Meet New ICI Visiting Scholar Luna Ranjit

 

ICI would like to welcome Luna Ranjit as the newest Visiting Scholar at the India China Institute.

As a visiting fellow at ICI, Luna will advice on new initiative on social justice, religion, and Dalits. She will give a public lecture in the Fall or the Spring. She will use the time to document her experience as the co-founder and former Executive Director of Adhikaar, and conduct research on citizenship, movement of people, and equity.

You can learn more about Luna on her profile here.

From the Bagmati to the Ganga

 

The Bagmati River feeds into the Ganga.  I learned this after stalking all I could find about my mysterious neighbor.  The Bagmati runs through the area in which we have been living and our friends noticed that I am curious about it so they took me to Pashupatinath temple which lies on the banks of this holy river.  This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as the most revered temple in Kathmandu.  Most people we’ve spoken to call it the holiest temple in Nepal.  The pooja that we witnessed was similar to those in Varanasi besides the fact that this one seemed more festive.  People were clapping and singing, these two women had climbed up onto a ledge and started dancing along to the music, and we watched gleefully from the bridges that connected the temples on both sides of the Bagmati.

Though in the space directly beside the pooja was the area for cremations.  I watched as a deceased person’s toes were dipped into the river and a friend informed me that this was a tradition in which the family makes sure their beloved relative is dead before being carried to cremation.  It is a last hope that they will revive.

Much like the Ganga, the Bagmati is extremely polluted.  Nepali people also call it the dirtiest river in Nepal.  In fact, the other day I was in the car with a man from Kathmandu and as we drove by, he rolled down the window, pointed, and said “Look, Isabella.  This is the dirtiest river in Nepal.  It is called Bagmati, though it is very holy.”  Ama even told us that she used to wash clothes in the river years ago but this is not possible now due to the toxicity.

So I thought I had lost the Ganga by coming here but in fact I followed her to her roots.  I’ve experienced a deep connection with this river here and the power that a body of water can have and the life that it can create never ceases to amaze me.

Photo Essay of Mount Kailash Kora by Emily Yeh

 

Emily Yeh Guru Gyam 2016

Guru Gyam Monastery in Tibet

We’re excited to share a recent photo essay from Emily Yeh, Professor and Department Chair of Geography at CU Boulder. We were fortunate to have professor Yeh join ICI for our Sacred Himalaya Initiative trek to northwest Nepal and western Tibet in 2016. As you will see from her photos, this was an extremely amazing–and educational–opportunity for all involved. Below is a brief excerpt from her post accompanying the photos.

Mount Kailash, or Gang Rinpoche (Gangs rin po che), is associated with Mt. Meru, the axis mundi or center of the world, and is thus considered one of the world’s most sacred mountains.  Four major rivers – the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali – originate in the four cardinal directions nearby.  As such, it is a destination for pilgrimage and circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhists, Bonpos, Hindus, and Jains.   Tibetan Buddhists consider it a dwelling place of Demchog (Chakrasamvara) and for Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. For Jains, it is the place where the first Tirthankara attained enlightenment, and for Bonpos, Mt Kailash is a nine-story swastika mountain that is the seat of spiritual power. Moreover, the region of the mountain and nearby Lake Manasarovar is where Thonpa Sherab founded and disseminated Bon…

Our visit to Kailash, Manasarovar, and the associated sacred site of Tirthapuri was motivated by a proposal by ICIMOD to have Nepal, India, and China nominate the larger Kailash Sacred Landscape as a transboundary World Heritage Site.  Our goal was to understand historical pilgrimage routes, document the cultural landscape, assess current tourism, and seek to understand what effects such a designation, were it to come to pass, might be.

You can read the rest of her post and see her photos here.

You can alse find an earlier account and photo essay from this same trip that she published last October, focused on the Nepal side of the trip in Limi Valley. As she wrote in that post:

In July-August 2016, I was very fortunate to be able to join the Sacred Himalaya Initiative of the India-China Institute at The New School, in a trip through Humla to Mount Kailash.  Led by Ashok Gurung, we were a crew of Americans, Nepalis, and Indians supported by a number of cooks and porters.  Although the centerpiece of the journey was Mount Kailash, we spent much more of our time walking through Humla District in the Karnali Zone and in the northwestern corner of Nepal, much of which was once part of Ngari in western Tibet. Its district headquarters, Simikot, is currently accessible only by plane or foot. We spent five days walking in the Tibetan Buddhist Nyin valley to the east, home of Tshewang Lama, a former politician as well as lama, businessman, and organic intellectual who accompanied us throughout the trip. Then after returning to Simikot, we split into two groups, one taking the shorter route to the border at Hilsa through Muchu and Tumkot, and the other (including me) the longer northern route over the Nyalu pass through the isolated Limi Valley.

You can read the rest of her post and see her photos here.

 

Former ICI Fellow Mahendra Lama on the Fate of Darjeeling Tea

 

We are pleased to share a recent post from one of our former India China Fellows Mahendra Lama (2008-2010). In his latest article in the Kathmandu Post, “The Gradual Decay”, he discusses the past and current political dynamics of Darjeeling tea in India and the 1951 Tea Plantation Act.

Darjeeling tea gardens located in the core of the Eastern Himalayas are one of the oldest and most famous tea ventures in India. Darjeeling brand which adorned Harrods in England to Kinokuniya in Japan and Beijing-Frankfurt-Yangon-Chicago airports to Thamel in Kathmandu, consistently fetched the highest international price, earning millions of hard currency for India for more than 155 years. Today, this orthodox darling of connoisseurs is dithering and wavering even to survive. It is fatally sick with problems ranging from low yield to poor health of workers; steadily falling prices to fleeing management; old and fledgling tea bushes to competition from other sources including nearby districts of Nepal and falling production due to militancy among the workers. All these have not only dislocated thousands of workers but also brought about very visible social and political tensions in the region. Its decay is a classic case of mulching to death by the estate owners, governments and the trade unions.

You can read his full article here.

Walking With Disaster – Reporting by Former ICI Staff Marina Kaneti

 

We are excited to share an excellent new post on Public Seminar written by one of our former ICI staff and recent New School for Social Research PhD graduate, Marina Kaneti. In her piece Kaneti reflects on a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal earlier this year and her interactions with noted Nepali performance artist Ashmina Ranjit. It is a fascinating read, and includes some nice visuals of the skeleton performance by Ranjit in Nepal and NYC and reflections on what Kaneti describes as “alternative democratic spaces” in theory and practice.

Ashmina Ranjit in Thamel, Nepal. (Image Credit: Marina Kaneti, Public Seminar).

Ashmina Ranjit in Thamel, Nepal. (Image Credit: Marina Kaneti, Public Seminar).

Here is an excerpt of Kaneti’s Walking With Disaster:

In a summer filled with news of the election in the United States, global terrorism, and Brexit, the swift resignation on July 24th of Nepal’s Prime Minister, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, hardly made the headlines. The only two news sources reporting on the event outside of Asia — Al Jazeera and the New York Times — also produced somewhat dissimilar commentaries. The New York Times framed the resignation in the context of party politics, the challenges of running a multi-coalitional government, growing demands for federation, and geopolitical tensions with Nepal’s powerful neighbors, India and China. The Al Jazeera report also associated the resignation with demands for constitutional reforms and federalization, but the commentary largely focused on the numerous street protests that had been disrupting daily life in Kathmandu since Oli’s ascent to power in October 2015.

It is very probable that Oli’s resignation was triggered by multiple factors, and the two media commentaries are not mutually exclusive. Yet what is unique in Al Jazeera’s reporting is that it underscores the extent to which the streets of Kathmandu are seen as the space to congregate, express political opinions, and — in the words of activists themselves — to exercise democracy. Al Jazeera’s coverage of Nepal is also a reminder that in the case of people who are left voiceless or marginalized by constitutional clauses, political processes, or social stigma, democracy is only possible in alternative spaces — such as the streets — where new forms of political engagement emerge, claims for social justice can be made, and popular pressure can trigger reform.

During a March 2016 visit to Kathmandu with the India China Institute, I had the chance to observe such use of alternative democratic spaces in the “artivist” performances of Ashmina Ranjit, a leading artist and political activist in Nepal. Like many others, Ashmina has been a vociferous critic of the 2015 constitution, and specifically of its failure to uphold the rights and freedoms of women and children. According to the current legislation, the state does not grant citizenship rights to children born out of wedlock and to children born to men who are not Nepalese nationals. Somewhere in between the jus soli and jus sanguinis, the constitution essentially chartered a different version of citizenship rights: as mediated through marriage and the nationality of the male parent. “Jus matrimonium et masculum,” as this retrograde constitutional provision/citizenship law could be called, appears to completely disregard the legal, social and political status of the mother, making her all but a non-entity. Even worse, children born out of wedlock would appear to be non-existent, relegated to statelessness before they are even born.

You can read the whole piece online at Public Seminar here.

 

Thugs in a Temple!? WTF!?

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Interesting experience. I met with a Brahmin priest upon my arrival who informed me of the rules: as a foreigner, I must pay an entrance fee and I am also not allowed in, since I am not Nepali nor am I Hindu. My friend, who is Nepali and Hindu, got in for free, that sucka. Haaha.

Here is a link: http://www.pashupatinathtemple.org/

I went down to the area for a prayer and a puja. I asked for the courage and bravery to continue being fearless and to remain consistently on my path—intellectually and spiritually. Funny, shortly thereafter, the priest bids us good-bye and we started walking towards the cremation area and we were assaulted/almost robbed by two tourists-scammers right in the temple area!? The audacity of these bitches! Because my friend is Nepali, as I previously mentioned, he has an awareness of the landscape and can spot out the good ones from the rotten ones. With intuition and strong-will, we exited with only a small altercation—who expects thugs in a temple?! Ugh, I guess human dignity has left the building. I would chalk it up as the divine just testing my ‘bravery, courage, and fearlessness’ since that was what I channelled during my puja—what do you think? This world keeps me on my toes! The complexity of being at a temple and having such an experience only highlights the absurdity of existence (Camus). What better way to celebrate the sacred and the profane—I think every ethnologists has encountered something of this nature, it is part of the territory I guess. Now back to the puja/prayer/mantra ceremony. It was quite an experience to be there, with this priest and my friend having this moment and being present. He (the Hindu priest) asked if I would like to extend this love and compassion to others like my family and I said yes, obviously. We took a few photos and exchanged e-mail addresses and he said that he will e-mail the photos to me since I am sans a mobile device and a camera (travelling like a gypsy, obvi).

On our way there and back, we stopped to watch a group of males playing cricket! I was so excited because I was my first encounter since being here—not even in India did I have the pleasure to see a full game in action. We return home and planned to hit the swimming pool because it is hot/humid today and we walked for an extended period of time. Instead, we used the water-hoes and had a splash pad/chase in the backyard/garden/side lawn area which was fun and a good form of exercise for the day. It was a nice way to end the day and take our minds of the two dweebs who attempted to ruin our day.

Yesterday, I attended the Darnal Award for Social Justice. I am a Research Associate with ICI and I worked on this event for the past year. Here is a link: http://www.darnalaward.org/event/2015-darnal-award-social-justice-special-event

This is just the beginning of great work to be done—an estimate of five schools will be built to help in the post-earthquake reconstruction. It is such an honour to be in the presence of such great and formative minds, people working passionately to better themselves and the communities they are exposed to/serve.

I am not sure what I will be doing for the rest of the day. I intend to edit my final reflection on Bhopal and have a post within the next few days….I will keep you posted.

Why are all the most beautiful things in nature the most dangerous at times?

Made it to Nepal! The view of the Himalayas flying into Nepal is what dreams of made of. I mean, pure beauty. I was in awe of its magnitude and utter divine beauty. The ice caps reaching beyond the clouds and the vision of whites, blues, greys from the distance is indescribable. You must see it for yourself, I fail to accurately describe it. Funny, I was reading a book and the author mentions one of his treks to the Himalayas (also, I found this book randomly on my last night in India!). As I am reading, I look up, and to my astonishment and serendipitous shock & awe, out my window, this monstrous beauty is staring right at me. I was stop dead in my tracks, well, the plane kept propelling forward but I was suspended in time & space for a second or two. This dangerous beauty causes one to become humble and prideful simultaneously—humble because of its sheer magnitude and prideful to be part of this universe, this cosmic composition we all share. It was a moment of pure magic and ephemeral divinity when I looking out my window—the ice caps, ah, the only word that comes to mind is beauty. The blues of the sky, the whites and greys of the clouds, the white ice caps, the greyness of the mountains, all meshed into one painting, whereby, the start and finish of either entity became embroiled into one being, it all felt like part of the same, no beginning and no end…endless delineations and contours—bliss! Why are all the most beautiful things in nature the most dangerous at times?

I look down and there are greens, browns, and rivers underneath, and to my left, the Himalayas, honestly, it felt like a dream. And there was a moment, when I questioned my sanity, asking myself: “Wait, is this really happening?” Haaha—basically, “IS THIS REAL LIFE?” (youtube video from a few years ago with the little boy David, high from laughing gas from his visit to the dentist). I found the video, priceless.

I made two friends — one Nepali and the other an American from Seattle (Buddhist practitioner). The American will be in the mountain at a village, re-visiting his friends there, locals we met during his extended stay a few years back.

Happy to be in Nepal. Warm greetings upon my arrival and happy to see my friend-soul sister, Sarita, and meet her loving and compassionate family.

Unlike Bhopal, there is no wake-up call of prayer horns, rather, the charming sound of roosters!!! I was instantly reminded of my time in the Caribbean and it brought me comfort and felicity. The food is also shared with the Caribbean and many vegetables, flowers, and spices used here, are also used in the Caribbean—to my pleasant surprise! For example, callaloo and corella bush! Nepal, has pleased me thus far and I am thankful to have this experience.

Gobinda Hari,

-A

Day Fourteen: Philosophy as a Way of Life

I went to Old Market and shopped for fruits and veggies. It was raining so my trip was short. It is raining now as I write this post. I am having a cup of Tulsi tea and assorted fruit for breakfast.

Today, I meet with Dr. Pandey at Bhopal Memorial Hospital. I will get the chance to shadow him whilst he works. He treats cancer victims. I am interested in spaces of healing so it will be an honour to meet with these survivors, and sit compassionately with them and hear their stories.

 Still not fully recovered but on the way. I rubbed Vicks vapour rub on my feet and then I put on a pair of socks (thanks for the tip Alexis). 

On Saturday, I fly to Nepal. The project in Nepal will conclude with an event at a primary school which will be a fundraiser and all of the proceeds will go to earthquake relief and wellness of the victims.

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