Talking Language

From HIMAL, Volume 1, Issue 1 (July 1988)

Careening on a auto-rickshaw around New and Old Delhi while researching our cover feature on migration, we discovered that you don’t need English, Hindi or Punjabi to ask directions in the Indian capital. Nepali will do. With thousands of men and boys from the Nepali hills now manning the dust-ridden street corners of Delhi as chaukidars and darbans, you can simply ask “Lai Qila kata chha, dai for bhaifl” It is another matter that he might send you to Greater Kailash.

Speaking of languages, we often get asked why Himal is in English. The very premise of this magazine is that development and environment experience must be shared region-wide. Information exchange is integral to that process but there is a communications drought in the region, not the least because we speak different languages. As things stand, English alone can cross borders, watersheds, ridgelines and divisions of the mind. It is our hope that Himal’s copy will be freely and widely used by other media and in different languages, hopefully reaching a wider grassroots audience.

We have a counterpart in Francophone West Africa, a monthly called Famille et Development. It is printed in another colonial language, French. Unlike Himal, it is able to reach the grassroots because in countries such as Senegal, Mali or Cote d’lvoire, the primary health worker or school teacher is fluent in French. Such is not the case for English in most of the Himalaya. For better or worse, acts or ommissions by “decision makers” affect the lives of millions in our mountains. Most of them speak English. We hope they subscribe.

World  Traveler Himal
Those of you who read the fine print will have noted that the prototype issue of Himal was printed in Sri Lanka. The present issue is from New York. What’s going on? Does the magazine of the Himalaya see virtue in distance? No. These interim issues were brought out as and when we were able to raise money, for ours is a not-for-profit publication. However, we hope to stop our wandering very soon so that this magazine will come to you straight from Kathmandu, as it should.
Even with only one issue out so far, we have been hit over the head many times for this magazine’s “negative content”. We plead guilty, up to a point, and promise to track down more good news. But it would help if there were more of it available. Readers can help in the search by sending in ideas and also continuing to hit us over the head.

Our cover now proclaims Himal as being “For Development and Environment”, rather than “For Environment and Development”, as we had it in the prototype issue. Has the E-word lost out to the D-word? Not really. We reversed placement only because “development” is generic and covers the entire social, economic and environmental  universe.   However,  we continue to keep “environment” because in  these   fragile,   over-populated
mountains, the environment-development nexus is more important than anywhere else.

Save Sustainable Development!

If the word development (and bikas) had not become a cliche, there would have been no reason to come up with “sustainable development”. Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, whose World Commission on Environment and Development gave us the new term in its 1987 report Our Common Future, defined it in a nutshell at the United Nations: “National and international strategies that offer real options, that secure and enhance incomes as well as the environment”.

The Brundtland Commission has commendably kept its efforts alive by getting key groups around the world to participate in the report’s implementation. But the Big Bad Cliche is lurking in the woods waiting to pounce on little Sustainable Development and drag it down to be shackled with all the others: Trickle Down, Hundred Flowers, Adjustment With A Human Face, and, the most recent arrival, Peres troika.

Having been embraced by the international set and self-appointed development czars, Sustainable Development has already lost some of its fizz. It will become really flat when national ministers and planning commissioners start jostling it about. Madam Brundtland must devise a way to rescue S. Development.

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