Hindu gods, Sai Babas fail to deter Nepal’s menaceBy Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Thursday, January 6, 2011
KATHMANDU - Once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, Nepal has the largest number of religious holidays among countries, as well as the controversial reputation of sacrificing the largest numbers of birds and animals to obtain divine blessings.
Yet, the Nepal government’s attempt to prevent public nuisance - right next to what was once the most important building in the country - by invoking the Hindu pantheon has fallen piteously flat.
The Narayanhity, once the palace of three kings but turned into a national museum following a pro-democracy movement and the abolition of monarchy in 2008, now faces the ignominy of becoming a huge, open-air lavatory.
The transformation comes after the coalition government decided to shift part of the foreign ministry inside the august building in 2009 and then, the passport office as well.
Strangely, though at least 200 applications for fresh passports are lodged daily and nearly 500 people throng the passport office every day, the authorities have not improved the infrastructure. From the two fibre-glass awnings put up recently in front of the building, the crowd overflows onto the pavement, creating chaos - and incredible littering.
There are no toilets for the passport seekers, who may have to wait for hours, and men as well as children head for the walls of the Narayanhity, urinating and defecating in the open.
Part of the extensive wall of the former palace now resembles a swamp with steams of urine flowing on the main road and raising an incredible stench that causes pedestrians to hurriedly cross over to the other side of the road.
After the local media highlighted the appalling conditions of the former palace and the seat of power, the foreign ministry hurriedly installed a mobile pay-and-use toilet.
But it is hardly sufficient to meet the pressure on a busy day and many in the crowd prefer to relieve themselves on the wall anyway.
Right opposite the dirtied wall are Thamel, the hub of foreign tourists in the capital, the education ministry and an elegant public garden. And the open-air defecation is a giant blot, especially at a time Nepal is celebrating tourism year 2011 with the target of attracting one million visitors from abroad.
In a laughable attempt to stop the public nuisance, the foreign ministry last month pasted small tiles on the wall, bearing the images of Hindu gods and goddesses, the Buddha and also the two Sai Babas, Indian holy men with huge followings both in India and Nepal.
The move resembles the similar efforts in India in which walls sport images of Hindu divinities to discourage passersby from spitting out the blood-like red betel juice or urinate.
However, it has met with little success in Nepal so far.
The most affected spots sport images of the Marathi saint known as the Shirdi Sai Baba, who passed away in 1919, and the Sathya Sai Baba, who recently celebrated his 84th birthday.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)