Theatre, linguistics and politicsThe Nepali society is experiencing moments of changes of different orders of significance.
A new energy, a fresh quest, an alterity of a great order was being celebrated in Kathmandu when the country was all agog to hear the results of the general elections held on November 20. These events, though they would be small in scale and limited to Kathmandu metropolis, represent a direction of a creative order. We have developed a psyche and culture to consider politics as the only energy representing our aspirations. But politics is not everything. The condition of existence created by political developments is not the only mode to boost social and cultural energy. There are alternate modes of energy operating in this land. They are related to the creative aspects of the social energy that can be seen in the arts, literature, theatre and studies about language.
Such changes are related to the conditions of education. But here, I want to cite two examples of the activities that have occurred or are occurring in the capital. One is the Nepal International Theatre Festival (NITF) that commenced on November 23 and will last till December 3 under the aegis of the now meticulously constructed Mandala Theatre located at Lakhe Chaur Marg, a somewhat obscure part of the city, but being familiarised by the activities of the theatre, and also of the Sunil Pokharel-led Kunja Theatre in Kuriyagaon nearby.
These are the events of cultural and artistic significance that have been closely observed. They are distinctly different, but unique bonds exist between them. Though such bonds are not distinct enough to bring them to a common ground, they are very significant.
On the opening day, Srijana Subba, director of the Nepal International Theatre Festival, spelt out that the festival was a continuation of previous festivals. A historicity exists there. The Gurukul Theatre, located in Baneshwar then, organised several international theatre festivals, some alone and others in collaboration with the Nepal chapter of the International Theatre Institute. Subba correctly stressed in her inaugural address that now is the time to do so because we are opening up after the period marred by the pandemic. Another theatre person, Lunibha Tuladhar, showed how theatre had become broad-based in terms of gender, class and new consciousness. Some of the highlights of the festival are the participation of theatre groups from 12 different countries like India, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, Nepal, Argentina, Russia, etc. Other features are the musical performances by virtuosos and panel discussions of theatre practitioners and scholars about the outstanding issues of theatre in general and Nepali theatre in particular.
The next activity organised in the capital was the 43rd International Conference of the Linguistic Society of Nepal (LSN) and SALA-36 (South Asian Language Analysis Roundtable) at Madan Bhandari Foundation College in Kathmandu from November 26-29. The Central Department of Linguistics, TU was one of the organisers. As an erstwhile president of the LSN, I was asked by convener Dr Bhim Lal Gautam to speak about the presidents of the society. I stressed the historicity of linguistic activity in Nepal.
Theatre and linguistic conferences have continued to open new avenues of an artistic and academic nature. The in-person linguistic conference held after the pandemic covered wide areas of linguistics that included phonetics and phonology, morphology and syntax, semantics and lexical studies, pragmatics and discourse analysis, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, language contact and linguistic typology, applied linguistics—indigenous languages and identity, corpus and computational linguistics, cognitive linguistics, natural language processing, language policy and planning, language and technology, ethno-linguistics and language ideology, language documentation, translation studies, neuro-linguistics, language, power and politics, language and tourism, mother tongue and multilingual education. I have mentioned these names here to show how linguistic studies in Nepal have become broad-based, and how they cover the wide sphere of studies in the domain of humanities and social sciences.
These events have been happening at the most intense moments in Nepali electoral politics. I want to present a brief picture of that intensity and show how political activism coexists with the artistic and academic activities in modern Nepal. Naturally, great political energy is sweeping across the country from the high Himalayan valleys in the north to the villages in Madhesh in the south. New contact zones have opened where people rarely meet or visit each other at normal times. Opened for the elections, such zones have created new conditions and energy for such meetings. People who opened up to the press and visual media showed all the accoutrements of life that shaped their existence. People revealed to the cameras the inner sanctums of their existence, the hovels with torn roofs perennially threatened by the river currents that transcend their naturally created boundaries whenever the monsoon gathers energy and falls over the hills and dales, plains and valleys, wreaking havoc.
People showed how the political candidates had promised them during the last election five years ago that they would return with plans to build roofs over their heads and issue ownership certificates for the land on which they were living. The elections happened peacefully, which is a great achievement. Political parties scattered their manifestos written in a lingo and style that does not make much sense. A package of lies and perpetual repetition of unfulfilled promises glistening all over the places marked the revelry of electioneering. Promises made and printed on glossy paper are strange non-events because those who make them don't mean what they say, and those for whom they are made hardly read a paragraph. So such documents reflect the vacuous culture of print politics, true in other countries also, especially during elections. The echoes of the bravado of the few "big" political leaders who control their party populace have just stopped. But the post-poll milieu reverberates with the noise of the invective rhetoric of the election. At this very moment, the country's multiparty system is working hard on an algorithm for coalitions. Theories and philosophies governing politics are being erased—they are there but stand crossed out for the moment. Election politics pervades the overall political ecology in such a manner that it holds the currents of time, the mobility of life and the very moments of quotidian life.
Nobody sees if society is functioning with alternate energy or any other means to release oneself from a certain monolithic culture created by the hectic political activism in the land. But such activity aims to establish a democratic mechanism of governing and being governed. The conclusion of this brief take is that the current Nepali society is experiencing great moments of changes of different orders of significance during these times.