We all look forward to change; change for the better! Change in the infrastructure has been the most visible and it also made a huge impact. It took a while to take place although plans were afoot way back in the 1970s. During the 80s almost all the narrow lanes (they’ve now become broad roads) in the city were muddy roads that were a nightmare during the monsoon. All dressed up for a wedding reception, one would have to negotiate the four inch thick red mud that had been churned into a thick paste by passing vehicles. Taxis were available only on the main roads and getting there itself was a perilous journey through the sludge. In time most of these lanes were black-topped. The other dilemma was the narrowness of even the main roads. The Gairidhara road was impossibly narrow and had no sidewalks. Getting hit by a vehicle from behind was always a strong possibility and always on one’s mind. Same was the case with the Gyaneshwar road going from Kamal Pokhari to Maitidevi. With no footpath one always had to worry about the cars approaching from behind. It was better to walk on the right side as you could keep an eye on what was coming at you.
It took guts and determination for Mayor Sthapit to begin the broadening of major roads in Kathmandu. No government had ever taken the bold step of pulling down illegal constructions. Most buildings along the roadside had reportedly encroached on the road and the mayor had them cut to size. The buildings in Maiti Ghar which housed a travel agency, a hotel and several shops were demolished and replaced by a giant mandala which has now become the space for protestors. All of Ratna Park’s buildings were brought down to leave open space and a park. The Tri Chandra campus was trimmed to widen the Jamal-Durbar Marg road. Other governments that came later, especially the Bhattarai government followed suit and Kathmandu began to look and feel like a real city with broad roads. The transformation of the Gairidhara road was particularly dramatic as a traffic jam was inevitable every day. and pedestrians had no footpath to walk on. Today there are footpaths on both sides and the road is broad.
When it comes to women, we have seen great changes too. Yes, no doubt a lot more needs to be done but they have come a long way. The streets were once dominated by men as only men drove, be it a motor vehicle or a motorcycle. Today a vast number of women don’t depend on a male relative to reach them to their destinations; they ride their own scooters. Many women also drive their own cars to work. A major change came when we saw a woman drive a commercial vehicle which was a safa tempo. To be out there competing with male drivers was a bold step indeed. It takes guts to be out on the street vying with bigger vehicles that routinely tend to bully the smaller ones. Today, women have taken up the challenge and we now see woman conductors (Khalasis) on local buses; one even drives a Sanjha bus and they are doing a fine job.
Banks these days are heavily reliant on a female work force. In fact women have entered all fields in the world of employment. One of the most noticeable was when women joined the police force and we saw some of them riding horses; these women made us proud, as they handled their jobs capably. In Pokhara, when you go boating you come across women working as a boatman or should we call them boatwoman? It was also in Pokhara that we saw the first female trekking guides. Women have made it in all fields: climbing mountains, stunt driving, heading companies and running their own businesses, besides becoming pilots and stewardesses. Modernization has also given them opportunities: to work as models, designers, beauticians and of course some have become CEOs and managing directors.
But a major life changing moment for Nepalis came when load-shedding was eliminated for good. This is by far the most significant change ever to affect Kathmanduites. With a reliable constant supply of electricity, we no longer had to stay up to mid-night in order to iron clothes. We were no longer disappointed that a coffee shop couldn’t serve coffee because the power had gone off. But I do remember fondly one incident when the guy at a coffee shop turned on the generator to make one cup of coffee for me. There were no other customers but me. Load-shedding of up to 18 hours a day had totally disrupted our lives and even destroyed some businesses. Returning from Abu Dhabi one night I was saddened to see the city almost in complete darkness. We are beyond that now and there are plans to sell more electricity to India. The ban on honking was yet another milestone and we look forward to more accomplishments. Speed limits perhaps!