First published by Nepal Times.
Epic moments, never to be forgotten. Thousands of people marching around the capital, waving green leaves, defying tanks and machineguns. Worn out, yet their spirits soaring. We might never know exactly how many people left the safety of their homes, braved injuries, hunger, thirst and possibly death, in order to establish a truer, safer and more inclusive society. But those who did and those who witnessed, will never be the same again.
The 2006 uprising, if peace is obtained, can be compared to the greatest of them all. We foreign journalists are however left with one major confusion: how to call this revolution? Jana Andolan ll is something folks out there simply can’t pronounce. ‘People’s Movement ll’ sounds like a 60s Cuban soap series. The Chinese got their Cultural Revolution, the Thai the Silk, the Ukranians the Orange. The Nepalis deserve no less. This uprising urgently needs a fitting name, capturing its mood and moments of glory.
‘Spring Revolution’, some papers suggest. Not bad, especially because uprisings in Nepal traditionally take place in Spring, during the lull in the agricultural season, in between harvesting and planting. An uprising in July or December? Not in our lifetime. Still, Spring Revolution is perhaps a little too obvious.
“Loktantra Movement,” suggests a friend. Spot on. Because you might think there is no limit to the tantra mantra of Nepal’s political scene, this one is a sure winner. Forget prajatantra, ganatantra, janatantra. Loktantra is the latest incarnation and it could very well be the final one (at least for this month). Lok, I’ve been told, means both the dwelling place of the gods, as well as ‘the people’. So it doesn’t take much imagination to experience the meaning ‘loktantra’-it’s the ultimate democracy, it’s a government without gods (or their incarnations), heaven on earth.
Still, there is the folks-at-home issue to be looked at. One catchy alternative could be ‘The Noodle Uprising’. Revolutions don’t happen on empty stomachs. And so political leaders, police inspectors and army generals alike discovered the virtues of instant noodles. Trucks full of snacks were unloaded at hotspots such as Kalanki, Gongabu and Chabhil. Policemen were caught drooling when the little goodie bags were distributed in the late afternoon. Demonstrators too feasted on crunchy uncooked noodles and fruit juice tetrapacks.
But perhaps we should think of the smells and sounds of the uprising. Deadly silence in one part of the city, deafening sounds of shrill whistling, sloganeering and ambulance sirens in another. One word that reverberates in my ears is “Haan Haan!’ You heard it from students on the Ring Road using slingshots on riot police on Ring Road. It was yelled by police inspectors and army majors, ordering their men to open fire on unarmed civilians. ‘Haan’ was also the word that marked the deaths of almost 13,000 people in the last ten years. It’s a word we hope the next generation will never have to use again.
‘Ita Andolan’ is another option. What would this uprising have been without bricks? Good old multi-purpose bricks from polluting kilns, exploiting the poorest of them all. For 19 days, it was David against Goliath, bricks against APCs.
‘Rhododendron Revolution’? The beautiful, resilient national flower, representing the Nepali spirit, flowering in rainbow colours.
‘Mukesh’s Movement’. After the smoke and sloganeering ebbed it was the resonance of people power. People like Mukesh Kayastha, 15, who joined a rally in Banepa and wast shot in the head. He hasn’t yet regained consciousness. At Bir Hospital ICU he breathes quietly in a coma. Mukesh now struggles not for loktantra but for his life. It’s his own andolan now.
Individuals like Mukesh yearned for change, for a life worth living. And perhaps, when we whisper the name often enough, our voices filled with hope and conviction, Mukesh will wake up in a country he felt was worth fighting for.