Nepali Times
Moving Target
A new pantheon


The year in pictures (#329) brought back a flood of memories, most of them disturbing. My personal favourite features a stage littered with old leftist battleaxes looking equally concerned for the proletariat and their own self-importance. In the foreground are the once-revered icons of world communism: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

Slander the Hand at will, but never accuse him of being a 'morning person'. When first laying eyes on this picture some months ago I furtively checked the date, anxious I'd woken up in a time warp. Latent hangovers made their presence felt as I recalled that the last time I'd seen this gang of five was on a CPN-Maoist receipt for 'donations' paid under death-threat. (Did the lightbulb just go on for readers who still wonder why Foreign Hand needs an alias?)

That fateful morning my lurking suspicions were confirmed: the ancient gods had forsaken us and fled, no longer willing to intervene and save us from ourselves. Who could blame them for being fed-up, as the country teetered on the edge of an abyss, with violent crime, extortion and kidnapping spiralling out of control. Two revelations came to me on a wave of nausea: we have the dubious honour of living in the only country on earth where such a parade of reprobates isn't laughed off the stage, and I was staring at the wannabe New Gods of the New Nepal.

The transformation of the political landscape had mutated into a clash of belief systems. Like high priests of any faith, the politburo demands blind loyalty.

Traditional religious practices are considered direct competition, to be brutally uprooted and eliminated. But thousands of years of culture cannot be wiped out overnight, and the human mind is bound to draw parallels between the old and the new. The Hand wondered what comparisons the masses would make when faced with these forbidding, alien images.

Karl Marx, who wrote the book that started all this, would surely be perceived as the new Brahma. His long hair and voluminous beard are reminiscent of the creator deity, while his stern expression makes us feel guilty for being born non-proletariat. The legend of Brahma growing four heads to keep his eye on a beautiful goddess dovetails perfectly with the spy-ridden police states created in the name of Marxism.

Next is Frederic Engels, who looks like Karl's better-groomed brother. The tiny minority in the know would recognise him as a Baan, the god's faithful helper. As Ganesh has his shrew offering sweets, Marx had Engels, offering financial support when the Bhagavad Gita of communism, Das Kapital, was penned.

Vladimir Lenin glares smugly from centrestage. The man who overthrew the tsars and created the USSR from the ashes would be the one to oust Shiva from heaven, as destroyer, regenerator, and destroyer.

Josef Stalin's picture looks to the future, perhaps to a time when people have forgotten the 20 million deaths he caused. The audience would likely assign him the role of Bhairab, terrible defender of the faith. Recognised the world over as one of the 20th century's worst criminals, the fact that Stalin was being honoured downtown led me to despair. There was no denying it any longer: wilful ignorance and denial of history had triumphed.

To complete the line-up, we have Mao Zedong, in whose name our civil war was launched forty years too late. An element of Kali is detected in that inscrutable visage; try to imagine a necklace of 100 million skulls sacrificed to his purges, famines, and Cultural Revolution.

Downsizing 33 crore gods to a mere half-dozen (no doubt Prachanda, already a legend in his own mind, covets a spot beside Mao) requires ruthless eradicating.

Down with Vishnu the Stabiliser, the greatest counterrevolutionary ever; pack Lord Krishna off to re-education camp for his errant ways-no time to frolic with maidens in the workers' paradise. Once praying for good luck is a crime against scientific socialism, exile Ganesh to Siberia, and while you're at it put the Buddha to work in a munitions factory (that'll teach him).

Sophisticated philosophy and belief, conceived over thousands of years to cope with the complexities of the human condition, is reduced to a few simple exhortations and rigid adherence to ideology. The Hand knows a bad deal when he sees one. Trading a rich heritage of diversity and spirituality for a tawdry gang of has-beens in outdated suits is a losing proposition, big time. Jai Nepal

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)