Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Critical Media Practices, University of Colorado / Boulder

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Harvard University
Hope's Harvest: Tactics of Survival among Nepal's Gaine

How does hope sustain people when their resources and options in life are limited, if not exhausted? I will explore this question in the lives of the Gāine, a community of traditionally itinerant musicians in Nepal who now engage in a variety of menial jobs and tactics of survival to cope with financial hardship and political instability. Many Gāine speak of āśakhetī, “hope’s harvest,” as a way of designating a realm of opportunity, in which to both make a living and make life worth living. In my project I will explore what this idiom entails, focusing on how hope kindles action, fuels the imagination, and mediates the realms of deed and affect to shape experience and transform lives. The Gāine are primarily recognized as itinerant musicians who wander through villages and cities playing their four-stringed sārangi and singing folk songs in exchange for food and money. The Gāine are also dalit (“untouchable”) by caste, and as the term indicates, they are both “ground down” and “suppressed” by a variety of forces. Though the Gāine are musicians by traditional designation, less than a third of them make their living through music alone, for they receive little recompense from performing their songs. Many Gāine also work in menial jobs, such as day laborers, trash collectors, or farmers, migrating throughout the country for work, subsisting but rarely escaping poverty. As a way of coping, many Gāine speak of āśakhetī, “hope’s harvest,” and in doing so create an existential and aspirational space between resignation and faith. The professions they pursue generate meager capital, either financial or symbolic, and the Gāine just barely get by. With success so difficult to attain, how do the Gāine maintain hope for “hope’s harvest”? And through it all, how do they find dignity?