Nepali Times

Franz praises Nepalis, shoots their animals

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
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Franz Ferdinand hunting in Nepal

Franz Ferdinand hunting in Nepal

“The state of Nepal is a strange and usually little known country”, declared the Archduke of Austria-Este Franz Ferdinand in a diary entry from 8 March, 1893. This strangeness, of course, was due largely to the fact that the Nepal leg of his world tour was restricted to the far western Tarai (crossing the Mahakali River by elephant); the prince’s interest in Nepal lay chiefly in slaughtering its wildlife. For this purpose the Prime Minister Bir Shumsher made available 1223 men and 415 animals, including 203 elephants, and by his own detailed account, Ferdinand made full use of these resources. He and his entourage, including the British Resident, shot almost anything that moved (including 18 tigers), and a typical entry reads thus:

At this moment I see a second tiger emerge from a tunnel of reeds, shouted “rok” and fired. To my joy, this tiger lay dying in front of me too.

Royal pursuits both bloody and refined were documented by amateur and professional photographers as Ferdinand inched across the globe. His time in Nepal and India, the focus of last Sunday’s photo.circle showcase, was presented by German art historian Regina Höfer. While the material on Nepal (limited to a few hunting shots) probably disappointed the audience, Höfer did make some interesting observations regarding the nature of photography, then and now. The Archduke’s touring party engaged local studios and photographers as it travelled. Telegrams from the time, carefully preserved, indicate that payment for services rendered was not always prompt. Things have not changed very much a century on!

These services were crucial to representing the prince as a valorous hunter. Thus a picture of the Archduke standing over a dead tiger in Rajasthan is photomontaged (or “photoshopped” in modern parlance) to remove all trace of his (very numerous) native assistants. Ferdinand was however keen to credit the native shikaris of Nepal, whose skill he praises at every juncture. He also makes the following judgment:

The Nepalese distinguished themselves very positively from their Indian brethren for whom indecisiveness and noise seem to be indispensable ingredients of every hunt.

Make of this what you will with regards to our constitutional mess, but one might at least hope the following retains some truth:

The elevated rank of the minster in Nepal is said to be a dangerous and mostly short one as ministers die a violent death after they have been in office for some time. There are numerous small parties in Nepal and if the minister of one party has been inconvenient or his influence has become too strong according to some at the court, he is simply killed.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand himself never got to properly “remember in old age what I cherished as a young man”, as he puts it in the preface to the published volumes of his diary. Some might even suggest he got his just desserts for living by the gun, as it were – his diaries recount an estimated 300,000 game kills. The piles of dead animals the prince so proudly posed in front of were eventually to be mirrored in the millions of lives lost to the Great War: on June 28, 1914, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip stepped up in front of the Archduke and shot him in the neck.


Occupy (yourself)

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
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To occupy, among other things, is to fill or take up (a space or time), be situated in (a position in a system or hierarchy), hold (a position or job), take control of (a country).

Occupation, thus, ranges from mere passivity to outright aggression. But the Oxford Dictionary of English also defines occupation as the act of entering and staying in (a building) without authority and often forcibly, especially as a form of protest. In the context of the Occupy protests around the world, mirrored in the feminist Occupy Baluwatar movement of 2012/13 in Kathmandu, to occupy is to push back against occupation perceived as unjust, whether it is passive or aggressive.

January 6, City Museum Kathmandu: An interaction with Cheryl Colopy, the author of Dirty, Sacred Rivers. As we discuss our passive, laissez faire occupation of the Kathmandu Valley, which has reduced the Bagmati River to a sewer even as we continue to dispose of our loved ones in its sluggish embrace, the #Occupy exhibition, consisting of original artwork and captioned posters from around the world, serves to distract. Two pieces by Sadhu-X draw the eye – a canary yellow depiction of a policeman dragging away a panda (standing in for the Hong Kong protestors), and a naked, monstrously inked Kumari, proclaiming “Rape Me”. The latter is a clear condemnation of the hypocrisy of our society – we worship more goddesses than one could shake a phallus at while allowing our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends to be harassed, oppressed, diminished – and I couldn’t help but wonder what the reaction might have been had “Rape Me” been displayed at Occupy Baluwatar.

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The protests, focused on several cases of abducted, raped, or otherwise abused women, petered out after months of determined placarding on the pavement opposite Nepal Rastra Bank (being as close to the Prime Minister’s residence, that other Baluwatar of Occupation, that the protestors were allowed to approach). Promises were made, committees formed, and eventually the police began arresting more than just protestors. But the root causes remained unaddressed – the protests fading into so many others – and the protestors themselves appeared divided on the direction of the movement.

That Occupy Baluwatar failed to reap a lasting dividend for Nepali women is confirmed in “Harvest of Illusion”, a poem by Pranika Koyu, whose opinion piece on the defrauding and rape of Sita Rai by airport officials and police prefigured the movement. As part of the passionate, alternately belligerent and despairing anthology Bhav, Koyu’s “Harvest” suggests that her trust was betrayed somewhere down the line – whether by fellow protestors or the authorities is not quite clear. But Koyu herself admits to self-doubt that clouds her “glass of trust”. Perhaps she expected too much from a street-based protest?

Meanwhile, attendees at the City Museum event are bogged down in enumerations of compost kits and garbage cans. Less practically oriented, I want to know how it is that we tolerate the accelerating degradation of our land, water and air. Why, in fact, do we occupy this space? Hutta Ram Baidya, the “Bagmati Man”, passed away in 2013 without realising his dream of a meaningful occupation, frustrated by the cultural amnesia of the Valley’s inhabitants as much as the government’s abdication of its responsibilities. I ask Cheryl why she feels that it is not too late for Kathmandu (as she implies it may be for Delhi), but remain unsatisfied by the argument that this place is small enough to change. What’s left unsaid is how, in working for a better world, we are compelled to peddle tempered optimism if we want anyone to listen. But is the frog in the pan unmoved, unmoving? That’s for you and me to answer.

#Occupy runs till January 12 at the City Museum Kathmandu.

Cheryl Colopy’s book Dirty, Sacred Rivers is available at Vajra Books, Thamel.

Pranika Koyu’s Bhav is available at Educational Book House, Kantipath.


A place called home

Monday, August 4th, 2014
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Blink and you’ll miss it – KU Art+Design’s week-long exhibition at the Nepal Art Council in Babar Mahal is the creative explosion of a generation of graduates from Kathmandu University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts, and unless you’re one of those hapless fools tasked to “draft” our constitution down the road, I’d recommend getting there by Wednesday, when the show closes. BFA Exhibition Project 2014 signifies unfettered creativity as much as the discipline required to complete a four-year degree and six months of intensive studio work – the installations, even the most straightforward of which deviate from what Nepali audiences might traditionally define as “Art”, are a collective revelation.

Living as they do in a country struggling to reconcile past and present, it is no surprise that much of the work on display grapples with themes of environmental degradation and socio-political boundaries. Many of the artists draw on the familiar to refresh our understanding of a culture besieged by modernity. Kiran Rai’s startling mechanical prostheses for mythical creatures, such as a pair of shiny metal wings for a garud that flaps about with unwieldy grace at the flick of a switch, shatter our perceptions of myth as something frozen in time. The notion of beauty itself is challenged by Prajwal Bhattarai, whose “re-cycles” reveal a deep understanding of how (discarded) objects can be repurposed to recall wholly different arenas of aesthetic endeavour.

kiranrai

In a related sense, Anish Bajracharya and Tsewang Lama play with reinterpretations of that which is familiar to Nepalis.  Bajracharya’s refashioning of the iconic Goldstar, the “shoe of the masses”, is simply inspired. Or as he puts it in the tagline for his imaginary brand (albeit fronted with real shoes that I was tempted to try on), “inspired by the land”. If Goldstar dares to come out with a shoe that incorporates within its design Nepal’s plains, hills, water bodies and mountains, it would be, if you’ll excuse the pun, “revolutionary”. Lama’s critique of urbanization, meanwhile, could be viewed as one more in a long line of anguished responses to Kathmandu’s apparently inexorable decline. But his representations of the chaos of the capital churn inside of the viewer’s mind. The style recalls the clichéd touristic vistas of Nepal’s mountains, temples and alleys; the content, conflagrations of cars and concrete, quite literally demolishes that becalming notion.

I remember the excitement I felt when I encountered US-based artist Binod Shrestha’s installation, Rhythm of Solitude, at the Yala Maya Kendra in Patan. Back in 2009, it seemed to me that installation art was a relatively new chapter for Nepali contemporary art. BFA Exhibition Project 2014 proves that explorations in this genre are far advanced. The young Nepali artists on show at the Nepal Art Council until 6 August are poised, like the aforementioned mechanical Garuda, to launch into their self-defined, disparate orbits before too long – this is a rare opportunity to catch them all in the flesh and ask them about the worlds they envision, before they have quite created them.


Country comes to City

Saturday, May 10th, 2014
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Wherein a tone-deaf MC and a jetlagged headliner fail to derail a sonic ride at the City Museum Kathmandu</em>
After a season’s worth of delays, the City Museum Kathmandu opened discreetly on May 5 with a series of guided tours by its indefatigable Director, Kashish Das Shrestha. Those in the know had already sneaked over for a preview of the Museum, with its reconstructed <em>galli</em> interiors and eye-catching translites of Old Kathmandu, as well as the contemporary Gallery featuring both thangkas and graphic art from across the oceans. But the Khumbila concert and live art event on May 8, fundraising for the victims of the Everest tragedy, was the first real opportunity to showcase its potential as a public space. That a concert in a car park drew such respectable numbers bodes well for those seeking respite from Thamel and Jhamel.
By the time Rahul Giri of Sulk Station took the stage for the ‘tiny set’ that he had promised, I was already underwhelmed by the ‘live’ art in the Gallery and the tepid, overpriced beer on offer. Yet a few beats under the lights made me feel Kathmandu was finally moving in tandem with urban culture elsewhere. It was a tantalizing glimpse: for the rest of the evening – with the exception of pop rockers X-It, whose highlight was a rippingly indulgent exposition of the ‘Purple Rain’ solo – the country came to the city, and the audience was in its thrall.
Both Night and Kutumba are well known to aficionados of Nepal’s burgeoning folk fusion scene, of course. Kutumba in particular has earned the respect of audiences across the country with its upbeat instrumentals, seamlessly blending string and wind instruments with an impressive array of tub-thumpers guaranteed to get people on their feet. The boys were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they were in a take-no-prisoners mode.
Prior to their crescendo, however, Night went about its business in subtle fashion, offering a Western-influenced, melodic take on Nepali fusion, with vocals lending both dynamic timbre and narrative to offset the tendency of the genre to get ‘jammed’ in an endless loop. Two compositions stood out – the recently released ‘Tuina ko chha hai bhara’ and the old favourite ‘The Rain of Colours’, and both were received extremely well. At times the soundscapes they created recalled legendary German electronic group Tangerine Dream; mostly, however, they mined a seam of cultural nostalgia that Lalitey Prawin Adhikari characterized as ‘a past that never existed,’ to which I responded, ‘or a future that can never exist?’ Whatever the answer, Night’s future looks to be brightening up, with their long-awaited debut album <em>Ani Ukali Sangai Orali</em> set to be released by London-based Subsonic Routes.
The less said about the jarringly intrusive MC the better, of course, but there was some disappointment that Jamie Catto of Faithless and 1 Giant Leap fame performed just the one tune before coming off, apparently suffering from jetlag. Fortunately for most of us in attendance at the City Museum Kathmandu, this evening of aural colour – in a space seeking to push our mental horizons into a future beyond pell-mell modernity – was a crystallization of the here10335803_10152845536748662_306855582_nand now.

Wherein a tone-deaf MC and a jetlagged headliner fail to derail a sonic ride at the City Museum Kathmandu

After a season’s worth of delays, the City Museum Kathmandu opened discreetly on May 5 with a series of guided tours by its indefatigable Director, Kashish Das Shrestha. Those in the know had already sneaked over for a preview of the Museum, with its reconstructed galli interiors and eye-catching translites of Old Kathmandu, as well as the contemporary Gallery featuring both thangkas and graphic art from across the oceans. But the Khumbila concert and live art event on May 8, fundraising for the victims of the Everest tragedy, was the first real opportunity to showcase its potential as a public space. That a concert in a car park drew such respectable numbers bodes well for those seeking respite from Thamel and Jhamel.

By the time Rahul Giri of Sulk Station took the stage for the ‘tiny set’ that he had promised, I was already underwhelmed by the ‘live’ art in the Gallery and the tepid, overpriced beer on offer. Yet a few beats under the lights made me feel Kathmandu was finally moving in tandem with urban culture elsewhere. It was a tantalizing glimpse: for the rest of the evening – with the exception of pop rockers X-It, whose highlight was a rippingly indulgent exposition of the ‘Purple Rain’ solo – the country came to the city, and the audience was in its thrall.

Both Night and Kutumba are well known to aficionados of Nepal’s burgeoning folk fusion scene, of course. Kutumba in particular has earned the respect of audiences across the country with its upbeat instrumentals, seamlessly blending string and wind instruments with an impressive array of tub-thumpers guaranteed to get people on their feet. The boys were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they were in a take-no-prisoners mode.

Prior to their crescendo, however, Night went about its business in subtle fashion, offering a Western-influenced, melodic take on Nepali fusion, with vocals lending both dynamic timbre and narrative to offset the tendency of the genre to get ‘jammed’ in an endless loop. Two compositions stood out – the recently released ‘Tuina ko chha hai bhara’ and the old favourite ‘The Rain of Colours’, and both were received extremely well. At times the soundscapes they created recalled legendary German electronic group Tangerine Dream; mostly, however, they mined a seam of cultural nostalgia that Lalitey Prawin Adhikari characterized as ‘a past that never existed,’ to which I responded, ‘or a future that can never exist?’ Whatever the answer, Night’s future looks to be brightening up, with their long-awaited debut album Ani Ukali Sangai Orali set to be released by London-based Subsonic Routes.

The less said about the jarringly intrusive MC the better, of course, but there was some disappointment that Jamie Catto of Faithless and 1 Giant Leap fame performed just the one tune before coming off, apparently suffering from jetlag. Fortunately for most of us in attendance at the City Museum Kathmandu, this evening of aural colour – in a space seeking to push our mental horizons into a future beyond pell-mell modernity – was a crystallization of the here and now.


Change within, change without

Friday, April 4th, 2014
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Manish Paudel's Video Installation At SUS.TAIN.KTM

Over the years, Nepal has hosted any number of events related to climate change, hardly surprising considering we live in the shadow of the Himalaya, the ‘third pole’. Receding glaciers and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) are only, if you’ll excuse the pun, the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

Many such events have been limited to publicity stunts: if turning the lights off for ‘Earth Hour’ in a nation chafing against power cuts is harmless enough one can’t say the same for flying a cabinet of politicians up to Everest Base Camp (and 600 delegates to Copenhagen) in the lead-up to climate negotiations. Climate change has never been cooler (or hotter, if you prefer), but few comprehend what exactly it means for Nepal, and what we should do about it.

The Integrated Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is well positioned to explain. It has been conducting scientific research in the eight countries of the Hindu-Kush Himalaya for three decades, but more recently has concentrated on outreach to the communities that live in the Himalaya. The major multimedia exhibition Climate+Change could be seen as the culmination of this approach, and ICIMOD found worthy partners in the American Embassy, UNICEF, Thinc and photo.circle, among others.

The permanent exhibition, which opened at the Nepal Art Council in December, was impressively comprehensive. The ground floor introduced visitors to climate change in urban Nepal through text (in English and Nepali), photos, visuals and installations, the most striking of which were the plastic cubes sealing in found objects from the beleaguered Bagmati River – batteries, locks of hair, used condoms – which said as much about the recent history of our civilisation as about our attitudes towards the environment. The first floor, in turn, focused on the importance of transboundary cooperation in addressing risks. But it was the top floor, with GlacierWorks’ sweeping Himalayan vistas interspersed with short profiles of mountain residents, including Everest summiteer Apa Sherpa, which really brought home the reality of climate change in Nepal – a veritable Damocles’ Sword if there was one.

The genius of Climate+Change, however, has found expression in the wild variety of events it has hosted, from the ICIMOD Haat Bazaar featuring agro-products from across the Hindu Kush to treasure hunts and critical mass cycling events. Students in particular have been encouraged to visit and make use of the activity room (with free wi-fi) on the ground floor, when they are not engaging in the Saturday workshops or attending screenings of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ or the animation classic ‘Fern Gully’. A series of seminars, including on how Nepal’s tourism could adapt to climatic challenges, provided platforms for discussion. The ever-popular PechaKucha staged its latest edition on February 23, with mini-presentations ranging from the hazards of medical waste to sustainable housing.

Finally, the temporary exhibits, including the eye-catching creations of SUS.TAIN.KTM, have highlighted the emotional impact of environmental issues. Zadie Smith notes that ‘there are hardly any intimate words’ for climate change, so when Nepali artists express their shock and disgust at what is happening to their neighbourhoods, they take us with them: the first step to effecting positive change rather than submitting to it.

Sometimes the longevity of an exhibition is its worst enemy. But all good things come to an end, although the organizers’ outreach with the travelling BookBus means it’s not just Kathmandu that has benefited from certain inconvenient truths. Climate+Change runs for another week, even as the valley begins to simmer for the summer. So what better time and place to make sense of the IPCC’s latest, sobering findings?

Climate+Change runs at the Nepal Art Council, Babar Mahal, until April 13, 2014. (www.facebook.com/climatepluschange, www.climatepluschange.org)


The Vanishing Author

Sunday, March 30th, 2014
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Nhooja Tuladhar

Photo: Nhooja Tuladhar

Once upon a time we discovered that a text was not gospel. That once it issued from the imagination of the author, it was free to take whatever form it wanted in the mind of the engaged reader. This realization, millennia after it became evident that the word of god was not really so, would have relieved some writers as much as it frustrated others. ‘Enfin!’ Proust might have exclaimed from the comfort of his cork-lined room. ‘Readers will now leave me in peace, let them understand my work as they will, if they will.’ ‘Well then…’ Salinger would have murmured. ‘Whether I write or not is none of your goddam business.’

These famous recluses might have shrivelled up in the glare of the marketing blitz that is the modern writer’s lot. Doris Lessing’s publisher apologized for asking her to submit to an interview back in 1950,  but in the last few decades writers who want to sell their books have to sell themselves first. With publishers seeking to hedge their bets, the onus is firmly on the writer to get the word out, as it were. Writers are expected to reach out through social and traditional media well before and after the launch of a book, and keep potential buyers engaged in their brand through a never-ending treadmill of public engagements. It seems, sometimes, that the more successful you are as a performing monkey, the less likely you are to be typing out works of staggering and heartwarming genius.

The brand of the writer has caught on in Nepal, too. Book launches are de rigueur for any self-respecting writer, as they are for those whom no one really respects, and one can hardly complain. Launches are just that – they provide the momentum any book needs before sailing out into the wide world, and they’re as good an excuse as any for a good old-fashioned shindig. After all that slogging away, every writer deserves his fifteen minutes. At the very least.

A brace of bimochans brought out the best and worst of the genre this weekend. Ironically, both seemed to overwhelm their subjects. Prawin Adhikari’s debut story collection The Vanishing Act rumbled to life in the ambient amphitheatre of the Nepal Academy last Friday after an expectant half hour coloured only by the lassitude of the dun dog sprawled to stage left. After La.Lit Editor Rabi Thapa’s brief introduction, Ujjwal Maharjan read short excerpts from the book and handed over to the author. To the palpable disappointment of the audience, Adhikari only thanked the caterers and the organisers, exhorted us to enjoy the evening, and vanished into the gloam of the advancing evening. Such was his modesty, you’d have thought he was merely announcing that the real author was on his way, that it was only a matter of time before he showed up. Later, he surfaced reluctantly to pose for the media, and was to be seen signing books by the light of an emergency light as all around him, we warmed the cockles of our wintry hearts with hearty doses of aila and chwoela.

Deepak Rana’s double header of a launch at Hotel Annapurna the next day – of Roads Less Travelled and The Silent Flute – couldn’t have been more different. Here too we waited, amidst a sea of ex-shrees, but this time for a real chief guest. Hell, they even handed out a programme. After what seemed like long enough for the author to complete the trilogy of which The Silent Flute was the second part, sometime-PM and longtime politician Madhav Kumar Nepal deigned to grace us with his presence, be felicitated, light the panas, and be seated. Chirag Bangdel spoke of Rana, Greta Rana spoke of Rana, then Nepal spoke of Rana. Very eloquently, too. There was also a ‘cultural item’ consisting of a young lady balancing things on her things. But the writer was, figuratively speaking, nowhere to be seen. He was there, no doubt, but evidently he had expended all his creative energies on his work; his flute remained silent. Book launched, he even allowed Madhav Nepal to sign copies of his book for him.

Perhaps, after all, a writer is best off being just that – a writer. Let the speakers speak, let the writers write, let the readers read, let the children play. We were all made – or made ourselves – a certain way for a reason. Don’t ask me to explain myself, please. Woof!


Gulab Jammin’

Sunday, February 16th, 2014
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Please be seated by 4, noted the ticket, but by the time the MC began to gush about how lucky we were that Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia was in the house, it was close to 5. And she wasn’t even in the programme. ‘When was the last time you saw classical music in Nepal,’ she beamed, ‘If you saw any classical music in the last six months, you are very lucky.’ Then she switched to fluent Nepali, her sentiments embellished for our benefit: ‘People would probably say, who would pay to listen to classical music, right?’ Having established that we Nepalis are a bunch of ignoramuses, she introduced everyone on the Chief Guest Sofa, invited them to speechify, and inaugurated the inauguration.

And then we had some music.

Ok, she didn’t mean to say we were a bunch of hill-bound hicks. She meant to say we were starved of culture because of the lack of events showcasing it. Though the folks up at Kirateshwor Sangeetashram, who organize classical music shows every full moon, probably wouldn’t agree. But JayShree Music Society should be commended for bringing the renowned flautist to town. There were only two brief power cuts during the show, the soundmen behind us kept their chat down to a low murmur, and the guards constantly in-ing and out-ing the creaky door down by the front of stage made sure it didn’t bang once. And once we established that the droning buzz from the speakers was only a pre-recorded tanpura on loop (Pandit Chaurasia made do with three supplementary flautists and one local tabla thumper), we were all set.

What’s more, the music was great.


 

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