Snow Day

by Dave on December 8, 2009

Bandh December th

High Noon

Ah, the snow day. If you’ve lived in a wintry place, you know the joy of waking up on a snowy morning and realizing that you can’t leave the house. Kids experience a secret euphoria that comes with knowing that school is closed while adults enjoy the guilty pleasure of shirking the day’s responsibilities.

Today is a snow day in Kathmandu. In fact, we have a few more planned in the coming weeks. But astute readers will say that get doesn’t cold enough in Kathmandu to snow. They’re right – the last time there was snow on the ground here was two years ago. Friends claims that the best way to describe a bandh is to compare it to a snow day, Translated from Hindi, it means “closed” – which describes all the stores and offices in Kathmandu Sunday.

If you’ve followed Nepali politics, you’ll know that we have a lot of bandhs here. They are intended to incite change and most notable ones in recent history lead to the establishment of a federal republic and the abolition of the Nepali Monarchy. This sounds quite noble until we remember that Nepal has a history of changing governance models faster than some nations change the carpet in their Prime Minister’s office.

You won’t find it surprising to learn how frequently we have bandhs. A quick look at the handy nepalbandh.com will reveal that there are bandhs on the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 18th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 27th, 29th and 31st of this month. Last Wednesday was day 1 of the “Industrial Sector of Biratnagar Bandh – Day 1” and that we can look forward to the “Gandaki and Dhaulagiri General Strike Days” on December 18th. It’s amazing anyone gets any work done! (heh, heh, heh – a little bandh humor there)

December 5th Bandh

Someone actually getting work done

While today’s strike is associated with a political protest that turned violent in western Nepal (far away from us, Mom – don’t worry), bandhs aren’t just political. We have strikes for medical malpractice victims, angry garbage collectors, “small and medium-sized hotel owners” and civil servants whose boss was slapped by a government minister. Sometimes, bandhs are even called to protest other bandhs. According to a co-worker, a student protest last week featured a group protesting against the government while another group protesting against the protest.

Wikipedia claims that bandhs are “a powerful form of civil dis-obedience”, but we’re left to wonder if all this protesting doesn’t lose lost its impact. The Himalayn Times counted 500 bandhs in the first half of 2009 and claims that bandhs are such a part of the local landscape, that Nepal has something called “bandh culture”. It’s hard to believe in bandh culture until you visit a Facebook group called “People who actually miss nepal bandhs”. Mind you, there could be a finish to bandh culture as early as this afternoon – the Times also reports that “Students organize bandh to protest bandh culture.” You’re forgiven if you feel a little light-headed now.

At our house, the word “bandh” offers limitless opportunities for that lowest form of humor, the pun. There’s a tie for this week’s favorite – “One man bandh” (on my gmail IM status) and Robin’s “Bandh Hog Day”.

December 5th Bandh

There’s also no shortage of theories as to why bandhs seem so “popular” (for lack of a better word). Sujeev Shakya, the author of a recently released book, Unleashing Nepal, suggests that bandhs are part of a Nepali tendency towards slacking off – they provide an excellent opportunity to drink to excess the night before and play cards while everything is closed.

I suppose I’m equally cynical. After suffering the terrible pollution and dodging the chaotic traffic, Sunday was a genuine relief. The roads were so open and the air was so clear, I’d like to think to think that someone secretly planned this brief respite from the tyranny of the local transport system.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sujeev Shakya December 8, 2009 at 10:56 am

…like many other innovations, there would be an unique one that will quell closures in future…no one will know how that change came……

Dave December 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

Good Morning, Sujeev

It was a pleasant surprise to see your comment this morning – thanks for reading the post. I’ve been reading your book ( http://www.unleashingnepal.com/ ) and I’ve found it very helpful as we get oriented during our short time here in Nepal.

There have been efforts to stop “bandh culture” here – the first that springs to mind is the National Campaign for a Livable Nepal ( http://www.livablenepal.org/ ), but like other public awareness campaigns, it doesn’t seem to be the magic bullet. So what do you think that innovation will look like?

Thanks again

Dave

Shirley Robertson December 9, 2009 at 9:31 am

David, I enjoyed reading this and it has given me additional insight into some things I didn’t understand when I was there. Thanks for this.

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