A Glimpse of Thamel – a short account of finding myself again

 

This is among the few first pictures I took while I leisurely strolled on the streets of Thamel that overflowed with vibrance of food and music. I came back home briefly in the summer of 2018 to pursue a research study and visit my family. Back in the U.S, old sub-urban towns and mini eatery lanes never fail to remind me of the bustling streets of Thamel; it’s imageries, grittiness and ensuing serenity that comes from much familiarity and yearning for home. 

Thamel is unadulterated and so are its colorful gullies. I normally tend to not compare and contrast places but Thamel, my neighborhood is ubiquitous to the world and almost synonymous to Kathmandu for foreigners. It’s where they start their journey into the heart of Nepal. For me, it’s not exclusively a touristy spot or a quick escape into to laze of Kathmandu, but a mandala of belongingness. It is my neighborhood to say the least and it is where my mother and my uncles in particular resided and spent their childhood in their maternal home circa mid-1970s right around the corners of Thamel, where fancy hotels stand still in the present time.

Along these busy streets, I once used to come on festive visits dancing to deusi-bahili in Tihar festival who bestow blessings during night of worship for Goddess Laxmi; my friends running amok and bewildered with happiness at hard earned petty cash on their hands. Now I come here for a casual stroll, a cup of masala tea or for concerts as I want to find spiritual deliverance along alleyways stacked with old buildings, and store shutters seem glued to each other with its flamboyant garments, souvenirs and gaping visitors. These streets, these tiny spaces and lines of houses have turned overtime into local shops, pubs and buildings for trade and commerce, and roadsides have become a solace for young drunken souls at midnight.

Thamel (at its most) is probably a point of departure in my adult life; socializing, and close knit gatherings at the heart of it. I frequented Thamel for coffee/tea in the afternoon and a couple of drinks, chatting with friends in the evening. The bunch has spread across the globe now. A bitter sweet memory ensues as I can recall ourselves jolly in a myriad of joints while I miss them at the same time. Despite the sweet feeling revisiting Thamel, now one can feel a sense of void to it. The sad thing is, although infinite places have opened up, spaces have shrunk, and I see less people, or rather most faces are new.

I wonder how has Thamel changed since or if it has changed at all. Probably there’s a huge shift in the intensity of social lifestyle; a pinch of growing absurdity of modernity and shifts in culture. Nonetheless, I am to find more food options now that [I think] I have had a broader taste of cuisines. I still want to continue to listen to the local bands and artists that play, appreciate our artisans, and perhaps get to exchange conversations with diverse people that want to know what it’s like to be in Kathmandu, or of (Nepali diaspora). And of course having conversations with Nepalis topped with a little bit of local tone, and exaggeration over the meaning of life. [starting off with ‘how’s life?’, ‘kasto chalirako cha jindagi?’ and often ending with ‘estai ho jindagi!’.

~~~~~ To this day Thamel is its own belly of a culture that is a paradox of youthful and traditional lifestyles, cotton-hemp businesses, elated foreign faces, Nepali tea and Himalayan coffee, cozy pubs, Buddhist prayer flags, Hindu shrines, Muslim streets, Chinese cafés and a burgeoning momentum of Nepal’s version of its own peculiar modernity ~~~~~

There’s WORK, there’s HISTORY, there’s CULTURE, there’s IDENTITY, there’s TRANSACTION, there’s LOVE but there’s also LUST, there’s WARMTH, and there’s a lot of WALKING in the end.

[I wrote this before COVID-19. I did not know when I would be able to go back home, or be able to frequent Thamel as I had imagined amidst this global pandemic].

-Shrey Shrey is a contributing author to The Kathmandudes.  

Your Father Needs a Cow in the Afterlife

1

The rickshaw screeches to a stop by the blue wooden doors of the shop, not even tall as its proprietor, having to duck every time you take the doors. It’s a series of doors, sturdy wooden planks that open like a Chinese folding fan, metal hinges needing oil in the cold. Opening the doors in a series of grumbles while its clacks lets fluorescent lights pour into the dirt street and the rear end of the rickshaw. Dumping a squeezed cigarette pack with ‘555’ on its side while brushing his shoes on a rubber mat on the doorstep, he enters his shop. It was also home of late.

The rickshaw driver looks through the open doors at the shop. He sees a sleeping shop. Done with all its labors the harmonium shop lies in chaos, at least for the rickshaw driver. He sees the gentleman coming back, cash in hand. He takes it graciously, the green notes crispy in hand.

Pulling out of the dirt, he pushes and jumps onto the pedals, the road is empty now, and he is in a hurry. He shoots through the streets that take him to the middle of the city. Now they have made the road go around the ground, in a circle to the dark statues of the persons long past. He didn’t mind he had to go all the way around that new road, paying homage to kings, generals, tyrants he never knew. He didn’t mind that the way took him longer, under the gates of the dead heroes of things long past. He whistles through cold winds of a sleeping city nestling in the warm embraces of stillness.

Doors to the harmonium shop closes. There is a sharp note of a harmonium key when it shut, maybe not. The front of the shop is crowded with unfinished pieces with jut out wires like bones of an unfinished being on the table of creation; wood scraps and dust lie on the floor, bile and excrements. Through a small cream-colored door in the back, a darker and even narrower space exists. All the junk on the shop floor was meant to be here, in the storage. Now there is just a bed.

“Anything happened today?” She asked every day. Every day like this, seven months. He said nothing.

They knew. He pulls, presses a switch hanging itself on a spiral blue wire. A smaller fluorescent light up reflecting down from tin with badly printed logos and rust spots where nails hammered through wood and metal was what remained of his life. Dropping off his coat on a hook behind the door, he pulled his belt and took a breath.

“It isn’t easy hunting a ghost.”

The love of his life looked up at him with pained eyes. “Did you ask her?”

“Look…”

“Did you?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say?”

“………. “, she bows her head at that.

2

“She knew about my father and the curse the moment she laid her eyes on me.” She looks up at that with hopes in her eyes. Her sharp chin sharpened when happy. It was excited and hopeful. The small face dwarfed by golden moons in her ears broke his heart.

“There is a man by Pikal lake. Apparently, he is friends with ghosts of priests.”

“Tomorrow?” He sighs, exhausted.

“Need to go by the temple and the market to get some offerings for him first. Come on, that is tomorrow. Let’s eat now.”

The radio is silent as they eat. It is past midnight and people at the radio sleep, to start early prayers in morning. “I can see him, child! He stands Tall Powerful! I see his frowning face! He rages!”

Well, that sounded like the Red Pundit he knew.

He was kneeling, hopeful with marigolds clutched between his hand, held before and above his head, bowed before powerful visage of the ancient shaman. Throwing half a handful of red rice over the pattern of a mud floor, the near-nude, red lined shaman shakes around in a trance. He listened, in hope.

“He sees you, child! He wants to tear you apart and feast on your blood. He curses, even in death! The lords of death ride him, disturbed in the mortal world, the tranquil beings of eternity.”

Now Bikal prostrated on his knees. His forehead is on the brown floor, and he screams his pleas and begs the ghost of the holy Brahmin. He seeks removal of the curse. He seeks redemption for his family, put out before it started.

“Forgive and bless my house oh father! Lift this curse, we are thy own blood.”

“Death! Destruction! Annihalation of Everything!” The shaman was trembling, no rhythm to his trance now, just a leaf in mercy of tempest.

“Father! Forgive me, our family, remember the face of our mother and lift this curse.”

The storm slowed, winds died, and everything came to a silent stop. The Pikal shaman had aged a decade in the last hour. The white-haired man pushed against the floor to the wall and lay there, eyes closed.

“Your father,” the shaman spoke with eyes shut, “will not be dissuaded. His anger is too strong to be dismissed, his righteousness too stubborn for forgiveness. This curse is non-trivial.”

There is a way out still.

“We have to do a Calming ritual on Monday. The shaman says it’ll take the whole day and night of fasting. This is one of those big ones. Great sacrifice will be necessary. I’ll get a goat tomorrow, why don’t you get started on the fire?”

“Think this’ll work?”

“Yes. There is something about the man. I think we will know for once and all. This is the last stop. Then we stop trying.”

He didn’t know that before he spoke. That act of speaking persuaded him to make his mind, his own voice that seemed distant did reasoning for him. No more, this was last. She looked up at him, her eyes welling up, she buried her face against his shoulders.

3

The rickshaw hurtles through the wide road on the northern corner of town. A newly expanded area and you can still see the sharp edges of gravel and tar on the side of road. There are few houses around, sure to change in a year, this city is fattening up. Undisturbed by pedestrians or stupidly maneuvering tin cans of town, the man enjoys the wind against his face. Beneath his feet the old metal and wood contraption is gliding, no burden under its bamboo shed. In the great straight road, there’s a single and subtle bend that takes you around dense bamboo bush keeping to your left. Keeping on the bend, bushes hastily retreat to give way to a small fork on a stream that goes under the road. It’s hard to notice, and most people usually don’t. High yellowing grass.

A small corner just off the road and by the stream, full of coals that never looked more than a few hours old. They never were. It could be mistaken as a ghat, a place of pyres if not for the fact that no one on that lonely road had ever seen a lit pyre there. It was because they only went through that road during day. It was no secret that the ghat by bend lit brightly every night. People didn’t know about it, but it was no secret.

For the rickshaw man, whose work and riders took him to every corner in the city, from European mansions of the blood rich to disgusting sacks he dragged drunk customers home to, this place was not unfamiliar.

Tonight, as he hurtles towards hills at the end of the road where a two beams tall mud house with a cowshed lies. His wife used to work in the city, when they first came here. That was years ago and now she lived at home, taking care of their six children, two goats and a horde of angry chickens. Kids were expensive, he wished someone had told him that. Not like his days, he had nine other siblings and his parents did fine.

The bonfire didn’t surprise him. What did was loud wailing coming from a figure by the ground near the burning pyre. He didn’t notice, the pyre seemed a bit different today, a bit bigger lacking a bit browner and darker shade of death. The fire was huge still there was a hunger for more wood.

4

He slowed. He had stopped by here before and had talked with the creepy priest handful of times. When his eyes got used to the glare of the pyre he could make out a woman lying on the ground. She had that familiar swooning fit that only comes with death of love. He was focusing much on the woman, the man took him by surprise.

He has a familiar look. He raised his hand showing, reflecting white palms of his hand seeing a startled look on his face.

“Sorry to surprise you like that, friend.”

The rickshaw driver said nothing, he looked around, sweeping his gaze from man to pyre and woman and back to man. No priest present and there are usually no visitors in this ghat. The people they burn here don’t have visitors. The rickshaw man dismissed his slight unease, he had nothing on him after all.

When the man didn’t reply to his greeting, the stranger ventured, “Not a good hour for conversation, eh? Do you drive this route often?” He pointed to the Rickshaw.

“I live at the end of the highway over there.”

“Well that’s a long way to go, isn’t it? Please take some of this offering with you. It was my father-in-law’s funeral today.”

It was an unusual place and time for a cremation, but the rickshaw man didn’t feel right to comment. You don’t refuse food at a funeral; the dead eat what you eat.

“I thank you. Sacred things are always welcome. Where is the priest and everyone?”

The stranger invited him towards the pyre with a gesture while he answered, “Oh you know the priests nowadays, interested only in coins in the offering, not even the grain. Read a half-assed hymn and excused himself with something about another funeral and slipped out. We are strangers to this city, …my father-in-law suffered an accident while we were here.”

The men stood a respectful distance from the burning pyre. The woman was a bit silent now, her throat raw lungs empty of any air. He looked intently at her with pity. To lose your father in a city…..

He barely saw the khukri coming towards him from left with a blurry vision, but it was too late then. Although he could feel the gush and wetness all round his left side, he didn’t feel any pain while the stranger grabbed him by his waistcoat, on his blind and dead side and dragged-threw him into the fire, back first.

Surely the stranger didn’t mean it this way, but the rickshaw man was conscious; a few moments away from the birth of pain in his mind, facing two burning figures in front. The stranger’s eyes were wide, afraid, yellow and horrified. He could look them both in their eyes while he died. He knew who she was crying for.

 

महिला सशक्तिकरण

के छ खबेर निर्मलाको?

के गर्द्है छ महिला अनी सशक्तिकरण शृंखलाको?

यस्तो छ है ल यस्तो:

जहा शृंखला खतिवडाले मिस विश्वको उपादी जित्न लगदा अनी महिला सशक्तिकरणको कुरा गरदा

खोइ निर्मल पन्तको  सशक्तिकरण

कहा छ तहो पापी जस्ले पन्तको सशक्तिकरण मरेर गयो

खोइ के गर्छिन निर्मला अनी कैले पाऊछिन् सशक्तिकरण?

खोइ कहा पाऊछिन् सशक्तिकरण?

ल के छ नेपाल?

खोइ के गरदै छ नेपाल?

नेपाल, नेपालमै सिमित छ

खोइ के गर्द्है छैन निर्मलाको आमा बुबा?

खबेर के छ शृंखलाको महिला सशक्तिकरणको?

यस्तो छ है ल यस्तो:

आइले चर्चा छ शृंखलाको जता तती अनी सशक्तिकरणयता तता

खोइ सशक्तिकरणको  कुरा मात्र होला

तसैले त निर्मलाको आमा बुबा पागलमेन्ट बन्नुभयछन्

तर अजै पनी भन्दैछन् वोमें ए अनी सशक्तिकरण

के छ सशक्तिकरणको  खबेर नेपाल?

के गर्द्है  छ सशक्तिकरण?

ल के छ नेपाल?

खोइ के गर्द्है छ नेपाल?

नेपाल नैतिकताको नाटक गर्द्है छ

आगो र चेली

आगो बालधौ छ जंगे पिलर

खागो धपाउधौ छ जंगे पिलर

तर के गर्नु सरकार

राको लाउधौछ चेलीहरुको एजोतमा बंगे पिलर

अनि डोरीले सीलाउधौछ चेलीहरुको बाजोतमा बंगे पिलर

The Day Humanity Died

It was a rainy day and everyone had them
roofed with their umbrella while a man in a
wheelchair was showered with rain
It was the day humanity died.

It was that one cold winter evening
a homeless man in street saw people with
warm clothes but, with the cold heart inside
It was the day humanity died.

It was the day of festivity and celebration
There was many leftovers for the dog
But non for the beggar just outside
It was the day humanity died.

It was the day a child was born
Everyone had blessings and joy
None heard the cry of a helpless child
whose mother had just died.

It was the day humanity died.

 

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Making a Temporary Shelter House for Earthquake Survivors (How to)

Upon my visit to Gorkha district with People in Need (PIN), I had an opportunity to work with some of the most honest and diligent people I have ever met. On my last day at Gorkha, I volunteered to join Daniel and Martina to make a model shelter house for the people of Nanglepani. I had absolutely no idea even how to hammer a nail properly, but with their instructions and pragmatic, simple ideas, I managed to pull off the day. At the onset, I had no idea how a shelter house was to be built but, by the end of the day, I had a stream of ideas running through my mind on how to build more shelter houses that can help the people dwell for a time being.

The core idea behind it is to teach the survivors of the earthquake, how to build a temporary shelter house with the resources from their toppled construction. It is meant to encourage the people to build their own shelters instead of waiting for government reliefs and I/NGO aids. Let’s face it, one day they’ve got to rebuild their own homes again, without any external assistance. That’s what it addresses, ‘helping them to help themselves’.

Let’s begin with some rudimental instructions

  1. Clear all the stuffs and clean the designated area.
  2. Level the area if required.
  3. Organize and arrange the available building materials. i.e corrugated irons, bamboos, timbers (into lengths), tarpaulins, plastic coverings etc
  4. Conceive an idea of what to build after observation of the arranged materials.

Continue reading Making a Temporary Shelter House for Earthquake Survivors (How to)

The Sublime Moment (1938)

It’s surreal, mostly incongruous, often prevaricating and like a good liar, attributes to exquisite showmanship. It is intriguing how unscrupulous people can be, the diversity of it is often wonderful to ruminate, how people react to predicaments infecting their hearts. And it becomes more melodramatic for an audience when the predicament involves love. Not all predicaments of heart are involves love and its silly auxiliaries.  A forceful marriage, an incomplete divorce, a love affair, a tryst, an insatiable lust, manifesting the ominous presence of love. This sublime moments, the incongruous juxtaposition of love and death. The dangling telephone receiver held by a feeble branch, a snail trying to reach that unscathed end. A wicked and grotesque depiction yet appealing, why? Because it’s about love, incongruous. Set against the dull background of hills in matte, genial sunset and probably a Romeo trying to creep towards his damsel in distress, leaving behind a long and deep trail. Probably, scars of ego, self pity, depreciation and self obsession. The two big teardrops producing melancholic jazz music in an phonograph player, our sluggish and ridiculous existence manifested against the gloomy reality of love and its unyielding power. The power which human beings can never conceive nor consume.

I have absolutely no idea what the man with gravity defying moustache tried to depict, maybe, a gothic manifestation of his own moustache while the snails reflect the secret ingredient behind his showmanship, prevaricating yet poignant. I don’t know what this genius was up to but I have to admit, trying to find the meaning of our absurdity in surrealism is quite a treat.

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot”. Salvador Dali