cum-pilgrimage destination. Lord Jagannath, in his chariot, does not
seem to mind this mix of piety and pleasure. Or
the Bengali will have decided to beat the heat
and made it up to Darjeeling, Queen of the Hills,
to bask in the glory of Kanchenjunga.
The overnight train rides towards any of
these favourite destinations do not require
elaborate planning. All you need is a pack of
playing cards to keep awake through the night
in the unreserved train compartment, and piles
of pun's and aludum from the home kitchen. In
fact, she who discovered that the easiest way to
a man's heart is through his stomach must have
interacted with a Bengali while coding that insight. The Bong's obsession with what he consumes is only surpassed by his devotion to discussing food. He lives from one meal to the next,
in between relishing every morsel of culinary
information—from the size of the cauliflower
this season to the price of fish that morning. So
vast is the Bengali gourmet's storehouse of
knowledge that he can state with authority
upon chewing one mouthful the exact river and
part ofthe river where this Hilsa had its origins.
The passion for food is translated into a fetish, so much so that the most revered position
in the package tour is that of cook. He is pampered, cajoled and his every whim taken care
of. After all, he who provides the Bengali with
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 mustard fish in remote Rohtang Pass (Himachal Pradesh) or banana flower with grated coconut while on a train in the midnight leg between Lucknow and Delhi, must be well taken
care of.
To divert briefly to the upper-most class
Bengali travellers, they are the new rich mostly,
some of them even dotcom-wallahs. This category sneers at the thought of a package tour. It
demands 'readymade' service, with arrangements for pickup at the airport, transfer to three-
star hotels with functioning geyser and cistern,
'good view', exotic cuisines, et al. The local
guide should know the history of the dilapidated monuments so that Choto Baba's school
project will have value-added. He must also be
able to take the memsahib shopping for earrings. The aim of this new-breed Bengali traveller is to de-stress, swim in private beaches,
and dine in exclusive forts, destinations where
plebeians have no hope of treading.
It is actually difficult to call this type of traveller 'Bengali', given that he represents a generic upwardly-mobile Indian from any corner of the country. The craze of the uppah this
year is for the sun-kissed beaches of the
Maldives, right across the expanse of the Subcontinent and faraway in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Which brings us to the genteel bhadralog,
old money who would prefer to do nothing else
but to retreat to a forest bungalow with a
jhumpa Lahiri short story collection in hand.
LTA
Beyond the yen and the inquisitiveness, the
reason that the Bengali middle class travels so
is to be found in in all of three letters, LTA— the
Leave Travel Allowance provided generously
by the government. Travel agents are known to
anguish over the mere thought of that horrendous day when Bengalis may enmasse decide
not to avail of the LTA. However, it is unlikely
that such a day will arrive, ever.
The LTA supports package tours of two to
three weeks, and the Bengalis look for cheap
accommodation without frills. The argument
is, why pay for a sumptuous room if all you are
going to do is to crash after a full day of
sightseeing? But what the babu will insist on
are clean bathrooms and bed sheets. Lodge-
owners from Kalimpong to Mussoorie report
being terrorised by Bengalis who shout in one
refrain, "Why are you so stingy with the Phenol in the toilet?!"
The package tourist is content, therefore, if
his simple demands for a view, food and solace for the soul are taken care of. For the redemption of the souls of the elderly mashimas
and pishimas, the tour must touch the sacred
ghats of Varanasi or Prayag. This is why the
billboards outside both the Varanasi
and Allahabad railway stations advertise
"Bangaali" dharamshallas, which serve
vegetarian.
There is the one additional factor of security, for most Bengalis suffer from eternal anxiety pangs that the coolie will run away with
their luggage or that the train will stop unannounced in a dark forest. There is much muttering in the eerily silent railway bogeys when
this happens. Being an educated and cultured
race, Bengalis have creative imaginations,
which come into their own on such occasions.
With Kashmir in trouble for more than a
decade, Himachal Pradesh has emerged as the
all-time favourite of the tourist Bong. "Kullu-
Manali-Kangra-Vallev!" he will blurt out if you
ask him his favourite LTA destination. On the
banks of the Beas, Kullu is the base for visits to
various holy sites like the famous cave temple
of Vaishno Devi and Bijli Mahadev. Manali
during the summers is paradise and is close to
the snows of Rohtang Pass. Famous for its hot
springs and sulphur baths, the Bengalis love
the green walks outside the crowded town.
Kangra Valley is a recent discovery and
Bengalis swear by its ability to refurbish the
jaded sensibilities of the Calcutta commuter.
But life on the fast track seems to be catching up even with the committed Bengali package tourist. If the unadulterated love for travel
and adventure had not become compromised,
how is it then that you will these days find a
Bong snoring through the most exciting bus
ride along the most beautiful forest? Even five
to seven years ago, the cameras would
| have been clicking, and yells of outright
| delight renting the air. Yet, if you should
encounter a couple camping at 12,000
feet above sea level near the Tibet border
•.-.ft for two weeks at a continuous stretch,
you can bet a free metro ride in Calcutta
that they are Bengalis. 4
Those were the days: frolicking in Dal Lake's thin ice.
37
 !ill!JI?l:|;
TWO GOOD pictures by
Reuters referring back to
Prez Clinton's trip to India in late March. One, a
picture of Bill by the Taj,
speaking on clean energy and environment. The tiger,
meanwhile, is a male caught in the process of eyeing
Bill from the bush in Bokola Ghat at the Ranthambhore
National Park in Rajasthan. Wonder what was in his
mind.
■
NEPAL'S NATIONAL news agency RSS (Rastriya
Samachar Samiti, and not what you think) is obviously
one for making wild claims. On 27 April, it reported
that a resident of Bhimmapur village in Kailali district
along with her son, who were bitten by a rabid dog, ate
its liver in the belief that this was the cure. Then RSS
goes on to state, with much conviction, "This is the
first instance of someone eating a rabid
dog's liver to stave off rabies." Such certitude! To think
that since time embarked on its journey, no one anywhere, ever, has taken recourse to dog liver to counter
rabies! That must have taken some research.
■
27 APRIL, again, and again an RSS despatch from
Mohattari (another Tarai district of Nepal). "A pi pal
tree at Manara VDC which was
knocked down by a gale in the
month of Baisakh last year, has all
of a sudden returned to its previous erect position. Religious devotees are thronging the tree to
worship and pay their respects in
the belief that it is the god Lord
Bishu [?] who has manifested
himself in this kaliyug
or fourth age of the
world. The tree is 30
metres in width and about 400 years old,
a local elder said." Well, at least there
is attribution. As a South
Asian rationalist, however, Chhetria Patrakar
would say that someone in Manara with a
wicked mind has been active with a tractor and some ropes overnight.
■
A CORRESPONDENT to The Bangladesh Observer
makes a good point, asking why the paper tends to
favour the female sex during
photo-coverage of book fairs,
arts shows, gallery openings,
and so on. "Quite paradoxically and for reasons unknown to us, we usually find
that on such occasions your
press photographer is interested to take snaps only of girl
and female visitors and not of
any male visitor. On these occasions, your press photographers appear to be influenced
by gender instincts and impulses." I would tell Mr. N.H.
Sufi of Dhaka that, in all such matters, the culprits are to
be found not so much in the photographer's finger as in
the editorial desk influenced by the marketing office.
■
IN AN editorial of (15-21 April), Kuensel''s editor makes
the plea for open and frank discussion and public debate as Bhutanese society evolves and modernises. It
seems written as a response to those in authority wbo
react all too quickly to criticism. Traditionally, says the
editorial, citizens have felt no hesitation in expressing
their problems, doubts and views, and even farmers have
had the opportunity to submit their views personally to
the Bhutanese monarch. In what is a subtle but laudable
appeal for more openness, the text goes on: "The
government's emphasis on transparency today calls for
more systems and fora for open discussion. How else
would the government monitor its other priorities —efficiency and accountability? How else do we ensure appropriate standards in, say, the awarding of millions of
Ngultrums in job contracts and purchases? One of the
responsibilities of the media,
anywhere, is to (enhance
public awareness). But
such discussions are possible,
in the media or other fora, only
if we perceive them in the
broader perspective and not in
a personalised context."
■
THE DECCAN Herald of 14
March carries this moving picture of a woman grieving at the
grave of a victim of caste violence at Kambalapalli village in Kolar district
I LIKE it that the 14th Dalai Lama is increasingly active in
South Asian issues of society. (This is perhaps only natural, because culturally Tibet is much more a part of South
Asia rather than of mainland China.) What I like even
more is that the Dalai Lama is getting involved in the
propagation of liberal values in India at a time when the
ruling establishment in New Delhi in particular is going swiftly rightward. It is also right and proper that the
Dharamsala handlers have started paying heed to the
38
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 neighbourhood rather than focusing only on garnering support in Western capitals for the 'Tibetan cause'.
One example of this liberal and regional involvement
of the Dalai Lama is the recent promotion of a daring
series of documentary films that analysed what
India had gained in 50 years of independence. In the
middle of April, the Dalai Lama launched a website of
the firebrand Indian policewoman Kiran Bedi
(wwvv.kiranbedi.com). Apart from profiling Ms Bedi
and her 30-year career, the website is interactive and
she can be sent mail regarding "a grievance or a legal
doubt". Launching the site, Tenzin Gyatso said that
this was an innovative way of using technology for the
benefit of the people. Knowing perhaps Ms Bedi's disposition for a wee-bit of self-promotion, the wise lama
did caution her against getting carried away with success. "In the service of people, one needs to always be
humble. This will retain enthusiasm and inspire you to
work harder." Touche'.
■
HARD TO believe, but there it is. Something posted in
the South Asian journalists Association (5AJA) website:
a new worldwide survey suggests that Indians follow
the Americans as the 'happiest people on earth'. The Russians and Chinese came out as the world's glummest
people, found the market research agency Roper Starch
Worldwide, which surveyed 22 countries in five continents. While 46 percent Americans said they w?ere satisfied with their lives, Indians came second at 37 percent,
with the Chinese and Russians trailing at 9 and 3 percent. The respondents were quizzed about "relationship
with family, self-confidence, the country's overall
economy, and the role of religion in their lives". Two
things I want to say: a) if that's where India is (which
'India' I am forced to wonder, and what methodology
did Roper Starch use to cover the whole place?), then
Pakistan, Bangladesh and the rest of us cannot be far
behind. Happy, happy! And, b) where docs the survey
put Bhutan, particularly in relation to the Druk Gyalpo's
Gross National Happiness index?
■
I LIKE Hafizur Rahman, columnist of Karachi's Dawn,
who in his column Of Mice and Men of 22 March writes
on the phenomenon of the "staff car"—which is the
South Asian equivalent of having a 'corner window' in
a multinational headquarters in New York City. It is
obscene, this need for a conveyance to proves one's
worth, and it goes way beyond the legitimate requirement of an officer to get around. It is also a problem that
afflicts government offices in every capital and metropolis of South Asia. Writes Mr. Rahman: "1 have often wondered what would happen if there were no staff cars for
government officers. Would administrative efficiency,
already at low ebb, become lower? No, 1 don't think so.
Then why have staff cars at all... My case against staff
cars is based purely on the absence of ethical justification. Staff cars are allocated to only those civil and military officers who usually have two private cars of their
own, but are never given to those who sometimes can't
even afford to buy and maintain the smallest Suzuki..."
■
1 CANNOT make
head or tail out of this
"Crimson Tide" advertising in Dawn of
23 March. It seems to
be put up by "MMT1
Marketing Pakistan",
showing Pakistan
army regulars at full
trot, and seems to be some sort of a super-nationalist
come-on, albeit nicely packaged. But to what
purpose? 1 better check out the website that is given
www.mmtglobal.com/wp. And you do, too.
■
ON 16 April, readers of The Times of India got a jolt when
they found the front page just an expanse of white space,
other than the masthead and strapline along the top.
This was a gimmick by a dot-com startup. Immediately,
there was reaction against this extra-innovative step to
keep up with the times by The Times. The newspaper
has for some years been accused of pandering to market forces at the expense of editorial content, and the
critics would have been expected to jump on this additional display of marketing savvy by the paper that
Samir Jain runs. Vinod Mehta, of the weekly Outlook,
said with some sanctimony, "1 will never do such a
thing, no matter what." But Dileep Padgaonkar, executive managing editor, retorted, "The diktats of technology driven competitive environment force one to go for
innovative marketing strategies... sooner or later others (will) follow suit." Here, I tend to go with Mr,
Padgaonkar.
- Chhetria Patrakar
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP)-South Asia's oldest
English-language newspaper, The Observer, announced Friday it was suspending publication.
Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited,
the state holding company that owns the 166-
year-old daily, wants to restructure its newspaper production. The 10,000-circulation Observer
was its first victim, and will cease publication
May 1.
"(The Observer) was running on a loss," said
Leslie Dhanaike, a former editor at the newspaper. "It was being published for the sake of
prestige."
Dhanaike, who worked at the paper for
30 years, said the paper had lost advertising in
recent years.
The newspaper was founded as the Ceylon
Observer on Feb. 4, 1834.
2000   May 13/5    HIMAL
39
 Features
IVPesj£iwar!_ ,-.,., S
Rethinking strategies
for
the Pak-India Forum
Beyond a
peace mela
At the fifth Joint Convention of the
Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace
and Democracy, everyone's eye was on a
young Karachi-based journalist, Nasir, his
wife and two minor daughters, honorary
child delegates to this gathering in
Bangalore. When he had first sounded
them out about going to India,
6-year-otd Zoya had innocently piped up,
"Hamara India!"...
by Rita Manchanda
... Formal schooling had yet to make
Zoya self-conscious about such an
unpatriotic slip, and she was easily
forgiven for parroting the refrain
from an advertising jingle heard
constantly on Zee's satellite transmissions. For, the Indian television
channel's footprint takes in all of
Pakistan.
What would Zoya remember of
that week of April in Bangalore?
Perhaps her childhood memories
would include the sentimental cry
of "Ek Mata Do Santan" (one mother,
two children) rendered by some delegates. More iikelv, however, it
would be the more imaginative articulation to be found in Brothers of
Chichibaba, an anti-war children's
storybook released at the Forum
which Zoya took home. Written by
scientist D P Sen Gupta, the tale is
of right-handed Guruk and left-
handed Turuk, two brothers from
the land of Chichibaba. They have
a falling out and become implacable
enemies, raising armies against
each other till both acquire bombs
"so hot that the earth will melt like
butter". The children of what has
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 Features
become two countries, Chinchm and
Chinchun, frightened of meltdown,
push through a hole in the wall
separating them. In the end, Guruk
and Turuk are transformed, and
vow to destroy all weapons and live
in peace.
Of course, real-world India and
real-world Pakistan will not as easily come to terms with each other,
given the remarkable fit on both
sides of state ideology based on hostile relations, the national security
obsession, and popular acceptance
of hate politics. Nevertheless, this
fit will inexorably loosen up as long
as the people-to-people dialogue
continues to engage in ever-more
complex arenas and goes beyond
the hail-fellow-well-met phase.
When that happens, and it is no
longer a question of 'if, the people
who talk of peace between India and
Pakistan and in the South Asian
region as a whole will be as successful as the daring children of Chin-
chin and Chinchun.
Subversive sentimentalism
A look around the conference chamber at the United Theosophical College in Bangalore was proof enough
that the constituency for peace has
widened considerably. Not here the
establishmentarian individuals one
finds in the so-called 'track-two'
South Asian political and security
conclaves. Instead, the discussions
were enlivened and made down-
to-earth by activists (sometimes
derided by those in the mainstream media as 'romantics') from
women's groups, environmental
organisations, social and human
rights coalitions, and labour
unions, as well as professionals,
scientists, academics, journalists,
retired bureaucrats and military officers. The objective of the convention was to foster new broad-based
coalitions capable of democratically
reordering national and regional
priorities.
Of course, in Bangalore there
was no doing away with the
groundswell of sentimentalism
among delegates for "what might
have been" between the two coun
tries. This emotionalism is a natural
outcome of contact between real
people. The fact that it reinforces the
superficial impression of the participants as unrealistic peace missionaries, committing themselves to
wishful declarations, is a natural
hazard. Besides, the facile dismissal
of the delegates as "bleeding hearts"
obscures the sinewy strength of the
Forum as a potent idea, symbolising
that there is nothing essentialist in
India-Pakistan hostility as the state
sponsored orthodoxy would have us
believe. A 'hundred years war' is not
inevitable. Former ministers, cabinet
secretaries, admirals, major generals
and thousands of concerned citizens
from India and Pakistan, have discovered that even on the burning
topic of Kashmir there are more areas to agree on than to disagree.
The Forum's strategy is simple
though no less subversive for being
that. By bringing together thousands of citizens of India and Pakistan, it undermines the very logic of
the shaitaan-hmg of the other side.
"The more people talk to each other,
the moTe they are exposed to each
other's writings, and the process of
demonising will come apart," the
Forum's co-founder Nirmal Mukarji
said at the historic first Joint Convention in Delhi in 1995. Six years and
five conventions later, this unique
breed of vocal and willing-to-stand-
up-and-be-counted citizens have
not only demonstrated the survivability of the idea of a regional thaw,
but testified to the emergence and
resilience of a cross-border peace
constituency. A constituency, which
setbacks like the Kargil war have
been unable to crush, and chauvinistic governments and their media
pools have been unable to deny.
Four-plus-one
The continuous war hysteria of the
last year had made it urgent that the
convention be held at all costs. The
symbolic value of the meeting was
lost on no one, given all that had happened over a year —Kargil, the military takeover in Pakistan, and loose
talk of a 'winnable' limited war between the two nuclear powers.
This time, too, India's Ministry of
External Affairs issued non-reporting (doing away with the requirement of Pakistanis to show up at
police stations) and multiple-city
visas to the 200 delegates from the
other side of Wagah-Atari. While the
Pakistani delegates had to cool their
heels and wait for the twice-weekly
Samjhauta Express (because they
were not allowed to walk across the
Wagah-Atari border point), in Bangalore the local organisers had their
hands full. Several potential patrons had pulled back financial
support, and there was the irritant
of a court case filed against the
convenor of the Kamataka chapter
of the Forum, accusing him of fostering anti-national feeling. The
case was dismissed.
The result of the bilateral tensions was unprecedented security,
although it was unclear who was
protecting whom —delegates suspected of being ISI agents or local
anti-social fascist elements. For the
first time since New Delhi, the Forum venue was sw^arming with police and intelligence agents. Delegates, who in Calcutta had had a
free run in the city, now found themselves boxed in the conference
venue. It virtually defeated one of
the objectives of the people-to-
people dialogue —letting people
discover for themselves false myths
and prejudices.
Undeterred, the Forum in Bangalore proceeded with the task of increasing the basis of bilateral understanding on the intertwined four-
plus-one themes which must be
tackled in order to resolve the India-
Pakistan standoff —strengthening
democracy within Kashmir, demilitarisation/denuclearisation, religious tolerance, governance, and
globalisation/regional cooperation.
Bangalore checklist
As in earlier conventions, dozens
of urgent proposals were discussed
in Bangalore —about collaborative
rewriting of history, student
exchanges, summer residency
programmes for scholars, development of a peace education curricu-
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
41
 lum, and so on. On the newly added
fifth theme of globalisation and regional cooperation, joint strategies
on multilateral negotiations such as
the WTO and plant breeder rights
were discussed. Against a backdrop
of a 28 percent increase in India's defence expenditure and the bilateral
nuclear arms race, appeals were
made to slash expenditures and roll
back nuclearisation.
Granted the Bangalore declaration was an omnibus wish-list, but
it was a declaration affirmed by a
citizen's assembly. It serves as a
checklist of all that can be done to
improve the state of the Subcontinent if only one puts people's security at the centre. As the declaration
stated, true security lies in good governance, which can undermine the
reigning national security orthodoxy on both sides.
The Chattisingpura massacre
had most grimly spotlighted the fact
that violence only begets violence.
A daring joint declaration was formulated on Kashmir, urging cessation of violence by all, and a move
towards a process by which the
people of Kashmir would be able to
choose their own representatives for
a dialogue. The discussion was a
passionate one. Would the Forum
accept it if, eventually, the Kashmiris democratically chose to secede? Co-chair of the Forum and
former chief of the Indian Navy,
Admiral Ramdas, did not flinch in
his reply: "When Tilak fought for
swaraj, he did not fight only for us.
Why should we alone have the
right?" The understanding of the
Indian delegates was that democratic space in India cannot be safeguarded if democratic rights in J&K
are suppressed.
Had the Kargil conflict shrunk
the peace constituency? As LA.
Rehman, the standard-bearer for
human rights in Pakistan, put it,
"Have the problems of impoverishment, unemployment, intolerance
and militarisation shrunk?" His
point was that as long as these problems remain, those who were honest enough to strive for peace would
remain energised. For, it is the personal experience of the cost of confrontation that inculcates in people
the desire for peace.
The large presence of younger
Pakistani and Indian delegates at
Bangalore underscored the determination of this second post-Independence generation to reclaim the possibility of a future in which the two
nuclear powers of the Subcontinent
may actually be able to live in peace.
After all, the very fact that this generation is willing to countenance a
different 'truth' than that fed by the
hate politics of the India-Pakistan
divide, is reason enough to pursue
peace further. The Karachi Joint
Convention is planned for later
this year.
Introspection time
The Forum's Joint Conventions are
designed to act as catalysts, fostering offshoot coalitions. It was in the
Lahore Joint Convention that representatives of Fishworkers Unions on
both sides of the border met and
worked out an informal system to
assist and rescue fishermen caught
in the wrong waters. A chance connection established in the Peshawar
Convention led to the release of
three Indian minor children locked
up in a Pakistani jail. At the Calcutta
Book Fair, the West Bengal chapter
of the Forum put up a stall and
hosted spin-off programmes with
visiting Pakistani historians, feminists and cultural activists. An Indian
delegate who seemed intent on pure
tourism during the Peshawar meet
of 1998, was again present at Bangalore in April 2000, but this time enthusiastically conferring with delegates from West Punjab about a
joint meeting of the two Punjabs in
East Punjab.
Regardless of these outcomes,
the organisers have been conscious
since the very beginning of the danger that the Joint Conventions, held
with such tamasha alternatively in
each country, may end up as ends
in themselves. It is true that even
though the rhetoric waxes eloquent,
substantive achievements in the
sectoral arenas have been disappointing.
Putting together the massive
logistical requirements for the conventions requires hard work in
organisation and local fund-raising. These overwhelming demands
tend to leave the Forum with little
by wray of resources and energy for
the continuous year-round activities, which are required to make
the process genuinely 'people-to-
people'. For many of the founder
members of the Forum, the Bangalore Convention was a time for hard
introspection. Was the Forum to remain just a jamboree, howsoever
important and symbolic? Were we
evolving as little more than travel
and tour operators?
The answer, of course, is no. The
Joint Conventions of the Forum are
the minimum that is required to
bring together the people of India
and Pakistan. While they are certainly not enough, the meets will
continue to provide a nucleus for
additional activities in future. The
meets are central to the vision of fostering a honeycomb of cross-border
coalitions capable of democratically
transforming the India-Pakistan relationship.
This essential goal of the Forum
makes it different from the 'track
two' efforts, which tend to be limited to select inter-elite communications. The Forum envisions a broad-
based movement evolving in both
India and Pakistan, involving the
people at large, one which will ultimately be strong enough to force
politicians and policy-makers to
heed the voice of reason and peace.
As I.A. Rehman said in Bangalore, "We have to make the governments admit to the possibility of an
alternative to the politics of hate and
confrontation, the possibility of
other possibilities." Were the governments listening? Before long,
and once the people start making
demands, they will... A
42
HIMAL   13/5  May 2000
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 Features
The state, it is said,
faces a pretty future.
Mizoram's
turnaround can
show the rest of
India's Northeast
what a cease-fire
can do. But with
peace here,
progress must not
take too long.
Peace Dividend
in Mizoram _
Ironies abound as we get off the
Boeing at the airport that services
Aizawl, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram.
Accompanying us in the hold is the
body of a Mizo soldier who had
died in a bomb blast in faraway
Srinagar. Stands have been erected
for the crowds that had gathered to
receive the body. The bagpipes
strike up, a ceremonial guard presents arms, medals flash in the sun,
and a mountain of wreaths soon pile
up on the coffin. The first wreath is
laid by the state's home minister,
Tawnluia, the former commander-in-
chief of the Mizo National Front
(MNP) and veteran of the 20-year insurgency against 'India'. The MNP
were in power only for a year after
the 1986 accord that ended the insurgency, but were voted back in the
November 1998 elections.
There is little flat land in Mizoram, and the airport is located a tor
tuous hour-and-half drive from
Aizawl. The town suddenly comes
into view on a ridge as a surprisingly extensive urban sprawl, housing almost a third of the state's
population of around 800,000. Mizo
settlements have always been located on hilltops, and many of them
grew with the clustering of villages
during the insurgency. The funeral
procession wended its way through
narrow streets to the soldier's home,
with the crowds lined four deep. On
benches in the drawing room overlooking the deep valley below, Chief
Minister Zoramthanga, Laldenga's
number two in the insurgency, sat
shoulder-to-shoulder with the local
army brass for a two-hour condolence meeting. The grieving mother,
who had remained stoic and calm
since the airport, finally broke
down. Speeches were made, psalms
sung, gongs struck, and one of the
relatives who had accompanied the
by Prabhu Ghate
body thanked the army for looking
after its own, saying it was an
honour to die for one's country.
I asked Bualhranga, an influential former insurgent who now runs
the Peace Bookstore on the noisy
main street of Aizawl, with the ubiquitous Marutis careening up and
down outside, whether he thought
the long years in the jungle had been
worth it. "Definitely," he replied,
adding, "The Mizo community is
today a fact. People should come
here just to smell the fresh air of
peace." He was referring to the
neighbouring states of Tripura,
Manipur, Nagaland and Assam,
which continue to be riven with insurgencies and ethnic strife.
The chief minister argues in a
similar vein: "We decided on peace
because the people said it was the
honourable thing to do. You don't
kill the patient to cure the disease.
And I tell Advaniji (L.K. Advani, the
44
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 federal home minister), 'Every rupee
you give me gets spent on development. Whereas, of every rupee you
give Nagaland and Manipur, 50 percent goes to the underground, including half of the police director-
general's salary'." Zoramthanga is
big on the 'peace bonus'. He says
he is often asked to intercede with
the Nagas and others on behalf of
peace, but that so far he has not complied. He is firm on what he believes:
"They must be shown, not told, what
peace can buy."
De-tribalisation
The Mizo insurgency had its roots
in the economic hardship and political isolation inflicted by Partition,
which cut off the Lushai Hills (then
a district in Assam) from the trade
route to the sea at Chittagong. The
introduction of Assamese as the official language in 1960, and the perceived failure of the Assam state
government to anticipate the famine caused by the periodic efflorescence of bamboo in 1959, resulting
in an explosion of the rodent population which then destroyed the
crop, were more proximate causes.
The Mizo National Famine Front
was set up in 1960 and gained huge
popularity. It launched a daily paper edited by Laldenga, a former
havildar-clerk in the army, and in
1962 emerged as a full-fledged political party, the MNF, dropping 'famine' from its name. The precipitating factor for the insurgency was the
disbanding of a battalion of the
Assam Regiment in 1964 following
a charge of indiscipline. This was
an additional blow to Mizo sensibility, but it also provided disaffected recruits for the Front. The MNF
took over Aizawl by surprise on the
night of 28 February 1966, declaring Mizoram independent.
Why did the accord that ended
the migrants' insurgency succeed
when so many other accords have
fallen by the wayside and allowed
the fighting to continue? Part of the
explanation lay in the Mizos' sheer
weariness with war. Partly, it was the
creation of Bangladesh, which denied the MNF sanctuaries across
the border. Beyond that, recalls
Boulhranha, "There was just no
way we could stand up to the Indian army all alone. The Chinese
promised us modern arms, but we
had no direct land access. Pakistan
was not interested in our achieving
independence, so they would not
allow us free and open use of
Chittagong port and allow arms to
be shipped through East Pakistan.
All they wanted was to use us to tie
down the Indian army." Even after
the creation of Bangladesh, about
700 insurgents held out for 14 more
long years in the jungle, on
the trijunction with Burma and
Bangladesh, continuing their sporadic attacks on the Indian army.
Finally, the accord was signed.
Reverend Thanzauva, one of the
many Mizos who gave up careers
in other parts of India to return to
serve his people at home, thinks he
has an understanding of the deeper
societal reasons behind the return
of peace. He had been researching
how Christianity provided Mizos
with the ideological basis for coping with change while at the same
time co-opting and preserving much
of Mizo culture. The Nagas tend to
be guided more by emotion, whereas
Mizos are quick to communicate
and learn, are more 'rational' and
oriented to consensus, he says. The
reverend adds, "We are regarded as
a bit dull, unlike the Nagas who are
more cheerful —it must be the American influence! If you were to produce a play, the Naga would make
the liveliest actor, the Khasi from
Meghalaya the best orator, and the
Mizo the best organiser —he would
have to be made the producer."
As Reverend Thanzauva would
agree, the deeper sociological explanation for the advent of peace perhaps lies in the homogeneity of
Mizo society. Unlike in Nagaland,
the advent of Christianity and education at the turn of the century led
to the voluntary merging of many
sub-tribes and cognate groups with
the dominant Lushais. The development of a common language and
of the first dictionary, as well as introduction of the Roman script by
the missionaries, were crucial to the
process of 'de-tribalisation', and the
emergence of an evolved Mizo identity. While this identity led to nationalism and the insurgency, it also
enabled the Mizos to speak with one
voice when the time came to
seek peace.
While splits did take place
among the insurgents, and some intellectuals emerged above-ground
before others, eventually a single
leadership did prevail under
Laldenga, who felt his backing robust enough to strike for peace. The
other states of the Northeast have not
been so fortunate. The Nagas, for instance, have about 12 tribes with different languages, and the insurgents
seem eternally divided between the
Isaac-Muivah and the Kaplang factions (both sets of leaders originating, incidentally, from outside
Nagaland state —Manipur and
Burma, respectively). VVhat one
Naga tribe agrees to, the other is almost compelled to oppose. As
Zoramthanga says, "There is no one
there to say 'Hey guys, enough is
enough'."
Tiawmngaihna
The much-vaunted Mizo organisational skills were in display at the
annual conference of the Young
Mizo Association (YMA), held over
the winter in Champhai, near the
Burmese border. Thousands of YMA
members from all over the state, and
many Mizo role-models from outside, were housed and fed by the
local inhabitants for three days. For
those who could not trudge through
the slush (caused by unseasonal
heavy rain) to reach the huge tent
where the convention was centred,
the proceedings were fully televised
on CNN (the Champhai Network
News).
The speeches ranged from the
need to improve the quality of education to how to move with the computer age, now that Mizoram had
overtaken Kerala as the most literate state in India. Sermons on the importance of preserving Mizo cultural
integrity were interspersed with
songs by groups of smart men and
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
45
 Features
women in colourful western outfits
tailored for the occasion. An attractive young woman came to the podium to humorously disparage
people who dip their biscuits in tea,
or talk too long over other people's
phones. (In the same vein of self-improvement, the editorial in the local
Highlander was devoted to the virtues
of punctuality.)
In order that the conference
could begin on time, hundreds of villagers had worked through the night
before, helping clear a landslide that
had blocked the road from Aizawl.
This was all in the true spirit of
Tlawmngaihna, the ancient tribal code of ethics that the YMA is seeking to keep alive. The
code calls for self-sacrifice, endurance and serving the community without calling attention to
oneself. I noticed the
director of the state's
Transport Department
standing at the entrance
in the slush, himself distributing a charter of
rights for bus passengers. Out of respect for
the non-political nature
of the organisation and
so as not to steal the
limelight, the chief minister made it
a point to sit patiently through the
first morning's proceedings. When
his turn finally came to speak, he was
introduced in Mizo literally as a "Big
Invitee". He began by saying that he
was neither big (he is rather short)
nor an invitee, but a local of
Champhai, which is his home and
constituency.
Zoramthanga is, after all, a politician and he had his reasons for attending the convention. He knows
that that the YMA is more influential
than even the church—virtually every Mizo belongs to it, whereas
the church has been weakened by
sheep-stealing and other inter-denominational conflicts. The YMA is
said to be largely responsible for the
fact that Mizoram has the cleanest
elections in all India. Among other
things, the Association has got all the
If you were to
produce a play,
the Naga would
make the
liveliest actor,
the Khasi from
Meghalaya the
best orator,
and the Mizo
the best
organiser.
parties to agree to ban feasts and refreshments during election time,
and has come out with guidelines
for voters on what qualities to look
for in candidates.
The YMA is primarily a service
and security organisation, regarding
the entire societal arena as its stomping ground. It helps out with funerals and weddings, especially of the
poor, rebuilds homes damaged by
fire, sends out search parties for
those missing in the jungle, and
increasingly, with the spread of
drug abuse, provides counselling
services. In emphasising communitarian values, the Association may seem to
be fighting the odds in
a moderni-sing world,
but it seems to be making headway. If anything, YMA activism
can sometimes get out
of hand, as when
members invade the
privacy of a home to
search for drugs, or
evict a stubborn tenant, or reform a "bad
hat". Or when a family would prefer to
mourn the loss of a
loved one in privacy.
The indigenous Jew
While Mizoram has a vibrant civil
society, the society's weak underbelly is exposed when one considers that, economically, the state remains totally dependent on federal
subsidies. Less than 10 percent of
expenditures of the state are raised
locally. Like in all the northeastern
states, Mizoram's people do not pay
central income tax, and the state
sales tax has only just been introduced, amidst much grumbling.
The easy money that came in during and after the insurgency created
a get-rich-quick class of contractors
and rentiers.
But along with the 'peace-
bonus' to kick-start development,
the MNF is making a populist virtue
of self-sufficiency ("we can't be
proud when we are hungry").
Zoramthanga has grand schemes
to utilise the bamboo wealth of
Mizoram, including the import of
Taiwanese technology to heat and
compress bamboo to increase its
strength as building material, for
export to other states. However, everyone is short on details of the
project. Horticulture is also being
encouraged, although teak cultivation is not being pushed as much as
one would imagine. Apart from the
long gestation period for this traditional forest product of the Northeast, the unspoken fear seems to be
that if teak is promoted, it comes part
and parcel with importation of
labour to maintain the forests and
harvest the wood.
This understandable concern for
'cultural purity' could, on the other
hand, be keeping out a whole host
of labour-intensive technologies.
For, labour suppy is indeed short —
Mizoram is still very sparsely populated and farmland is to be had for
the asking from village councils.
About 20,000 Chin, who are ethnically indistinguishable from the
Mizo, are reported to be working as
farm hands, maids and workers at
the handloom 'factories' of Aizawl
producing indigenous wear.
Roadside contract labourers
are mostly tribals from Bihar and
Orissa, and skilled construction
workers Bengalis from Assam.
The state government implements, and wants to retain, the Inner Line Permit (ILP) restrictions
which have long been a defining
feature of travel in the Northeast.
Aizawl believes that the ILP helps
maintain control over the presence
of outside traders and import of
labour. However, the ILP is no
longer an obstacle for 'genuine' domestic tourists, defined informally
as someone who can afford to come
in on the thrice-weekly flights from
Calcutta. The northeastern states
are understandably ambivalent
about mass tourism, although there
is talk of encouraging 'adventure'
tourism (i.e. trekking). Overseas tourists wanting to visit Mizoram still
need the separate Restricted Area
Permit (RAP) issued by the federal
Home Ministry, although the state
46
HIMAL   13/5 May 2000
 Features
can now issue one for 10 days, for
Aizawl only, to organised groups of
at least four.
One meets the occasional individual tourist such as the American-
Israeli writer doing a story on the
large number of Mizos (at least
10,000) who claim that they are one
of the 12 lost tribes of Israel that
headed east in AD 70. The claim is
based on a traditional Mizo chant
that refers to "We, the children of
Menasseh" (also the name of one of
the tribes) and a number of funerary,
marriage, and other practices referred to in the Old Testament which
resemble Mizo practices. I asked the
writer what he made of the phenomenon, and although he said he was
keeping an open mind, he thought
it might be a case of "mass self-delusion". As a savvy young Mizo visiting from New York told me, "We
are all Jews. It's just that we don't
know it." Some Mizos on tourist visas to Israel do manage to get Israeli
citizenship, but only after getting officially converted, mostly by Rabbi
Avichail. He heads Amishav, an
organisation that specialises in tracing the lost tribes.
Bangladesh and Burma
I also ran into a 30-person delegation from the Bangladesh Chamber
of Commerce and Industry, whose
members sounded very enthusiastic about trading directly with
Mizoram along the Karnaphuli river
that flows down to Chittagong
(through the reservoir of the Kaptai
dam in the CHT). Setting up
the trade route would require little
investment, in the form of some
motorised barges, and would save
about 300 km of road travel by way
of Assam. Bangladesh obviously
sees a market for itself in the Northeast, and in Mizoram they recognise
a stable state to form the commercial beachhead. From Mizoram, they
would import bamboo, ginger and
other spices. The Mizos, for their
part, point out that the price of ginger rises from INR 3 in Mizoram to
INR 18 by the time it reaches Silchar
in Assam for export to Bangladesh.
They blame the middlemen, and feel
their state economy could do much
better if they could export directly.
Trade with Burma is 'informal'
but very significant — an estimated
INR 5 billion a year. This trade is
also very much visible, as you
constantly pass heavily-laden
trucks groaning up the hill from
the border river that runs fast and
clear in a beautiful valley near
Champhai. The trucks carry consumer durables, many of them from
China and Thailand, as well as
used diesel engines, and rice. Most
Mizo homes have TV sets and other
gadgets that have come through
Burma.
Going the other way across the
frontier from India are pharmaceuticals, baby food, cattle penises
(headed straight for the Chinese
market). The only official crossing
for overland trade between Burma
and India is between Tamo and
Moreh, over in Manipur. There
has been talk for years of adding
Champhai, by building a bridge
over the river, but the Burmese are
reported to be undecided on the
alignment of the road to Mandalay.
Just as likely, they are fearful of
democratic influences spreading to
the Chin state, as well as making it
easier for the separatist Chin
National Army to find refuge in
Mizoram. (The unstated policy, despite talk of increasing Indo-Bur-
mese cooperation to control insurgency, is to allow the Chins to cross
over "as long as they bury their
weapons and behave themselves").
While trade with Burma no
doubt creates jobs for some porters
and truckers, most of the traded
goods from either side are of distant
origin, with few linkages or advantages to the local economy. Trade
with Bangladesh would be of much
greater benefit to Mizoram, for the
latter would not then feel 'used'
merely as an entrepot. Goods would
be traded exclusively between the
state and Bangladesh.
Spaced out
Like the other northeastern states,
Mizoram has a drug problem
amongst its youth, but it would be
wrong to link this with the Burma
trade as in the case with Manipur,
While some heroin does come in
from across the border, and has led
to the spread of AIDS through the use
of infected needles, most of the
20,000-odd Mizo addicts inject concentrated doses of prescription
drugs available legally. There is
some debate as to whether lifting
prohibition on narcotic drugs would
provide a safer alternative, and the
YMA itself no longer espouses prohibition, but part of the explanation
for the young Mizos" turn to drugs
may lie simply in the almost claustrophobic lack of space for sports
and recreational activities in Aizawl,
which would provide the young
with an alternative to church and
funeral-going.
Yet another explanation is one
that is provided by Lalfakzuala, the
president of the Women's Association. She says that while the Mizos
are a virtually classless society, gender relations have a lot of catching
up to do. Traditional macho attitudes persist ("a woman is like a
bamboo fence, to be changed every
year"). The Christian Marriage Act
does not apply, for Mizo customary
law is protected by the accord.
Lalfakzuala feels that the drug problem is partly a consequence of the
fact that while a father neglects the
kids, the mother does not enjoy
enough authority to take his place.
Nevertheless, as Rev Thanzauva
points out, the church has succeeded in curbing drug use among
the better off, a success that he is
hopeful will percolate down the
class structure.
As with other social challenges
that have emerged now that peace
is here to stay, Mizoram's civil society is working on the problem of
substance abuse. As always, once
the political problems are solved,
there is the need to deliver income,
employment and quality of life. If
the state of Mizoram is to stay well
ahead of the rest of the country, it is
the economy that now needs working on. If that is tackled successfully,
Mizoram will be well on its way. i
2000   May 13/5   HIMAL
47
 VOICES
loss of branding
FOR A long time now, I have been unhappy about the
"South Asia" fixation a lot of US-based Indians exhibit.
For some reason, these people cannot conceive of anything "Indian" —it has to be "South Asian". I object to
this on several grounds: a. loss of branding, b. catering
to American prejudice, c. intellectual laziness.
First, the loss of a brand. Many companies have gone
to great lengths to ensure that their brands remain viable - and there is tremendous goodwill associated with
good brands. Remember the fuss we made over the
'basmati' brand? Nations, too, have capitalised on this.
The best example is Japan—once, "Made in Japan" was
a guarantee of poor quality; now, it is one of the best
guarantees of high quality.
India has tremendous brand value going back millennia. In fact pretty much all of this region used to be
called the "Indies": this name was sloppily associated
with everything from India to Indonesia. There were
many products that came from India: India-rubber, India-ink, etc. India has both a Subcontinent and an ocean
named after it. Western media has already started calling it the "South Asian" Subcontinent to appease Pakistanis; perhaps it will become the "South Asian" ocean
soon too. Similarly the "Indian elephant" and the "Indian lion" have become the "Asian elephant" and the
"Asian lion". Why?
The ocean is interesting — on my trips to Indonesia,
I have noticed their maps call it the "Indonesian Ocean";
also at one point a Chinese official fumed that just because the ocean is called the Indian Ocean, it doesn't
belong to India. I laughed at this, because China believes that the South China Sea belongs to it —after all,
it is named after China!
If there were a strong SAARC trading zone, it might
make sense to give more credence to the "South Asia"
moniker. After all, the ASEAN grouping has helped the
smaller Southeast Asian nations to gain some visibility
through banding together. But it is pretty clear that there
will never be a strong SAARC zone because of Pakistan's
intransigence. Even if SAARC were to gain prominence,
I doubt if anyone will label their products "Made in
South Asia". ASEAN nations don't do that—it still bears
the brand of the individual country. So, there is not
much point in promoting a "South Asia" brand.
There is, in fact, considerable downside to the
"South Asia" brand. As we have seen, Clinton recently
used the excuse of a "South Asia" trip, rather than an
India trip, to include Pakistan in his itinerary —a major
snub to India. American strategic (flawed) axioms are
the following:
a. "South Asia" is a nuclear flashpoint
b. India and Pakistan are rivals in "South Asia"
c. India is a regional power in "South Asia"; so is
Pakistan.
This completely devalues India's stand-alone weight
as a nation of significance, whose GDP is in the top 10
in the world even in nominal dollars, and in the top
five in the world in purchasing power parity. India is a
colossus, a power in all of Asia; India is China's equal
and counterweight, not Pakistan's. Pakistan is a tiny
country one-seventh the size of India in population
and GDP. It is a comparison between an elephant and
a rabbit.
Granted, the perception of India is not great, but at
least it is seen as a substantial country, albeit beset with
problems. What is the world perception (and to some
extent the reality) of the other South Asian countries we
so eagerly embrace?
a. Pakistan —terrorist state, rogue nation, breeding
ground for mercenaries
b. Bangladesh —basket case, but interesting for its
newly-found natural gas reserves
c. Sri Lanka —lost paradise, beset with terrorism
and separationism
d. Nepal—mystical, good place for 'tuning out'
e. Bhutan —unspoilt Buddhist Shangri-La
f. Maldives —island paradise in danger of being
submerged by global warming
So exactly what does India get by being lumped in
with this crew? Nothing. On the other hand, they all
gain from the reflected glory of India. It would make
sense for them to cosy up to India to gain this recognition. This is exactly what happens in regards to the
Canadians —have you noticed how they always say,
plaintively and diffidently, "North America", not
"America", to include themselves as well? Americans
don't say "North America". Unfortunately, 'progressive' Indians delight in talking about "South Asia" instead of India. Brand dilution, indeed.
The South-Asia-wallahs are happy to pile on to good
things done by Indians. But when something bad happens to Indians in America, they beat a hasty retreat.
Reddy Bali Lakireddy is not "South-Asian-American"—he's "Indian-American". The Hl-B guys are "Indian programmers", not "South Asian programmers".
Why this inconsistency? Fine fair weather friends they
are, as suspected.
Look around at others in Asia —even though Americans generally think "Asian" means "yellow person",
neither China nor Japan nor Korea has submerged its
identify under a generic "East Asian" label. They remain nations in their own right.
The second reason for the preponderance of the term
"South Asia" may well be a catering to American prejudice. I thought "South Asia" might be an invention of
the Americans, but my erudite librarian friend Reeta
Sinha found a reference that indicated this usage in an
Australian journal in the 1850s or so. But J think it is
the Americans who use this term the most. Americans
have expropriated the word "Indian" to mean Native
American. Look at the irony of this —a foolish Italian
navigator, Cristoforo Columbo, arrives in the Americas, and thinks he has reached India! And therefore he
names these people Indians. This leads to the imperialistic Americans usurping the name of a civilisation that
has existed for thousands of years, and attributing it to
their aboriginals!
I think Indians need to fight to get the name "In-
48
HIMAL 13/5 May 2000
 VOICES
dian" back to mean "native of India". Of al! the major
US newspapers, only one so far as I know has decided
to drop the use of the term "Indian" to mean "native
American" —this is the Los Angeles Times. I think we
need to pressure the media, and the US government, to
stop using names like the "Bureau of Indian Affairs" —
even the native Americans would prefer other names
like Amerindians to describe them.
This linguistic imperialism is no more acceptable
than the deplorable use of the racial term "coloured"
versus "white"—as though "white" people were normal, and all others were an unfortunate aberration. In
point of fact, "white" people are actually "pink", so
they too arc "coloured". Much better to use "non-
white"; or for that matter "non-brown", depending on
one's point of view.
You will also notice how American scholars use
the word "Hindu" to denote ancient Indians. For
instance, they will say "Hindu astronomers"
when they mean Indian astronomers. The
'progressive', 'secular' people should object violently to this. The ancients were not
all Hindus, many were Bud- _jdhist, Jain,
etc. Here, at last, is something    the    'progressive'
'seculars' and I can agree on:
the naming of ancient Indians as Indians, not Hindus. ..■-"""'
I mean, let     \} (\
us    turn    this NJ   j)
around and re-    '--   •'"
fer to Americans consistently as "Yankees
This is in fact how a lot of Latin Americans refer
to them. Do you think Americans will like this? Of
course not. lt is not appropriate for anybody to randomly assign names to another nation. It's nomenclature imperialism, just as the British mangled place
names in India; only this is worse. So why should Ind
ans cater to American prejudice? We can't let our very
name be taken away; we have enough of a problem
with self image (vaastuhara, we are) already.
Furthermore, there are these other horrible terms
Americans use —"East Indian" and "Asian Indian".
East Indian, like West Indian? And what are the East
Indies? Indonesia, not India. I abhor the term East Indian, as it is a meaningless neologism. Asian Indian is
a little more sensible, but why put in that qualification?
Indian = native of India. That reminds me, the 2000
census of America has a new category, "Asian Indian".
Are the non-Indian "South Asians" going to choose
this category? Not likely.
The third reason to oppose "South Asia" is the presumption of commonality —an intellectual laziness if
you will. There are all these mailing lists, South Asian
Journalists Association, South Asian Literature, South
Asian Women's Net, etc. Why couldn't these be "Indian" this or that? Because, they say, it will encourage
participation by the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc.
This may be true, but that should be the concern of
the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc. Indians are bending
over backwards to create a comfortable environment for
these other people. Why, I don't know. Why can't they
have their own Pakistani Literature (such as its
newsgroup? We are not bridging the real gap between
Indians and Pakistanis by patronising them on some
email alias.
This is a vacuous assumption made by 'progressive' Diaspora Indians, the Non-Resident Indians. The
creators of all these mailing lists are, I suspect, labouring
under the misconception that by their woolly acts of
friendship they are making a difference. Hardly. Unilateral acts of kindness and magnanimity are of not
much use if the recipients are not grateful. Remember
the old Gujral Doctrine?
And then there is an assumption of some com-
C?&m,     mon culture. For instance, 1 look at the Pakistanis
te;    I have come across on the Net. I have abso-
fift        lutely nothing in common with them. There
is   nothing   that   makes me feel kinship   with   them,
apart from the small
matter of their sitting on
the sites of the lndus-Sarasvati
civilisation of my ancestors. But
the Urdu-poetry-reciting Gujral -
clone people, refugees from the
Punjab, do go into paroxysms of
wah-wah-ing. I am left cold by all
this.
What exactly does the average
Indian have in common with a
Pakistani or a Bangladeshi or
a Nepali or a Maldivian?
Very little. I think we
exchaTT&LFuil white "\     need to figure out
water equfpmgri X.     what the Gangetic
Ganesh KayaiCSfejfc \    plains   person
Lakeside, Baidam 6, ^^ « X     u
n ,.       .,     , ^%*^ N,   has m com-
Pokhara, Nepal.
(200m from Ihe lake.)
mon with the hill people of the Northeast —rather than
trying to appease a bunch of foreigners. Especially Pakistan and Bangladesh —they split off from India in
1947. Let them eat cake now.
There is an inclusivist streak among Indians —I call
this a wool-gathering lack of clarity. That's what is on
display here. However, when Pakistan's entire raison
d'etre is implacable hatred for India, it becomes inappropriate to 'include' them. "South Asia" is an illusion, other than as a trading forum. If at some point in
the future, Pakistanis can get over their congenital hatred of "vegetarian Hindus" then maybe we can talk
about South Asia. As of now, it makes much more sense
to push the "Indian" brand forward. We lose by pushing "South Asia".
From "Why I am not a South Asian" by Rajeev
Srinivasan in <www.rediff.com>
2000 May 13/5 HIMAL
49
 IC-814 had many firsts to its
credit. It was the first international flight to have been hijacked in over half a century of civil
aviation history in Nepal (there was
a hijacking of a small domestic aircraft in the Panchayat period). The
taking of the Indian airlines
Kathmandu-Delhi flight also became the first incident of its kind in
the history of international aviation
which led to the suspension of all
flights by a commercial airline to the
'culpable' country.
IC-814's was also the first made-
for-the-media hijack drama of the
Subcontinent, and it was played
long and loud — with many take offs
and landings and then a lonely
tarmac in Kandahar —much to the
delight of the Indian satellite channels. Indeed, the purveyors of satellite media turned the ordeal into a
commercial event akin to an extended Indo-Pakistan test series,
and Zee News in particular transformed it into a soap opera. Even
traditional media —leaflets and
wall-posters—were brought into action to berate the country where the
IC 814 originated.
With so many firsts to its credit,
IC-814 badly deserved a book. And
a chronicler to turn the eight-day
drama into instant-history. It has
found one in the twosome of Flight
Engineer Anil K. Jaggia and self-
professed 'investigative reporter'
Saurabh Shukla.
The presentation begins promisingly enough, giving the inside
view of the aircraft that was hijacked while all
of us were
watching it on
TV from the outside. The first
chapter opens
with dramatic
dialogue, and
one settles down
to read the book
with healthy anticipation. But it
does not take
long to realise
that this is no
'inside story'.
The    book    is
merely the ramblings of someone
who happened to be inside. Investigative journalist Saurabh Shukla's
academic achievements as presented in the dust jacket may be impressive, but it is difficult to trace
their imprint in the text. In this collation of published newspaper reports, there is very little evidence of
any investigative reporting, informed analyses or creative presentation.
The book ends up as nothing
more than a racy mix of selective
memory and regurgitated media reports. Of the two authors, the failure of the reporter is as eloquent as
the success of the raconteur. The
flight engineer's recollections of
events at Raja Sansi Airport of
Amritsar help put the blame for the
extended nature of the hijack drama
squarely on the shoulders of those
at the helms of air-security in New
Delhi. Unless Jaggia's experiences
are grossly exaggerated, it appears
that the Crisis Management Group
(CMG) of the Indian government is
an elephant that takes its own time
to stand up, and the tail of the
pachyderm —the Research and
Analysis Wing (RAW) —is incapable
of flicking even a fly off its body.
Despite enough hints from
American intelligence about something being afoot as the millennium
turned, the Indian establishment
seems to have failed to warn the airport security at Kathmandu, through
the usual channels of course. Shukla,
the reporter, should have raked the
muck on those who were apparently
sleeping on their jobs, or perhaps
gambling at the local casino in
Kathmandu, but he chooses to rely
on the official explanations instead.
As yet again proven by Shukla's
lack of initiative-taking, the investigations by unprofessional media
hacks in Delhi, when it comes to
national security and foreign policy,
stops at the doormat of South Block.
It still rankles Kathmandu's
analysts that the whole hijacking incident was 'hijacked' by a commercial news-channel ('Z') recklessly
chasing viewership to surge ahead
of its competition ('Star'). By constantly airing the agonies of grieving relatives, it virtually closed the
HIMAL 13/5 May 2000
 options available to the government
negotiators. The authors don't touch
this can of worms either, although
they do concede that even the CMG
was relying on media reports rather
than its own sources for up-to-date
information on the hijacked flight.
In an environment of increasingly insecure air travel, the question as to why "Indian Airlines has
the dubious distinction of having
had the most hijackings of its
aircrafts in the world" does indeed
cry for attention. Of course, the authors do not even come close to attempting an answer. The fact is that
India is a large country, so the law
of probabilities alone indicates
more hijackings. Also, India is a
country with numerous dissatisfied
communities, among whom some
misguided 'youths' are bound to
at some point or the other
think of a dramatic and media-
attracting hijack.
It is only in the final chapter that
IC-614: Hijacked! even attempts to
dissect the 'Blunders Galore': "The
IC-814 hijack... points to the need
of re-exanrining the entire contingency plan [of the government] to
avoid a bungle as costly as Amritsar
that proved to be the turning point
in the hijacking of the aircraft." But
it is too much to expect analysis
beyond this.
This book suffers from all the pitfalls of producing instant history,
published as it was in a rush before the public memory of the hijack faded. While there is some description of the mood of the hostage-passengers inside that unfortunate Airbus fuselage, and of the
tactics of the hijackers, there is minimal background information about
the hijackers, their mission, or the
significance of their demands.
While it does attempt to explain the
government's inaction, the authors
do not seek to explain why the hijackers did what they did. There is
no speculation about the impact the
incident may have on the relationship between the countries involved—the relations with a widely
reviled (in India) Nepal, or a Taliban
Afghanistan with which New Delhi
was forced into an embrace on the
Kandahar tarmac.
The best way to tackle this book
is to take it as drama. At that level, it
is quite readable, with its simple
language and dynamic presentation. This is a book of the television
age for South Asia, pre-digested,
which neither fires the imagination
nor inspires contemplation. Shukla
and Jaggia have produced a book
that is tlie perfect reading for an airplane flight, hopefully one that will
not be skyjacked. A
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 Books Received
SJESE
Untouchable Freedom: A Social History
ol a Dalit Community
by Vijay Prashad
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000
pp xx+176
ISBN 019565075
INR 395
UNTOUCHAELt
.FREEDOM
.t SttUJ tacZHT tf rj fldlf ■". v.' It. ■/
WlUfJPBflSHALi
dBirrLVvi^.-.v."..    I
 ,^i
Delhi's citizens revile the sanitation workers who clean their city, but they also rely
on them. For a pittance, and without much
technological support, these workers keep
the city as clean as possible. The book traces the history of these
Dalit workers—from the 1860s to the present. It offers a view
of the work process that entraps these Dalits into the sanitation
industry, although most worked as agricultural labour prior to
the 20th century.
Water
Laud
Water, Land & Law: Changing Rights to
Land and Water in Nopal
Edited by Rajendra Pradhan, Franz von
Benda-Beckmann, Keebetvon Benda-
Beckmann
Uegal Research and Development/
Wageningen Agricultural University/Erasmus
University, Rotterdam, 2000
pp ix+278
ISBN 99933 16 01 6
Price not mentioned
The papers collected in the volume explore the changes in rights
to water and land in Nepal; they deal with historical processes of
shifts in power within irrigation systems and within the wider
social, economic and political contexts. In particular, they focus
on the role of law in the plural legal settings typical for small-scale
irrigation in Nepal, in which customary law, the law of the state
in its various historical manifestations, and religious law are intermingled. Many of the papers specifically deal with conflicts and
conflict management at different levels of social and hydrological
organisations: within the household, between users of an irrigation system and between systems.
Ten Week War in Kargil
Edited by Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury,
Shahid Fiaz
South Asia Forum for Human Rights,
Kathmandu, 2000
pp 116
Price not mentioned
The publication, based on a selection of
press reports published in Indian and Pakistani newspapers about the 10-week war
in Kargil, shows how the states were able
to entrap the mass media in the insidious game of patriotism.
The uncritical acceptance of the official versions ofthe 'truth' by
the media fed into the stereotype of the 'enemy' image. The selection of excerpts from the news files aims at presenting the
myriad and often contradictory experience of the Kargil conflict;
the selection has been informed by a conscious choice of identifying some of the major trends in reportage and commentary in
both countries, with an eye to reflecting both the dominant
discourse and the more nomadic narratives of the conflict.
Feminism and islamic
Fundamentalism: The Limits of
Postmodern Analysis
by Haideh Moghissi
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1999
pp ix+166
ISBN0 19 579369 2
Price not mentioned
The work is a controversial intervention
into the debate on post-modernism and
feminism, and looks at what happens
when these modes of analysis are jointly employed to illuminate
the sexual politics of Islam. The author goes on to describe the
rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the West's response towards
it. She argues that, regardless of the sophisticated argument of
postmodernists and their suspicion of power, as an intellectual
and political movement, postmodernism has put itself in the service of power and the status quo,
Resunga:
The Mountain of the Horned Sage
(Bibliotheca Himaiayica-Series III, Vol.17)
Edited by Philippe Ramirez
Himal Books. Kathmandu, 2000
pp x+304
ISBN 99933 13 041 (hardback)
NPR 600
The result of a pluridisciplinary research
conducted by a French team from 1985
to 1993, in the Nepali districts of Gulmi
and Argha-Khanci. It conveys the social and ecological complexity
ofthe area, which was once six Hindu principalities before being
annexed into the kingdom of Nepal in 1786. The studies presented underline the capacity of Nepali peasants to adapt and react to the changes imposed on them both by their natural environment and the global society. One of the noticeable features of
these two districts is the numerical, cultural and political dominance ofthe Bahun-Chetri and their associated castes. These castes
went on to mingle with another cultural stock represented mainly
by Magar, who then were "Nepalised" leading to the loss of their
language.
Understanding Karachi
and Reform for the Future
by Arif Hasan
City Press, Karachi, 1999
PP 171
ISBN 969 8380 28 0
PNR 295
A detailed study of Karachi, Pakistan's
only port, by an architect, basing it on
over 30 years of research and practical
work. The author gives the background
to Karachi's present situation and describes the actors and factors—and their relationship to each other—that are determining
the direction and nature of Karachi's development and hence shaping its social and physical environment. He also proposes practical
solutions to the city's problems for the creation of a new and
better system of governance.
2000 May 13/5 HIMAL
 litSA
invites
literary south asia
contributions from writers living in or writing ahout south asia
I in the form ot short fiction, poetry, memoirs, hook reviews,
plays, travelogues, essays, photo-essays, comments, reviews or any
other form of crefnTwvvrkm e-nglisTi
|      For litSA guidelines please see:
www7, liimnlmae.com/lirsrt
send to: editor, litSA, radhamohan house, reili road, kahmpong, 734301, west bengal, india, email: mole@dte,vsnl.net.in
Seed
Dis
Pa
persa
terns of the
Dipterocarps of Sri Lanka
SEED DISPERSAL Patterns of the Dipterocarps of Sri
Lanka—this is the title of my research proposal.
A fruit witM^o wings—that's what the word
means—anj^botahist would know that, "It's the calyces
that become the wiifgs. There are five^but only two have
become wings." I showed Christy fhe three undeveloped
auricular projections on the brownish red fruit I picked
up from the ground. "In some species, there are three
wings; some have just one, some don't have any. But they
are all Dipterocarps."
The wings had veins, like the wings of an overgrown
cockroach. Christy was looking down very intently. I
held the dry fruit in the palm of my hand. "These socks,"
she said still looking doWn and at the same rime turning
her foot at different angles. "The leeches don't go through
them?"
"No," I said, looking upfor the source of the fruit. It
was a Dipterocarpus zeylanicus. Its crown was in the
canopy; its girth was about my arm span, about one and
a half metres, and its height on visual estimation, about
90 feet.
"Aren't you wearing one?" Bob asked pointing to my
feet with, a large shining machete.
"No," I smiled, ajfter having quickly recovered from
- short fiction by Neil Fernandopulle
the shock of seeing the evil-looking silver blade. Bob
looked like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Well, at least
that is the first thought that came to my mind at the sight
of him and all his gear.
"That's crazy," Bob shook his head and walked
away, amazed, perhaps indifferent. The white leech-
proof socks glared, against his brownish-greenish,
militarydooking dutfit.
I never wear shoes in the forest. It's just a habit. Well,
not in the rainforest at least, because there are hardly any
thorns and prickles on the ground. Instead, the thick
carpet of decaying leaves feels like a cool, soft sponge.
"But the leeches will get at your feet," Christy tried
to persuade «me. After all, they had heard the most
terrible things about leeches. "It has been found that
leeches transmit diseases."
I smiled. "I'll put them on, if there are leeches." I
patted the bag containing my shoes that hung from my
shoulder. 1 can't afford to let them think I'm off-beat or a
little eccentric.
It isn't easy to describe the feeling of bare feet on the
soft, moist humus of the rainforest. Trying to describe it
won't do any good to my prospects of getting my
research proposal approved at Cambridge.
 "We haven't even gone into the forest yet," I half
laughed, hoping to lighten thaamood. "Maybe the leeches
have all gone away." '$»
I told the tracker to lead the way. Our tracker was
from the village on the fringes of the reserve forest. He
was about my age, but had a wife and two children.
Nobody asked him whether he needed leech-proof socks.
He wore a pair of blue rubber slippers and beach
shorts with the word TITANIC printed on the broad hem
on both legs.
Bob followed him, slashing anything that lay even an
arm's length away from the path. The sharp edge of the
new machete made clean cuts even of the woody
Lantanas and Clidemias, and a pearly white latex exuded
from the cut ends of the Macaranga saplings.
Christy walked ahead of me. I can see a bob of hair
dangling through the opening over the strap at the back
of her baseball cap. Her hair is brown, or is it blond? I
could never really tell the difference. 1 haven't seen many
of either anyway. 1 tried to see what colour Bob's hair     ~
was, but his cap was turned around.
"Lion king...isn't it strange?" Christy mused as she
strode on, her gaze keenly fixed on the gravel path for
leeches. " 1 was reading that there never was a lion or a
king here. But it's called Sinharaja, the lion king. The
forest of the lion king." She took a large sweeping look at
the greenery above, almost thrilled at the sound of her
Own words, at the enigma of their meaning, the dual
enigma of being soine foreign language and at the same
-  time meaningless.
"f.        "Sounds like a Walt Disney sequel," Bob added
j-.  between two slashes of his machete. Christy laughed, and
1 laughed because it reminded me of that warthog and the
Utile Kzard-like creature in the movie. Hakuna matata....l
...  wanted to say it out aloud. Hakuna matata! But 1 didn't.
The path narrowed and began to climb ruggedly. The
r    vegetation changed from Osbekias and Bracken ferns to
the medium-height forest fringe species. The undergrowth
'     began to thin out, and the path turned sharply into a
winding passagetbetween the tree trunks.
The rainforest is a living jcrearure, breathing a humid
ajr, touding its Wftleafy^arthy smells. Its awn milky
saps, heavy with tirKwetness of a never-ending season of
rafrts, filled the air-5^&S|iJpsensafiohof vitality, of
fecundity. The iimtrnierabaBMuig things, farm the unseen
birds on the distant treetops^i the hidden insects beneath
the fallen leaves, all passionately asserted their presence
with sounds.
There never Was a lion," I said, for some reason
feeling that 1 had carried a vacuum with me up the slope.
"If s a mythical lion. A mythical ancestor." "And what
about the king?" Bob asked laughingly. "The lion is the
king ot the forest, even if he is*a myth." I said, though it
didn't seem to make much sense. But before 1 could
rethink it, our tracker picked up a little greenish- yellow
fruit from the ground. "Shorea," he said, pointing to the
flecks of light in the canopy. But Christy was not looking
^ up. She was looking hard at the tracker. "Yes, he knpws a
few botanical names," I put in quickly. "Must have
caught it from some visiting professor." I riveted Christy's
attention to me by showing her the small single-winged
ft    fruit. It's a Shorea stipularis. There are six endemic species
of Shorea. Some of them are very krge, mostly
emergents. They can be identified by the leaves and
the fruits."
Christy was looking down very keenly. "There!" She
gasped, pointing to her shoe. She wore a pair of soft white
Reeboks, unlike Bob's heavy Caterpillar boots. A small
brown leech was shinning up her shoe, bending and
stretching like a hysterical rubber band, desperately
seeking to plant itself on Christy's pakvskin. I used a dry
leaf to sweep it off her shoe. By that time there were three
more on my feet, which I flicked off with my fingers. Our
tracker tells me to keep walking, to avoid the leeches. He
fttells me there is a small stream, where we can rest,
without having to worry about the leeches. i
As we reached the stream, Bob began to look back at
me with a curious expression of panic and suspicion. He
sat on a rock and removed one of his boots quickly.
"Damn." He cursed at the sight of blood oozing out of the
skin on his ankle. "Where is it?" He asked angrily, turning
his socks in every direction, "lt has crept out after having
its fill," 1 said. Then 1 had to explain to him that the blood
. would continue to flow for some time, but there was no
reason to panic. "But what do you do usually when this
happens?" he asked. But our tracker was ready with the
remedy. He had burnt a piece of paper on the dry
surface of a rock, and had collected the ash in his hand. He
put the ash on Bob's wound before either Bob could
protest or 1 could explain. The ash absorbed the blood,
and Bob looked at me helplessly. "Isn't there anything
else we can do?"
"We have to wait till the bleeding stops," 1 said and
walked into the shallow water. 1 sat on a mossy rock and
let the water run over my feet.
Christy has settled down on another rock, and looked
around at the vegetation. The best view of the forest is
from the stream. It's a cross-sectional view, the whole
aspect ofthe large trees can be seen from here, the canopy
trees, the emergents, and at the same time the numerous
levels of undergrowth: the little saplings, the half-sized
juveniles of large trees, unable to grow any taller for the
lack of sunlight, but waiting patiently for years till one of
the large trees falls, and makes space.
"You know, when the British invaded the Kandyan
kingdom, they found that the Kandyan king had all the
leeches defending his territory," I said, above the sound of
the water gurgling below the rocks. "The British feared
the leeches more than they feared the Sinhalese soldiers."
My audience had other^pccupations, perhaps caught up
in the intricacy of trees that arched aboy,e the stream, or
perhaps awed by the magnificence of the emergents.   "
These tall, lean trees broke through the canopy of the
forest, and stood above everything else, like the
aristocratic heroes' of a tragedy. The very height of the
canopy only helps to accentuate the even greater height of
the emergents that, like some Maname or Singhebahu,
stood above all the other players. _-jjjk
"There are more plant species h%re in this forest than
in all of England," Christy opened herself to her
surroundings. "Actually, there are more species here than
in all of North America." Her words were followed by the
hum of the stream and the intermittent scraping-
screaming of the insects in the trees.
 .litSA
"I've never been to America," I heard myself say. And
the silence among, us wajPagain imbued with the primeval
music of the unseen insects.
Bob had put his boot on He responded to all this by
producing his camera.
.  I know that Christy is an Ecologist, but I don't know
what Bob is, or why he is with us. He is dressed up to
explore. There are pockets and loops and penknives
hanging out of everything that he is wearing. Christy
wore only denim jeans and a thin white T-
shirt through which I could see the
outline of her bra against the redness of
her heated body. She is from Cambridge.
-    "I haven't seen any snakes/' Bob said,
looking around, as though expecting to
see them at his feet, in the
undergrowth, on the tree trunks, in
the canopy. "Do you have poisonous      d
snakes here, vipers, cobras and 0      ■   $
that.. .that"deadly chap," he clicks his     §
fingers, "the krait, is it?"
.  "Snakes see you long before you
see them," I said. I don't think he .
quite understood.
"What about the leopard?" Bob asked,
very excited, clutching his camera, ready to
aim and shoot. "You've seen the leopard?
I've heard .that the Sri Lankan leopard can be
as big as the Bengali tiger. And if s a real man eater:"
I asked our tracker about the leopard. "He tells me
that the leopard comes down to the village sometimes
and kills and "carries away their cats and dogs and even
their chickens."
Bob deflated angrily. "Don't you see any animals?" he
asked after he spent some rime looking around the vast
embodiment pi life that surrounded him. "No," I said
pallidly." "They have too many places to hide." Christy
giggled. It was the giggle of an Ecologist. Maybe she
understood: what I said even more thaii I did. "What are
you expecting, elephants?" She laughed. Bob -laughed too.
The tracker then told me that he had seen animals so big
that they could eat a cow in a single, mouthful. And I
i translated; itsquarely t&JChristy and Bob, who stared back
at me, "What?" Bob thundered. "Jurassic Park," the
tracker smiled slyly, and showed me two fingers. "Jurassic
Park n," I verified, much to Bob's annoyance. "How the
hell did he see that, living in a place like this?" He threw
bis hand out at the forest.
It was time to continue. There was an initial mapping
out of the areas where Christy would work the next
several days. We marked the trees with yellow paint. I
noticed Bob's interest in the forest was beginning to wane.
Taking girth measurements of trees was not his idea of a
trip to the rainforest. He was always looking around
hoping, expecting to see something he knew, expecting
something to leap on him from the branches or wTap
around him from the lianas. Maybe someone would shoot
a poison dart at him; curare! The rainforest! No 30-foot
snakes, no faces and bodies with colourful.war paint, no
bare-breasted women frolicking by the water, waiting to
carry him away as their god and nurse his wounds with
potions made by the did medicine man.
He was glad to turn and head back to camp by mid-
aftemoon. Our camp is a small wood cabin in the forest
reserve itself.
„   The first thing to. do when one readies camp at the
end of the day is to remove one's clothes and check for
leeches that may have got through despite all the
precautions. As I removed my clothes and changed into
my swiirtming trunks by the stream'near our cabin,
Christy called out tome. She had
,.*. removed her jeans and her T-shirt
hung loosely over her hips. Istopped a
few feelaway, "Look at this." She
showed me her denims, turned inside
v   out. There was a large, thick patch of
»    blood. "A leech has got in, "I said.
,f. "Where?" she asked looking
.    down her long white legs.
"There," I pointed to the back of her
thigh, just above the knee. There was a
dark maroon patch on her bleached skin.
"Like you've been shot," I laughed,, and
walked back to;the stream. Bob was
thereon the shore, still in full regalia, and
W    our tracker was basking in the water like a
^ .■ satisfied ntter. "Are you dunking of
ftft^      getting in there?" Bob asked. "Yes," I
\j'    said, walking into the cool, running
water:1 "From where does this water come?" he
\    asked. "You mean the source, I don't know, from
springs somewhere in the forest," I said, splashing
the water around. "It is clean?" Bob asked, this
time a little cautiously. "No," I said and dipped
into the water. He had to wait till T nibbed off the
water frommy eyes and nose before I spoke again.
"It starts somewhere in the forest, where there are no
people. So it should be quite alright." "But there is a
possibility of contracting Schistosomiasis," he said after . '
some thought. ■'What?" "Schiztosomiasis, from 'the
water." I dipped into the water, and held my breath. I
' could hear deep rumblings as if Ihad pressed my ear on.
the belly of the Earth and listened with my eyes closed.
Schistosomiasis—the wTord hissed like a snake. Nowhere
in. the depths of the water could you hear that hiss. There
was no room, no place here for anything that made that
sound, Lthrew: my head above the surface and spat out
the water as I said the word under my breath.
Schiztosomiasis.     v>,
"Is it cold?" Christy's voice broke through the tumult
of sounds. I didn't answer. She stood there a few feet
awray from the water, in a swimsuit of different colours—
bright luminous greens and yellows and pinks, arid the
rest of her was like snoWyThe- curves and edges of her
body stood out like someone had cut the scenery with a
pair of scissors-; puncturing the continuum of time arid
space with her colours, her shapelier very presence in
this place,T didn't answer. ...' -
I She walked-into the stream, thrilled by the cool
forceful prying of the water into her body. She giggled
shrilly a few times arid then dipped in.
Bob stood where he was, on the shore, in all his heavy,
grimy clothes—a whole day's sweat and mud clinging
orito-him.; / .
56
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 litSA.
:: Later I sit on one of a circl^if wooden benches in the
small clearing in front of oui;iMbin, and I watch darkness'
creep in between the multitude of sinews, melting them
into one black screen around me. Our tracker has gone
home, and will be back tomorrow. Christ}' is in brown T-
shirt and gray shorts, and sits on the bench facing me.
She wears a scent that pricks at the warm air, filled with
the harshness of insects in their intermittent crescendo
and the rasping of frogs. "Do you come here often?"
Christy asked me after some time. I could only faintly
see her face. "No," I said, looking away> "only three
times before." I looked away into the blackness that was
around us. "Why do you want to work here?" 1 looked at
her, but I don't know whether she smiled at that or not.
"Because I am an Ecologist," she affirmed, and then let
the forest take over the silence between us.
An Ecologist, it:is such a definitive word, it is so full,
so real. I tried to give myself a definition like that. What
am I then? Can I ever define myself like that in a single    ~
word? I dressed myself with several words, phrases. But
they fitted like a coat and tie on a monsoonai afternoon.
"But why here, in this country, of all places?" I asked. :
' In the blackness around me I could see Christy corning out
of her little London flat, into the cool breeze of a sunny
London morning, and walking gingerly on fhe
cobblestones and the stone steps that led to the
underground station.
"Because I'm interested in the rainforest/' she said. T
could see her walking down the clean, glaze-floored
corridors leading to her office room.   :
"Why?" I asked. I could see her turn around, her heels
stomping to a halt in the middle of the corridor. "Why?''
She is astonished. "Look at alt this!" She convulses her
hands outwardly, expansively. "All this needs to be
protected."
T can see her behind her desk in a cosy office
overlooking a finely trimmed lawn. The air in the room
comes through little/aluminum vents hear the ceiling.
"To protect it; you need to know it, you need to study
it," she stated with catechistic confidence. "But why do
you want to protect pur forests? Our forests."- She stood
up. behind her desk arid walked up to her window and
looked out. She drew in a: deep breath, her shoulders
expanding, her chest movingfup as if she has taken a
whole lungful of a fine after ^firmer cigar. "Because it
must be done. And we must do it because no one else can.
It is our duty, our responsibility."
I tried to make out what she meant fay 'we'. The smell
of cigarette smoke broke into iny thoughts and I looked
around. Christy slapped her fingers on her thigh.
"Mosquitoes." "Leeches in the daytime, mosquitoes in the
evening, isn't it lovely?" Bob spoke amid a cloud of smoke
that came out of his mouth and nostrils. "Like a beer?" He
asked me pointing to what looked like a can, which stood
beside him on the other bench. "It isn't cool though."
"No," I said, after deciding that I wouldn't drink tepid
beer. Bob stretched out on the bench, and breathed out,
audibly. He seemed relaxed at last
We talked desultorily, allowing the frogs and the
insects to fill in most of the time. There was language in ah
that noise. There were words, rhythms that painted the .
most Unbidden images in the fnind. I closed my eyes. I
wish I could block out the sound as well. I wish I could
see the inside of Christy's office again—the white walls,
the white sheets of paper on her desk, the gentle breath of
air corning in from the aluminum vents. No frogs, no
mosquitoes, no leeches, no sweat, no mud. I pressed my
eyes shut.
Even as I lay on the thin-mattress in one corner of the
cabin, I closed my eyes to the darknessft^the thick, heavy
darkness of the rainforest. But I covddn'tblock out the
sound, the sound of the rexine ipattresses being pressed
and pushed at the other end of the cabin. 1 could hear
Bob's breath; long nasal hisses. T could hear Christy's short
panting exhalation. They whisper, afraid that I wduld    /
hear. They know I cannot see them, because they cannot
see me. I can hear them breathe faster, I can hear Christy
whisper desperately, as if her life depended ort it. "Up,
up," she says between clenched teeth. "Come up."
The words repeat themselves aimlessly in my mind
.long after they are quiet, long after Bob begins to snoTe.
Come up. Come up.
The nextthing I see is Christy standing over me,
smiling. She is dressed in a fresh pair of denim jeans and a
white T-shirt. "Aren't you getting up? The tracker is here
and we are ready, " she giggled.
Today we will mark out the areas that Christy will
study. We will choose the different:ecological situations in
the undisturbed forest. The tracker will show us the
way, as soon as I describe the kind of conditions we are
looking for. .
The tracker went ahead with Bob while Christy arid I
discussed the ecosystems that we came across. Come
up...corne up...the words echo beneath everything she ,
says. I look at her face> her eyes, as she talks. I want to see
her in her room, i can see the white sheets of paper, the
white walls, her white skin, ■■,:
We mark the greenish grey lichenous tree trunks
with thick yellow paint— smooth, wet pairit on the
roughness of the tree trunks. The paint gains a coarseness,
the tree trunk a smoothness. One merges into the other.
Christy's desperate whisper is louder in my ears than fhe
screaming of the cicadas. I can see myself in my room in
Cambridge— the white walls, the white sheets of
paper.... ....■'..'
"Oh God," Christy gasps suddenly. She is looking up.
"Looks like rain." She said; as if she never expected it to
rain in the rainforest. Bob arid the tracker aire nowhere to
be seen, biit they are not far away. "You've got an
umbrella? 1 didr/t bring rriine." She begins to panic. "I've
got this," I said and pulled out. a sheet of polythene and
spread it over my head and my bag. "May I join you?"
Christy asked and-crept in> under the sheet of plastic. She
put her arms around my shoulder in order to get closer, to
get more shelter. I held the edge of the sheet of plastic over
her, but drops of water fell off the edges onto her head.'
and down her hair onto her face.     .-/:.;
Rain falls like mist in the rainforest. No drop of-Water
reaches the ground before hitting something on its way
and bursting into a spray of .droplets. In the sunlight they
look like showers of silver dust.
Christy moved in closer as the rain invaded more of
her clothing. Her hair was over my face, niy arms around
her back.-i.could feel her breasts against my ribs. Drops of
2000  May 13/5  HIMAL
57
 -litSA
water fell on the back of her neck and rolled down her
smooth skin—her white^i>ale skin, like the white sheets
of papers in her room, the white walls.
Maybe I too would have a room like that when I get
to Cambridge—when I become one of them. One of
them. I could feel the warmth of her breasts against my
chest. Her perfume mixed with the smell of sweat and
trees—the leafy smell of bitter saps, the musty heaviness
of powdery lichens. Water dripped off the side of her
cheek and hung at the end of her loose hairs-—droplets,
browned by the colour of her hair.
I would be one of them soon, in my own room,
overlooking the finely trimmed lawn, breathing in the
gently heated air that came down from near the. ceiling.
I looked up at the silver sprinklings as they were
caught in the flecks of sunlight. The tree under which we
stand is a Dipterocarpus zeylanicus, a large emergent; its
crown is hardly visible, beyond the canopy, closer to the
sky than all those that surround it—the first to catch thi?
sunlight, the first to touch the rain.
Dipteocarpus zeylanicus—I know this one. I know it
well or I think I know it. It is an evergreen tree, up to 40
metres tall and 135 centimetres in diameter-at-breast-
height with low, rounded buttresses when mature; that's
what the book says. But if it didn't have a name, if they
hadn't given it a name, would it still be here, in
Sinharaja? Would it cease to exist, or would it never have
existed
at all?
In shape, I have been told that its crown is
hemispherical, tending to remain oblong and monopodia!
' if isolated. Its bark is pale orange-brown, initially smooth,
becoming thickly, patchily and irregularly flaky.
The leaves? Ah, yes, the leaves are sub-aggregate,
thickly coriaceous, ovate to elliptic, with a broad tapering
accumen, and the leaf base is obtuse to subcordate. The
flower buds are fusiform, after all, I know my
Dipterocarps well enough- That's why they are interested
in me at Cambridge. The stamens, there are 15, the style
and stylopodiuin are columnar, pubescent in the basal
two-thirds. The calyx tube is subglobose, that means like
half a globe, half a ball. I wonder whether the tree knows
this. Could it have a different shape, a different height,
could it be a different tree if they hadn't described itlike
this? I suppose the tree would never know.
Its ecology, ah, Christy would like to know that—it is
endemic; that means it is found only in Sri Lanka,
nowhere else. And in Sri Lanka it's found especially on
riverbanks and well-drained alluvium, where it is often
gregarious, forming a characteristic forest type. It
flowers fairly regularly in February. It's an important
timber tree. But it cannot be used for tea boxes because it
exudes oil. The heartwood decoction is good for fever. Its
oil is used for varnishing and for rheumatism.
Thaf s how it has been described on half a page of a
textbook. What was it before that? Before they came and
saw it and defined it?
I held Christy closer to me as more rairi fell. I looked
up at the tree and let the rain beat my face. I had to
decide.
I don't know. I don't want to be one of them. I don'twant
a room with white walls. I don't want to be defined.        i
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"Dear Mr.
Wi ckramatunge,
I acknowledge
dated March  14,
2000,   addressed
Her Excel
lency  the
President.«
■ ■wish   to  in fori
you   that   this
office  forwards
correspondence
to Her Excel-
W/f/ffl
■'-§■
nates  from hu
man beings  and
not   from worms.
We have  therefore
consigned you
communication
to   the  rubbi
heap-
i^j
write to
im\ a iii
ell, well, going by recent examples, that was a rather mild message from the high office of Sri Lanka's presidential secretariat—
signed by a Senior Assistant Secretary —to the editor of Sunday
Leader, a Colombo weekly. Before proceeding further into the whys, let
us hear Editor Lasantha Wickramatunge's riposte in his columns. It is
nice to know, he said, that although the secretariat does not forward
correspondence from "worms" to the president, the secretariat itself
did, however, correspond with "worms". Wickramatunge hoped that
when his weekly published the story, the CID would not be sent to grill
a "worm" because, "after all, a worm doesn't talk and is not a 'person'
under the law".
The bad blood between the government and the weekly has been
making waves since the elections of 1994. The latest exchange of barbs,
regaling Sunday readers no end, began when Wickramatunge wrote to
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, seeking clarification of her educational qualifications as they appeared in her official biodata.
Interestingly, Editor Wickramatunge was for a brief while the private secretary of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Kumaratunga's mother and
prime minister, and had also contested a parliamentary seat on the
party ticket. But he now makes no secret of the fact that he isn't a friend
of the ruling People's Alliance—a sentiment that is fully reciprocated.
It will come as no surprise, therefore, that Wickramatunge is currently under indictment in the High Court of Colombo on charge of
criminally defaming Kumaratunga. The editor, and not merely because
he has been addressed as a worm, is only too well aware of the
president's vitriolic powers; a whole nation has been seeing and hearing Sri Lanka's Chief Executive on national television lavishing choice
epithets on media adversaries, calling them "venomous serpents" and
"animals". In her mind, clearly, Lankan wildlife includes the species
Pressus columtiiticus. A
60
HIMAL  13/5 May 2000
 .
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