Politics of Look and Gaze

Look and Gaze

[Reserach on Look and Gaze by Kamal Raj Sigdel]
[This research was awarded Martin Chauthary Media Fellowship in 2006 and a full text of the report was published in the journal, Media Studies Vol. 1 (Nepali version). A copy of the journal can be found at Martin Chautary Library, Thapathali, Kathmandu. If you have any questions regarding the research, don't hesitate to contact the researcher (blogger) at kamal.sigdel [at] gmail.com ] [Copyright: Kamal Raj Sigdel]

This is an article I just cut pest

Politics of snow leopard by Abhi Subedi (Published in The Kathmandu Post)

Six mountaineers announced that they would hoist eight-party flags on top of Mt Everest in their historical Loktantra II expedition in April 2007. 'Snow leopard', the 60-year old Ang Rita Sherpa will be a member of the team. They will call this venture "Democratic Everest Expedition". I would like to call them 'snowmen' with respect and love.

Besides the eight-party flags, the snowmen will also hoist flags and probably put mementos there of the Amnesty International, different human rights organisations, Janaandolan II martyrs, the UN and other peace societies. That means the Madheshi Sadbhavana party's flag will be hoisted on Mt Everest by the Sherpas for the first time.

Symbolically, this will be a very important reversal of the Pahadi dominated perception of Nepali nationalism and deconstruction of Nepali state's mountain geographic logocentrism. The metaphor "horizontal comradeship" that Benedict Anderson uses for nationalism will be reflected in the vertical movement of the snowmen, mostly the great Sherpa explorers who are the most accommodative people in the world. Instead of putting forth slogans like the Everest region for the Sherpas only, the Sherpas have invited the flags and signifiers of diverse groups and nationalities to put on the Everest summit.

This news has drawn some flak. Apologists of the 'leave Mt Everest alone' say this is a politicisation of Mt Everest. But interestingly, this statement is 'always already deconstructed' because the name Everest itself has political genesis. Anyone little familiar with colonial history of this region must know that this highest peak of the world was named by Colonel Andrew Waugh after Colonel George Everest ignoring the happy note of discovery by an obscure chief Bengali computing officer Radhanath Sickdhar who wrote to him, "Sir, I have discovered the highest mountain in the world". A certain 'Brian Hodgson', who was a political officer of the Raj in India at that time objected to the naming. He advocated for the continuity of the native names that were used then.

Everest was considered the third pole. Since north and south poles were conquered by Robert Peary in 1909 and 1911 respectively, Everest remained to be conquered. And the British undertook the mission. Death of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on June 8th, 1924, was the anticlimax of imperial 'noble desire'. Mallory's letter written to Rupert Thompson on 12 July 1921 speaks of the irony. He wrote, "I sometimes think of this expedition as a fraud from beginning to end, invented by the wild enthusiasm of one man, Young husband; … and imposed upon the youthful ardour of your humble servant....The prospect of ascent in any direction is almost nil, and our present job is to rub our noses against the impossible in such a way as to persuade mankind that some noble heroism has failed once again." Mallory later saw the absurdity of the political imaginary of the empire.

This dream culminated in the conquest of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953. The victory was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth on her coronation four days after on 2nd June. Tenzing Norgay making a grand victory tour was photographed in London folding hands in namaste wearing watches on both wrists. Clash of Mallory's personal aspirations with those of the British Raj was the climax of the imperial dream. Since then climbing Everest never saw the irony resulting out of a clash between personal aspirations and statism. But one thing is certain. Climbing Everest has always represented covert political desires.

Scaling mountains, covering miles on the ground and crossing seas and rivers are the familiar tropes of the politics of colonialism. The Himalayas, especially Mt Everest, has drawn the attention of the British, Chinese, Nepalis, Indians and others. But it was the British who held on to the history of the peak metaphor and associated it with imperial nostalgia. Others shared their nostalgia with fun and textual indifference. In the imperial and nationalistic imaginary Everest became the signifier of an invincible and inaccessible altitude that should be explored, touched and walked upon. The three nation Japanese led crowded and visual media savvy expedition in 1988 turned it into a postmodernist mountain exercise.

The snowmen's humble expedition, though it appears like a postmodernist game of littering the highest mountain with festoons, is at heart a symbolic journey of a 'New' democratic Nepal. The snowmen's excitement is a very meaningful historical phenomenon. To rush up to the summit with flags by these snowmen is to deconstruct the grand Everest narration, the grande récit used by both the British Empire and the Nepali feudal history. This "Democratic Everest Expedition" will give a new meaning to the history.

The snowmen's projection of Everest metaphor at a time when all the other metaphors of Nepali "horizontal comradeship" are sustaining cut injuries like the broken finger of Prithwinarayan Shah's statue is a very important reminder of the Hamletian dilemma of to be or not to be or to keep or not to keep Nepal as an independent nation. I personally consider the snowmen's decision to take eight-party and other flags to the Everest summit now as a powerful call for a democratic restructuring of the "horizontal comradeship" of New Nepali state. (TKP, March 21, 2007)

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