Dreaming of Switzerland in Kapilbastu

These digitally altered posters of foreign lands are a familiar site all over Nepal. Sometimes they show alpine scenes and garishly-coloured log cabins, or fields of flowers/ Swiss peaks. Not Nepali ones, mind. These are foreign mountains. Other times they show scenes of famous landmarks in London, Paris or New York. Chubby caucasian babies form a whole other sub-genre of poster.

This particular gem was on the wall of a tea stall near the Indian border where I stopped for samosa-chura and chai (my favourite indulgence during field trips)

‘Why has the Eiffel Tower got the skyline of Baltimore in the background?’ my American colleague asked.

I was more curious about why Tower Bridge was shown with an outsized rainbow umbrella and two cruise liners passing through it.

I’m not entirely sure how to take these posters – surely the people who buy these things and apply them liberally to the walls of their home/hotel/tea-shop/office don’t think that the West actually looks like this? I doubt that they do. To me they seem to represent a technicolour, pantomimic version of videsh and modernity – and a dream of being elsewhere. Or maybe they are just being used to cover up flaking wall paper and inject some colour into a room.

Every time I see a poster of the Swiss cottage/alpine scene variety I think of a line in Sushma Joshi’s short story ‘Cheese’ (in the collection The End of the World) describing Switzerland: “That land of mountains, that mirror image of peaks, but so much more Westernised, so much more modern than Nepal’s own mythologically burdened ones” (the story deals with a relative’s return to Nepal after a sojourn in Switzerland). These posters seem to sum up that desire for something more than the here-and-now, something that would show one’s own surroundings up as shabby and backward. They amused me at first but now they make me feel a bit sad.

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