Nepali Times Asian Paints

The Vanishing Author

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Nhooja Tuladhar

Photo: Nhooja Tuladhar

Once upon a time we discovered that a text was not gospel. That once it issued from the imagination of the author, it was free to take whatever form it wanted in the mind of the engaged reader. This realization, millennia after it became evident that the word of god was not really so, would have relieved some writers as much as it frustrated others. ‘Enfin!’ Proust might have exclaimed from the comfort of his cork-lined room. ‘Readers will now leave me in peace, let them understand my work as they will, if they will.’ ‘Well then…’ Salinger would have murmured. ‘Whether I write or not is none of your goddam business.’

These famous recluses might have shrivelled up in the glare of the marketing blitz that is the modern writer’s lot. Doris Lessing’s publisher apologized for asking her to submit to an interview back in 1950,  but in the last few decades writers who want to sell their books have to sell themselves first. With publishers seeking to hedge their bets, the onus is firmly on the writer to get the word out, as it were. Writers are expected to reach out through social and traditional media well before and after the launch of a book, and keep potential buyers engaged in their brand through a never-ending treadmill of public engagements. It seems, sometimes, that the more successful you are as a performing monkey, the less likely you are to be typing out works of staggering and heartwarming genius.

The brand of the writer has caught on in Nepal, too. Book launches are de rigueur for any self-respecting writer, as they are for those whom no one really respects, and one can hardly complain. Launches are just that – they provide the momentum any book needs before sailing out into the wide world, and they’re as good an excuse as any for a good old-fashioned shindig. After all that slogging away, every writer deserves his fifteen minutes. At the very least.

A brace of bimochans brought out the best and worst of the genre this weekend. Ironically, both seemed to overwhelm their subjects. Prawin Adhikari’s debut story collection The Vanishing Act rumbled to life in the ambient amphitheatre of the Nepal Academy last Friday after an expectant half hour coloured only by the lassitude of the dun dog sprawled to stage left. After La.Lit Editor Rabi Thapa’s brief introduction, Ujjwal Maharjan read short excerpts from the book and handed over to the author. To the palpable disappointment of the audience, Adhikari only thanked the caterers and the organisers, exhorted us to enjoy the evening, and vanished into the gloam of the advancing evening. Such was his modesty, you’d have thought he was merely announcing that the real author was on his way, that it was only a matter of time before he showed up. Later, he surfaced reluctantly to pose for the media, and was to be seen signing books by the light of an emergency light as all around him, we warmed the cockles of our wintry hearts with hearty doses of aila and chwoela.

Deepak Rana’s double header of a launch at Hotel Annapurna the next day – of Roads Less Travelled and The Silent Flute – couldn’t have been more different. Here too we waited, amidst a sea of ex-shrees, but this time for a real chief guest. Hell, they even handed out a programme. After what seemed like long enough for the author to complete the trilogy of which The Silent Flute was the second part, sometime-PM and longtime politician Madhav Kumar Nepal deigned to grace us with his presence, be felicitated, light the panas, and be seated. Chirag Bangdel spoke of Rana, Greta Rana spoke of Rana, then Nepal spoke of Rana. Very eloquently, too. There was also a ‘cultural item’ consisting of a young lady balancing things on her things. But the writer was, figuratively speaking, nowhere to be seen. He was there, no doubt, but evidently he had expended all his creative energies on his work; his flute remained silent. Book launched, he even allowed Madhav Nepal to sign copies of his book for him.

Perhaps, after all, a writer is best off being just that – a writer. Let the speakers speak, let the writers write, let the readers read, let the children play. We were all made – or made ourselves – a certain way for a reason. Don’t ask me to explain myself, please. Woof!

Gulab Jammin’

Sunday, February 16th, 2014


Please be seated by 4, noted the ticket, but by the time the MC began to gush about how lucky we were that Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia was in the house, it was close to 5. And she wasn’t even in the programme. ‘When was the last time you saw classical music in Nepal,’ she beamed, ‘If you saw any classical music in the last six months, you are very lucky.’ Then she switched to fluent Nepali, her sentiments embellished for our benefit: ‘People would probably say, who would pay to listen to classical music, right?’ Having established that we Nepalis are a bunch of ignoramuses, she introduced everyone on the Chief Guest Sofa, invited them to speechify, and inaugurated the inauguration.

And then we had some music.

Ok, she didn’t mean to say we were a bunch of hill-bound hicks. She meant to say we were starved of culture because of the lack of events showcasing it. Though the folks up at Kirateshwor Sangeetashram, who organize classical music shows every full moon, probably wouldn’t agree. But JayShree Music Society should be commended for bringing the renowned flautist to town. There were only two brief power cuts during the show, the soundmen behind us kept their chat down to a low murmur, and the guards constantly in-ing and out-ing the creaky door down by the front of stage made sure it didn’t bang once. And once we established that the droning buzz from the speakers was only a pre-recorded tanpura on loop (Pandit Chaurasia made do with three supplementary flautists and one local tabla thumper), we were all set.

What’s more, the music was great.

Doing it justice

Friday, December 20th, 2013

bg-luluI was submitting to the drone of Lou Reed against Metallica’s guitars when a friend called, wondering if I wanted to see Rajesh Hamal, onstage, presiding over a court of young actors including Karma, Diya Maskey and Dayahang Rai. The old and the not-so-new – how would these mash-ups match up?

It takes a brave man to step outside one’s zone. But after a certain point, it may be that even the most predictable among us feels compelled to try something different. Lou Reed was, probably, always different. But his swansong, 2011’s Lulu, surprised everyone. What did he hope to achieve in collaborating with Metallica? How did the art-rock legend and the thrash-lords of the ‘80s end up in the same room for long enough to even discuss the idea? You could say the same about Rajesh Hamal. What motivated the übermensch of commercial Kollywood to mingle with the thesp-inflected new wave of Nepali cinema?

Reed originally conceived of adapting Franz Wedekind’s notorious ‘Lulu’ plays, which tell of a young German woman who arrives in Berlin as a ‘small-town girl who’s gonna give life a whirl’, with avant-garde playwright Robert Wilson. But the truth is Metallica’s trajectory has not been as straightforward as its beer-soaked fan base may have imagined their own lives would be. The band’s artistic and commercial zenith, 1991’s Black Album, and their shift away from thrash metal thereafter, was considered a betrayal by many. No fan man himself, Reed may have heard in Metallica the kind of weary, teutonic soundtrack he imagined for Lulu’s downward spiral. And who could refuse Lou Reed?

In the case of Hamal, it is easy enough to imagine such a room, with such a proposition. The director of ‘Court Martial’, Anup Baral, as well as many of his actors, navigate both theatre and film with consummate ease. ‘Rajesh Dai,’ one such thesp may have laughed, ‘Aren’t you tired of the song-and-dance routine?’ And the man may well have answered ‘Yes…Yes, I am thoroughly sick of it.’

We have to thank Baral for belatedly bringing Hamal to the stage, and for disguising his bulging muscles in army olive throughout this adaptation of Swadesh Deepak’s Hindi original. As Colonel Rupak Singh, however, he has occasion enough to exercise his vocal cords. He is conducting the court martial of Private Ram Bahadur (Sudam Bk) for the premeditated shooting of two superior officers, and though the accused has confessed his crime there is much more here than meets the eye. It is the job of Captain Bikas Pokharel (Subash Thapa) to unearth the motives, and this he does through the careful interrogation of witnesses who provide comic relief perfectly at odds with the dramatic, wrenching denouement that delivers unto Ram Bahadur a form of poetic justice.

To witness stage and screen performers trade mediums can be a wonderful experience, full of discovery for both spectator and actor. When, as in ‘Court Martial’, it is done with such meticulousness and emotive charge, you have to wonder why theatre actors risk compromising their artistic visions by succumbing to the allure of the silver screen. But there are many answers to such a question.

A different sort of trial awaits those who dare venture into the world of Lulu. Here there be dragons: massive walls of guitar noise for Metallica fans, and disembodied, ragged chanting for Lou Reed’s. But one suspects neither’s hardcore base would appreciate the fusion of the two. There are no shredding solos, crunching riffs or Jamesian grunts for the former (try this for a sample), nor the unexpected melodies and gritty urban poetry the latter might hope for. Reed’s lyrics – delivered in monotonous chants that sometimes seem to be in a separate mix from the thunderous guitars that accompany them – are suited to Metallica’s dark, dystopian visions, though they are far more personal, ambiguous and androgynous. ‘I am your little girl/please spit into my mouth/I’m forever in your swirl’, Reed intones in ‘Mistress Dread’, early on in a double album’s worth of self-flagellation. But the revelation is more Metallica than Reed, despite being characterized as his ‘musical bitch’ on Lulu. Their grim accompaniment is contained yet loose, faithful to Wedekind’s singular vision, and never overbearing. And more conventionally melodic songs like ‘Ice Honey’ and ‘Dragon’ (I warned you) gel perfectly, providing the sort of nod-along payback no one might have anticipated in the wake of the derisive reviews that followed the album’s release. But that’s fusion for you. It doesn’t always work, no. But sometimes it does. Sometimes it does.

Here’s to losing!

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Image: Nayan Pokharel

Image: Nayan Pokharel

Too long have Nepalis felt compelled to follow the fortunes of overpaid Indian cricketers as they bully visitors on flat, dusty tracks only to be caught like rabbits in headlights on the lush pacy wickets of more temperate climes. Like our interest in Salman’s puffball pecs and Kareena’s pencil pelvis, this feckless fandom does not square with our natural suspicion of Big Brother. The result is an adulteration of the incandescent purity of sporting emotion. When India wins, we rejoice, but with a hint of guilt. We don’t go cavorting around the room, pumping the air, with a chorus of YEAH YEAH YEAH. When India loses, we don’t break down, break up, or even break a sweat. We snort and mutter about their ghee knees, and flick the channel to Salman and Kareena.

If only we had a team to support.

It seems to me Nepalis never got around to saying this until they did have one. Football was and still is so dominant that we almost never noticed just how talented our young cricketers were. We knew they were making waves in the under-15/17/19/21s, even though we didn’t see them on TV, but by the time the big league came around, our batsmen and bowlers were more likely to be washing dishes in Amrika than training hard for the next tournament. Trying to make a living as a cricketer was probably worse than being a writer.

And then the Paras Khadkas of the youth teams began coming through into the men’s team. Nepali cricket began to grow up. Sure, our fans were still likely to resort to street tactics at home games when faced with defeat, but increasingly, this became unnecessary. Suddenly, we were winning game after game after game. Suddenly, we had a real team. And when we overcame a sluggish start to win the Division Three League earlier this year, we were in with a real chance at World Cup glory.

Still, my father insisted on watching the dreary pyrotechnics of the India v. Australia slugfest. And on the day Tendulkar finally left the building, Nepal thrashed Denmark in our first match of the ICC World T20 Qualifiers. I continued to update him on Nepal’s irregular progress through a variety of grainy youtube streams. Just one more win and we’re through to the World Cup in Bangladesh next year, I exclaimed, while he grunted, Ho ra? Really?

The day arrived. For once, I felt envious of the thousands of Nepalis waving flags in the Abu Dhabi stadium. I couldn’t spot a single Hong Kong supporter in the stands, and perhaps it wasn’t surprising. Who would support a yellow man’s team of brown men led by a white man?

It was a humdinger of a match, as they say, a thriller. It went down to the wire. Hong Kong’s captain bust a finger wicketkeeping in the 18th over, Nepal’s captain committed hara-kiri in the 19th over, and Nepal blasted 13 off the last 6 balls to get over the line, just. As Paras Khadka admitted at the presentation, it was the biggest day in Nepal’s sporting history.

In 1996, rank outsiders Sri Lanka beat Australia to win the ODI World Cup. It was a coming of age, for as Shehan Karunatilaka says, “We had a full-blown civil war, a debt-ridden economy and a 14-year-old Test team that had been hammered around the world”. By the time 2011 rolled around, Sri Lanka was expected to win the ODI World Cup, at least by the Sri Lankans. But yesterday’s Sri Lanka is today’s Bangladesh, the reigning punching bags of world cricket. It must be tough for a Bangladeshi fan who grew up idolizing Indian swashbuckler Sehwag to hear him dismiss the chrysalis of your team as “an ordinary side”. But such is the fate of minnows, and against the tide, Bangladesh have registered a number of famous wins over the years.

Bangladesh, quite possibly, is tomorrow’s Nepal. We will go to the T20 World Cup next year, and we will most likely lose all our matches before being unceremoniously ejected from the high table. It will be gutting, but we will be screaming for our own tribe. When we cheer a batsman for hitting the ball out of the park, we will love him. When we curse him for missing the next ball and losing his wicket, we will hate him. But all will be forgiven, because there will always be the hope of a next time.

I want to feel the pain of being a Bangladesh fan. I want to feel the pain of losing, time after time, always in anticipation of the solitary win that will make it all worthwhile, that shaft of sunlight piercing the leaden clouds to light up just one spot of a grim landscape. I don’t imagine that cricket is the saving of Nepal, no. As Karunatilaka concludes, “Despite the fairytale of ’96, it wasn’t the cricket that ended our civil war. It was the tanks and the fighter planes.” Yes, sport can bring the nation together for a while, but after the streamers are taken down and the balloons lose their shape and drift about the legs of empty chairs like the wrinkled breasts of abandoned women, we all know there is work to be done, elsewhere. Cricket won’t write our constitution for us, but it will make reality a little more tolerable. Or tangible: the multi-ethnic nature of the Nepali squad may make it easier for Nepalis to feel a kinship across barriers that have been accentuated by the discourse on federalism.

Sport, then, fulfils a function similar to art. It makes us feel bigger and better about ourselves, and helps us transcend the limits of individuality and identity. In that, it can be a thing of beauty. So here’s to the big league. Here’s to a decade of being thrashed by the big boys, and brought down to earth by fellow minnows who we thought we’d long surpassed. Here’s to losing, and losing, and losing, as long as we win, once in a blue moon.

Why Nepalikukur will ‘bhote’ for Kukur!

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013
Nepalikukur has been sniffing around since his whole-hearted endorsement of Ujwal Thapa and his comrades. Several disturbing reports have come to his attention, the most worrying of which centres around allegations that Kathmandu-4 Bibeksheel candidate Santosh Pradhan, as co-founder and chairman of NDEX, a commodity exchange index, has been directly or indirectly involved in defrauding members of the public of massive sums of money. These are serious allegations, not least because they threaten to undermine the social capital built up by Ujwal Thapa’s Bibeksheel Party, based as it is on an ideal of honesty. It is crucial that they are addressed, directly and immediately, by the candidates themselves, who seem to be content to dismiss genuine concerns as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘mud-slinging’. So my questions to Ujwal and his colleagues are:
Do you feel that Santosh Pradhan’s hands are clean with regards to the goings-on in the grey area of the commodity exchange market?
If yes, who do you think is responsible for the losses incurred by members of the public, beyond the responsibility they may bear as a result of the inherently risky nature of the transactions? Government? Operators of commodity exchanges?
If no, then why is Santosh Pradhan associated with Bibeksheel Nepali?
Answers would be appreciated – after all, there is still time to consider who most deserves our votes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nepalikukur has been sniffing around since his whole-hearted endorsement of Ujwal Thapa and his comrades. Several disturbing reports have come to his attention, the most worrying of which centres around allegations that Kathmandu-4 Bibeksheel candidate Santosh Pradhan, as co-founder and chairman of NDEX, a commodity exchange index, has been directly or indirectly involved in defrauding members of the public of massive sums of money. These are serious allegations, not least because they threaten to undermine the social capital built up by Ujwal Thapa’s Bibeksheel Party, based as it is on an ideal of honesty. It is crucial that they are addressed, directly and immediately, by the candidates themselves, who seem to be content to dismiss genuine concerns as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘mud-slinging’. So my questions to Ujwal and his colleagues are:

Do you feel that Santosh Pradhan’s hands are clean with regards to the goings-on in the grey area of the commodity exchange market?

If yes, who do you think is responsible for the losses incurred by members of the public, beyond the responsibility they may bear as a result of the inherently risky nature of the transactions? Government? Operators of commodity exchanges?

If no, then why is Santosh Pradhan associated with Bibeksheel Nepali?

Answers would be appreciated – after all, there is still time to consider who most deserves our votes.


November 1, 2013

Why vote for Kukur, the canine emblem of the virtually known yet unknown Bibeksheel Party?

kukur vote

“Your vote will be wasted,” a relative informs me, even as he proclaims he is for Kamal Thapa of RPP-Nepal, and I reply with equal relish that his vote will be not just wasted, but pointless to boot. What is the point of stepping forward into the past? The point, he declares, is to register a protest vote. Not because Kamal Thapa is any less of a thug than all the others leering their way across the nation right now, but because he feels aggrieved that the Nepali people were never consulted on the question of the secular republic. Fair point, I acknowledge, my vote for Kukur, too, is first and foremost a protest vote. That’s one reason I’m voting for Bibeksheel Nepali’s Ujwal Thapa in Kathmandu-5.

The second reason may be located in Narahari Acharya, the Nepali Congress incumbent for Kathmandu-5. I cannot see that his victory last time around has improved anything for his constituency, where I live, nor that Acharya, as a Congress intellectual, managed to decisively influence the constitutional process. Perhaps I have not been paying enough attention – he may be one of the better choices available to us – but no one except my neighbour has really canvassed for my vote on his behalf, and his one-liner ‘Sambidhan ko laagi’ was as vague as the man’s professed vision. Compare this with local dawg Ujwal Thapa’s practical roadmap. Having a constitution is all very well, but don’t we have to live in the meantime?

The third reason lies is the UML candidate Ishwor Pokharel, whose website divides an About Me section into: My journey, About me, My history, and Biodata. He’s the General Secretary of his party, and an ex-minister. Yet on the campaign trail he did nothing but look on from the podium as his Youth Force goons thrashed a member of the public who’d dared to ask him what he’d done with the money he’d stashed away from his time in power. A fair question, wouldn’t you say?

A fourth reason in the Maoist and RPP-Nepal candidates, left and right respectively. They both belong to a discredited past. ‘Nuff said.

Which brings us back to our best friend, Le Dog. Voting for Kukur is a protest vote at the very least, but it could also mark the beginning of a genuine party of the people, or even one whose moment has already arrived. Yes, the Bibeksheel Nepalis may be limited to a young urban base at the moment, and it is only too easy to dismiss them along with the various social media movements their four candidates have been associated with. They must reach out, and this I believe they are trying to do with whatever resources they have, inasmuch as independent candidates are allowed to do so by the competing thugs of major parties. But they deserve my vote at least as much as any of the others do. At least I have seen with my own eyes what Ujwal Thapa has done in the last few years through his involvement in Entrepreneurs for Nepal and his work with Nepal Unites and the anti-Bandh alliance. I have also seen with my own eyes what the rest of Nepal’s politicians have done over the years. And, believe you me, seeing is believing.

Join Ujwal Thapa and the Bibeksheel Nepalis on Kukur Tihar tomorrow 9am at Basantpur Square, November 2 2013.

Dark waters

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


To say I am concerned about the wellspring of inspiration nourishing Nepali (short) filmmakers is an understatement. Where is the lunk loping across mustard fields in a lather of testosterone, the object of his desire a vision of chiffon, heaving bosom and pouty lips? Where is the ruler line of morality that demarcates the good son, the violent junkie, the leering madman and the innocent victim? Where is the build-up, the climax, the release? Where is that loving feeling? The Nepali entries I watched at the Eka Deshma Festival de’ Contemporary Cinema last weekend took me to a different place, where the waters run deep and strong.

There is love in these labours: love of the self, primarily, though the protagonists may not think so. But what strikes the viewer is how these (mostly commendable) shorts deal in damage, disability, and death. The Contagious Apparitions of Dambarey Dendrite tracks the visions of drug-addled Dambarey and his crew of lost souls; in Chhorā a Nepali man in France struggles to hold on to his family and his country; Mānushi braids the tangled psyches of two innocents; and Pratibimba – well, this too takes blindness as its subject, but conveniently screened first, served as a hapless foil for the rest.

In fact, Pratibimba exemplifies the failure of modern Nepali cinema. It looks good in a way that Rajesh dai never could, but the song remains the same. Who wants to watch the smarmiest blind man alive dining on “strong cappuccinos and muffins” while placing bets with the waiter on the true nature, the “mānché bhitra ko mānché”, of unwitting customers? Is this how we are meant to understand that blind people are not disabled, but differently abled? The dialogue is stilted, the romantic trajectory predictable, the product placement blatant, and its vision, blinkered to the point of blindness.

Mānushi also follows two young hearts, but it’s a much darker (and “brighter”) take on marginalization. Kiran Pokharel’s short depicts the star-crossed acquaintance of two mentally disturbed youth living within the Pashupati temple complex. The love of a boy for flying kites costs him everything twice over, but he does not know it. It’s an unforgiving vision on the place of madness in our society – invisible as far as possible, abused if it calls attention to itself. That the audience voted it their favourite perhaps indicates Nepalis are ready for unconventional narratives, and not-so-happy endings.

High as a kite, too, are the street kids of The Contagious Apparitions of Dambarey Dendrite, a film by Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung. As they race through the pulsing soundscapes of Kathmandu (scored by Rohit Shakya) and grope their way through Dambarey’s fog-shrouded hallucinations (set in Narendra Mainali’s wonderfully grainy vistas of the city), the only constant is the lure of easy money, the huffing and puffing of dendrite bags, and the obscenities that garnish every other utterance. It’s anyone’s guess what the point of it all is, but that would be beside the point. This is an unflinching look at some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and if Dambarey’s visions are fantastical, they never lift him very far from the anomie, deprivation and violence of his existence. But they do inject some welcome humour into what might otherwise be an intolerably grim portrayal, and in so doing force us to confront the essential humanity of these damaged children.

More subdued, but no less powerful, is Subarna Thapa’s Chhorā. This French/Nepali production traces the struggle of a Nepali man to fulfil his duty as a father – from the inside of a French prison. Unable to attend his own father’s cremation in Nepal, the protagonist (perfectly pitched by Subarna Thapa himself) takes comfort in the knowledge that his young son and French wife travelled back to his village. But things are not what they seem. Faced with his wife’s growing estrangement, he leans on his culture to counter his rising desperation, and insists on the value of the cultural knowledge he wants to transmit to his son. This is no nostalgia trip for Nepalis abroad. Our protagonist, serving years for an unspecified “bêtise”, is by no means a hero – we sense he has failed his wife and may yet lose his adoring son. But he has our sympathy, not because he is Nepali, but because we can understand the meaning of home, away from home. The father corrects the son’s Nepali; the son the father’s French. Perhaps both are still learning the ways of their adoptive countries.

This reviewer only caught a quarter of the Nepali entries at Eka Deshma. But with the exception of Pratibimba, the impression received was of intelligence, honesty and technical accomplishment: a rare combination for Nepali film. It is as though the documentary truth that began to come through a decade ago is finally seeping into our feature films. After the false dawn of the Nepali new wave, which promised to deliver us from the bear hug of Rajesh Hamal but mired itself in a bog of urban swagger and last season’s lip-gloss, Eka Deshma was a sight for sore eyes. It’s disappointing that only 3 Nepali films were selected for the juggernaut of Film South Asia, opening this week. But judging by these efforts, it may not be so long before that festival really comes home.


All happening at the zoo

Friday, September 13th, 2013

It’s accepted that zombie flicks are less about lumbering, undead flesh-eaters than the emergent sociopathy of the humans trying to stay in one piece. The Central Zoo at Jawalakhel offers similar revelations, anticipated by a mural that exhorts visitors to consider the view from the other side of the bars.

All things considered, most visitors to Nepal’s only menagerie were as well behaved as the inhabitants; they limited themselves to communicating with their co-species through an assortment of febrile hoots and whistles. ‘Ey, they’ve already become lāto,’ remarked a young man, disappointed that the massive Himalayan Griffons hunched over on 12-foot poles failed to respond to his signals. Few animals in captivity suffer such a diminishing of horizons as do these raptors, whose counterparts in the mountain wilds are accustomed to soaring over scores of miles in a single day. Who wouldn’t become lāto, presented with the pointless gesticulations of hundreds of humans day in, day out?


Not surprisingly, it has become commonplace to characterise zoos as depressing places. They usually are, to some degree, but this is not sufficient reason to avoid them altogether. The animals may be circumscribed, but this is almost always out of necessity. The experience of encountering nature outside of nature commingles joy and sadness. A large male naur nods off under a gazebo in the summer heat, the antithesis of the springing grace with which it traverses rocky crags at 10,000 feet. The rhinoceros, larger than the life one espies from a safe distance in the Chitwan savannah, is magnificent at his water trough, and triggers a flurry of camera phones. He then resorts to the repetitive movements typical of bored captives, and I am tempted to unhook the unsecured lock of his enclosure. Half a dozen jackals stream about their cages unceasingly in an unnerving display of kinetic energy while a clouded leopard slumbers nearby. But I note that the pens are being expanded. And as I stand before the leopard enclosure, wondering if the cub that was captured at my parent’s house in 2009 is among the felines here, one interrupts its pacing to bound off a platform and hurl its body straight at the wire netting between us in a single flowing movement that showers flecks of mud over me. It’s an indication of how mentally and physically separated I am from nature that I barely flinch at this display of fury that, in the wild, would mean the end of me.

I know my fauna, so it’s easy for me to laugh at my fellows when they wonder if a large crane standing stock-still by the side of a pond is dead or alive. A boy asks his father if the clutch of guinea pigs frolicking about are rabbit young? ‘They’re piglets’, he replies, unhesitatingly. ‘Won’t the elephant do anything?’ a woman exclaims, spotting a ride in progress, another tries to feed a giant tortoise a feather, and a herd of screaming kids rush by the animals, banging on a mādal.

Still, whoever takes the time out to watch beings of different orders will learn something, even if it’s just the fact that one can never claim to have seen everything. And the Central Zoo is by no means the worst example of ex-situ conservation around. The famed Bronx Zoo is spread over 107 hectares of naturalistic habitats and houses 4000 animals of 650 species, and my visit there was a revelation. I recall observing a pair of tapirs plodding along a muddy bank in a misty, humid enclosure. Can they tell the difference?, I asked myself. On the other hand, the empty languor of the lynxes hemmed in between the screeching primates and birds in the tiny circular cage of Strasbourg’s Zoo de l’Orangerie left me uneasy. Between these extremes the modest enclosures of the 6-hectare Jawalakhel Zoo, ringing a large pond, houses over 700 animals across more than 100 species, and reportedly receives over 1 million visitors a year. Come to think of it, that’s twice as many foreigners as come to see Nepalis each year.