FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Book Review of 'Kathmandu'
Posted:Dec 12, 2014
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Journalist Thomas Bell explores Kathmandu’s past and coming of age
 
For a long time, Himalayan kingdoms remained unaffected by the landmark events of world history. When countries like Nepal and Bhutan opened up to the outside world—the latter still only allows entry to a fixed number of foreigners and permitted television viewing by its people as recently as in 1999—foreigners entered lands that seemed stuck in a pre-modern era. In the case of Nepal, the story is less than romantic and more eventful. Thomas Bell’s Kathmandu is a chronicle of the largest city in the Himalayas.
 
Bell moved to Nepal as a journalist because, as he puts it, every other country was covered. Bell stitches together a narrative of Kathmandu’s legendary birth with its turbulent modern history.
 
His narrative eschews the usual romantic view of a city stuck in time. Perhaps this rendering of Kathmandu is inevitable in the violent times Bell covered as a journalist (from the late-1990s onwards).
 
Bell deals with subjects like the Maoist movement without a patronising view. His sensitivity to the context of Kathmandu’s story also brings about moments of irony. “By 2001, the rebels were hitting police stations regularly and slaughtering scores of policemen. Then, on the first of June that year, something extraordinary happened. King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family were shot and killed at a dinner party in the royal palace. Civil servants were ordered to shave their heads in mourning and eat no salt for three days,” he writes.
 
Keeping in mind that over the past 50 years, after Nepal opened up to the world, it had to go through a crash course in all that had happened in the outside world, which it had missed, Bell’s narrative jumps between time periods, but the effect is never jarring. Bell’s structure for the book may be inspired by the Sylvain Levi quote he refers to, “To be sure, Hindus are far too little concerned with chronology to be in a position to claim that they introduce plausibility or logic into it, even when they invent it.”
 
This rendering of Kathmandu’s story works well and gives a wide sampling of the multifarious narratives of the city. An entire section in the book, titled ‘Revolutions’, focuses on the split between Kathmandu’s elites and the rest of the country. This part of the book also exposes the hypocrisies prevalent in societies undergoing a churn. For example, the presence of flower power hippies who thrived on a life built around elitism.
 
The violence of the revolution and people’s movements played its part as a resolution for these contradictions that were beyond redemption by the late-1990s.
 
This part of the book talks about the shaping of a possible future for the city, the malls and apartment complexes, the foreigners and politics (national and international).
 
Among the most tongue-in-cheek chapters of the book is one that speaks of Kathmandu as a theatre for international espionage. The Mexican standoff between world powers in Kathmandu involves the Nepali National Investigation Department playing host to the MI6, CIA, Chinese intelligence, Tibetan rebels and refugees, India’s Research and Analysis Wing, Pakistan’s Inter Services intelligence and the destitute North Koreans, who have to run a restaurant and sell Viagra to raise money for their embassy.
 
The third part of the book is a long epilogue that sets the stage for the coming years in Kathmandu and Nepal. “… the old woman, Dhana Lakshmi, who’d been waiting for her turn to be served at the shop counter asked, ‘Why were you letting him touch everything?’ The previous customer had been a dalit. ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,’ the shopkeeper told her. ‘It’s democracy now’.” He works through the complicated intermingling of democratic movements, communist/Maoist revolutions, a dying autocracy and, finally, the aftermath and hope for the future. In telling the story of Kathmandu, it is as if all of Nepal’s narratives move towards the city and find resolution there.
 
The book ends with a rant from Dhana Lakshmi, someone who has seen Kathmandu through different times, a typical rage at modernisation, accompanied by a begrudging acceptance of its benefits. She complains about the price of potatoes but ends by saying, “… Before there would be smallpox and a hundred died. People don’t die any more (sic),” grudgingly accepting that Kathmandu has changed and maybe not all for the worse.
 
http://www.moneylife.in/article/book-review-of-kathmandu/39757.html
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
India's successful launch of putting a record 104 satellites into orbit is a wake-up call for China's commercial space industry which has a lot to learn from New Delhi's frugal space programme, a Chinese government mouthpiece that publishes in English said in one of its rare editorials in which it commended an Indian action
 
read-more
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Israel later this year – a first by an Indian head of the government that comes 25 years after the two countries established full diplomatic ties. The visit, a long awaited one.
 
read-more
spotlight image For a Dongria child, the schooling process not only displaces him of the community and the land but also displaces him from his own way of seeking truth i.e through nature, writes Rajaraman Sundaresan for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre invites you to a lecture in the Changing Asia Series by Dr.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President and Chief Executive, Centre for Policy Research on Asia: Hope for the Future or Prisoner of the Past?    ...
 
read-more
spotlight image The sanctions-only approach toward North Korea spearheaded by the United States has been a conspicuous failure, encouraging the reclusive nation to rapidly advance its nuclear and missile programmes.
 
read-more
China bluntly warned that if the 'One China' principle is compromised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship, as well as bilateral cooperation in major fields, would be out of question, writes Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
At the moment, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari is able to stop the violence by pushing the Islamists to the vast Sambisa forests of the Borno State At the moment, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari is able to stop the violence by pushing the Islamists to the vast Sambisa forests of the Borno State
 
read-more
Sometime in later half of last year when Indo-Pak tensions peaked, military operation heads in J&K received unusual calls on their landlines. Sometime in later half of last year when Indo-Pak tensions peaked, military operation heads in J&K received unusual calls on their landlines.
 
read-more
Column-image

India remians the inflexible bête-noir for Pakistan, yet there are few books by Indian authors that have sought to interpret the prodigal neighbour in a holistic, informed and empathetic manner.

 
Column-image

The line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893 has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. More than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never ...

 
Column-image

What went wrong for the West in Afghanistan? Why couldn't a global coalition led by the world's preeminent military and economic power defeat "a bunch of farmers in plastic sandals on dirt bikes" in a conflict that outlasted b...

 
Column-image

What will be Pakistan's fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern whi...

 
Column-image

Some South African generals, allied with the British forces, sought segregation from the enlisted men, all blacks, after being taken prisoners of war. The surprised German commander told them firmly that they would have to share the same quarte...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive