In 1895, Rudyard Kipling is believed to have written, “The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Kathmandu.” It is not known whether Kipling was referring to the capital of Nefall, but the valley of Catmando bears a strange resemblance to that description. If anything, Kipling’s exaggeration is an understatement. Facts are indeed stranger than fiction.
It was once said that there were more temples than houses, and more gods than people in Kathmandu. No longer true. The somewhere city of Catmando, however, boasts a different distinction in what is variously called its ‘post-conflict’ and ‘in-conflict’ phase: it has more diplomatic vehicles than taxis, and more diplomats than deities. It is a mystery how these humungous SUVs, their bonnets sporting phallic antennae that would put the local temple lingams to shame, cope with the everyday fuel shortage. Regardless, their numbers keep increasing relentlessly, and will continue to do so until the country can boast of a brand new Constitution of Nefall.
The history of the world’s discovery of Nefall dates back at least to the early 19th century. Warriors of the Kingdom of Nefall came face to face with the bravery of the Gora Sahibs during the skirmishes of 1814-1816. Once the Treaty of Sewgurly was signed in 1816, the defeated and grumpy Nefallis agreed to become brave warriors for the victors, fighting wherever they got shipped to, whether Dobruk or Dorneo. Thus began an enduring relationship between two unlikely partners from across the seas. Sahibs saw the merit of keeping a native potentate in good humour when Jungi Bahadurr rode into Lootnow during the famous mutiny of 1857 to rescue the besieged occupiers of Hindia.
Come Independence in the Region, Nefall’s rulers decided to hitch their wagon to the emergent emperors of free Hindia. Champion Singh became the first Big Brother, though he was only a plenipotentiary, by signing the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on 31 July 1950. His interference irritated the newly crowned premier of Nefall so much that he publicly took a swipe at the envoy, calling him Chairman of a mere District Board. It must have miffed the displaced Jamindar, for he had indeed been a district board chairman before being picked up from Behar by Uncle Nehroo for this diplomatic assignment.
If Billayat was the Godmother of the 1940s and Hindia became Big Brother for the 1950s, Uncle Slam emerged as the master and redeemer of Nefall in the 1960s. The designer of such a shift in the priorities of a kingdom sandwiched between two global giants was Ambassador Tellsworth Bunkerbuster, the resident envoy of Emergent Superpower (ES) in New Daily. Better known for his ‘Hindia against Chiniya’ scheming, Bunkerbuster convinced Beafy Koihai-la that allowing Hisrael to open an embassy in Catmando would not anger Chiniya, and permitting Pukka-istan to have a diplomatic mission would not displease Hindia. Angering both the neighbours to please Uncle Slam cost Koihai-la his job. He was sacked and imprisoned by ES’s new favourite, the Nayaraja of Nefall. The Uzi gun received as a personal gift from Hisrael could not protect Koihai-la the Elder from being arrested by his own bodyguards.
Lady Bunkerbuster was envoy to Nefall between 1966 and 1973, the period when Nayaraja of Nefall used aid money from ES to print Nao Che Dung badges, and distribute them along with his own pins. He said he was doing this to counter influence by the So-be-it Union in the countryside. Once the So-be-it Union collapsed for good, all the Naobaadis trained by Nayaraja’s troops turned their guns on their former sponsors.
When Bhayoraja ascended to the throne of Nefall in the 1980s, he brought Bleeding Hearts – countries that wanted to spread the fruits of victory in the second planetary war in peripheral parts of the world – of the Old Continent to his ancient land. Ja-money actually took it upon itself to rid Catmando of garbage and restore Bhakundopur to its old glory. The island of Newpawn also increased its visibility in tune with its newfound prosperity. But Bhayoraja’s masterstroke was getting the So-be-it Union and Chiniya to attest to his Zone of Bliss proposal. That the idea meant nothing without the recognition of Hindia failed to dampen his spirits, but Bhayoraja was soon going to be sorry for his egoistical experiments.
It was during the reign of Bhayoraja that Bad Bank and the Invincible Moneyed Front entered Nefall and started messing around with Nefalli lives. One of their many notorious chiefs is still remembered as Die-hard Makaimara in the hills around Catmando because he succeeded in wiping out local maize agriculture, the staple diet of the rural poor. The Bad Bank introduced institutionalised corruption in infrastructure projects, and turned potential entrepreneurs into commission agents. If the 1980s belonged to the Bleeding Hearts of Old Continent, who carved up Nefall into areas of influence – eastern hills for Billayat, valley for Ja-money and remote areas to Cheeseland – donors and lenders began to set the national agenda during the 1990s. Though there were powerful envoys during this time as well – Big Brother Bimal and Aunty Valentine Julia continued to hog the limelight with unfailing regularity – the real anti-heroes of this period were the lenders that foisted their noxious policies on the Hapless Government of Nefall, and helped to prepare the ground for a Naoist insurgency led by a certain Fearless One.
The early years of the 21st century were dominated by Chicago Bull Mike Eager Nalinowski and New Daily schemer Sham Charan. A veteran of Jehad in Effghanistan and Pukka-istan, Nalinowski loved to take pot shots at the Nefalli Naobaadis. Charan, on the other hand, liked to invite the gunners to the dinner table and sing them lullabies. Together, they succeeded in facilitating the rise of Nayaraja Agyanendra’s direct rule instead – an obvious if unintended consequence of too much diplomatricking. (The sideshow staged by a certain Gaffery James did confuse some of the people some of the time, but in the end, he withdrew into oblivion.)
Nefallis rose as one to chase away Agyanendra, who had to retreat to his palace, and be content with sacrificing buffalo to appease the angry deities. The role of Big Brother in dragging the Naobaadis to the negotiating table was justly celebrated. But it was the outbursts of Uncle Slam’s spot-man Noriarty that kept Nefallis regaled for over a year. A quixotic personification of Lord Haw Haw, Noriarty earned the admiration of premier Goeasy Koihai-la. But the chief contribution of Noriarty was to keep the Naobaadis perpetually in the headlines.
Advocating countermeasures to the recklessness of tall, thin Noriarty was tall, muscular Lion Martini. But in the deep background of backstage, these two were mere marionettes who, along with all the rest, were being made to dance to tunes set by Bhaiyya Mookerjyu. Backstage realities be as they may, however, Noriarty and Martini together made all other diplomats look like spectators. That is, until the Premier Peanut Farmer came to visit his informal dominion in Nefall. Since then, the ball has bounced from one court to the other. Suitably inclined native informants suddenly found that demand for their services far exceeded the supply. Sales of Ma-roti cars shot through the roof, as conflict, peace and mediation consultancy began to flourish.
It was déjà vu all over again for diplomats, as they discovered that their clout was increasing in direct proportion to the violence in the Nefalli plains. The fate of the much-promised elections to the constituent assembly hung in the balance, as minders and meddlers in blue jackets were in no hurry to see them proceed. The Blue Empire had at least two headquarters in Catmando, and branches all over the country. Suddenly, employers of all stripes – from media to NGOs – had to hold on tight, to prevent their staff from being kidnapped straight off the streets into waiting blue SUVs.
The intense meddling of donors and lenders resulted in the mushrooming of No Good Orgynisations, which work for Intentionally Non-Governing Orgynisations. These funnels of phantom aid helped to redirect a major chunk of financial assistance to Catmando’s English-speaking community, but not before a major slice was taken away in distant capitals across the seven seas, where the money originated. The Business Class in Air Nefall was booked through the end of the year. The rush to Nefall was on, with fawning post-conflict consultants and their retinue of attendants multiplying by the day. Since the conflict needed to continue, especially if you were a blue-nosed peace contractor on six-month renewals, why not keep adding fuel to the fires of mistrust? One way was to spread the word that the country was returning from ‘post-conflict’ to ‘in-conflict’ stage, and that, alas – tsk tsk tsk – no elections in November! If the gora saheb on contract labour says so, it must be only too true.
Catmando today is an open arena for every diplomat to do exactly as s/he pleases. Some of them spy on each other, others compete to be peace-makers. To the last one they detest the non-English speaking politicians who are perhaps the very ones who know the pulse of Nefall. Meanwhile, the lenders love to hire established professionals to hide their ignorance and present a competent face to the public. The make-believe world of guests from afar posing as prophets of doom continues to thrive.
Despite the visibility and vulnerability of the ambassadors, real power over the rulers of Nefall is wielded by the influential lenders. Even though Noriarty got all the flak, the real power behind Agyanendra’s dictatorship was the Oh-so-assy of the Bad Bank. And now, the Ass-ian Dithering Bank pokes its nose into every decision of the unstable interim government, and woe betide the minister who tries to stand in its way. Ever heard of the Shylocks being criticised for doing things that they shouldn’t be doing? Nope, because they’ve hired Catmando’s loudest critics as consultants.
So what does it all prove? The wildest descriptions of Kathmandu are merely mundane in Catmando. Moral of the story: while in Catmando, do as most Catmandoists would love to do given half a chance. Drink diplomatic wine, dine at the bideshis’ expense, and discuss their observations with mock seriousness, agreeing with alacrity to all they say with a “You’re so right, ambassador!” No harm done, for these poor creatures (the ambassadors, the locals) are just trying to make a living! For most diplomats, Catmando is a pension posting – the only incongruity being that instead of being led out to pasture, they find a country in transition in which they can actually get away with some meddling.
The good news: no matter who says what and who spends how much on peace-building, constitution-making or post-conflict governance, Nefall will move at its own pace, and with its own mind. In the end, we will all be surprised.