Terracotta soldiers

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- Devendra Gautam, Kathmandu

Jan 27, 2016-

Some days ago, yours truly had gone to a bank at Kumaripati, Lalitpur to cash a cheque. There were hardly 10 people ahead of me, and the line was static. We all looked like a column of terracotta soldiers waiting for orders from the high command. Upon inquiry at the counter, I discovered that the internet was down, so all transactions had come to a stop. Such excuses from the service counters at Nepal’s private and government offices have become an everyday affair. We queue up for fuel for hours, and when our turn comes, the man at the counter says that the day’s quota is over. What do we do in such a case? Most times, we return home without complaining or raising our voice against this mal-governance. 

If we do so, a lathi charge is what we get from the state. In Nepal’s serpentine queues, consumerism dies every day; good governance dies every day. They died that day too. After about an hour, the internet connection was restored and the queue came to life. For all this disruption, the bank management did not apologise. In Nepal, this is the norm rather than the exception. So, why apologise? 

I cashed the cheque and hurried to the Transport Management Office at Tikhidewal to pay the annual road tax for my motorcycle. Paying the tax was another ordeal in itself. With the blockade and the Madhes movement causing a shortage of gasoline, my bike and thousands of other vehicles have stayed off the roads for a good part of the year. Nonetheless, we had to pay the tax because we were not big businesses that could have their electricity bills forgiven and get loan waivers from the state. On account of the massive losses suffered due to the quakes and blockade, the state should have offered small taxpayers like us some tax concessions. The fact that it did not proves that it is morally bankrupt. 

In the good old days, there was a service seeker-friendly system. Display panels fitted at the counter would show the coupon number, and it would also be announced over the public address system. In Tikhidewal too, there was no organised dissent against this mal-governance. There, go-betweens were making money from people who preferred short-cut channels instead of waiting in a queue. We terracotta soldiers watched all this silently and kept moving towards the counter mechanically. After about an hour, my turn came. I paid the tax and left the office, feeling as if I had won a battle. That day, it dawned on me that you could even devour voluminous books like the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata while waiting in Nepal’s serpentine queues, if you have no energy to protest against this sad state of affairs. Poring over the remaining pages of Lost in Transition on the way to the office in a Safa tempo, I thanked myself for having carried a book that helped me pass the hours easily. 

Published: 27-01-2016 08:48

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