Nepali Times
Letters
Nepaliness


The celestial duo looks Nepali because Shiva hung out in the Himalaya and Parbati is rightly sung of in Nepal as Himala ki chhori. So, the poster by artist Subhas Rai depicts a very hill-ethnic Shiva, and sitting by his side on a chautari pedestal is a Chhetri-looking Parbati (tilahari, chaubandi-cholo, rhododendron in hand).

Your blurb for the poster (Shivaratri, #134) has made me realise that we have a long way to go and much to demystify about Nepali nationalism. What is Nepali looking anyway? If hill-ethnic is indeed more like Nepali-looking, then, pray tell us, what is hill-ethnic in the first place? Are Rai-Limbu-Tamang-Magar and other such nationalities the same hill-ethnic as the so-called Upadhya Bahun in looks? Phenotypically speaking, where do the Chhetris belong? More like the Rai-Limbu-Magar, etc or more like the Upadhya Bahuns? If Chetris and Upadhya Bahuns look Nepali, then you can find millions of such Nepali-looking people in every high caste (Rajput-Brahman-Bhumihar) village in North India from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar and Bengal. But if Rai-Limbu-phenotype is Nepali-looking, then what name should we give to people in North-Eastern Indian states?the Manipuris, the Khasis of Meghalaya, and the Bodos of Assam, etc who may look Nepali (whatever that means) but have nothing to do with Nepal in dress, languages or ancestry?

There is no such thing as Nepali-looking or Indian-looking or Pakistani-looking or Bangladeshi-looking, or Bhutani-looking or Sinhalese-looking, phenotypically speaking. These myths are circulated by the dominant group to perpetuate its hegemony over the institutions of the nation-state. To equate nationhood with phenotype is the most dangerous myth of racial stereotyping that is mostly propagated by the ruling class ideology. And it has caused much suffering and bloodshed in many parts of the world.

It is true that dress codes, cuisine, cultural specifities are regional and local but these should never be identified with the very political idea of the entire nation. This is not only blatantly false but quite dangerous.

As Christ and Mary become black in African and African American churches and blond in Scandinavia, as the Buddha looks more like a brother to Confucius in China and other parts of South-East Asia (all results of a cultural imagining of the deity of reverence), as Hindu gods and goddesses look different in the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia from how they look in many parts of India, it is perfectly common that a painter or a sculptor would realise the image of Shiva-Parbati according to his or her ethnic conceptual framework. But such realisation has nothing to do with nationality or nationhood?that is, Nepali looks. Nepalis look different in different or even the same part of the political boundary called Nepal, which used to be Kathmandu Valley anyway not too long ago.

Pramod K Mishra
Augustana College, Illinois, USA


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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