Thoughts on Mayur Times

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger took everyone by surprise – for its unique narration of a story that any novelist would not have thought a bestseller idea. His second book – Between the Assassinations – was not the page-turner compared to the first.

Narayan Wagle, our own novelist, received similar response with his Mayur Times. After bestselling Palpasa Café (and the winning of the Madan Puraskar – Nepal’s top literary prize), the editor of a national daily came up with a new novel. And, not surprisingly, people thronged to buy it and comment ‘not good’.

Palpasa Café gave a new writer and a new style, something that became predictable for Mayur Times. Also, the popularity and beauty of the first novel forced the people to expect ‘something extraordinary and great from the novelist’.

And, with the ‘growing pressure’ to publish a new novel, the novelist probably did not give enough time for the second novel – and the publisher did also probably failed to provide valuable peer review before publication.

For me, Mayur Times is a good novel. This is probably also because it tells the story of journalists and journalism. (As a colleague of mine always puts: if we are told to read a very good book on rise of insurance company, how much interested we will be?)

I loved reading Mayur Times – and I still believe it’s better than many other contemporary Nepali novels. I don’t exactly remember details of Palpasa Café, but I too believe the earlier book was a masterpiece while Mayur Times is not extraordinary!

So, what the novelist missed in the novel? I am not qualified to go into the literary values and concepts; but as an avid reader of fictions, here is what I think:

The novel tells a ‘happy story’ of some ‘sad tales’ – the mismatch of emotions. While the story supposedly is built on the problems journalists are facing – and people due to conflict and impunity in the country – it presents an ideal world where the pain, agony and suffering do make ‘guest appearance’ but fail to stimulate readers’ emotions. Within a few sentences of painful tale, we are presented with playful dialogues.

In an attempt to make the novel true to his style of playful conversations, the novelist spent more energy on those playful words than dwelling more on crucial situations and emotional dialogues.

While writing, sometimes the author wants to ensure that everything is put into a book and Narayan Wagle tried to put in everything he had experienced during his journalism career into the 200-something page novel. The journalists could understand those ‘newsroom tales’ but for non-journalists, it’s not possible to get fully into all those. If the novel was something like 500 pages, all those sub-stories could have made sense, but when you are about to cut in size, you also need to put something out of the box.

The novelist is at his best in playing the words, creating playful scenes and has creatively weaved the story of his profession and that’s good enough to recommend any book for a read!

[Disclaimer: Narayan Wagle, the novelist, is the editor of Nagarik, the sister publication of Republica, where I work. I share a healthy relationship with the novelist.]

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Inspiring citizen heroes

Yesterday, my publication celebrated the first anniversary of Republica and Nagarik national dailies with the Republica Nagarik Summit. The summit, experiences of (and interaction with) five selected citizen heroes (‘those who have worked for others selflessly’), was a new concept that many participants liked (and thanked us for).

For a few of us (the hobbyist bloggers employed in the news portals of the publication), it was the moment of first-hand experience of live blogging (‘the first live-blogging by a mainstream news portal’) and video webcast. I will write later on live blogging experience.

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Republica Photo
The citizen heroes of selfless service at the Republica Nagarik Summit. Photo by Republica.

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The first of five citizen heroes who shared their experiences and feelings was Khairun Nisha, a Muslim female social worker who has worked hard in the conservative communities to spread knowledge about family planning (among others) and fought for social justice to women.

She was straight, loud and frank telling about herself. She had annulled child marriages, fought against social injustice, told women of her community about contraceptives and fought through challenges. She is brave!

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A Day at Ghalegaon

I spent almost 20 hours at Ghalegoan, Lamjung – a popular tourism destination for community based rural tourism and left wondering why exactly the village is so popular during the return trip on a jeep through rocky risky road (that took almost three hours to reach Besisahar – the district headquarters).

Ghalegaon, Lamjung

To say, the village is nestled on the lap of mountains including Lamjung, Annapurna II, Macchapuchhre and Manasalu, the village is at 2,070m (well, Nagarkot which is at one-hour easy drive from my home is at 2,175m), but the scenery I was offered was, well, not breathtaking.

For me, it looked almost foolish to travel/trek/ride that far for the views of the mountains that are offered better at many other easy destinations.

The homestay facility is something to look for. The food/night at a Ghale home was worth experiencing but I like it, I am not fond of homestay. However, my first experience of homestay at Goljung, Rasuwa felt much better (even the mountains).

The traditional-ness of the village is somewhat intact (despite the fact that the traditional Gurung house photo on the brochure is the only one of such type in the entire village).

And, the thing I was expecting but did not get was the briefing. Despite being a member of 30-member team to visit the village, the local tourism committee did not brief us on anything. We were left with hours with nothing to do other than roam around the village.

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Welcome offered at Ghalegaon.
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New Year 2067 Hope

Hope is a big thing. It’s the thing that keeps us happy and alive.

With every occasion, we feel happy – for we hope that the occasion will bring us goodness. New Year is one such occasion that brings more hopes that any other occasion.

The first day of a New Year is a beginning, and with the beginning, there is a year – 365 days – to bring us goodness and joy (at least we all can hope so).

So what to hope for 2067? This new Bikram Sambat year has a lot of stake for Nepal, especially politically (unless out politicians decided to turn into the biggest villains of the history).

Regardless of the issue of term extension of the Constituent Assembly, the 2067 will give us a new constitution. The promulgation of new constitution also marks the conclusion of the peace process; the beginning of an era with unprecedented social equality and more-or-less a new look for the country.

The political success will have an effect on all other fields, be it social, economic or sports.

Let’s hope big in 2067, then!

Happy New Year 2067.

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The April Uprising

From April 5 to 24, we mark one of the greatest displays of people’s power. The Jana Andolan II or the April Uprising of 2006 was a landmark people’s movement that ended monarchy and Maoists’ People’s War establishing a more reformed democracy.

But more than that, it was a splendid example of what people of Nepal are capable of. Nobody counted, but estimated 500,000 people took on streets at the peak of the uprising – a huge number of those who are not otherwise interested in political activities.

I salute all those people for there bravery!

Photo from ekantipur.com

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Mass is amazing. You never know what motivates them.

During April Uprising, they were motivated and it was their wishes with which political parties had not other options but to go along. People directed the course of movement and led it.

For me, it was two things that motivated them. First, it was a fight for democracy. Second, the success of the Uprising also meant the end of Maoist violence that killed 13,000 Nepalis.

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Who did not participate in the Uprising. I remember all women of Kaushaltar rallying – wow! that was truly an amazing thing to behold. It was the enthusiasm of people who participated in the movement that made it a success.

Police and Army had not other options. They could not have shot at thousands of people.

Photo from ekantipur.com

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Off course, majority of the people have gone into the shadows now.

Political leaders are on the top and all those in shadows believe, no matter what media says, the leaders will transform the country into a peaceful democratic nation.

We await the future.

But if people had directed the course of history in April in 2006, they can do it in any month of any year! And when people arise, all power will have to surrender!

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Priority to negativity: Newspapers’ grim face

An early morning cursory look at the newspapers – and their headlines – generally gives no good feeling. Mostly there are news that are more likely to dampen our enthusiasm.

News about strikes and political impasse; and when available, news on violence, accident, death, conflict and bad works dominate media and importantly front-pages of the daily newspapers.

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Most of the news seems to be negative and people complain that newspapers prioritize negative news. There is an old saying in journalism: bad news is good news. This is because, as psychology defines, bad events attract people more than good ones.

It is easy to talk about media contents, both for and against it. The perennial criticism is that media contents are mostly negative; and studies have found out that media’s focus role has been more, intentionally or unintentionally, on the destructive than constructive.

Public service journalism and development journalism – media servicing the interests of the public and supporting development – are not new concepts; but Nepali media are less likely to grasp that role, because of various reasons. The first is they are unaware of what long-term effects could such news have on people; secondly, they believe in ‘hit hard at heart’ journalism; and thirdly, there is a continuous flow of exaggerated television news from Indian channels to shape the perception.

A study on negativity on the front pages of the national dailies concluded that news and headlines are predominantly of negative tone and notion. Newspapers use negative headlines with bombarding words for attracting people’s attention. Editor’s love for negative and/or bombarding words is understandable for they give melodramatic effects and, as psychology describes it, have long lasting effects.

Humans are much more likely to recall and be influenced by negative experiences. The fear inside people attracts their attention to negativity. But media’s priority to negativity is not justifiable, as this shows an inclination to being sensational and a lack of responsibility. This is primarily because constant exposure to more negative experiences depresses people.

It is normal for news on disasters, accidents and crimes to carry negative tones. But presentation of such news, and proper headlines, can tone down the intensity of negativity. For example, newspapers can stop using words like ‘cruel’ or ‘inhuman’ in news of murders. In a free press, people are believed to be able to think themselves, and it should be media’s role to give them the facts and let them think about its intensity and affects rather than using adjectives to intensify the meanings or opine on the events.

Psychologists have proved that negative experience or fear of bad events has a far greater impact on people than do neutral experience or even positive experience. And, with more negative news and less positive news everyday, people are more likely take negativity into consideration in decision making.

In the Nepali context, politics dominate the front pages; and hardly anything is going right with politics. Intra-party rifts, inter-party scuffles and politicized speeches have nothing good to do to the society and the people, but their juiciness makes them prioritized news.

Because of that, when President Dr Ram Baran Yadav said that he was worried, due to rifts in politics, and that he hoped everything would be solved in time, newspapers, as if they had an agreement, put the headline ‘President Worried’ rather than ‘President Hopeful.’

And, when we read that the head of state is worried, who on the earth are us to remain hopeful?

Today, Nepali youths see the country as a failed state – the nation can offer nothing to them, and are looking for opportunities to go abroad and settle there. There could be a role of newspapers to create that atmosphere. And, with a little bit of carefulness, media can change that opinion to a big extent.

Media can deescalate the feeling of hopelessness and despair. But it rather helped in intensifying the feelings with negative news on politics.

The history of professional journalism is not long in Nepal. In fact, it was only after 1995 that media started growing, and in one and half a decades, the growth of media – and readership – has had been very rapid. More media meant more competition on sales, and negative news sells newspapers.

But media should not remain a business alone; it should also be a social service. As media is biased towards the concept of ‘free press’ and ‘democracy’ for its survival and best functioning, it should also be biased towards larger good for the nation and people on which it survives.

In countries where everything else is going positive, priority on negativity may have little effects; but in a country like Nepal, where transition and development are top priorities, its media should play constructive roles.

One of the constructive roles that media could easily play, without financial costs, is being positive. It does not mean suppressing negative news but rather giving priority to news of success, completion, agreement, availability, rehabilitation and improvement. The first step for improvement for the Nepali media could be stopping intensifying negative news!

This write-up is based on a study conducted by Tilak Pathak, Bhuwan KC, and the author, and was presented at the Media Research Conference 2010 organized by Martin Chautari. The study report will be available for download at butmedia.org shortly.

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