We had travelled for five hours through the marooned highway, along the perennial Trishuli, and through a dilapidated Bailey bridge into the district of Gorkha. Having made our entry late into the night, we were accommodated into Hotel Regent where an affable concierge along with a ten year old employee of some sort took us to our respective rooms. I was to share my room with a young adult whose appearance was that of a blue blood and had remained reticent throughout the journey. I didn’t feel like chatting up much with anybody, for I knew nobody, yet I had trusted these strangers to take me into their custody. There were seven such young adults. I entered the room with a rusty candelabra as the lights were out, picked out a bed in the nook, threw my impoverished rucksack on the cemented floor, and crashed on the straw mattress for a much needed sleep.
One of my friends had hooked me up with this group who were to travel to the district of Gorkha and provide some sort of comfort to the earthquake survivors. The ‘Gorkha Earthquake’, as it would be called later on in the ensuing days, had created destruction of ridiculous proportions in many parts of Nepal. Two days after the immense tremble of the earth, leaving behind uncomfortable teasing quakes and all sorts of demolitions, I managed to find my breath and left my relatively well-off neighborhood in the city of Kathmandu whose centuries old temples and monuments were pervasively in ruins; and took off randomly to whichever part of the country I could manage to get into. For some uncanny reason I ended up in the district of Gorkha; an ancient kingdom where my paternal lineage could be traced back on whose glorious past had my forefathers served. I wasn’t into this kind of identity crap, but little did I know that it would one day haunt my conscience. So, with much resistance from my parents and having taste for some adventures, I had arrived at the heart of chaos.
I woke up to a rattling sound from inside of the adjoining wall. My roommate had just finished his bathroom chores and had flushed the toilet when a noise blew up, putting him into frenzy as he ran outside of the room, panting and shouting, ‘Bhuichaloo’.
I cursed him and went back to sleep.
When I finally woke up, the toilet had a valve cap broken and commode tank overflowing, which the ten year old could be seen pumping down.
In the afternoon, there was a commotion in apropos to the plan of action that was to be made. A delirious member of the group was rather enthusiastically suggesting that he would not enter any villages without any aid. He had heard rumors that the villagers had gone berserk after the indifference of the government officials to their plight and were attacking the outsiders who went to see them like animals in a zoo. Now, I wasn’t that much paranoid but it seemed that he had a point, and I and my roommate cautiously volunteered to visit a couple of villages that were nearby to the bazaar.
It turned out that I had to hike for three straight days to complete the trip, but little did I know at that moment of time. I grabbed a satchel and threw some Cadburys and Rara noodles. My roommate had got hold of a local villager where we were to visit and do a detailed survey. He packed his white washed knapsack, and the local urged us to hurry because he hadn’t much time. When we were leaving, the leader of our group insisted that we take a group photo and kindly gave us a portable cell charger. He told us to use it when we were only in a desperate need. My roommate had managed to snip two tarpaulins from a foliage of tents, tarps, snickers, crackers, popcorn, and crocs among other necessary articles we had bought at a friendly neighborhood super-market just before we left Kathmandu. He said that we were borrowing them but they never made it back.
After an hour of walking up the hill we remembered that we had forgotten to buy some pack of cigarettes. I had heard that it was scant in the villages. We had to take another route to get access to a marketplace and bought five packets of “Sikhar” each before we restarted our journey again. The local went bananas on us as it cost us an hour. During our detour, I managed to introduce myself and through our virtue of heavy smoking we became acquainted with each other in a proper fashion. I can’t really remember how many acquaintances I have managed to make through this unhealthy habit. For the love of this morbid penchant, it was a disaster that cigarettes were getting scant in rural areas of Nepal. The whole of Kathmandu was responsible for twofold sales of Cigarettes and crush-tear-curl tea after the quake. We brought a stale cupcake for the local as he cheerfully and ravenously gormandized it to the last bits with a big fat smile on his face. Harka the roomie was stout and wore a dreary countenance as zits attacked his creased forehead. He didn’t speak much and we got along very well throughout this misadventure.
The road was asphalted for almost five kilometers but then it was all dirt track from there on. The loose surface was only a two months away from being a long stretch of moats and burrows from the ensuing monsoon. After treading clumsily for another four hours along this marooned passage, squeezed in between spiked hills and bushy trees and only the whispers of northerlies for music, we arrived at our first destination. There was a discerning smile on the local’s face. It was his village, Bungkot.
The village hunkered through a steep hill, a common feature of villages in northern Nepal. The houses were arrayed in columns of dry cow-dung and black slates and juxtaposed to these small two storied buildings were sheds for hoofed animals and menstruating women. The polished slates in ebony provided for a bewitching spectacle from our vantage point. But as one got near to these mud houses, one felt a terrible fear and loathing against the gods who did this to their simple minded devotees. They were so arrested that young men and women were nonexistent. Wallowing in the filth of monstrous beauty and rural hardships, grandfathers take care of their petty arable lands and grandmother breastfed the children. I surveyed the hill though it’s narrow, steep tracks and ridged farms as the thin northerlies breezed through my fatigue. I had never walked for a kilometer in my entire life and here I was studying the devastation that had been left behind for my fellow countrymen to clean up. Was it the love for my country or my deep, dark inclination to anything chaotic? I asked myself. Either ways, I was here, in this uncanny village with a stranger for friend and another picaresque of a stranger for an escort.
‘Here, I show you what I think of this mess’ said a softly curt voice pointing at giant boulder at the apex. The earthquake had nearly uprooted a giant rock that was probably cursed to be there on the first place. If another aftershock greater magnitude would ensue, the rock could steadily roll through the serrated hill top and through the entire village, leaving behind a trail of flattened households and carcasses. It was surreal to think of but I was startled because it was not impossible. I climbed to study the colossal Sisyphean boulder which had averted disaster as the roots of hardwood Salla and dry raspberry shrubs which were very dense and thorny clung on to its torso. A happy little man passed me a glass of what appeared to be milk. I refused the drink. He seemed to have taken no offence.
As I made my way through the dilapidated buildings, cracked houses, and rubbles of what were houses, I saw our local negotiating about something with another man who looked rather noble for a villager. It didn’t take me much to figure out what they were negotiating about. The noble man was about fifty and had some whiskers along the corners of his mouth. He looked and talked like a gentry and didn’t fail to produce a faint smile when he started to talk. His hair was meticulously raked through the middle. He carried a small comb and pocket mirror on the back of his suit trouser. He would take it out and groom his rather oily hair occasionally. He wore hand loomed linen and a black waistcoat.
‘I will give you three bottles, not one less than three’ he said waiving his hand with three fingers upright.
‘But it isn’t worth it. What if the building collapses on us? That’s too much risk. Give us a crate’ our local countered ardently. The man frowned.
Harka had parked himself on a Muda for some time now, listening to their negotiation and appealed the grandee to be just. Some women clad in shabby cholo made their voices heard and tried to get something out of it. In the end, the local managed to badger the gentleman into taking claim of five bottle of Gurkha beers. The man had stashed two crates of beer in his attic just before the great quake had hit. His house was listed in Kh:a of which he would appeal against much to his distress. He would only be provided with partial compensation by the government but he already knew that because his daughter in-law was a social mobilizer. He knew what was going to happen in the village before anyone knew it, so we were glad to have made his acquaintance.
His house appeared fine from the outside but even the para-military police who were sent to observe the damage in villages had refused to go inside, for it looked like a shady deal. It was a three storied building with a mezzanine. The attic extended between two gable ends which was supported by a beam of hardwood. The thatched roof had been visibly damaged as a couple of rafters lay on the dunged floor. I gave the house a peak through its miniature door and refused to undertake such a venture. Harka backed down after he knew that he had to climb through a faulty ladder which made a squeaking sound as it pressed against wainscoting of the first floor. The frigid wooden ladder climbed all the way through to the attic. Two crates of brown bombers lay there hoppy and bitter. The local had to do the job alone. We thanked him for the beer later on. It tasted bitter melons.
We left the village with hollow promises of returning and helping them build their houses, to have some more pints of indifference and stay for some local kukhura. From my part, I didn’t even know which wormhole I was representing. I remained reticent for the fear of appearing dumb and untrustworthy while our local did most of the talking. This went on throughout our journey. There was more in Harka than one could see it. He was slowly unravelling himself like the misty mornings unfolds the beauty of black-slated rooftops and stucco houses in Gorkha. He walked in nimble gaits and assumed an appearance like he was strangely attached to everything that surrounds him. He was one of those people who are relaxed about everything and readily own the very spot they stand on. He was appearing imposing after every minute and I couldn’t help myself but be drawn towards this nonchalantly somber and deviously comical figure who was pleasantly sauntering alongside me in our quest to something that hadn’t been figured out. We were humanitarian workers searching for something far meaningful than humanity.
We tread for an hour and reached Namjung. Along the way we were accosted by leeches of all sorts, Democrats, Maoists, pillagers, rednecks, Red Cross volunteers and innocent bystanders looking for some sort of comfort that was supposed to soothe their loss. Some had lost their children while others lost their sense. The teasing aftershocks added butter to their Yagya. A yearning for divine intervention was diffused throughout the fatalistic mountains. The Rishis and Munis in ancient times performed rituals to lull the fear of unknown and as their wives spread their legs for divine comfort. Human and Gods existed for mutual benefit; humans for pacifying their anxieties and gods for using human race as brothels. For a year or so these mountains would brothel European services, Indian propaganda, Chinese affluence, and Nepalese bureaucracy, the worst of the lot. Here I was, a savage, independent observer looking for some morbid action in this heart of darkness. Where others were pursuing for the light, I was merely discerning the ontology of darkness.
The setting rays of the sun reminded me our tarps. There were two huge tarpaulins and little three of us. Just across the dirt road, in the reclining foot of a hill, some old men were setting up shelters for the whole village. It had a straw thatched roof and rusty iron sheets as wall to shade them inside. They were assembled from the nearby ruins. A few little, hunched men were applying bamboo braces. The skies appeared as if it would rain. Harka was having tête-à-tête with a young brunette who seemed to be leading the construction work. In a while, he could be seen shoveling trenches around the shelter home. Our local was chatting up with some villagers, playing to their hopes, probably depicting us as a Messiah of wine and grains. He persuaded them to take us in for the night. I was feeling philosophically grumpy.
In a paroxysm of grouchiness, I grabbed a tarp from the rucksack and gave it to the little, old men who were adjusting the rafters for them to properly roof the shelter. It created quite a commotion around the camp. Suddenly some old women with gold piercings bulging from their ears took me by arm and recited blessings, offering us Tuborg. The beer crates had been dunked in stream water, and it was chilled! Harka offered some cigarettes and Snickers to the brunette and we were heartily invited for supper. Our local couldn’t be more startled.
As darkness slowly engulfed the night, and rain showered over the conscience of Kathmandu; washing away the thinly asphalted roads that it had commissioned to build in these god forsaken mountains, I laid senseless inside the newly built shelter-hut. By my side, an old man who had helped built this hut was wheezing and snoring. I could barely sleep. ‘What is the meaning of all this?’, ‘Why was I here?’, ‘What purpose does it serve?’ I couldn’t fathom. I wanted to go home and watch an amateur porn. If I was home, I would probably have been cussing all over the Xbox. What was it that I was pursuing that led me to lay beside this funny smelling old man and his village? I thought it was my own volition but I couldn’t be more uncertain. In times like these you question your own decisions. But how can one doubt free will and question your decisions. I thought I had run away from the comfort of Kathmandu in order to do something adventurous. The most adventurous I would do was to run away from the city of dreams. It was what I wanted to achieve and now that I had achieved it, I began to despise the very nature of my intention. I was a social work student and I had no intention of helping those who were suffering. I wasn’t in love with my country but merely in love with the idea of patriotism which I had none. I had a big ego that the country was built from blood and sweat of my ancestors. Those ancestors lived here, in this realm of hardship and beauty. I cannot even describe the beauty of this place. But the beauty was cursed, alright. I frustrated myself to sleep.
In the morning, we met the social mobilizer of this village. She was a decent, middle-aged village woman. In the absence of village secretary, she had proven herself in the eyes of her people. She had coordinated the rescue efforts, rationing of food supplies as the granary collapsed and had kept the village politically sane. We gathered useful information regarding the village and told her to keep in contact with the wormhole.
As I thanked some elders, our impudent local, managed to brag about how we would return with supplies and placate their sufferings. We were instructed to no make any promises. Harka starkly reminded him.
After tea, we hit the road. For some morbid reasons, I was feeling sick. I had a burning head. The fever was incalascent. I began to feel weak as my legs went sore and it became apparent to Harka that I began to show signs of fatigue and feebleness, he slowed his pace and offered to carry my gears. After an hour of treading along the narrow corridors and crooked hills, it began to rain. I stood on a precipice, soaking and snuffing, observing the undulations which had no end in sight. If it wasn’t beauteous, it was like a somber leviathan which had been sleeping for a millennium and wouldn’t wake up for another. The occasional aftershocks were a stark reminder that we needed to persevere.
Our next destination was Phujel. From there on we planned to take a bus to Gorkha Bazar. But the bus did a roundabout only once a day. While we did have time, we needed to finish our business and rest for a while before catching the bus too for, Harka had also significantly withered and I was already smoking my cigarettes with some dab of Sancho. For two straight days, we had sailed in mountain waves with sun, rain and cold northerlies. While we went to observe and gather information, having witnessed the devastation, we had to compose ourselves and appear emphatic while retaining human side. While we were buying Sancho at Namjung, two dead bodies were dredged up of the debris. Nobody could identify them and the departed lay on the road without anyone to claim them. They were an old woman and a little child. One had a furrowed countenance, silver hair and was decrepit while a mere child lay juxtaposed to her. Little did they know their fate and death was obscene in deliverance. Harka was poignant at the scene. Any man would be touched by such a sight, for it was the sight of death. It doesn’t really matter how we live our life but much thought is given to how we depart this world. Maybe our rationale that life is short and death is eternal provides us such incentives to part this world in a jovial way. I do not truly understand death, but it is an incentive for me too. An incentive to live my life to the fullest. Without death, I would have been long dead. Better death than dead, I figured.
Just before noon we reached Phujel. Our local acquainted us with the village secretary who inquired about us. He had dispatched his officials and had merely debriefed a team to conduct a survey of the village. He invited us to have lunch at his house and directed our local to a nearby inn. We were to wait till the evening to gather our information. We would miss the bus which came once a day. But, we happily obliged at the prospect of some decent food and a lot of rest. We dozed off in a classroom at a nearby school. The school was used as storage for dry food, fruits, water and tarpaulins which were being distributed by the government. The secretary had sent some goons to loot the government stockpiles in Gorkha Bazar. The villagers couldn’t be more thankful. So were we. We dozed off till the evening.
We reached Gorkha Bazar on a pickup truck, courtesy of the secretary. He reminded us that his village should be prioritized over others. We told him that it will be done. Our local implored us that his village be highlighted in our report. We told him that it will surely happen. A local Maoist leader called up to persuade us that their village be shown most in need. We told him not to worry. Even the man whose beer crates we rescued called over the phone to remember his beer. Of course, we did.
In the course of time things were happening in the capital which would change the course of history in Nepal. The lepers had decided nothing of any consequence regarding the welfare of its people. They hid inside their SUV’s for shelter and had baguettes and mineral water for supper. There was no water at all in some villages in Gorkha and were sending in dry rice through Heli’s in sacks. People complained about toothache. The government complained about the mineral water being made in Nepal. They thought it was detrimental to their health. One day a Heli crashed in the hills, seven people died. The people grieved over the Heli. It was one of the three Heli’s that the government had. Two of the remaining Heli’s could be seen hovering over the countryside a decade later.
Yes, there were some precursors to a historical event in Katmandu. But here in Gorkha, ancient kingdom of the sub-continent, there was real panic and lethargy. You can ask how can there be panic and lethargy at the same time. In soothe, it serves a purpose. It serves to stall the grief. People of Nepal live their lives contradicting themselves. One may say that it’s a lie but if a lie is believed to be a true then, it serves the purpose of truth. Because the quintessence of truth is not to lie and when believer of lie has his faith in it rendering the veracity of it as a quintessential truth, the equation supposes itself. Here we think like a communist and live like rich men. In cities we feel that we know everything yet everything eludes us. Only mere rumblings and sarcasms benefit the order of men. One who speaks need not believe in what he talks about. He need not be right to do justice to his arguments. Here, the jests and witty dialogues murder ideas and progressive thoughts before they can be conceived. One argues for the sake of arguing and winning the argument from the streets to the parliament. Thunderous applause to the one who can make us laugh at our own misery and woe to those who provide elucidations to our dreadful existence. Either one is a conformist or a nihilist. The nihilist is merely a mad man running around to make something happen to enlighten the people yet to his utter dismay, the people fail him. And haven’t people failed this so-called glorious nation.
Sometimes, I don’t understand what glory is. Why we should be so coveted. Is it for the glorious to rejoice or the enemies to have a grudge on? Whose purpose does it serve? Living in a glorious nation, one cannot help but feel helpless in being able to become a rebel of its glorious banter. Camus said that when the slaves rebel they go for all or nothing. To keep quiet is to allow yourself to believe that you have no opinions, that you want nothing. Despair, like absurdism, prefers to consider everything in general and nothing in particular. But ironically, absurdism and fatalism goes hand in hand in this glorious nation. Could it be pseudo intelligence or modern day systematic slavery? When one knows that one is a slave and there is every chance that one can be emancipated yet one doesn’t choose freedom but choses to live under the same system because it fits his existence; it isn’t an inability but a choice for any mundane reason as good as the Jew genocide. It may come to one’s notice that one’s preservation depends upon how worthy we feel we are. Camus again asks, why rebel if there is nothing worth preserving in oneself?
I had a friend who committed suicide after the earthquake because he found out that the nation was already doomed. He tied to help his fellow countrymen. It wasn’t a worthy deed to undertake. It was bullocks. Maybe that’s why he blew his face first. When you have a mass masquerade then there is nothing better than to partake heartily and laugh at yourself. But such people who refuse to believe in the invisible chains and fat keyrings to the doors of perception, one doesn’t aware them but run away from their contagious stupidity. Yes, stupidity is contagious! All the merrymaking, festivities, songs of wisdom and dances of ghosts, colorful homes and hue less government offices, meaningless chatters and sweet ales which gives meanings to them; all are the part of such a contagion. And so was the great earthquake.