A place for everything ...

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The title is only the first half of the sentence, and everything in its place makes it complete. It needs no elaboration as designating a place brings in clarity plus ease and not complying guarantees confusion and negative consequences. On the surface, the statement appears like one related to simple household chore. But it is not just about hammer-n-screwdriver or daadu-n-paneeu, its reach extends much far and wide. Is there any use specifying placements if items are not returned on time? Ever used a toilet that was atrociously dirty under a “do or die” situation? One would surely withhold breath and curse the unusable condition it was in. While at the same time, the person would be hoping that the compulsive ritual gets over soon without much ado.

This piece makes an effort to explore some topics with this theme in mind. In the urban context, it relates more about defining or designating places for various activities. We tend to keep incompatible urban uses as further, as practically possible, to avoid conflicting interests. The sanctity of “designated” space is assured only when no use, other than that authorized, can be carried out there. Obviously, we do not allow a cinema house come next to a school or locate an abattoir close to an airport.

Road or highways are designated space for vehicle movements that requires drivers to follow laid out rules. Broadly speaking, these do not allow drivers to (a) jump red lights (b) park at “no parking” (c) overtake from the left (d) disregard pedestrian right at crossings (e) pick and drop-off passengers from curbs (f) take more than two on a motorbike (g) or use motorbikes as a delivery vehicle carrying items like sheets of glass or even a 20-foot pole. Rules are generally restrictive and there are many more don’t than dos. Unfortunately, the vital aspects related to “road etiquettes” are neither found in rule books nor taught at driving centers, let alone in our schools.  

Driving in Kathmandu is stressful and it is not for the faint-hearted. It is certainly not the place for novices to hone their driving skills. As there are hardly any calmer stretches in the urban jungle for one to learn driving quietly, scant vacant patches are often used for practicing few manoeuvres. Securing a license, however unprepared one may be, becomes the only aim. There is no time to learn or think about the essence of driving etiquettes. Armed with such attitude, it is no wonder, we end up with drivers programmed to compound the traffic problem right from the day they hit the streets. As a result, occasional rule abiders end appearing as rule breakers!

When chaos is the rule rather than exception, we wonder whether there are any defined land-usage functions ever applicable in our urban context. It should not be this bad otherwise. The establishment side may argue that it could have been far worse had it not been for the rules in place. It is usually the people, in the establishment, who covertly work against the system they should be defending.  

We have had the “novel” experience of not one, but two Constituent Assemblies extended over leisurely two terms of around eight years. It was a place designated for getting some meaningful assignment done. If this was possible getting it rushed in the last couple of days, then why was zillions spent in the prolongation of the pantomime? In the sixties Sudhir Dar’s cartoons used to be the daily features in The Statesman. I remember one in particular, that showed a student, burning midnight oil, while zipping through a “six inches” thick book titled “Zoology in a Night”! Obviously the “hard-working” student had wasted time playing around, but he probably was still better off than our honorable members trying, literally, to write a constitution in a night!

Other countries having gone through tumultuous political changes, long after ours, have already moved over the hurdle of a constitution making and are way-way ahead in development path. We were compelled to bear with the behemoth assembly in believing that it would be over soon, much like the person in a “do-or-die” situation above. Unfortunately, the situation has not yet stabilized even when the election deadline looms ominously close. And much like with bickering instances of the past, it has now been established as a truly Nepali trait topped up with unending uncertainty!

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