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RABI THAPA
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Chhi-chhi to chichi


RABI THAPA


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At Manjushree Thapa's book launch in the plush surrounds of Ramalaya last month, the drink of choice for the literati in attendance was aila in clay bowls, supplemented with hearty fare from Newa de Cafť served up in leaf plates. Such retro chic is also in evidence in the organic stores that have cropped up across the city, where one can purchase not just Nepali coffee and tea but also millet and buckwheat flour, and an assortment of rustic looking foodstuffs not commonly associated with the Kathmandu palate.

Tukche Thakali Kitchen, with a move into more spacious quarters in Lazimpat, remains popular with Nepalis as is Tama in Gairidhara, with its plates of taas. Bhattis from Mangal Bajar's Honacha to Kirtipur's Newa Lahana draw not just locals swilling western-style whiskies, but western-stylees sipping local chyaang. Folk music in certain forms and presentations (ŗ la Kutumba) has found an urban audience, and trekking! Ė is now one of the most cherished getaways for the nation's (youthful) elite.

These days, it's not just Johnny Walker and pizza and Pink Floyd and holidays in Bangkok that rock the worlds of the haves in Nepal. As far as eating and drinking and leisure are concerned, there's a certain trend towards the rustic, the authentic, the Nepali, albeit often in more packaged forms, and not to the exclusion of all the other attractions at one's disposal.

The irony is that all these things are not just 'local' and 'authentic', they remain the preserve, for the most part, of more traditional, poorer Nepalis. What has always been Nepali culture Ė including walking up and down hills Ė is now being embraced in myriad forms by less traditional, richer Nepalis. The latter classes of Nepal (and Kathmandu Valley in particular) appear to be looking inwards, rather than always aspiring to the western.

But do these trends represent a change in values towards a respect for and interest in all things Nepali (including Nepalis themselves), a return to tradition, or are they merely a local 'avatar' of stuffwhitepeoplelike.com? Is this an extension of the globalised hybrid of middle class, liberally inclined, educated people who use laptops, eat organic, go travelling, listen to 'world' music, and express concern about the environment (without doing very much about it)?

This in itself is a culture, unique in its global, interconnected reach. Negatively perceived, it represents an upmarket, highbrow version of the homogenised McDonald's, Levi's and Hollywood culture, drawing as it does on the same American and occasionally European sources. Positively perceived, the particularity of local cultures and the places that we grew up in will define the nature of this hybrid culture. Nepal's post-Rana generation of haves were rooted in Nepali culture, yet perhaps sought more consciously to emulate the Western Other while rejecting such rusticities as chyaang and kachela; their children do not deny their Nepali roots, but having tasted what the West has to offer, good and bad, is willing to embrace these roots. After all, with the confidence to negotiate through cultures beyond one's borders comes the anxiety of having lost something original in the process.

It's easy to poke fun if you are so inclined to do so, and there is the risk that for some the renewed interest in Nepali cultures is wholly superficial and based only on products, not values. A bottle of Scotch, a mug of tongba, a walk through the Himalaya, a stroll through Manhattan, it's simply another aisle in the global supermarket of cultural products. And what does it mean to appreciate the festive aspects of one's culture if one no longer subscribes to the religious values that inspire and, some might say, still underpin them?

Even on this level, we must be able to appreciate the strengthening of connections. If not for the America-returnee, then for those who make a living through their production of authentic Nepali cultures. After all, it can't be a bad thing if Nepal takes some pointers from Mexico, where locals and tourists can choose from a dozen brands of tequila in a trendy bar, walk the wobbly length of Oaxaca's mezcal festival, and watch the humble cactus turned into multi-million dollar national drinks at roadside distilleries.

READ ALSO:
Romancing power, courting a constitution, MENAKA GURUSWAMY
Nepal's Nepal, PUBLISHER'S NOTE

Elusive unity, PRASHANT JHA
Freedom to market, ARTHA BEED
Is it ok to cheat in football?, PETER SINGER
Blizzards for Oz
Around the world and up on the roof



1. Anonymous
I am not a typical "nay" sayer, however, I have certain skepticism about portraying average middle-class urban-raised Nepali college kids as living in "hybrid culture". Having lived different phases of my adult life in Nepal and abroad, I now increasingly realize how little I do know about the culture, religion or history of my country. The highest level of academic input I ever got was in Nepal Parichaya, a certificate level college course, which I guess is not taught anymore. The choice one is forced upon to make between the science and the humanity courses early in one's college life in Nepali education system really stifles ones academic horizon. Even the so-called specialists find it hard to connect with people later in their professional life, a problem that all of us are facing today. In my case, I never had an opportunity to learn the tools of cultural literacy till my late adult life. So, I am curious to know  'What level of cultural awareness does an average college student possess today?' One can try tongba and kachila in Kaanchiko pasal, and  wear a jeans pants or carry an i-phone, but does that qualify one to fit in the category "hybrid culture"? It is really hard for me to comprehend the cultural world of the "who cares?" generation. Is their cultural experience really authentic? Or, is it mere mimicking the outside world without knowledge of self-knowledge?


2. Samjhana Dixit Poudyal

Very interesting essay. Well done..allthough I do not agree with some of the viewpoints. My children have lived across three continents and their interst and desire to learn about  Nepali cultures is wholly genuine and based on the need to understand their origin and culture and definitely not to experience the 'products'. Understanding and accepting the values bit is ofcourse quiet complicated as Anonymous has pointed out above.



3. R RAI
I wish we had clean,hygenic, rustic restaurants in every alley and street of our cities and towns serving locally/regionally produced authentic organic food and drink. I would not mind whether it's Narayan Gopal or Pink floyd in the background as long as the food and drink served are clean and hygenic and the ambiance is civil and nice. 

4. DG
We like to escape the ever-increasing pace ,tension and pressures  of modern day life. Good food is part of our basic pleasures. Meals play a very important role in human relationship,all the better when shared. Our tropic, sub-tropic, temperate and .arctic climate ,the variety and skills of our people who have created various  dishes ,their  culinary delights should be developed to cater to the taste of the visitors of the region as well.
every region in Europe is known for its food and drink items. Tourists go to France  to enjoy the gastronomic delight of  different provinces..  Singapore had its car-parks ,open and very clean, it was a delight to eat there. Let every hamlet  provide  its own specialities and keep on evolving to perfection in the coming tourism year for internal as well as external tourists.


5. Siri
The emergence of middle-class in Nepal has generated enough capital and interest in exploring 'authentic' Nepali culture. It might be a mistake to only use the increase in interest in Nepali food or music as signs of connections. The very action of engaging in the activities the author as mentioned is indicative of division along different classes/ rural-urban separation. As the author suggested, physical action of walking up and down a mountain might be the same but the meaning behind needing to do this to make a living is very different than choosing to go trekking as a leisure activity. The question we need to ponder is not only how many options of liquor a Nepali has to choose from but also how the options of liquor available is not the same for all Nepalis.
The acknowledgement of difference is not indicative of division but acceptance of reality that many Nepalis, especially the ones who have the privilege to choose whether they want to go treakking or listen to Pink Floyd or drink Scotch or afford pizza are unaware of, face.


6. Cold Potato (Chisso Allu)

Well-crafted article. A pleasure to read!



7. Anish
I think a significant number of 20-something Nepalese have a huge identity crisis.People migrated from hinterlands to the capital, making many transformations such as rural to urban, extended family to nuclear and so forth.  Their offspring have made even larger and scarier transformations migrating to western countries and trying to fit into culture of diaspora.
So, People are feeling lost, rootless and they are trying to find their roots, their bases. This is an identity crisis.


8. Chandra Gurung

"After all, with the confidence to negotiate through cultures beyond one's borders comes the anxiety of having lost something original in the process"

This sums up everything about me too. In the past, I was wittingly walking away from my own root, preferring to talk about Rambo and Guns N' Roses than anything from Nepal. It was my attempt to show how cosmopolitan I was rather than anything else.

Then I came to the United States, and after realising that I could deal with the best students from any country, I gained confidence to talk about my background with them. I went to my ancestral land. I realised it was where my ancestors lived their life, some of them fought to unite Nepal as a country, some fought to keep it independent , and some simply fought to stay alive. They dreamt of a world for their posterity, and the more I travelled along the space, the more I felt I was travelling along the time, stretching back to centuries, hanging out with my own ancestors. Trekking therefore is a sacred experience for me, and so is eating rustic food. But the source of all these feelings is the cosmpolitan outlook I have acquired.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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