By Dinesh Wagle
Pic by Narendra Shrestha
[This article first appeared on Sunday's (feb 20) Kathmandu Post. Bryan Adams performed in Kathmandu's Dasharath Stadium on Saturday.]
Were things better here, Bryan Adams’ arrival wouldn’t be such a big deal.
Over the past two decades or so Nepali society has opened up to the outside world—especially Western culture and values—like never before. More people are going abroad. English language schools have proliferated. The reach of radio and TV has widened. Credit for this change should be given to the open economic policy adopted by the first government of Girija Prasad Koirala after the restoration of democracy in 1990.
But the arrival of Bryan Adams became a big deal because we are in a far from ideal situation.
The signs of progress that we saw in the middle of the 90s quickly disappeared into the smoke coming from the violent Maoist-police clashes. The economy stopped growing as politics failed to deliver the basic expectations of the people and the business community. Bloody conflict ended without concrete relief.
As a result of these and other issues, it seems society has hit rock bottom. People no longer hesitate to put aside morality for the smallest of things. Opportunities are so rare that the slimmest chance to earn money creates intense rivalry and conflict. We’ve all seen dogs on the street fight over a small piece of bone, haven’t we?
This past week I got to see the preparations made by the organisers of the Bryan Adams concert in Kathmandu up close. They wouldn’t tell me the exact figure of the deal that had several groups, including an Indian team that was responsible for setting up a stage and managing the sound system at the venue. But the red tape that they had to go through and the hassles they faced to make that event happen were clear to see. Every concerned authority, from police officers to the sports officials who rented Dasharath stadium for the gig, wanted their share of the profits. And there were countless demands for free passes. Those in powerful positions, including senior police officers, wanted the most expensive tickets free for them and their families. Others only demanded free access to the cheapest seats. “There are so many people who are envious that we are bringing Bryan Adams,” a person associated with one of the organising groups told me last week. “Everyone wants to pull our leg. There are obstacles at every step.”
It’s not surprising that earning money is one of the most difficult feats in a society that is one of the world’s poorest. But everything has a limit. We seem to have crossed this line.
The chief and a member of the sports council reportedly each asked for separate kickbacks. The chief denied asking for a bribe, while the member in question said he wanted money for ‘sports’. Organisers denied bribing officials, but it was hard to believe that they didn’t. Agitating employees, who were waging a separate war of sorts with the management, locked the stadium gates. They unlocked the gates only after securing volunteering opportunities during the concert. Simant Gurung, one of the organisers, hinted to me that the organisers unofficially promised to voluntarily donate some money to the agitating employees’ group. By the time of the settlement, some damage had already been done. Vandals had burned the closed-circuit television cables put in place at the stadium complex.
And there were friendly expectations. Friends of organisers wanted photo opportunities with the singer. Some wanted to see Bryan at their restaurants in Thamel and Durbar Marg. “That bhai at Tamas (restaurant) asked if I could take Bryan to his restaurant and make the singer sing just one song,” Simant said last week. “Another bhai from Lakhe had the same request. I would love to bring the singer to my own restaurant (Simol, Durbar Marg) and make him sing a few numbers if that was possible!”
The exposure to Western ideas and values that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, is mostly limited to television screens. A few hundred thousand Nepalis may have directly experienced Western societies by visiting and living in them. But celebrated personalities from the West don’t come to us that often.
The reason, again, is our poverty. We can’t afford to buy the expensive tickets for their programmes. We don’t have the money for their authentic CDs and DVDs. We can’t spend money on the merchandise that they hope to sell during their tours. This is the reason many Western celebrities who come to India (which is becoming a lucrative market) don’t step foot in Nepal. We are not important enough for them to come because we are not rich enough. Of course, there are those Nepalis who are rich enough to attend every such concert and buy every merchandising item on sale. There are many others who know Western songs by heart and idolise Western celebrities. But those numbers are not high enough to gain the attention of mainstream Western celebrities. That is why people like Nilesh Joshi, a guitarist with Nepali rock band Cobweb, feel bad every time Western celebrities tour India but skip Nepal.
Here enters Bryan, into this gloomy scenario.
With his arrival, many of us may feel that our existence has been recognised. Many of us may feel that we have finally been accepted into that advanced world we aspire to be a part of. Bryan may have instilled some amount of self confidence in us. But all this, I must clarify, may only be felt by those who know about Bryan and are familiar with his music. For those who don’t know the singer, like the spokesperson of Kathmandu valley police who thought Shree Bryan Adams was a “British national” and a “band but not a person” all these things may not matter much.
[The article in print version introduced Nilesh Joshi as singer of the band Cobweb. He is not. He plays bass guitar for the band.]