The gallant madness


Gaurab KC

From its hoary past to the present day, Kathmandu’s madness and beauty have been responsible for the large number of migrants from variouscorners of the country that have continued to pour into the city. Historically, the formation of market towns and cities depended on geographical factors and how well these facilitated trading routes. Kathmandu has been fortunate with regards to these spatial characteristics, and this is why settlements propped up in and around the Valley early on, among the oldest in the region. It was during the reign of the Lichchavi dynasty in particular that Kathmandu became a major trade hub between Tibet, India, China, and Central Asia.

As the country’s capital, Kathmandu—compared to other parts of Nepal—is naturally dense both in population as it is in ‘modern’ infrastructures, features that testify to the rapidity of urbanisation in this region. Much can be attributed to the development model that was adopted in the country after 1950, which strengthened the rural-urban divide, and distinguished the Capital as a place of opportunity and better futures, thereby inducing mobility among people from rural areas towards the city. Improved facilities in education, health, business, as well as other sectors, coupled with an exciting pace of life, have long made Kathmandu a glittering ideal of sorts for all country dwellers who dream of leaving their sluggish existences behind and coming here.

But as much as the Capital remains the land of opportunities and services for migrants who didn’t previously have access to any, its fast-paced growth has also fostered a sense of resentment among many, who feel that while Kathmandu’s privileges continue to rise, their own home turfs are being neglected by the centre. But, of course, all that glitters isn’t gold. Kathmandu might boast more facilities than any other city in Nepal, but it also suffers from its own set of unique problems. The ballooning prices of basic goods, high levels of unemployment, lack of sanitation, difficult-to-navigate roads, chaotic traffic conditions, frequent road accidents, pollution, and skyrocketing crime rates are just a few among these. These are the sorts of issues that consistently threaten the integrity of life in Kathmandu, and are included among the bitter facts that residents have come to grudgingly accept about their city.

The intricacies of the social and cultural challenges faced by urban dwellers in a day-to-day capacity have usually been overlooked in both contemporary discourses and academic write-ups. It is in this context that the book Saharikaran: Jivikako Bibidh Aayam (Urbanisation: The Many Facets of Livelihood) represents an attempt to kick-start debates on the issue of urbanisation and livelihood, an appreciable foray into the numerous vantage points from which to look at Kathmandu. Copies of the book, published by Martin Chautari in 2006, had suddenly gone out of print since 2009, affecting researchers and social science enthusiasts interested in urban studies who had sought the comprehensive information the volume offered on the subject. But having undergone substantial editing and reprinted, the book is once more available in the market today.

Saharikaran: Jivikako Bibidh Aayam is an anthology of 13 articles, preceded by an exceedingly resonant introduction by co-editors Bhasker Gautam and Jagannath Adhikari. The included pieces all portray the multifarious aspects oflife in the city, focusing on such significant issues as structural inconsistencies, among others. Contributing commendably to the debate on urbanisation in Nepal, the book highlights in its entirety the fundamental problems and short-comings of rapid urban growth—and their impact on the people—raising the alarm on the failure to tackle these through favourable policy regulations.

The articles represent synchronic and diachronic studies of the city, its population and the architecture it has inherited over time. They also delve into the multiple manifestations of poverty in urban areas and the scarcity of basic amenities. Social injustices are also focused upon, such as in the case of the landless squatters, or the disabled, and the discrimination from the state that they are forced to encounter. Saharikaran: Jivikako Bibidh Aayam takes readers on a ride through the various dimensions of livelihoods in Kathmandu, with pieces that are scholarly, aptly-textured, and meticulously researched, a well-informed collection designed to raise the right questions and to offer possible solutions.

The book is refreshingly diverse in its selection; some articles are highly theoretical, while others are more empirically-built, based on interesting case studies and narratives, and photographs incorporated into the text do well toillustrate points made in subtle yet powerful ways. What is most unique about Saharikaran: Jivikako Bibidh Aayam is perhaps its emphasis on the importance of revving up the study of urban issues in the country—something that has been largely ignored in the present-day context owing to the overriding focus on rural development strategies that are currently propagated by both the state as well as development discourses. It is this neglect of pertinent discussions and debates on urbanisation, and inability on the part of concerned authorities to implement sound plans and policies in this regard, that the volume points out as having led to the exacerbation of problems like that of poverty and crises of livelihood in Kathmandu.

The appeal of the book isn’t limited to readers of any one discipline; the articles can be enjoyed by all who demonstrate however wide an interest in the subject, although it might be applied in a professional capacity by certain groups, such as urban planners and policymakers. Of course, the book does contain some field-specific terminology that presumes knowledge on the readers’ part, which might be a bit of a hassle for those exploring urbanisation for the first time, and it would’ve certainly been good had these terms been conceptually defined within the text itself or via footnotes. But regardless, Saharikaran: Jivikako Bibidh Aayam certainly opens a new dimension in urban studies with its diverse content and vastly informative pieces.


Source: The Kathmandu Post, 3 August 2012

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