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Intergenerational Perspectives on Ageing in Patan, Nepal

Christiane Brosius and Axel Michaels

Grandfather and grandson watching a wedding band passing by in the old city of Bhaktapur, Nepal, 2010 (photo: C. Brosius)

This sub-project aims at looking at two interrelated categories in Nepali society: people between 20-35 years of age and elderly people (60+) in the Newar capital of Patan (Lalitpur), Kathmandu Valley. There are very sporadic and mostly quantitative studies on ageing in Nepal, many of which discussing the phenomena from a predominantly cultural pessimistic perspective, and ignoring transcultural flows. With the majority of Nepalis being exposed to experiences of direct or indirect migration, and new media technologies, the notion of age and intergenerational relations is changed. The project explores case-studies from the ethnic group of Newars, known since long for their transnational mobility, high craftsmen skills, agricultural wealth and history. Participant observation and semi-structured as well as open an biographical interviews with people from Lalitpur evolve around caste, religion, occupation and rituals. Of major importance are ageing-rituals, and everyday live-worlds at home and outside. Thereby the shifts in the urban landscape, of intangible heritage and spatial mobility matter particularly.

Case Study I: Contesting locality (Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius)

This project explores the ways in which everyday and ritual life in the city are negotiated and addressed by people of old age and their children. The case study is Old Patan, and in particular, the 'heritage' city located around the durbar (palace), a very densely populated part of Patan, and still inhabited and animated by an intimate - yet rapidly changing - fabric of local communities and tangible heritage architecture. Intangible heritage - a whole host of rituals and everyday mobilities brings an amazingly rich life to the popular tourist destination, inscribing it with demolition of old houses and public spaces, as well as reconstruction. it is the mobilities of the elderly, seen by the young, the 'memory-sites' frequented and charged by them, that this project is investigating, thus studying both the ageing but also the rejuvenation of space and social agents, by means of participant observation, archival research and interviews (mostly in Newari). This way, complex and partly contraditory notions of 'modern lifestyle', 'cultural heritage' and filial piety are approached and related to each other, with a deep interest in urban anthropology, the aesthetics and sensories of space and place, and the aspirations of those engaging in intergenerational conversations. The project is supported by Rajendra Shakhya, a journalist and researcher from Old Patan.

Case Study II: Ritual ageing (Prof. Dr. Axel Michaels)

In ageing, rituals of initiation, rites of passage, play a crucial role. Among the Newars of Nepal, old age is respected and celebrated in an impressive way. This becomes especially visible in certain old age rituals as well as in the highly important function of the senior most man (nayah) and woman (nakhim) of a household, lineage or clan who in domestic affairs and rituals have to takeover essential tasks. The role of these ritual specialists, the conflicts and changes with respect to choreography and participation have never been thoroughly thematized and studied. In recent years the nayah and nakhim have been challenged by the influence of an emerging youth culture that formulates aspirations that seem to discredit the narratives of old age, but also changing educational and work situations, highly intense transnational migration and„Western‟ influences through a regime of non-governmental organizations and media. However, a challenging question is how (old) age re- mains defined by ritual criteria rather than years of life or economic status. As it seems, Newar society upholds the idealized role of the senior most man and woman for reasons of social status and nostalgia (Newar are different to other Nepalis) rather than social value or familial solidarity. It is proposed to study the functions of both in various rituals (Michaels) and elaborating their expec- tations by interviewing old and young Newar people (Brosius). The material used for this project are oral histories, song lyrics, and photographs.