A Trajectory of Nepali Modernity: A Narrative of Ruptures and Repairs
Assuming modernity as a rupture in tradition in line with Nepal’s encounter with British Raj and its subsequent position as a periphery to global capitalism, this paper examines why the age old traditional values and practices, after every significant rupture heralded by forces of modernity, keep shaping values and practices of the modern Nepali society. Despite courting significant components of modernity like nation-state, technology, industrialization, development, democracy, and individual freedom, among others, from the West since the emergence of Nepal as a nation following its unification under the leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the values and practices emanating from feudalism, patriarchy and the Hindu caste system still persist in Nepal. Likewise, this paper also engages with following questions: What is modernity in different points of history in the context of Nepal? Is it similar to modernity as observed in the West? Or in the previously colonized spaces like India? If not, how are they different? How do vectors of modernity and tradition negotiate with each other? Can we take this negotiation as appropriation of modernity as argued by scholars like Leichty? If so, what are implications of such appropriation?
Following the scattered nodes of modernity’s trajectory in the Nepali society as reflected in the selected cultural products like Nepali novels, travelogues, autobiographies, films and constitutions, this project questions the Nepali society’s appropriation of modernity (Leichty 1994 & 1996). Of course, this paper, unlike Leichty’s work, won’t be limited to the middle class Nepali modernity. However, his notion of ‘suitably modern’ is an interesting issue to deal with. The appropriation of suitable components of modernity seems to be a double edged sword. It seems to reduce modernity into a cosmetic modernity at the cost of institutionalization of modernity. Modernity, as a benchmark of progress, change and development, seems to remain a chimera. The Nepali people, therefore, seem to be obsessed with modernity despite it threatens their traditional values and practices. On the other hand, it seems to protect the Nepali society from the ills of modernity like alienation, malaise, indifference, commodification and objectification prevailing in the Western society. In addition, it seems to help the Nepali society recuperate from the ruptures spurred by modernity, and thereby give it a way to critique modernity.
Since this paper is a part of a larger project, it, for the time being, will only scrutinize Prithvi Narayan Shah’s Dibyopadesh, Diamond Shamsher novel Rana’s Seto Bagh, Narayan Dhakal’s novel Pretkalpa, BS Thapa’s film Maitighar, Rajan Mukarung’s novel Damini Bhir for substantiating the trajectory of modernity from the unification of Nepal to the end of monarchy. Therefore, the selection of texts will be quite eclectic. As this is a cultural historiographical work, it will be divided as per different historical nodes significant for the emergence or arrival of particular components of modernity in Nepal.