postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: Impermanence and the Nepali

While the origin of the sand-filled hourglass is not known, the expression “the sands of time” can be correlated to the advent of this once useful device. In Nepali, the expression “bhole bhole” can be likened to the flipping of the hourglass over and over again until your zipper or ripped umbrella is repaired by your local tailor.

In Nepal, it’s often said that “time stands still,” but this is inaccurate; time does not follow a linear path here, and then stop at certain intervals, but instead, time dances forward and backward. Children complete their studies under candlelight as they did in the 1700’s, yet they are dressed in the latest hip-hop fashions of the 2010’s. To write this article, I have the latest in computer hardware and software available, but for only 3 seasons out of the year, as during the 4th there is no electricity to turn any of this high tech on.

Nepal’s forth season, which I have renamed the Electric season instead of the Monsoon season, is one of my favorites for many reasons. Obviously, during this season on the Nepali calendar, I can write till the cows come home, without worry of a sudden power loss. I can also take a shower anytime of the day, indoors or out. The water tank below the floor is actually overfull during this time of year – even flooding the ground floor on occasion, reminding me that the glass is often far more then half full, and not just half empty.

Other little philosophies (such as “is the glass full or not”) are prominent in our culture. Take for example the very foundation of Buddhism: impermanence. We all know that a major source of our unhappiness comes from the notion that situations are permanent.

Today there is food on the table, so tomorrow our rice bowls will be full. Today there is electricity on the line, so tomorrow we can expect the same. Today there is political stability, so tomorrow we can predict smooth sailing. Today the price of milk powder is Nrs. 200, so next week the budget will be enough.

For those of us that embrace Chaos Theory, it’s easy to understand how the flapping of one generator’s exhaust cover, can collapse the Prithvi Highway between here and Mugling – otherwise known as the “Diesel Butterfly Effect.” So it’s no long stretch to understand why I can’t write this article in December, but can do easily now, powered by this summer season of rain. You see, we can have no permanent power, as the very ground on which we live is shifting like the sands of the turned hourglass.

The soil (and one could say soul) of Nepal is also shifting in nature. The very earth we would love to proclaim solid, is anything but. And Nepal is the perfect environment to now experience paradise not yet covered by a parking lot. In the words of Joni Mitchel:

Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got ‘Til it's gone They paved paradise And put up a parking lot

Our parking lots, if they exist at all, are washed away every summer, and are perhaps why we (as Nepalese) can see more clearly what the Buddha meant by his last words:

All conditioned things are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.

So every year, a man comes to fill the potholes in my galli only to be washed away by year next. This rinse and repeat cycle is repeated until, well, not forever - if we are to believe the words of the Buddha or the equations of Benoît Mandelbrot. 
 You see, impermanence is not predictable, and does not run like clockwork. A time may come when the paradise we may not appreciate today as existing in Nepal, is covered by a parking lot for a good many lifetimes to come.

Fulltime electricity from hydroelectric may also come, if enough shifting ground is solidified into concrete and solid stone. Modernization of the entire country could come about soon enough as well, but at what eventual cost? What pent-up theoretical dam would burst then, damning all that live downstream?

It’s these little philosophies that keep us intrigued with the world we live in, and as long as we can see them for what they are: musings of a day already passed, an hourglass already turned, we can better face the future – a future as uncertain as the soil on which we stand today.

Published in The Republica - A collaboration with the New York Times - on July 23rd 2011


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Kathmandu, Nepal
I'm retired, and I walk my dog... a lot.

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