The Kathmandu Post 23 August 2007
Nepal is undergoing one of the most volatile times of its history. Common citizens would see the time in terms of gradual dilapidation of the structure of unity and common goal. At the same time, concerned nationalists fret for the deconstruction and fragmentation of the notion of nationalism itself as the voices for decolonization and separation ring from the southern part. For most, the moment is not for indifference because indifference would cost little or more, now or later. For others this is not the time to act an ostrich as if nothing is happening around. The ‘cool, sequestered’ ones, the self-directed peasants and the working class, may be living their lives unaware of the upheavals in the country always validating the adage that “life goes on”. And, in the chaotic time like today people would expect some healing ideas from one of the anxious groups of people — the intellectuals. But, do we have enough intellectuals to devise ways to rescue the nation out of the mire of uncertainties? Does their anxiety involve the fate of the majority who are caught in the dilemma between optimism and pessimism?
There are at least three types of intellectuals in the country today. First, the oldest and the most senior comprising of retired and retiring service holders, professors and entrepreneurs; second, the between-agers, the most inspired and thriving class from the same groups as the first; third, and the youngest, the most aspiring and enterprising group springing from the first and second, new job entrants, university graduates and senior students. By nature, the oldest are the most assured, the between-agers are the most carefree and the youngest are the most committed. The youngest occasionally undergo dilemma of finding idols for themselves while in the process of making themselves idols for the coming generation even more aspiring and versatile youngsters. Generation gap prevails between these three classes. The youngest have long ceased to regard the oldest of any value in the changing society. They would rather struggle for an identity of their own. The between-agers perceive it to be their responsibility to strike a balance between one-upmanship of the first and dynamism of the last. The irony then is they are not trusted by both.
Most of the assured have always stood under powerful political flags or enjoyed entrepreneurial successes. Or they have cashed the fruit of both. They can be the most ostrich-like at times because uncertainties do not shake the foundation on which they live. On other times, they tend to show a remarkable presence in the public places with their evergreen complaints and critiques. The inspired equally oscillate between the flags and entrepreneurial fruits, and therefore have conditional presence in the similar critical moments. The aspiring, however, try to demarcate politics and entrepreneurship. They find themselves pressed with the challenge of coping with technological and ideological changes around. To them, those above are not so much guidance as the fast changes are a driving force. They see life’s sustainability not in hoping, groaning and bargaining, but in proving competence and eligibility to face professional contests, and would simply shrug off the every day myths of seniors occupying public venues for protests and strikes. The between-agers are then caught between groaning and bargaining of the elders who have not zeal to adapt to the dynamism of the world, and leaping forward of the younger who have gusto for accomplishments and discard for social disuse.
It really hurts the senior intellectuals to be called out of place when they have spent a considerable number of years in a relatively more venerated position. To be an intellectual with some degree of honour pays a lot more than to be a commoner. Therefore, sometimes it is somehow uneasy to say that the oldest of our intelligentsia, the retiring/retired university gurus, have hardly been of guidance at least in this ‘transitional’ period. When the nation suffers uncertainties, common people naturally expect remedial contributions from the learned citizens. And the fact that they are equally cashing the opportunity to get the most out of the present lenient government hardly gives any consolation. The country as a whole expects relatively more from the citizens for whom it has invested considerably and placed in a conspicuously more privileged position. Yes, every member must be responsible when the family is falling apart. But the most privileged and capable is always entitled to render more substantial contribution in order to protect the family. Needless to say, every one conscious citizen today can rightfully ask the other for a right return of the investment the country has made out of its meager national income.
The public speeches on nation building are today’s clichés, as are promises of commitment to the progressive and republican system. When the most privileged speak incessantly of ending regression, conscious beings would take it to be a farcical pedantry. What can be more regressive than being indifferent to the major changes or avoiding participation for initiating changes? The political atmosphere today stands in favour of empowering the powerless. This may be why the aforesaid pedantry sounds out of place in the broader scenario of change and restructuration. When the leading brains continue to revel in hopes of further privileges under the temporary tents of public places, political changes will show further invalidity of their demands. This may instead validate the prevalent complaints that intellectuals are one of the most problematic sections of society at the time of revolution and process of restructuration.
The main problem today is that we take politicians for either novices or betrayers, unmindful of their collective potentials for optimistic reformations. Recent history clarifies their capacity to bring forth exemplary changes. So, even when the majority of wise people live in skepticism and distrust for the leading political parties, the time still entrusts the parties with greater responsibilities. Let us allow our politicians to work their best and act ourselves as responsible watchdogs. It does not so much matter not to add a few to many privileges we enjoy. But it does matter not to allow even a speck of privilege many of our fellow citizens have so far been deprived of. Now is rather a time to reflect on these questions: How many of the senior intellectuals are worried about the growing trend of brain drain because the society and institutions they lead are not able to attract and satisfy the aspiring young people of the country? How many aspiring youths are prepared to take any of the seniors as role models for tomorrow? What if the growing generation of intellectuals stop putting faith on their predecessors?