Of tragedy, experience and the artsIn addition to relief funds, the wide domain of art can help significantly in restoring normalcy
The tremors of the massive earthquake that struck us all on April 25 seemed to have subsided, until another quake of 7.3 magnitude struck on Tuesday. The frequent aftershocks have kept us vigilant and it seems like we’re getting accustomed to these jolts. The aftermath of the tragic event has been enormous and observing from various points of view, the loss appears irreparable. The tangible causalities incurred by the quake have reached high numbers and the counts keep increasing.
On the other hand, the intangible damage, characterised by the first hand experience of devastation, post-disaster trauma, and immeasurable artistic and cultural loss, has created a void that might require an entire lifetime to recover from, with no guarantees whatsoever. In retrospect, the quake that rattled the entire nation came as a speedbreaker, a turning point, to halt the chaotically competitive rush in everyone’s life. It pushed away everything except for survival into life’s secondary basket of life. Not only people directly affected by the quake, everyone is disturbed in some way or the other.
Experiences and emotions
The dreadful calamity that has taken more than 8,000 lives so far has left many people homeless and helpless. People who survived the quake have their own experiences and stories, all of them equally poignant. Some of the stories that I heard were extremely intimidating, even to contemplate. For instance, people stranded in the top-most cubicle of the roti ping (merry-go-around) at Bhrikuti Mandap’s fun park, people caught in between the narrow alleys of Asan and Indra Chowk, families living in towering apartments, survivors from the Dharahara collapse, and people who witnessed their near ones get crushed right in front of their eyes, have experienced terror very intimately. The emotional and mental distortion that they have been through is unimaginable and will require a comparatively longer period of time to recover from.
Throughout the week after the quake, these stories led to an outburst of human emotions. Acharya Bharat Muni, in his epic Natyashaastra, has an elaborative explanation regarding the nature of all possible human emotions. During and after the quake, I got a chance to reflect on these different manifestations of feelings. From tenderness, sorrow, and happiness to anger, fear, and excitement, Bharat Muni’s theoretical categorisation of emotions was all visibly exhibited. Apart from few exceptions, where people didn’t hesitate to act on apathetic and greed-centred intentions, the whole nation saw an overwhelming spontaneity in terms of vibrant and positive emotions. The youths’ unconditional initiation towards relief and rehabilitation, security personnel’s relentless efforts in rescue operations, the state administration’s work amidst futile resources can all be taken as positives in these testing times.
Recovering through arts
In trying times like these, works related to rescue, relief, and reconstruction will definitely play a crucial role. However, to help life get back on track, to bring things back to usual, art can contribute a lot. We know that given the condition, it’s equally tough to expect much from art and artists, especially when their sources of inspiration have taken such a tragic hit. The demolition of historic artifacts, monumental heritage, museums, and temples has been a heart-wrenching experience. Although it’s been said that there is a certain possibility to rebuild all the destroyed heritages in the future, I still wonder if it can be done with the same meticulousness as before. Along with these intangible social and cultural losses, the reconstruction/renovation costs and losses from tourism will certainly add up. The possibilities of tourism in the near future might bring some compensation, but like I said above, the loss seems irreparable.
As an artist, I realise that our muses have fallen and it will take years to make them stand again. But we’ve got our stories of sufferings and survival, which shall remain as the hearts of our creations, as our new muses, at least until we recuperate again. Artists also need to show solidarity and compassion through their efforts. For instance, Bipul Chettri’s musical concert for Nepal, Nepathya’s efforts to channel funds raised through their tours are instances that can bring people together in such trying times.
I’ve also come across news that a few theatre groups are planning to visit affected areas in order to provide psycho-social counseling. With all due respect to their commitment and compassion, I doubt whether this initiative will be effective, especially given its timing. To act is one thing, but to treat/counsel someone, emotionally and clinically, is something that is highly sensitive and critical, which needs to be done under proper expertise and supervision. Rather, a pool of theatre artists can currently plan on awareness building and reconciling play-packages, which could be extremely helpful and suitable, once the current turbulence is over.
Art as healing
In addition to relief funds and awareness building, the wide domain of art can help significantly in restoring normalcy. As of now, I cannot imagine people coming out in order to experience art, especially for entertainment. Therefore, this is the time for artists and art centres to rise above other issues and portray the prevailing circumstances, within their artistic capabilities. Photo exhibitions, paintings, documentaries, and writings depicting ongoing stories, sentiments, and situations can strike a single chord among all people. These artistic expressions can in fact provide solace to those affected and subsequently, help them subliminally overcome the sour memories of the disaster.
Paudel is associated with Sarwanam Theatre as an actor and director (firstname.lastname@example.org)