New Years, praxis and hopeIt is natural to feel that we are entering the new calendrical times with greater uncertainties.
We in Nepal celebrate several New Years that represent our political, aesthetic, utopic and pragmatic consciousness. We communicate with the worldly and domestic events that affect our lives. Calendrical years represent our cosmogonic consciousness as they measure the rhythms of earth and the heavens. This subject struck me recently when I was working on a theme of Nepali history both in terms of abstract and practical concepts. I am increasingly getting convinced that we will not understand the nature of our history, culture, and in later times, our politics if we fail to understand the phenomenon of multiple years that we live with in this country.
We should start by asking some simple questions for this. Do the Nepali people feel that moving on to the New Year is a smooth process or does it leave us with a promise to confront more uncertainties? In other words, was the past year full of smooth or beguiling events and transitions? There is no single answer to these questions. In Nepal, a New Year is a subject of cultural significance. It’s a time of performing one’s culture and reiterating the age-old rituals to show the ethnic and geo-cultural identities of the people of this land. Each indigenous New Year is a time of projecting one’s sense of aesthetics, art, ritual and bodily performances. Each indigenous year is a period to feel love and sublime moments. We can see that from the performative nature of the attires and the dramatic moments of exchanges and greetings in the indigenous years.
Moments of change
In the following paragraphs, however, I would like to discuss the intense nature of the relationship between the national Bikram Sambat and the events that are marked on the basis of the calendar. Some of the idioms of the New Year are generated or reiterated in the greetings and exchanges, the government’s laying down of certain plans for the New Year, and the practice of reviewing the achievements of the bygone year. However, it is natural to feel that we are entering the new calendrical times with greater uncertainties. I recall a poem written by poet Bhupi Sherchan about the New Year. I quote some words from his poem “Naya barsa” or new year in my translation from the Nepali, “The month Baishak is walking on the roof/ lazily shuffling its heavy feet/ carrying a parcel of the sun in his bag/ like a postman transferred to a new place.” The poet captures the unenthusiastic moments of change that come with the New Year.
This year 2080 has come to Nepal lazily without much enthusiasm as described by the poet. It’s carrying a parcel of thwarted hopes and the repetitious sets of vows and promises. Our achievements of the past year are measured in terms of the successful general election held in March 2022. The election also brought some hopes that a new generation of politicians and their political parties will bring some long expected changes in this land. We are used to measuring the achievements and failures only in political terms. The activities of the political parties, their failures and mismanagements have completely dominated our lives. The Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Rastriya Swatantra Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janata Samajbadi Party, Ekikrit Samajbadi and some others dominate both the physical and psychological dimensions of Nepali lives. These parties represent what American Marxist thinker and theorist Frederic Jameson calls “political unconscious”. He introduced a new variation later and called it “geopolitical unconscious”, which is very appropriate in our context. The political unconscious that dominated the psyche last year has promised to appear in different forms in the coming year. The parties raised a debate about generational change, and the emergence of a new crop of political leaders and activists, however inconclusive and perfunctory that may be. But that hope already appears to be hitting a snag because of the activities of drifters and dreamers. No paradigm shift has occurred for obvious reasons.
The question whether the country was bracing for the sudden emergence of a new generation in power struck all of us with considerable force. We may try and recall some of the arguments about the generational change in Nepal. We may not be evoking the concept of a creative shift in generational change as laid down long ago in a classic work of German sociologist Karl Mannheim entitled Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (1952). But the sudden upsurge of interest among the people to see a new generation in Nepal become visible has struck a chord. Our discourses about the generational change do not directly draw from the Western arguments cogently discussed by Jennie Bristow in her book Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict (2015), but the sociological changes and arguments about the generational shift have not been discussed earnestly in Nepal. However, sociologist and academic Chaitanya Mishra’s writings about the energy, conflict and directions of change in Nepali society are extremely readable.
Marx in Kathmandu
The New Year is associated with hope and ideas about serving people and helping each other by generating creative, humanist, poetic, ecological and democratic ideas. The exemplary resilience and humanism that appeared after the Covid pandemic is a case in point. The New Year represents that visionary dimension. Theatres and creative writers have their own modes and methods of generating such hopes. We should see who are generating such hopes if not those dominating the political subconscious in the New Year. It is interesting to note here that famous senior theatre director Sunil Pokharel is waiting in the corridor of the Kunja Theatre in Kathmandu town asking people to come and see him acting as Marx in a Nepali presentation of American writer Zinn Howard’s Marx in Soho. Does the bearded, pensive and brilliant actor Sunil’s Marx or the often-bandied Marx of Nepali communist parties represent the hope and energy of the people here? This is a country where exploited rural people are perilously marching for justice in the capital city, the greatest municipality, which is clashing with the federal government over a pile of smelly trash in a bizarre show of power. The government, a coalition of communists and democrats, is mistreating the farmers who have come here marching for justice.
The time of the New Year, whatever may be the manifestations, always occupies our minds by giving us an opportunity to look back and forward. Though the conditions of hope and possibilities of change are becoming more complex each day, we should not give up the praxis of being proactive about bringing about positive changes in the spheres where we operate. The voices of free and creative people—the young generation, women and the oppressed—are reverberating around us. That marks our New Year.