What’s that smell?

The human brain is such a fascinating… organ? A lot of times, you are not even aware of the connections its making on its own but if you sit down and think about it, man, it’s one hell of an, organ.

The sense of smell particularly fascinates me. It sneaks up on you at the most random places and the memories it triggers are even more so. On my way back from a jog one morning, I sensed some smoke in the air; the kind that comes from a wood fire. My mind immediately conjured up images of my grandmother in a red sari, sweating at her brow, eyes watering from the wood fire she was in front of as she made sel roti during Tihar. As an afterthought, I remember my grandfather, the sweet and simple guy he is, holding an umbrella behind her, protecting his wife of fifty four years from the autumn sun.

A week or so ago, I was in bed, just waking up and thinking about my day, not really planning it but just randomly trying to manage it in my head. The curtains were drawn and I could sense that it was late from the activity upstairs in the kitchen. That’s when it happened. I pulled open the curtains to the side and a wave of fresh air let my memory drift back with it to my childhood.

Until I was ten or so, I lived and went to school in Birgunj, a small-ish industrial town. Now it’s more city than town, with all the banks, clothing stores and one “MacDonald”, but back then it was so different. Birgunj is right on the border with India and so there were a lot of Sardarjis there who owned huge 16 wheeler trucks which they either drove or gave it out on hire. Some of them had lived there for decades. One Sardarji and his family rented our ground floor rooms. Each morning before spending the children off to school, I’d watch the Sardarji’s wife tie her sons’ long hair into a small ball-like bun right on top of their head. I remember fondly how one day she called me to her and used a potato to tie one on my head too. So anyways, back to the main story, there were also a lot of Muslims and Marwaris in Birgunj then. So in the mornings, when I’d just be rubbing my eyes open and trying to think of excuses to miss school, I’d hear prayer sounds from the mosque’s speakers near our home. For some reason, probably because it’s a pretty soothing sound, (random trivia: its right up there on my list of soothing sounds with night insects and the sound of flowing water), I’d take a long, satisfying breath of air. And the air smelt a different way; fresh and cool and somehow ‘bright’, almost like it had some of the sunlight that makes Birgunj summers super hot. That morning, a week ago, as I lay in bed, at least fifteen years after I left Birgunj and about 350 kilometers away from it physically, a random morning breeze reminded me of all that.

I studied in Budhanilkantha School, famous for having had former Shah princes as students and also because Budhanilkantha students do great academically (well, maybe not all of us!) and had a reputation for topping the SLC exams every year. But the thing I love about the place, second only to having crazy friends from all over the country, was the space. The school was so f$%^&g huge. I passed through there yesterday and peeked in through the main gates and the lush greens made me want to go to school again. Back then, in the afternoons as it’d start to rain or at least look like it, our teachers would hurry us indoors to our dorms. Climbing on our beds and looking out the window, I remember how amazing the first drops of rain smelt as they hit the parched summer earth – like a possibly delicious forbidden fruit. I’d stay there sniffing at the air like a dog.

Rounding up the list a little oddly is the smell of money and how it reminds me of… my dad. Alright, okay so I know how that sounds but let me explain it better. My dad’s a businessman and so at the end of the day, he’d have the smell of paper notes on his fingers from counting money before he shut shop for the day. I was young then and so as soon as he’d get back from work, he’d touch my face and his hands would smell of money! In boarding school, a lot of us got homesick. Different things would trigger the homesickness for us though. Its funny how, when I’d count how much money I had left to buy myself some tucks, I’d miss my dad.

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At Sea

Lost at sea?

The Dalai Lama once said something about how people all over the world – despite how different they look, what languages they speak or whichever religion they follow – are intrinsically the same. With the woes of the world, most of them over these very differences splashed over the day’s papers, it’s not hard to be a little skeptic. Forget the world – people who grew up together can seem as different as they come. Some have it all figured out by grade five, so sure about their goal in life that nothing and no one seems capable of getting in their way. Others can’t see beyond that night’s dinner. Some meet their soul mate in a random class that they didn’t even want to take – one of those clichéd high school stories that survive all odds. Others go out every night to find someone, flirting left and right, only to come back home with no more than a wrong number and more times than not, a bruised ego to go with it. People are the same? – Really?

You know how they say, that when it rains, it pours? For a while now, I’ve felt like I’ve been braving a quiet storm. Unfair yes; but what felt worse was that (quite dramatically) I thought I was alone in all this, lost at sea even, looking desperately for that one speck of land, an island of hope.(!) But after some amazing conversations with some friends in the past few days, I thought to myself – maybe the Dalai Lama does know a few things.

How people mostly differ, in their perspectives and opinions are in most cases the results of social conditioning. But when it comes to raw emotions – fear, love, hate, confusion – everyone has that storm brewing that they’re continually steering away from. The more I talked to the guys, some of whom I have known for 10-15 years now, the more I noticed that sometimes it’s all about putting on a brave face. Some of them confessed that they do this so well that it’s become a way of life. Others pull it off sometimes; quite a few are laid bare and/or scattered like loose sheets in the wind.

One of my close friends from high school confessed that he didn’t know how to manage his life anymore. He’s always been in relationships and being single suddenly and after a while felt so new to him that he felt clueless about going it alone. As he said goodbye, he told me he was going to take some time to enjoy life alone before he learns to share it all again with someone else. Two others thought they had found true love – their interest in each other had spanned more than a decade and literally continents. They’d tell me it was just too good to be true, only to find out that they were right – it was too good to be true. Going their different ways, there was obviously pain, but there was probably also some bitterness, a loss of faith in that something that they felt for a while.

I didn’t go through a split with anyone recently, nor did I find anyone/someone I’d had a feeling I’d end up with. I certainly wouldn’t be sitting at my table writing this half miserable-half hopeful blog entry if the second were true. But the conversations opened up the lives of my friends to me, allowing me to see them without their brave faces on. And in that light, they didn’t look too different from me. (No, not literally) So as I hop islands- my brave face toggled between on and off, looking for more hope to feed my soul, I feel grateful and safe knowing there are more like me out there.

Belonging-ness

I can’t believe the juveniles I grew up with are getting married. How did this happen? How did they trick such wonderful, beautiful women into thinking they were good people? And more important still, why don’t I know this trick? Perhaps to ignore any hostile confrontations, I ignored some of these marriage receptions. Also, I was tired of wearing my black suit everywhere – the thing was starting to feel like a bloody uniform. But that was just another excuse I used, to err… excuse myself. But when my best friend told me a few months ago that his marriage was almost certain, I didn’t know how to feel. The first and natural response, being such good friends was of course  – “No you won’t! Are you crazy?” Then the customary, obligatory “I am so happy for you man, congratulations!” (Not that I am not happy for him, of course I am, the man deserves all the happiness in the world for being so intrinsically good. Also he remains sole proof of the single line that influences most of my decisions – “good things happen to good people”.)

Soon enough he got here, the groom to be. We met and it felt like no time had passed at all. He was doing great and I was real happy for him. The engagement happened soon enough and soon it was the day of the marriage which was preceded by a “janti” that saw me go berserk dancing in front of the engagement venue along with other family members. I used to think such dancing was so not my thing. There had to be more classy ways to express happiness, I thought. But as I shook my hands and legs in no particular coordination to the army band’s drums and trumpets tracks, I learnt an important lesson that day; that when it comes to really celebrating something as significant, reckless abandon (dancing like a madman in this case) kicks ass. We were here to get the bride for our guy and the dancing just seemed so apt and so joyful. It made the fact that I was wearing a dark suit in the sun and that my shirt was drenched in sweat totally worth it.

As the groom waited in the car, waiting to be invited for the marriage, (as is tradition) I told him one last time that if he wanted to run, it could be arranged. I was kidding of course (it could not be arranged and also because it’d be rather impossible to turn one’s back on a bride that looked as beautiful.) Another one bit the dust, but I could tell it was going to be worth it. Soon the ceremony started and I have to admit rather shamefully that this was the first proper Hindu marriage that I had been so closely observant at. As the pandit read mantras from a small notebook (punctuated by calls on his mobile – apparently this was peak season for summer marriages), my friend looked solemn as we all watched on. There were some fun, beautiful traditions too. One involved a tug of war between the bride and the groom’s side; whichever side won would have the higher hand in the marriage. (Read as my friend would not be wearing the pant in this relationship. Also refer to above image!) Needless to say, I wanted to throw the game; what fun it would be to hear of all his post marriage woeful tales I thought. But everyone else wanted to impress the bride’s friends I guess and we ended up pulling with all our might and still lost. Claiming that we had hardly anything to hold on to, a rematch was arranged, which we won. Translation: Whenever my friend would be in trouble with his wife, he’s got to find a way to arrange a rematch and things shall be dandy for him! (No, this is all me) The shoes hiding tradition – although quite a pain for the groom and his pocket – was pretty entertaining too. A ten year old deal maker was sent to set the price of the shoes at 20,000. We were offended to have been sent a kid to make a deal with but it turned out the little guy was ruthless. After much haggling, the shoes were finally returned for a hefty price, much lower than 20K, but still prompted the sweating groom to disclose to me –  “the most expensive pair I will ever buy!”

But by far, the most fascinating tradition had to be the instant where the father of the bride washes the feet of the groom and actually drinks the same water. In a time of living together before marriage, moving out to live on your own after marriage and divorces and what not, this I thought was a humbling gesture that really spelled out the purity and beauty of marriage and what it means for the families of the bride and the groom. As if this were not enough to impress me, I later witnessed the father, the mother and the brother of the bride, crouched down on the floor in front of the groom, hands pressed in prayer as the pandit rushed through the mantras. This and the carrying of the bride by the brother to the beautifully decorated car that would whisk her away to her new home – both, seemed to symbolize a show of great faith, of trust and respect from the bride’s family towards the groom and his family. It seemed to say “we are giving you our daughter, we’ve raised her like a princess, please accept her as your own now.” Two days later, the newlywed couple flew off to Philippines for their honeymoon.

Good things happen to good people. Good things happen to good people. Good things happen to good people. 🙂

Around the world in 11 years (and nothing to show for it)

I had been looking forward to meeting Pushkar Shah for a while when he finally turned up that evening. I had read about his travels on his journal entries in WAVE magazine and also watched his interviews on television. He had always come across as an honest, simple person who’d selflessly given away 11 years of his youth to carry the Nepali flag around the world, trying to send out a message of peace in the world. His words would always be carefully chosen, dripping with patriotism and punctuated by satirical Nepali proverbs. We sat down, my team from the magazine and Pushkar Shah in a private seating area, ordered some beers and described him our concept of the story on him. The conversation soon veered to his life now.

What he told us and how he told it was depressing, disheartening and made me truly sad. Not just for him as a person who sacrificed so much and gotten zero in return but because it once again put some light on the state of things in Nepal for me. Pushkar Shah for those of you who might not know this traveled around the world on his cycle carrying the Nepali flag for 11 years. In total he traveled through a staggering 150 countries. He achieved all of this without any kind of support from the Government of Nepal. When he set out to India to start his journey 12 years ago, he had a hundred rupee note that his mother gave him. Upon returning back, the Dolkha native returned the unused hundred rupee note to his mother. With only the handwritten Nepali passport, he crossed through innumerous borders, meeting a record number of the Nepali diaspora that is spread across the world. That in itself is a record he mentions, one that he’s not even bothered to do anything about. To fun his meals and expenses, he worked odd jobs around the world and even begged when all else failed. “Afno desh nai maagera chalchha!” (Our country runs with borrowed money.)

When he came to Nepal for short breaks in between, he’d be bogged down with interviews and certificates from the government. There was never any financial support. But after 11 years and 150 countries, after missing out on opportunities to build a normal life for himself in Nepal and after the country had been through Jana Andolans 1 and 2, when he finally got home, the Nepali government seemed less than interested. No full scale interviews on tv, no full coverage of this historic trip taken by a Nepali by any media house – nothing. The story had gotten old.

But Pushkar Shah insists that he’s not asking for a house or a car from the government, all he is asking for is some sort of recognition from the country that he represented and did all of this for. The least the government could do and this would benefit the government more than it would Pushkar Shah is to give the man a job. With his experience of traveling around the world, his understanding of so many cultures and his visibility and popularity with the Nepalis abroad – Pushkar Shah would make a great brand ambassador for Nepal Tourism Year 2011. This had been proposed but never got implemented. The 20 lakh rupees promised by PM Madhav Nepal months ago is yet to get to him and his phone’s ringing off the hook after he got weighed down by loans he took to fund his Everest Expedition – the final chapter to his tour for peace. The official sponsor – KIST bank withdrew their support at the last moment, landing him in a soup. The man who famously claimed he’d never owed five paisa to anyone has now been reduced to switching off his mobile phone to avoid calls from people he owes money to. The four thousand pages of his 11 year journal and the many hours of video that he wants to turn into a book and a documentary respectively, gather dust in a room filled with souvenirs and memorabilia from around the world.

What’s his plan? He’s contemplating leaving the country, to go anywhere he can, and find any job that pays enough for him to to earn a little and pay back his loans. If he has to leave, he says he’ll hand over his Nepali passport and his Bhadgaole topi and never set foot in Nepal again. What sort of message will this send to the Nepali people? What kind of a government heads this country? Can we seriously call this bunch of short sighted, dimwits who’re always busy quarreling over power a government? And even this has some semblance to what a government acts like, is this the sort of governance that thousands of Nepalis lost their lives for? Did Pushkar Shah cycle around the world, doing petty jobs, begging for food and shelter, getting robbed and beaten up and carry a Nepali flag as an informal Nepali ambassador for peace to be rewarded with this utter humiliation?

The Nepali people, the aam janata, has always proven themselves at every chance – from art and architecture to the fields of medicine and literature. Most times, they have had to create opportunities for themselves, which is quite alright too. But in a country that reels under poverty, illiteracy and gross unemployment, where’s the government’s helping hand when its needed the most? Our present crop of politicians don’t seem to know right from wrong if the difference slapped them across their wide grinning faces. Why are we acting like they do and letting them decide the fate of the Nepali people? Why do we let them get away with it all? And what can we do?

There had been a really long line in front of the Dasrath Rangasala in Tripureswor that afternoon – people applying for Korean language test for a possible job opportunity in South Korea. I realized later that I had actually seen thousands of other similarly dejected Pushkar Shahs, who had found a rather depressing answer to such questions and had decided they deserved better than Nepal.

The Secret Video and other related stories

I can’t believe I have this video of myself from years ago. No it’s not me and a model. And the video is so good – I don’t even rather wish it was of anything else. What it is, is an unedited, very indecent and very, very enjoyable video with random scenes from two days and two nights at our hostel from back in the day. The gist of the entire thing is best represented in the very first shot as I zoom in for a shot of one of my roomies Mr. K.P. sleeping. As the camera frames his handsome, fair young face, I rather foolishly, ask him “Yo poon, what’s up?” to which his answer and this is quite characteristic of him is – “Go f*** yourself.”

The camera belonged to the school and had been lent to us to record a stage show that had happened a few days ago. We hadn’t returned it since, since it was towards the final days of our stay in school and we wanted to have some fun with it. For those two days, my friends and I handled the camera and took it almost everywhere; the bathroom, the dining hall, the kitchen, our cubicles, zoomed in shots of some random females walking away and the popular corridors where many a student chose to study in peace for their exams.

Watching it after almost a decade, the video felt surreal. I was immediately transported back to our messy room with its many posters and graffiti, the broken mirror and the laundry set out to dry on the bed frame. Loud music played on my friend’s old but terrific cassette player. Another player that another roomie (A.K) brought from home required a knife to be inserted between the stop and play button. Everyone looked so much younger than I remember them to be, some more confident, some less, some quieter in the presence of a camera, while some thought of it as an amazing opportunity to display their pathetic weight lifting skills M.Gautam). A friend who has now passed away (God bless you dallee, you are in my thoughts and in the thoughts of all those who knew you as a great guy and a terrific closet pervert. We miss you.) appeared randomly on the screen sending a chill down my spine, as we went into random rooms, filming people, asking some to pose and some to say something, anything to the camera. There’s also a corny but still very cool shot of a friend and I, the former is now a doctor, strumming on the guitar and playing a Pearl Jam song. We swore by that band then and countless others, saving up to buy cassettes and listening to every song. CDs happened later too, but frankly, it didn’t really compare to the joys of winding up a cassette with a pencil to save up a little battery life while rewinding on our Walkman.

A scene from our kitchen, (the Senior Boys had a separate dining room – perhaps to keep us away from the Senior Girls who dined in a dining room allocated for the junior boys at least ten minutes down the gently sloping hill that the school is built on and around) of a young cook (nick name – Samsad as in MP (?), real name – unknown) stands out amongst the many other classic moments. When told to strike a pose for the camera, he first rests a hand against the wall and crosses his legs dramatically, after which he says something like, “This is nothing. You should see the poses I strike in the bedroom tonight!” Needless to say, the guy was very popular with the guys for his crass humor and also because he smuggled fries and chicken to us in exchange for some shampoo or a pair of old slippers. He would also prepare breakfast for us late risers after the on-duty-teachers left the dining hall. Random displays of various states of nudity later, there’s scenes of all of us guys hanging out on in a friend’s room, some of them visibly high on something, others picking on the quieter ones. Some are on their beds, some are on the floor, some on chairs and some with their heads hung down from their bunk beds to listen in on the engaging conversation. One of the guys in that room was famous for rocking out on his bunk bed at unearthly hours but thats another story, perhaps not for this blog.

Today, these guys are spread out all over the world, with a major concentration in the US of A. One of them, another pervert, but an ambitious and smart one at that (S.K.) is in the land down under (“Jan ma jaane ho!”) The aforementioned roomie (A.K.)with the cassette player is now in the Philippines pursuing a post grad degree and is soon to be married to his med school girlfriend. I couldn’t be happier for you guys. God bless you. An amazing bachelor party is on the cards for you my friend – for all those years of rock and roll).  The “go f*** yourself” roomie is in the US too and is as far as I know taking full advantage of his innocent, cute face. Another Chinese looking roomie, (K.K.) drummer for the band that never really performed, is doing great too, based out of Colorado and owns a terrific sports bike. Another buddy with a major Asian woman fantasy (R.K.S) did very well and recently got done with his Master’s degree. His fantasy came true, I think, and he’s probably thinking up new ones as you read this. Some became bankers (P.R., Goldman Sachs! you’re the man!), some are pursuing their PhDs (B.M., S.A.S.  – Daktar Sabs!) while some are still figuring out life (U.S.) Quite a few became doctors! A great footballer (M.T.) from those days, is now married and a doctor too. Someone with a crooked finger (S.M.) is a teacher, god knows how many minds he will ruin. One of them (S.KC) pulled a Houdini on us all, we miss you, you crazy, big digital smile man. Reappear soon!

Maybe someday, we could all hang out and watch the video. There’s so much I could use to blackmail these guys,(S.A.S and R.K.S!) except for, these guys are so shameless they would not really care for an exposed buttock leaking out onto the press. But thank you people. You made high school worth the terrible lunches and having to see Dhondu’s hideous face every morning. (Someone run him over please.)

P.S. The ladies, thank you for giving us reason to walk down to around where you dined. Most of you were a pleasure to know.

The New Neighbor and other stories

My mom loves to talk about this and that and them and when. She doesn’t like it when I call it gossip though. But she does amazing impersonations, the voice, the body language; it’s an art really and she’s got ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is. In a parallel universe she has nine Oscars, five Emmies and at least 15 Razzies (she also overacts horribly sometimes). But that’s quite beside the point. It’s not just my mom though. It’s the entire family really and even though my dad acts like he doesn’t care about sharing stuff, truth is he really digs it too. It’s as if no meal would be digested if it weren’t followed by a serving of some hot gossip. My aunt, my sister, my grandmother, my dad, my uncle, everyone apart from my grandfather is into it. Me? I don’t know, I love to tell a story, but I get sidetracked easily. And, I’ve always found that little black kid (now old and also dead) from Different Strokes (?) a little scary. (Kidding! Get it??) So you can  imagine the bulk of material we were presented with to work our magic on when we got sudden news of a new neighbor.

A family moving in with their stuff would have taken a week tops and would have provided material for performances that would last at least a month. But no, we had something major come our way; the neighbors didn’t just move in one fine day. They bought the plot adjacent to ours and decided to build a house on it, something that took them more than a year. As luck would have it, our plot is at a higher elevation so we have a bird’s eye view of almost everything that goes on, on this particular plot. So for an entire year, as the house slowly took shape, my mom, aunt and grandmother made it a habit to finish whatever they were doing and casually move towards the window and look at what was happening. I think we were the first to know about everything that was happening in their house, sometimes even before they did. Some days they’d arrive after some work was completed while we’d have been there the entire time, watching, commenting and giving away advice about what they should have done differently and how and why. One time I even heard my grandfather, the quiet one, talk about how it upset him to see something go to waste. I suspected one of the kids had not finished their vegetables or else my uncle had given away some furniture that my grandmother was planning to have restored. But no, turns out my grandfather had been overseeing work at the neighbor’s house and he had seen the masons waste too much cement! I know its something big when even my grandfather starts to comment!

We marveled at the amount of money that was being spent on the house. And then we’d sit around and talk about how each one of us would have done it. The dining room/living room sessions which were usually limited to half an hour or forty minutes at most grew to over an hour. My mom seemed the happiest. She was used to living in New Road before we moved here and there was always something to look at from the windows there, unlike here where the houses were spaced apart and it was much quieter and uneventful. As for me, I was tired of hearing talk about the same people every time. The neighbors soon moved in. Comments were passed on the furniture, the stereo, the carpets and the curtains. But over time, the neighbors ceased to be as exciting as they had initially seemed. I sighed with joy at this. But this peace and quiet would not last.

One morning, the neighbor dropped by to drop something off – a shiny, red and gold invitation card; he was getting married and the ceremony was to be held (you guessed it!) on their lawn, the one that our dining room balcony overlooks. Needless to say, everything at our place took a backseat the day of the marriage. Meal times changed, my mom and aunt even missed their Hindi soaps, my grandfather turned off his radio, and later in the evening my uncle poured himself a shot and positioned himself comfortably at the window by the balcony.

Point is, I don’t think it’s going to get quiet at my place any time soon. And as annoying as it can sometimes get, I am kind of used to it by now. It’s got to the point where, if no one’s talking during dinner, I start to worry. After years of staying in a hostel, I had a hard time getting used to living at home. There were no prefects to quiet down my family or light outs so that I could sleep on time without having to hear the drone of the tv upstairs and its light flickering against my window. It’s not easy, but lately I’ve been able to relax a little more even with the 24/7 chaos. I now seem able to separate individual conversations and acts from the entire commotion that is life at our house. This week, the neighbors (same ones) had an “Ihh”, a Newar ceremony where little girls are symbolically married off to a pear (yes, that’s right, the fruit). Lots happened at the ceremony and all of it was watched and commented upon. I don’t know if it’s the same with most Nepali families. I can’t bring myself to believe that there could be another group of people, related to each other, all of whom have One glaring, common interest. I hope we’re not unique to the point of being weird. But again, maybe I do.

Mixed Doubles

I can’t believe I got up at 4.30 in the morning that day. The things men do for women, I thought to myself, as I brushed my teeth furiously, as I always do and making my toothbrush look like it had been the only one I had ever used. It’s not. It’s been a while though but anyways. Outside, the air was cool, the roads were vacant and it was quiet save for some early morning joggers and some random chickens pecking about even more randomly on a black topped road. The silence, the fresh air and the empty roads; Kathmandu was still asleep and it was perfect.

Soon, with a friend, I finally got to where I was going to see the women; all 2369 of them. But seriously, there were a lot of women. This was Yaka Bhujya, the day women pull on the Matsyendranath chariot from Lagankhel to a nearby crossroad called Tabahal. Surprisingly, in an era that didn’t really do much for women’s rights, a day was allocated for single women to pull the chariot of the gods. Why this was done is not known, at least not to the guys I asked that morning. However, if the number of men who lined the sidewalks that early morning, smiling from ear to ear and watching the women line up to pull the chariot in glee, even though they didn’t really have any duties to perform is any indication, the reason could have been just that. Perhaps it was a clever way to get these single women on the street and have a grand time ogling at them. For a split second, I thought of women’s wrestling but then decided to focus on the festival.

Older women, single young women (!!!) and children – the road was packed to capacity. Most were in saris, some wore sneakers while others chose to just give it a go barefoot. The younger women were a delight to watch. Ok, some of those Newar girls were really good looking, but that morning there were plenty more reasons to stare and have your jaw drop. Nepali men and women take ‘inappropriate dressing’ to a whole new level, one of those unique Nepali things that should be used to introduce Nepal – “the land of Mt. Everest, the birthplace of the Buddha and the land where women pull on chariots at 5 in the morning in dresses and make up”! In the middle of all this commotion was the chariot itself, a huge structure made without a single iron nail to support it and towering over its devotees at more than 50 feet. It loomed dangerously towards the side, at almost a 45 degree angle with its base. The chariot although primitive looking is built to strict specifications with a detailed blueprint that is followed as closely as it can be. My favorite random facts about the chariot – the sum of the circumferences of the huge wooden wheels on the chariot equals the height of the chariot from the base to the very top. Some of the wood used to make this chariot is not available in Nepal and has to be brought from India and the workers on the original chariot were from Sikkim. Nestled comfortably at the base, and guarded by the police was the popular red statue of the Matsyendranath or Karunameya, its red color symbolizing blood from wounds the Karunameya had gotten when crossing a strand of his mother’s hair.

Back to the action, it was soon time for the chariot to be pulled. The number of DSLR cameras that morning in Lagankhel was depressing. The lens on my digital camera almost refused to come out, intimidated by the huge lenses on cameras that some kuires were wielding. The leader of the pack, a guy on the nose of the chariot, signaled the start of the pulling to which amidst loud cheers and much clapping, the women started to heave at the chariot. Some of those women could really scream. And they heaved and they shouted. And they laughed and they fell and they lost their slippers. And everyone else looked at each other and smiled. The chariot hadn’t budged an inch. Finally with some men in uniform giving it a much needed push from behind, the chariot started to roll, the women stopping every so often to clap and laugh. The chariot finally got to its resting place, but not before it brushed dangerously against the terraces of the houses that lined the street.

Afterwards, we sped up to Swoyambhu for another massive celebraiton. The day women pull the Matsyendranath chariot had coincided this year with the birth of someone who swore off women later in his life – Gautam Buddha. Swoyambhu is usually quite crowded anyways. That day, there wasn’t room to walk. Pushed up the steep stairs, I got to the stupa and was pushed around the stupa and then towards a teashop for breakfast – Nepali tea and warm Tibetan croissants. Later that day, I came back again, not wanting to miss the light show and lamp lighting ceremony that Tsering didi from the Swoyambhu Restoration Project had organized to mark Buddha Jayanti as well as the completion of the 15th restoration of the Swayambhunath chaitya. I have always loved the stupa for the way it projects peace and quiet, the eyes of the Buddha looking out for its devotees but that night, Swoyambhu looked spectacular. With flood lights trained on the stupa and its newly restored and gilded spire, it shone brightly in the warm summer night. I suddenly remembered that I had been allowed to work on the restoration for a bit, polishing one of the many statues at the base. Around this base, devotees flocked in numbers I had never seen before, lighting lamps, praying, taking pictures and just hanging out, reveling in the yellow light reflected off the stupa. Around the stupa, on every permitted terrace, even atop monasteries, were silhouettes of at least fifty photographers, tripods set, cameras focused on the stupa, with a dazzling full moon in the background. On the rooftop where we settled to look at the stupa and the surrounding festivities from, a cold breeze brushed against our faces as the candles flickered. Some day.