Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Many Faces of Lord Ganesh, by Shashi Tharoor.
'Ganesh, or Ganapathi as we prefer to call him in the South, sits impassively on my bedroom shelf, in multiple forms of statuary,
stone, metal and papier miche. There is nothing incongruous about this; he is used to worse, appearing as he does on innumerable calendars, posters, trademarks and wedding invitation cards. Paunchy, full-bodied,
long-trunked (though with one broken tusk), attired in whatever costume the artist fancies (from ascetic to astronaut), Ganesh, riding his way across Indian hearts on a rat, is arguably Hinduism's most popular divine figure.'
'Few auspicious occasions are embarked upon without first seeking Ganesh's blessing. His principal attribute in Hindu mythology - a quality that flows from both his wisdom and his strength - is as a remover of obstacles to the fulfilment of desires. No wonder everyone wants Ganesh on his side before launching any important project, from starting a factory to acquiring a wife. My own courtship violated time-honoured Indian rules about caste, language, region, age and parental approval; but when we got married, my wife and I had an embossed red Ganesh adorning the front of our wedding invitations ... '
'... In late September 1995, word spread around the world that statues of Ganesh had begun drinking milk. In some cases, statues of his divine parents, Shiva and Parvati, were also reported to be imbibing these liquid offerings, but Ganesh it was who took the elephant's share.Early on Thursday September 21, the rumours started in Delhi that
the gods were drinking milk; it was said that an idol of Ganesh in a suburb of the capital had swallowed half a cup. Within hours, the frenzy had spread around the globe as reports came in of temples and private domestic shrines in places as far removed as Long Island and Hong Kong witnessing the same phenomenon. At the Vishwa temple in London's Indian-dominated Southall district, a 15-inch statue was said to be drinking hundreds of spoons of milk offerings; the august London Times reported on its front page that "in 24 hours 10,000 saw it drink". At the Geeta Bhavan temple in Manchester, prodigious quantities were ingested by a three-inch silver statue of Ganesh. Hard-bitten British tabloid journalists, looking for a fraud to debunk, filmed and photographed the phenomenon and professed themselves flabbergasted. "I gazed in awe," confessed the man from the Daily Star; his rival from the Sun "gawped in disbelief" ... '
Thanks, Dinesh!

Back home. The journey back took around 36 hoursin the end. Will be back to normal in the next couple of days.

The trip was recorded at NePlep.

Some final thoughts :-

Chess is very popular in Nepal, and becoming moreso, among young and old. You see people playing in cafes, on street corners. This is a good thing. Chess, of course, originated in South Asia.

Shopping for Buddhas. Extract from Jeff Greenwald's great book about his life in Nepal.

'Kathmandu's First Escalator'.
'The second mob waited at the escalator's summit, delighting in the huge joke of relative motion. These sophisticated voyeurs - many of them seasoned escalator veterans themselves - shouted with glee as each of the hapless riders was propelled, panicked and staggering, from the apparently motionless safety of the escalator onto the utterly unexpected menace presented by stable ground. '

Letter from a Lhasa Merchant to His Wife.Essential reading.
'A beautiful novel from Nepal, translated to English without missing any substance in all means.'
'The novel is introduced with the translator's special note. It is in the form of al letter a Newar merchant in Lhasa to his wife in Kathmandu. Its spiritual theme is that the letter didn't burn in the
flame that consumed her remains.'

The political situation in Nepal is a big challenge. So take all this with a pinch of salt and as the observations of an outsider :-
After the democratisation of 1990, both leftwing and relatively conservative parties had a shot at government - possibly due to lack of experience, and clashes of personality, people have lost faith in the parties. Both the Maoists and the new king (after the massacre of the royal family) have turned this to their advantage, to push their own brands of absolutism, and real democracy is
becoming increasingly marginalised. Even the parties' agitation (or 'stir') against the 'unified command' (read - militarised government) is the party leaders is not in doubt (many of them spent time in prison), but their
ability to set aside their differences is.
The Nepali Times is the paper which does by far the best job of covering Nepalese politics and society.
Each society is different, but there may be lessons to be learned from Nepal for other parts of the world : democracy cannot
be imposed until a country is ready for it (after all, it took Britain, France and America many centuries and much struggle to even start the process, which is still ongoing, uneven and fragile).
Be wary of the outside powers - Are the US and UK trying to use Nepal to encircle China as part of the new doctrine of pre-emption? What is China's motivation (the Maoists claim to despise China for embracing capitalism, but then again the
Maoists do a lot of decidedly un-socialist things themselves)? What about the Maoist connection to the much-feared Naxalites of India (particularly violent leftwing terrorists, influenced as much by Nietzsche as by Marx; their methods and ideology are quite similar to the Nepalese Maoists)?
Religion is an important component of the culture of most countries, but perhaps Nepal will be well on the road to development when the neediest do not feel the need to sacrifice goats at the Kali Temple when they could use them as food, or donate money that they really need themselves to temples for festivals. A recent report (covered in the Nepalese paper media) cited excessive spending on temples and religious festivals as one of many reasons for poverty and lack of development among Newars (so in this case, religion is quite literally the 'opium of the people'!).

'Sherpa who had worked on a trek with me had come to my hotel for his salary, and unwisely, I had paid him in view of the hotel staff. After he had gone, one of them had approached me; "Why do you give this man money? He is a dirty peasant. I am
educated, give me some money also…" It is hard to explain to someone when logic goes that way. '

Mixing Maoism and tourism.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?