Trying to describe a photograph in words has to be one of the toughest things that I have ever attempted doing. It feels like I am frozen and bewildered in imaginary wetlands of amazon rain forest. Like being in that moment when an infinite horizon awaits right in front of you but you are awestruck and dumbstruck, all at once. ‘Being Nepali’ to me means visiting your friend’s place only to feel this bliss watching her mother worship Buddha and Shiva with the same sincerity. To be capable of internalizing boundless beauty and unexplained diversities, to be able to express oneself with unadulterated understanding of liberty and dignity. It means to live off my memory book of diverse people with stories from many different landscapes of geography and history. Being Nepali also has meant knowing what wonders simple living and high thinking does and how it transforms a mortal into a being.
After 20 odd years, today I wonder if memories are really that special or if melancholy and bliss mix together to make them look like dreamy bygones. The 2 P.M Hindi movie on Saturday for me makes for such a memory. Every week on Nepal TV with so much togetherness and excitement, those movies were watched probably by everyone who had the access. Somewhere during the movie this man’s piercing call for prospectus clients gets me all shaken and distracted. Trying to get everyone’s attention to enterprise his “tarkari” he screamed louder the second and the third time, I am a little annoyed. I then can not help but stare at his sweat drenched kurta only to end at the infinite wrinkles on his face. One phrase would always sound louder though “भैया, यता आइज !”, louder because it echoed for days and many years.
Why did it matter when I knew that the chances of him being treated as a lesser Nepali were a lot higher than him being accepted as an equal human, did he deserve to be called “Dai”? He did not look anything like the “Nepali” we had read about, nor did he sound as melodious as the many singers who hold another country’s Nationality but keep being loved by my nation because they look more “Nepali” than he did or I do. He only deserved to be treated like an “Other” because we have for generations been taught that Nepal is a yam between two massive blocks and anything could happen. Hate had to be taught in the name of patriotism because darker shades of skin colour could be more venomous that dark souls.
This picture was taken in January 2016 in a small village only a few kilometers away from the highway named Fulhara in Saptari district. When us capital dwellers were singing songs of nationalism as the newest democracy which boasted of surviving our neighbor’s atrocities, some waited for days to avail something as simple as paracetamol and a blanket to survive harsh realities of winter. When I saw with my own eyes the distances people traveled to survive each day, democracy incapable of restoring people’s belief in humanity stopped making sense anymore. This picture to me means the world we have overlooked to integrate into the New Nepal, Nepal that does not complain but continues to work each day believing in a better tomorrow. It succeeds in reminding me of my failure as a democratic Nepali incapable of providing essentials of relief and strength to the ones who actually are in need. This picture never fails to remind me of the hypocrisies we have accepted as a part of our reality, the latent part of human evolution which is cunningly by the power holders manipulated under the cover of social institutions and belief systems.
To be able to learn something and contribute back to what help me become me, is that not the core of all associations and progress? Isn’t that what a social being is supposed to do, I then fail to comprehend how we can afford to waste any time in trying to dissect the things we have little or no control over, especially difficult when we have always had lush assets of nature, teachings of great souls and mystic energies. In times like these ‘Being Nepali’ has also meant being lost and confused, times when the choice is between sovereignty and identity or the graded badge of nationality. The heroic pride I was feeling in making the fourteen hours long journey happen amidst chaos stricken region, started getting overshadowed by this piercing feeling of helplessness. Cetamol and blanket then do not suffice, the long journey becomes nothing compared to years of wait a big part of our nation has waited to be accepted as equals. In that moment I could not help but question my duty as a human and a Nepali, my place as a citizen, as the most significant part of a democracy. When we say we believe in the songs of unity and compassion, why doesn’t it irk when newspapers write stories of life threatening never ending scarcities? Why does the bravery we claim to have been born with not serve in harmonizing this never ending muddle between Nepal aama’ and the flaking arrangements of our Nation State?
I grew up believing that being Nepali was to be compassionate in our actions and to be in sync with Buddha’s soul, until I witnessed a deeper reflection of our reality in the rural parts of Nepal. The world devoid of basic amenities, a caring governance and an equal meaningful representation. With enough gray matter but no defined structure a social design that would have worked better as a directive has become an amoebic governance. In such times being Nepali also has meant being victim of my mind’s compliance to nation’s autocratic demands. When we have people around us constantly designing our way into the journey only we can take, we become complacent and our vision is blurred to things that are closest and real. We chase our dreams in a strangers’ life, not internalizing our strengths. After many years of chasing those unrealistic goals and failing miserably at them as a beautifully scarred soul, I believe I have finally found my art and love. Photography has helped me feel and see more beauty in pain or pleasure than ever.
I dedicate this photograph to the women who have for infinity been the “Shakti” we have built all our realities upon and a zillions of martyrs who have kept the spirit blazing. It is also dedicated to people who have been told that they are the lesser Nepali because of their skin colour or because they speak a different language or because they have had a distinctive style of expression. Also to all of us who have prayed and worked to see Nepal that shines and loves, similar to what Martin Luther King had imagined when he had said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
As a Nepali I am going to believe that this is a transient storm and a brighter day free of biases and full of peace awaits us. The day when we will stop fighting about Buddha’s humanly existence and care for his teachings and greatness more. The day when love will set us free and we will no more have to fight to establish diversity and bring peace. That day when we will truly understand and accept that “जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी” is not just our national motto but an integral part of our belief system that has shaped our individual and national identity. This is my ode to all humans across the globe who carry in their hearts a piece of Nepal and have pledged their solidarity in the journey to establish justice and equal rights for all.