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तुहिएको सपनाको कुनै गन्ध हुन्छ कि हुँदैन ? धेरैले सपाट उत्तर दिनेछन्, सपनाको कुनै गन्ध हुँदैन । कसैलाई लाग्न सक्छ यो प्रश्न आफैंमा सिजोपनिक छ ।

आक्रोशले उमालेको कफी

कम्तीमा ८ घन्टा काम, ८ घन्टा आराम र ८ घन्टा किताब र कफीलाई दिने सुबिस्ता सबैलाई पुगोस् भन्नका लागि मसँग नेपाली र अंग्रेजी दुईटा भाषा छन् । शासकहरूसँग कति नाले बन्दुक छन् ?

Friday, November 19, 2021

Why Partha Chatterjee’s New Commentary on Nationalism is as Relevant for Nepal as for India


Nationalism is not going to run out of steam soon. It has gained a new lease of public life with so-called “strongmen” at the helm of several democratic nation states, including Nepal and India, in the past few years. Leaders who have risen with popular support have anchored their relevance and justification for continuing in power in the longstanding ideology of nationalism.

What KP Oli was to Nepal was not very different from what Narendra Modi is to India now. Nor is Nepal’s panchayat-nationalism particularly dissimilar from India’s Hindu nationalism. Maybe because of its perseverance as an ideology, the academic examination of nationalism is an ongoing process.

In his 2020 book I Am the People: Reflections on Popular Sovereignty Today, Partha Chatterjee wrote that he had expected the counter-hegemonic initiatives of subalterns to begin against the hegemony imposed by elected strongmen. A year later, as though to provide an intellectual arsenal to those trying to formulate counter-hegemonic strategies in several discreet locations, Chatterjee has published that serves the purpose of a manifesto, The Truths and Lies of Nationalism: As Narrated by Charvak.

In this book, the materialist school or idea of Charvaka has metamorphosed into a personified narrator to expose the lies of nationalism and to lift the curtain that has fallen, somewhat ominously, on that particular “nation” which belongs to the “entire people”.

Untold stories in India

The narrator, Charvak, speaks to a particular listener. It seems that this listener, who has been told by the BJP and the Modi government to be faithful to India’s “national identity and culture” and to work to safeguard them, is a young North Indian man. Charvak’s underlying assumption is that this gentleman is misled by propaganda built on the “lies of nationalism”.

Towards the end of the book, Charvak says, “The claim that all Indian languages are derived from Sanskrit and that all that genuinely belongs to Indian culture (bharatiya samskrti) must conform to the norms of upper-caste North Indian society is patently unacceptable.” Before this conclusion is reached, the preceding seven chapters bring a great deal of historical details, factual accounts, interpretations of the Indian past and, interestingly, extend several invitations to the listener to walk in the shoes of the many “others”.

In one such instance, after a brief sketch of the excesses of the state, resulting in the devastation of the indigenous groups of the Andaman Islands in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charvak asks his listener to imagine himself as a young Onge woman. “What would you think of the Indian nation and your place in it? As an Onge woman, would you still be able to shout slogans about the greatness of Indian civilisation?”

Recounting the story of how the princely state of Hyderabad was brought under India following the independence, he cites a fact that remains missing in many history textbooks. “[D]id you know that some 50,000 civilians were killed in Hyderabad following the invasion of the Indian army? Most of them were Muslims.” This is an invitation to be cognisant of a number of such untold stories that actually scaffolded the Indian nation.

Meanwhile in Nepal

Many such suppressed stories related to the making of a nation had surfaced after the 2006 democratic revolution in Nepal. Those stories, however, were not told in a book, but were tabled as contentions in the popularly elected constituent assembly. After the unearthing of these untold stories, historically excluded communities, including the Madheshis, began to demand identity-based federalism. In other words, they wanted their ethnic identities to be one of its main bases.

These contentions unsettled the dominant communities – the Bahuns and the Chhetris, for instance, felt “otherised” and threatened. As a result, the first elected constituent assembly, failing to forge a consensus on federalism, could not promulgate a constitution.

The new constitution of 2015 – rammed through the second constituent assembly despite vehement protests – did not employ a clear basis for federalism, such as identity or economic viability. As a result, the provincial governments have failed to prove their relevance in the new arrangement. Instead, the centre acts like a monarch.

In the chapter titled “People’s Alliance Strengthens the Nation”, Charvak says, “It is a completely false idea that a centralised nation-state displaying its force of unity at the top in a strong party or a strong leader is the sign of a strong nation. The strength of such diversity as India can only be built on the basis of strong alliances among the people (lokamitrata) at the state and local levels.”

Nepal is almost as diverse as India is. The centralising tendency of the existing federalism, thus, is not going to solve the problems related to the historical exclusion of a number of ethnic communities.

The tragedy now unfolding in Nepal is that several powerful narratives have been built and spread against federalism. Alongside, the demand for a strong centralised state, led by a strong leader, has resurfaced in the last few years. Though not pronounced in clear terms, the resurgence of panchayat-nationalism was the major plank for the anti-federalist KP Oli to stand as the most powerful Prime Minister of the new federal republic.

The basic pillars of panchayat-nationalism are the Hindu religion, Khas-Nepali language (of the dominant Bahun and Chhetri communities), dominant Hindu culture, and the monarchy. Propounded in the 1960s by king Mahendra Shah, it might have borrowed intellectual resources from Indian nationalism.

Scholars of Nepali nationalism have found out that this brand of nationalism relied heavily on the cultural resources built by Nepali-speaking Indians in Darjeeling as they fought for their distinct identity in India. Interestingly, another element that remains conspicuous in present-day nationalist narrative in Nepal is fear – and, in some instances, hatred – of India.

Fear of the external has become a handy tool for political parties and leaders to tamper with the challenges put forward internally by the marginalised sections. This way, nationalism, as an ideology, serves the interests of the existing dominant communities, leaders, and parties. Reading Partha Chatterjee’s Charvak-avatar in today’s Nepal is, thus, an act of rebellion. It must be more so in India.

Chatterjee’s longstanding engagement with Indian nationalism as an academic and as a seasoned political theorist has made this popular form of writing (with negligible academic jargon and references) no less nuanced. Intellectual rigour is reflected in his crisp analysis and interpretation of past and recent historical events. Mapping the length and breadth of the relevant canvas, Chatterjee turns Charvak into a wonderful storyteller. I cannot thank him enough for a much-needed and timely intervention.

First published in September 25, 2021/ Scroll 

Book Review: 'Caravan to Lhasa: A Merchant of Kathmandu in Traditional Tibet'

Bedtime stories told to children by their parents often leave indelible impressions on their minds. When these children grow up to become adults and have their own children, the stories are passed on, from one generation to the next. Fiction writers like Leslie Marmon Silko and Chinua Achebe drew extensively from the oral traditions of their culture and shaped these into tales for their readers. In the book Caravan to Lhasa, Kamal Ratna Tuladhar does the same; he recounts the same “staple bedtime stories” that he had heard from his father and his uncle. But Tuladhar’s stories are not mere figments of a storyteller’s imagination, nor are they your traditional lok kathas. These are real tales of real people--revolving around adventures that his father and uncles had actually lived through.

The story is about the caravans the Newar traders in the “good old days” (from 1920 to 1960) used to take to Lhasa. It is about their perilous journeys back and forth, wherein they consistently encountered bad weather, dangerous beasts, and dodgy bandits. The blurb in the back of the book aptly describes the entire book in one sentence: “Tuladhar captures the spirit of a vanished era, one in which the sense of adventure and the willingness to take risks was not only essential for the success of trading ventures, but a way of life.”

The word ‘Tuladhar’ refers to someone who handles weighing scales in Sanskrit. As the name suggests, Tuladhars have a history of trade, particularly in establishing commercial connections with foreign countries. The history of their trade with Lhasa goes way back to seventh century when Nepali princess Bhrikuti was married to Tibet’s King Songsten Gampo. As mentioned in the book, the individual merchants and the artisans who went as escorts to the Princess were the precursors of the larger trade between Kathmandu and Lhasa that was to follow. Despite some fluctuations in the relationship between Tibet and Kathmandu, the trade continued for many years.

The Newar merchants, and especially Tuladhar’s grandfather, father and uncles were involved in the transportation of goods like wool, gold, musk, textiles and factory products across the Himalayas to the Tibetan plateau. They established shops and business firms in Lhasa, where they would sell these products, most of which were especially imported from Calcutta in India. The Buddhist Newar traders also built temples and erected sculptures in Tibet, and in this way, not only shaped the commerce, but also the culture of the region.

In narrating several accounts of his father’s and grandfather’s journey from Kathmandu to Calcutta to Kalimpong to Lhasa, Tuladhar offers glimpses of the vibrant history of the Newar community. Penned in accessible language, the stories read like the fictional accounts of some imagined adventurer. Caravan to Lhasa is very visually-descriptive and will allow for vivid pictures to form in the reader’s mind. For instance, in describing his father’s condition whilst dealing with excruciating weather on the way to Lhasa, Tuladhar writes thus: “He was immobilized on his horse because his limbs were numb with cold. The others had to lift him off the saddle and carry him inside like his body was in a plaster cast.” Various intriguing historical facts inserted into the account also make the book quite captivating. “Newcomers from Kathmandu would let their jaws drop when they saw the street vendors selling bullets like they sold cigarettes at home.”

The book also incorporates several letters of correspondence between his father and uncles. In addition to these, there are relevant photos and scanned copies of several documents, all meant to prove the authenticity of the tale. The author also cites from various historical accounts written by travelers, as well as takes cues from oral history. For example, he has mentioned an interesting poem, written by an unknown poet, which describes the farewell ceremony that would be held before the traders left for their difficult voyage: “Accepting the sagan with his right hand and wiping away the tears with his left hand/ my husband walked away without looking back.” Caravan to Lhasa is so much more than a history book, incorporating as it does bare facts while at the same time presenting them in a very lucid and entertaining--almost fictional--manner. I might have approached this as a story about adventure, but it would be equally appealing to the many who might regard it a reliable source of information about the history of Kathmandu-Tibet trade.


Published: December 16, 2011 / The Kathmandu Post 

Thursday, January 16, 2020


You have a minister who forms a commission, heads it, witnesses the heated discussions among fellow commissioners, makes them work through the differences to prepare a final report, as the report becomes ready, he sits in his own work for months without making it public, let alone implementing it. His boss, the PM, also takes a copy to make it his chair-cushion and warms it further. You don't confront the minister. PM? Wait till another turd-joke drops!
Spineless as they are, student leaders don't utter a word. Teacher unions hide their tails even before they think of their masters. Party-intellectuals muster all their energy up to produce banal defenses of the indefensible! Media fails to confront the powers that be, limits its role in regurgitating the same old crap told hundred times already.
You have ever increasing number of education shops—some are dilapidated kirana pasals, others are wholesales, some look like fancy malls, and few are big supermarkets. Majority schools send out the kids with SEE certificates in their hands but without the basic skills of reading and writing. Critical and creative thinking is a far cry. Kirana Pasals and wholesales of higher education sell high-sounding degrees which hardly stand any real critical tests of professionalism, neither can face the complexities of life and world. You are happy to take the degree as a badge of honor!
Majority student leaders are the 'commodities' produced by such schools and now attend one of these kirana pasals or supermarkets. Teacher unions—the misnomers at their best—are the key players of the pasals. Party-intellectuals? Superannuated bards of the corrupt centurions! 
You see the farce and weep silently!
You try to find straw in the wind and you see the doom!

Monday, January 13, 2020

आजको समयमा पृथ्वीनारायण शाहलाई हामीले कसरी बुझ्नुपर्ने हो ?

आजको समयमा पृथ्वीनारायण शाहलाई हामीले कसरी बुझ्नुपर्ने हो ?

महावीर विश्वकर्मासँगको कुराकानी।