Rukhmuni Ranta Park: Revised Impression of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park

Hyde Park Speakers' Corner discussions
The man in the middle had brought a list that he said police had prepared and contained many ethnic groups/nationalities including Nepali of the world. He argued that those on the upper part (white Europeans) received favorable treatment from police than those that are at the lower part of the list. James (not seen) believed the man was wrong. About 10 minutes later I saw the man on left chatting with James and, at one point, he tried to include me into their conversation about international banking asking what I felt about it.

So the Speakers’ Corner hasn’t been deserted after all. After I posted an entry on the place portraying it as an empty place James (call him Sir James or James Chambuwan 😉 ) suggested me to go there on a Sunday afternoon. That’s what I did and, lo and behold, there was another James, slightly taller than the one who suggested me to go there, I must admit, talking animatedly about various crises in the world but mainly focusing his lecture to European affairs. A few middle-aged men surrounded him as he continuously spoke, leaving little chance for others to interrupt, moving both hands and his whole body furiously and occasionally jumping a few inches from the ground (or may be just raising is both ankles) to make a particularly important point. Some of his listeners were trying their best to interrupt him, correct him and to counter and add their own views to what he was saying.

James the Speaker of the Imperial College, London (a student of Chemistry who plans to go into finance and politics- finance more likely than politics, he admitted- in future and thinks it’s good to be grounded in pure science while making career in one of the aforementioned areas) was one of about seven speakers who were

1) struggling to make their points to their listeners who were taking no chance to interrupt them;
2) competing with each other to gain more audience.

Then there were several other strangers who were having their own conversations- just that everyone was talking so loudly that it was difficult to identify who was talking to whom and about what. And there were so many different accents.

The man from Scotland, right, makes his point as James, left, says he likes Scotland remain as a part of the UK.
The man from Scotland, right, makes his point as James, left, says he likes Scotland to remain as a part of the UK.

Quite a few religious advocates were spreading their God’s message. They were arguing that their religion or sect was better than others. More intense were the arguments that claimed Christianity was better than Islam or Islam was better than everything else. I am happy to note that no one physically assaulted the other agitated person though at one point I felt a clash could break any moment between a bearded man advocating Islam and the other guy arguing on behalf of Jesus.

For me it was fascinating to find the place almost exactly as I had imagined it to be. My imagination was partly based on Taranath Sharma’s Belayattira Baralinda. But what I saw there was no different from what I had seen in Kathmandu’s Ratna Park several years ago. Here’s what I had written about the gathering and animated conversations under a tree in Ratna Park in Kantipur in 2008:

डडुवा-६, रामेछापका हिमबहादुर रानामगरलाई अगाडी राखेर जोशिदै र हात फैलाउँदै गफिएका कमल थापा
डडुवा-६, रामेछापका हिमबहादुर रानामगरलाई अगाडी राखेर जोशिदै र हात फैलाउँदै गफिएका कमल थापा

उनी हुन् कमल थापा । ‘राजासहितको प्रजातन्त्र’को वकालत गर्दै चुनाव लड्दा मकवानपुरमा जमानत गुमाएका राप्रपा नेपालका नेतासँग उनको नाममात्रै मिलेको हो, विचार ठ्याक्कै उल्टो छ । ठूला अंग्रेजी अक्षरमा ‘एभ्री गार्मेन्ट’ लेखेको सेतो सफा टी-र्सटलाई कालो पाइन्ट भित्र घुसारेर टिमिक्क बेल्ट बाधेका यी २७ बर्षो कमल थापा खासमा चन्दनपुर, संखुवासभाका हुन् । चुनाव अघि गाऊ पुगेका उनले भोट काठमान्डू-१ मा खसाए । अहिले,

घामले टट्टीएको यो मध्यान्हमा, उनी रत्नपार्कमा छन्- जहाँ उनी अपरिचित तर राजनीतिमा गहिरो चासो राख्ने र नेपालका विभिन्न भागबाट पुगेकासँग खुलेर गफिइरहेका छन् ।

पार्कको अघिल्लो भागमा ठडिएका दुइ रुख मुनी उभिएर या बाटो छेउका बारमा बसेर गफिने व्यक्तिहरुको समूह पहिलोपटक देख्दा मैले ठानेको थिए- त्यहा कुनै क्लव या त्यस्तै कुनै समुहको बैठक भइरहेको छ । कुरा राजनीतिक थिए, सहभागीले जमेर तर्क र अनुमान गरिरहेका थिए, कोही यस्तै हुनुपर्छ या हुन्छ भनेर ठोकुवा गर्दथे । केही मिनेटमै थाहा भयो- आपसमा गफिएका उनीहरुले एकले अर्कालाई चिनेका छैनन्, चिन्नेहरुको चिनाजानी पनि त्यही भएको हो ।

कमल थापा सहितको समुह संविधान सभा बनोट र आगामी सरकारको नेतृत्वबारे गफिइरहदा एक मिटर पर्तिर एउटा अर्को झुन्डले घेरिएका ३३ बर्षे बालकृष्ण गिरी र ७० बर्षे खवीराज कोइराला आफ्नै तालमा व्यस्त थिए । बालकृष्ण घाटिको नसा फुल्नेगरी चिच्याउदै तर्क गरिरहेका थिए भने खवीराज चाहि सानो स्वरमा ‘हैन, हैन’, ‘अँ अँ’ भन्दै र बेलाबेलामा तर्कयुक्त प्रश्न गर्दै वादविवाद गरिरहेका थिए । टाढाबाट सुन्दा बालकृष्णले खवीराजलाई कुटिपो हाल्नेहुन् कि जस्तो भान पार्ने उनीहरुको वादविवादका स्रोता बेलाबेलामा खित्का छाडेर हासिरहेका थिए ।                                          (रुखमुनी रत्नपार्क 2008/04/26)

I saw many similarities between Rukhmuni Ratna Park and Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner (except for the religious propagandas of SP). In both places, random people who didn’t know each other were talking about random issues that they though were important to them as well as to the rest of the world. The intensity of involvement and the way arguments were presented are also same. In Speakers’ Corner people who didn’t like what the speaker standing on an elevated chair was saying tried to playfully annoy him/her, disturb him/her.

I didn’t see that in Rukhmuni Ratna Park but I think I liked that. Even heckling is okay if that doesn’t involved physical attack and the heckler disappears after a couple of shouts. I haven’t gone back to Rukhmuni Ratna Park since I went there to report for the article but I hope animated conversations that Kamal Thapa and others were having at that time continue these days as well through other random people. This is what I call democracy in action. People need to speak up even if, as it is mostly the case in Nepal, their voices are not always heard.