Print Edition - 2014-05-31  |  On Saturday

Unfettered minds

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- Dipti Sherchan
Unfettered minds

May 30, 2014-

All three of us looked beyond the clusters of foliage—there it was, after an hour-long walk over steep steps, the green towering hill of Nagarjun, majestic and humble at the same time.

We decided to rest for a while and gazed upon the smogged blueprint of Kathmandu Valley: the undecipherable city roads, the emerging buildings, and non-existent river paths. It was a view that held so much history of transformation that we needed more than a moment to take everything in.

The three of us made up an odd group—or depending on how you view it, probably a fitting one, too: an architect, a filmmaker, and an aspiring anthropologist. Having studied in the same school during our childhood, we all knew very well that we could rely on school-day anecdotes if faced with a dearth of topics to talk about. Or it could be like one of those jokes that started with “there was a scientist, a professor, a businessman, and a monkey in a room…” where a hearty laugh at the end was ensured. But at some level, I knew that was not going to be the case. I was looking forward to an insightful walk, something that would hopefully nudge me out of the lethargic afternoon-effect that Kathmandu exerts on everyone. The fact that one of them observed even the most meticulous of details in a mud hut, and the other one thought in terms of frames, plots, and characters, presented me with this opportunity to learn different perspectives.

And there we were, in the middle of the forest—discussing ancient Japanese sayings and modern scientific advancements—surrounded by strange noises made by invisible creatures and wanting to make a connection of some sort by rustling through the dry pine leaves. This was us taking a break from normal routine, the mundane that is the norm, the everyday life of an indifferent urban dweller. We’d bought a 10-rupee ticket to get a taste of nature. When did nature become so exclusive that they could print a price on it? How had we let this happen? No, this is not an informed rant about climate change or global warming. I am not going to tell you to stop building houses, or stop polluting rivers, or stop throwing your garbage on the roads. Stop. You and I already know that.

“When was the last time you picked up a yellowing fallen leaf to discover a camouflaged bug that sprang to life?” he asked, picking up a bundle of leaves wrapped in a cocoon, and absentmindedly throwing it away. It seemed like we were hurling one question after another into the deepest of green abysses, and waiting to hear back from the trees. They were no longer addressed to each other but to the mysterious energy around us. Just like those forest spirits in Japanese anime movies, every fluttering leaf, swaying branch, and whispering soul evoked strange sensations of an unfamiliar affinity with that energy. I am not sure when was the last time I picked up a yellowing fallen leaf to discover a camouflaged bug that had sprung to life! Neither had my friend. Even the sentence seems ridiculous if one were to

read it out loud.

Silence.

After another arduous hour of walking through pine-needle-covered stairs, we reached the top. We were greeted by layers of colourful prayer flags, and a quiet, indifferent old man who seemed to be the caretaker of the premises. He minded his own business and we were so exhausted that we never even thought to strike up a conversation with him. We staggered our way to the metal benches, dropped our backpacks, and lay down in silence, bits and pieces of our conversation swirling in my head.

“Scale, that is it. Nobody thinks about it but that is the most important thing in helping us make sense of our world.” Scale. When I am amid the trees, everything is immediate and huge. When I am at the top of the hill, everything beyond is distant and miniscule. The leaves, the butterflies, the trunks and the roots, every little detail mattered when we were passing through the forest.

They no longer did. This vantage point at the top of the hill had a way of belittling essential things. Like the Valley. There was a disconnect that I felt with it, like its problems were not mine. Its sickening pallor, and stifling smell no longer affected me. Maybe this is the scale that we live in nowadays. A scale so large that everything is out of focus. We trudge around the deconstructed streets and orphaned stumps with the imprint of this scale on our minds, preventing us from the immediate and the miniscule.

By the time we decided to walk back, it was beginning to get late and we realised we were supposed to be at the main gate within the next half hour. We practically ran all the way down, making stops to catch our breath, and trying to spark up new conversation. Because of all those hurried exchanges, I am no longer sure who said what, or whose thoughts these are. I may very well be typing away their words and reflections. Maybe none of these are ours. However, I do remember one of us saying: “Do you know what happens to a caterpillar inside its cocoon? It turns into a gooey mushy mess, all its being undergoing a metamorphosis to become a butterfly. And the question is: does the memory pass on from the caterpillar to the butterfly?”

Published: 31-05-2014 09:42

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