Category Archives: Nepal

MA Asian Cultural Studies starts September 2014

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MA Asian Cultural Studies (Recruiting for September 2014)

Combining critical theoretical perspectives with an in-depth regional focus, this unique programme provides you with the tools to make sense of the ascendance of Asia and its impact on contemporary culture and geopolitics. Britain is the birthplace of Cultural Studies. Goldsmiths is home to the UK’s largest concentration of scholars and postgraduate students in cultural studies. In the context of contemporary global geopolitics, with the ascendency of China and India, cultural studies must necessarily be Asian.

Most programmes like this are taught from Asian or area studies departments. This course’s assumption is that Asia is now too big for area studies. It is that a proper cultural framework is necessary for engaging with contemporary Asia. The MA incorporates the very highest level of cultural theory and study in global political economy. We feature an engagement with the arts and practice, drawing on Goldsmiths unique position and standing in the context of London’s urban experience. The programme builds on the Stuart Hall tradition in which theory, economics, politics, the arts and Asia itself are conceived as cultural.

You will be taught by renowned academics. Teaching on China is led by Professors Wang Hui, Scott Lash, and Michael Dutton, while Indian material is covered by Professors Sanjay Seth, John Hutnyk, and Dr Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay. Dr Rajyashree Pandey provides expertise on Japan.

Nepal in 2006

Another bit of text that has to be chopped from my Pantomime Terror book – this time because its no longer news, though I do note that today the Maoists are reported to be actively boycotting the election. And we know what an active boycot can mean. Go!

Here is the cut, sadly now left to rot on the study floor…

And lets take a lesson from Nepal, which in the same week in which Aki Nawaz was identified by The Sun as the pantomime caricature of the ‘suicide rapper’, the Nepalese Government, amidst its own Maoist ‘insurgency’, still repealed some of its ‘anti-terror’ in the interests of civic freedoms. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance (TADO) earlier introduced by King Gyanendra in the wake of the 2002 killing of his brother Birendra and ten members of the ruling Rana Royal family. The King was forced to repeal the terror laws by popular pressure from the insurgent Maoist movement, heading (April 2008) towards democratic electoral victory at pace. Yet beyond Nepal (further discussed in a later chapter), the war on terror has contracted rather than opened up civic space. It is my view that any exposure of such strictures is to be supported. Where is the discussion of the repeal of the terror laws and other fear-mongering that is making life in Britain untenable?

Arundhati Roy, Jan Myrdal, Basanta Indra Mohan 12.6.2011 Euston

Please join us for a public meeting and an audience with celebrated authors who will discuss their recent experiences in India with a special focus on the raging war against the poorest of the poor, the tribal people living in the heartland of India.

Arundhati Roy

From India and the author of recently published books
Walking with the Comrades” and “Broken Republic”  

Jan Myrdal

From Sweden and the author of
“Red Star Over India”

Basanta Indra Mohan

From Nepal and the author of
“Imperialism and Proletarian Revolution 21st Century”

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Program includes:
Presentations by the speakers,
film and Q&A session

-

Sunday, June 12, 2011
1:30 pm till 5:00 pm

Place:
Friends House,  Main Hall,
173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ

Hosted by:
International Campaign Against War on People of India (ICAWPI)   www.icawpi.org       info[at]icawpi.org  
c/o Gorki House, 70 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7PA   Tel: +44(0)20 7193 1605

Co-organised by: IWA (GB), UNF Europe, ACDA, AFPRISA, TKM, GIKDER, 100FCC, WPRM-Britain, UfSO, CCRC,… (To be updated)   

For further information and contact with the organizers, please mail:  june12-London[at]icawpi.org

all-Nepal shut

The Workers Dreadnought

For International Socialism

Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) calls for all-Nepal shutdown on May 28th

Comrade Matrika Yadav, the fiery former UCPN(Maoist) leader, and his Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [a party that is a splinter from the UCPN(Maoist) and purportedly continues to grow with growing dissatisfaction and defections from that Party] have called for an all-Nepal shutdown on May 24th, and an indefinite shutdown starting on the 28th. Comrade Matrika Yadav has vociferously argued in the last few years that the UCPN(Maoist) has become a revisionist party, although he also maintains that the membership remains largely revolutionary in their orientation and has simply been misled by an increasingly opportunistic leadership. It has become increasingly clear, that it is unlike that there will be a people’s revolt in Nepal in just under 3 weeks [unless the political developments of the last few months since December have simply been a form of political theatre to distract the public about the Party's true work, however, there is no evidence for this besides the development of the People's Volunteer organization which have some have accused of developing a military structure] and that the Party is undergoing a political crisis, with senior leaders like Kiran and Gaurav openly attacking Prachanda in public, and attacks by Prachanda-supporters on pro-Kiran publications (it is very encouraging to see that Comrade Baburam Bhattarai has defended the Kiran-faction’s freedom of speech). Although, all sides continue seem to argue for unity and dismiss talk of a split, and the talk of a general convention seems to have died down once again. Indeed, this is further muddied by the Kiran-faction’s constant wrangling over ministerial posts which seems to fly in the face of his call for preparation for a people’s revolt.

However, something that I have been considering is whether a split, if it does occur, could possibly result in the merger of a Kiran-led wing of the UCPN(Maoist) and the Matrika Yadav-led CPN(Maoist) to form a Left alternative to the more mainstream Dahal-Bhattarai-led UCPN(Maoist) [which itself would be a very odd creature, although it too could merge with a section of the CPN(UML) led by current Prime Minister Khanal. I recognize that this seems odd because I have really not spent much time at all discussing CPN(UML) politics however, for those who are not aware, there has been a real and growing divide within that party with at least 2 clear factions: a "pro-Maoist" faction led by Khanal and an "anti-Maoist" led by senior party leader Oli]. Indeed, many argued that although they supported Comrade Matrika Yadav and shared his frustration at the developments in the Party, that believe that he he should not have left the Party when he did as his exit weakened the Party left. But the time may be soon approaching when the Kiran-faction may find itself inside a party that enjoys the name that first put them on the map. It is also possible that this could result in some other Maoist splinter groups reconstituting themselves within a revolutionary Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

Sagarmatha (सगरमाथा)

Nepal election count as of 16 April 2008:

Parties
Seats won
CPN (Maoists)
119
Nepali Congress
33
CPN (UML)
30
MJF
23
TMDP
7
NWPP
2
Janamorcha
1
Sadhbhawana (Mahato)
3
Independent
2

These results were taken from here

And verified here

Nepal turning red via ballots not bullets?

prachanda1.jpgComrade Prachanda addressing a mass rally in Backtapur, outside Kathmandu, on March 12. Nepal’s general election is on 10th of April and is more important than the cobra-mongoose death embrace that is the election most people seem presently obsessed about (Zizek, Kellner, the entire media, everyone except the residents of Florida who already know their result).

Oh, and did you hear there was an election in Malaysia where the opposition made massive gains despite the usual vote-tampering shenanigans (as illustrated on opposition blogs, for example by seat-winner Eli Wong – check here).

In the meantime, this picture of Prachanda says a lot about the moment of transition from feudal monarchy to modern Maoist state. Remains to be seen how the Maoists will fare, and exactly what modern Nepal will look like, but it has to be better than the Nepal that Michael Palin found so charming in his traveller’s trip (see here or here).

(pic nicked from APW – thanks)

Revolutionary Tourism Tuesday 10 April 07

I prepared these notes on the plane back from Hong Kong for a talk in the afternoon yesterday – went well, though it got a bit ropey towards the end (I blame the jet lag – arrived Heathrow Tuesday 5.40am, gave talk at 2.30 PM. Wide awake again from 2 through to (so far) 6AM Wednesday – gnnnng):

“Plenary One – Enchantment”

“Abstract. Revolutionary Tourism: Everest Turns Red

The double visage of South Asia abroad is fantasy and sensation. On the one hand, the Hindi film glitz or traditional exotica of temples, rich fabrics, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. On the other, disaster, war, cotton-clad politicians discussing nuclear weaponry, Maoists, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. This doubled representation follows an ideological investment that eases and erases imperial guilt. From afar, it is clear (the wish is) that the vibrancy (temples, fabric) of South Asia has not been destroyed despite the (rarely or reluctantly acknowledged) impact of 300 plus years of colonialism and more recent structural adjustment programmes. Reassured by tourist brochures and travel reports that most of the temples and holy sites remain, the disasters are attributed to contemporary dysfunctions: poverty, corruption, mismanagement and revolutionaries. Such reasoning, sometimes explicit, affirms that South Asia’s problems are South Asian, and that the departure of paternal colonial rule was perhaps premature: a self-serving ideological psychic defence, to be resolved by more ‘development’ aid. This paper addresses the ways a new revolutionary tourism trades on the same (the same?) double aspect – the exotic charge of ‘alternative travel’ means meeting with the Maoist adds a frisson of excitement to what was by now a standard brochure scenario. The Maoists themselves take part in this representation game – Everest turns Red. I have a Communist Party of Nepal souvenir visa stamp to prove it (1000 rupees).”

 

 

I was pleased to hear the opening paper of this session, and indeed of the ASA ‘Thinking Through Tourism’ conference, started with an generous dedication by Tom Selwyn to Malcolm Crick. Malcolm was a provocative writer on themes like the silmilarities between tourists and anthropologists, on the anthropology of knowledge, on colonialism, and much more. He was also, despite some eccentricities like lecturing with his eyes closed, a very great teacher. A supervisor with dedication and a bibliophile to emulate. He is much missed.

Thank you for inviting me to talk. I presume this was done on the back of what is now an old book on Travel – 1996, The Rumour of Calcutta – a book I now hear may be out of print… Even the last time I discussed travel in print was also long ago, and suddenly I feel I must seem old and grumpy, lurching into middle to late youth, a grizzled veteran of the banana-pancake-trail, but too sclerotic to live that lifestyle anymore, to carry a backpack, or sleep in those budget dorms. Yet, I have come to tell travel tales once again. I’ll start with invocations of the famous quotes, here from that last piece in print: (in Bell and Haddour eds, City Visions 2000), where, when it comes to travel stories:

“perspective and ordering selection are the themes of this work which take up Derrida’s call (his is not the only call of this sort) alongside a Marxist analysis of money, for a ‘systematic reflection on the relations between tourism and political analysis’ at a time when tourism has become highly ‘organised’. Derrida writes that such an analysis ‘would have to allow a particular place to the intellectual tourist (writer or academic) who thinks he or she can, in order to make them public, translate his or her ‘travel impressions’ into a political diagnostic’ [Derrida 1993:215]” (Hutnyk 2000:40).

Derrida’s comment deserves attention but it is something of a rehash of Claude Lévi-Strauss lament in Tristes Tropiques:

“Nowadays [1955], being an explorer is a trade, which consists not, as one might think, in discovering hitherto unknown facts after years of study, but in covering a great many miles and assembling lantern-slides or motion pictures, preferably in colour, so as to fill a hall with an audience …For this audience, platitudes and commonplaces seem to have been miraculously transmuted into revelations by the sole fact that their author, instead of doing their plagiarizing at home, has supposedly sanctified it by covering some twenty thousand miles” (Lévi-Strauss 1955/1973:16)

So, while I am interested in the ways some parts of Anthropology for a very long time have failed to take tourism studies, and exploration for that matter, seriously, and while I note that Travel Writing has entire conferences devoted to it (oh, so do we now, but travel writing also has a separate section in the LRB bookshop etc…) – I am not really that moved by the need to defend the disciplinary demarcations, or the interdisciplinarity that can now see us having papers in a tourism studies conference with themes as diverse as tourism and ghosts, tourism and Cuba, tourism and food; on airports, on souvenirs, on the post September 11world, and so much more. This is healthy, welcome, about time – we are no longer malarial and diffident, well not all the time – and despite the ways some colleagues continue to scoff (“you call that fieldwork?”. Well, do you cal that fieldwork?), I do not want to indulge in any boosterism for travel studies. Without needing a visa stamp, tourism is subject for many and different debates, and this conference is welcome if it can be that.

My debate, today then, will be a small corner of the global travel apparatus. I have returned from new fieldwork in South Asia. Having been interested for a long time in travellers who visit the city of Kolkata, and more recently Orissa, Bengal, and the Red Everest of Nepal, I’ve spent my last three research visits to India interested in tourists who are interested in Maoism. (I used to run an alternative tour of Calcutta’s left sites – the CPM bookshop; the India coffee house; Seagull Presss to pick up Mahasweta Devi’s texts; the US embassy located on 1 Harrington St, where the name of street was changed to Ho Chi Minh Sarani; the Marx and Engels statue; the Lenin statue; and the CPIML(TND) Saifuddin group office on S.N.Banerjee Rd – Zindabad….

I started out on this new research with an interest in souvenirs and trinkets.

Trinketization is a double diagnostic of exactly the type Derrida might despair:

- critique of focus that neglects material objects as the world is seemingly reduced and desiccated into commodity-souvenirs, but critique of neglecting to contextualise this process, a critique of remaining at the level of the commodity when the souvenir needs to be related, variously, to the market, to circulation, to memory, to the state…

Lévi-Strauss’s lament about slide-shows might now be lent to the status of the souvenir in anthropology – we sit grinning like monkeys in a zoo at the latest cultural curio, the hybrid post-tourist irony, the plastic Taj Mahal, the Kali figure refashioned to do service as Santa Klaus…

The curio-souvenir that got me going first of all is one now quite easy to collect. I first saw it, of all places, in a scene in Michael Palin’s fairly light entertainment TV mini-series Himalaya.

A prime time BBC show it was – and I watched it the same week the Nepaleses Maoists had blockaded Kathmandu, and a BBC News report declared:

‘Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprised’ (BBC Paul Reynolds, April 22, 2006).

I am amused that Shangri La can be relocated so often – in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, – See The Razors Edge, 1942 version Tyrone Power, Later 1984 Bill Murray… [some ad lib here about Murray searching for enlightenment up the mountain, burning books to stay warm]

But back to the Python… [Summarize this from earlier]: Palin’s epic presents what London academic Paul Gilroy calls a ‘postcolonial melancholia’ (Gilroy 2004 After Empire Routledge). Palin holds a candle, as they say, for the good old days of the British Raj. This is a Raj of nostalgic fantasy, where enemies, subjects, and infuriating lackeys, are now renovated and romanticized in a battered picture book of faded glories. Yet there is the semblance of ‘news’ reportage built into this picture. Episode three, for example, begins with an announcement from Palin that disavows the tranquillity that a romantic traveller might well expect, and he will soon learn that: ‘things in Nepal are not always the way they look, as communist insurgents have been waging war against the government’. After a spectacular micro-jet flight across the mountains, Palin arrives first of all in Lekhani in the company of a recruiting agent for a British Ghurkha regiment. The irony of arriving with the military is lost on him (‘this has been a tradition for over 200 years’) and the ‘problem’ of ‘the Maoists’ is made manifest only when the stiff-lipped British Gurkha agent, Lieutenant Colonel Griffith, does not return to the village in which Palin is camped. Understanding that the Maoists have ‘kidnapped’ Griffith, the crew and entourage nervously depart a place that had previously ‘seemed like a rustic backwater’, but now ‘friendly villagers seem like potential kidnappers’. There is a rush for the main road and it is only in Pokhara that it transpires that the agent was unharmed. This reassurance coming not before Palin has an encounter with three Israeli budget travellers who tell him that at the start of their trek they had been stopped by Maoists who demanded 1000 rupees and issued them with receipts, with a red flag stamp, that authorized travel in the region. Palin’s budget does not extend so far, and there is no need to name, or interview, any really existing Maoists, but he has the drama his story needs.

[Later on the BBC ‘Culture Show’, Palin admits that he has been criticised for ‘not getting to the bottom of why the Maoists were in Nepal’, and for not visiting detention camps and the like. On this show Palin is described as a ‘national treasure’ who presents a nostalgic, if bumbling, lost imperial grandeur. (‘The Culture Show’ BBC 7 October 2006).]

But our intrepid presenter Palin is here on a quest. He carries the viewer into the mountains in a way wholly unlike the load bearing Sherpas who carry our kit.

Contrast the adventure news items of the BBC reportage, or Palin’s ultra-light arrival story, with this from the internet:

Nepal Maoists bomb TV station (February 26, 2005 10:35 IST)

Heavily-armed Maoists torched and bombed a regional station of the state-run Nepal Television, causing damage worth over Rs 4 crore and disrupting the broadcast indefinitely even as the security forces gunned down 10 rebels and lost four of their own men in a clash in the west of the kingdom. The regional station of Nepal Television at Kohalpur in Banke district of mid-western Nepal was torched and bombed by hundreds of Maoists on Friday, NTV sources said. The regional broadcast of the NTV has been disrupted indefinitely after the explosion. … The Maoists also looted seven cameras and several other equipment from the station. However, no one was injured in the incident, the sources said.

Not sure how much of this report should be taken with a grain of salt – ten gunned down but no-one injured?? But the revolutionary struggle in Nepal has for a long time been producing stories like these. I am collecting, but omit here, a large archive of revolutionary tales… Yet after 10 years of insurrection, the BBC can still preface reports on Nepal with mock astonishment: ‘Just when it seems that revolutionary communism has all but disappeared in the world’ (Alistair Lawson BBC 6 June 2005).

My beef with the travel story version of Nepal is that, like the rest of South Asia, the country appears on the world screen most often as a ‘realist’, but usually tragic, news item. Palin later says, ‘I perhaps make it too easy to see these places that might otherwise only appear as news items during a crisis or disaster’ (‘The Culture Show’ BBC 7 October 2006). [It does seem significant that developments subsequent to the King’s climb down have not had the prominence of the strikes and protests of April. In August a deal on weapons and UN monitoring was reported, but not widely. See BBC website article by Charles Haviland ‘Why Nepal still faces many hurdles’).]

In South Asia this plays out a double game: the focus is always on what I might call ‘Exotica-Terror’. Images of photogenic but stranded villages awaiting rescue from cyclone, flood, earthquake, riot or famine. Images of high mountain military stand off and besieged temples, mosques. Tourism and television are particularly well suited to containing tragedy in a box. On the small screen it is images, stereotypes or clichés that move. ‘Things happen to images, not people’ as the French theorist Gilles Deleuze once said (and I quote this like a souvenir, which equally contains). But representation of Asia indicates a corresponding nether side to the tragic image – there is also a simultaneous positive gloss that is equally ideological – the fascination with tradition. Sound bite emotional containment fuels the global rumour of a mythical third world Asia that is both traditional in dress and architecture (the Taj Mahal, camels, rustic musicians) and is a modern mess born of a debased modernity, that perhaps (the argument implies) only the restitution of colonialism could redeem, (in the mindset of the imperialist powers).

The double play of terror and exotica is often remarked by the travellers I’ve met, and who also collect these souvenirs. ‘They had huge guns’; they had ‘home made guns’; their eyes ‘burned with fervour’; they were ‘so committed’; ‘women revolutionaries’. The double play here is ‘good native field native’ – a disciplinary routine from old colonialism now gone global (at home this ideological couplet is: moderate Muslims v. sleeper cells who reject British values).

I am reminded of Gyanendra Pandey on the duplicitous designations of violence. His book, Routine Violence 2006 contrasts items that are counted as violence alongside some that are not:

- Hindu Muslim violence at Partition, but not World War Two

- kamikaze, but not carpet bombing

- suicide bombings in Iraq but not the razing of houses by the Israeli forces (add invasions of Lebanon, and CPM attacks on peasants in Bengal – pic of the Bandh)

- 1857 natives killing and raping English women (Veena Das in her 2006 book Life and Words reports this as false for Cawnpore at least) versus the English response – executions by hanging, tourching of entire villages

- warlordism in Afghanistan but not Guantanamo bay

- public beheading but not the electric chair

etc

I note that in Palin’s Himalaya a critique of the militarization of Nepal by the Maoists comes just after the section on British recruitment of Gurkhas…

But my interest is in those Moaist visa stamp souvenirs as an event for traveller tourists – souvenirs from the dark side – risqué. Like the image of Che, Mao badges, or Cultural Revolution posters, the erotic terrorism of tourism is more pronounced. A frisson of excitement.

As Maoism becomes a tourist attraction (at least for academics), the Maoists themselves are not slow to see… Will Maoists continue to recognise opportunities for tourism? Can there be a Maoist tourism? Maoist tour guides? Brochures for Red Everest?

- there are reports of Maoists allowing safe passage to National Parks, charging a fee for entry to base areas

- or is this just a red tax scam that anyone with a khaki shirt and a gun can play for 100 rupees

The question of what revolutionary tourism might otherwise be has been discussed by the Maoist leadership – most recently by Comrade Gaurav AKA Chandra Prakash Gajurel. Will it be merely a cash cow, or is something more possible?:

- Souveniring flags, badges, leaflets, posters, pictures of wall graffiti (banned in Kolkata last election)

- Or educational visits, road building campaigns, solidarity, information tours

The trouble is that my double visage view of Terror-Exotica must also apply to revolutionary tourism as well. The servicing of postcolonial melancholia proceeds apace even amongst the red brigades. We look for hope in foreign struggles but do not advance a revolutionary politics at home – in the heartless heart of imperialism that seems implausible. We cannot even imagine revolution here but we can (entertain ourselves) with the idea over there. ‘We’ here of course slides in reference for us explorer/knowledge worker/ESRC funded radicalization experts, and as knowledge worker drones of Empire ‘we’ also can be what Mahasweta Devi calls the comprador Bhadrolok elites of a city like Kolkata, enamoured with critiques of the CPM, but distant, and out of touch with the MCC – safe in the College Street Coffee houses discussion the possible meanings of the 40th anniversary of Naxalbari.

I am of course also waiting to see what use the Maoists make of the seven video cameras looted from the Kohalpur television studio while the station was burning. Mao TV!

[The first image is of Red Everest, taken from Palin's Himalaya. The second picture is from the Bandh called after Nandigram; the third picture is self-explanatory (from the camping goods store, Auckland, soon after doing a radio slot with Nabeel on [corrected] Base FM [oops, it was the same building as George FM]). The second picture of McDonalds is from Opening Night of the first store in Kolkata – the queue was 250 people long when I walked past. The CPM foreign capital investment project can even turn great Calcutta nightclubs – the site of the Jazz venue Blue Fox – into Gold(en arches). Comes as no surprise.]

Trinket Exit Strategy of our Press


Something from the newspaper yesterday which confirms all I was saying about Nepal – on the very day the Maoists declared a three month cease fire, all The Guardian saw fit to publish was just half the face of this Sadhu. Exotica unabashed.

This is an old complaint about media representation however – of course they go for the easy option – colour, anonymity, alluring otherness.

Another version of the debate – this time releveant to writing about hip hop, might be found in the new collection “The Vinyl Ain’t Final” – edited by Dipa Basu and Sid Lamelle, out with Pluto/UniMinnesota here (and chapter about Fun*da*mental therin as well, heh heh).

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The double visage.


notes towards the end of the Nepal text for Canada….

My beef with the travel story version of Nepal is that here South Asia appears on the world screen most often as a ‘realist’, but usually tragic, news item. Images of villages awaiting rescue from cyclone, flood, earthquakes, riot, famine. Images of high mountain military stand off or besieged temples, mosques, cave complex and Al Qaeda training camps: tourism and television are particularly well suited to containing tragedy within a box. On the small screen it is images and stereotypes or clichés that move. ‘Things happen to images, not people’ as the French theorist Gilles Deleuze once said (and I quote this like a souvenir, which equally contains). But representation of Asia indicates a corresponding nether side to the tragic image – there is also a simultaneous positive gloss that is equally ideological – the fascination with tradition. Sound bite emotional containment fuels the global rumour of a mythical third world Asia that is both traditional in dress and architecture (the Taj Mahal, camels, rustic musicians) and is a modern mess born of a debased modernity, that perhaps (the argument implies) only the restitution of colonialism could redeem, (in the mindset of the imperialist power).

The double visage of South Asia abroad is fantasy and sensation. On the one hand, the Hindi film glitz or traditional exotica of temples, rich fabrics, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. On the other, disaster, war, cotton-clad politicians discussing nuclear weaponry, Maoists, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. This doubled representation follows an ideological investment that eases and erases imperial guilt. From abroad, it is clear (the wish is) that the vibrancy (temples, fabric) of South Asia has not been destroyed despite the (rarely or reluctantly acknowledged) impact of 300 plus years of colonialism and more recent structural adjustment programmes visited on the place. Reassured by tourist brochures that most of the temples and holy sites remain, the disasters are attributed to contemporary dysfunctions: poverty, corruption, mismanagement and revolutionaries. Such reasoning, sometimes explicit, affirms that South Asia’s problems are South Asian, and that the departure of paternal colonial rule was perhaps premature. A self-serving ideological psychic defence, to be resolved by more ‘development’ aid…

The sheer diversity of a continent of images is thereby channelled into a narrow ideological repertoire.
.
(and I am really having trouble finishing this piece because its another one of those I would normally have sent to Imogen to read, and I just cannot understand why she is gone. Its terrible and cruel. Drek drek drek. All thoughts to her family.)
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Revolutionary tourism


Revolutionary tourism (notes for article for a Canadian magazine).

I am watching television and Nepal is on screen. It is unusual to see anything other than documentary curios from the land locked Himalayan kingdom, but this week the place is news. Strikes, curfews, shoot to kill, the King forced to promise elections, a new interim government and an ongoing series of protests and demonstrations by the people in the streets. Each night for two weeks another glimpse of Nepal on the evening news. Globalising Asia right here in my living room. I want more.

I have long been a revolutionary tourist. Years spent in Kolkata where the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) has been the ruling – democratically elected – party for over twenty years. There even the opposition parties are mostly communists too, though sometimes this has lead to fratricidal conflicts as comrade kills comrade, I was out on the streets souveniring red flags and photographing political wall slogans, demonstrations and million person rallies. The wall slogans have been banned in West Bengal’s present election – a blow to political expression most agree, but Kolkata is still the city of politics, I visit every twelve months. Its an easy place to travel, despite the reputation it has abroad, as a site of Mother Theresa-enhanced, reputation distorting, photogenic poverty. I have written on this imaginary urban pathology elsewhere, especially in The Rumour of Calcutta (Zed books 1996). But despite what everyone usually hears of Kolkata in global media, when it appears as news it is either as curio or as another kind of politics, as sight of impoverishment or as ‘the longest freely elected communist democracy’, none of the representations seem to measure up to the reality.

I cannot help but think the same of Nepal. Today the revolution was called people power on the BBC. Pictures of a rally dominated by the red flag, I swoon before the telly with anticipation, but its merely a fragment. There are no interviews with revolutionary leaders – Prachanda, or even the more moderate UML spokesperson Madhav-Nepal. Instead, the camera turns to a sadhu (a Shiva devotee) looking on bemusedly as youths smash the windows of a Royal hostel in Kathmandu. This is not to say one cannot find interviews with the leadership, even on the BBC – at least on the web version of the BBC – a full transcript of an interview with Prachanda in February 2006 includes some judicious assertions, for example on the future of Nepal: ‘With the unity that has developed between the seven political parties, us and the civic society, and the way that the autocratic monarchy and the royal army have been cornered, with this very shortly Nepal will become a republic.’ And on the future of the King: ‘The king I think will either be executed by the people’s court or he might be exiled. For the king, today’s Nepal has no future. We don’t see a future for him and the Nepali people don’t either’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4707482.stm).

So should the King flee now? Seems not a safe place for him, but the scene seems more coherent and determined than might be suggested by comments such as the BBC default presentation of ‘riots in shangri-la’ and the Guardian’s characterisation of Nepal as ‘a country gone awry’ (Guardian April 22, 2006). What chance for a less hypertronic discussion? Instead, stereotypes and routine – concern about safety, about the economy and geo-political worries – ‘terrorism’ a word that crops up over and over. There are a few western tourists in Nepal just now, but they are mentioned as having avoided the firings, that have killed 14 in two weeks as I write, though the Police held back somewhat today. Phew! Why this angle and spin if not just for the reassurance of viewers, and capital, at home. The caption to a photo showing a westerner at Kathmandu airport reads: ‘Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprised’ (BBC Paul Reynolds, April 22, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4933866.stm). More substantial news is harder to come by.

Was it always like this – that the view from afar was like a postcard from Everest – recognisable but somehow mute? Its there, and can be visited, but most will never go so far and get so close. Those that do, are they/we condemned to rehearse perspectives and conventions that we/they carried with us in our heads like the packs they carried on their backs (the Sherpas carry the packs, the backpackers carry the traps)? Visions of Nepal have long been a matter of contest.

I turn to other versions of Nepal I have seen on screen recently, and I want to concentrate on, in particular, the six part special Himalaya presented on British television last year by Michael Palin, the former Monty Python comic and now respected travel compare (can such a category be deployed?)….. [There follows an extended trashing of Palin's show Himalaya.... well, an easy target... but its also a chance to further discuss the revolution in Nepal, wonder aloud at just what the Moaists are up to in the hills, and why it still seems strange to see them on my telly...]
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(pic by Sarah Kate Watson – the repainting of the Modern Lodge, Kolkata)

Nepal: Palin, docos, TV, WTW, Campbell and Karki


Just some stuff I want to remember for a lecture on television and Nepal:

1. There is (is there?) an antidote to Michael Palin and his [I know everyone won'ty agree] anodyne stumble-bumbling travel t(r)ips:

‘Film South Asia is a competitive biennial festival of documentary films on South Asian subjects that provides a quality platform to exhibit new works and to promote a sense of community among independent filmmakers. It is organized by Himal Association, a not-for-profit institution dedicated to spreading knowledge and information in Nepal and South Asia.’ http://himalassociation.org/fsa/

2. Documentaries about Nepal most often focus upon trekking and the Sherpas, or the trafficking of Nepalese girls to the sex trade in Mumbai, with obligatory section on the girl-god of Kathmandu. Other news is possible also:

Nepal Maoists bomb TV station
February 26, 200510:35 IST
http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/feb/26nepal.htm

Heavily-armed Maoists torched and bombed a regional station of the state-run Nepal Television, causing damage worth over Rs4 crore and disrupting the broadcast indefinitely even as the security forces gunned down 10 rebels and lost four of their own men in a clash in the west of the kingdom.
The regional station of Nepal Television at Kohalpur in Banke district of mid-western Nepal was torched and bombed by hundreds of Maoists on Friday, NTV sources said.
The regional broadcast of the NTV has been disrupted indefinitely after the explosion which caused damage worth over Rs4 crore.
The Maoists also looted seven cameras and several other equipment from the station. However, no one was injured in the incident, the sources said.

3. A World to Win has consistently supported the Maoist revolutionary forces:
www.awtw.org/

4. Refs to include in write up:

Campbell, B 1997 ‘The Heavy Loads of Tamang Identity’ in David Gelllner,
Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka and John Whelpton eds Nationalism and Ethnicity
in a Hindu Kingdom: the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Nepal.
Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.

Fisher, James F. 1990 Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal
Berkeley: University of California Press.

Karki, Arjun and Seddon, David eds 2003 The People’s War in Nepal: Left
perspective. Delhi: Adroit Publishers.
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