The confluence of tall buildings and a people limited by clockwork activities rushed modernity brings into existence is what characterizes the Singapore of today. An arts hub, whose aesthetics was inspired not by ideas but by a mere tropical fruit, begs to be regarded as art; yet the fact that the rapid shutting down of bookstores to make way for commercial fashion stores is not thought damning to art is an irony that confronts me daily. A city which has neighbourhoods studded with towering trees and garden parks contrived and nationalized by the state hasfailed to evoke neither insight nor imagination. What it has given rise to, however, is a prosaic lifestyle which constantly leaves its inhabitants discontented and restless.
Thinking my idealistic ardour may find its worth amidst the glorious scenery of Pokhara, I left Kathmandu with the hope that what would await meare scenes of unparalleled beauty;and although the bumpy bus ride enriched my senses with lustrous hilly forests and sparkling blue rivers, no strong eye for beauty could dispel the reality that pervaded every passing location: deep valleys and meandering roads strewn with heaps and heaps of rubbish. Andbeyond the disappointment and dejection was, lo and behold, a strong longing for the sinfully clean streets of Singapore, for what unfolded before my eyes were natural landscapes scattered withwastes of economic appetite; for Nepal’s halting progress in alliance with almost non-existent laws has only beget people externalizing themselves in their surroundings. And as the bus to Pokharatraversed a labyrinth of rough roads and garbage clogged streets, I realised that hoping for a balance between man’s own nature and nature was in vain. I then wondered if not for the strong and rigid enforcement of rules and regulations in Singapore, would there too be total disregard, carelessness and deviation; because while on one hand, there is a dearth of rubbish-burning plants in Nepal-where trash cans are a needle-in-the-haystack problem and where open burning of plastic bags is a common sight-in Singapore, on the other hand, there seems to be utter apathy towards one’s environment.
Throughout the seven hour journey, I was anxious about stepping into a public toilet and finding a hotbed of filth and hence, making sure I drank as little water as possible. Back in Singapore, the public toilet is the least of our worries but in a country, where the lack of hygienic and well-functioning toilets has seen several girls drop out of school once they reach puberty, I asked myself if radical modernity was but a blessing. Born in a country which prides itself in having achieved first world status in just 50 years, what is considered a novelty, a luxury in developing nations is taken for granted in Singapore; but as always, the rush to modernization entails excess materialism, conformity and destruction of individualism; and my quest for a series of ‘real’ experiences led me through traumatizing sights of open slaughter of goats and chickens and the visible effects of global warming, both of which, to one from the developed world, would be an indication of the wretchedness of the third world; but, needless to say, what is shielded from view and censored before public release-as is often the case in Singapore-could be infinitely worse; and partlyit is perhaps in need of self-evident truths that my trip to Nepal even occurred.
A third generation citizen of a country, where unrelieved modernism has always been associated with gleaming skyscrapers and Western commercialism, the medieval attitude that some possess in regards to traditions seems quite far removed from the emancipatory nature that modernity is supposed to represent; and rightly so, for Singapore, in a desperate bid, to surpass its neighbours in terms of development, had indeed left several of its citizens failing to evolve accordingly. And who could truly blame them for modernization is a long and tortuous process that’s shaped by several forces within and beyond our reach. And what I grew up witnessing were Hindu temples mixing commercialism with devotional practices: The Thaipusam festival is one such religious event whereby crass commercialism religious piety voraciously feed off each other.
Visiting a Shiva temple in Pokhara, I met several Hindus from Southern India, who skipped the glorious and magnificent temples of Tamilnadu to bathe in the atmosphere of the smaller Hindu temples of Pokhara; and with the misty snow-capped mountains in the far distance, it is unsurprising that Pokhara should receive a huge number of South Indian Hindu tourists, for, as Hinduism posits, it is within nature that one experiences divinity.And sadly, this progressive truth is lost on several Singaporean Hindu women, who, despite boasting an education and a high-paying job, blindly adhere to practices and rituals-the wearing of the so-called sacred thread by married woman is still rigidly enforced -that have no place in modern society.
At World Peace Pagoda, dwelling on the transient nature of such rituals are two Buddhist monks; and gazing at the golden statue of the Buddha and the serene expression its face was wearing, it was hard to imagine that it was in the wild plains, not a glittering city that a manconceived and formulated a message that most, be it in Nepal or in Singapore, remain ignorant of.