Archives for the month of: June, 2011

Macchhegau is a Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kathmandu district.  This area has some lush forests that border the VDC.  I spotted a water tank under construction in this area.  Far from the concrete jungle of urban Kathmandu and oblivious to the demand of urbanization, these locals are taking advantage of the underground water to fulfill their needs.  Constant water is a luxury in Kathmandu.

A Water Tank under Construction

High Tension Wire Towers in Macchegau

There has been a construction boom in Kathmandu.  The main construction materials are cement, bricks and steel rod.  Consequently a lot of brick factories have sprung up in Kathmandu.  In Macchegau VDC, there are about five or six such factories.  I visited one of them.  These brick factories are closed during the monsoon as the wet climate hinders proper combustion and green unbaked bricks are easily damaged by the rain.

A Brick Factory with Kathmandu City on the Background

An Idle Truck is Parked outside the Brick Factory

Industrial Chimney

Kids have a Chitchat at the base of the Chimney

A Stack of Bricks

Finished Bricks have been Taken Out of the Bull's Trench or Dug

In the vicinity of the Brick Factory were the remains of a defunct ropeway system. This ropeway system linked Kathmandu to Hetauda and was built in 1960 with American aid.  The Tribhuwan Higway that linked Thankot to Bhainse was completed some 7 years prior to the start of construction of this ropeway system.  After the construction of roads that linked the Kathmandu valley to the Terai, this ropeway died a painful death due to bad management, apathy and corruption in 1994.  I happened to stumble upon its rusty remains while I was on the ‘off the beaten path.’

The Top Section of this Ropeway Tower has Fallen to its Side

Another Ropeway Tower - One of 280 Such Original Towers

The Steel Framework of the Tower as Seen from Below

I Look down as I Climb this Rusty Tower

This is Me Near the Top of the Tower - One of my Crazy Endeavors

Ropes of Steel

The Two Towers

The View of a Gondola from below

Welcome to the second installment of the Kathamrit series. This story follows a pilot who has crashed his plane in a strange unknown village and his discovery of its dark secrets.

 

NOTE TO THE READER: THIS STORY IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS IN NONLINEAR FASHION. THE PIECE IS NARRATED BY TWO OF THE MAIN  CHARACTERS.  CHANGE OF NARRATOR IS INDICATED BY THE <INVISIBLE> OR <VISIBLE> AT THE TOP OF EACH SEGMENT. OCCASIONALLY AN OMNISCIENT <UNIDENTIFIED OBSERVER> ALSO SHOWS UP TO CLEAR UP AMBIGUITY.

 Part I

After the accident

<VISIBLE>

The village was small with mere 30 huts huddled together inside a small valley.  The people were friendly, after they’d found me in the charred ruins of my plane.  Angst I was, the pain intolerable. The little I saw of my body, were all burns, bruises and wounds.

Brown burn marks were splattered all over my body.  My left thigh was reduced to a purplish, lifeless lump that looked like it belonged to a rotting corpse.
I was immobilized for the last few months in that little, red bed.  The last few months which flushed out so slowly, that I awoke at what was like an end of a century.

The last few months: I don’t really remember much about them and I don’t want to.  But my memory keeps throwing unwanted pictures at me. So, I decided to gush it all out by quickly jotting them down.  After all, nobody will ever read it.  Least of all, me.

*

Those days.

The sunrays broke in through the windows to remind me that I was still alive.

Light.

It was an incoherent haze of nonsensical colors that confused me.

Shadows.

They pranced around the room as death circled around my bed, preparing a prognosis.

Those nights.
The gentle fingers of the wind rattled on my body.  The candlelight danced with it.  I saw the shadow of the candle crawling like a snake.  It looked hungry.

Life.
It was an incomprehensible mass of nothingness.

Death.
A dream.  One that would not come true.

Awakening:
I should have died but I didn’t.  So, at the end, I once again began seeing things as they were again.  And at that time, I didn’t see imminent happiness.  Instead, I saw a rude awakening.  Life suddenly became alive; alive with pain.

I felt like a corpse that was alive.

<INVISIBLE>

 

Food.

I don’t have much to say.  I feel so hungry, I feel so cold. The ful moon offers no warmth and its pale light reveals only the dark, cold, dirty street in which I am trying to light a fire.  The matches fall aflame on the wet branches I’d found, but covered by a layer of water, the branches are protected from the flamed matches that are running out so quickly.  This might sound pathetic but one can do anything to escape from the cold winter numbness.

These physical conditions leave me no room to take care of my mental condition.  I’m not sure, but I must have already gone insane by now.  I can feel the entire world conspiring to drive me mad.  After all, isn’t insanity the price of life?   I’m starting to doubt whether I can bear that type of price tag for too long.

<VISIBLE>

I never did find out what the name of my nurse was.  I identified her with her face, not with her name.  I might have the choice to describe her, but I as the writer will give the reader the complete freedom to conjure an imaginary face of my caretaker during those months.  Like the nurse, I will give the reader the entire freedom to imagine what the miniscule huts in the village and what my room looked like.

I sparsely remember.

All I remember about my room was that there was a balcony in which I often went out to get a dose of fresh air.  Up there, I often saw a small, poor girl in tattered clothes meandering down below in the streets, holding on to some loaves of bread.  Fate would make sure that I was haunted by the memory of the Girl for the rest of my life.  It makes my eyes wet every time my memory creates a hallucination of that Girl walking aimlessly in the dark streets below, as if looking for somebody to rescue her.

<INVISIBLE>

The room over there, who’s in there?

It’s usually empty.  Nobody wants that room where the walls crumble.

Who is that immobile guest in the decrepit room?  I haven’t seen that man before, he isn’t a part of this village and why is-

Oh! She’s coming!  I’d better steal the food before she takes it away from my growling stomach.

<VISIBLE>

I understood little of my nurse’s language.  Yet, I could feel the pangs of pain across her complaint.  The food had disappeared.   Again.   Something that had been regularly happening without any rational justification.  As my nurse yelled and complained, I looked down at the Girl down below on the street.  It was the same one with the tattered clothes and the same one that held on to the loaves of bread.

Loaves of bread?

I think that was the stolen item.

<UNIDENTIFIED OBSERVER>

The man, who was so immensely burnt, was looking at a tired sun ducking below the mountains. It was the phenomenon of the sunset, where the sun would dive below the horizon, only to shoot out into sky again elsewhere.

The incandescence of the setting sun was blinding for the man, but he could still feel the soothing effect of the sunset on his psyche.  For him, it was magical.

The door was wide open.  And so was the freedom of movement between the balcony and the rest of the world.

He sat on a chair, covered under a blue blanket with white stripes.  Nearby the chair was a very small table with his loaves of bread, the only thing that the villagers fed him with.

Soon, he is sleeping.

Grasping the opportunity, the Girl in the tattered clothes entered the balcony, and slowly held her hand out and touched the loaves of bread, her heart gleaming with irrepressible happiness.

He snorted and coughed.

The sudden snorting and coughing upsets the Girl and made her jump.

The sudden jumping of the Girl upsets the man in his slumber and he is awoken.  He turns his head and sees the Girl.  A smile forms in his stitched lips.

He spoke in what little he knows about the language of the village.  Bad grammar doesn’t always work as a retardant of expression; individual words will have more weight than the ambiguous sentences that they are parts of.  That is the beauty of bad grammar, the only case in the entire world where individual parts are greater than the whole.

<VISIBLE>

The face of that Girl was frail and thin.  She looked as though she’d fall with the lightest push and break with the hardest punch.

“So you’re the culprit who’s been stealing the bread?” I asked, smiling.

The Girl is not smiling. The muscles in her thin little face worked together to express intense shock. Shock so intense, that tears start glistening in her beautiful black eyes. A teardrop drove
through her hollow cheeks to settle in her skeletal lips.

I ignored her shocked look. The little thief deserved it.

I spoke again, more harshly, washing away my smile in the process “Speak! What is your name?!?”

She spoke. No, she croaked, “I …Don’t…know! My… fa-father… never… gave me… a name.”

<INVISIBLE>

The lips of the old man were ugly. The smile on those ugly lips was ugliness in perfection.

His grasp of the language is weak. He speaks softly, the friction detectable, “You, the thief stealing loaves of bread?”

He was looking directly at me.  I was invisible.  Past tense.  But this man here could see me.  Present tense.

I remembered my father telling me, several epochs ago, “You are invisible, Girl. Nobody can see you. Use that to your advantage to steal some bread. Fill your stomach! Survive! Nobody will see you.  If, nobody ever saw you stealing the bread, you are not really stealing, then you are not really guilty!”

But if this man could see me, then I was really stealing that made me guilty.

If he could see me steal his bread, then so could the others.

If others could see me too, then I would be doomed.

My legs started shaking as though the weight of the whole world was placed upon my head.  For the first time in my life, a teardrop made its way from my eyes to my lips, leaving behind a watery trail behind on my cheeks.  A lifetime of salty sadness was trapped in that one teardrop.

“Speak! What’s you name?” He yelled harshly, with his voice sounding like a knife being sharpened and his ugly smile replaced with an even uglier grimace.

And for the first time since my father died, I spoke out loud, “Don’t…know! My… fa-father… never… gave…me…a name.”

And just as there was no name for me, there was no name for that feeling I had when the words tumbled out one after the other.

*

So it was then thatI burst out with my little story.

The time had come for it to leave me. So,my lungs burst with expressive air, my heart banged with vacuous emotions and my tongue clicked out words that sang along with all of it. A choir that I had assembled to sing my story for him.  And I was merely the paper with some hastily scribbled lyrics that they held for reference.

<VISIBLE>

 

The Girl became hysterical, started chanting.  What was it that she was chanting?  I asked and she told me it was her story.

*

When she had finished telling me her story she asked me to let her go. I pointed to the door.  And she exited, never to visit me again.

Part II

Three Years Later

<VISIBLE>

I have become an unhappy man.

<UNIDENTIFIED>

After he let the girl go.  He was driven away from the village, driven away by the chanting of the girl, driven away by her story.

Stories are always powerful, especially when they are true.

Little stories too are powerful.  Unlike big, luxuriant stories where everything is told for the listener, little stories leave gaps for the listener to fill.  The listener determines the power of little stories.  The man gave the little story of the Girl too much of power.

<VISIBLE>

That Girl was truly invisible.  Nobody could see her.  I had that confirmed when I asked my nurse and some other people in the village whether they had ever seen a Girl like that.  They had seen no such Girl, and I knew that I was not mad.  I knew that my absurd experience resonated with a sanctimonious truth.

In my hollow life, the Girl’s story took all the space.

The true story of the inhabitants, their façade removed, tortured me.  So, when I could walk once again in about a year and when my health was fully restored, I decided to stage my escape.

It happened in the night, when everybody was sleeping, waiting for the day that was yet to come while I was running for the life that had left me.  I made my way through the forest and found a road that lead to the city.  I walked all night and reached the city, and found a police station.

I should have been happy but I cried like hell in the police office, trying to contact my family.

The dim light of the streetlights splashed across her bony face, I stepped on her corpse as I made my escape.  The Girl was dead; she had died of starvation on the cold streets.  And all I did was step on her dead body in pathetic haste and look back for a second, to find out how heavy my sins had become.

 

 

 

 

 

PART III

The Girl’s Story, in her own Words

<INVISIBLE>

Listen.

Everybody has their stories.  And when they are told, it is the wind that carries them to other places for others to hear.

My story is not a happy one.

It is an unhappy story that makes me cry.  Please cry with me when I am done, please.

 

*

I was born invisible.  My mother, who was born visible, died invisible.  And she died giving birth to invisible me.

My father, who died later on, too was not born invisible.  He was born to a purely visible family and he grew up as a child that heard a lot of stories.  That is why he took out a dusty typewriter and started writing.  His village did not like his stories and called them evil.  He was taken to court where he was sentenced to the witch.  The witch was an old woman who cursed the criminals. She cursed him, or damned him, as my father would have put it, with solitude.

My parents were given the worst form of solitude. The type in which nobody will know you exist. Because we were invisible, we did not exist.  We were a dream that had come true.  And that is why my father gave me no name.

I didn’t exist at all.  Why would I need a name?  After all, aren’t I a nameless dream?

*

Throughout my life, I have been a thief, a bread thief.

Even in my mother’s womb, I was fed stolen bread.

I am a thief and I steal others’ bread to survive.  And if it were not for that, I would not be alive.

You might argue that I have no right to steal your bread, but do the others have the right not to acknowledge my existence.  Do they have the right to give me the life of a wretched, bread-stealing ghost?

*

Throughout his life, in the parts I had seen, my father coughed.

One day, he coughed blood.  His face contracted with fear when he saw it.  That was how his last month alive started, after that he went to another world which only the dead know.  I know that he is happy there with my mother where he can talk to everybody again.

*

When he was coughing blood, I kept my father in an abandoned garage that, much like us, nobody cared about.  He told me that he wanted to die and see my mother once again, but to do that he needed my permission.  This wasn’t the first time that he had asked the question so I gave him no such permission.  I told him that we’d die together, I told that we’d go to the world of the dead together and I told him that we’d meet my mother there together.

*

My father died after I woke up on a cold morning.  I accepted his death only after a week of waiting for him to wake up.

*

After he died, I decided to live a little longer.  Only a little longer, I knew I’ll die slowly.  My father always told me that death did not like little children.  But the life I’ve been living has been burdened by the things he told me the day before he died.  I’ve been living both in the past and the present, and all the time the future whispered to me about the death that is yet to come.

*

The evening before my father died, he told me that he wanted to see the sunset.  He was weak and I had to take the dual responsibility of a daughter and a walking stick.

We went to a rock that was located on a cliff and we looked at the sunset together.

“Well, child. I guess the sun sets on me.” He said.
“No!” I yelled. “Not yet!”
“Look at how weak I am!” He said weakly.
I turned and looked at him for a long time.
“No, please not now.” I pleaded.
My father sighed and wheezed at the same time “I’ll try.”

Silence seeped into our conversation.
“Well, I have to admit though.” My father finally said.
“What?”
“Being invisible isn’t fun.”
“You just figured that out?”
“It’s society that did this to us. We’re invisible because of society.”
“I…I agree.”
“And do you know why society did this to us!  I’ll tell you why!  Society was built upon rules
written by some stupid old men.  And one of their rules was that nobody – nobody has the right to disobey those dumb rules.  I write against a few of those rules and I got evicted from that idiotic country club.  Dumb rules that made other decent people into invisibles and turned their children either into monsters or brilliant men who fade away into the earth, away from our memories.  But that’s not what bothers me.  That’s all in a day’s work for society.  What bothers me is that you and your mother have to suffer too. You have committed no crime.  You’ve never been inside society, never had any friends.  But you’re just a kid…without a chance…”

He started crying.  And when he stopped, he coughed blood.

He died the next morning.  But his words lived on in my heart and in my life and I’m sure I’ll remember them the moment I die.

“But you’re just a kid…without a chance…”

Yeah, I’ll be remembering that.

*

And that’s my story.  Now, please let me go, sir.  I have suffered a lot from the hands of this society.  I am invisible, I am all alone.  Life and society have both been cruel to me, I need an escape route.

Please…

<VISIBLE>

After I let her go, I frequently remembered the girl and her story.  Her story is the one story that speaks for all the people who have put into isolation and reclusion by the society, they are the invisibles.  To be excluded from society, to become invisible is to suffer.  And their children suffer even more from this exclusion that grows deeper and deeper day by day, minute by minute, person by person.  So, don’t forget and remember.

Remember the invisibles.

Time is the greatest distance.

– Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagrie is a play by Tennessee Williams which is being staged at the Kamalmani Theatre inside the premises of the Rato Bangala School, Patan Dhoka.  The play is being directed by Eelum Dixit who plays the main character, Tom. Dixit is supported by Riva Thapa who plays Tom’s overbearing and neurotic mother, Amanda. Shristi Ghimire who plays Tom’s frail, crippled sister Laura and Arpan Khanal who plays a visitor who seems to represent the characters’ wishes.  The play is being staged as a fundraiser for the  Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre.

The play begins with Tom (Eelum Dixit) presenting himself in front of the audience and states that he is a conjurer who showcases a radically different type of magic.  He says that this play does not pretend to be realistic as it is a memory play, i.e. a play that is composed of his recollections of his past.  It is then we begin our journey though a two hour long montage of Tom’s bitter past which led him to leave his  mother and sister behind.  This means we rewind to St. Louis in the 1930s in the backdrop of the great depression in America when unemployment rate of the US was hovering at a dismal 25% .  The set is minimalistic and yet manages to give us a feeling of a house going through difficult times.

During the first half of the play, we see what Tom remembers of his family.  Amanda (Riva Thapa), his neurotic, impulisive mother who presses her only son with rather unreasonable demands.  Riva Thapa’s performance is rather similar to that of Annete Benning’s performance of a similar character in the 1999 Oscar Winner American Beauty.  Having  the most demanding character in the play, Thapa manages to portray a nauseatingly unlikable character with a certain sense of nostalgia.  Then we see Tom’s sister Laura (Shristi Ghimire) who is everything her mother is not.  Laura is a silent, fragile creature who is slightly crippled and prefers to keep her thoughts to herself to the extent where she becomes completely isolated whilst developing a lobotomized social life.  Laura’s frail nature stands in stark contrast to the hysterical pomp of her mother, Amanda.  Caught between an overbearing mother and a sister who is disabled physically and socially is Tom. Tom can be described as cross of the Dickensian Pip from Great Expectations and the Joycean Stephen Dedalus from The Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Burdened by hard times of the great depression and the drudgery of a dead end at a warehouse yet he keeps great expectations fostered by artistic ambitions.  Eelum Dixit’s excellent timing as an acerbic Tom provides comic relief to a morose play as Amanda and Laura descend into their individual breakdowns at the end of the play.

The Glass Menagrie is an autobiographical tragedy of sorts.  Tom’s family is similar to that of Tennessee Williams’ own.  This deeply personal approach to writing the play is one of the strength of the play.  The other strength is of course, the powerful execution by a cast who manages to dive deeply into the depths of the characters they portray.  Another thing that I enjoyed in the play was the lighting.  In the opening monologue of Tom, he states that the set is dimly lit as the scenes in the play represent his memories.  Various lighting effects, all of which are bleak and illuminate only a portion of the stage, are employed as to show the mood of the character at different points of…well…Tom’s memory. Whether Williams is showing a stage in his life or just a shadow of the people he knew is unclear, but we can all agree on the fact that Tenessee Williams wants to share something in The Glass Menagerie. 

During my visit to Nuwakot, I noticed an interesting micro-economy of trout rearing near Kakani and Ranipauwa.  In Nuwakot alone, there are more than twenty trout farms.  Most of these farms have a restaurant attached to them.  Two of these trout farms are located south of Kakani while the rest are located north of Kakani.  At these trout farms, one can purchase and take home a fresh trout, or have the attached restaurant fry, make a curry or barbeque it.  When I visited the trout farms, rainbow trout was selling at around a thousand rupees per kilogram.  Rainbow trout is famed as a delicacy, with its ‘unfishy’ nutty taste.  Also, I witnessed a whole new form of tourism in Nuwakot district – tourists visiting trout farm/restaurant.

This strip of Pasang Lhamu Highway has now developed a small micro-economy revolving around rainbow trouts.  This mushrooming of trout farms can be attributed primarily to Trishuli river and the mountain streams and the proximity of these trout farms/restaurants to the Kathmandu valley.

Rainbow trout was first introduced to Nepal in the late 1960s.  However, due to lack of infrastructure and know how, they did not survive to have any economic viability.  Again, in 1988, rainbow trout was introduced from Miyazaki prefecture in Japan, which lead to people naming it Japanese rainbow trout.  The Japanese rainbow trout need cold, running water which must maintain a temperature of around eighteen degree Celsius as these are very sensitive fish to temperature variations.  Also responsible for this trout boom is the Fishery Research Station at Trishuli which provides the fry or baby trout needed to start growing this beautiful fish.  In the last decade, local people have started to build commercial trout farms and raise their own fries in these parts of Nuwakot district.

It was encouraging to see the local people take advantage of the local resources to create something wholly original. Although production has not reached levels needed for export, let us hope for a bright future of trout rearing in Nepal.

Concrete Tanks Used for Rearing Trout in a Structure known as Raceway

Raceway and Restaurant about Ten Kilometers from Ranipauwa

Cold and Well-Oxygenated Running Water Being Channeled into the Raceway

Baby Rainbow Trout

Nuwakot is the neighboring hill district of Kathmandu. It can be accessed through the Pasang Lhamu Highway which begins in Balaju, Kathmandu and ends in the Tibeto-Nepal border. On the Pasang Lhamu highway,30 kilometers north of Kathmandu, lies the popular tourist spot called Kakani. Kakani is famed for its majestic view of the Himalayas. However when I visited there, the hill was mired in a thick fog, resulting in the Himalayas being blocked out of view. There are good days and bad days,  I thought. Maybe I would be able to see the Himalayas the next time.

But my destination was the Saat Talle Durbar in Bidur Municipality, an experience which I have described in an earlier post. But as they say, the road travelled is as important as the destination. For one hour, I got stuck in a traffic jam in the road just past the hamlet of Jureythum. The traffic jam had originally been a bandh, after a Khalasi allegedly beat up a student. Even after the bandh was resolved, the heavy buses on the narrow road prevented the flow of the traffic from taking place. When I reached that portion of the highway, I found out that people had been stuck there for more than three hours. Oh, the pains of traveling in Nepal….

Aside from that, Nuwakot is a lively place. The valleys in Nuwakot are very deep with Likhu, Tadi and Trisuli rivers draining them, so these valleys are favorable for human settlement. Although agriculture is the main occupation of the locals, there are some areas where commercial poultry farming is popular. I saw maybe five or six tall buildings where poultry was being reared. And then there were the exotic Trout ponds and hatcheries, with in-built restaurants on the side. People utilized the water from the mountain streams to raise rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a prized culinary delight that sells locally at a whopping thousand rupees per kilo.

Valley between Tadi and Trishuli Rivers in Nuwakot District

Hills of Nuwakot District

Pasang Lhamu Highway

Prayer Flags at Kakani

A House Amidst the Fog Near Kakani

Mushroom Farm Near Kakani

High Tension Wire Tower on the Pasang Lhamu Highway

Backroad Under Construction (With No Long Term Planning)

A Bandh on the Pasang Lhamu Highway

Vehicles and People Stuck in a Bandh on Pasang Lhamu Highway Near Jureythum, Nuwakot