Nepali Times
Our cup runneth over


The idea the first hippies must have had of Nepal, and indeed realised to a large degree in hilly perambulations radiating out from the Valley of Temples, has died hard. Yet seeking Never Ending Peace And Love through the prism of half-baked spiritualities was always a bit of a hash, and was never really a self-fulfilling prophecy for Nepalis. As tourists poured into Nepal for a little exotica, we poured out for the same. If they came for natural beauty and cultural stasis, we left for its polar opposite - man-made monuments and cutting-edge western civilisation. And in that pharen package could be found the best of what the rest of the world had to offer- the arts.

Of course the majority of Nepalis who leave Nepal do not care for the culture, high or low, of their hosts. For those who do, Nepal always seemed a backwater in its western incarnations, typified by the fossilised rock of Thamel. But Nepal is not all as non-happening as some local yokels and NRNs might make out. On the evidence of recent happenings Kathmandu, at least, has an arts scene far surpassing that which might be found in many places in the West.

We've just been treated to Film South Asia, and soon enough we'll be bracing for the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival. We've got not one, but two music festivals colliding with each other (and their audiences) this weekend - Jazzmandu and the Himalayan Blues Festival. To cap it all, we have an international arts exhibition in a fortnight or so. Never mind the absurdity of cramming two music festivals into the same weekend. Our cup runneth over, I'm diving in.

Of course, the Nepali calendar is not always so star-studded. Bear in mind it's easier to get international artistes to visit Nepal in the aftermath of the rains, when the air is cool and clear and vistacious. Load-shedding, at least on a scale that renders concerts, exhibitions and screenings all but impossible without the attendant roar of a thousand generators, is a distant memory if a growing foreboding. And it's the Kathmandu calendar we are really talking about. If Pokhara can host a festival in prime tourist season (and then screw it up), Biratnagar, Nepalgunj or Hetauda are some way away from a Great Exhibition of any description.

For some reason then, despite the urban nightmare it has become, Kathmandu still retains a cache for visiting artistes, now more than ever. Kathmandu blurs the line between the international and the national like many other developing country capitals increasingly do: the peripheries are becoming centres in their own right. This is not to say that Kathmandu is looking London, talking Tokyo quite yet. But the old dilemma facing those contemplating leaving Nepal or returning to it is increasingly irrelevant. To be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? It is enough perhaps to find your niche, whatever it is, and exploit it to the fullest, right here in Nepal. If you can combine local and Internet networking craftily enough, you may even secure an international audience if that is what you crave. Perhaps it is more likely you will be discovered by the rest of the world if you stay right where you are.

Wishful thinking, some will say. Of course things could be better for those in the arts here. Writers, for instance, are the fourth estate's real estate. If at root the reward of writing should be writing itself, the shoots need nurturing too.

But I'm hopeful this grand bajar of artistic exchange that Kathmandu has transformed itself into these last few months will go some way towards redressing the imbalance. If organisers and audiences value local artistes as much as their international guests do, the Kathmandu scene may sustain itself and nourish the rest of the country. If not now, one day perhaps. But for now, the teeming populations of Nepalis hanging tough in dead-end bars in Nebraska and Reading might desist from uploading their facebook photos of Amrika and Yukay for us to pine over. The world has come to Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)