writtern on September 16, 2014.
Kathmandu. The dust and the fumes envelop its valley, yellowing the newspapers that flap through the wind and the people who walk in its streets all day long. The tea on the box it was set upon has already gone cold. Cars, sometimes red Ford trucks and battered Maruti cabs side by side, honk their horns, screech their brakes, and make the dust fly all the more. Chickens in the tiny bazaar across the road wander around and the children play along with them. Above, the skies are a dichotomy, grey and blue clashing together. Black kites, house crows, mynas and sparrows make it their playground, coexisting together.
A young man to the far right across the road cautiously evades the cars as he crosses, dark, curly hair bobbing with the hands that signal the cars he is crossing. He shuffles by, stepping onto the sidewalk. Looking around, he skips towards the shops along the roads that sell khaja, candy, sim cards and other articles. His shoulder bag’s flap sways away from its body, and he fumbles to close it. He glances at the two cups of cold tea atop a box. “You’re here,” he says, his face creasing with surprise. “Ah, life is full of surprises my dear friend. Besides, you are late… again,” I utter, taking a cup and trying to remember what cold tea tastes like.
* * *
Kathmandu. The sweltering heat of the summer beats down on every monument, mandir, monkey, and man. Even though “man” is a singular pronoun, right now they are against each other: protesters versus the police. The protesters think they are defending themselves, their rights as the citizens, and they think the police is their enemy. The police think they are defending themselves, their rights as the government, and they think the protester is their enemy. They are a dichotomy, but they are all human, still they are one.
I am standing in the middle of the crush of protesters. We have heard the crackle of gravel, rocky sidewalks, torn plastic bags, and broken baby dolls under our feet in our march from the campus toward the main road. Our voices thirsty, ever screaming. Protesting for eyes to be opened, equality for the peoples. But how will that ever happen, when every human being is corrupted, drinking the cup of suffering down to the dregs? Oh heck, I didn’t ask to become part of this rally, much less this philosophical pondering.
All of the shops have been closed, because for a reason that involves the happening the next minute. We pass by one that’s open, and suddenly four radical youngsters start throwing stones into the windows. The malik and a few patrons flee with horrified faces, not wanting to see the funeral of the doomed shop, which was now heaved down with more rocks.
I myself want to escape from this throng, the action too much for my easily-swayed heart. And the stench of unwashed bodies and noise of desperate and hoarse voices too much for this upper-class toff. So I poke my head up from the sea of faces. Suddenly, one head with a shock of curly hair dashing from the edge of the people catches my eye. My young cousin-brother. He looks old enough to pass as one of my classmates, but as his cousin, I know that he is still a developing fifteen year-old. I thought he knew enough not to get involved! I think angrily. This is too dangerous for him. He struggles to get past the rally and frenzied people, as the opposition between college students and enforcers intensify. Finally, he heaves a sigh, having reached his destination.
“You’re here!” he breathes, and gasps for air. His hands reach up to his silver-rimmed glasses and continues to rub them on the sleeve of his tangerine shirt. I frown my brows at him in disbelief. “Why – why’d you choose this, of all times, to pay me a visit, Ranjan?! In the heat of a protest march in the middle of Kupondole! I thought we agreed on nine AM, you duffer!”
“I had no choice,” he says. But before he can continue the crowd heaves and pushes us forward.
The students next to us now have their fists up in the air, and in the front where there is more space, flags of red and white now wave swiftly. The chant of “Chai dai na!” erupted from the same hoarse voices that had now regained strength.
Then a whisper spread through the middle of it all. For one second, everyone stopped. No one knew why, but nonetheless we froze, feet rooted to the ground, and brown eyes searching. In the sky above us, a pure white dove glinted with the sunlight of the noontime sun. The symbol of peace. We knew not where it came from, or why it beat its immaculate wings in the centre of the heavens. I looked back down and saw the sad eyes of tired men and women, hoping it was a sign. But there was somebody at the vanguard of the battlefront who couldn’t take it anymore. And a gunshot sounded.
I formed a human shield out of my skinny limbs around Ranjan as the stampede made it impossible for us to flee.
* * *
Ranjan sat on the Cadbury chocolate storage box converted into a seat next to me. A few moments passed with us just watching the road, people passing by, just living, almost without a care in the world.
“Hm,” Ranjan finally said. “You remember that rally four years ago?”
“Yeah, and I dragged you to the hospital on my shoulders. Thanks for making me remember. You had blood all over-ooh!” I couldn’t go on.
“At least I guess it’s over now.” His caramel eyes focused on the local newspaper heralding good news.
“The peace. Do you think this will be let up for long?”
“I’m not sure, cousin. But let’s drink to the day when it won’t ever stop.”
I give him the other plastic cup of tea, and he smiles, thankful. Then he immediately spits the milky brown drink out to the sidewalk. I laugh so hard, that all the passerby stop and stare at me.
“You just gave me cold tea, you bloody idiot!”
mandir = temple
malik = shop owner
chai dai na = no more!