Friday, 25 September, 2020

Aesthetic Aspect Of Metropolis

Prem Khatry


When progress is not linear but spiral, one is bound to look back when 'progress' could have been slow but humans were still working, eating, walking and enjoying life. It was a different time. People didn’t have much ask for; people didn’t have a shopping list to place on the feet of their rulers. Things have changed, for the better, as they say. There have been tremendous changes in the life of the nation, of the political parties and of course, of the people as well. Then people walked to work, farm, factory, schools and shops with open nose. Keeping the nose high and open was an example of high status, honesty and credibility. Children worked hard to keep their parents' nose ' up and straight' through their efforts to excel in life experiences – from school grade to work grade. In the mega cities that we are building, we also thought of the 'nose' of the city.
Gradually, as cities grow and enter new phases of development, there appear unplanned and haphazard processes of beautification. It is the history of all major cities of Nepal. Kathmandu mega city is the glaring example of such hotchpotch packages of development. There was a Mayor in the 1990s who visited several countries, perhaps he saw the beauty and cleanliness and came home with the vision. He started the Clean Kathmandu campaign from Hanumandhoka with support from dignitaries to the pedestrian on the street. As is the culture, the dream ended. Garbage disposal was always the mega problem for the mega city. People at the end knew how to bargain and force the government to bend to the maximum. That continues till date.
City roads were designed by the municipality long ago. Their vision was narrow as they thought there would be only two vehicles plying at one time and no possibility for the third to intervene. This is how two-lane roads were constructed. During the premiership of Dr Baburam Bhattarai, road expansion drive saw the peak with greenery. The original point of Araniko Highway at Maitighar and the Thamel-Budhanilkantha are best examples of his time. The inner roads expanded also and there were trees on the footpath. With rudrakshya and other plants Ratnapark and Kantipath area looked lovely. As the plants grew to bear the expensive fruit and beautified the roads the dozer pulled them out, again in the name of expansion.
Some roads like Gongabu and Kalimati in particular faced legal problems for expansion. Few houses at Gongabu-ASCOL road have been adamant to allow the expansion programme proceed at places. The road starts at Galkopakha where house no one belongs to a NC leader. He wouldn’t budge to help the expansion. Some others claim they have court order to 'not demolish' their ancient structure for the sake of the public. There are no footpath traces at places due to such adamant people. No plant can be there as long as the footpath is broken at places.
Our premier has a straight forward message he sends – Kathmandu will have no dust thus no mask needed as you walk. There have been counter responses to this. During the summer it was dusty and muddy as development works were going on. Strangest is the fact that our Pappus assign all minor and major works on the streets to labourers during the broad, wide day time. They come from all directions – electricity, water, road, telecom, you name them, you have them there with their gear and warrior like energy. Couldn’t the Pappus assign the work at night to avoid crowd, cursing pedestrians, angry drivers, and school children crossing roads? These are the notorious dust and mud creators.
Early last year, there was a news that muddy dust and chunks of mud itself landed on the roof of many Nepalis, including dust proven Kathmanduites. This was hard to believe that the source of this unwanted gift was Delhi and Rajasthan. There was no intelligent minister and former army general to launch yet another version of 'blockade' and stop the unhealthy and killer dust from coming in to Nepal. The peace loving 3 crore 'rishimana' suffered multiple illnesses due to this friendly dust coming or flying with the message that we have a long relationship recorded in history. At this time all Nepalis want is the long, powerful and clean Kali River in remote west to stop the dust and sound from coming in. For this we need to pinpoint the exact location where we can stop the dust and send it back. But our neighbours from south and north have created a 'gray spot' and at this time we cannot do much except splashing mud on each other at home.
We try to mope around the road and add beauty to our roads in the capital city when a VIP guest lands smiling and waving. It also depends how big bag he or she is carrying. Remember president Xi Jinping's visit vis-a-vis President Ahmed's? We don’t pit one against the other but in our thinking and behaviour we do seem to discriminate. Xi Jinping saw paved and cleaned road, flowers and greenery all over as if it was there the week earlier. He trusted there were. The Bangla president didn’t see much of this overly displayed love for neighbour and greenery when he came two weeks after. The flowers were waning and patches of devil's grass were either seeing some changes or decorating some clever ones' garden. For the day shift they were here, for the night shift they were gone elsewhere like their guards – the security.
Finally, when we begin a pro-clean and beautification effort we thunder, and when it comes to make it goal of life, our spirit wanes like the flowers at an island near Trichandra Campus or at Jamal crossroad. There are reportedly clandestine moves to re-install king Gyan, but tell you frankly there always will be one elderly vote for Dr. Babu for all he did to expand the narrow road stretching as the result of narrow mind and the green plants lining up at least on the zero point of the Kodari Highway. As a doc, he lifted Kathmandu's nose to some extent.

(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues) 

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