A letter home

- Muna Gurung
A letter home

Mar 4, 2011-

Dear Kathmandu,

I leave now, with polished teeth. Thank you for your cheap, non-discriminatory medical facilities. I’ll continue drinking tea and yellow my teeth enough for another visit soon. It feels so good when you don’t ask for my insurance plan, I will empty my pockets for the way you let me suck air so freely from between my teeth.

I also leave with mud-splattered calves. I’ve given up trying to scrub the spots off. They always find their way back, so I’m keeping them like patterns of skinny teardrops.

I forgot to tell you, but yesterday I walked down your streets hunting for Nepali literature. I figured I’d work on my Nepali, and read what has come before me, as I buy myself a degree to write stories in another language, in another country. It will justify my leaving and my abrupt visits scheduled through an unfamiliar calendar. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten what you look like dressed in your winter garb in January, or in the kite-dotted sky blue of October. You wish I could see you beyond the stickiness of summer and the wetness of monsoon. But I like it when you tattoo mud on my calves and stall me in shops long enough to make friends who don’t talk about the weather.

I want to leave with your books. When I finally came up to Book Street and pushed past the SAT and business textbook-buyers, I told the lady behind the glass counter that I wanted an upanyas.

She laughed. Silly girl, she seemed to say, as the corners of her lips curled downwards.

But which one? One of the colourful ones. The ones with dramatic brush stroked images. She clicked her tongue. Take the skinny ones, she said, they’re like chocolate. I told her to give me a few she’s read. I haven’t read any, she said, but I hear this one’s good, and that one too. She couldn’t reach the top shelved books, so she threw her left slipper at them. She picked out five and dusted them. Give me ones written by women, I said. She pulled one out from the back room and said, she’s the only one I know and she writes under the name of a flower. She didn’t know her real name.

Kathmandu, I’m going to read your Nepali novels. Yes, you tease me as I slug through two thin pocket-sized pages, underlining words I must understand, must look up, later. But you watch, eventually you will find me zipping through novels, turning pages with my pinky, scribbling marginalia in Nepali instead of English. I’ll make you proud.

I want to leave you with this short goodbye note for your pillow when you wake up. As I write, I realise how much I choose to miss you. Or rather, the image of you mapped in my mind. I remember naming your streets when I was younger, but when I visit them now and later, I’m a stranger. I re-acquaint myself with the new coffee shop, the new house, the new dance bar. I know your streets like the monsoon knows where to gather puddles and when I’m lost, you spit me out some place I recognise. Then, I find myself smiling widely at the rickshaw dai, the yogurt baajey, the tarkari didi, the dhoop bhai as though my curved lips and polished teeth validate their lives.

I won’t make a list of your things I love, Kathmandu. Lists are inadequate and for the weak of heart. Except of course your street lassi; I even enjoy the smell of the dirty rag that lingers as I lick the sides of the glass. Or your happy hours that roll, your part-time beggars, your motorcycle monks, your flying monkeys, your fight over who gets to sit up front with the tempo driver, your STD and ISD booths, your momos, your large buses with squeaky horns, your wooden box-shop for candy, matches, cigarettes, paan and your shaky side saddle bicycle rides.

But, I must leave.

I’m keeping in mind our talk from last night. I respect our inability to commit and your unwillingness to continue a long distance relationship. Again. I can only imagine what it must feel like to have someone you love show up and ask you to be an old self you don’t recognise, to smell in scents you’ve abandoned, to speak with a voice long buried and to look like images of yourself you can’t recall.

Anyway, I’ve made some tea for you. When you wake up, the milky skin will have surfaced. I know how much you love to chew it.

I’ll call when I can.

Love,

M

Published: 05-03-2011 09:22

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