Galli salli haruma
- Muna Gurung, a New York-based writer and teacher, recently got together a group of young Nepali writers to write about Kathmandu’s streets. They did a workshop at Photocircle’s premises, and this is the result of that effort.
Aug 22, 2014-
Mangal Bazaar and Haugal Bahal
This, on the temple in front of the Great Bell, is where you waited for me the first time we met for the purpose of meeting each other. This, temple built of a single stone centuries ago, is where I told you about my fear of walking alone. Since then, you’ve always dropped me home. This is also where we watched evening slowly turn into night, talking about this and that but more importantly, how falling in love with you would be a bad idea.
This, in front of the space that is a chura-and-pote shop by day and a dark and vacant space by evening, is the place where we became friends: sitting on the narrow wooden plank, sipping tea.
This, is where there are too many people. So, walk past the kids playing football in the square, past gangs of young boys and girls passing time, past couples holding hands, past the linear chaos of the small street that has too many shops—selling anything from dried fish to fancy hats. Past all that and into a courtyard where you get ‘special’ strawberry tea.
This, on the right is the falcha where I sit, legs dangling with a notebook and pen. This, on the falcha is where you sit, right next to me with your guitar.
Maiju Bahal, Chabahil
I remember waiting for the school van in Maiju Bahal, holding Aama’s hands, telling her stories about school. Years later, she would confess that some mornings, she just pretended to listen to me, nodding without really listening to what I had to say, in the noisy morning traffic, my mouth some three feet beneath her ears. I know I can’t blame her. Still, I imagine that she slowly stopped trying to listen, and even today, when Aama interrupts me as I voice a thought, I can’t help but get transported back to my bus stop at Maiju Bahal: I’m clad in the Yellow-House uniform of a school that has long since closed down and I am talking excitedly, apparently, to myself.
The road must be 10 metres wide. You stand on the other side. But the way this is etched in my mind, the road or the air or the night, nothing between us exists.
Memories can be dramatic.
There’s supposed to be a distance of 10 metres between you and me. Yet, how is it that you feel so close; my fingers can even trace your unruly eyebrows?
You’ve followed me all the way here from the bar, persisting, “C’mon Jwala, stay. I can drop you off pachi.”
Your friends are still at the bar but mine are in the cab. The door is open.
I look at you: tight lipped, hands in your pocket, still. How is New Road so quiet?
But, this is my memory, and it plays like a silent movie—sights fading into a gradient blur of dim colours and sounds—and all there really is, is you looking at me. I can’t breathe.
A slight nod, your pleading eyes— stay.
I already love you.
May be that’s why I get in the cab. And leave.
Sweta Gyanu Baniya
It was her on the phone: “Bring my photo and silver sikri and come to the galli.”
The year was 1985. It was an obscure time to love.
With a lump in his throat, he opened his old steel box. He had glued her photograph onto a cardboard and punched a hole through which he slung her silver sikri, for safekeeping.
“At the galli, I saw her with a bunch of women. Their faces blurry like photographs of moving objects. My heart and eyes were focused on her.”
“I borrowed 10 rupees for a taxi, called him from a public phone, gathered my friends to demand myself back.”
That evening in the galli, she left him. He didn’t say a word. He was giving himself away too.
Then, one fine Falgun evening, he wrapped an American Cross ballpoint pen in shiny paper, put on his ironed white shirt, black pants, polished shoes and walked through the same galli to the place where her wedding band played loud brassy sounds.
Banks of Karmanasha
The kids who play on this land, own this land: there are amateur bamboo football posts to enjoy an evening game, a stream-like river for a dip
and a dumping site for the neighbourhood waste. Women finish their Saturday evening bath and walk home; they’re probably not too happy about the short winter days or the foul-mouthed kids. We are waiting for night to fall.
When the sun goes down, we hear nothing but lighter clicks, the river, frogs, crickets, dogs, horns. Then a trance song on a cell-phone—each beat echoing in large waves, each instrument holding a premeditated purpose of sketching the world that we are witnessing with our eyes closed.
“Dai, ek puff dinusna,” asks an apparition of a kid who looks about ten and has clearly appeared out of nowhere.
“Ke ho bhai, what’s your name?” Madhav asks.
“Jiwan,” he says.
We ask him to go home. That like his name, his Life is too young. He insists on a puff. Bargaining ensues. When he doesn’t move, one of us threatens: “Janchhaskilaathanum?”
Why did we decide that he couldn’t smoke? Were we turning into the people we had always rebelled against? The thought passes.
Then someone farts. Everyone laughs. We are unstoppable. Nothing will touch us.
Paltan Ghar, Ason
Paltan Ghar, Ason
An Old House
Every time I walk towards Indra Chowk from Ason, pushing through the Kathmandu crowd, stepping on muddy streets, taking in the smell of sweat and waste, I stop at a particular spot. An old house, Paltan Ghar, stands among other old buildings with carved windows and doors. Its broken windows and crumbling walls are covered with shiny metallic utensils displayed for sale. Then from behind me, I see tiny soldiers marching forward, they grow bigger, becoming life-size, and look ready for war. Suddenly the sound of the busy street—a woman bargaining “Dai, ali milayera dinus ke”, children crying, fathers shouting—melt into ether. I hear a brass band playing, soldiers shouting and guns firing. I feel mothers praying and the country holding its breath. It is late September in 1768 and the troops have arrived into Kathmandu from Nuwakot to uphold the king’s dream of a unified Nepal. I see Abhiman Singh Basnyat, Commander in Chief, crack a smile under his moustache. Just as abruptly, the sounds simmer down and I am back in Ason today. I look at Paltan Ghar, a family house of the Basnyats, catering to all of one’s household needs. It stands unprotesting, watching people from all walks of life pass it by, not giving it even a glance.
Tempo Ride (Kathmandu-Kupondole-Pulchowk)
Day 11 After Hajurbua
Fragmented images of a location that does not exist in an actual time and space. A comforting hand there, footsteps here. Kathmandu dissolves into another realm as I cross the Bagmati Bridge. The tranquilising buzzing sound of the tempo, though just a metal contraption, comforts me. Lalitpur dissolves into the background, as I think of my grandparents’ home in Maitrimarg, Pulchowk.
In Kupondole, the tempo hits a van. Our driver shakes her head at all the questions asked by the spectators and the van driver; luckily no one is hurt. This is a sign, go back, I tell myself. But I get out and walk instead. I reach Maitrimarg, and turn to my grandparents’ street. I come to a jerky standstill like the tempo, and look at their building. I know that it is abandoned. Life doesn’t exist there anymore, there are no hands or footsteps; the house is just a highly valued property and I’m drifting along Kathmandu, carrying my memories, my bones rattling like a tempo.
Bagmati River, Pashupati
While walking along the Bagmati, I witness a drunken mother lying on the ground with calloused hands, stinging the air around her with aila breath. She looks dirty and discarded. I overhear that she works as a labourer, mixing cement to build concrete homes for lives she doesn’t know. Behind her, kids run across the Bagmati, jumping over the stones, and the white foam from the river burns their legs. A little boy cries while watching the burning pyre of dead twigs from a
body slowly becoming powder. Then I hear someone say: “On reaching
home, I see a man touch my diseased mother like she was precious. The strong sting of rotting garbage didn’t bother him, and I didn’t make an effort to run as my mother rushed to touch him too.”
Ason to Grand Bazaar
Ason stretches and stretches. I am a sweaty boy accompanying his mother, aunt and cousin sisters during an elaborate festive shopping spree, carrying bags of merchandise, foodstuff, trailing behind the ladies who strut around in the evening bustle. Lurking here is the smell of spices, cashews and incense sticks clutched by devotees in front of the temples. The ladies eye dried anchovies and red chilies, sweet meat, copper wares, saris, and occasionally stop at the goldsmiths’ to compare the yellow against their fair, olive and brown skin. I hate the spree—a boy who would be a man must be engaged with more pressing concerns, like sports and smoking!
The narrow streets, alleyways of Ason converge into the Silk Road, the spice and herb market of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. And our Turkish guide, Zainab, smiles at me with her eyes, seeing bags in my hands as I watch my lady friends hunt for Turkish delights with the same frenzy of the women I followed down Ason as a little boy. Three ladies walking close together through the thriving streets of the Grand Bazaar illuminated with yellow lights from rows of shops selling carpets, shoes; with dealers of Turkish bric-a-brac drinking tea.
It is good for a man to spend some time with the ladies, Zainab says.
It does great deal of good for him, a great deal. Now if only my divorced father and boyfriend brooding in the town near the Georgian border would understand.
Krishna Galli, Pulchowk
What They Said
“No harassment of women. We are all equal.”
That is just what they say.
What is done is different.
I turn my head around,
His eyes are still on me.
I tug at my skirt.
Maybe he will look away now, I think.
I keep a straight face.
But I want to punch him on the nose,
Give him a black eye.
And a piece of my mind.
Yet I quietly walk away,
Because I am alone,
Because I am scared.
And everything becomes what I once said.
Xavier Hall, Godavari
It was 30 degrees before the clock’s hands rested perpendicular to one another. Three lads stood staring at the black mass that shook against the dense morning darkness. The wind, accompanied by the dropping temperatures, had frozen their guts and accelerated their hearts. Everyone had heard the tale about the beheaded woman who rode a white horse. That tale has nothing to do with the architectural brilliance of the colourful walls of Xavier Hall, against which these boys stood immobile, but it is related to the sound and shape that came from somewhere behind the walls. During the day, Xavier Hall stood firm and cheerful, each brick a different colour from the next. But at night, the walls held a secret and the weight of the hall; a general sense that someone was watching lingered. The windows looked like little eyes with green painted eyelids, and in the dark, the old wooden smell from inside the hall drifted outwards, more pungent than ever. As the boys entered the hall, each footstep sounded like a ticking clock. They wished for the morning light, but what they encountered, only they know.
Sangam Chowk, Naya Baneshwor
Sangam Chowk, Naya Baneshwor
I am convinced that dog in the galli barked at me to warn me of a black tinted van waiting around the corner. Of course it didn’t bark because it disliked what it smelled on me. Or because my cycle rattled too much. I entered the narrow galli anyway because I am too scared of riding on the main streets. If life were a cycle race and the last person to cross the ribbon won, I think I would cycle full speed and count on everyone else’s falling off because they would be trying too hard to stretch time. There is only one plot. How much can Hindi serials stretch it? Here, I can cycle through a galli with characteristically low walls and also keep up with each Hindi TV serial. Why? Because each house is on the same channel, so the sound of one TV slowly drowning out as I cycle by is quickly picked up by another TV’s growing sharpening voice. I don’t miss the scene changes, I recognise the music cues, the repeat zoom ins and zoom outs, and... it really only takes a minute to catch up with the plot. Also, there were no vans waiting for me around the corner.
Published: 23-08-2014 09:17