Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Maoist Map: A Criticism

  1. Khaptad is a better name than Seti-Mahakali. One word names are the only choice. 
  2. Khasan, that is Karnali. 
  3. Chitwan is part of Madhesh like was the case in the original Maoist map. There was no Kochila. 40% of the people in the Terai are of hill origin. To try to get Chitwan and Jhapa out of Madhesh just because they are majority hill origin, that does not contribute to national unity. 
  4. I am looking at a total of 10 provinces. 

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Swami Atmananda Giri: Geeta Temple

Photo Album

Full Audio: 1 Hour, 10 Minutes

(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Swami Atmananda Giri In Town
By Paramendra Bhagat (

On the evening of October 17 I found myself at the offices of Girija Gautam at 72-28 Broadway Third Floor. It is the best office of all I have been to in the area and a big reason why is the large window through which you can see pretty much all of Jackson Heights. You should check it out when you get a chance.

He took me to the Geeta Temple on Corona Avenue. I had been to the temple once before to step inside, and several times to play Ingress: the location is a portal in the game. He also switched his electric account for the office, gas to follow shortly: I am a network marketer with ACN. If he were to only grab half the people he had show up for his daughter’s grand high school graduation party a few months back, he would hit the top position in the business and be looking at making 100K a month at least, I said to him. But he said time was an issue, and instead he would be happy to share all his contacts with me. Why, thank you. I guess a Columbia Law grad needs to focus on his law practice. This guy could easily be holding public office in Nepal, that part of him comes out in his immense community involvements.

I was born a Hindu, my family is still Hindu, and I have not stopped celebrating any of the festivals.

They say about the Dalai Lama that he has something akin to a PhD in whatever it is that he has accumulated in terms of Buddhist teachings. This guru is also a Vedantic scholar with immense credentials. He was just one step below the Shankaracharya. Enough said. There are the rituals of Dashain, and then there is the prabachan. The wise man speaks, and you sit and listen. The guru had a sense of humor. He spent a few minutes explaining the word “makkhichoos.” I already knew, but thanks for the refresher.

When I got back home I prepared a multimedia presentation of the evening at my Nepal blog that you can find at where I have pictures, audio and video files. And I sent it out to my NYC Nepali Google Group with close to 600 members and the Facebook group of the same name with close to 200 members. The guru was just getting started, he was to speak every evening until the 25th.

There is a NRN angle to the swami that was of great interest to me. The bridhashram that the association built in Devghat was done so under this swami’s supervision. The swami also used his immense Bombay connections to set up a fund. Hundreds of people eat for free every day at the premises. This is what Bush might call a sound faith based initiative. You can be secular as a clock and still admire the implementation of the whole operation.

The first evening’s prabachan was on Geeta, easily the crown jewel of the Hindu teachings. What Muna Madan is to Laxmi Devkota’s body of work, what the life of Jesus is in the Bible, Geeta is to volumes upon volumes of Hindu messages. You can meet Nepalis at political and social events, but at an event like this, the connection you form is deeper.

There was prasad after the prabachan. The Gurudwara on 61st and Broadway beats all religious establishments in the area on that count: there is lunch and dinner every day pretty much. My childhood best friend’s wife is a Punjabi he met at engineering college in India: they live in Augusta, Georgia. He is a diversity visa lottery winner. When I was in Indiana, I drove to visit him. My first day of Dashain was dinner at the Divya Dham mandir. Many Nepalis had gathered. That was the first time Girijaji mentioned the swami to me.

He mentioned Hindu rituals and his kids. A guy from Nepal raising a family in America at some level feels the need to keep to his roots. Can’t blame him. On the drive back from the temple, he called up Bhim’s Café and ordered momo for his son. That might not be religious, but that is also a ritual, and it is also to do with roots. Eating momo is the top thing I might have learned in the decade plus I spent in Kathmandu. The dish is a delight.

Girijaji was in Tennessee for a while. I was in Kentucky for five and a half years: that is where I went to college. The first time I got to meet him was at the NRN membership drive event in Times Square a few years back when my friends Temba Sherpa and Jiwan Shrestha brought the association 1,000 members in one month compared to the 400 members the organization had collected in four years. I got John Liu to show up as Chief Guest. Harlem’s State Senator Bill Perkins, the first elected official in the city to come out for Obama, was the original invite. But then he was stuck in Albany Friday night, which is when the gay marriage bill passed. A John Liu staffer texted me late Friday night. Perkins is stuck in Albany, do you want John Liu to show up instead? We moved from texting to the phone. By midnight the confirmation had been made. Liu showed up promptly at 10 AM the following day. The guy at the time was the leading candidate for Mayor.

Audio File 4 Audio File 5 Audio File 6

Friday, October 04, 2013

Durga Pooja In Gorigama

English: Devotees of the Festival Chhath Parva...
English: Devotees of the Festival Chhath Parva in Janakpur, Nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Durga Pooja In Gorigama
By Paramendra Bhagat (

Gorigama is a neighboring village to my homevillage Gonarpura in Nepal. Gonarpura is not that far from Janakpur. What I most remember about Gorigama is the DurgaPooja there. Chhath was the top festival in the culture I grew up in. Jitiya dashe Dashain, Dashain solhe sukrati, Sukrati chhabe Chhaith. 10 days after the festival of Jitiya we start celebrating Dashain, 16 days after Dashain is over, we celebrate Diwali. Sukrati is another name for Diwali. Six days after Diwali is Chhath. So goes the saying.

In the culture of the hill Nepalis Dashain is the top festival, Chhath is not even celebrated, although Chhath is also a Hindu thing. But maybe it is a Mithila thing, because even Muslims in Bihar are known to celebrate Chhath. In my culture we don’t do tika in Dashain. That is a hill thing. But many Teraiwasis have learned to do the tika thing.

I would be home for vacation from the school I attended in Kathmandu. Most years my Dashain vacation, which incorporated Diwali (one year it didn’t), would end just a day before Chhath. That was the Panchayat era cultural insensitivity.

On the days of Durga Pooja late in the afternoon streams of people would walk from my village to Gorigama. The sight I most remember is all these people who would carry their flip-flops in their hands for most of the walk, and when they were almost there, they would go to the nearest pond, and wash their feet, and put on their flip-flops. They wore the flip-flops only on special occasions. Otherwise they walked around bare feet. It is called being a Third World country.

Local artisans created the most beautiful mud statues of Durga Mata. And then when the festival was over, half the village would go lay the statue down in some pond or river. Such was the custom.

The festival grounds, usually the public school, would have stalls of food and stages of entertainment. The local drama companies got to perform. This was Bollywood to most people in my homevillage for whom Bollywood was not yet a reality. To most people in my village at the time both Nepali and Hindi sounded like English: foreign. There were high school students who would sit themselves in the mango groves reading up cheap Ved Prakash Sharma novels who would would tell their parents they were “studying.”

The festival season would start after the flood and monsoon season ended. You cleaned up and decorated your homes for Diwali because the rains are gone until they are back next year. But after Chhath there was no major festival for months.

Before I moved to New York I was in Indiana. There I went to a local county festival once with my then wife and her family. I was the only non white person at the fair. The festival reminded me of the Durga Pooja festival in Gorigama.

Rumor had it the biggest Durga Pooja festival celebration happened in Calcutta. I have never been. And the biggest Chhath celebration was in Patna, along the banks of the Ganga river. I have been to Patna but not for Chhath. Some day.

In the mid 80s my father was a dealer for the Santosh radio that was manufactured in Calcutta, probably the first one in eastern Terai. My brother is named Santosh.

Gorigama was part of the same local village unit as my homevillage. There was Gorigama, and the adjacent Hari, and Hriduwa not far away. I had relatives in Hari. My grandfather’s sister lived there with her two sons, one of whom was a teacher. My grandfather had no expressed desire to become mukhiya. But then one day a committee in the neighboring village decided he was the appropriate person, and they came and lifted him up while he was sitting for dinner. I witnessed the scene. They took him away. When he came back, he was garlanded and had abeer – red powder – all over his face. He had just become Pradhan Panch. I guess he acquired a taste for it. Then they started holding elections, and he contested and won several times. He remained Pradhan Panch until the system got toppled, and there were still people urging him to run. He didn’t. A few years later one morning he headed out to the holy cities of India to spend the rest of his days as a sadhu, never to return. The family performed his cremation rites in absentia a few months back.

His father, my greatgrandfather, was a local rags to riches story. He started with very little, and his other branches of the family were proof, and went on to own more land than anyone else in the village. A key element of his success was the strong urge to save. My greatgrandmother knew how to save. She would get the last drop out of every mango, every time. My grandfather’s other sister was married to the Pradhan Panch of the neighboring Badiya. A granddaughter of hers, my cousin, recently moved to Minnesota from Nepal after getting married. Small world.

At the Durga Pooja festival in Gorigama I would often get to meet my relatives from Hari and Badiya, and also Banchauri nearby. My grandfather’s brother’s daughter was married in Banchauri. Her daughter’s son now lives in New Jersey. Hello Suneel.
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Buddha Was Born In Lumbini

The Asokan pillar at Lumbini, where Gautama Bu...
The Asokan pillar at Lumbini, where Gautama Buddha was born (current Nepal). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Buddha Was Born In Lumbini
By Paramendra Bhagat

Buddha was born in Lumbini. At the time no country called Nepal existed. The country that we know as Nepal today did not exist for another 2,000 years after Buddha was born. So it can be argued Buddha was not born in Nepal. It can also be argued Gandhi was born in Britain, because at the time India that we know today was British territory.

King Janak back in the days ruled over a vast country that was larger than today’s Nepal: it spanned what would today be Eastern Terai in Nepal and much of Bihar. It was called Mithila. The cultural entity still exists. My father is Nepali, my mother was born and grew up Indian. But both are Maithils. To my two families the Nepal-India political border feels highly arbitrary. At some level we want Mithila back!

I am no Buddha, not even close, I am merely a Buddhist, “one small human being” in the words of my fellow Buddhist Richard Gere, but I was born in India. Buddha was born in Nepal, but he achieved enlightenment in India. I was born in India, and attended high school in Kathmandu.

I like to argue Buddha must have looked like me when he was born. Lumbini is in the Terai. Buddha was born a Teraiwasi. The Jesus that walked this earth looked like what an average Arab looks like today. He had brown skin. But he is depicted as this blue eyed blonde dude in popular media. That is not accurate but it is something to do with the fact that Christianity has gone on to flourish in the West, whereas Jesus country is mainly home to Judaism, and in a bigger way Islam.

Buddha gets depicted like he had Mongol features. He gets shown to have Kubla Khan eyes. That cannot have been true. Buddha was a Madhesi. Too bad there are hardly any Madhesis and Biharis who are Buddhist today. I might be a major exception to the rule. My family is still Hindu. And I like to celebrate all kinds of festivals. I am a big fan of the Holi in Richmond Hill, the top Holi celebration in North America. I visited a mosque for a month last year every evening during Ramadan. The picture that you see in my ad for my tech consulting firm in this newspaper is from a Christmas party a few years ago.

The various South Asian currencies are already tied to the Indian rupee. When the Indian rupee goes down in value, the Nepali rupee goes down in value. It would make sense for South Asia to attempt a free trade zone and a South Asian economic union to end up with a single currency. But Europe’s mistake was there was no accompanying political union. I don’t imagine a Kashmir that is with either India or Pakistan. I imagine a Kashmir that is in a closely integrated South Asia, and so it does not really matter if Kashmir is with India or Pakistan.

Buddha is a strong case to be made for diluting the Nepal India border to the max. There are more Nepali speakers in India than in Nepal. Preserve the culture, but when it comes to the economy, make decisions that are pro-growth, pro prosperity. The India Pakistan border is a sore point in South Asia. No prime minister level peace talks could achieve with the magic that full-fledged trade could bring about. A South Asia that stands united will be a South Asia that will compete globally. A disunited South Asia will stay preoccupied with its immediate neighborhood.

I have never gotten worked up about the whole Buddha was born in Nepal issue. Like the Indian embassy said in a press release a few weeks ago: “The fact that Buddha was born in Lumbini was established over 2,000 years ago.” During a class discussion I said with immense pride to my geography teacher in college that Mt. Everest was in Nepal. To that his retort was: “And what’s your contribution to that?” Made me think.

Buddha was born in Nepal. But what’s your contribution to that? Nepalis alive today will have to create a world class economy that they can claim credit for and express pride in. But that requires getting past the false nationalism as expressed in the non-issues like the whole Buddha was born in Nepal fiasco.

A front page article in this newspaper a few weeks back argued India was behind the idea of Nepal elections in November 2013 and April 2014. The truth is it is the political parties in Nepal that have engaged in this debate and tussle. But to see India working behind the scenes is pretty reflective of the knee jerk ways of the Nepali media. If South Asia is a solar system, India is the sun, and Nepal is like planet Earth, true. There is the obvious gravitational pull. That geopolitical reality cannot be wished away just like gravity cannot be wished away. Leading Nepali politicians making regular treks to Delhi to lobby the power centers in that power city is a bigger phenomenon than various elements of the Indian foreign establishment wanting to meddle in Nepal. But for the most part both India and China want Nepal to do what’s best for Nepal. And so Nepali leaders just have to take more responsibility for their actions and non actions than they do.

Buddha was born in Nepal. But what’s your contribution to that?
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The Word Madisey

English: Abhishek Pratap Shah is a Nepalese po...
English: Abhishek Pratap Shah is a Nepalese politician, belonging to the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(published in Vishwa Sandesh)

The Word Madisey
By Paramendra Bhagat

The word madisey is like the word nigger. It is hate speech. There is no nice way to say it. There is no tone of voice that is right. You can call someone a Teraiwasi. You can call someone a Madhesi. There is a Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, there is no Madisey Janadhikar Forum. Someone from Mithila is a Maithil. I take great pride in my heritage. But hate speech is inexcusable. You can call me Indian, I am half Indian. But hate speech is a whole different paradigm.

Suman Timilsina was national president of the Non Resident Nepali Association when he said the m-word, in a public speech too. I took great exception to it. My blog post taking offense is still in the archives online. Timilsina is nowhere to be seen anywhere in the public space. He does not belong.

I was at the Woodside Café with some friends a few months ago. Someone at an adjacent table but within hearing distance kept saying the m-word. He also used the “dhoti” term quite liberally. He was not anyone I knew or who knew me. He was not talking to me. The guy was using the hate terms to talk about his Indian boss in the city. Obviously he would not say that to the boss’ face. This was not racism that was coming out of any claim to superiority. I did not speak a word of protest. But I arranged to have tea with my friend a week or two later. And I asked about that guy. Who was that “namak haram,” I asked. The underwear that guy is wearing he must have bought with the money his boss gives him, I guessed out loud. But look at the racist way he was talking about his boss.

Some of the poorest white folks in the deep South are some of the most racist white folks in America today. White folks in the northeast and along the West Coast look down upon them, so they look for people to look down upon too. They look in the direction of Africa. Poor Nepalis talking racist about Indians fall in some similar weird category. That is like low income senior citizens in my homevillage in Nepal thinking white Christians are lower than the so-called untouchables. It is a fabricated superiority mindset that might not go away anytime soon but it has absolutely no basis in reality. The socio-economic indicators provide no leverage to that way of thinking.

The word madisey is like the word nigger. The word Madhesi is like the word Negro. The word Teraiwasi is akin to the term African American. Teraiwasi is a respectable term. But the word Madhesi has cultural connotations. 40% of the Teraiwasis today are of hill origin. They are not culturally Madhesi. The word Madhesi encompasses the Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Tharu, Urdu, Hindi and Marwari speakers.

Madisey, bhote, and jyapu are not nice terms. I hear in Britain Paki is a similar derogatory term for all South Asians. The respectable term of course would be Desi. Many Nepalis protest the use of that word. To me that is like saying a Nepali is not South Asian. Of course a Nepali is a South Asian. Of course a Nepali is a Desi.

The term Bahadur and pakhey are also derogatory. I disapprove of the use of the word Bahadur in India. It is hate speech. But that use does not justify the use of the word madisey. I support the idea of a Gorkhaland state in India and all peaceful action that will lead to its creation.

There is some major work to be done to create a positive pan South Asian identity in Jackson Heights. The community is at peace and the crime rate is low, but it is too fragmented. Most people stay within their comfort zones socially. There are the country groups, and there are the various ethnic groups within those country groups. The right to peaceful assembly is a basic human right and rightly so. So I am not going to protest the various pretexts people find to come together. But I think effort has to be made to create a larger tent.

At one end you are an individual and you need your personal space and dignity. At the other end you are part of the humanity at large. And there are many groups in between, all of which deserve to co-exist peacefully.

You can make a practical case to simply ignore some Neanderthals making peaceful use of hate speech. The positive change might not come fast enough. But I think it is a fairly simple proposition to say hate speech should meet social ostracism. A community that makes the effort towards positive interactions will be a more productive community.

There are practical implications. Hate speech gets in the way of the riches. A community that tolerates hate speech will not cut all possible business deals and will lag behind. New, higher levels of cooperation will not be an option for a Nepali community that is okay with the use of the word madisey. That word creates roadblocks and gets in the way of wealth creation.

Jackson Heights is only a few blocks of India but it is the most famous Indian neighborhood in all of North America. For a Nepali to talk hate speech against Indians in a place like Jackson Heights has got to be one of the less wise things. Don’t do it.
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The For Profit Sector

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997); at a pro-life meeting in 1986 in Bonn, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(published in Vishwa Sandesh)

The For Profit Sector
By Paramendra Bhagat (

More than 80% of the people in America work for private companies. That is how they put food on the table. Another 15% or so work for the government. This economy requires 5% of the people to stay unemployed if it is to have a robust labor market. As in, a 100% employment rate is highly undesirable. That is why governments deem it worth it to issue out unemployment benefits: keeps the labor market fluid. The non profit sector steps in for those who don’t receive unemployment benefits or welfare checks. And then there are the uncared for untouched by the private, public and non profit sectors. Those seek Mother Teresa. Sadly, that still leaves a segment of the population that is truly uncared for, especially so in the global context.

In poor countries the private sector might be weak, the public sector might be relatively too dominant and getting in the way, the non profit sector might be overly strained or barely existent. But even there most people work private sector jobs to put food on the table for their families. That includes the informal sector in countries like India. The informal sector of the Indian economy comprised of businesses that don’t hold licenses and don’t pay taxes is rather large. And then there is the mafia that also largely revolves around money making. In some countries of Latin America the drug mafia is so large it functions as a parallel government. The Mumbai origin Dawood Ibrahim is listed as one of the 40 richest people in the world.

In the scheme of things I think the royal throne goes to the entrepreneurs in their multitudes. Entrepreneurs are not rich, greedy people lording over the hapless. They are people who create wealth and jobs. They pay taxes with which governments invest in people’s education, health and infrastructure. Entrepreneurs literally create wealth out of thin air. Bill Gates’ 50 billion dollars is not money he stole from someone. Those 50 billion dollars simply did not exist before he came along. And good thing he is putting that money to good use through his foundation. He has been fighting poverty like he were some kind of a Maoist.

The corporation is one of the greatest inventions ever. And entrepreneurship makes sense for people in all income brackets. I am a huge fan of micro lending. Everyone deserves access to not only education and health but also credit.

Abraham Lincoln did what no entrepreneur could have: he ended slavery. And someone like Gandhi is both Lincoln and Mother Teresa. Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh ran his enterprise like a non profit. There is no denying the role of the leaders of various sectors. But as a country like Nepal moves towards a decided economic focus, I think appreciation for entrepreneurship will have to take deep root in the culture.

A country like Nepal that has numerous communist parties and it looks like most of the major non communist parties also call themselves socialist, I think interesting concoctions can be imagined. You can have companies that are partly owned by the government, you can have companies that are majority owned by the government. But for the most part it is best if the government stays out.

A left leaning country runs the danger of wanting to kill the hen that lays the golden egg. Nehru was key to India’s independence, but he also gave the country his gift of socialism, which was well meaning, and perhaps made Cold War sense to him, but that has also meant the legacy of too much red tape and misallocated resources with India ending up with the much derided “Hindu rate of growth” for decades.

Unleashing the entrepreneurship potential of the new generation in Nepal is partly a policy challenge. Some warning signs are the mindless, xenophobic rhetoric against Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that seems to have a permanent place among a segment of the Nepali political spectrum. The choice is clear. You can bring in foreign capital, or you can send away your workers to Dubai and Malaysia to labor in uncertain circumstances. After Baburam Bhattarai signed BIPPA, a pro FDI agreement, his own Deputy Prime Minister stood up against it to score cheap, misguided political points. I was perplexed. Hostility to FDI is a sure recipe to a perpetuation of poverty in Nepal. Is poverty what Nepali nationalism all about? As in, to lose poverty is to lose the essence of what Nepal is all about? Beats me.

China never tires of pointing out how much more FDI it attracts year after year as compared to India. FDI is not only a good thing, it is something any sensible country competes for. That includes the rich economies.

I would hope that the Maoists would learn to respect entrepreneurs the way they have worked hard to accept other political parties. Their pro poor origins would be best reflected in the resources they should be able to marshal for education, health and infrastructure. Get the literacy rate up dramatically, up the vaccination rates. Train tens of thousands of health care workers and send them out to the villages, Mao style. But do not kill the hen that lays the golden egg. Let entrepreneurs run full speed.
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