Dreams are far from realityThe Melamchi project might have already become a metaphor for our inaction and failure to match aspirations
Moving through the metropolis as usual, I realised the other day that we are perhaps getting used to the mess that the city streets have become. Surprisingly, the dug out streets, manholes, and reckless activities on the roads are becoming invisible to us, which metaphorically represents our psyche of not seeing things that are going absolutely wrong. We are getting used to living with the mess in social problems, and openly deal in and disturbingly protect corruption practices. An erosion of resistant forces and the barring practices of such behaviours is a deeply disturbing development; I cannot even name them in this short text. So I have chosen to write this more as an essay than a scientific survey, because as a literary writer, my strong conviction is that you can say more on the subject by creating a consonance of concrete images and abstract dreams. I have chosen one ‘productive’ metaphor, Melamchi, for that purpose here.
The repertoire of Melamchi terminologies has been burgeoning day by day. The Melamchi Water Supply Development Board was formed at the onset of the 21st century to supply water to Kathmandu Valley, which was struggling with the shortage of water, and has already gone down in the history of Nepali development and planning. The project was initiated in accordance with the newly learned Nepali lingo of a welfare state. Though lifted from the vocabularies of the development culture that nourished the Nepali imaginaire of development in the 70s, ‘social upliftment projects’, among others, became the cliché of the formation of Melamchi as well. History says that the sparsely populated narrow Melamchi valley of Sindhupalchok district woke up in awe and apprehension because of the noise coming from this project. The pristine river Melamchi, rising from Jugal Himal, cascading down the valley received the whispers of the water utopia dreams of an alien valley, the metropolis of Kathmandu, that lay outside its path. The ancient rivers Bagmati, Bishnumati, and others in the Kathmandu Valley which gave rise to civilisations and myths, cultures, rituals and poetry became overtly exhausted, polluted and dysfunctional. The pristine Melamchi was being diverted to this valley to flow sans myths, sans magic and sans culture through huge pipes, rising up in myriad taps to quench the thirst of several million denizens. To bring her to the Valley, the planners had to perform feats of engineering by constructing a 25.83 kilometre long tunnel. The Valley felt the first spell of the alien valley river as early as the 90s of the erstwhile century. It was echoed in the 1994 election speech of the Nepali Congress candidate Krishna Prasad Bhattarai given at the open stadium of the Tundikhel where he promised the people of this valley that, if he was elected to Parliament, he would wash the streets of this metropolis with Melamchi river water. I was among the thousands to hear that spontaneous innocence of the great democratic fighter. We began to wait for Melamchi in earnest, since that afternoon.
Kathmandu streets have been systematically ripped up in anticipation of the Melamchi water. Tunnelling a hill is being hailed as the last step towards quenching the gargantuan thirst of the people of this valley. This matter was exaggerated to woo aid and loans from foreign banks. Construction of the historic tunnel is perennially sending ripples through the Kathmandu news world. Millions await the outcome of this enigmatic boring process, which has assumed a legendary character. Legends are born out of hopes and expectations that take a long time to materialise. After waiting for a lengthy time, the people begin to forget the initial reality and accept the delay as a fictional feature that has a matching aura about it. Melamchi still continues to be fiction. What had not yet begun when Bhattarai’s effulgent expression came that nondescript afternoon was the admixture of dreams and profits that delayed, and is still delaying, the successful accomplishment of the Melamchi project.
Not today, only tomorrow
Apart from the legendary quality, Melamchi has a dramatic quality too. As a theatre person and playwright, I am fascinated by the dramatic quality of the Melamchi water project. This project has begun to resonate with the sense of the non-arrival of an unseen person named Godot, from an Irish absurd play entitled Waiting for Godot written by the famous Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Two bored characters Vladimir and Estragon, like us in Kathmandu Valley waiting for Melamchi water, are waiting for Godot, who sends a message through a boy that he would come only tomorrow, not today. The sudden visit of two characters—Lucky who is brought in with a rope tied round his neck by Pozo, who behaves like a master of a slave— bring some variation in the monotonous life of Vladimir and Estragon. I studied and taught this play, and watched its performance in Becket’s native city Dublin itself. Irish people’s love for this theatre is legendary—love for the story of non-achievement is epitomised in the play. It is everybody’s story. But I would never give literary merit to the Melamchi conundrum if it takes longer to materialise. It is the epitome of procrastination, non-action, money fishing and politicking.
We have acted far too much in anticipation of Melamchi water, the Godot in this context. We have dug holes in the city; we have ripped the concrete and macadam streets; we have put dust covers over towns in the Valley; we have ignored the woes of the people of the source village, who were badly hit by the earthquake of 2015. The greatest difference between the characters of the play Vladimir and Estragon and us is that the two characters wait for Godot without performing any physical actions. But we have almost completely somersaulted our existing system of the city in the hope of Melamchi coming here. Our expectation of the Melamchi water flowing underground in this cultured valley, bringing prosperity and enduring fulfilment, is without parallel. I have read some matching books though.
The Melamchi project might have already become a metaphor of our inaction and failure to match dreams even with minuscule projects in the 21st century when we had initiated the river version of the play Waiting for Godot. I repeat, Melamchi is just one metaphor.