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.  

On Avocados and Sweat

I tell myself not to turn into Josheph Conrad. If its not accommodating, then make a home out of it. Every time I concede to wistful lust of Africa, I reprimand myself being such a pussy. A pussy is warm and tender. I can’t be warm and tender now can I? I need to be strong, adventurous and arrogant like a dick. 

The country is immense and the people are kind but I still have not quite found a profound sickness that suits to my temperance. It’s the mojo that I have lost that I am grieving over. I am in need of a heart. A heart that can bear my sporadic self-professed darkness which I keep going back into where I find comfort and where I find it homelier than home thousands of miles away that’s cuddled between the dust and green hills which almost never bars the sight of snow capped mountains. Oh what a relish! I wish to see those mountains again. Not because it appears splendid or grandee but I need the feel of my old ways. To find my way into the mojo that I have seemingly lost.

I abhor my own body. Its crowded with sweat, flies, beef and avocado. I feel it wants to give way to the anguish that such climes bring forth but I hold myself tight and think, this too shall pass. How many of my brethren have been here, I wonder. A man from the Himalayas in Africa! That’s quite a sight in servitude and suffering. I tell to my most un-Serb of a Serbian, ‘Vlad, brother, I feel the sun but I don’t feel the warmth’. He replied back sheepishly, ‘You need to do weed man’. He he is wise. He lives in the jungles of Tanzania doing who-knows-what sort of research pertaining to trees. He gives me warmth for he is as outlandish as I am. I am pretty sure that he thinks first and then he feels the thought rather than opposite of what most people would do. That’s why he is wise. His mojo is intact. 

For the first time in my life, I got asked ‘Have you climbed Everest?’. It was quite a feeling. That of nostalgia and the feeling of being a Nepali residing outside the country I so much hate. It was quite interesting for me because never had I knew such a calamity of loving my country. A series of fleeting facebook memes about ‘Don’t you fucking dare ask a Nepali that’ passed through the neurons of my brain which usually filters down any feeling of love, desires and bad memes automatically.

But in sooth, I was quite happy that I was pressed with such a ridiculous enquiry. Aha! This is what an expat feels like in lands far far away. The feeling that my little brother always laments of but I always had failed to understand him. I usually end up shrugging his stupid feels but here I was empathizing with him. He has always been known to be an emotional bloke. He’s quite our baby. But so am I. I don’t dwell on bothering’s of real time situations. I once cried watching a movie trailer on Youtube.

So, here I was thinking over where I am physically standing in context of globe and I was quite amazed that now suddenly a paroxysm of fear and uncertainty held me to my guts. The fear of being really alone as a citizen from Himal and the uncertainty of if I can really accommodate myself into this strange land. I knew I can adapt but to find oneself homely is another thing. I live in an apartment and I pay a hefty sum for it but it still feels like living in a hotel. Living in a hotel is perhaps more accommodating than having to do all the things that I never quite ever did in my life, like cooking, doing laundry and dishes, checking the electricity meter, shopping for groceries and looking into weird sites for expats who want to be friends is beyond me. It sounds like a first world problem, but what am I to do if I have always lived like a vigilante till date in my own country. Lately made myself so homely at a restaurant (which my dear friend and brother owns) that the waiters would ask me where I was if I even missed a day. So now I here I am associating Everest (which I have actually never seen except in photos) with homeliness.

Its quite strange to even think of home at the moment. It never felt like home all my life. I don’t even miss Nepal. I don’t think I will ever. But this creepy new feeling that Nepal is fucking awesome never ceases to amaze me. I always complained and whined and cursed about everything. But now people ask me ‘How’s Nepal like?’ I can’t believe of the things I say to them. I am hyping up the bloody country. It’s certainly not because I am homesick or that I rather enjoy my life in Nepal than in Tanzania. For the first time, I am actually describing (not analyzing) Nepal and I am finding it hard to stomach that it’s actually a really good place to spend your life in. It’s hard to digest something that you truly believed to have sucked your whole life. And now suddenly that it doesn’t suck comes in with the epiphany that nothing in life is constant and in its entirety. Just like happiness and sadness. No one can be entirely happy or sad.

A dear Neapolitan, Stephano is at home in Tanzania. Not just his fluency in Swahili but his temperance is that of a citizen of this wonderful country. He probably just hates it here as he hates it in Italy. He knows who he is and knows what he doesn’t want. Well, he will be a first time father this July and will probably loose his mojo for a brief time but he will surely regain it back effortlessly. ‘I have been in your stage in life and have had my fill of it. It’s not that I don’t like parties and weed but there are more important things in life’ he admonished us like an older brother. He is used to sweats and avocados. He has his mojo intact. His mojo reminds me of my own strength and perseverance. How far I have come. How through the vicissitude of teenage angst and existential crisis, I managed to retain my hope for humanity and accept that beauty of human consciousness which glides in crescendos and diminuendos of the good and the bad. To accept both and move forward is truly a feat for any individual living in our times.  

It’s merely been a month here in Africa and I am lost in the wilderness of entitlements that expats living in Masaki probably dwell upon. The land is a far cry from rest of the country but I cannot avail from thinking that it is disengaged from rest of Africa. The only thing African about the peninsula is the climate. As I promenade through the much embracing blue beaches of the city or sojourn in touristic islands nearby, it makes me forget how much I am detached from Heart of Darkness that Conrad so magnificently yet preposterously went on about. Stephano warned that one can easily forget one is in Africa. By that he means that I shouldn’t forget that I am in another man’s territory where I am more than welcome but that I shouldn’t forget about my roots back home and live modestly. That is to say, smile more and show more gratitude. It is very good for one’s soul too.  I think its high time get back my mojo, drink a lot of water, consume a lot of avocados and accept the sweats.