He, Jhanda Baje, stood tall, tirelessly waving a big flag, in front of a 17th-century giant, five-roofed Trailokya Mohan temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square. It was a pleasant evening in early 2015. The Durbar Square was filled with a happy chattering large crowd, classical sounds of flutes to entertain, and a warm breeze to keep away the winter chill.
This temple had a nine-stage orchestra, which made it an essential place for gatherings too. With several vendors selling their products and the bustling crowds jostling everywhere on the temple grounds, it was impossible not to notice this old man’s infectious enthusiasm.
He was standing in front of the temple, waving a Nepali flag, and greeting every passerby. To my surprise, he was not doing it for money. He was simply enjoying the vibrance of the invigorated life of the old town and trying to keep the legacy of the Durbar Square alive. “Look around! I am surrounded by happy people. I am just doing my part,” he said with a big smile.
This was before the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake. The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake changed everything in Kathmandu. Along with the catastrophic loss of human life, the city lost parts of its unique cultural heritage too. Durbar Square, a UNESCO Heritage Site, bore the brunt of the earthquake damage. Its historic monuments, buildings, and temples, many of which had been preserved for centuries, were destroyed. Trailokya Mohan temple was damaged too. The once vibrant Durbar Square looked gloomy, and the destruction sparked a sense of irreplaceable visual and spiritual loss.
Yet, amid the damage, Jhanda Baje still stood tall, but this time he was alone. He was tirelessly waving a big flag in front of the rubble of the collapsed temple with the same enthusiasm. “What can we do? It is gone. But I am just doing my part,” he said, indicating he would continue doing what he had been doing despite all odds. I asked again, “Baje, don’t you miss those monuments?” to which he simply replied with moist eyes and a slight smile, “It’s gone. What can we do?” And he continued waving a Nepali flag and greeting every bystander. No matter how distressing the situation was, he remained calm and steady, waving the national flag, standing at the same spot.
Today, we are dealing with a global crisis, and the news of the coronavirus pandemic is becoming grimmer. We are bombarded with terrible news about the coronavirus and its impact on health, markets, economy, and the global way of life. Fear has clouded our vision. We are left with questions, “How bad will this get?” “How long will this take?” “When will this end?” and so on.
This virus has also shown us how people reacted differently when confronting the same threat.
A charming friend, who always smiled at everyone during those good days, has turned into a social media troll. While a grumpy neighbor, who we thought to be rude, is sending encouraging messages to all of us.
Some are panicking, hoarding, and stocking up on household necessities to counter the uncertainties. And the others are making sure their old neighbors have enough supplies and are looking at compulsive stockpiling with disdain.
Some who call themselves ‘charismatic leaders’ are busy thinking about how to profit in such hard times. Others who kept a ‘low-profile’ all these years are giving up their salaries, so others do not lose jobs.
In short, there are all kinds of people in this world dealing with this pandemic differently. And all reactions are normal. We have never experienced anything like this before, and we are all exhausted, demoralized, and anxious in our own ways.
Unfortunately, negative emotions are also spreading quickly. If we see someone’s cart piled with food, we feel the urge to stock up on grains, too. If we hear a piece of fake news that any group is responsible for spreading the virus, we are quick to judge them. And so on.
Fortunately, this domino effect applies to positive emotions too. The other day, one of our relatives sent a WhatsApp message offering food to the poor. In no time, many others in the group also started offering help. And within an hour, a few heroes were born in that WhatsApp group. Not that they planned to be heroes. It is just that they stood out because of their ability to find strength in tough times, and they thought of helping others in whatever way they could.
And I think that was what Jhanda Baje was trying to be five years ago. He was not a celebrity or a scholar. He was just a local man who had mastered his feelings and emotions. And all he cared about was to lift others’ spirits while the nation was dealing with the repercussions of the terrible earthquake. He wanted to help in whatever way he could even if that meant continuing waving the national flag amid the rubble.
Last I read about him; he was planning to travel across Nepal carrying and waving a Nepali flag. Perhaps, in his own way, he aspires to teach us to be the best version of ourselves, and if we could, lift ourselves up and lift others, especially during hard times. And perhaps that lesson is much more critical today than ever.