Let me take you back to a better time in Kathmandu valley.

Looking back on the last thirty-five years, I am not quite sure if we have truly made much progress. We do make giant strides in the most unlikely places like officially acknowledging the third gender, yet it took a load of protests and coaxing to get the government to even think of allowing Nepali children to receive citizenship through their mothers’ Nepali nationality in the absence of a father. But one might want to look at every aspect through a microscope and figure out the reason why we seem to lunge forward in the most unexpected places while we lag behind in more important issues. To think that we are a forward looking nation because the government officially recognizes the third gender is a mistaken notion. There is only one reason behind this: the clout enjoyed by the first openly gay politician, one time member of the Constituent Assembly and founder of the powerful Blue Diamond Society for LGBTs.

Given a choice I’d much rather be back in 1980 than in 2016.When one looks back on three and a half decades in the valley, glaring differences can be seen in the air quality, quality of life, public conveniences, quality of food products, security and level of corruption. There is no doubt that there’s been a decline in many aspects of life in Kathmandu.

Let me take you back to a better time in Kathmandu valley. With little traffic around, the air was pristine, we had blue skies most of the time, we could walk freely without bumping into other people and to top it all, there was little noise in the city. Such a scenario now seems like Utopia; something we all desire but know will never become reality.

We once had traffic lights that controlled the city traffic remarkably well. Does anyone even remember how long it’s been since they stopped working? I for one can’t remember when I last saw them blink and I sure miss the smooth control of vehicular movement in the city. In my opinion, the traffic cops are no match to traffic lights and only cause traffic to pile up rather than reduce the chaos. 

Cops patrolling all night to keep robbers at bay was once a familiar sight for us night people. Being in the profession of playing music at five star hotels, it was of course quite normal for me to be heading home in the wee hours of the morning. I was once stopped by a night patrolman and taken to the Sohra Khutte police station in the early hours of the morning as I was walking home after being dropped off by our shuttle bus. The problem: I had a camera in my bag that belonged to my office where I worked 9 to 5. After a meeting with the Inspector in charge I was let off. But that gave us a sense of security as the cop was at his job even one in the morning. Remember this was during the Panchayati days and the government seemed to care for the security of Kathmanduites unlike the successive democratic governments that came after them. Naturally burglary has proliferated in the valley.

I wonder how many remember the ‘Gaun Pharka’ program that the Panchayati Government had initiated for college students. During their college years, students had to attend this compulsory program that took them to remote villages where they helped build roads and took part in other voluntary work that brought them up close with village life. This was one of the best initiatives of the Panchayat era but sadly the so called democratic governments (Of the people, For the people and By the People) brought an end to it.

This may be disputed but the quality of food locally available was far superior back in the 80s to what we get in modern Nepal today, where money takes top priority. Farming was just a way of life for farmers and it was only a part of what they did every day. But today the prime objective is to make loads of money any which way you can and the worst aspect of today’s farming practices is the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most farmers have little idea of how much of such chemicals are to be sprayed on their crops and the rampant use of harmful materials in food production is putting our lives at risk. To make matters worse, fruits like apples are being waxed to make them shine, chicken are on antibiotics and pees are being artificially colored green… Is this why more people are dying of cancer today?

Thirty-five years ago, one could ride home almost up to 10 pm on one of those large Mitsubishi Sajha buses when they made their last trip back to their garage in Pulchowk. These days there is no local transport after 8pm and KMC has only recently been experimenting with night bus services without much success. Why this backward slide in this Capital city?

One of the classic examples of deterioration is the state of our rivers around the valley and the Bagmati is a case in point. There was a time when people would drink directly from the river and we could clearly see the river bed through the crystal clear water. The blackened, stinking river is a stark reminder of the utter neglect shown by authorities towards our rivers. Although well meaning citizens are voluntarily cleaning up the Bagmati, they cannot remove what flows out of the sewage pipes directly into these rivers. We used to have septic tanks that collected all the waste from our toilets and they were cleaned every now and then; it also gave employment to sewage cleaners. Then came the Modern period in Nepal when people mindlessly laid sewage pipes and dumped waste into the rivers and the more modern we become, the more backward we seem to slide. There is a lesson to be learnt here, but no one seems interested in improving the quality of life in the valley. I’ve waited and waited but load-shedding only seems to get worse and water shortage is something most people have leant to live with. A large number of city dwellers still get water from the centuries old, but reliable stone water spouts. How long will it take to address the basic needs of the Nepali people?