Dear Kul Chandra Gautam
Honorable Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pradeep Gyawali
Gokarna Bista, Minister of labour
Nilambar Acharya, Political analyst,
Dear Ani Choying Dolma,
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words on Kul’s book “Global Citizen from Gulmi”.
I feel honored as a long serving UN staffer to be asked to comment on Kul Chandra’s book, but also as a non-Nepali, because obviously the book resonates differently whether you are from Nepal or from another part of the world.
Indeed, the story of young Kul Chandra, is by many aspects so Nepali; having to walk for five days, ride on a bullock cart and rickshaw for a day, travel by train for 2 days and another day of walking, that is to say a total of 9 days to reach his new school may seem to most Nepali readers a normal occurrence. For European readers, it is an adventure!
And this is what Kul Chandra’s life seems to be: an adventure throughout.
Reading your book from my UN perspective, I could not help but think that the Fairy of the SDGs was accompanying you from day one. Your native village, Amarpur, is a SDG village by all standards! I mean the perfect place where all the SDGs make sense.
Let’s review this. In your own words: In Amarpur, there was no road (SDG 9), no school (SDG 4), no health services (SDG 3), no post office, no telephone and no electricity (SDG 6, 7 and 11). All the villagers were subsistence farmers, with the poorest working as share-croppers (SDG 1, 2 and 8). 100% of women and possibly 95% of men were illiterate (SDG 4, 5 and 10).
There you go! The Sustainable Development Goals have been tailored for Amarpur village. No wonder why you had a calling Kul Chandra.
Another aspect of your life struck me. For a man who was going to dedicate his entire career to children’s rights, your life and that of your family is a textbook of what should NOT happen.
Born from an underaged mother (17 years old) who was actually only 7 when she was married to a 9-year-old boy (your father). Your own marriage was also semi-arranged as you put it with your future wife being only 17 at the time!!!
Reading Kul Chandra’s book, one is taken through 7 decades of world progress and mutation.
The small village of Amarpur, without electricity or health post or even school, is now a much different place. Kul himself says (on page 485): “Every time I go to my native village, I marvel at the changes since my childhood. Women no longer have to walk for hours to fetch water; children go to school; motor vehicles reach the village instead of people having to walk for days to get to the nearest bus stop; mobile phones are in the hands of rich and poor alike; lights turn on at the flick of a switch.”
And these 7 decades are the same 7 decades of existence of the UN. Kul Chandra was born almost at the same time as the UN and his life is the exemplification of what the UN have accompanied.
But interestingly, Kul Chandra sees the world changing but not our human nature. He thinks some human traits are unchangeable. So, if the world changes, but not our basic human traits, one might ask: what generates the changes? And this is where the idealistic nature of us, UN civil servants, kicks in and we say: the UN have been and continue to be the force behind the changes.
Of course, far from me the pretention to attribute to the UN all the progress in the world, but through Kul’s book, one sees clearly that the UN have accompanied (sometimes followed and some other times preceded) all the changes in the world. And when I say the UN, I mean of course the member states, but first and foremost the people working at the UN, the women and men who come from 193 different countries, the Kul Chandras of this world.
Actually, Kul’s experiences and achievements are an inspiration to all of us. What a truly extraordinary and very rich career. Kul’s life shows that with hard work and determination, you can achieve a lot. But more important than hard work and determination, the most striking feature in Kul’s life is the values and principles that guided him throughout. Kul’s life demonstrates that being anchored in strong humanist values and principles, and respecting and adhering to these values and principles no matter what, this is what makes a difference.
And this is what led him to the UN, what kept him in the UN. Kul found in the UN the place where he belonged.
Strong of these experiences and values and principles, Kul Chandra is well positioned to give us a bit of his wisdom and share his dream world.
The world of tomorrow according to Kul will be a mix of power struggles but also a better place than today. And here we can feel the vision of the “idealistic, young, opinionated and perhaps a bit naïve young man” he was when he joined UNICEF in Cambodia.
From the current globalization and its unequal distribution of wealth to the emergence of an enlightened and more collaborative world order, Kul Chandra has many dreams:
– One of a democratic China that will embrace human rights and dissenting voices as a source of strength and prosperity, unleashing the creativity of its billion plus citizens.
– Of a Commonwealth of south Asia, where India and Pakistan overcome their differences, and where growth is led by people (more than by governments).
– One of a prosperous Africa, learning from Asia the recipes of success and harnessing the talent of its ever-growing population that will represent half of the world population by 2100.
– Of a vibrant Latin America, more mature, more equal, finding its place in the community of nations.
In Kul’s dreams, inequality will be defeated by the very people themselves. The conscience of the most unfair and glaring disparities between those who have and those who don’t will lead the people of the world to unite and build a new world. Kul actually says that “what people accepted as their fate in the past, they protest as injustice today”.
Kul’s dream is also one of a reformed UN through a democratization process that will reflect the realities of today (not the power sharing post WWII) where the “responsibility to protect” will be fully expressed, where military expenditure will be brought down to leave space and resources to the real sustainable development so many people in the world yearn for.
In Kul’s Dream World, Buddha’s teachings find all their meaning, in particular that of the “middle path”, avoiding all extremes, be they extremes of poverty or extremes of wealth.
But what I loved the most in Kul’s book it is his own description of the United Nations. Indeed, despite the many criticisms (on the US domination or its opposite the anti-American approach; on its helplessness faced with rogue regimes or abusive superpowers), the UN is the indispensable organization for global governance of our times.
There is no other organization in the world that can do what the UN does or that has the mandate the UN has. Kul actually says: “The UN is a complex organization. It defies simplistic, black and white, good and bad characterization. … It is a vital and necessary organization in today’s world. If the UN did not exist, it would have to be created anew”.
And Kul knows and has experienced first-hand, as a citizen of a small and still poor nation, what the UN does for people. He has this sharp eye on some aspects of the UN that many might simply miss.
Let me quote directly: “Unbeknownst to most of us, the UN actually has great influence in our lives, sometimes directly and often indirectly, through support for various government institutions and inter-governmental mechanisms”.
“Our jobs depend not only on farms and factories but on far-away markets; on the rules of international trade and norms of universal human rights. We need an organization like the UN to facilitate and regulate international cooperation and global governance”.
“We need the UN and a multilateral approach to tackle “problems without passports” – problem that cross national borders uninvited (climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism, epidemics and so on). No one country or group of countries can tackle such problems alone. It is these problems that remain at the centre of the UN’s agenda”.
And finally, Kul has this wise definition: “The UN is, of course, not perfect. The UN is a mirror of the world. It reflects our hopes and convictions, and our divisions and disagreements”
So, reading your book has been an extremely inspiring experience. If a boy from the hills of Nepal can make it to the halls of the United Nations, then nothing is impossible. Maybe this is what the UN is all about. Make the impossible possible. Our hopes and aspirations…
Before concluding, I’d like to tell you how amazed I was at discovering that changed your name to adopt that of your favorite poet, Kulachandra Gautam. I wish I could the same and ask everybody from now on to call me Simone… Simone de Beauvoir!
And finally, to conclude, I can only express my gratitude that you have taken the time and energy to publish this book, and that you granted me the honor to say a few words about it. Be sure that I did this with utmost humility and admiration.
Thank you and congratulations.