Yesterday on my blessed day off, I decided I didn’t want to veg at home and I didn’t want to tire myself even more by running errands… instead, a friend and I decided to visit the popular Patan area to have a photo excursion. Without an aim or destination, we took to roaming around and shooting what we saw fit. There was no real pattern in our photography and some photos came out to be spectacular shit.
At home in the evening I was looking through my photos from the day wondering if I did my new fancy camera any justice (I clearly have a lot of work to do!), when I noticed a theme in my photography: trades and dying art forms. Nepal is full of skills and trades that have been an essential part of our culture but thanks to modernization and cheap Chinese/Indian products, these are trademarks of Nepal that I fear is slowly but surely fading.
I didn’t inquire or conduct any research, what I am writing are merely my opinions and observations, I am sure there will be those who disagree. But I fear a day will come where these livelihoods and trades that have been passed down for centuries, and skills that defined a family will only live in history books, a few documentaries and on rambling blogs like mine. My grandchildren (should I have any) might know a world without any of these:
I don’t know why these were first made or why they continue to be produced, but I watched at the young boy took a hammer and chipped away and in doing so faces of elephant-god Ganesh and scowling, snarling demons surfaced. Sitting in the same position for I don’t know how long, the maker of the masks barely glanced at us as he kept working and I watched.
Of the many options with which to adorn your bed, perhaps the more popular in Nepal is the shirak, a heavy blanket made of coarse cotton stuffing. Before the blankets are laid on beds to keep Nepalis warm at night, in fact, before the blankets are even made, large piles of cotton are beaten with a stick (I assume for fluff…does anyone actually know?) before they are sown in between sheets.
While wandering around, cameras slug around our necks, my friend and I look like pakka tourists. I assume they assume he is Japanese, and I can’t say what they make of me as I am frequently asked “Madaam, fram vich country you caam fram?” But I stopped when I saw women seated at a loom weaving a carpet, they were Newar, the same ethnic group my friend happens to be and while I watched the swiftness of fingers bringing color and texture to the rows of tightly wound string, he spoke to them in Newari.
“They think we’re tourists,” he translated for me and I stayed behind my lens and after they found out we were from Kathmandu, we were informed that Kathmanduiates were smart asses. I took a few blurry pictures, we smiled and walked on.
I almost didn’t notice, but my friend saw men working on delicate murtis, statues of gods and goddesses, and he told me I should take a picture.
So I pulled out my camera and clearly the men didn’t realize I spoke the language as they guessed where I was from and told the welder to look at me so I could capture a winning shot!
Who needs protective wear when sunglasses suffice?
In pursuit of color, my friend and I found a few little shops where men were making potaays. A potay is somewhat equivalent to a wedding ring and is only worn by women who are married. Old men sat with strings tied to their toes transferring glittery little beads from single strings to the growing collection soon to adorn a woman’s neck.
I guess some of these skills will be around for a while… I mean, women will continue to wear potaays right? And devout followers will always need statues for their puja rooms. But I wouldn’t be surprised in due time if machines were to take over these skilled laborers like much of the world and stuck to the bottom of the statues and masks will be little stickers that say “made in China”.
I guess what would make me the saddest is if artifacts that were a part of Nepal’s daily lives will die as merely souvenirs for those who come to Nepal and want to take a little part of her away with them.