Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Gulam Ali to steal many hearts in capital

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 29 - After spell-binding Nepali music lovers with his evergreen numbers like Gajalu tee thula thula ankhha, Gulam Ali, the legendary ghazal singer is back in the capital to steal the audiences’ hearts once again.

The veteran Pakistani singer Ali appreciated Almighty God Tuesday for bestowing him an opportunity to come amidst Nepali audience again with Nepali numbers after a gap of 15 years.

The famous singer of ghazals who made a revolutionary craze for ghazals among Nepali audience in 1985, is here in Kathmandu for his live concert and recording of a new album with all new Nepali songs.

In a simple and yet erudite voice, he paid homage to God whom he believes the most, for having "an opportunity" to visit Nepal. "I really thank God that I am here. I know, nothing happens without God’s will."

Audience’s response was the most important gift for Gulam Ali during his first visit. He still remembers the response Nepali audience gave him fifteen years ago. He recalled, "In my first visit, the audience gave me that much of response and love that I have not forgotten yet. And I’m not going to forget it till end (of my life)"

The 59-year-old maestro’s songs have gained fame all over the world but he is thrilled that the Bengali, Afghani and Nepali audience can "give their life" for classical music.

He is aware of the encroachment of Western music in and around the Indian subcontinent but this threat of pop songs cannot flicker his morale. He said,"Pop songs are like storms. It comes and fades and what remains is just eternal."

Gulam Ali came across ghazal singing in his childhood, when his father Daulat Ali Khan took him to different music maestros. Bade Gulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan were some of his teachers whom he esteems even today.

"I love ghazals because it is always full of sublime words. One can experience beauty of words, expressed through sonorous voice -- when the meaning of words and feeling of voice comes together, they are bound to hypnotize the audience." he explained.

After giving four peerless songs written by MBB Shah during his previous visit, Gulam Ali has recorded eight new songs written and composed by Nepali younger artistes. Digital Symphonic Recording is releasing his new album Sambandh soon. "These songs will be my gift for Nepalis,"
he said.

He will perform two live concerts, one in Radisson Hotel and another in Royal Nepal Academy on 31 August and 3 September respectively.

Earlier, according to the organizers, Their Majesties had graced his special concert at the Royal Palace last Friday.

Gulam Ali, who is also a decent tabla player, has so far recorded around 5,000 songs. Still, he does not believe that he has hit the perfection. "I am continuing my journey. An artiste never finds his journey complete. It is just like journey into the sea - the deeper you go the more water you will find," he said.

These days, he spends "normal and easy" life in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
[Kathmandu Wednesday August 30, 2000 Bhadra 14, 2057.]

Thursday, August 17, 2000

How a 'gem' of Gaijatra faded in modernity...

By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Aug 16 - Blame it on democracy or the media revolution, Gaijatra has lost a major charm khyalaa, street comics and satires.

As in the last few years, those who lost their parents a year earlier took out religious processions today, without any schedule for khyalaas in different nooks and corners of the capital cities. Whereas earlier khyalaas used to be performed even about a week after the Gaijatra day.

Until as late as mid' 80s, the street comics were an integral part of Gaijatra festival. The satirists and other artistes used to take part in the routine 'cow carnival' with instruments, and perform at crossroads for the surrounding audience.

In such comics, the actors played the roles of ministers, lawyers, doctors, farmers and other dignitaries of the society. Each actor represented one particular community and they shed shower of satires and humour in common people's language.

"Those were the days when locals used to compete with each other to attract our performance to their courtyards," says Prem Bahadur Tamrakar, 57, who wrote and directed such street comics in his young days.

Tamrakar, one of the founders of a Gaijatra troupe Khyalaa Khalaa in 1959, said, "We could even play the King's role. No matter how strict the censorship was, we used to experience the complete freedom of expression at least on the day of Gaijatra."

The tradition of street comic, the khyalaa, is deep rooted in Nepali culture. Dr Chunda Bajracharya explaining the history of khyalaa said, it began in the seventeenth century by King Srinivas Malla of Patan when he added "Bathaa" episode in the Kartik Dance.

Dr Bajracharya said that when King Pratap Malla (1641-1674) started the cow festival, it was a means of entertainment assimilated with social satires. "Religious aspect might have been added later after developing the myth of Yamaraj and the gate to the Heaven," she said.

The tradition of cow carnival and street comics flourished side by side. The aboriginal Kathmanduites, Newar farmers were much active in such performances. The period of the year was a free and leisurely period for them.

A social organisation, Munasa tried to convert such comics into stage dramas in the years 1972-79 and held yearly competitions before it collapsed due to political restrictions. Nabin Chitrakar, a founder of Munasaa, proudly recounts that there were over 80 such troupes taking part in the khyalaa competitions.

On disappearance of such street comics, litterateur-turned-politician Padma Ratna Tuladhar says, "It is unfortunate that the changing time has virtually confined Gaijatra merely into a ritual these days."

In the autocratic Panchayati period Gaijatra and the khyalaa were the only means for the public to voice their dissatisfaction against the government. "Now the freedom of speech and other means of expression have diverted public interest from such traditional beauties," he added.

Former lawmaker Tuladhar is one among the celebrated comic writers in Nepalbhasa literature, who started writing comics in early 1970s.

Ramesh Kaji Sthapit, one of the comic director takes the change as a step of evolution if not really development. He says organising street comics in present context is not practical. "Life has become too busy, neither actors nor audience have time for street entertainment."

Critic Dr Mohan Himanshu Thapa says nobody has to wait for Gaijatra to kick satire against the government now. So the impact of khyalaa is fading out. He blames foreign TV channels for deviating people's attention from indigenous genre of humour and satire. "People must fight against such cultural encroachment unitedly and preserve the rich tradition," he stressed.

[Kathmandu Thursday August 17, 2000 Bhadra 01, 2057.]

Friday, August 11, 2000

Swoyambhu facelift not according to masterplan

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 10 - It was once dreamt that the hill of Swoyambhunath with its stupa established over 1500 years ago would be restored to its full traditional glory by the year 2000. But the action taken so far in and around the monument site is far from the actual plan.

Unplanned and ugly constructions are taking place almost unabashed in contrast to the vision of the Swoyambhunath Conservation Masterplan (Swoyambhu 2000), recognised by the Ministry of Culture in 1989. The masterplan was prepared by Neils Gutschow and Gotz Hagmuller with Ramesh Jung Thapa and Saphalya Amatya.

The Swayambu, believed to be self-emerged and later developed into a proper stupa by King Vrishavadev in the 4th century AD, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) since 1979.

Under Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Dr Saphalya Amatya, involved in designing the masterplan, regrets that it was not being followed. "Everybody knows the masterplan's guidelines are being ignored, it is pathetic," he says.

However, Department of Archaeology (DoA), the government authority responsible for implementing the masterplan has hardly done anything. Director General of DoA Riddi Pradhan is apathetic towards her responsibility. "We don't appreciate any construction done without DoA's approval," she said.

The masterplan suggests to restrict any new constructions, and ensures retaining of the traditional character of the hill. It accepts the existing traditional structures of Theravada and Lamaistic institutions but proposes strict control of any so-called Mane-Gumbas.

Despite the masterplan's proposal to demolish around two dozen ugly new buildings in and around the monument zone, none have been demolished. Instead, a number of new residential houses, Mane-gumbas are being constructed along with serious encroachment of public land.

Ironically, the huge concrete walls being constructed around Swoyambhu hill, which is being proclaimed as a new attraction, is completely against the spirit of the masterplan. The wall is conceptualized in the masterplan, but much traditional looking and modest. The case is similar for big Buddha statue being constructed on the western foot hill.

Bujung Gurung of Manang District Khangsar Society, supervising the construction of the Buddha statue refutes that such a work could be illegal.

On this, DoA Research Officer Bhim Nepal says DoA did not approve the statue. "We had approved the use of land only for a green park but not for big statue construction," he said.

Architect and Historian Sudarshan Raj Tiwari is also against the construction of such a huge wall. He laments that in recent days DoA has become timid in implementing proper norms.

On the other hand, the chairman of Federation of Swoyambhu Management and Conservation Ratna Bahadur Bajracharya claims that all the new construction are adding beauty to the shrine. He even accepts use of cement, which is prohibited by law, as timely requirement. "We cannot always follow the old masterplan. We need timely changes."

As the monument is a world heritage site, an office of UNESCO in Kathmandu supervises it, and reports to the World Heritage Centre, Paris. A Technical Mission of UNESCO formulated 55 recommendations in March 1998, which had stated that "the scale and style of new development within the monument zone will be strictly controlled in accordance with the existing by-laws in order to protect the setting of Swoyambhu hill."

Now, like any other six world cultural heritage sites of the country, Swoyambhu is under the threat of being delisted from the prestigious list. UNESCO officials say that a High Level Delegation is coming to Nepal in September to discuss with government officials about the conservation situation. The delegation is expected to play major role about the fate of seven cultural heritages of the Kathmandu valley.