Dilapidated vehicles queue up in the traffic jam on the street in the valley. They emit black fumes, leaving its wispy trail behind where lies the weary building of the royal palace turned into a museum after the country abolished the monarchy on 28 May 2008. I struggle to muffle my mouth, and question, “why did I leave my village that gave me plenty of fresh air to breathe?” When the congestion becomes not only of vehicles but also of unwanted noise, carbon monoxide, traffic rule breakers, and political imbroglio, I vent my frustration at myself, “why the heck did I leave the peace of the countryside where I spent my childhood and adolescence?”
When I wake up to a cacophony of Kathmandu, I miss those days in the village when birds chirped on bamboo trees early in the morning, giving me a wake-up call. Bagmati River, which flows as if forlorn and gutter-filled, reminds me of how much I have missed the susurration of the Ramchandre river, clean and precinct—that now has become a relic of the past, that I can relish in my imagination. I can jump, whether dressed or undressed, into the river of my fantasy and swim. Nowhere do I find the joy in the valley these days.
Lure Of Town
Why did I sell and leave our four acres of land we owned and limit myself to the area of four aana in Kathmandu? Why did I sell the freedom I had in the village? What joy would I have when I brag about my house in Kathmandu? All these questions have now started ringing in my ears like an uninterrupted bell, forcing me to sell the property in the valley, go back to the village, and reinvigorate myself and feel like a Phoenix that could rise from its ashes.
Here in Kathmandu, everything feels morbid. Life is in a rush. There is no rhythm. The river I want to jump into carries gutter life. The road I want to travel to suffers from potholes, traffic jams, or black fumes. The people seem to be mechanical or melancholic. Politics is absurd. Politicians sit in for protest, polluting the daily chores of life. They spread illusions of patriotism and bring innocent lives from the countryside to Kathmandu for protests, distributing false dreams. They don’t trust their government, nor the judiciary system. Power, pennies, and promiscuousness are what tend to be guidi ng principles of politicians’ behaviour and attitudes. It becomes suffocating. I belch all the acids Kathmandu gives me and that mingles with the dust and fume in the air in the valley.
I enter a coffee shop just for a break for myself and contemplate Kathmandu over sips of coffee. Kathmandu remained an exotic place for many visitors and foreigners for years, for example, Pico Lyer in his book “Video Night in Kathmandu” describes his impression of Kathmandu in the 1980s as “delirious.” He writes, “I felt as if I had tumbled into the jangled and kaleidoscoped subconscious of an opium freak.” His description of Kathmandu is so “cool.” In his description, he brings so many social, cultural, and religious paraphernalia into play. He portrays Kathmandu as “the land of mystic delights.” Peter J, Karthik explores then Kathmandu even more picturesquely in his recent novel “Kathmandruids: Monomyths and many myths.”
When I came to Kathmandu, I didn’t think of these. I don’t know how foreigners view Kathmandu these days, but in my heart, it always remained as a city of temples, the capital city of Nepal. When I came here, I only thought of my future and my career, my further studies, and going abroad. I only thought of Kathmandu as the biggest city of Nepal where we have big universities, big institutions, big airports, celebrities, politicians, and opportunities.
I never thought of the current deploring state of Kathmandu that has still failed to equally mete out the opportunities across the country even after the collapse of so many political systems and regimes that range from the Rana regime to the loss of monarchy to federal democratic republic. I never thought that the countryside joy I inherited within me would be sucked out of me by the suffocation of Kathmandu. I only chased my dreams that I thought Kathmandu would provide, but never realized how much I would miss the actual dream I would eventually vie for. Kathmandu has made many hearts that have come from villages seeking the opportunity weary. So much has happened, but that remains like “much ado about nothing.”
I come out to the road in the evening and see women in their mid-twenties and mid-thirties selling ready-made Chinese cheap clothes on the street while breastfeeding their babies while black fumes still coming from the vehicles seem to adulterate the mother’s milk. Men and women — their faces wrinkled like creases of a pair of trousers that were never ironed; they are supposed to be living a retired life now— are barbecuing corn on the wood-fire and selling them, and the customers still bargaining for the price. Some of the “Indian looking” Madheshi people selling chatpate are asking if I would want it while I see others eating and their tongues producing hot-spicy sounds that make the saliva roll down inside my mouth.
I think all of them are chasing dreams, that could be bigger or smaller depending upon who views it in what way. There are many theories about dreams, but dreams are perceptions too, and they are matters of time, I reckon. What I once thought as my dream is not a dream anymore. Now I find my dreams in the valley becoming hazier, wandering like the smog that seems to cover the hills of the valley on the horizon. The village I left in search of my dream becomes my dream, taller and clearer.
In the village, I find peace, hard-working people on the farm, and organic life and vegetation. In the village, I will be the first to see the sun, the moon, and the stars. In the village, I can grow vegetables, fruits, and plants in the soil, can sweat and take a shower from tube water—bucket by bucket. In the village, I can dance to the rhythm of the plant leaves’ twirling, can behold the sunset on the horizon, can listen to the moo-moo, or mew, or cock-a-doodle-do. In the village, I can be the king of my own life. Living in the Kathmandu valley, I have been missing all of them.
My dream is to grow rice and lentils on my farm and consume them as my meal. Who doesn’t know about them? Whoever comes to visit Nepal does not go unaware of rice and lentils. Otherwise, ask Rory Stewart who wrote in his New York Times bestseller nonfiction “The Places in Between” – “I ate… rice and lentils, some nights adding black millet bread,” that was the only food we ate once upon a time when my parents were very poor.
Let’s make “back to the village” a reality, not just a dream!
(The author is Assistant Professor of English at South Georgia State College, USA)
(Published in the Rising Nepal dated 30 Apr, 2021)