Nepali Times

What was in it for us?

Monday, November 17th, 2014
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Jhalak Subedi in Kantipur, 15 November

If World War I hadn’t happened the world would have been different today. In Russia, Lenin’s October Revolution probably wouldn’t have happened, and the ideology of communism wouldn’t have spread globally. If there hadn’t been a Soviet Union, Mao wouldn’t have been able to complete his revolution. If there was no Mao, there wouldn’t have been a Maoist armed struggle in Nepal. The ideas perhaps would be there, but history would have unfolded differently.

The involvement of Nepali Gurkha soldiers in the British Army linked us to the war. On 24 April 2015, it will be 200 years since the first recruitment of Gurkhas by the British. One hundred years before World War I, Nepali soldiers were already fighting for the British. It is estimated that there were 200,000 Nepali young men in the British Army at that time – about 20 per cent of the hill
population of Nepal at the time.  Some 20,000 Nepali soldiers died in that war. Many did not return to Nepal, and statistics show a drastic fall in Nepal’s population between the two wars. Entire villages were without people. Prime Minister Chandra Sumshere also sent 16,000 troops to India to replace the ones who went to the front. He also donated Rs 10 million for the British war effort. The British gave Nepal one rifle for each soldier, the country was therefore awash with guns.

There were some benefits to Nepal. In 1923, in return for the help during the war, Britain signed a peace and friendship treaty, accepting Nepal as a sovereign nation as well as providing Rs 1 million annually which the Ranas and their descendants put into their own pockets.

The war had an impact on Nepali society and economy as well. Families with sons killed in action got some cash. Some 100,000 soldiers came back and brought back Indian currency worth Rs 130 million in salaries – about the same amount as the annual budget at the time. The price of property shot up.  They brought back English manners and eating habits. Many Nepalis stayed abroad and never came back extending the Nepali diaspora, those who did returned with new ideas. The soldiers also brought back bad habits like cigarettes, cards and gambling, and alcohol addiction. The shortage of young men encouraged women to marry across caste and ethnic lines.

But in hindsight, it is clear that Nepal never learnt its lesson from World War I. We didn’t have any enemies in that war. There was no reason for us to fight in it. Our national interest lay in preserving our sovereignty, but our rulers took the country to war to protect their own power. They served as middlemen for foreigners. Instead of setting up industries, manufacturing and jobs in our own country, they sent our young men to fight and die for someone else. This tradition continues to this day. The ‘brave Gurkha’ became a slogan for the country. In those days Nepali men died for the British Army, now they toil in the Gulf.

In 1911, before the start of the war, King George V came to Nepal, and our rulers arranged an elaborate welcome with a hunting expedition. This is all very similar to the way we are preparing to welcome Narendra Modi. We are still trying to appease foreign powers, there hasn’t been much of a change in our mentality.

Jhalak Subedi is the author of ‘Belayati Samrajyaka Nepali Mohara’ (The Nepali Aspects of the British Empire). The full Nepali version here.


Game Guru in Nepal

Friday, November 14th, 2014
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Tommy Palm

Tommy Palm

More than 70 million people around the world play Candy Crush Saga every day, 700,000 of them are in Nepal – one of the largest numbers in any country in the world.

Last year, Swedish company Kings Digital Entertainment which owns Candy Crush made 1.8 billion dollars in revenue, most of it came from the social mobile game. Even after two years of release, the game’s popularity continues to grow with daily installations crossing well over the 50,000.

With the exception of North Korea, the game is played in every country in the world, even in the continent of Antarctica. What is it about the game that has transcended geographical and cultural boundaries to become the most played game the world has ever seen?

“I think it struck a chord with people of all ages and countries because of its simplicity and accessibility,” Tommy Palm, one of the developers of Candy Crush, said in an exclusive interview with Nepali Times. “I had no idea in 2011 that it was going to be played by millions of people around the world.” Palm is in Kathmandu for the Ncell App Camp and will be speaking on Saturday at the Everest Hotel.

Candy Crush is free to download and play, and because it is a cross platform game users can  easily switch from playing on the phone to computer or even tablet. It makes money from in-app purchases of extra moves, lives and boosters.

Statistics show that women between 25-55 are the most loyal players, and spend longest time playing it. Palm admits it is the first game that he developed which even his mother and sister play.

“There are already a lot of games for men in the market, but very few for women so it is not hard to see why women play it the most,” explains the Swedish programmer. The parent company Kings has developed a niche market for non-violent computer games and young women are an important target group.

Palm who started developing games in the 90s is a self declared geek. He began playing games at seven and by the time he was 12, had already started programming. Like a stereotypical gamer, he spent most of his time in his room, curtains drawn, eyes on computer causing his parents to repeatedly ask him to be more outgoing.

Palm doesn’t like the word “addictive” to describe the game the whole world is playing, he prefers “engaging”. And the trick is to make people want to come back, and to challenge them. However, when so many people spend so much time playing the game on-screen, doesn’t it take them away from reading and face-to-face social interactions?

“It is important to do everything in moderation,” Palm explains, with the air of someone who has answered this question many times before, “just because you have games doesn’t mean you don’t need friends or a social life. Being a book worm is also not very sociable.”

It is precisely why Ncell thought Tommy would be perfect for its App Camp. “The main aim of the App Camp is to encourage Nepali app developers,” says Ncell’s Sanju Koirala, “and Tommy is a great role model and we believe his presence will boost the event.”

A Swedish company, Kings has always looked outside its borders for revenue earning. Something Nepali developers will need to start doing to truly make their apps global. “The app economy is very interesting because it doesn’t require a lot of human resource or capital. A lone developer can develop a billion dollar game working from his or her room,” says Tommy. It is this message he hopes to present to the finalists of the App Camp.

Nepal’s social media networks were abuzz as word spread that Palm was in town. With 4.5 million Facebook users, Candy Crush is benefiting from the spread of smartphones and mobile internet. Sobhana Shrestha is an avid player, and says she got hooked to the game while nursing her baby. “He would get up and cry at odd hours, and I had to wait until he went back to sleep, and started playing the game,” she adds.

Many Nepali players want to know: will the saga ever end? “Not anytime soon,” says Palm, “we will keep on adding more levels as long as there is still interest in the game.”

Tsering Dolker Gurung


The art of technology

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
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Nepali artists have for sometime been creating interactive artworks, but only a few have succeeded.  Finally, Yantra 3.0 has brought art, technology and science together in a seamless and fascinating amalgam.

The exhibition launched on Saturday 8 November at Nepal Art Council is organised by Karkhana, Robotics Association Nepal (RAN) and Siddhartha Art Foundation’s Education Initiative. Till Saturday 15 November, Yantra 3.0 displays  eight exhibits that deal with issues of identity, education and cultural heritage.

A student discovering the history of a stolen sculpture with Davis' Revisiting Kathmandu © Nischal Oli

A student discovering the history of a stolen sculpture with Davis’ Revisiting Kathmandu © Nischal Oli

In ‘Revisiting Kathmandu’s Lost Sculptures’ computer engineer Roshan Bhatta and Californian artist Joy Lynn Davis  explored the theme of stolen Kathmandu Valley artwork.  Visitors were invited to put their hand in 14 empty niches embedded in a brick wall containing sensors. By reaching inside each empty niche, a corresponding animation was projected on an adjacent wall to show a stolen sculpture, its original location and information about it. The animations were based on the artist’s amazingly realistic paintings of sites where sculptures were stolen from.

Davis started her researches on stolen sculptures of the Kathmandu Valley in 2010, and believes it is the artist’s responsibility to remind people of the beauty in the world.
Raising awareness was also the intention of Bidhata KC in her art which delved into the objectification of women in Nepali society. “I don’t understand how we can worship goddesses, but mistreat women in real life,” explained KC, whose ‘Jigsaw’ installation was an interactive puzzle on the theme of dowry.  “Like the different parts needed complete a puzzle, the varied identities of a woman make who she is.”

Art and technology was also used to awaken the curiosity of children in Yantra 3.0. The ‘Mané’ at the entrance showed how children can implement what they learn in classrooms. The accelerator meter inside the mane has its data transmitted wirelessly via a Xbee device to two video projectors.  When the mane is turned, animations screened change accordingly to the speed. Karkhana and Artree conceived this work to re-purpose, both in form and function, a prayer wheel to deliver a contemporary message.

Modernity and tradition also meet in ‘Galaincha’, which was conceived 15 years ago by Alternative Technology  as a software to generate carpet patterns by the movement of hands over a sensor. “Our product is the illustration of how modern technology can sustain traditional arts,” said designer Sanim Shrestha.

The other installations included Art Lab’s ‘Prasad’, ‘Scan Me’ by Mahima Singh using QR codes to display images and videos on the theme of urbanisation. International artists Hayes, Las, and Scotti constructed ‘Strange Fascination’, an ontological portal allowing the viewers to examine their identity and how it relates to others.

“For Yantra 3.0, we wanted to create a dialogue between artists and technologists,” said Sunoj Shrestha, president of RAN. “The exhibition was designed to deepen a mutual understanding of how each works and creates.”


The reward of giving

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014
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“The greatest satisfaction is to see the smile on the faces of children.”

Susan and Stefan Findel

GATE TO THE FUTURE: An illiterate school girl in Parsa who learnt how to read and write as a result of UNICEF’s Girls Access To Education program (GATE) supported by Stefan Findel and his wife, Susan. The Findels are the largest individual donors to UNICEF.
ANN PUTNAM MARKS / UNICEF

When Susan Findel was 10 and growing up in an orphanage in Korea she got a vaccination provided by UNICEF. In the past 20 years, Susan and her German husband, Stefan, have given away $26 million to UNICEF’s work to educate children in five countries around the world, including Nepal.

The Findels are the largest individual donors in UNICEF’s history, and have said they plan to donate all their wealth to the organisation to support an initiative to educate children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal.

“You are born alone and you die alone,” Susan Findel said during a visit to Nepal this week, “how much can you buy and spend? It is a moral issue, when the time comes I want to be able to say I have done the best I could to help.”

Stefan Findel agrees. “Since we do not have children, we are not worrying about what to leave our kids,” he said in an interview. “So we can give it to other kids. When our lives end, why should we have anything left over?”

For years, the Findels were anonymous donors, but UNICEF convinced them that by coming out they could inspire others to also help underprivileged children around the world. The couple try to make frequent field trips to look at the work they fund, and had a meeting in Kathmandu this week of their partners from the countries they work in.

“We decided to work on education because it is the most basic thing you can do to build a future,” explains Stefan Findel, “educating children is cost-effective, you are averting lot of other problems by educating children. And education is one thing no one can take away from you after you receive it.”

The Findels worked with UNICEF to select the five countries, and regions within them that were the most under-served. In Nepal, their initiative to ensure equity in education is being implemented in Parsa, Achham and four other districts.

Despite progress in literacy, especially among girls, there are over 1 million children in Nepal who do not go to school. Even in districts where there is high enrollment, nearly half the children (mostly girls) drop out before Grade 5. Literacy among children of Dalits and other sidelined groups is much lower than the national average.

“Illiteracy and caste discrimination means isolation and relegates children to insignificance, I know what it feels like to be an outcaste,” says Susan Findel who experienced stigmatisation and ostracisation first-hand when she was required to wear the colour-coded white handkerchief of an orphan.

The Findels have seen teenage girls in the West Point slum of Monrovia who used to be so shy they couldn’t even speak completely transformed after UNICEF’s girls empowerment program. They have observed similar changes in adolescent girls in Achham and Parsa (see pic above).

Ann Putnam Marks of UNICEF USA who accompanied the Findels on their field trip to Nepal says it is very unique to have philanthropists like them. “It is rare to see donors who are so committed to seeing things first-hand, and who provide support for long-term initiatives like education,” says Marks.

Indeed, most individual donors tend to prefer assistance for emergency relief because it is more visible, and many also want credit for it. The Findels say they chose UNICEF precisely because it works at all levels, doesn’t abandon a country when crisis hits like Ebola in Liberia, and invests in sustainable, long-term projects and hands them over to the government.

“There are different ways to give,” says Susan Findel, “some do it for status, some for fame, for us it is to learn by being involved.”

Stefan Findel adds: “You watch the news, and realise there is so much to do. The gap between countries and people is getting bigger. Many want to do philanthropy, but they don’t know where to start. For us the greatest satisfaction is to see that our money is helping build a better future for children, I saw that on this visit. The greatest reward is to see the smiles on the faces of children.”

Kunda Dixit

 


Watching the watchdog

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
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Just because an elected government displays unaccountability, it doesn’t mean that all the authority to prosecute alleged thieves is handed over to an unelected entity like the CIAA

When faced with a crisis, the Nepali polity has the tendency to prescribe a medicine that is worse than the disease. That is the case with the unfortunately acronymed CIAA, the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority. After it was set up in 1977 it has tried to fulfill a check and balance role, from the absolute monarchy days when decision-making was centralised at the royal palace to the post-1990 era of absolute anarchy when corruption was itself ‘democratised’.

But it was after the appointment two years ago of current chief commissioner Lok Man Singh Karki that the CIAA has aggressively investigated and prosecuted those allegedly involved in graft. With corruption, lack of transparency, extortion and abuse of power endemic in the current phase of our political transition, many had hoped that the anti-corruption watchdog could clean things up. At a time when politics is criminalised and hard-core crooks of every hue openly enjoy political protection, no one expects Nepal to be 100 per cent corruption-free overnight. But the expectation was that with a strongman at the CIAA, governance and service delivery would improve.

But the questionable choice and non-transparent circumstances under which Karki was brought in out of nowhere raised eyebrows. He was Chief Secretary during the brutal crackdown on pro- democracy protestors in last days of the royal regime in 2006. But a bigger irony is that Karki is heading an agency that had itself investigated him for abuse of authority in the past.

Since then, we have seen the CIAA involved in hooking small fish, indulging in petty vendetta, witch-hunts and psychological blackmail. Like the Panchayat-era Janch Bujh Kendra, the CIAA has overstepped its mandate and become a law onto itself. Just because an elected government displays unaccountability, it doesn’t mean that we hand over the entire authority to prosecute alleged thieves to an unelected entity.

In parliament’s Public Finance Committee last week, CA member Sher Bahadur Tamang asked: “Who will watch the watchdog?” The last straw seems to have been the CIAA’s directive to scrap the license for the World Bank-funded 36.7 MW Kabeli A hydropower project in eastern Nepal. The decision appears to have been taken because there was a delay in financial closure caused more by bureaucratic delays than abuse of authority.

Indeed, the CIAA has been acting almost like a parallel government, cancelling contracts, hauling up entrepreneurs, cancelling appointments and poking its nose into internal civil service matters. In the past months, the CIAA has cancelled the license for 10 hydropower projects. While some of these were schemes that dubious investors were sitting on hoping to cash in big time, others were genuine projects that had been delayed because of red-tape, local opposition or kickback demands from government ministries. The CIAA, instead of investigating malfeasance, punished sincere investors in the energy sector at a time when the country is reeling under crippling power cuts. At a time when investor confidence is improving, the CIAA action threatens to dampen it again.

Aside from the CIAA’s willful abuse of its own authority, the agency also needs to clean up its operating procedures. Currently, if anyone has a gripe against anyone, is motivated by jealousy, wants to bring down a rival company that legitimately won a contract, all they have to do is draft a complaint to the CIAA. An investigation then begins which publicly pronounces a person guilty until proven innocent, and puts multi-million dollar projects on hold as has happened with the ADB and JICA-funded Tanahu Project.

“I will put the CIAA on you” has become a potent threat that has paralysed decision-making in the bureaucracy and the administration. The buck stops at Baluwatar. Karki is powerful because we have a weak and feckless prime minister who can’t even nominate the six remaining commissioners to the CIAA. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told the parliament committee that the CIAA was “sabotaging the investment climate”. If so, he should get his boss to rein Karki in.

Kunda Dixit 

Read also: 

Afraid of catching big fish Muma Ram Khanal 

Watching the watchdog Binita Dahal 

Distant normalisation Editorial

In contempt of the republic Anurag Acharya 

CIAA under threat From the Nepali Press

Why not Lokman? From the Nepali Press

 


A Day in the Du

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
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Haircut- Luke PenderEvery day on my way home from work I pass a shopfront with the word ‘haircuts’ simply planted on its awning. I am greeted by Siyram Thakur a man with an endearing smile and like clockwork he invites me to come inside. He stands there smiling shouting “Sir, Sir haircut!” and points to his chair making a scissors sign with his fingers.

I usually smile, nod and keep walking, but this time I thought why not. I made my way to his shop, passing under the subtle ‘haircuts’ sign I felt like a lamb trotting into the den of a lion, as he whispered “it will be ok.”

I sat in my seat and began to tell Siyram how much of my hair I wanted cut off, using my trusty finger as my unit of measurement. He scratched his head as we both realised our relationship had got off to a rocky start.

Then in a stroke of genius he calls for his son “Nabin, Nabin.”  Now here comes his son a strapping young lad and more importantly the only bi-lingual one of the three of us. I explain to Nabin my predicament and he quickly gives me the head shake of understanding.

Now we are cooking with gas, as he reaches for the clippers I hope they understood me, as unfortunately you cannot glue the hair back on.  He begins to move my head around like a rag doll, giving me a timely smile every couple of minutes or so in reassurance.

The Hairdressers is the place where you unwind and discuss all the good gossip, like they do in the movies right? Well there wasn’t much common gossip between Siyram and I as I found out he indeed had not been keeping up with the Kardashians.

Hailing from Terai Mahottari, Siyram has been cutting hair for 27 years.  I asked if this was always what he wanted to do.  He looked at me and said “I don’t really mind what my job is, I just want to make money for my children to have a better life”. His proudest moment would be cutting President Ram Baran Yadav’s hair when he was the minister for health.

I have to say I had a blast, got a great haircut and I now have the sharpest moustache line in all of Kathmandu, not to mention the surprise massage I received. I did ask if I was his favourite ever customer, he told me “no”.

 Luke Pender 

 


Parliamentary hoax

Monday, November 3rd, 2014
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3 November, pahilopost.com

Maoist parliamentarians in Nepal have drawn the government’s attention to the prospect of the world being enveloped in darkness for six days, and asked what the authorities are doing about it.

Obviously, UCPN(M) CA member Janak Raj Joshi and Agni Sapkota don’t know that posts going around social networking sites is a hoax and raised the matter in parliament-legislature for the second day. Speaking during the Zero Hour of parliament on Monday, Joshi said: “The government needs to inform the citizens about the six-day solar disturbance and what effect it will have.”

Joshi used to be the vice-chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund and a secretary at the National Planning Commission. He was among 26 nominated under the Maoist quota to the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution. Sapkota is the spokesman of the Maoist party.

On Sunday Sapkota had also raised a question in parliament: “What are the government’s preparations for the six days of darkness?”

The hoax has been repeated by many Nepali online sites and posted on Facebook and other social networking sites in Nepal.

Click here for original article. 


 

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