Nepal - KIAF 2012 - Bhai Tika

November 15, 2012 - Of workshops and brother love

With the New Year celebration starting to take a firm hold on the community the motorcycle horns were beginning to pale against the crack of the fireworks being let off by children who took extreme pleasure in throwing the things into confined alleyways where the sound naturally amplified against the hard brick walls.

Fireworks master

Their screams of delight were almost inaudible after the deafening blast, but one could see impish smiles disappear around corners and vanish moments after.

A few months ago I had put some feelers out to see if there would be any chance of arranging workshops; photography or print related while I was in Nepal. It was a busy time for me and it was difficult to put all my energy into finding a partner to work with so I let go of the idea for the time being thinking I would do more about it when I got here. Somewhere along the line something must have registered in someone's mind because yesterday I got a call from Kailash Shrestha of

running his own series of workshops for photographers and a text message from Sharareh of


and in under an hour we had our first meeting. So it seems things are actually coming together and we will meet again on Saturday to firm up the plan. In the mean time I'm trying to see if I can get a printer arranged through the Epson dealership locally and some media to print on.

Sangeeta's relatives at the Bhai Tika celebration

Today it is Bhai Tika celebration - where sisters honour their brothers in a ceremony that seems to be spread out all day depending on who lives where and what family obligations people have. As most families live several generations in the same house it seems to be a logistical piece of cake to get everyone together. KIAF had arranged that we experience the Bhai Tika first hand at the home of Sangeeta Thapa - the Chairperson of the Siddhartha Arts Foundation and we took a 30 minute bus ride the 5km across town to meet the family.

As I am the last to leave the minibus, I find myself straggling a bit behind and as the others are invited into Sangeeta's back garden I am beckoned up an external flight of stairs in the neighbouring house by some young boys. Separated from the others I find myself in a rather formal looking terrace room  lined with glass windows on the top floor in which the Bhai Tika ceremony is taking place. The room is filled with senior members of the family who look like they have just stepped off the boat in Hawaii with colourful garlands around their necks. I am encouraged to take photographs by these complete strangers as if I was a distant relative requiring evidence of a family I have long forgotten. It is always a surprise to me how unconditionally open and friendly people can be when welcoming visitors from abroad sharing their culture with generosity and flare.

Bhai Tika in Kathmandu

Applying the 7 colours of the rainbow to the forehead

Applying the colours to the forehead

They continue with their ceremony absorbed in the ritual of applying Tika which seems mostly to consist of touching people's foreheads (with glue and rainbow coloured powders) which the guidebooks go to great lengths to inform is strictly forbidden. There are bowls of fruit and colourful decorations everywhere and is a blend of Easter bunny meets Thanksgiving - and possibly the sweeter side of Halloween.

Downstairs back with our group I meet the family dogs - separating me from my artist companions - which are closer to Shetland ponies in size and not keen on my iPhone on a stick which I discreetly put down and out of sight so I can pass to the garden.

After the event in town we are back in Lalitpur, Patan and I soon want to get out in the last hours of light to see what I can find. My objective is portraits and I take only my 50 mm f/1.2 and my iPhone as tools. I will regret this later - regret my laziness and lack of imagination that when you are in an unknown culture you will always be surprised and therefore laziness is an unforgivable trait for a photographer to possess.

Photographing people, up close, is a commitment. I have a feeling the reason most people don't like photographers is because they steal.  Taking a genuine interest in people requires that you make contact, and in order to do this you need time - and plenty of it. You need to find a way into their lives which has meaning - after all it is a cooperation. It is something that needs to be done together - so lets make friends if only for a short time and the language of words is not the only way we can communicate.

Sister and brother, Patan

Man outside with garlands and Tika on his forehead

The girl at the cosmetics shop, Patan

In the street I meet very agreeable people and a new problem starts to present itself as one would expect. Having made friends and got some photos I am invited to take a drink and realise that this could end up as an all evening affair which wouldn't be a bad thing in itself, except for the fact that my impossible objective is to maintain my freedom and engage the community at the same time. Very soon we bump into Shailaja from KIAF and her brother on the way to the family home and Eeva and me are invited to meet the family. Having made an evening commitment with Mangal for 6pm and then 7pm the plan gets completely changed as we become more and more absorbed by the festivities which the following video will testify.

There are few experiences I have had in my life which compare to this in terms of intimacy and openness on the part of people whom I have never met before. The video speaks for itself - a rather longer one than normal - and reduced in size because of the very slow connection we have here I will upload the HD version when I get back to Finland.

Shailaja applies the Tika

One of Shailaja's uncles

The men sit in front of candles and mandalas made from coloured powders on the stone floor with candles burning.