Prasiit Sthapit is a photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was introduced to his work by Sohrab Hura recently as he wanted to share some of the work of photographers he had met and tutored at a workshop in Kathmandu last fall. Sthapit’s project “Change of Course”, presented as an multimedia piece, immediately impressed me. Striking pictures mixed well with gorgeous music and documentary audio; it is evocative storytelling for such a hard to illustrate political and climate change story.
The story is also presented simply as photographs and text on his website, and you can get a chance to admire the quiet, intimate photographs themselves. Sthapit also describes the project as a work in progress, and that we will see more family photographs and found objects along with the photos of the place.
Change of Course
“We fought a lot for Susta, we suffered a lot in Susta. We didn’t know when we would be killed. Even after all that, we survived. But in the end, Gangaji swept us away,” Rajkumari Rana (Muwa), reminisces. I met Muwa, 79 years old and blind, at her house in Keulani,Triveni. She was one of the first settlers of Susta. Having come here from Kathmandu with her daughter and a small bag of belongings in 1967, she worked as a schoolteacher, headmistress, local leader and also as night patrol. She remembers times when even women had to patrol at night, with sticks in hand as protection against dacoits from Bihar. There had been numerous clashes in the past, which had wounded many and killed some.
Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which has long been considered the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a small, contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by Indian land, and on the fourth by the Narayani. The original settlers now express anger at the fact that they have been sidelined by both India and Nepal.
The flood of 1980 shifted the land to the east, displacing the whole village in the process. Muwa was among the displaced. The government gave each family a small plot of land in nearby villages of Triveni Susta VDC for temporary settlement, but this generosity was limited to those with Nepali citizenship. There were quite a few who were originally from India, and others needing a place to hide.
After the floodwaters receded, the people who were not given land parcels started returning to Susta, although it was now nothing but sand and rocks. They worked in these barren conditions, trying to get whatever little they could out of the land. Meanwhile, the Border Security Force of India was gradually preparing to encroach on Susta. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have been appropriated through Indian encroachment thus far.
Dva: How did you come to produce “Change of Course”?
Sthapit: This project was first conceived for an exchange programme between Oslo University College, Norway, Pathshala, Bangladesh, Drik India and photo.circle, Nepal. I had already thought of it as a long term project and later on while the project was ongoing, Sohrab was also very much involved with the editing and the look of the project. (we had a workshop with Sohrab on September, 2012). He also gave me a lot of insights on how to continue the project further. By the end of the workshop with Sohrab we had to come up with somesort of a presentation and he suggested I do a projection.
How did you decide on the format of this video, with sound and audio and stills-as-motion? Are you showing it any other way, such as an exhibition of single photographs or some other medium?
While I was out photographing the place, I didn’t have anything concrete in my mind (I wanted the experience there to guide me along the way) so I collected everything that caught my interest. I recorded interviews with the people because even though I try to share my own experiences with the people there, I want them to speak for themselves. Sound is also a very important element in the whole story, if not the most important one. The family photographs also do the same. Photographs in the villages are prized possessions, they cherish these pictures. This is the way they want to be portrayed. The story is currently being exhibited as a print exhibition in Kathmandu International Art Festival, Kathmandu which also includes sound installation. The sound used in this is different than the one in the video.
Can you tell me about the music you chose?
The song that goes as the background is by a Nepali neo-folk band called ‘Night’. The song talks about the flood that waged havoc in Nepal in the river Koshi a few years back. I thought it would be appropriate for the piece and the music felt just right. As it doesn’t over power the piece with overwhelming sadness. I felt the sounds, the voice and the music gave a sense of community, a village.
Prasiit Sthapit is a Kathmandu-based visual storyteller whose work deals with societies at the borderline, both literally and figuratively. Through photography, he chooses to show the experiences he has shared with the people he has met, and what they mean to him. He graduated from Manipal Institute of Communication, India with a Bachelors in Arts (Journalism and Communication) and was the recipient of the Dr. TMA Pai Gold Medal for Best Outgoing Student, 2010. He is associated with Photo.Circle, an organization working towards building a strong community of visual storytellers in Nepal, and Fuzz Factory Productions, a multimedia collective.