Monday, January 26, 2009

All over the map

Fragmented attention span reflects reality; film at 11
In Kathmandu
Yes, this blog is schizophrenic, or at least inconsistent. One day I am blogging about an ancient dance form I am trying to learn and help preserve. The next, it's murdered journalists and civic unrest. A few days previous, it was Vedic Astrology.

That's just life here, at least for me. I came to get a visa, I stayed to study Charya Nrtya and in between translating the Sanskrit Giti and memorizing mudras I can't help but notice that the erstwhile Kingdom is falling apart. So every once in a while I collect a month's worth of such "real world" observations and throw them together.

I might write more often on such things, but there's really jack-all I can do about them, except cobble together such reports and share them here. After some recent correspondence with BFF Darkhorse in Nashville, I realized that the full picture of what's going on here in Nepal is not emerging in the MSM - even for observant internationally-conscious fellows such as my friend. Not for any nefarious reason, just that we're small, obscure and complicated. People tend to confuse us with both India and Tibet when in fact, we've never been either.

For instance, how many people heard about the new "secular" government's attempt to forcibly appoint their own priests at the most sacred Hindu temple in the country? (and yes, I am sure the Indian media has its biases - but who else reported on it??)

--or, the fact that we now have a Ministry of Cultural and State Reconstruction? (ominous, or what?)

I feel more optimistic, however, about my ability to learn, codify and transmit the Newar Charya dance. Not to turn my back on realpolitik, but my life has involved primarily arts and culture, and I don't like the writing on the wall (even if it is in Ranjana script).

No more king = no more royal patronage for the traditional arts and rituals (here the arts have always been intertwined with religion).
No foreign investors = no private money either.
No electricity = Nepali businesses are shutting down, so they can't contribute either.
Constant state of "emergency" = ordinary Nepalis have no time and energy for such things.
And direct government intervention in rituals and traditions = Cultural Revolution.

Living here, one begins to wonder whether anyone realizes there are precedents for all these things, in a number of countries just next door. Cambodian classical dance, for instance, is currently being revived after the Khmer Rouge's efforts to destroy even the dance masters. Now it is recognized by UNESCO as part of humankind's living intangible heritage. I hope that we can achieve the same status for Charya.

What does all this dance stuff have to do with the price of tea in China, Cambodia, Tibet or Nepal? A convenient answer comes from, of all places, Bob Dole (or at least his speech-writer).

"... We can know through the universal language of dance when we are moved, and when the quality of a people's art has touched our common humanity. That is the case with the Khmer classical dancers...there is something hopeful here in that dance. From the very presence of past holocaust, we take some comfort in these dancers and their renewed dedication to all that is good and noble and beautiful and lasting in the culture of Cambodia. Your grace inspires us. Through you, your nation and its traditions will live on after the barbarians of the recent past are remembered only in the nightmares of your brave people."
Robert Dole - U.S. Senator
(Remarks on the Khmer dance troupe performance, Cannon Rotunda, May 10, 1983)

Way past time to go. Internet prices here have gone up and I've already spent 400NRs on posting today.


Raghubeer said...

Why do the Nepalis feel India is there enemy?

Does the government know how much Nepals' GDP is directly contributed by India?

This is the country founded by Indian kings for godsake!

Almost all of Nepal's culture is derived from Bharat.

Sirens, I have never been to Nepal and don't wish to go to such a hostile country in my lifetime, but what are the attitudes towards Indians/people of Tarai most regular Nepalis have?

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

@Raghubeer: Hmmm. I had an argument with a Nepali shopkeeper a few weeks ago - he claimed the kings actually did NOT come from India. One wonders at the extent of Maoist re-education in this regard.

The average Nepalis have mixed feelings it seems toward India - so many are there in India for work. I think Nepal has always been in that classic situation of sleeping between two 800-pound gorillas. You get nervous. What I still don't understand is why they seem more threatened by India than by China. ?