[kathmandu is burning]

Topic: Nepal

Politics is a lofty subject, I don’t understand it. I am sure the king knows what he should do for the people. I can’t make a suggestion, I have no idea.

So says Buddhiman Gandharva (pictured), identified by the BBC as a musician but obviously one of the poor Nepalis who come down from the foothills to Kathmandu to sell homemade sarangis to tourists in order to feed their families. (Here is an MP3 recording by Quiet American of the typical sales pitch.)

Gandharva’s quiet bafflement is the real tragedy of the ongoing crisis in Nepal, where security forces killed at least two protesters today after two weeks of ongoing protests and strikes against the king. The protesters are wholly right to demand democracy and insist that their unpopular, autocratic king return power to the people. But it’s worth remembering that when King Gyanendra first seized power, his pretext was the inability of the parliament to hold elections as scheduled. For most Nepalis, especially away from the major cities, the government is utterly remote and ineffectual, and this was the case throughout the democratic period in the late nineties as well.

There is no excuse for Gyanendra to hold power any longer. The people should be heard in a democratic system, and elections should be held. Getting from here to there, however, is no simple matter.

Meanwhile, the people of Nepal are suffering. Already poor, Nepalis are now coping with the evaporation of their tourism industry — previously the source of roughly a third of foreign capital — and with disruptions caused by the ongoing strikes. I don’t know what to do or what should be done, but the whole situation makes me very sad for this beautiful, welcoming country.