Of friends, hippies and votesThese three semantically incompatible sounding words make sense when I evoke them today. In greetings that I receive from friends now, spectres of the hippies uncannily coalesce with a natural calamity, the earthquake of 2015, and politics.
These three semantically incompatible sounding words make sense when I evoke them today. In greetings that I receive from friends now, spectres of the hippies uncannily coalesce with a natural calamity, the earthquake of 2015, and politics. I am getting many messages sent by friends in the form of greetings as well as inquisitions about the ongoing national elections. All three words have one common feature. Friends somehow tend to link these three words in messages, articles and books. A certain spectrality seems to guide their thinking. News of sporadic explosions and conspiracy theories constitute the texture of political questions. Friends mention turmoil as the main metaphor, the atmosphere under which, they believe, we are living here. The earthquake continues to dominate communication; it was definitely a horrid experience. The aftermath of the great natural calamity, especially the management side, has dominated our discussions, politics and psyche. I have been a critic of the mismanagement of the governments and the practice of corruption in the treatment of earthquake victims. The election manifestos of political parties, unfortunately, seek to hide that under false promises.
But the politics of Nepal is not a flawed exercise. On the contrary, what is happening here, or has happened over the years is a great positive development. People are voting to elect their representatives who will govern the country at the national and the regional levels, which means we are on the threshold of a bright future in terms of opening political and economic experiments. Though all may not be going entirely well, a great historical shift is occurring. I write to friends who see elections here as another earthquake—what is happening here is a perfect example of democratic exercise. But we are indeed alarmed by a few developments, which are directly related to corruption and the flow of money that will make it difficult to establish a strong, fully democratic, and fair political system based on transparency and honesty— both clichés, but very meaningful.
The subject of friendship is large, which naturally defies any neat categorisation. Having friends means reciprocating each other’s communication. Nepalis, who have earned many friends in the West, keep gaining new experiences about making it productive. The meaning of having friends out in the world meant a certain opening for those of us who were thrilled by the openings in the 70s and 80s. We kept our friendships as part of the widening of spheres. But today, the young generation sees friendship in more familiar and communicable terms. However, I still see meaning and value in the way we opened Nepal to the world, albeit the fact that the size of the communication was small. That brings me to the following.
Gilles Deleuze, a very human and creative French philosopher, in his book Proust and Signs (2000:42), quotes the famous French novelist Marcel Proust saying the following about friendship, “friendship never establishes anything but false communications based on misunderstandings.” He also says only art can give us what we vainly seek from a friend. In one letter written towards the later days of his life, poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote to his English friend, and claimed that he had destroyed his poetry by translating them to please his friend’s sense of meaning. He shall no longer do so. He realises the damage is done; and he will not repeat that. Realisations of these two great writers from the West and the East put the picture of friendship as both good and bad communication.
Communication is value. I have a long experience of such communications that I enjoy more than anything else in life. The sphere of that communication is literature, arts, language, theatre and culture of Nepal. I help those who are interested in Nepali studies from the repertoire of my knowledge and experience. I have also received similar help to enhance myself. I advise students and friends who are close to me not to wait for grateful scribbles from friends whom you have helped. Don’t worry if they never acknowledge your help. You may not exist in friends’ memoirs and communication, but they nevertheless give you great joy because your help has been of some worth. If you are a literary freak or an academic, you may have encountered some not so happy occasions. I have many experiences to share. Here is one. A friendly sounding French TV journalist came to ask me years ago about my simple association with some hippie writers and artists. He showed me his definition of a hippie from his French book, which was quaint. I spent hours talking to him. But I was disappointed at the end to see that he was treating Nepal and me as exotic, as the other.
But there are those whose responses have surprised and delighted me. I give only one example out of dozens, for lack of space. Mark Liechty, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, whom I had first met at Martin Chautari through historian Pratyoush Onta years ago, was working on an interesting theme “Counter cultural seekers and the tourist encounters in Nepal”. In that connection, he wanted me to share my experience of living in moments of cross-cultural crises, meeting Western visitors also called hippies in Kathmandu in the late 60s and 70s. In a book entitled Far Out (2017) that he sent me from America, I found within two chapters my conversations with him put into very expressive contexts. I was impressed by this scholar’s method of looking into the Nepali socio-cultural shifts from our perspectives, and above all by his acknowledgment of help. Talking to him had become easier because I had already read his previous insightful book Suitably modern (2003) about the Nepali middle class.
I have returned after voting in the final round of election that marks a great historical turning point. The gist of my essay is that friendship with people from abroad has its own sphere that changes with the new times. Friends too should realise that years of friendship and knowledge about Nepal should be free from a deep sense of exoticisation. Sharing experiences thus should be easy, spontaneous, realist and human.