Kathmandu iPod: A Story From Nepal

The lead: There are peculiar challenges of iPoding in Kathmandu and there is also a grim irony in owning an iPod in Nepali society.

Two boys in Jumla, a remote district in Nepal, listen to folk songs iPod

With jeans tugged into their socks and eyes as red as ripe tomatoes, the boys were Jug Bahadur Bhandari, 15 (left), and Prakash Bhandari, 13. (from From Wagle’s Rara travelogue: Up to Rara Lake with Dohori Dhun All the Way

What do you do when you are eagerly waiting for something and you know it will take some time for the thing to arrive to you? Well, you eagerly wait. You prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for THE thing. And if THE thing is an iPod, you might do some research about the tiny and beautiful piece of music playing device. You might want to learn how to transfer songs from your computer, learn more about the machine itself: from ways to save battery to organizing songs in iTunes. I did all that on the first week of April (and continued doing so until I got hold of a video iPod at the end of the month). I used to give about three hours of my internet time just to do research on iPod and the iPod universe.

Not many people use iPod in Kathmandu and there was only one iPoder in our office: with a Nano. So my 80 GB video iPod instantly became the object of envy and desire and wow among my colleagues and other friends. Can I just touch it? Can I see how the songs sound like? “Well, Rs. two for touching,” I would joke. It took me no time to realize that I must cover the iPod with some cover if I want to save it from being scratched or loose some friends for not giving them to touch the thing. I opted for the first option.

As soon as I get hold of the iPod, I intensified my search for multi-gigabytes of songs. One song or hundreds, I don’t care, I would say, just give me because I have to fill this monster. So far, after using the machine for months, I have only managed to fill 30 gigs of songs. (Another 30 gigs is filled by files from my laptop.)

In the meantime, I also write an op-ed piece in Kantipur about iPod that received a lot of comments and appreciation from many young readers of the newspaper. I basically gave introduction of iPod to readers along with some information on iPod culture worldwide and shared my experience of iPoding in Kathmandu. If you think you will be able to enjoy the music of your iPod in a public vehicle in Kathmandu, think again. The gurujis (drivers) of public bus/autorickshaws have their own music system which includes blaring up folk tunes so loud that if you happen to be sitting near the speaker, you will probably be deafened. There is no way you can play your iPod with the buses’ music system on. Otherwise it will be an ideal device to keep the chattering of fellow travelers at bay.

iPod article I wrote in Kantipur:

गोजीभरि गीत : आइपोड लहर

दिनेश वाग्ले

त्यो जादूमयी ‘क्लिक ह्विल’ चलाउन अल्छी लागेपछि मैले ‘सफ्फल’ मोडलाई सक्रिय पारेर आइपोडलाई डीजे बनाइदिएको थिएँ । त्यसयता उसले त्यहाँका अनेकौं भाषा र विधाका गीत सुनाइरहेको छ । सुरुमै ‘आइएम गोइङ टु टेल अ सेक्रेट’ भन्दै, उनको भलो होस्, म्याडोना आएकी थिइन् र अघिसम्म मेट्रोको ‘करले तु भी मोहब्बत’ बजेको थियो । भर्खरै ‘गार्लिक मस्टार्ड पिकर्स’को इट्रुमेन्टल ‘इफ इभर यु वेर माइन’ सुरु भयो । यसपछि के बज्ला मलाई नसोध्नुस् । नारायणगोपालले ‘मलाई नसोध’ भन्ने हुन् या नेल्ली फुर्टाडोले ‘से इट राइट’ चिच्याउने हुन् या नोरा जोन्सको सुरिलो भाका आउने हो या राजा हिन्दुस्तानीको ‘परदेशी’, केही थाहा छैन । या जिमी हेन्डि्रक्स ? गेरी मुर ? मोहम्मद रफी या चियाबारीमा रिमिक्स । ८० जीवीको यो सेतो, अति सुन्दर र निकै मायालु भाँडोमा मुस्किलले ३० जीवी ठाउँ तीन हजारजति गीतले ओगटेका छन् । ती सबै गीत सुन्न मलाई लगातार ७० दिन लाग्नेछ, तर आइपोड भर्ने अभियान जारी छ । (continuing reading it here)

My iPod has gone through wide array of usage in various places that, I think, American (or any other for that matter) iPods rarely go through. My iPod has done white water rafting, almost did bungee jumping, has reached to some of the remotest corners of Nepal walking for as many as 10 hours a day. It has boated over the biggest and second deepest lake in Nepal. And many people- from journalists of downtown Kathmandu to shepherds in remotest corner of one of the most remote districts in Nepal- have enjoyed the music in it with equal enthusiasm. I was enthralled when two boys of Jumla, a remote district, were humming songs that they were listening to the iPod: latest Nepali folk remix that they were listening for the first time in their life though they were very good at singing local folk tunes of the region. A shepherd near Rara Lake was fascinated when he heard a song about ‘wool and sheep’ in the iPod. He was surrounded by his sheep as he was listening to the song.

To own a machine like iPod for a person like me is to fulfill an expensive hoby for sure. It cost me more than the combined figure of my two months salary and prompted my Canadian friend who brought it for me to write this line: “I though you were supposed to buy land with that much money [almost US $ 350= Rs. 24000].” When you really want something, you really don’t care about other things and don’t care about how much you are spending. To own an iPod had become a long time dream for me and I am so happy that I finally bought one.

I was embarrassed to tell the price of iPod when an enthusiast Jumlee boy, who hosted me an evening in his house turned Dhamaka Hotel for the night, asked. He had guessed that he could get the machine in the market for about Rs. 1500. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to tell him the real price and he stared at me (and then the iPod) for about 2 minutes in disbelief. Of course no one a village like that one in Jumla believes that a small machine can fetch up to 24 thousand because iPod are the machines of a different world. After that evening, I told many that I bought the machine for about Rs. 2000 in Kathmandu. The irony is you can get pirated iPod in the marked for as little as Rs. 1200. Even some colleagues in my newspaper bought some from China for the same amount. There are plenty of iPod look-alikes in the market but they can be distinctly identified: just by asking one simple question- does this need iTunes? And the answer is certainly a big NO.

Thanks to the spreading use of Internet and expanding penetration of satellite channels in the households, Nepali society has been exposed to the world like never before. As Thomas L. Friedman likes to say, the world has become flat and we in Nepal are also experiencing some aspects of the flattening process. At the same time, there is this stark reality that many people in Nepal are living under poverty and in miserable life. Millions of them don’t have access to electricity and telephone, let alone computer and Internet- two essential things to have an iPod. That’s the biggest irony.