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I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow

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I felt alive for a little while
But when I died
I had the time to notice
I was crushed by the weight of my own ego
But never honest enough to say it

I felt your love for a little while
But never had the guts
To give myself up
I said that I could be just what you wanted
As if I could ever keep a promise
As if I could ever keep a promise

You have eyes in every room
But you won’t see me, you won’t see me
You won’t see me walk away
Once I was
More than just a song to play
On your haunted tape
I don’t want to be away

Could have sworn
I heard you laughing in the doorway
I don’t like myself when I’m awake

I don’t like myself
When I’m awake

I go to bed in darkness and I wake to darkness. There are rats in my mind, scurrying about as if in an old, old barn, musty, black, motes of dust floating invisible in the rank air. There are worms in my eyes, burrowing deep as if into the ground, soft, loamy, warmer the further they go. There is no pain, there is only feeling. You know local anesthesia? How it numbs you and yet, you can feel the poking and the prodding. There is no, there is only discomfort.

I was young once. In my dreams, I was young once. There were no rats and no worms then. I was healthy, I was alive, I could do ten pull-ups and twenty push-ups. I had a lean body and a mind sharp like the edge of a new knife. If I had known then what I know now, would anything have been different? Can you change your future if you know what it is going to be? Or is it fate, a self-fulfilling prophecy, one you make true by trying to circumvent it? If I cut out my tongue, if I poke out my eyes, will it change anything at all?

There is always darkness to retreat to. The darkness behind my eyes as I close them to sleep. I thank the stars I haven’t yet been robbed of easy sleep, for then, I would truly go insane. Sleep remains my only refuge. I wake every morning whiling away the hours until I can go to bed. This is anomie. This is something creeping up behind me, something black, something so dark it swallows all light.

More days, I find myself opening up a bottle of wine and drinking it all. Until the rats recede into their corners and the worms emerge from their holes. It feels like spring cleaning, it feels like cutting away the fat, it feels like shaving your head, it feels like taking off your clothes. It feels like going to sleep with your eyes open.

How did you go mad, they’ll ask? Two ways, I will say, Gradually, then suddenly.

I don’t like myself when I am awake.

 

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Written by Pranaya

November 24, 2017 at 1:56 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Past is Another Country

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Sometime in the years 1991-92, Yugoslavia ceased to exist as a country. But it persists, in imagination, in memory.

In the cities of the former Yugoslav republics, there linger vestiges of the past. Capital city streets gleam with the blush of new asphalt but concrete blocks with gaping eye socket windows loom like undead phantoms in the distance.

These constituent countries—Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Kosovo—are called post-Yugoslav, or post-socialist, countries.

But a post assumes a pre, and in that very nomenclature remains a past that refuses to be past.

The Balkan connection

In Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, Yugoslavia has all but disappeared. The capital is brilliantly green, clean and small.

It is a miniature city, obsessed with its environment. It is a city that takes much from Vienna, that other inordinately planned and ordered metropol.

Ljubljana is now more Western than Central Europe, if the latter is to be characterised by semi-dysfunction and haunted by the past. Ljubljana, more than any other post-Yugoslav city, seems to have embraced the new order with open arms and has grown richer for it.

This, of course, is ostensible; it is superficial. But there is not much else to Ljubljana, except for impertinent philosopher Slavoj Zizek. It is a beautiful city, it is a very pretty city.

In Zagreb, capital of Croatia, things get murkier. Zagreb is bigger than Ljubljana, both in size and population.

It is cacophonic in its urban landscape, attempting to leap across a chasm with just one foot outstretched.

It is taking from disparate places, learning from Denmark but also from Chandigarh. Yugoslavia and India, Josep Tito and Jawaharlal Nehru, these ties that continue to bind. But Zagreb is neither here nor there; it is neither chaotic nor ordered.

It is neither pre nor post. A cycle lane merges into a pedestrian path as it dips under an overpass as cars roar above.

There is a new housing block, the ground floor empty and awaiting occupation, the walls painted in bright pastel hues.

It is nearly desolate, eliciting a kind of dread that only large abandoned buildings tend to. A ten-minute walk away is an older housing block, dating back to the Yugoslav years.

There, every window is shuttered a different colour and men and women of all ages seem to gather, smoke and drink coffee.

The space is green, open and vibrant. It has been this way for decades, I am told.

Then there is Belgrade, Beograd, the white city, at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube, at the frontier of the East and the West, Christiandom and Islam.

By turns opulent and derelict, modernist and socialist, gleaming glass and fading concrete, Belgrade is a palimpsest.

As the once capital of Yugoslavia and the now capital of Serbia, Belgrade has a feel to it, something effervescent yet so palpable you could taste it in the air.

When I arrive, there is an open air café where a crowd of people are aggressively dancing the salsa. Opposite, an old man with a Karl Marx beard pages through a book before shuffling off. It is here, in the once-beating heart of Socialist Yugoslavia, that the past is most alive. Socialist-era buildings loom large in all their Brutalist glory.

While the churches of Vienna sing the glory of god, these Socialist monoliths edify man and human capacity.

But it is also Belgrade where the forces of neoliberalism and crony capitalism have run rampant.

While the right-wing national government snatches away freedoms, the mayor promises a new waterfront that will turn Belgrade into Dubai. If a few hundred people have to lose their homes in the dead of the night to masked men to make way for the novi waterfront, so be it.

Still, there is a romance to the old Yugoslavia, fragments of which can be glimpsed in say, the Hotel Jugoslavia, where presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens alike were housed.

It was bombed by NATO in 1999 and now, ironically, houses two American restaurants.

Yugoslavia, for all its faults, appears to be the kind of socialist state that India under Nehru and Nepal under BP Koirala once aspired to be.

The future as another country

Nepal’s socialist aspirations vanished in the puffs of exhaust from every Prado-Pajero owned by every socialist-communist politician.

What can a country like Nepal and a city like Kathmandu learn now from these Balkan states? These countries and their history appear in our newspapers only when some paranoiac raises the spectre of ‘Balkanisation’.

But in their temporal trajectory, there is something to be gleaned, especially now that capital Kathmandu has its first mayor in nearly two decades.

Perhaps Kathmandu is not too far gone, perhaps it can still be salvaged from the maws of rapacious neoliberalism.

We must pay heed. The Bretton Woods mantras of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation are not always the answers.

Neither are more cars and wider roads. Nor big commercial buildings or another new mall. Kathmandu is currently a nightmare city; it is a city of smoke.

From Ljubljana learn the pleasures of air as sweet as morning dew even in a city of stell and concrete. Public parks, trees, shrubbery, flowers are all rest for the eyes and pleasant for the soul.

Stifled on all sides by concrete and the drudgery of everyday life in a city like Kathmandu, everyone needs respite and a place to lay on the grass, look up at a canopy and sigh away sorrows.

From Zagreb learn that everyone needs a place to come home to, one that is not simply tarpaulin and plastic, one that does not reek from the stink of a thousand toilets emptying into a once-holy river. Social housing for the indigent is long overdue.

A home is a right, like food or clothing. Remember when it used to be gans, bas, kapas?

And from Belgrade, a warning. Urban regeneration can arrive like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Mistrust in the government should not equal blind trust in the private sector. Public officials might be corrupt and incompetent but unwatched, private interests can be insidious and before you know, your city has been hollowed out and sold to the highest bidder.

Make no mistake, they will peddle the snake oil of metros and city rails when all we need are buses and pavements.

Urban planning should not be about how to move cars most efficiently from point A to point B; it should be about moving people.

In the once-Yugoslavia, the past is another country. For Nepal, the future could be one.

Published on The Kathmandu Post, July 3, 2017

The city contested

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In heart of the city of Budapest, a ten minute walk from the iconic basilica of King Saint Stephen of Hungary, near the Arany Janos metro station at Szabadsag square, lies a monument ostensibly commemorating the victims of the occupation of Hungary by Nazi Germany in 1944. The monument is aesthetically garish, depicting a Hungarian ‘angel’ under attack from a German eagle, its talons outstretched. It is located in between two streets, on the edge of a park that already commemorates the Soviets for their role in liberating Hungary in 1945 and a statute of US president Ronald Reagan for the American role in bringing the cold war to an end.

The memorial statute, erected by the conservative nationalist government of Viktor Orban in 2014, has come under much criticism since its unveiling. Critics claim that the statue is an attempt to rewrite history and portray Hungary as a victim when it was allied with Nazi Germany during the Second World War as an Axis power. They say the monument glosses over Hungary’s active role in the deportation of thousands of its Jewish population to Nazi concentration camps. The majority never returned.

However, ever since the day work began on the monument, a counter-monument has sprung up. Directly facing the garish angel, photographs and documents have been strung along a line, below which are stones with Hebrew writing and the artefacts of every life. This ‘living memorial’ is an attempt to challenge nationalist rewriting of history with the bare facts of lived experiences and memories passed down. The photographs are of Hungarian Jews that the then government deported willingly; the documents are copies of papers that these Jews were handed before being forced to leave; the stones are symbols of every person of Jewish heritage murdered.

These two conflicting monuments are part of an ongoing conversation in Budapest over the city’s, and the country, identity. After being freed from the yoke of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian empire, after shaking off Communism and since being branded as a post-socialist city, Budapest has had to navigate treacherous terrain, picking and choosing what constitute its identity in the present. Nationalist governments, like those of Orban and now increasingly across the globe, tend to look at the past with blinkers on. Either the past is a hypothetical ideal, a time when all was well, or it was a past of victimhood and martyrdom, a time that the present must now avenge.

Kathmandu contested

Kathmandu was once the jewel of the Newars, that beautiful shining entrepot. When it fell into Gorkha hands, it became capital of a kingdom that spread far to the west and east but the Shah kings of yore were in thrall to Newar architecture, even while instituting linguistic and cultural hegemony. It was the Ranas who wreaked havoc, constructing garish monuments that protrude like hideous pimples. The Gaddi Baithak in Basantpur is but one example, so incongruous and so ugly. Since then, modern times have ravaged the Valley’s urban landscape, hollowing it out. Neoliberalism, crony capitalism and the land mafia have all run amok. Tall rectangular monstrosities with glass-fronted facades have risen where green spaces used to be. Office buildings and residential housing complexes are all gated with uniformed guards to keep the rabble out. There is no space to breathe free in Kathmandu. It was in the 90s: we woke to the harsh fluorescent light of modernity and discovered that Kathmandu had been parcelled and sold off, driven by neoliberalism and an unmitigated desire to ape the Indians in their ‘opening up’ of the economy.

We never got to contest Kathmandu, like those in Budapest currently do. There is no living memorial to a Kathmandu that is true. The earthquake destroyed the last vestiges of whatever identity Kathmandu had left and what comes next will be rebuilt by the lowest bidder. Only the Dharahara will rise again, reconstructed by a corporation, a giant middle-finger to the rest of the city.

In Lalitpur, gentrification has begun, in areas like Patan and Sanepa, driven by expatriates and wealthy hipsters. Newars have learned to capitalise on their identity and while Patan is still home to bhattis where a meal can still be had for Rs 100, it is also host to restaurants where a meal will cost you no less than Rs 1,000. Eventually, the proliferation of renovated Newari bed-and-breakfasts and high-end restaurants catering to the INGO salary may drive out locals and businesses that have existed for decades. But then again, Patan is fiercely protective of itself (maybe not so much as Bhaktapur but certainly more so than Kathmandu). There is still hope.

The renovation of old homes into cosy motels and bed-and-breakfasts have brought in fairly well-to-do visitors. The Patan Museum has hosted numerous events and exhibitions and Photo Kathmandu did its part in turning Patan into a veritable art gallery. Such spectacles have brought Patan to the world and the world to Patan. Even in presenting itself to the outside, Patan somehow managed to keep its deepest embers alive and burning. Patan has put up a fight; it is not going quiet into that dark night.

Most of us who grew up in Kathmandu have a conflicted relationship with the city. The city was our first love and it held our heart in the palm of its hands. And now, even though its ever-expanding CBD and its lust for shopfronts and commercial space squeezes that fragile heart till it bleeds, we hold on. But there can only be oh-so-many malls, each a bewildering facsimile of the other, with the same brands, the same stores and the same theatres.

Even now, as we watch, the roads get wider and the pavements get smaller. All the hills and green spaces have been sold off. There are no parks anymore and the air in Chabahil chokes you with two hands around your throat. We lost Kathmandu, before we even got to ask whose city it was.

[Published on The Kathmandu Post, 1 April 2017]

Written by Pranaya

April 2, 2017 at 7:13 AM

A new city is like a new lover

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I left Brussels on a cheap Slovak bus, a 15-hour journey to Vienna. I had arrived in September to my first European city and in the five or so months that I was there, I experienced the travails of living in the heart of Europe. Brussels was a contradiction, a meticulously bureaucratic city that was split along linguistic lines, along ethnic lines, and along administrative lines. In one small city that could be crossed in a day, there existed numerous fault lines, each uncrossable by the mandarins who ran their separate kingdoms. Brussels was an enigma, a diverse city that had suffered much from the opening of its arms and yet, refused to be cowed into the reactive  paranoia and suspicion, so unlike the United States. It was a city that loved to live, relishing its heavenly deep fried frites that the rest of the world maligned with the sobriquet of French. And its beers, oh its otherworldly beers. [I have dedicated an entire column to the Belgian beer so I will refrain from singing its praises yet again.] But Brussels passed pleasantly, as if floating languidly down a slow-moving river.

The 15-hour ride on a grossly uncomfortable bus was eventful, to say the least. The woman in her sixties sitting next to me was Austro-Hungarian, like the empire, and she attempted to strike up a conversation in halting English. As a hubbub began from the Eastern Europeans at the back of the bus, she leaned towards me and said confidentially, I understand everything. I nodded back, not quite comprehending. She explained that she could understand their language and leaning even further in, with a hand around her mouth, she whispered, ‘Gypsies.’

Later, as I attempted to sleep, a baby in the front of the bus awoke screaming. I was mildly annoyed but over the years, I have gotten accustomed to the hazards of travelling. I smiled wanly at the woman next to me and pointed to the baby. She smiled back but went further. The baby was ‘mixed,’ she said. ‘The mother is there but the father, question mark?’ She smiled evilly and I did not know how to respond. Much later in the bus ride, she would speak at length about how ‘mixing’ was not a good idea because cultures were just too different. Perhaps she was attempting to communicate something to me. Perhaps she just needed an outlet for her subtle racism. I smiled awkwardly and made no more effort at conversation. She persisted but not always with prejudice. I had a cold and she offered me tissues. She told me of her son who had just passed his Masters in London. She told me how she lived by herself and is often alone but sometimes goes out to drink beers with her neighbour. I listened politely, not contributing much in return. I did not know what to make of her casual bigotry.

Partway through the trip, somewhere near Frankfurt, we were stopped by the German police who proceed to select a number of us at random for a full body and luggage search. I was surprised when they did not select me at first, given my brown skin and my full beard. When a young policeman tells me step out, please, I was finally relieved. Bodies and bags were checked. The policemen were polite. One came up to us and remarked in English, ‘So he is the one from Nepal.’ I acknowledged my country of origin and the policeman checking my luggage said apologetically that it was not every day that they see someone from Nepal. After two hours, when the checking was over, they handed back our identity cards. The policeman did not call out my name like he did for the others, simply yelling ‘Nepal’ with a goofy grin. I did not mind. Better this than a host of others.

At the end of that 15-hour journey, I arrived in Vienna, my home for the next five or so months. It is a grand old city, majestic and awesome, built on the spoils of empire. Every street is lined with massive buildings that dwarf your human frame. There are gilded eaves and intricate ornamentation. This city does not seem to have been built for its citizens; it is a city that was built to project power. Compared to this, Brussels seems unabashedly provincial, like a runt from the village pretending at being a city boy. Vienna is imposing. But it is also the one of the most livable cities in the world. It has cast aside its imperial pretentions and has embraced a socialist bent. It is now known the world over for its social housing.

In the days since, I have been walking Vienna’s many strassen and gassen. Just like every city has its own smell, its own taste and its own ambience, each city has its own rhythm, a tempo that can range anywhere from the languid to the frenetic. This tempo is purely experiential; it cannot be described, it must be lived. Kathmandu is frantic, New York is feverish but Pokhara is leisurely, Brussels is deliberate. I have yet to make up my mind about Vienna. I have been trying to lodge myself into its rhythmic flow, trying to fall in step beside two young Viennese going to university or a young girl walking an impossibly beautiful Golden Retriever or an older construction worker smoking on the job. At the Der Wiener Deewan, I eat Pakistani food to bursting while rubbing elbows with a crowd. This pay-as-you-wish restaurant serves Pakistani food that is bland but comforting. I eat Krapfen and schnitzel and kasekrainer. I ride the U-Bahn. I walk the Gurtel. A new city is like a new lover. She reveals herself to you slowly, at first in the dark, when the lights are out.

With the winter retreating, spring will arrive soon. The trees and flowers in the Prater and the Augarten will begin to bloom. With the air warmer, I sat by an open window in my apartment in the ninth district and I listened to the Blue Danube and Mozart’s Requiem. It seemed fitting to inveigle Vienna with two of her most favoured sons. It is only a matter of time.

[Published on The Kathmandu, March 4 2017]

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2017-03-04/a-new-city-is-like-a-new-lover.html

Written by Pranaya

March 6, 2017 at 1:25 PM

Right to the city

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The city is a wholly human-made creation, the most brilliant and most sustained attempt at refashioning the world. In creating the city, humankind provided a proximate space where all social, cultural, economic, religious, technological and aesthetic values would play out. Since the very first city in history, the polis has been an intricate organisation of space, often overlapping, often exclusionary. Tied thus to the idea of the city is the idea of the citizen. In Greek, the polis is the city but it is also citizenship—there cannot be a city without citizens.

Neither citizens nor cities are homogenous. Cities, like citizens, are composed of multitudes. Each city is a microcosm of the grand differences that make up humankind. These differences are amplified in cities from the Global South, especially in underdeveloped countries like Nepal. Cities like Kathmandu are host to the richest men and poorest women. Mega corporate towers and gated residential communities stand cheek-to-jowl with the shabbiest of squatter settlements. You only have to stand on the southern bank of the Bagmati and look northwards. A cursory look at Kathmandu may end up concluding that gross inequality is its most explicit characteristic.

Cities have changed their character or perhaps their latent inconsistencies have now been brought to the fore, plain for all to see. Prodded by neoliberal capital, cities have turned into sites of consumption, catering to those with the greatest purchasing power. Cities are not public spaces of diverse interaction anymore; they have become regimental and compartmentalised. There are more and more places where the poor cannot enter and more and more places where the rich will not enter. There is no clash of class, no encounter where one sees the other and is forced to acknowledge each others’ inherent humanity. Instead, gazes are avoided, walls are built up and windows are tinted. Out of sight, out of mind.

The question, then, is: who is the city for?

Kathmandu has recently been blanketed in dust. It is now among the most polluted cities in the world. For those who cannot afford the comfort of an air conditioned car, travel is a nightmare. Whether on foot, bicycles or motorbikes, a sojourn in the city brings one home covered in a fine film of dust that flakes off with each rub and tug to form a hazy cloud. When the inevitable sickness descends, those who can afford it trudge to the hospitals and those who can’t have one more condition to live with.

Kathmandu is inhospitable to those at the bottom. It is fast becoming a city where a healthy existence is impossible for those without the means. The rich can always move farther and farther away, to the outskirts and to hills in an endless suburbanisation. The poor will have to stick it out in the city centre, huddled together in deplorable conditions. Just take Kathmandu’s roads, which are always in a constant state of being expanded. The major thoroughfares and the Ring Road are all wide lanes now. And yet, there are no proper footpaths, no properly marked, sheltered and lit bus stops, no attempt even to reign in the lawlessness of Kathmandu’s thousand microbuses. So who exactly are these roads for?

Marcello Balbo, who teaches urban studies at the University Institute of Architecture in Venice, writes that the city “is splitting into different separated parts, with the apparent formation of many ‘microstates’. Wealthy neighbourhoods provided with all kinds of services, such as exclusive schools, golf courses, tennis courts and private police patrolling the area around the clock intertwine with illegal settlements where water is available only at public fountains, no sanitation system exists, electricity is pirated by a privileged few, the roads become mud streams whenever it rains, and where house-sharing is the norm. Each fragment appears to live and function autonomously, sticking firmly to what it has been able to grab in the daily fight for survival.” Sound familiar at all?

The argument is that the city has become a repository for the needs and demands of the powerful. The right to shape the city is reserved for a few; everyone else gets little say. In recent times, take the road expansion, the aftermath of the earthquake, the planned demolition of Singha Durbar, the rampant breaking of the city roads to install pipes, all that dust in the air. The city has been co-opted; it has become the preserve of a few.

In order to counter this state of affairs, it is necessary to resurrect an old philosophical concept and apply it to how we see Kathmandu the city. In the late 60s, the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre proposed ‘the right to the city’ in his book Le Droit a la Ville as a radical demand to the production, access and use of social space. The Marxist geographer David Harvey puts Lefebvre’s conception of the right to the city as thus, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation.”

There is therefore a need to reshape the way we see our city. Kathmandu is not just a canvas to be drawn on and it is not just the planners, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and the wealthy who get to do the drawing. A city that is resilient, brilliant and sees all as equals reflects the values its citizens cherish. A city that privileges cars over public transport does not have everyone at heart. A city where one cannot walk for fear of respiratory illness is the worst kind of city—a city where one cannot breathe, a stifling city, a city of smoke, a choking city.

The right to the city is inalienable and it is collective. It is ours, as residents of this char-bhanjyang khaalto. But more than that, it is a recognition that in making the city, we make ourselves. As the city, so its citizens.

[Published on The Kathmandu Post, February 4, 2017]

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2017-02-04/right-to-the-city.html

Written by Pranaya

February 5, 2017 at 8:51 AM

Some thoughts on Pranaya Rana’s “City of Dreams”

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Fantastic review. Thank you so much!

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I wanted to read Pranaya Rana’s City of Dreams since it was published.  So, when Balu sent a copy of it as a gift from Nepal to Pravat and Pratima, I took the opportunity to read it quickly before passing it onto its rightful owners. And, here are some thoughts on it:

All works of fiction have descriptions of things and narratives of events, but City of Dreams not only has ‘stories’ to tell but also ‘art’ in it.  The finely woven surreal tales told in flowing prose full of intricate details tread along that thin grey line of human existence that divides the beautiful from the ugly, bravery from cowardice, good from bad, and salvation from doom. It is not that these stories cannot be narrowed down to an issue or theme: for instance, “Dashain” is a coming of age story, “Knife in Water” is about marital violence, “Maya”…

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Written by Pranaya

February 5, 2017 at 5:37 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

A 2016 Nepali music playlist

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This past year was great for Nepali music, both in terms of the number of quality songs/albums released and the many creative accompanying music videos that were released. What follows is a short list of the singles that I’ve enjoyed over the year, songs I’ve listened to countless times for various reasons, none the same. It is by no means an exhaustive list of the ‘best tracks’. I am no musician, just some guy who likes to listen. I have my biases, given how many of these musicians I know personally, so these are my favorite tracks, in no particular order.

1. Bartika Eam Rai – Khai

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What can be said of this song that it doesn’t say on its own. This is a track I listened to a lot, often while in a kuna of a sajha bus, staring aimlessly at the world passing by. The guitars and driving drums take a backseat to Bartika Rai’s soaring vocals, sung with abandon. Its a finely crafted song, the parts all strung together to showcase one thing – Bartika’s songcraft. In the melody, she is unexpected, enjambments abound and her vocals lift and fall when you least expect them to, all pleasant surprises. In the accompanying video by Sworup Ranjit, Bartika sits off-center, facing off to the left, glancing occasionally at the camera. During the final act, when she swivels and faces the camera directly to repeat the first stanza, it is striking. You are caught in her gaze, as she sings directly at you. Not to you, for this is not a paean, it is an entreaty – save yourself while you still can.

2. Rohit Shakya, Rajan Shrestha & Ashesh Rai – Kapase Badal

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Kapase Badal builds slowly, layering sound over sound, melody over melody, its steady rhythm hypnotic, the clap-beat almost like a metronome. It begins to crescendo and just when it seems to crest, it pulls back, like a breath inhaled. All the while accompanied by the most beautifully natural of melodies, a bird song. When the other instruments take their exit, when Ashesh Rai’s delicate vocals depart, all that is left is the bird song, echoing against the lingering aural screen of raindrops. Kapase Badal, like its name, is the stuff of clouds, a soft, soothing, song best listened to on headphones while watching the world go by.

3. Jerusha – Sirens

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Jerusha Rai’s voice is a breezy whisper. What she sings is confidential, spoken into your ear, dark things, secret things. This song juxtaposes Jerusha’s breathy vocals with a jarring ‘say, say’ refrain that almost ruins it. But on repeated listens, the chorus belies the darkness in the song. Taken from the album ‘A Dark Place to Think’, Sirens is brooding and introspective. Jerusha is more poet than singer, more whisperer than crooner. Sirens reminds of the times you lay in your bed in the black, staring up at nothing, willing a sleep that never seems to come, only dank thoughts that arrive like pacing cats mewling on a nighttime fence.

4. Pahenlo Batti Muni – Bari Lai

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I’d first come across a woefully short ditty by Pahenlo Batti Muni on Soundcloud that was sweet and beautiful, a pleasant earworm that warranted constant replay. Their first single is in the same vein, simple in its instrumentation and arrangement, soulful in its vocals. Rochak Dahal’s voice is angelic, as if he is once again singing a lullaby. It cajoles and draws you in, all warm and inviting. It is not one-of-a-kind but it is a good thing and contrary to folk wisdom, you can never have too much of a good thing.

5. phatcowlee  – Achal

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I have written about Rajan Shrestha’s (phatcowlee) Achal before: “a song of stillness, a perfect amalgam of form and content. Minimal and moody, it does not rise and fall, it does not soar and dip. It does not stir. It is still. And in that stillness, there is a profundity unbecoming of something so simple… Rajan’s stillness is generative; it produces quiet in the mind. It coaxes you to close your eyes and surrender yourself, like the best kind of meditation.” All of this remains true. As the days get shorter and colder, the stillness of Achal becomes a necessity, one essential piece of a winter puzzle that includes warmth, love and idleness. With the body still, let the mind wander.

6. Shreeti & Baaja – Gondhuli

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There is something otherworldly about Shreeti’s voice. It seems to take wing effortlessly, rising above the noise like a siren, and then, lilting, folding into itself, like a wave. It is a real singer’s voice. Baaja’s instrumentation is a perfect foil to Shreeti’s voice, as I discovered to my pleasant surprise in a song tucked away on Youtube, a set from her composition for Dhon Cholecha. That short tune is magical, her voice echoing in the empty chambers of the hall they’re performing in. That aside, Gondhuli is a gem of a track, each part complementing the other. Released as part of a Yomari Session (a Nepali version of the Take Away Shows by Katha Haru), this track showcases just how comfortably two very talented sets can intersect.

7. Plebeian – Anautho Mann

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From that rolling bass to those teasing guitars, Anautho Mann is a good time. Playful and energetic, its a track that makes you want to sing along with its catchy-as-hell refrain. The song recalls many others, as influences and inspirations, but that only seems to add to its infectious groove. Propelled by Brihat Pahari’s vocal urgency and Nishan Siddhi’s guitar energy, Anautho Mann is a track that keeps you afloat and at ease.  (Salil Thakuri is sorely missed!)

8. Ankit Babu Adhikari, Prabisha Adhikari, Kobid Bazra – Afreen, Afreen

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Ankit Adhikari and Prabisha Adhikari rework Coke Studio’s reworking of the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan track. Coke Studio’s reinterpretation, with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Momina Mustehsan, is arresting. Rahat, after all, is the heir to uncle Nusrat’s legacy. In Ankit and Prabisha’s cover, there are hints of the originals, both the Nusrat and Rahat versions. You keep expecting one of the singers to burst into a qawwali but the track refrains. In not rising to meet expectations, the cover keeps itself original.

9. Haami – Reflection

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This track is not from this year. In fact, it was released in 2014 but I’m including it here since the video for Reflection was released earlier this year. Haami is a band from the UK and boy are they fun to listen to. I have been listening to their EP regularly for the past year and it has yet to grow old. Although Reflection is not my favorite track off the EP (that would be Stars), it is an apt introduction. There are echoes of the band Toe in their music but that is a compliment. For someone who finds most post and prog rock  boring and repititive, Haami’s songs are a deviation. There are flourishes – a slight tweaking of the guitar, a shift in pace, a vocal introduction, an unexpectedly sweet melody – that keep the songs from becoming boring. I imagine they sound great live.

10. Kamero – Pragmatic Delusions

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This isn’t a great song. Kamero were fairly entertaining as a Tool cover band but their original leaves a lot to be desired. The lyrics are a hodge-podge of various metal cliches and the derivative composition just recalls other, better bands. The less said about the song and album titles, the better. What this song and its accompanying video do effectively is create a mood, deeply unsettling and bizarre, reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails project. While there is little sense to be made of the video, it is a bewitching visual spectacle realized very effectively by Jazz Productions. This track is best listened to with the video, each making the other half better.

 

 

Written by Pranaya

December 27, 2016 at 8:58 AM