Dec 21, 2012

Being confused for Indian

Once, a friend of mine in USA insinuated that Nepali restaurants in USA serve nothing but Indian food. The resulting conversation was, to say the least, highly confrontational, with one member spitting out that India doesn't have a copyright on its food. That discussion stayed in my mind long after it was over, because it was actually just an example of many such discussions that happened during my stay abroad. Many people had trouble recognizing where I was from, and it was easier for them to understand if I said my country was near India. This I did not mind. But being confused with an Indian at every step, particularly in sensitive matters, had tempers flaring, and not just mine.

Most of the times, the most intense assertion of exclusive Indian rights over cultural property comes from Indians themselves. For example, coming back to food, Indians are quick to claim Naan, Pulau, Samosas, and many other food served by Indian restaurants as traditional Indian food. Though it may have entrenched itself in popular Indian cuisine, Pulau, alternately called pilaf, plov, and many other names, is of middle eastern origin, and can be found today all over the Balkan region. Similarly, Samosa, originally Sanbusaj, or Sambosa, is of Persian origin, and Naan and Biryani are also western imports. While it is true that many Nepali restaurants serve these cosmopolitan items, India has as little, or as much, claim to them as Nepal because these items were an earlier generation’s equivalent of today’s globalized foods like pizza and burger, so to speak. A closer look will reveal that Nepali restaurants do not serve ethnic Indian food like Idlis and uttapams and dhoklas and the like. A still closer look would reveal that the menu is usually peppered with ethnic Nepali dishes like gundruk and chhoyela.

Another aspect where Indians stake their claim is the cultural dress. For a Nepali girl wearing her national dress, there is nothing more annoying than to hear this question “But, isn't the sari Indian?” Well, sure, Indian women have worn it for ages. But then, so have Nepali women. Our saris have evolved according to our needs, we have several dozen different kinds of saris right in our backyard: the thick Hakupatasi for cold winters of the hills, the one piece Dhimal sari that leaves the shoulders bare for the hot Terai, and many others, and India has its own varieties. But it so happens today that after centuries of evolving separately into several hundred unique designs, modern women everywhere eschew such ethnic dresses and wear the sari in almost similar ways. That does not mean that Nepali women have a lesser right to sari, and silly questions such as the one mentioned above accomplish nothing but put Nepali women on the defensive.
haku patasi

Food and clothes are just small parts of a larger and more important aspect of Nepalis that is often bulldozed: our cultural legacy and identity. India has so glorified itself that Indians claim anything associated with Hinduism to be Indian. It is sheer annoyance to have to reiterate every time that "Yes, I am Hindu,", "No, it is not just Indians who are Hindus, people as far apart as in Cambodia and Bali may be Hindus", and “No, my script is not called Hindi, it is called Devnagari and there is no copyright on it!” Besides, we Nepalis have grown up on the legacy of Sanskrit poets and philosophers like Kalidasa, Valmiki or Chanakya. While it may be true that  the geographical area where these personalities lived happens to be in India today, which Indians often cite to prove that these and many other personalities as solely Indian, it is impossible and unfair to dissociate Nepalis from the wisdom they have inherited through their language and culture.

Indians are not the only ones who confuse Nepali identity. Because India is famous and highly romanticized, sometimes individual cultural items like Samosas or saris are recognized by many foreigners. Starting from George Bush, the American presidents have wished the "people celebrating Diwali" on Tihar. Though George Bush and Obama both refrained from naming any particular country, the messages still helped in identifying Diwali as Indian, because the accompanying Diwali functions at the White House were mostly attended by Indians, and because Indians’ reception of these messages were vocal and widespread. Consequently, it has become even harder to convince anyone that Diwali is not just an Indian festival. We are all familiar with Budhha being assumed to be Indian, but other vestiges of Hindu culture like the Vedas, the concept of Karma, and names of famous gods are also immediately assumed to be Indian by the few foreigners who have come across them.

Though I mean no offence to India or to Indians individually, especially as I myself have many Indian friends, it is clear that the kind of shrill nationalism almost amounting to jingoism that pervades in Indian media leads most Indians to think of Indian culture as uniquely Indian. And sadly, India’s monopoly over South Asian culture (I have heard similar complaints from people of other South Asian nations) continues at the international level. While there may be many reasons for the instant recognition that India gets internationally – that India is the largest and most visible country of South Asia, that Indian Press and government are very good at exoticizing and publicizing Brand India – the sad truth is that there is very little we can do to counter Brand India at the individual level without a similar branding and publicizing of Brand Nepal. Since it is too much to hope that all Indians will start thinking rationally and stop believing everything dished up by an ultra-patriotic media, it is up to us Nepalis to be more aware of our history and identity and assert the same whenever the opportunity arises.  

Dec 8, 2012

Mother Goddesses in Kathmandu

Once upon a time, Kathmandu was a city ruled by women. Therewere seven Ajimas, or mother goddesses, who protected the city. Once they wereattacked by a demon called Mayurasur (also called Chandrasur). Mayurasurwreaked havoc on the city, killing cows, goats, destroying crops, and byinjuring people. The seven mother goddesses were powerless against him.

The goddesses decided to meet and discuss the situation. Oneof them said to Naradevi: “Your daughter Shwetakali is infatuated withMayurasur. Mayurasur is taking away not just our wealth and  livelihood, but our daughters too. You musttalk to your daughter and resolve the situation.”

Naradevi asked her daughter Shwetakali “Are you in love withMayurasur?” Shwetakali, of course, denied it outright. But her mother Naradevicould not let her daughter get away with this forbidden love. She took herdaughter around the city, and showed her the devastation wrecked by Mayurasur.“Look what he has done!” she said. “And you, as his lover, can stop all this,and return our city to its former glory, if you choose.”
Performance of Shwetakali's story in Indra Jatra

Shwetakali’s heart melted at the sight. Though she did notacknowledge her love for Mayurasur, she did tell her mother when Mayurasurwould come to visit her next.  On theadvice of the seven mother goddesses, Naradevi handed Shwetakali a poisoned khadga (knife) and a bottle of liquor.“When Mayurasur comes, give him the liquor” she advised. “And when he is drunk,kill him with the knife.”

At the appointed time, Mayurasur arrived to meet withShwetakali. As per her mother’s advice, Shwetakali first got him drunk, andwhen he lost his senses, she drove the khadga into his heart.All her mothers,and the entire city started rejoicing, but Shwetakali lay senseless overMayurasur’s body.

“Get up and rejoice” said Naradevi to Shwetakali. “The timefor weeping is over”. But Shwetakali could not. “My life is over”, said she “Ihad given all my love for Mayurasur, and now he is dead. I have nothing to livefor.” There and then, she decided to live as a Kumari forever.  Since Shwetakali was instrumental in routinga demon from the city and once again establishing the mother goddesses, she wasforever worshiped as virgin girl Kumari in Kathmandu. According to cultureexpert Satya Mohan Joshi, this is how the tradition of living goddess Kumaribegan in Kathmandu. Though there are various stories regarding the origin ofKumari in Kathmandu, this is the story performed in Indra Jatra dance everyyear.
Perfornamce of Shwetakali'sstory

The worship of mother figures is a very old one in manyreligions. Even though the culture of Kathmandu valley ceased to be matriarchala long time ago, the mother goddesses continue to preside over the valley invarious forms.  The old ajimas are still worshiped today as Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari, Naradevi, etc, and live on infolktales like the one above.  ThoughKathmandu is more famous for its virgin goddess Kumari, it is also home toseveral groups of mother goddesses called Ashta Matrika, Nava Durga and DasaMahavidya.

Ashta Matrika
The earliest reference to Matrikas can be found in the epicMahabharata, where they are portrayed as the disgruntled mothers of the godSkanda. After that, the number of Matrikas has always varied. In Mahabharata,there were six, while in Chandi, which contains the most popular description ofMatrikas followed to this day, there are seven Matrikas. In many placesincluding Kathmandu, an eighth goddess called Mahalakshmi or Yami is added,possibly to correlate the number of goddesses with the number of directions.

Ashta Matrikas have been around for a long time

Right from the beginning, these mother goddesses have hadtwo personalities: benign and an angry personality. In Mahabharata, they asktheir son Skanda for the right to torture children. They are allowed to do sountil the age of sixteen, after which they must protect the children. AshtaMatrikas in Chandi, likewise, were primarily born to kill demons, so they arefierce and protective at the same time.  Sevenmother goddesses were born out of the bodies of seven male gods to kill thedemons : Brahmi from Brahma, Maheshvari from Mahesh or Shiva, Vaishnavi fromVishnu, Indrayani from Indra, Kaumari from Kumar, Varahi from Varaha, Narasimhifrom Narasimha. In Kathmandu, their angry personality is appeased throughanimal sacrifices. As benign mother goddesses, they protect their devotees. Inthe city of Kathmandu, the temples of eight mother goddesses are laid out ineight directions, the four major and four intermediary directions.

According to Pickett, the logic of placing angry deities asprotectors rather than benign deities is that people are afraid of angrydeities. Hence, they are placed at the boundaries of human settlements, whereforests and wild lands start, where thieves, bandits and demons live. Theirplacement is dictated by a mandala oryantra where each deity has aspecific place. Each goddess is supposed to protect the residents of her ownarea from demons. Interestingly, even if a person moves away from theiroriginal residence, he or she is still protected by the goddess of his ancestralhome and not of the new home.

The shrines of Ashta Matrikas in Kathmandu do not haveidols. Often, there are only shapeless stones in the shrines, and devotees haveto look at the Torans to identify thegoddess. The Torans have a detailediconography embossed in them.

Gan Pyakhan: dance ofAshta Matrikas
Every year in Lalitpur, the dance of Ashta Matrikas isperformed. In Nepal Sambat 774, King Srinivas Malla dreamt of the eightMatrikas dancing in his courtyard. He described his dream to the priest, whoproclaimed it to be a good omen, and established the tradition of this dance.

The group of Ashta Matrikas are called Gana, and with timeGana came to be known as Gan in vernacular. Hence, this dance is called GanPyakhan, or dance of the Ganas. Every year, twenty four participants fromNakubahal of Lalitpur begin training eight days before Ghatasthapana. Of thetwenty four, thirteen are dancers while the rest are musicians and singers. TheAshta Matrikas featured in the dance are: Brahmayani, Maheswari, Kaumari,Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrayani, Kali and Mahalakshmi. Apart from the Matrikas,the other characters are Simhini, Vyaghrini, Bhairav, Ganesh and Kumar.

Dancers of Gana Pyakhan

The dance includes many interesting little dramas. Forexample, Chamunda and Barahi are believed t be the wives of Bhairav. The olderwife is angry with him for loving the younger wife too much, and the dramadepicts this quarrel. While Ganesh and Kumar perform solo dances, othercharacters dance in couples. There is also a little drama about Ganesh beingthe superior god over Kumar, and being worshipped first.
After a rigorous training, the dance begins onGhatasthapana. The dance is performed every day from then on to Dashami. FromSaptami onwards, the dance is performed at the main square. The dance starts atNakubahal and ends at Durbar Square.

During this dance, the dancers are believed to be the realincarnations of their corresponding deities. Hence, they are worshipped as suchby the local people. Former dancer Manish Shakya, recalls that it is not easybeing a god. The dancers have to go their corresponding deity’s temple, worshipthe god, and bring their spirit with them.  When the training begins, the dancers have toshave their heads, remain pure, and they cannot leave their house until thedance ends. As the god, it is the dancer’s prerogative to be fed first at hishome.

Strangely, though the characters in the dance are female,the dancers are all male. According to Manish Shakya, this is a well known andaccepted tradition of Kathmandu Valley. The former Kumari dancer furtherexplained that traditionally, the dancers were hereditary. Manish’s brother wasa Kumari before him, and their father a Kumari before them. But today, thedance is open to any traditional residents of Nakubahal. However, this dancehas been discontinued for a few years, and a local committee called “LalitpurVikasko Lagi Samaj” is taking steps to reinstate this dance.

Nava Durga inBhaktapur
Durga Bhawani, known as Chandi, Bhagawati and many othernames, is most famous for killing the buffalo formed Mahishasur. Her nine formsare worshiped as Nava Durga, which are: Shailaputri, Brahmacharini,Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri andSidhidatri. The worship of this goddess is an ancient tradition in Kathmandu,proven by  a third century statue found inHandigaun’s Dhanaganesh temple. Subsequent historical documents also mentionthe worship of a  goddess who killed thebufflao-demon. Amshuvarma was a famous patron of the Nava Durgas and he issupposed to have established the tradition of their regular ritual worship.

A modern picture of mahishasur mardini that i found interesting

Of the three cities, mothergoddesses are the most prominent in Bhaktapur, where statues of Matrikas can befound in and around the Durbar Square too. In Licchavi period, Kathmandu Valleywas in danger from powerful Khasa and Doya kingdoms. Since Bhaktapur is locatedhigher than Kathmandu or Lalitpur, and the main settlement is surrounded byriver, it was believed to be the most secure place to guard in the valley. Thisalso led to the establishment of an additional ninth goddess, Tripurasundari,who presides over the center. The palace’s name Tripur is supposed to come fromTripurasundari, a goddess around whose temple Anandadev built his palace. 

The eight Matrikas and the ninthgoddess Tripura Sundari comprise the Nava Durgas of Bhaktapur. Worshiping thesame deity in different forms is an old tradition in Hinduism, and hence it isnot surprising that the Matrikas are worshiped as Durgas in Bhaktapur.Similarly, the central Durga of Bhaktapur, Tripurasundari, is also worshiped as one of the Dasa Mahavidyas.

Anandadev’s construction of theNavadurga shrines for the specific purpose of the protection has been mentionedin several genealogical chronicles. It is evident from the map below that theeight outer Matrika shrines are located at strategic tantric points. Theconstruction was done on an ancient mandala based Vaastu system, according towhich the temples were located at strategic points from where the city can bebest protected.  

The Nava Durgas are honored inBhaktapur through a dance every April in the Bisket Jatra festival. The masksused in this dance are of special importance as they are constructed through tantricritual process. 

Dasa Mahavidya
The Dasa mahavidyas are also tantric goddesses, who areworshipped a smanifestations of Durga. Their name literally means ten greatwisdoms. Though famous goddesses of Kathmandu like Bagalamukhi and ShobhaBhagawati are among the Dasa Mahavidyas, they are not as famous collectively asthe Ashta Matrikas or Nava Durgas.

Among the three cities of the valley, the Ashta Matrikas areleast visible in Lalitpur, while the Dasa Mahavidyas occupy  a prominent place here. They are honored everyear through ceremonial worship.
Even though there are more festivals dedicated to male godsthan female one, the most important Hindu festival, Dashain, is dedicated to afierce mother goddess.  The mothergoddesses of Kathmandu are an example of this interesting phenomenon. Whateverstatus women may have in real life, as goddesses they are worshiped fanatically. Besides, though women are encouraged to be gentle and docile inreal life, the goddesses worshiped are vengeful and bloodthirsty. Thus,besides enriching the cultural life of Kathmanduites today, the mothergoddesses of Kathmandu provide an interesting link to ancient matriarchalcultures too.

dasa mahavidyas

 Even though there are more festivals dedicated to male godsthan female one, the most important Hindu festival, Dashain, is dedicated to afierce mother goddess.  The mothergoddesses of Kathmandu are an example of this intersting phenomenon. Whateverstatus women may have in real life, as goddesses they are worshipedfanatically. Besides, though women are encouraged to be gentle and docile inreal life, the goddesses worshiped are vengeful and bloodthirsty. Thus, besidesenriching the cultural life of Kathmandu residents today, the mother goddesses ofKathmandu provide an interesting link to ancient matriarchal cultures too. 

Researched for and published in October issue of Spaces Magazine

Nov 30, 2012

wedding jewelyof nepal

Jewelry has been used by human beings since ancient ages to decorate themselves. The earliest jewelry used to be of stones, gems, ivory, leather, and other such naturally found materials. Prof. Dilliraj Sharma mentions a small axe shaped artifact that he found in Palpa, which has been identified as Neolithic jewelry. Since then, jewelry has evolved to incorporate many different materials and designs. Hannelore Gabriel writes in her book “Jewelry of Nepal” that wearing jewelry is traditionally thought to enhance a woman’s beauty. In no occasion does a women’s beauty shine as in weddings, and for that reason, bridal jewelry has been very special in many cultures.
loon swaan

The Newa: ornament LoonSwan is one such special article. Loon means gold, and swan means flower, and just as the name suggests, LoonSwan is a big headpiece that covers much of the head. Its specialty is tiny, separate pieces of gold ornaments in the shapes of flowers, insects, and peacocks, which are tethered to the headpiece. These ornaments are often attached with springs, which gives the impression of live insects. This piece is the mark of a bride, and is worn only by the bride. Alternately, brides may also wear Nyapu Shikha, which means five chains. Nyapu Shikha can also be worn in other occasions.

Helina Bajracharya wearing Nhyapu Shikha:

Actually, the use of wedding jewelry begins even before weddings in Newa: culture. Kallya is a bangle which is sent to the bride from the groom's family a couple days before the wedding. Wearing the kallya symbolizes the finalizing of the wedding. During the wedding, the groom gives the bride a ring (Angu) and a chain (Shikha). After the wedding, when the bride is ready to depart from her maternal home, her father in law puts a par of anklets on her feet, which is the first and last time that a father-in-law touches the bride's feet. This anklet called tutibaggi is flat, and is usually plain. The bride's family gifts her a set of ritual beautifying objects, which includes a comb (natubhatuca or kakica), porcupine quill, and several other things. After the marriage, these objects are used to ritually comb the bride's hair. These objects symbolize her status as a married woman.

Women in several other cultures wear a particular item to symbolize their married status. For example, women in Brahmin and Chhetri community wear Tilahari, a set of seven golden beads used as a pendant to a pote necklace. Four beads are of one kind, and three of another. This Tilahari is given to the bride by the groom during the wedding ceremony. 


Along with the Tilahari come several other pieces like chains, phuli (nose ornament), bangles, bindi (worn in the parting of hair), pauju (anklets), bicchiya (rings worn on the toes), and earrings. It is a matter of curiosity for the bride's relatives to find out what pieces groom has brought for the bride. During the wedding, the bride changes clothes and puts on the clothes and jewels given to her by the groom, and it is in these ornaments that she bids goodbye to her natal home. Among these jewels, Tilahari  has transcended the boundaries of caste and is used by many communities as a symbol of marriage. The Tamang community is one of them.

Tamangs also wear Naugedi, which was previously worn by Brahmins and Chhetris, but is now more popular among other communities. As the name suggests, Naugedi is a set of nine gold beads which are spaced equally between thick strands of pote
woman wearing tilahari and naugedi together

Traditionally, Tamangs also wore earrings called cheptisun. The word itself means flat gold, and this earring is a large flat gold disk, up to ten cms in diameter, but the thickness is just 0.15 mm. Because of its thinness, it needs a rim to be stable, which gives the required structural support. 
chepti sun, now almost obsolete

Because the entire rim is inserted into the ear, the hole in the ear becomes quite big. The goldsmith usually does this task, and most women never take it off after putting it on in their wedding. As pure gold is too soft, it is made of alloys. Hannelore Gabriel has documented the decoration on cheptisun as usually having a vertical band of flowers. 
woman wearing chepti sun

Dhungri, also worn during weddings, is a large golden flower which sits in front of the earlobe. It is often quite heavy, and leans forward after long usage. On their head, Tamangs wore Sirphul, a large golden flower that covers almost all of the back of the head. Because of its weight and cost, Sirphul has almost gone out of fashion.  

This is the ONLY picture of sir phul that I could find online. Yes, the lady in front is wearing it

Some communities of Tamangs also used to set the bride price by gold. Though the practice of setting bride price is going out of favor, wedding jewelry is still an investment in many ways. Since women could not inherit land, often their wedding jewelry was the only wealth that they owned. Since gold gave the most value among metals, it was the material of choice for jewelry. Even till today, the association of gold with weddings is very strong in Nepal. "It is true that gold has a beauty, but so does every other metal" says Preeti Agarwal, a young jewelry designer. "Gold is so popular because of its value!"

When gold was out of reach, silver the second most desired metal. Among several communities that primarily use silver, the Dhimals of eastern Nepal are one. 

Intricate details ona  silver tilahari

Although only Pote is considered absolutely essential for weddings, the bride is usually decked out in a host of jewellery. For example, their Chandrahar, the necklace most often worn by brides, is a striking piece with interlinked silver flowers and a pendant in the center. These flowers have a flat base, so they rest easy on the chest. Their front is raised, and each flower has three hooks to link with the next flower. 
me wearing chandrahar

Dhimals also wear Gosmala, a chain of interlinked silver rings. Though these rings are plain, they are quite thick, giving the necklace an elegant look. Their Reji is a necklace of coins, where the joints may have designs, usually of flowers. If the Reji is long, then it might have up to 35 coins, and such a necklace may weigh up to a kilo.

young dhimal woman in reji

Dhimals also use gold for some of their smaller jewelry. Kanaila, their traditional ear jewelry, sits on top of the ear helix. Though it used to be just plain gold hoops, now Kanaila of various designs can be found. Kundal also used to be plain gold hoops that hang from the earlobes, sometimes weighing up to a couple tola each. But the modern Kundal is smaller, and also incorporates stones and other materials. Their nose jewelry is a golden phuli called Paanch Dhiki, which is a set of five little spheres. The groom’s side is expected to provide these pieces to the bride during the wedding, but the quantitity depends on the financial status of the groom. Anything jewelry the bride’s family gives her are considered extra gifts for the bride.
The traditional Kalli worn by dhimals is a hollow silver anklet with arrowheads on both ends. (Even in other communities, Pauju is always made of silver, because gold is respected for its auspiciousness, and is not supposed to be worn on feet). But nowadays it is being replaced by pauju, which is more decorative. This is a part of a pattern where increasingly, jewelry of many communities is beginning to look similar, and it is getting harder to identify a person by the jewelry they wear. For example, rings are used in almost every community to symbolize weddings. Pote and sindoor (vermillion) are used by many communities as a symbol of marital status. Most jewelry still contains designs of flowers, which are a symbol of femininity and fertility. Besides its value, gold is also appreciated for its auspicious nature, and most wedding jewelry is still made of gold. But it is interesting to note that just a couple generations ago, each community had its own special jewelry, and that from one end of Nepal to another, one could identify as many unique jewelry designs as the castes that inhabit Nepal. 
sindur, the ultimate symbol of marriage

Researched for and published in the November issue of Spaces magazine

Nov 18, 2012

Living out of a suitcase

Most people who have a house to live in, I think, take it for granted. Before I went to US, I too took it for granted that I always had a space to store my quilts in summer, and they would be right there when I needed them in winter. I was rudely jolted awake of this grantedness in my very first summer in the US.

Suddenly, at the end of the  spring, we were faced with the American phenomenon called “summer” that we were completely unprepared for. Nobody had told us that every May, students pack their bags and go somewhere else to earn money for the rest of the year. So there we were, at the beginning of May with house lease expiring in a week, and nowhere to go. On the spur of the moment we decided on a location, but we knew it would not accommodate our three big suitcases each. Since we were going to a famous beach area, we decided to pack our winter clothes and leave them at a friend’s place. However, we did not realize that even beaches get cold in the night. Since we had left our thick Nepali siraks we had left behind with our friends, we spent the entire summer pretending that two bed sheets together were as warm as a blanket.

That was also the time when we shared an apartment with a disproportionate number of people, and had little space for our stuff. One of our suitcases had to be shoved on top of the shoe compartment. I did not think much of it, until a month later when the suitcase emerged smelling like several hundred shoes. Of course, we tried the Nepali remedy of hanging it out in the sun to dry, which worked perfectly, but we never again shoved it in the shoe compartment.

The next summer, we were better prepared. We looked for jobs in our own neighborhood, and stayed put for the summer. However, we forgot about the rest of our friends, many of whom were still unprepared. The result was that we became their “friends” who they left their stuff behind with. Piles of oddly shaped luggage sat in different corners of the living room for months. As a result, we were unable to maneuver in and out of our house without making the famous three fold pose of Lord Shiva. 

Besides, that was when bed bugs entered our house. Though we were unable to find out exactly where they came from, the pile of suitcases left more than one bad connotation!

I was really glad when the summer ended and we were able to dance in our living room again after everyone took away their stuffs. Well, except for one. One of our friends decided to transfer somewhere else, and did not come back for her stuff either. We kept trying to call her to find out when we could post her luggage, but she always said her apartment was too small. As a result, we periodically took out her cute happy birthday poster and used it for our own birthdays, periodically glanced through the dictionary she left behind, and more or less made her suitcase the part of our living room décor. Finally, we had no option but to throw them away when we ourselves decided to move from that apartment.

I guess we could never be prepared enough for moving. At home, we never give a thought to pots and pans, which are always lying around for us to use. Not so abroad. When we had already moved our stuff to a new apartment, but stayed back to clean the old apartment (our landlord would fine us if we left the apartment dirty), we were really famished after three hours of scrubbing and brushing. We had nothing left in the fridge but a lone packet of frozen fries, and and absolutely nothing to cook it in. Finally, we were forced to dig into the trash can and fish out a blackened and rusty baking tray that we had just thrown away. Rusty though it was, right then the fries baked in that pan tasted like manna from heaven to us.

We thought the situation would improve when we quit our student lives and starting working. But far from it! When a friend of mine had to change jobs every few months, she also had to move to a different location each time. In every new place she bought some clothes, some kitchen things, and some odds and ends. Consequently, with every job change, she ended up having to shed some old stuff (At first, I was happy because I got what she left behind. But the next time, when she donated to the thrift store someplace far away, I was not so happy). Since she was constantly moving, she took only one suitcase with her, and the other backup suitcase was often mailed to her from place to place at preposterous expenses.

I guess the pains of living in a suitcase can only be understood by those who have been through it. So many of my friends have had their stuff unceremoniously thrown out from where they had left them as backup. Several others end up buying the same generic plain tops and jeans at every place they go because they are too emotionally drained to choose clothes that they will have to throw away soon (you guessed right, these were girls.) I have met countless friends who prefer to sleep on blankets on the ground, because they cannot carry their mattresses, let alone beds, everywhere. In fact, apart from laptops and pictures of gods, there is very little that gets carried to two places in a row. When your favorite cup, curtain, or carpet doesn’t fit in the suitcase, you don’t just lose some items of convenience. The familiarity and reassurance of everything that you take for granted at home also gets left behind. That’s what made me realize that a house is not just a place to sleep in. A suitcase, though undoubtedly useful on many occasions, is no comparison for a place to live in!

Nov 12, 2012

बाबु, छोरी र जिन्दगि: पार्ट 2

हामी भान्सा मा ब्यस्त आमालाई किच किच गर्दै: आमा गुडिया को लुगा बनाउन सिकाइदिनु न !
बुवा: आमालाई दुख नदेउ, आओ म सिकाइदिन्छु
म: हजुरलाई आउँछ र?
बुवा: तिमेर्की आमालाई के आउँछ र? मैले त बनारस मा सिलाई बुनाई को  ट्रेनिंग लेको छु!


अर्को दिन बुवा पाहुना संग ब्यस्त हुँदा 
म: बुवा, गुडिया को लुगा बनाउन सिकाइदिनु
पाहुना: नानी, आमालाई सोध न, बुवालाई के आउला र!
म: अँ, आमालाई त केहि आउँदैन, बुवाले त बनारस मा ट्रेनिंग लिनुभको छ!
बुवा: evil laugh
पाहुना: अवाक 


आमा र सानिमा मास्टर्स पढ्न जाँदा 
हामीलाई यत्ति थाहा थियो - बुवा मास्टर्स पढाउनु हुन्थ्यो र आमा पढ्नुहुन्थ्यो 
म: बुवा बुवा, आमाले त हामीलाई मात्रै कत्ति होमवर्क गर भन्नु हुन्छ, आफु चैं कहिले होमवर्क गर्नु हुन्न 
बुवा: हो त, हिजो पनि  होमवर्क नै गरेका रैनछन् 
म: अनि हजुरले पनिश्मेंट दिनु भएन त?
बुवा: अगाडी बसेका थे, पुक्क एक एक मुड्की दिएँ नि मैले। 


धेरै वर्ष पछी:
ऋचा: आज क्लास मा टिचर स्टुडेन्ट को लभ स्टोरी को कुरा हुँदै थियो, अनि मैले हजुरहरुको पनि कुरा सुनाइ दिएँ 
आमा: कल्ले भन्यो हाम्रो लभ म्यारिज हो भनेर?
ऋचा: होइन र?
आमा: होइन, बुवाले मलाई कैले पढाउनु भाको छैन आज सम्म जिन्दगी मा, कल्ले यस्तो हल्ला फैलाउँछ?
म: बुवाले त आफैं भन्नुभको , होमवर्क नगर्दा एक मुड्की हानें भनेर !
आमा (voice rising) : हाम्रो पियोर मागी बिहे हो !!
ऋचा: हो, हामीले बुझ्यौं आमा, calm down
आमा: mutters for hours about rumor mongers


टिभी मा बिज्ञापन: मेरी छोरीको लामो कपाल नै त उनको गहना हो 
बुवा: भुस हुन् सबै, भुस! शिक्षा पो मान्छेको गहना हुन्छ त, कपाल पनि कतै गहना हुन्छ?


बुवा 4 बजे तिर फोन गर्दै : रात परिसको, छिटै घर आइज !
म: बुवा म बिहे मा छु 
बुवा: बिहे मा भए के भो त, न तँ बेहुला, न तँ बेहुली, छिट्टो आइहाल!


भर्खर डायल अप बाट वाई फाई मा सरेको बेलामा 
बुवा: मेरा मेलहरु झिकिदे 
म: हेरिसकें मैले, केहि छैन 
बुवा: जान्ने हुन्छेस, त्याँ टुँई ख्याट गरेकै छैन 


मोबाइलमा अपरिचित नम्बर बाट फोन आएपछि
बुवा: यो मेरो फोन मा मान्छे को नाम किन आउँदैन?
म: त्यो आफुले सेभ गरेपछि मात्रै आउँछ 
बुवा: अनि इमेल मा त आउँछ त फलानाले गरेको भनेर !
म: अँ त्यो त अर्कै हो नि!
बुवा: ए हो? लु त फोन पनि तेस्तै बनाइदे, सबै नयाँ मान्छे को नाम आउने 


बुवा: सेवा काम नलाग्ने भैसकी, पढाई गुनाइ साढे बाइस 
ऋचा: अब मास्टर्स गरेपछि भै हाल्यो नि, याँ भन्दा कति पढ्नु 
बुवा: तँ चै किन एम फिल पढेकी त? आजै छोड्दे !!

म: मलाई पाल्पा जान झोला चाहियो 
बुवा: ला मेरो झोला लैजा 
एयरपोर्टमा बस्दा फोन मा:
बुवा (आत्तिंदै ): सेवा!! सेवा!!!! मेरो ब्याग मा पैसा थियो काँ गयो???????
म: सिराने मुनि राखिदिएँ 
बुवा: उफ्फ्फ़, धन्न, म त छोरी पैसा लिएर भागी कि भनेर सारै पीर लाग्यो!!!

हाम्रो घर बनिसकेको थियेन. छतमा पिलर बाट रड निस्किरहेका थिए, त्यस्तैमा एकदिन छतबाट टिंग टिंग आवाज निकै बेर आइरख्यो. 

बुवा: हेर त माथि के भएछ 
खगेन्द्र काका: काग रछन. रडमा बस्दा र छोड्दा ठोक्कर आवाज आउँदो रछ
बुवा: बजिया स्यालहरु! आफु यत्रो दुख गरेर घर बनायो, उनीहरुलाई पिङ्ग खेल्न पो भएछ!


र यसरी नै uber dramatic जिन्दगी चलिरहन्छ, 

पार्ट 1: यहाँ भेटिन्छ 
पार्ट 3: यहाँ भेटिन्छ

P.S. सबै घटना हरु शत प्रतिशत सत्य हुन् !! 

Nov 2, 2012

Alternate Sexuality in Mahabharata

Much has been written about the strange marriage of Draupadi to five men in Mahabharata. But actually, this is not the only sexual anomaly in Mahabharata, which is full of stories of strange attachments. For example, let us look at this sorrowful dialogue dripping with love.
“Alas, reft of Govinda, what have I to live for, dragging my life in sorrow? As soon as I heard that Vishnu had left the Earth, my eyes became dim and all things disappeared from my vision. I dare not live, reft of the heroic Janardana.” (Maushal Parva, Section 8) Guess who utters these words of utmost grief at the death of Krishna? His lover Radha? His wife Rukmini? His girlfriends the Gopinis? Actually, none of them. It is his dear cousin and pupil Arjun who feels that his life is over after Krishna is dead.
Why is Arjun ready to die once Krishna is dead? Is there more to the story than meets the eye? Actually, these words are just an example of an immeasurably deep attachment between Krishna and Arjun.  For example, after Krishna’s death, Arjun is asked to go to Krishna’s city and fetch his wives safely. On the way back, he is attacked by robbers. Arjun, who defeated major Kaurava warriors singlehandedly, is unable to combat a few petty robbers. The robbers kidnap many women as Arjun watched helplessly. That was when Arjun realized that without Krishna, he is nothing. All his prowess came from Krishna.

It  is clear from these two scenes that Krishna is the central figure in Arjun’s life, and the relationship went much beyond a normal friendship, or even brotherhood. When we dig deeper, we find even stranger little nuggets about their intense attachment. For example, when Arjun and Krishna help Lord Agni to devour the forest of Khandav, he is pleased and grants them a boon each. Krishna asks that his affection (preeti is the exact word) for Arjun may remain forever (Adi Parva, chapter 225).  It is also notable that when this incident takes place, Arjun and Krishna were on a solo vacation together.
Together, they are called Nara and Narayana, and also Vishnu and Jishnu. They are often called the two Krishnas (Arjun, being very dark, was also called Krishna), especially when they are on a chariot. The tendency to give names to couples together is usually found for heterosexual couples. In fact, most of the times that Krishna is mentioned, Arjun is mentioned alongside as his “complementary” or something like that. Actually, their relationship is so hyped in Mahabharata that I was surprised that one of them never rose from a demigod status, while the other went on to become a central deity. But that is a different discussion altogether. To get back to Arjun and Krishna’s relationship, it is often idealized as teacher and pupil’s (based on Bhagawat Geeta), but teacher-student relationship does not cover these statements: “Vasudev and Dhananjaya were highly pleased after they won the war, and they deported themselves with great satisfaction, like Indra and his consort (wife)” (Ashwamedha Parva, section 15). Why are Krishna and Arjun being compared to a married couple? Elsewhere, Krishna is found commenting that Arjun is dearer to him than his life, and that everything he owns, including his wealth, kingdom, and wives, are for Arjun. It is certainly not normal for a man to offer to share his wives with another. And actually, their closeness is not hidden from the world, as Yudhishthira, who never lies, is found commenting time and again that Krishna and Arjun cannot live without each other.
Taken individually, none of these incidents are enough to prove homosexuality. But all the incidents together, combined with Arjun and Krishna’s extremely loving endearments to each other, put this relationship firmly within the bounds of homo-erotica. We will never know the complete picture, because Ved-vyas Mahabharata speaks no more about the nature of their relationship. But folklore is rife with stories of Arjun’s transformation to a woman so that he can enjoy Krishna’s love as a woman for a day. (And it is not wise to dismiss folktales, because folktales have often provided key details not found in original scriptures. For example, Lakshman Rekha is not found in Valmiki Ramayan, but developed later from folktales.)
(Disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am not reducing Krishna and Arjuna's relationship to homo-erotica. This relationship is a vast and complicated one with many aspects. I just want to highlight that homo-erotica is also one of the aspects, and an oft-neglected one. I do believe it is very important to their overall relationship and closeness.)
In Mahabharata, there are plenty of other incidents which suggest homosexuality. There are many eminent offspring born of a couple of males: rishi Agastya is the child of Mitra and Varuna (now forgotten deities). Urvashi is born from the thighs of Nara and Narayana. Whether they were born from test tubes, or some other alternate methods, is not known. But what is known is that two men are the parents of a child, possibly suggesting a romantic relationship therein.
Alternate sexuality does not stop at homosexuality. In the story of Pandu who shoots a deer, the common perception of this story is that a Rishi and his wife have transformed into deer. The original text, however, is different. “I was engaged in sexual intercourse with this deer, because my feelings of modesty did not permit me to indulge in such an act in human society. In the form of a deer I rove in the deep woods in the company of other deer” (Adi Parva, Chapter 118) says the muni Kindama clearly to Pandu. This act of bestiality was probably not accepted in society, as the muni himself laments. But then, it suggests that such phenomena has existed in our culture since time immemorial, and is not a byproduct of western culture.
                It is also notable that in Mahabharata, while there is this abundance of subtle references to alternate male sexuality, there is little expression of female sexuality. This may have various interpretations (alternate female sexuality did not exist), but it is more likely that this happened because Mahabharata was not written by females. The male writers were probably just ignorant of entirely female phenomena.
                Many of us assume that any kind of sexual perversity is the result of western influence, but our literature says otherwise. Sexual diversity has always existed, and the question is only of how well it is integrated into mainstream society (or not!) And Mahabharata is just a sample of our vast mythological corpus, I have heard of other, more graphic references in other texts. Anyone who thinks that western influence is corrupting our youths and leading them to perversity, needs to pay more attention to our myths! 

Oct 20, 2012

funny alterations we make

वर्षेनी हजारौं अंग्रेजी शब्द नेपाली भाषामा भित्रिने क्रममा केहि शब्द को हिज्जे फेरिनु त स्वाभाविक नै हो। “फिल्म“ लाई “फिलिम“ र “ग्लास “ लाई “गिलास“ त अब सामान्य भैसक्यो, तर कतिपय ठाउँ मा अर्थ नै फेरिने गरि हिज्जे बिग्रिंदा भने अप्ठ्यारो हुने रहेछ। लुगा सिलाई हुने धेरै पसलमा “शटिंर्ग“ का साथसाथै “सुटिंर्ग“ पनि सिलाईन्छ रे, यो “सूर्ट“ लगाउने मान्छे भने मैले आज सम्म भेटेकी छैन, तर हेर्ने ठुलो इच्छा छ । अझ कति लुगा पसलमा त “स्टाइलिश“ होइन “स्टाइलिस्ट“ लुगा पाइन्छन रे, यस्ता लुगा चाहिं “स्टाइलिस्ट“ आफैंले बसेर बेच्ने हुन कि, थाहा पाउन सकिएन। एक ठाउँ मा त जिन्स लाई “जी“ अक्षर राखेर लेखेको पनि देखियो, र “जिन्स“ होइन “गिन्स“ बेच्ने त्यो पसल लाई मेरो शुभकामना छ†

कति इलेक्ट्रोनिक्स पसलमा “वेब क्याम“ मात्रै होइन “ह्वेब क्याम्प“ पनि पाइन्छ रे, त्यस पछी मलाई पनि “ह्वेब“ मा गएर “क्याम्प“ गर्ने खुब रहर लागेको छ। नेपालीमा त “लौंच“ लाई “लन्च“ लेख्दा केहि फरक पर्दैन तर कतिपय ठाउँ मा अंग्रेजी मै “लौंच“ लाई “लन्च“ लेखिदिंदा भने गार्हो पर्छ। खाजा खाने कार्यक्रम होला भनेर पुग्दा त कुनै अल्छिलाग्दो बिमोचन मा फसिन्छ। त्यस्तैगरी, मनिषा कोइरालाले विज्ञापन गरेको “मेघा वुल“ नेपाल मा त्यतिबेला देखी नै पपुलर छ। तर त्यसो भन्दैमा “मेगा मोडेल“ लाई “मेघा मोडेल“ त लेख्नु पर्दैन थियो होला कि ? मेगा अर्थात बृहत, र मेघा अर्थात बादल अर्थ लाग्ने केटीको नाम। अब “मेगा ब्यांक“ लाई “मेघा ब्यांक“ भनिदिने हो भने को हुन् यी “मेघा“ जसको नाममा ब्यांक खोलियो ? भन्ने प्रश्न उब्ज्यो भने चाही अप्ठ्यारो पर्ला .....

कतिपय शब्द का नेपाली अवतार यति प्रचलित भईसके कि अब आएर तिनको खास उच्चारण प्रयोग गर्दा अनौठो लाग्ने रहेछ। दशैं नजिकै आउँदैछ , तास पक्कै खेल्नुपर्छ, तर झुक्किएर पनि फराँस लाई फ्लश भन्नु हुदैन है। हुन त सो खेल का तिनवटै पत्ती एकै रंग का भए भने “फ्लश“ भएको मानिन्छ, र त्यहि कम्बिनेसनका आधारमा यो खेल को नाम पनि फ्लश राखिएको होला। तर “फ्लश“ भनेर साथीहरुको हाँसो को पात्रो बन्नु भन्दा “फलाश“, “फ्ल्याश“ अथवा “फराँस“ नै भन्नु ठिक छ। “फ्लट“ गर्ने मान्छेलाई “फल्ट“ गर्ने भनेको धेरै चोटी सुनेकी थिएँ, तर “फ्लर्ट“ गर्ने मान्छेलाई प्राय: जसो “फल्ट“ पनि गर्ने हुनाले कुरा बुझ्न गाह्रो हुदैन थियो। तर कहिलेकाहीं दोष नै नभएको मान्छेलाई “फल्ट“ गरेको भनेको सुन्दा चाहिं नरमाइलो लाग्छ।

धेरै पश्चिमी संस्कृतिमा पुरुषले पनि लगाउने गरेको र अमेरिकी चलचित्रहरुमा काउबोईले लगाएर प्रख्यात बनाएको परिधान “पोंचो“ नेपालमा भने महिलाहरमाझ लोकप्िरय छ। म पनि एउटा किनौं भनेर पसल गएँ, अनि बल्ल पो थाहा पाएँ , बाहुला नहुने, काँध बाट झुन्डिने लुगालाई त “पन्जु “ पो भन्नुपर्ने रहेछ। परिधान कै कुरा गर्नु पर्दा, लुगा माथी डोरी अथवा “कोर्ड“ को डिजाइन हुने हुनाले “कोर्डूरोइज“ नाम रहन गएको एउटा कपडा लाई जब “कट्राईज“ को नाम ले चिनिन्छ, त्यो कुनै अर्कै चीज हो कि जस्तो लाग्छ।

उच्चारण कै कुरा गर्नु पर्दा, केहि अंग्रेजी शब्द को नेपाली उच्चारण अचम्मको हुने गर्दछ। अंग्रेजी मा “एस“ को अगाडी “के“ छ भने हामी त्यसलाई अगाडी पछाडी पारिदिन्छौं . जस्तै, हामी “आस्क“ लाई “आक्स्“ भन्छौं, र “रिस्क“ लाई “रिक्स“। यो चलनको हिसाबले त “स्कुल“ लाई “इस्कुल“ होइन “इक्सुल“ भनिनु पर्ने हो, तर विद्यालय चाहिं कसो कसो बचेछ। त्यस्तै , “एक्सपेक्ट“ र “एस्पेक्ट“ जस्ता उच्चारण गर्न कठिन शब्दहरुलाई हामी सजिलै “एक्सेप्ट“ भनिदिन्छौं, “र एक्सेप्ट“ लाई त झनै सजिलो “एसेप्ट“ भनिदिन्छौं। तर त्यसो भन्दैमा अर्थ नै बिगारिदिने नेपांग्रेजी का शब्दलाई भने त्यति सजिलै एसेप्ट गर्न हुदैन है†

Oct 19, 2012

Deus ex machina in fantasy fiction

Warning: Contains spoilers of many, many fantasy stories

The phrase deus-ex-machina literally means “god from machine”. In literature, it describes the arrival of a god like figure, object, or event which solves seemingly impossible problems and resolves the story. For example, at the beginning of Shakespeare’s As you Like It, Duke Frederick exiles his brother, which accounts for a lot of the plot that follows. At the end of the story, the Duke has a change of heart (deus ex machina) and restores his brother to the throne, thus suddenly resolving the story.

The prince arrives deus-ex-machina
In folktales like Sleeping Beauty, the prince comes in deus ex machina and rescues the princess. There is no explanation or plausible reason for these events. In terms of rationality, the resolution they provide is highly improbable.

Frodo after his finger is bitten off
For many generations, this technique has been a staple of fantasy fiction. Let us start with Lord of the Rings, the story that established the fantasy genre. Frodo is an ordinary hobbit who starts out to destroy a ring that contains immense power. But somewhere along the way, the ring’s power bewitches him, and when the time comes for him to destroy it, he refuses to let his “precious” go. Out comes Gollum, who loves the ring with even more passion than Frodo, and bites Frodo’s finger off. Gollum and the the ring (along with Frodo’s finger) both perish in a volcano. Gollum had been shadowing Frodo for ages, but his arrival at exactly the right time seems a little too contrived, as there would be no easy resolution without him.

Harry shoots an "expelliarmus" to contend Voldemort's killing curse

Harry Potter has long had to contend with allegations of childishness. The allegations are usually made by people who judge a book by its cover, but the one thing that could classify Harry Potter as childish is generally ignored: the use of deus ex machina. Harry does not want to be a murderer, even of someone as evil as Voldemort. Hence, in the final battle, Harry does not speak the killing curse.  Instead, he lets out a harmless disarming spell. And lo and behold, Voldemort is dead! Rowling offers many explanations for why this happens but at the end of the day, this ending is extremely fantastic and improbable.

Angel Raziel rising out of the water

In an underrated but brilliant modern fantasy called The Mortal Instruments, the protagonists Jace and Clarissa both have come to hate their genocidal father. But how do they resolve their problem? Clarissa and Jace are both bound and gagged, when Valentine decides to invoke Angel Raziel. Valentine wanted Raziel to help him kill more people, but instead, it is Raziel who kills him on the spot. This might be the most literal interpretation of deus ex Machina, with a godlike figure rising out of nowhere to resolve the story.

Katniss and Rue in Hunger Games
In Hunger Games, the protagonist Katniss makes friends with Rue, who reminds her of her own sister. They are both part of Hunger Games, where participants kill each other one by one because only one can survive.  Perhaps Katniss is the only one in this list who even came close to negating deus ex machina, as she honestly discusses her feelings with herself, and asks herself whether she would kill Rue when the time comes.  But ultimately, she does not have to. In a very subtle piece of deus ex machina, Rue is killed by a random rival, and Katniss gets to indulge in righteous grief.

In earlier literature like Shakespeare’s discussed above, the deus ex machina simply solved problems and provided a resolution. But the modern deus ex machina has evolved into a way of avoiding responsibility for the protagonist. What would Frodo have done if there was no Gollum? Would he have become the new tyrant after Sauron? Would Harry have killed Voldemort if Expelliarmus hadn’t worked, or would he have let Voldemort regain his reign of terror? Would Jace and Clarissa have killed their father if they were not bound and gagged? Would Katniss have killed Rue?

Nahuel, the human-vampire hybrid that Alice brings in from nowhere

Not every fantasy book contains deus ex machina, but most that have risen to fame do. Since fantasy provides a lot of possibilities like magical elements and irrational explanations, it is easier to introduce last moment solutions in fantasy. Even in the climax of Twilight, Alice brings in a random guy from nowhere to prevent bloodshed just in time. (Even though the quality of writing is not that great all through Twilight, this piece of deus ex machina takes the cake).

At this point, I want to be clear that I am not criticizing any of these books. Every book that I have listed here (apart from twilight) is a personal favorite of mine. And yet, I feel that for fantasy fiction to be taken as serious literature, deus ex machina must be addressed. What deus ex machina does is to take the decision away from the protagonist. In doing so, they take away the most important and powerful moments that could-have-been.

P.S How could I forget the king of Deus ex Machinas? Narnia, which has been corrupting the minds of children for generations. What happens in Narnia is that the children get ready for an epic battle, but then Aslan comes sweeping in and the enemies just evaporate, leaving the children to do nothing but lay down their weapons and celebrate. We never get to know how the battle would have turned out, it is the anti climax of the century, what I would call underwhelming. Much later I learnt that it is a parable about Christianity and Aslan is a symbol for Christ. Duh!

Oct 12, 2012

Undressing in Medical Setting

With a perfect row of shiny white teeth and a plump face, she was quite pretty. Though I thought she was middle aged at first, on second thoughts she appeared quite young, maybe early thirties. I should have noticed that, instead of her obesity and the tube coming out of her nose. Because when she said that she “did not like it when a male nurse comes to give her a bath”, I did a double take. Because I did not expect a sick, unattractive-at-first-glance person to feel that way. With so many tubes coming out of her body in the first place, I expected her to be beyond caring.
I was at a nursing home, in conversation with two inmates, Patty and Sandy. I then turned to Sandy and asked her if she felt the same about taking off her clothes in the bathroom. Sandy was over sixty years old, with white hair and a full set of dentures. She replied that she felt extremely uncomfortable being washed by a male nurse. “When I shower, I ask the guy to stand outside, and if I fall down because of the lack of oxygen, I tell him he can scrape me off the floor!” Patty tried to make light of the situation. “Oh wait, I tell him that he can first knock me out, because I don’t want to watch him watching me, and then he can scrape me off the floor!”

Sandy told me that in response to her concerns, the nurse told her that “I seen them of all sizes, and shapes, I seen so many that not even Dolly Parton would interest me!” I realized that I had been as dispassionate as any of the medical practitioners in assuming that just because someone was sick, they did not care about modesty. Well, maybe for the nurse, one person’s body is the same as any other’s, and they see it as dispassionately as seeing a bottle of medicine. But that conversation taught me that every person, no matter how blasé they may seem on the outside, has body issues.
At that moment, I could do nothing but laugh at their embarrassment, since they were trying so hard to see the lighter side of things. But jokes apart, I began to think of my own and a few friends’ experience of undressing in a medical situation friends. As far as I remember, the experience is extremely squeamish, and I would really prefer to keep the undressing at a minimum.
 In Nepal, apart from the usual level of squeamishness, the women I talked to mentioned other problems. One adult woman still remembered how, when she was a teenager, she was asked to undress by the doctor who wanted to examine wounds on her body. Though she trusted the doctor, she was extremely annoyed at the onlookers who crowded in to have a look as well. Another young woman talked about her suspicions of being groped that she could never prove or even express. Jhamak Ghimire, in Jeevan Kaada ki Phool, discusses her discomfort in similarly invasive medical situations. All the women I talked to admitted to being deeply disturbed by these experiences.
I thought of those violently ill women at the nursing home who told the nurse to stay outside while they showered, even though it is the nurse’s duty to shower them. Why do we, women in Nepal, not have the confidence to do the same? (I guess any man in a similar situation would be just as embarrassed to be undressed in front of strangers. However, because of medical situations like pregnancy and childbirth, an average woman is likely to face many more invasive medical procedures than an average man. Coupled with the fact that there are (still) more male doctors than female ones, and we women in Nepal are (still) very embarrassed about showing skin, a woman has a far higher chance of going through uncomfortable medical experiences than men. A normal heart examination, for example, which requires the patient to take off upper body clothing, is passé for men while it is deeply embarrassing for women.) Why can we not ask for uncomfortable situation to be kept to a minimum? Is it up to the medical practitioner to ensure their privacy? Or is it up to the patient themselves to ensure they get their privacy?

The women I talked to agreed that they were unable to protest or complain to anyone about their embarrassment, as they did not know what to say, who to talk to, and if they were even allowed to say anything in a medical situation. I too had felt the same hesitation during such uncomfortable situations. My impression is that the medical profession is so revered that we never question anything that a doctor or nurse tells us to do. Not that it should not be revered, we depend on medical professionals for our health and very lives. But at the same time, maybe there should be better communication between the patient and the professional. If we, the patients, stay silent and “okay” every step that we are asked to do, then no doubt the other person is going to think we are ok with it. Hence, we as patients, should definitely learn to voice our concerns. We are the ones who should gain confidence and discuss our limits with medical professionals, to ensure our own comfort and peace of mind. 

Sep 30, 2012

The Immortals of Meluha (Review in Nepali)

अमिश त्रिपाठी को “शिव त्रिलोजी” आजकल निकै र्चचित छ . पहिलो किताब द इमोटल्स अफ मेलुहा मा शिव को कथा सुरु हुन्छ , जतिखेर शिव महादेव होइन , एक साधारण मानिस थिए . अमिश ले शिव र सति जस्ता प्रसिद्ध पत्र , जात भात जस्ता प्रचलित धारणा , र अयोध्या र सिन्धु घाटी जस्ता प्रचलित स्थान हरुलाई लिएर कथा लेखेका छन् , कथा मा यी चिर परिचित तत्वहरुको चित्रण भने फरक फरक किसिमले गरेका छन् .

प्रथमतस् स्थान . मोहेन्जो दारो र हरप्पा सहरमा भेटिने सिन्धु घाटि को विलुप्त सभ्यता लाई धेरै जात जाती ले आफ्नो भनि दावा र्गने गरेका छन् . त्यसै मध्ये एक अमिश पनि र्पछन , उनले सिन्धु घाटी का वासिन्दालाई लाई “राजा राम” को पूजा र्गने सनातन र्धमी का रुप मा चित्रण गरेका छन् . यसै क्रम मा उनले मोहेन्जो दारो लाई मोहन (जो (दारो र्अथात् मोहन को मंच , र हरप्पा लाई हरि (युप र्अथात हरि को सहर भनेर पुरै संस्कृत नामाकरण गरिदिएका छन् .

उत्खनन मा देखिएका अनुसार यी सहरमा धनि र गरिब का बस्तीमा फरक थाहा पाइन्दैन , र साफसफाई र जलनिकास को अत्याधुनिक व्यवस्था थियो . यी सबै पक्ष लाई अमिश ले आफ्नो कथा मा समेटेका छन् , तर आफ्नै काल्पनिक रूपमा . अमिश को कथा अनुसार जलनिकास को विशेष प्रयोजन छ स् सोमरस पिएपछि जिउ बाट पसिना आउने र त्यो पसिना विषालु हुने हुनाले हरेक घरमा सबै सुविधायुक्त स्नान गृह को व्यवस्था गरिएको हुन्छ . त्यस्तै , सिन्धु घाटि को लिपि अहिले सम्म पढ्न सकिएको छैन , र त्यहाँ भेटिएका विभिन्न चित्र हरु नै त्यो लिपि का अक्षर हुन् कि भन्ने अनुमान लगाइएको छ . अमिश ले भने सिन्धु घाटि को सबै भन्दा प्रसिद्ध साँढे को चित्र लाई क्षत्रीय को एउटा जाती को प्रतिक चिन्ह बनाइदिएका छन् .

साँढे को चित्रण अमिश ले गरेको सनातन र्धम संस्कृति को नौलो चित्रण को एउटा उदाहरण पनि हो. अमिश को मेलुहा मा व्यक्ति ले जात आफै छान्न पाउने परम्परा छ . र जात भित्र पनि उप जात का विभिन्न प्रतीक हरु मध्ये साँढे एक हो . मयुर, हाँस जस्ता अरु हिन्दु र्धम का प्रचलित जीव हरुलाई पनि जात का प्रतिक मानिएको छ.

अमिश को कथा हजारौं र्वषा अगाडी को भएतापनि “डाक्टर ”, “इम्मिग्रेशन ”, “भोट ” र “इन्र्फम्ड चोइस ” जस्ता नया शब्द हरु यसमा छ्यास छ्यास्ती पाइन् छन् . आधुनिक पाठक ले सजिलै बुझुन भनेर हो , वा यस्ता शब्द को प्राचिन रुप नभएर यस्तो प्रयोग गरिएको हो , थाहा पाउन सकिएन . त्यस्तै, शक्ति र पैसा मा कुनै एक र्वग ले एकाधिकार जमाउने र अरु र्वग लाई अवसर नदिई आफ्नै वंशज लाई जन्मजन्मान्तर सम्म फाइदा पुग्ने समाजशास्त्रीय विचार धारणा आजकाल हावी छ . त्यसै कारण ले होला , अमिश ले आफ्नो कथा मा यो समस्या को समाधान र्गन खोजेका छन्. मेलुहा मा “मैका ” प्रणाली लागु गरिएको छ . यस अनुसार , र्गभधारण गरेपछि हरेक महिला छुट्टै ठाउं मा गएर बच्चा लाई जन्म दिन्छिन , र त्यो बच्चा गुरुकुल लाई जिम्मा लाएर घर र्फकिन्छिन. बच्चा का आमा बाबु को हुन् कसैलाई थाहा दिई दैन , र पछि उमेर पुगेपछि बच्चा ले आफ्नो योग्यता अनुसार जात आफै जात छान्छ. त्यसपछि बच्चा चाहने जो कोहिले पनि आफ्नो जात को बच्चा रोजेर लैजान सक्छन .

वंशानुगत विशेषाधिकार को समस्या समाधान गरेपनि यो प्रणाली का अरु धेरै समस्या हरु भने छन् , जुन किताब को अन्त्यमा खुल्दै जान्छन . के अमिश ले सबै समस्या को समाधान र्गने प्रणाली पनि देखौना सक्छन ? त्यो शायद अन्तिम पुस्तक पढेपछि मात्रै थाहा पाइएला .

कति ठाउं मा अमिश ले पुराना धारणा लाई पुर्नाविवेचना पनि गरेका छन् . हिन्दु र्धम अनुसार एक पटक मानिस को जन्म लिएर राम्रो र्कम कमाई सकेपछी बल्ल ब्राह्मण भएर जन्मन पाइन्छ , र दुइपटक मानिस भैसकेको हुनाले ब्राह्मण लाई द्विज भनिन्छ . तर अमिश का अनुसार भने सोमरस पिएका मानिसहरुको आयु लम्बिने हुनाले उनीहरुले पुर्नजीवन पाएझैं हुन्छ . ब्रह्मा ले सब भन्दा पहिले सात ब्राहमण लाई सोमरस पिलाएका हुनाले यी पुर्नजीवित ब्राहमण लाई द्विज भन्न थालियो .

पात्र को कुरा र्गनु र्पदा , शिव र रुद्र लाई छुट्टा छुट्टै समयमा बाँच्ने अलग पात्र को रुप मा उभ्याएर अमिश ले हिन्दु र्धम का महान देवता को पहिचान मा नै प्रश्न उठाएका छन् . यो प्रश्न प्रचलित हिन्दु र्धम को अध्ययन भित्रै र्पने भएपनि महादेव का पनि विष्णु का झैं अवतर , र विष्णु का वायुपुत्र नामक वंशज भने अन्त कतै सुनिएका छैनन् . त्यस्तै , मेलुहा मा टेबल मा बसेर खाना खाने चलन , लूला लंगडा , रोगी र अभागी लाई विर्कम को संज्ञा र अछूत को व्यवहार , र क्षत्रीय को प्राण भन्दा पनि प्यारो “भ्राता ” प्रणाली हाम्रो परिचित मिथक भित्र र्पदैनन् . हुन त इतिहास , मिथक र भगवान को नया परिभासा पेश र्गन लेखकलाई पुरा छूट छ , तर त्यस पछि कथा मिथक र इतिहास भन्दा बाहिर पुग्छ र काल्पनिक कथा बन्न पुग्छ .

यतिबिघ्न नया कथा र संस्कृति कथामा उर्ताने हो भने भने चिर परिचित पात्र र संस्कृति नै किन रोजेका होलान ? यो प्रश्न विचारणीय छ . शायद शृंखला का तिनै पुस्तक पढिसकेपछि यो भेद खुल्नेछ . अन्त्यमा भन्नु र्पदा , अमिश को कथा मा पुराण का शिव र सति लाई खोज्नु व्र्यथ छ . तर नया कथा भनेर पढ्ने हो भने कथा निकै रोचक छ . दक्ष्ािण एशिया मा फ्यानटासी को प्रयोग कम हुने र्गदछ , र त्यस माथि पनि “युटोपिया ” र्अथात आर्दश समाज को विस्तृत चित्रण त झनै कम पाइन्छ . अमिश ले यी दुवै टेक्निक्लाई राम्रो संग प्रस्तुत गरेका छन् . सबै भन्दा राम्रो पक्ष , अमिश ले कथानक का साथै हिन्दु र्धम को र्दशन लाई पनि समेटेका छन् , र बहस को माध्यम बाट बारम्बार जात , र्कतव्य , र्धम , देवत्व जस्ता विषयमा भिन्न भिन्न मत प्रस्तुत र्गदछन . कथा साहसिक र रोमान्चक भए पनि यसको मुख्य सार भने र्दाशनिक नै देखिन्छ .

Sep 16, 2012

Disneyfication of Little Mermaid

Many people equate fairytales with folktales, but contrary to popular perception, all folktales are not fairytales. Folktales are orally passed down stories (the emphasis being on “folk”), and can be of any theme. Any story, original or folk, that contained folktale characteristics like magic and talking animals used to be called a fairytale. Today, the term “fairytale” has taken a different meaning altogether. The new “fairytale” is a genre more or less created by Disney, recognized by pretty dresses, beautiful faces, and happy endings. Because Disney picks famous folktales like Snow White and Cinderella, and bends them out of shape to create “fairytales”, it creates the impression that all folktales are fairytales.

A case in point is Hans Christian Andersen’s original story “The Little Mermaid.” Though it fits the old definition of fairytale because of its supernatural elements, it certainly does not fit the definition of the modern “fairytale”.  Let us see how Disney made a modern fairytale of it. When Andersen’s heroine, the Mermaid, fell in love with a human prince, she traded with a witch, giving away her voice for legs. The witch warned her that each step with her new legs would give her “pain from a thousand needles”. In the corresponding scene, instead of feeling pain, the movie’s heroine Ariel simpers in a skimpy feather outfit. The Little Mermaid exercised her free will by choosing pain to gain something, a realistic reflection of the difficult choices we make in real life. In contrast, the movie portrays a glamorized choice where Ariel has nothing to lose.
Skimpily clad Ariel

The movie continues its glamorization by bringing in the witch as the villainous bride, who uses Ariel’s voice to seduce the prince Eric. They are about to get married when Ariel intervenes and breaks the witch’s necklace containing her voice. Eric finally recognizes her and kills the witch. Ariel’s father makes her human so that she can marry Eric. The loss of Little Mermaid’s voice is often interpreted symbolically as women’s loss of rights in love, but the movie loses this symbolism by giving Ariel’s voice back to her.
Ariel getting married to Eric

In contrast, the original story continues its somber theme: the prince loves the Mermaid like a sister, but marries someone else. (The witch is nowhere in sight.) According to the contract with the witch, the Mermaid knew that she would turn into foam after the prince got married. At great personal cost, her sisters go the witch and exchange their hair for a knife with which to murder the bride. However, the Mermaid hears the prince uttering his bride’s name in sleep, and she cannot bring herself to do it. She throws away the knife instead, and turns into foam.
By refusing to kill the bride, the Mermaid decided to give up on the prince, for whom she gave up her voice in the first place. Such situations where one learns from the past, and backtracks on earlier decisions, are common in life, and this we cannot find in the syrupy and improbable movie. While the print version impresses the fact that choices have consequences, and that all our choices might not turn out in our favor, the movie would have us believe all our choices will turn out right. It promotes the romantic but impractical notion that all love is true and will be reciprocated.
Apart from these major variations, the movie contains many minor variations: a watered down portrayal of mer-people, devoid of their history and mythology that lends a richness to Andersen’s story, sexualization of the Little Mermaid who flaunts a sea shell bikini nowhere to be found in Andersen’s version. The Mermaid had won the prince over with her devotion, but in the movie, Eric’s love for Ariel is based on sensual attractions. At first, he is in love with her voice, then with her beauty, and finally with the witch’s voice. This takes the story from an essentially emotional level to a physical level.
Uber sexualized little mermaid in sea shell bikini

There is no doubt that Disney’s movie is far more influential than Andersen’s story. When I type Little Mermaid in Google, it suggests songs, scenes, quotes, characters, and coloring books from the movie before it suggests Andersen, the writer. The Little Mermaid was one of Disney’s landmark successes, and Disney continues to milk it by casting Ariel in its “Disney Princesses” series aggressively marketed to young girls.
Ariel placed prominently among Disney Princesses

Ironically, Andersen had an aversion to children. When Andersen was still living, his statue was commissioned. The artist submitted a sketch of the statue with Andersen surrounded by children, which agitated Andersen very much because he never interacted with children in real life. Formally, he stated politely that the statue was inappropriate because his stories were not meant for children; only mature readers could understand the full import of his themes. My sister and I remember being read Andersen’s “The Little Match-girl” by our mother, after which we cried ourselves to sleep. (Mother never read to us again). No, that story of a little girl abused at home, selling matches that nobody buys, and freezing to death, is certainly not for children.
In contrast, Disney’s movie is acutely tailored to fit their target audience of pre-teens who idolize teenagers. Ariel is portrayed as a stereotypical rebellious teenager. Her father disapproves of humans in a typical filmy manner, her family “doesn’t understand” her, but she flouts them, and in the end, love conquers all. This clichéd version misses out on the more realistic and poignant family relationships portrayed in print. The Mermaid bonds closely with her grandmother, father, and sisters, all of whom are very concerned for her. Her father and grandmother make the effort to swim to land just to see her, and her sisters, of course, make a heartrending sacrifice for her.
Coming back to Andersen’s statue, the first draft was rejected, and a new statue was commissioned instead. That particular statue is still standing, and it shows Andersen reading alone. If Andersen found out about the flimsy version of his story that is immensely popular with children, I am sure he would turn in his grave!
This too would make him turn on his grave, i m sure

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