City living has many paradoxes to it, one of which is: there is so much going on, but you haven't the time to do it. Presumably one would have time to attend happenings in a rural setting, if there were anything happening at all.
One empty Saturday, I started with the idea of catching Edwin Koo and Debbie Ng's 'Bahini: life of my sisters' at the Nepal Art Council, making a double header of it with Siddhartha Art Gallery. And one thing led to another.
A saunter down Sanepa Hill and across the Bagmati Sewer, thence to Maitighar. In the cavernous ground floor of the Nepal Art Council, I peered at rather small photo frames that reflected light. A picture little documented took shape. Schoolgirls in class, but also schoolgirls at candle-lit homework and early morn housework in low-income households across the Kathmandu Valley. Poverty is all around us, but do we see it save in dispatches in development reports?
Venturing upstairs, I barged into a space disgorging some of the luminaries of the Nepali contemporary art scene. What I saw on the walls was a little less illuminating. Am I alone in thinking many Nepali artists choose to leapfrog into the abstract without consolidating fundamental draughtsmanship? But I'll be looking for the gems in the dross this weekend when 'A passage through the years (1965-2010)' opens at the same venue. The other half of the second floor was hosting a rather insipid selection of pen and ink drawings of temples and gallis, but at least here, I thought, the artist was working on the basics.
Across the road and leftwards to The Mahal That Was A Stable. I trod past the uberpriced and pretentious artisanal kiranas hosted by Babar in lieu of his horses, then ran the gauntlet of Chez Caroline on the way to Siddhartha Art Gallery. And? Jupiter Pradhan has a good thing going. The mixed media installations that make up 'Sojourn in Bangladesh' are of definite, if mixed, interest. If I had the cash money I might even have invested in some of his half-moon faces in walls, if not the somewhat amateurish metal lotuses upon which his protagonists agonised. Curator Sangita Thapa appeared pleased I'd attended, but threats followed an invite to another event: be there or miss out!
Mulling over the significance of our new culture on demand, I retired to the shade of Walter's outdoor patio with an iced coffee and tepid juice. The heat ushered me into the cool interior of Naya Pasal opposite, but the prices pushed me back out again. Where better than Hong Kong Bajar? Via Singha Darbar then, where ol' Prithvi's pink-faced statue was once more being manhandled by self-proclaimed 'sweeper of Nepal' and local loon Laxman Singh Khadka. And down into the blue-tarped interior of the bajar, surprisingly cool and quiet, with only the gently insistent vendors murmuring as we passed: suit ko kapada, sari, kurta…
I exited into Bhrikuti Mandap, and followed the masses to the delightful National Industrial Expo, where scores of stalls from all across the country sold honey, blankets, woodcraft, topis, khukuris, pickles, you name it, Nepal's got it, who needs Kupondole's boutiques? I didn't see a single expat, but it was clear many Nepalis were enjoying a day out. A man with bees all over his face was the star attraction, but it was the yarchagumba stall that drew those in the know.
Ey, so this is yarchagumba. What does it do? 'Sex power', proclaimed the youth standing over a glass case full of caterpillars with the famed herbs growing out their heads. Then, as if to temper his initial enthusiasm, 'Diabetes, fever, headache...'. Headache? At Rs 200 a worm, I'll stick with Cetamol.
Shopped out with lapsi treats and gundruk ko achaar, I then crossed Tundikhel to Mahaboudha where, weekend notwithstanding, the DVD stores were open for perusal. Then into the Ne-warren and out through Jamal for a bicycle helmet. But just as 15 years back I'd been told by a sneering jean-shop owner that 'nowadays bellybottom is not in style', a bike shop man shrugged, as if the ugliness of helmets were reason enough not to stock them. Ajkaal chaldaina. They're not in style, and who can blame them? Better dead than red (faced).
To read about other adventures of Nepali Kukur, visit www.nepalitimes.com/blogs/nepalikukur