2

A Reader’s Dilemma

This new year, I resolved to be better informed. I contacted the local newspaper distributor, a stationery pasal, and subscribed to a newspaper. The next morning, I had a fresh bundled-up paper on my hands and with an almost revered sentiment; I started to flip through it.  Pages after pages of news – news that I would have probably remained indifferent to if the only thing I did on early mornings was walk out of that gate.

The front page headlined stories of impunity, human rights violation, rape, political stagnancy and incompetence, a huge corner for a branded watch, or a car, or a company, and a colorful footer. I am not a huge fan of the front page. The front page definitely demands your attention – from the photographs that cry out to you before you even begin to read the caption to the big-font texts that say “this is pertinent, you must read this” – but upon a closer scrutiny, all it does it redirect you to other pages. But for a newbie like me, I savored each and every word of the page because all this was new to me.

I felt like I was on an excavation trip, digging up dirt and ending up in a dump. All I read were news of murder, corruption, robbery, forgery, intimidation, suspension, protests, deaths, attacks, and accidents. My cup of fikka chiya went cold like my nerves. I had millions of questions like I always do, and like always, they remained unanswered. The con of this concept of news-reading is that you are never satisfied. You never get your answers because at the end of the day, it is a paper you are holding onto dearly. But wait! How can I be such a skeptic. I am not just holding onto a mere paper! This is an amalgam of voices – surely a paper cannot reply or rebel but a voice can. It is convenient to be pessimistic about these news that we read but the point of news-reading is not just getting answers but also discovering questions that you would have never asked in the first place.

As I fumbled and stumbled in this journey to the centre of the news-verse, I came across the Op-Ed page. The page that does not just report news or state facts but conveys opinions and arguments. It is a taraju that weighs ideals, ideologies and idiosyncrasies of “the system”. It perhaps does not really give a verdict but is capable of giving you a sense of where that verdict is leanings towards. To be honest, I was disappointed with this page. Some of the writings were redundant like a hamster’s ride in the merry-go-round that does not stop; redundant discourses and redundant attempts at pointing out alternatives. Voices that have ceased to make a difference. That is when I began to question about who reads this page. Corporate house managers? Politicians? Professors? Students? How do these opinions matter? Whose opinions are these – select few? Do not get me wrong, I believe that the Op-Ed page is a page of utmost importance in constructing and deconstructing discourses, shattering myths, and establishing the power of freedom of speech and expression. I can only hope that as my new year’s resolution continues, my faith in this page is restored.

And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you are hit with glitters and glamour of industries like movies, sports, and the likes. From being serious and thoughtful, my thoughts are distracted by the news of divorces, patch ups, trophies, and amazing shots of victories and loses. For a while, I feel dazzled and unable to understand where I am. From rape to red carpet, victims to victories, murder to movies; I no longer am sure how I am supposed to feel about the world I live in.

Is this section of the newspaper supposed to act as an anesthesia to all the reported wounds and woes? I am amused because of the way the newspaper was structured, from being almost urgent in its tone to being lax and almost indulgent. I fail to understand why it is this way. Why would I want to read my day’s horoscope if I have already read the day’s horrors? I am not trying to be dismissive about this section because I know that they are also equally important parts of this world that we live in. Perhaps, what is required is a more sensible approach to how they are reported.

By the end of this schizoid trip, I was unable to grasp the severity of the situation. Is my world about to crash down; this world that is full of crimes and injustices (and in addition, people with power but no will to change) where the polluted air is not only the only thing that can suffocate you? Or do I simply walk away with a little bit of glitter and a crossword puzzle that will keep me occupied?

0

Spotting Butterflies

I woke up to the cold morning hesitant and humdrum. I did not want to get out of the bistara but then, I had a mission in my mind. After exchanging few early morning text messages, I finally got out of my bed, greeted my mother a good morning, and walked out of my cocoon to be greeted with a gush of cold breeze.

The past few weeks have been a series of unfortunate events followed by a series of movements. Streets have come alive with people showing an animated and agitated response to the reports of rape and violence against women. I have cringed with discomfort at the accounts of violent acts – use of a rusted rod to brutalize a woman’s body, forced and coerced sexual assault and rape, beatings, and abuse – that leaves both your body and mind paralyzed. I look at myself in the mirror, try to place myself in that position: the pain is unimaginable, and the anger insurmountable.

Yet, when I heard this news, all I did was cringe. I did not scream, I did not shout. I went about doing my work as usual because I am like any one of you – I have a college to attend to, I have work to go to, I have deadlines, and I have excuses. For almost two weeks, all I did was cringe. Now that I write about it, it is interesting that I never heard people inside micro-buses, or tempos, or buses discuss these events. You usually get to listen to people rant about a lot of things in a public vehicle; rants on the politics of Nepal, the petrol hike, and the load-shedding but all of a sudden, everyone was silent. Is rape or violence against women such a hush-hush issue that people refuse to utter them out loud in public? Can I then go about making another assumption that people here (insert that in a double quotation marks) are still disconcerted by the notion of rape because at one point or the other, everyone thinks about the word “sex” when talking about rape? Can I then go about adding another layer of assumption that this particular stigma makes rape a case of ignorance and fear?

Digressions aside, so this particular morning, now that we all have successfully averted the eminent threat of the end of the world and resorted to making another list of resolutions, I decided to attend one of these sit-in protests happening in the valley regarding the various (reported and unreported) acts of violence against women. For a person like me, that was a huge decision because I am like you; anonymous and think efforts like protests and sit-ins can make no difference in a world of injustice and impunity because nobody cares, especially the politicians. And, to add to that, there are cameras everywhere and I am not sure if I want to be published on the front page of a newspaper without my knowledge.

As I neared Baluwatar, I started to spot white paper butterflies everywhere. Some perched on the ears, some clipped onto the hair, some pinned to the chest, and some lying on the streets. Lifeless yet clung onto dearly by many attending the protest, the butterflies instantly caught my attention. I tried to hide behind people – people with conviction, and people who were not afraid to lend in their faces to the voices raised against violence against women. Or perhaps, they wanted to be seen. I wanted to be invisible for some reason; because I was scared, intimidated, or plainly put, lost. I did not know the women who were raped and abused, I did not know the people who were supporting this cause, but there I was, amid this crowd of strong, unfaltering voices, and I was ashamed that I was scared. I lip-synced the naras because to be honest, I was out of my wits. Who are these people? Where did they turn up from? With white paper butterflies? Why do they care? I saw a familiar face, of a Nepali actor, and then another; and I saw how solemn their eyes were. I saw that solemn-ness in everyone present there. They cared! They did!

And then I saw the faces of the passer-bys. The ones like me except I was on the other side of the street. They passed by in their cars, motorbikes, and Yatayats; with their mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, friends, and grandmothers. With a sudden authority, I questioned them: “why aren’t you guys here with us? Do you not care?” But then I remembered my mother who is at home, my father who is working, my relatives who are busy, and my friends who have priorities.

Meanwhile, an incessant voice wanted to know where Chori Maiya is, when the women would get justice, and when the violence against women would end. Her voice sounded soar, and anguished. People around me supported her with chants. Chants have a way of gripping you into the rhythm of revolt. I found myself responding to the rhythm and mumbled back. Once or twice. I am not sure if it counts. But it took a lot from me and will continue to take a lot in order to shed away the inhibition and speak up.

Somebody handed me a frail looking, white paper butterfly with a pin. I took the butterfly and pinned it onto my jacket. And walked away.

 

PS: I am sorry for such an ill-written piece. Hurried and rushed it sounds. I will try to write better next time. Thanks for reading it!

0

Believe Me

Believe me, it is so easy to be depressed. We live in a world where the constant threat of “the end” haunts our dreams, the chaos and the congestion clogs our minds, and we try to look for meanings in the litters. Believe me, I am writing this to you because you matter; because you, my dear friend, are much loved and cared for.

This is a letter to a friend whom I care deeply for. This is a letter to strangers looking for “balance” in the way this world keeps spinning. This is a letter for myself.

There used to be a time when I spent nights crying my eyes out. While I still managed to pull off a smile now and then, humor, and make it through the days, I kept the deepest and darkest painful memories of the past to myself. I let them germinate inside me and influence my thoughts. I preferred the corners of my room to the window that my mother had adorned with a beautiful cream-yellow curtain with orange flowers on it.  I woke up feeling heavy and slept very little. I remember one day I found myself inside my room, eating my dinner and trying to choke myself. I tried to chew, I tried to swallow but I failed. That was the breaking point.

How many of you have felt this way? How many of you have gone through this period of dark energy? You try to look around for comfort but Kathmandu (or honestly, any other place) has very little to offer to you. You are greeted with a fog of frustration as you try to scramble through a packed micro-bus or tempo. As you enter your school or college or workplace, the walls close down on you and hammer into your ears the sound of suffocation. You squint your eyes, tighten your lips, and fidget in “the unknown” for companionship, love, affection, confidence, and strength. Strange faces crowd your being while you struggle to make some sense out of stranger coincidences and contradictions. The dusk falls with an ominous promise of risks of rape and robbery, murder and melancholy. On the other part of the town, people are dancing to the music of lets-forget-the-pain.

There is not even a single moment here without conflict and guilt. The skyscrapers weigh on you. The rank rivers narrate injustices. The streets scream of exposed wounds, deconstructed homes, bulks of replication and anonymity, and dogs. You push, tug, kick, and swear but no one listens because the deafening dream of development has clouded their senses.

But believe me when I say, you are not alone. There are thousands and millions of individuals out there, or if not at least a few hundreds, who feel the exact emotions that you do. My alliterated attempts are a proof of how familiar you sounded to me when you opened up your heart and trusted me with those emotions. I felt crushed and inadequate at how little help I might be to fill in the blanks.

Therefore, I write this letter to you because I know I could have used one.

This is not a solution but an alternative. Remember to begin your day with the thought of loved ones and end it with appreciating the love. There is an abundance of it that surrounds you every time you take a new step, slightly unsure and insecure, yet a step indeed. Imagine that every breath you take is filling up balloons attached to strings that kids hold onto in the hopes of flying high up in the sky. Imagine how much fun that would be! If you ever doubt yourself, don’t stop. You have every reason to do so and in doing so, you remain humble to possibilities. If you ever break down, break down completely because there is no greater relief than finding out that when you break down, you loosen the grip of guilt and the burden of being brave all the time. You break down to realize that breaking down is just an episode in the larger picture of building up.

These are words that you have told me time and again when I have come to you, desperately clinging on to our friendship. These are the exact words but when you will read it, I know you will find them strange and alien. But believe me, these are the exact words that made me feel better.

1

Rides of our life time

Thirteen years in Kathmandu and I am still not used to living here. This city never ceases to amaze me. Take for instance – taxi rides. I can already imagine some heads going all dismissive by the mere mention of a taxi – the elite ride as they like to call it – but I have to say, Dashain is not particularly a public-vehicle friendly festival. So I get into a cab with a friend and the driver dai turns his head ever so slightly and says, “metermai jane ta hola ni.” My eyes are almost about to pop out of my head. This must be the first taxi driver dai who has willingly offered to run the meter! During Dashain season! I look at my friend and tell him, “The moment a taxi driver dai says that, something is bound to be sketchy.”

As we headed off to Ekantakuna, the taxi suddenly took up a blind-rage speed followed by a swerve. The only thing that could have made the driver dai hit the accelerator to such an extreme is if he had seen a procession of silver unicorns in the middle of the road and wanted to save them pretty little creatures. My friend and I, disoriented and distraught, looked inquiringly at the dai, who had somehow managed to get the taxi to the side-lane of the road. I was buzzed by all that speed and scare; my friend, now slightly angry, asked the driver, “What happened?” The driver dai, who looks like he is probably in his mid or late twenties with a “hip-hop” rap style cap on, gives us a smug looks and says, “Kasailai kei bhaako ta chaina.” That look suggested that he did not give a damn about us. Somewhere in the middle of Jawlakhel and Ekantakuna, he just decided that he needed some action. Perhaps, he was daydreaming some James Bond style stunt scene, where he was being chased by some dubious gangster. I have no idea!

We scrambled out of the vehicle, paid the guy whatever over-priced number the meter was flashing (now you know the reason for his willingness), and literally ran for our lives. This Dashain was definitely a scare for me. These moments are what I will never be able to fathom in Kathmandu. I don’t know what possessed the taxi driver dai, I will perhaps never know. Was he high on drugs? Was he drunk in broad daylight? Was he kidding! The road was thankfully empty, but what if there was a huge truck speeding toward us?

Some of you have probably met better taxi driver dais. I have as well, and it saddens me that few of the irresponsible ones taint their reputation. Yesterday as I was forced to ride another taxi again, I was welcomed by a friendly dai, who was still enjoying his Dashain galore, who almost took us in the wrong direction. We did not mind because we all were in our own little Dashain galore and eventually laughed about it. Or the other time when as my whole family ambushed a taxi, my father started having a “political” chat with the driver dai; and the ride was definitely informative and interesting! Sometimes we end up talking about where we have all originally come from; we end up sharing our life stories with driver dais, they talk about their village, families, and hardships and we talk about our village, families, and hardships. We share a hearty laugh over a ride; and end up feeling a little less angry at everything else.

I genuinely think that taxi rides can change a little bit of our perspectives. Imagine every time you rode a taxi, some random driver dai is able to change a little bit of your misconceptions and you are able to do so likewise. Imagine every ride worth the money – and not because the meter flashes the right amount of rupees worth the fuel consumed but because the faces flash the right amount of smiles worth the time spent inside the taxi.

Ride safe!

1

New News?

I do not read newspapers. I get my daily updates of news from various “other” reliable and unreliable sources – that includes Facebook, micro-bus chit-chats and fragments from the FM that is tuned on in the ride, serious conversations of elders, and comments passed by shop-keepers. It may probably be a sin at this day and age to declare that I do not even flip through newspapers; but I decided to come clean for the sake of those who might be closeted newspaper non-readers; who are struggling to keep up with social conversations about politics, economy, environment, and most probably, if they are like me, going through guilt pangs of being ignorant and indifferent.

I heard about the recent plane crash from my mother! My mother makes it a point to watch all the Nepali news channels during the day. When I come back home, she is always ready with one or the other news that shocked her that day. This time around, I had no clue what had happened until my mother told me about the crash; and then Facebook friends started to share images of “a fake bird” and R.I.P status updates for the people who lost their lives that day.

I did not know how to respond. I have had conversations with a friend of mine about the number of plane crashes Nepal has seen. Once he mentioned that every six months, there is a plane crash in Nepal. I could not believe the statistics. No one cares, or if they do, the voice is never heard. Investigations blame a faulty bird, a foggy day, a fierce wind, and what not. What remain perhaps unquestioned are issues of maintenance and quality of the airplanes, trained and experienced pilots, passenger limits, and various other issues that could have been avoided.

It is unnerving to think that the passengers actually paid for a ticket to death –literally. While my father, mother, grand-mother, and I huddled in the TV room, my mother breached the topic of the crash.

I said, “I can’t imagine what the passengers must have felt when they came to realize that they were about to crash.”

My father replied, “I heard that the passengers were shouting from inside the plane.”

Something curdled inside me; it was like the mere act of imagination spurred images and sounds – fragmented movie scenes of plane crashes, strange faces that my subconscious has stored, and sounds of screams – that left me with a jarring moment of depression. I cannot imagine; I cannot place myself in their places; I cannot bear to think about it without feeling guilty about thinking about it.

I wanted to cry. This is one of those times when I feel completely out of control. I do not know what to make of things; like accidents, and death.

Could the plane crashes have been avoided? My heart, sorry for sounding polemic, but really my heart says it could have been. All those crashes could have been avoided. All those buses crashing into rivers, all those people starving to death, all those patients left unattended, all those girls sold to brothels, all those boys in the streets, all those aged people abandoned – if everyone cared enough, all of these could have been avoided.

One of the reasons I stopped reading newspapers – or did not bother to start the habit of reading one – was because the way it makes me feel about things in Nepal. I will start reading newspapers the day they begin to report news of “real” transformation: where “development” is not just a word but an action, when news of Nepal will make me want to buy all the newspapers clipped onto the shutter’s edge from my local stationery shop.

Naïve? Yes. Impossible? No.

0

An Ode to an Incessant Nose

“Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed nose of mine!” said William Carlos Williams in his poem “Smell”. Oh, how much I loved reading that poem – if not for an equally incessant nose of mine that kept wanting to run.

An equally incessant nose of mine that knows no bounds comes along with more hours of sputtering of snots than what it has been divinely appointed to do – breathing. At the wake of the dawn, I found myself struggling to breathe with a blockade somewhere down the tunnel of those hairy nostrils. For a while I could not understand what was happening to me. Was I dreaming? Am I dreaming? Was I having one of those dreaded nose-attacks that slowly sneaks up to you when you least expect?

It has been a month or so that I have been suffering from some alien form of “cough and cold”; not the common kind. And, can we please remove the “cough” and only keep the “cold”? My friend sympathetically suggested perhaps I had caught one of that “viral flu” stuff which has been floating around Kathmandu quite literally. I mean, the valley definitely is no epitome of obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ish cleanliness – given the amount of polluted air there is – and I doubt if those fifteen rupees masks can save me and my nose from the dangers of the invisibles.

In desperation, and only because the degree of desperation was dripping down my nose, I went to seek some medical expertise but to no avail. I was given a set of drills and pills; ten days of amoxicillin, ten days of coldin, and seven days of decongestant. The “decongestant” is no joke. It is what is says it is. After a few drops, you will have one of the most abrasive sneeze attacks that the world has heard. All that waiting in the line to see the doctor, not to mention the money you spend, will be rewarded with a trumpeting nose attached to your face. Everywhere you go it comes along with you, declares itself at the oddest of hours and puts you in the snot-light.

When the dosages of medicine finally came to the brink, I decided to give my nose a test run. In the beginning, everything seemed perfectly fine. It began with a sputter but gradually opened up to breathe in the humid air. I was happy. I could breathe in the bouts of rainfall of the past few days, the lingering laziness of the afternoon, and the fresh freedom of sniffing delicacies being cooked in the kitchen by my mummy.

One, two, three: aan-ch-ooo! This is all that was required for my amnesiac nose to be reminded of its ability to be irritable. I wanted to just cry; I saw no light at the end of the tunnel, I saw no halo hovering over the nose angel, I saw no nose angel! One of the problems with having a runny nose – a noisy runny noise – is it bars you from using the fullest of your abilities to discern conversations, participate in those conversations, and at times, appreciate them. It is the Achilles’ heel – but on the tip of your nose. Imagine that!

I have lost faith in the science of medicine; if I could I would have gone to a shaman but I have heard that the one in our tole is also bed-ridden with the very viral flu that my friend suspected me of having caught.

I do not know how to end this thing. My incessant nose prevents me from making coherent thoughts, and arranging them. I am not even sure how I made it this far – with a dilapidated and drugged me-self – and I can only hope that this ode finds you and your nose in good health.

 

0

The Result?

For NRs. 350, you can get a one year worth of poorly written notes on Sociology. Add another NRs. 150 or so, you will get another poorly edited (or not) solution book. Add few more bucks and buy yourself some blank papers, a dot pen (or more) and start scribbling down answers on the paper with your best handwriting. Make sure only you can understand it. Cut the cheats into sizes that you can skillfully maneuver from the seams of your shirt or the sides of your socks. There you go, the art of cheating.

You will find many of these cheating connoisseurs lurking about in the exam centers – Tri-Chandra, Sankardev and the likes – with their calm and composed demeanors. They have no face, they have no race; they look like you, they look like me; anonymous, ambiguous, and ambitious to pull off their schemes. As soon as you enter the classroom, the stiff wooden benches give off a rotten stink. These benches have been etched with hours of sitting upright, listening to the lectures, and perhaps more hours of emptiness.

I sat down to appear for my first examination like the thousands that day. I searched for my exam roll number that had been ripped off from benches, fortunately found mine still intact and started drawing margins on the answer paper. I looked around (mainly for assurance) as students started to fill up the room. The Ghantaghar chimed the hour and the examination had begun.

Like the elaborate delicacies that magically appear on the dining tables of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (reference: Harry Potter) with the swift wave of the wand, cheats of different shades and sizes started to float around the room under the benches. Students looked animated and enchanted with wisdom as they stole lines off the cheats and scribbled down the papers. Gutted and gusted, I realized there was no use; no use of the system, no use of the education, no use of the examination, no use of the complaining, and no use of the students.

There are many who are not personally opposed to the idea of cheating. There are many who believe that if the education system is wrong, the students are not to be blamed. The students who attended classes will blame the absent professors, the professors who took the classes will blame the absent students, the absent students will blame the absent government, and the absent government will remain absent. The blithe of blames will go around the merry-go-round and as the dizzying effect continues, I guess my four hours of academic integrity was brought down to shambles by the shame the reality I was injected with.

Someone from the back shouted. I didn’t even want to bother turning around but the commotion began to become heated. One of the invigilators in the room had stapled a cheat he had found on a student along with her answer paper and this the student found unfair. She protested that while the other students were given “warnings”, she was not even given that chance. She stomped her feet, flung her arms, and began to sob. A sight that I will never forget. There she was, crying because she was caught cheated and the evidence of the cheating was clipped onto her paper. I did not want to sympathize with her but then I also did not want to pat the invigilator on his back. There was something very ugly about this whole matter. The rest of the room was busy regurgitating cheats after cheats; the rest of the hundreds of rooms that day were busy cheating knowledge.

I started to imagine where these contaminated answer papers would go, get enlisted, marked, ranked, and printed off into a sheet of paper that announced “the result”: the result? The result of hours of preparing cheats, and the result of hours of cheating off the cheats; all of a sudden the result did not look that promising.