Trav­eler's tales and much more

People's Review - - OP-ED - BY M.R. JOSSE

NEW YORK. NY: Res­ur­rect­ing this col­umn af­ter Da­sain and Ti­har, one is con­fronted by a cor­nu­copia of com­ment-wor­thy de­vel­op­ments that have taken place. It is there­fore pos­si­ble only to touch upon a mere smidgen of the same, in­clud­ing those as­so­ci­ated with our re­cent 10-day jun­ket to Dublin and Barcelona. DUBLIN What we most en­joyed in the Ir­ish cap­i­tal was its friendly and in­for­mal am­bi­ence and the ease of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, since the Ir­ish we en­coun­tered were per­fectly in com­mand of the English tongue. Though an ar­ray of of­fi­cial mea­sures were in place to pro­mote the na­tional lan­guage, Gaelic, it was sur­pris­ing to learn that only a few in­hab­i­tants, mostly in the West, ac­tu­ally use it. To my ear, Gaelic seemed more dis­tant or dif­fer­ent from English than Span­ish, French, Ger­man or Ital­ian. It may be noted that the Ir­ish have so taken to the English lan­guage - the lingo of their one­time col­o­niz­ers - that as many as five Ir­ish­men, writ­ing in English, have won the No­bel Prize for lit­er­a­ture, thus far. In­ter­est­ingly, al­though there were ubiq­ui­tous man­i­fes­ta­tions of Catholi­cism in the city by the Ir­ish Sea - in­clud­ing the stun­ning Christ Church and St. Pa­trick's cathe­drals - what came as some­what of a sur­prise was that, as per a re­cent sur­vey quoted by the Ir­ish Times, only 30 of the re­spon­dents iden­ti­fied them­selves as prac­ti­cis­ing Catholics. Dublin has heaps of good­ies to of­fer, in­clud­ing tours of the world fa­mous Guin­ness beer and Jame­son whiskey - spelt with an ' e' un­like Scotch whisky - estab­lish­ments. Then there are ven­er­a­ble ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions such as Trin­ity Col­lege, the world-famed Tem­ple Bar, se­duc­tive shop­ping cen­tres and con­vivial pubs, not to men­tion a daz­zling ar­ray or spec­i­men of eye­catch­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, whether in the colo­nial Ge­or­gian style or struc­tures dat­ing to times in the dim past. With ev­ery­thing jade-green in the coun­try­side, it was easy to un­der­stand why Ire­land is called the Emer­ald Isle. BARCELONA Barcelona was very dif­fer­ent from charm­ing ol' Dublin. I found it one of the most at­trac­tive Euro­pean cities I have vis­ited, not only in terms of its shim­mer­ing al­lure as it sits be­sides the Mediter­ranean sur­rounded by ver­dant hills, but be­cause of its mild cli­mate and a rash of drop-dead stun­ning struc­tures of di­verse ar­chi­tec­tural gen­res, in­clud­ing cathe­drals and myr­iad iconic mon­u­ments. One must not for­get to men­tion the Barcelona Foot­ball Club, sta­dium and mu­seum, which draws thou­sands of ea­ger vis­i­tors every day, es­pe­cially lovers of foot­ball, from all over the world. Barcelona is per­haps the only city in the world which is prac­ti­cally syn­ony­mous with a foot­ball club! Barcelona was clearly a po­tent mag­net for an army of tourists and is ad­mirably served by an ex­cel­lent net­work of roads and high­ways, buses and tram­cars, metro and fu­nic­u­lar ser­vices. One was pleas­antly sur­prised to note a mass of South Asians mak­ing a liv­ing there, in­clud­ing Pak­ista­nis and North Africans. In an up­scale res­tau­rant in the Arena de Barcelona - once the venue of bull-fight­ing, now banned in Cat­alo­nia, trans­formed into a mas­sive mall - we were served by an In­dian waiter who in­formed us that the chef was a Pak­istani while the joint was owned by a Pales­tinian. In a 'Turk­ish' res­tau­rant on the la Ram­las prom­e­nade in down­town Barcelona we were served by In­dian as well as Pak­istani wait­ers. They did not seem to have any trou­ble get­ting along fine. It was quite a no­table co­in­ci­dence that at the time we were vis­it­ing Barcelona, the cap­i­tal of Cat­alo­nia, the clam­our for sep­a­ra­tion from Spain ramped up, with mas­sive demon­stra­tions in the Plaza de Catalunya un­der­scor­ing that ob­jec­tive. Yet, when we ac­tu­ally strolled through that part of town at eight at night, the demon­stra­tion was not only over but a rather fes­tive air per­vaded the city. And, al­though many res­i­den­tial build­ings in the city were draped in Cata­lan flags, the na­tional flag, along with the Cata­lan, was vis­i­ble on all of­fi­cial build­ings. In­ter­est­ingly, we found that for­eign res­i­dents, even if some were taxi drivers, were crit­i­cal of the sep­a­ra­tion move­ment, say­ing that it would be bad not just for the union but for Cat­alo­nia it­self. At the time this is be­ing writ­ten, Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ra­joy has warned his govern­ment would fire Cat­alo­nia lead­ers and force new elec­tions, within six months, as per Ar­ti­cle 155 in the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion - be­ing in­voked for the first time - a broad tool that would al­low Madrid to sus­pend Cata­lan law­mak­ers and take charge of the re­gion's au­ton­o­mous ad­min­is­tra­tion. Re­veal­ingly, Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont's in his speech to the re­gional par­lia­ment, while we were in Barcelona, ap­peared to wa­ver in cross­ing the Ru­bi­con of a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence. No­tably, too, though he sought the me­di­a­tion of EU and in­ter­na­tional sup­port, none was forth­com­ing. A Nepali waiter at a South Asian res­tau­rant, while talk­ing about the sub­ject of Cata­lan sep­a­ra­tion, de­scribed it as anal­o­gous to what some Madeshis in Nepal are de­mand­ing. I pointed out one im­por­tant dif­fer­ence: no for­eign coun­try was back­ing the Cata­lan sep­a­ra­tion de­mand ei­ther di­rectly, or in­di­rectly - a la Nepal! CRACK­ING UP? Though I have not got­ten my head fully wrapped around the Byzan­tine twists and turns of Nepali pol­i­tics as Kath­mandu pre­pares for elec­tions to the re­gional and na­tional as­sem­blies, what is abun­dantly clear is that the new repub­li­can polity is crack­ing up. Whether it is due to the in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tions in the body politic, post-con­sti­tu­tion, or whether it is driven by ex­ter­nal forces, it will be ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult for Nepal to stave it­self from the forces of dis­in­te­gra­tion now nakedly stalk­ing the land. Will former King Gya­nen­dra make a come­back in the af­ter­math of all this mess? One would have to be a prophet to pre­dict the fu­ture in this re­gard. All I can say - now - is that in the cli­mate of politi­cal lu­nacy that grips Nepal one would be fool­hardy to haz­ard any guess. Yet, as one is ad­vised, in pol­i­tics: never say never!

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