NOV 10 – A journalist of The Hindustan Times wanted to talk to me at the SAARC Folk Festival seminar in Chandigarh on Nov. 6. I met this talented journalist of the young generation named Vishav Bharti outside the conference room. He wanted to talk to me about the folk and my writings. But in the conversation, he glibly gravitated to the domain of a turbulent yet a very interesting New Nepal. He rightly linked the state of culture, literature and folklore to the ongoing transformations that our society has been experiencing. Ajeet Cour's opening address as president of the SAARC writers' apex body came up in the conversation. Referring to her speech I linked the subject to a situation in South Asia where the folk assumes new meaning with political intervention in people's natural way of life and destruction of their spaces.
The SAARC writers' meetings have foregrounded the power of the quiet female workers. The Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi's successful fight with the West Bengal government about the Nandigram government action to uproot the people by taking a construction scheme had come as a powerful subject of ecological and subaltern concern at the last SAARC writers' meeting. Two women from Bangladesh Lubna Marium, a classical dancer and activist, and Salina Hossain, an author of 33 novels, brought out the subject of the serpent goddess' power in the old Bengali epic Manasa Mangal Kavya, which Lubna Marium calls the archetypal subaltern folk iconicity of the Bengali people. Lubna works in close association with Indira Shrestha of Streeshakti Nepal. Dolly Guleria, an amazing Punjabi singer, intervened in the seminar's scholarly paradigm with her singing of songs of the great Sufi masters and Punjabi nationalism. I am awed by the powerful voices of these women. Ajeet Cour and Mahasweta Devi are old, frail and powerful Indian women. The fight against ecological disaster and the subject of folk are linked to the political developments in the region.
Apparently, the journalists were informed about the Nepali folk performances that the Nepali artistes from Nepal Sanskritik Sansthan were presenting at different locations of Chandigarh and Churamani Bandhu and my seminar presentations. This young generation journalist of India surprised me because my archetypal image of the Indian journalist's cognition of the Nepal subject was slowly melting into thin air in the conversation. He linked my writing, my folkloric scholarship and my perceptions as a writer to the Nepal of today. He had broad views about Nepal, its politics and its society that were turning a historical somersault. I wondered if every journalist was as familiar with the Nepali political and social situations as this man.
From another conversation with a young woman journalist of The Indian Express, the next day I was convinced that the young generation journalists have an open outlook towards Nepal. To them perhaps the Nepali historical change is a unique subject that blends a new realism, a post-hegemonic politics and neo-romantic historicism. They would see a Nepali writer and thinker inclined to one of these modes that the history is lurching to.
The Hindustan Times journalist Bharti's report showed me being close to the Maoists, and Jaskiran Kapoor in her report in The Indian Express column on the next day put me as wistfully looking back at the monarchical system. I could see how quickly they wanted to read the Nepali political semantics. They see the contemporary Nepali history in terms of paradigm shifts. These journalists see Nepal not in the light of what many senior thinkers and journalists of Nepal and India see it as a power game played in Nepal and the Indian government's blessing or ire about that. Nepali politics, it seemed to me after conversations with these journalists, has a dynamics acquired after the political change of 2006 that today the politicians, the so-called people's custodians, are turning into a localised power game that will have no relevance beyond a locally contested miserable game of power that could be acquired by any means.
I recalled the last few days before I left Nepal to come here. As in the French novelist Albert Camus' novel The Plague, before I left to teach M. Phil students at Kirtipur, I was inundated with mobile texts about a turbulent and insecure capital plagued with violence and demonstrations. They said, "The capital is choking in the Maoists' agitation. Don't take these routes as you drive." Every time I set out, I said to myself this couldn't be so violent after all. I drove through the city only to find that it was like every other day. I avoided the part of the city that was blocked because the Maoists were picketing some administrative offices. Their modus operandi of singing, dancing and chanting was impressive. But their cadres' sporadic violent activity elsewhere was not a good method. Peace will be their greatest weapon now onwards. If the Maoists are wise, they should go Gandhian as Prachanda had instructed his party people to be before the CA election in 2008.
I discussed Nepal studies among the English department students who sympathise with parties and also do free thinking. We freely used the subject of political contestations and ideologies in the academic context. In the evening, I watched TV for the news of the day. The government spokesman came and said, "We have alerted the army and the armed police for reasons of the Maoists protest actions." I was shell-shocked by these men's hyperbolic use of language. They do not realise how dangerously they are once again nursing thoughts about giving the democratic achievements to some armed rulers, and how they are inviting bloodshed that was avoided by the action of the people and by their own good efforts.
Historical memories are too short in Nepal. The Maoists declaration of the free zones and state units is an equally erratic and hyperbolic use of political language. The hyperbolic language is also used about the UN whom they invited to broker peace, and resettle the Maoist fighters and write a constitution by forming a government of consensus. I do not understand how they are going to write the constitution if the word consensus has become an anathema. The Kathmandu elite is pouring forth non-political sentiments in support of that without realising what they are talking about. Politicians with good intentions from all parties should meet quickly and discuss these matters. It does not suit the democratic government to use the language of king Gyanendra's ministers who used to accuse the UN and the countries that did not support them. They created the Maoist bogie and said, look if you don't support us, they will overtake it all. There are great leaders and politicians in the NC, UML, Maoists and the Madhesi parties. They should see what harm their hyperbolic use of language is doing to the country.
My SAARC Folk revelations are in order. The Indian media and young people are sensitive to your words. Your hyperbolic language will create a dangerous culture of misreading and misinformation about Nepal outside. Better watch out in time.
*SAARC Writers to Share Experiences For Peace