M any decades ago, my management teacher taught me: “Money will never make you happy. That is not what money is for. It is to make others unhappy.”
One meets many unhappy Nepalis these days: on the street, in public places, official events, at party palaces and on the phone and social media. It would be a really bad time to do any survey in Nepal for the Happiness Index.
What is there to be happy about, anyway? Nepalis have to negotiate water-logged streets, highways that are death-traps, heritage sites being bulldozed, hospitals that bankrupt you, a doctor on hunger strike to make medical care more affordable, and the sight of a medical tycoon and top politicians feasting on red rice to protect a medical college.
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Whatever the reason, many Nepalis are unhappy, and more and more are beginning to organise to address the cause of their unhappiness. Social media is full of stories and images of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flying economy class to the World Cup in Russia, and standing in the rain to hug her sweaty team. This was in stark contrast to the travel style of our own President, who leaves monstrous traffic jams in her wake wherever she goes, as well as lots of unhappy, angry citizens.
Civil servants posted to provincial governments are unhappy, and taxi drivers are unhappy to go anywhere on the meter. Citizens are unhappy because they have to pay a lot for basic services like birth and death certificates. Elected politicians are unhappy about going to the people to tell them why their election promises have not been met.
Then there are the Nepalis who are more confused than unhappy. What does it mean to elect a crony-capitalist Communist government to power? Many might have assumed that the poor will now finally be able to access affordable education and health services. They expected market prices to be controlled, and their quality of life to improve. Those who thought technology and internet connectivity could be an equaliser in a country with poor infrastructure have been slapped with new taxes for browsing. They also have to put up with threats of a new cyber crime law. Some are unhappy that Nepal is importing Chinese gundruk.
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Nepali society is now polarised between the people who won the elections, and the losers. Between the happy and the unhappy. There is a growing divide between old money from land, and new money from corruption. There is a growing chasm between those in power
in Kathmandu, and the rest of Nepal. There is also a generational gap between the cynicism of the older folk and the aspirational young.
In this divided society there is some room for dissent, but little room for debate. Many people come up with their positions on a particular issue and feel that they will win if they are loud enough. The size of the crowd shouting on the streets or trolling on social media counts for a lot. Questioning is not encouraged, hence a two way debate as a tool for resolution is not very popular.
We may be unhappy about the relentless rain, but we are already looking forward to the post-monsoon holiday season when Nepalis stop working, start shopping and forget about their unhappiness. Family members who used to send money home or even come visit, are today inviting them to Japan, USA or Australia to celebrate Dasain or Tihar.
We may need to wait a bit before we carry out the Happiness Survey. Right now Nepalis may have hit the rock bottom in Gross National Happiness. But by Dasain, we will be a happy nation again. What a difference a month makes.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc