Friday, February 27, 2009

Love Song For Kathmandu

04:00 P.M.

The lights just went out. He put the down the remote and pulled out the plug. He was not watching Television, just surfing through. There was nothing to see.

"Maybe at 8 tonight", he thought. That's when the lights came on again. It was a very long wait.
He sat back, let his head rest on the soft cushion of the couch. He hadn't lifted a finger all day. But his eyes were exhausted.

So, He closed his eyes, "I shouldn't be watching so much TV", he said to himself.

04: 13 P.M.

Nature's call.

He opened his eyes; Got up for the bathroom, performed, and saw his reflection on the mirror. "I need a shave", he said.

He washed his hands and his face once, and looked at the mirror again. He liked the haze around his chin and cheeks on the double take. He thought the beard made his eyes pop out. He was not shaving. Now he was admiring himself.

He always liked his eyes. He had a wide forehead that supported two filled eye brows. He thought the brows complimented his eyes. And he was right.

This made him smile. He gave a photo-studio smile to the mirror, but soon closed his mouth. Then, He took his toothbrush, soaked it in running water, put some toothpaste in his mouth, and started brushing.

04: 49 P.M.

Back on the couch.
He had a washed face, and a set of pearly whites. "Now what?" he thought. He looked around. The room was quiet except for the tick-tock of the wall clock and the faint sounds of honking horns.

He Inhaled and exhaled in tandem with the wall clock. There was nothing to do. Except, "I need a smoke", he said to himself.

05: 07 P.M.

Honking was louder in the main street. Kupondole was very crowded at office time. Not everyone seemed busy. People walking on the street had different pace. Some were walking briskly, while others were seemed to be in their normal pace. There a girl in uniform. The girl's hair was streaming down to her hips. She stole a glance at him. He responded. Nothing happened.

She was beautiful. But he didn't think about her so much. He always believed there are too many beautiful girls walking the streets of Kathmandu. If you concentrate on one, you will not be doing justice on so many others.

He tried thinking about something else while he waited for his bus. And people always were interesting subjects. Just then, Hari Sahu from the corner vegetable store smiled at him. "Fake smile" he thought. He replied with his own version of a fake smile.

This was one of the reason he was taking a bus to smoke a cigarette. He couldn't smoke in his locality. Smoking is a taboo. If the tole elders find someone smoking, they will scold the person, right there making a scene.

Hari Sahu was not the town elder. But his kind was even worse. People belonging to Sahu's category have a history of Squealing. The facts were always distorted while squealing. Smoking according to a Squealer was always combined with Smoking-Marijuana, or Smoking-Hashish. This was dangerous to smokers whose parents didn't smoke.

But there were very few locals in Kupondole. The cooler ones moved outside ring-road. The ones who were left can be compared to Muslim Extremists.

05: 25 P.M.

26 No. Lalitpur Yatayat was a brand. It had good buses, relaxed drivers and very calm conductors. 26 No. Buses were also first buses to provide Student Discounts. This was partly because most collages in Route 26. Were very political- Thapathali College, Lalitpur College, Pulchowk Engineering, Patan Multiple, Viswa Niketan. The conductors never ask for a proof of Identification of a Student.

There were people getting off in Kupondole. Mostly Patan Multiple and Pulchowk Students. Pulchowk was not far from Kupondole, but it’s always a long walk if you were tired.

He got on the bus. He was going to New Road, Ranjana Galli. But the bus does not stop anywhere near the place. He had to get off at Sahid Gate, and walk from there.
He was lucky enough to find a window seat. But the window was closed. Bagmati Pul was approaching.

05: 42 P.M.

Thapathali. The bus stopped. He opened the window. The regular office hour rush jam. The bus was slow. Outside, motor bikes swooshed between huge vehicles. Cars and Buses, however, seemed to follow the rule- Honk-Rush-Honk, Stop, and Curse.

Everyone except the bikers was stuck in traffic. Some bikers had college girls (with their face covered) stuck to them, while others had women (Mid 30s) sitting sideways and as far away from their driver as possible. There were also women drivers who maneuvered the jam more fluently than men.

The folks in the backseat of A/C cars seemed more tired than the people standing up in a pickle-jar- packed Nepal Yatayat. The people in the car had to look up at the people in Local Buses. And the people in the Local Buses Looked down at the people in the car.

"This Song is the ultimate love song for Kathmandu, Enjoy- Cat Stevens' Tribute to the most beautiful City in the World"- The Radio Jockey was a woman.

"I sit beside the dark
Beneath the mire
Cold gray dusty day
The morning lake
Drinks up the sky

Kathmandu I'll soon be seeing you
And your strange bewildering time
Will hold me down

Pass me my hat and coat
Lock up the cabin
Slow night treat me right
Until I go
Be nice to know"

06:12 P.M.

Twilight in Sahid Gate.

The plan was simple. Sahid Gate, The overhead Bridge to Sundhara, then Khichapokhari, the alleyway to Pipal Bot, and Ranjana Galli.

"Hi" was the only hitch in the plan.
"Key chaa?" He replied.

She gave out her palm to shake. They held hands together but never shook them. He felt weird shaking her hand. For a moment he was taken back to the morning show of Mission Impossible III in Jai Nepal. They held their hands together during the sex scene. But after that, a flood of bad memories came to him.

"I'm fine. How about you?" She asked.
"Ditto." He didn't really want to talk to her. He did not want any distractions from the plan. And she was a great distraction.

They never met randomly a year ago. It was always planned and she always made him wait.

"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"New Road."
"A friend will pick me up".

Typical. She cannot be left alone. But she's waiting for a change.

"I never had a bike. Should have known, she waits for the machines, not for humans." He said to himself.

But what she could never say was "My boyfriend is picking me up".

"How are you doing?" He asked.

"I'm great. I have a nice job and I am happy."

"I am happy for you" He lied. "I really am happy for you" He lied some more. Just like her when he asked her why she was breaking up with him. She had replied, "You forgot my Birthday".

"I need to run. It’s nice seeing you." He said.
"Ditto" She smiled. He smiled back, a very different smile to Hari Sahu, but very much fake.

He wanted to hide somewhere and see who her current boyfriend was. But he didn't really care. He saw her with a guy in a cinema hall two days after she broke up with him. He couldn't sleep all night that night. He thought another scene like that would cause him an anxiety attack.

He climbed the overhead bridge.

06:27 P.M.

Evening New-Road is even busier than afternoon New-Road. Khichapokhari side is packed with street vendors. The goods they sell are cheap and they look good. At that time, women and men buy undergarments out in the open. Some of them stretch the garment to check if it holds.

But he did not want to be distracted. It was already dark and he had to smoke and get back home. The small road linking Khichapokhari and Pipal-Bot looked even smaller with too many people.

He accelerated his pace a bit. People walking in new-road ignore each other completely. You do not have to say sorry if you dash a person, you do not have to say excuse me if you touch a person. But some do look at you. And forget you that instant.

Walking fast meant dodging people. It was like dancing. You anticipate the move and act accordingly. They came from all directions- he moved in all directions. His hands were in his jacket and his feet did all the talking. It was poetry in motion. But no one seemed to notice.

06:35 P.M.

Pipal Bot was a legend in itself. It had the photo-concern- one of Nepal's oldest photo studios in its back and it had Ranjana Hall one of the oldest cinema halls of Nepal. At its Right was Sheesa (hookah) bar, and on the ground floor of Seesha Bar arguably the most expensive watch shop of Newroad.

He was not going to the watch shop, or to the photo concern. He Entered Ranjana Galli. Went straight and took a left before city jeans tailors. He was walking straight to a hair saloon "Jagadamba Handsome Palour" But took a left towards a traditional Chowk.

The Soda Chowk is a slate-paved area which is surrounded by seven stories building on all four sides. He always had an eerie feeling in his stomach when he was in this place. If an earthquake were to come, he would not have any place to escape to.

But he was on a mission. "Give me one lemon soda and, Cigarette"
"Which Cigarette?" asked the shopkeeper?
That was strange. Because every-time anyone asks for a cigarette, it’s always Surya. He now had a choice. He looked around and saw two people wearing a cowboy hat.
"Marlboro..... Lights". I am trying to quit, he said to himself.

"No lights, only red" replied the shopkeeper to his strange request.

He didn't want red. "I don't want red". He wanted lights. "I want Lights, Marlboro Lights, you have that poster that says you sell Marlboro here." He was losing his temper.

"We are out of Lights." was his reply.

Deep-Breath, Inhale, Exhale, "Where can I find one?"

07: 12 P.M.

Usually shopkeepers do not let their customers go. But the shopkeeper must have sensed the tone of voice in his customer. There was no alternative in offer. The shopkeeper had said Marlboro Lights are sold at only one place at that time of night. It was not in front of Peanuts, Not Bishal Bazaar fourth floor; it was under the overhead bridge near Bir-hospital.

He did not believe it. So, he went to the Pavement shop opposite Peanuts. There were no Lights. He had boarded the escalator to the fourth floor Bishal Bazaar. There were Gundang Garam, Menthols, Even chocolate cigars but No lights.

No choice left. He was in front of the emergency Gate at Bir-Hospital. "Just one more turning away from a good puff".

At the turning, he saw a girl being harassed by two boys no more than fourteen or fifteen. He looked at them while he walked. Then, the girl reached to one of the boy's back pocket and took out his purse. She was a prostitute. He looked away.
"Cheap Bastards" was what he heard.

07:14 P.M.

Under the bridge, there is a fruit shop, and a drug store. He was told to go to the Nepali. That was harsh from the soda shopkeeper's side. The drug store keeper must have been from lower terai, but he can easily possess a Nepali Citizenship card.

The Fruit seller sounded like he was from Charikot. "I just sold the last packet, just now".

He walked away. He tried smiling. Genuinely this time. "Yeah, Give Up, Go home."

Then, Out of the blue, above the bridge, he noticed a man light a light from the red and white packet of Marlboro Lights.

"God, I promise I'll Quit smoking".

The man was above the overhead bridge, if he ran across to the other side, he could get there and ask him for one. "just one" he thought," I only want one." And he jumped the railing.

07: 16 P.M.

Traffic at night in Kathmandu is very thin, but the cars, Micro Vans, and Buses are notoriously pacey. He was concentrating on the traffic. The man above the over head bridge was hidden behind the huge advertising boards.

He was very careful. A confused Micro-van might have had a drunk driver. But He didn't care. He wanted a Cigarette.

He reached the other side.

The Man smoking the Lights was descending from the stairs.

"Just on time", he caught his breath.

"Hi" He said to the man on the pavement. He was on the other side of the railing. That railing was there for a purpose. It separated this side from that side.

Naturally, The Man ignored him.

He had expected this.

"I'll pay you ten rupees for one Marlboro Light; I know you have a packet".

The man looked at him.

"I just want one" He said, holding the money in his hand.

The Man gave him a cigarette, and even lighted the match. And walked away. He didn't take the money offered.

07:20 P.M.

Inhale, Exhale.

It was night. Night was a good cover. He did not have to look for corners to hide and smoke. The night was a good thing.
He had his wish fulfilled. "The man was a Weird one". He said, "but he gave me this trophy for all my troubles, I thank you oh crazy stranger."

Inhale and Quickly Exhale.

"I would also like to thank the soda shopkeeper and my ex for making my day more badly, than it already is".

Quick and hard Inhale and Exhale.

"Last but not the least, I would like to thank the Nepal Electrical Authority for their short sightedness and all the freegin policies made for our country."

Quick and hard Inhale and Exhale.

His head was feeling heavy. It was the same heaviness he felt when he smoked his first puff one year ago. "Taking me for a time Machine Ride are you?" He said to the Cigarette.

Then suddenly, 'crash'.

He was knocked down by a Micro-Van.
He saw people coming towards him. He wanted to get up, he couldn't. The heaviness he got from the Cigarette was nothing compared to the state he was in. But he wanted to look for his trophy.

He couldn't feel his hands. He looked to see if his hands were there. What he saw was his trophy rolling away from him, Still alive, still red, still burning.

08:00 P.M.

Lights On in Kupondole.

A Song could be heard :

"Pass me my hat and coat
Lock up the cabin
Slow night treat me right
Until I go
Be nice to know"