Kathmandu is abuzz with events throughout the month. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s famous words for his vision of Nepal as a common ground for four castes and thirty sub-castes, is most evident here in the capital. If alive, I’m sure he’d yell out a delighted “Hell yeah!” after inspecting this melting pot of a city.
I am not sure what he would have to say about this other place where people from diverse cultures and backgrounds come together, increasingly now than ever before – the long, snaking queues at gas stations. Culture wise, I guess we are just holding on to and preserving whatever we have seen our parents doing, but I am sure we can take full credit for this cultural phenomenon where we bow to authorities, not take any proactive action and happily shirk all other work and responsibility to go line up.
That said, petrol lines make for some amusing times. It’s a place with a lot of “personality”, masses brought together by one common goal – to leave you behind as they inch forward, pretending to make conversation. There is always the old-ish guy with an ancient smoke machine, pushing forward, scratching newer bikes and generally just pissing people off. There is the kinda-cute-possibly-married woman on her scooter, sweet-talking to the station’s attendant in hopes of getting ahead sooner, only to get on his nerves with her supposedly flirtatious questions about how hard his life must be. Then there is the cell phone wielding loudspeaker, divulging information about everything from the multimillion rupees deal he just closed, the state of the country and about how Girija Prasad Koirala was his “gaun ko mama”.
Speaking of people coming together, this month I was working on a story on the Jawalakhel Zoo. I guess the pleasurable part in this had less to do with the actual writing and more to do with meeting the behind the scenes people and visiting the zoo numerous times to get a better idea of how to run an 850-species, daily show. It’s sad how the zoo is often looked at as a place of recreation for the lower middle class. Truth is the zoo with its animals and such a lot of greenery smack in the middle of an upcoming urban jungle that is Lalitpur makes for a great outing, for all ages. It rained once on one of my visits, the drizzle made the earth smell delicious and the place seemed so very distant from Kathmandu ’11.
One other headline caught my eye this last month, immediately saddening me. Mira Acharya, anchor at Radio Nepal and wife of popular comedian and actor Haribamsha Acharya had passed away and a photo accompanying the piece showed a forlorn looking Haribamsha, eyes still puffy from crying, staring into space. I have always been a fan of the Maha jodi, a pet name given lovingly to the comedian duo of Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haribamsha Acharya. The kind of following they have in Nepal and amongst Nepalese abroad remains unparalleled. Haribamsha especially has always brought to life colorful and crazy, always distinctly Nepali characters to life. His comedic timing is spot on and his political satire-laden innuendos are a riot. I grew up on Maha tapes and although I haven’t seen them perform live yet, I hope to one day. I hold a huge amount of respect for their art and how they’ve stayed rooted to “home”. Many will agree with me when I say that they are so in-sync with Nepali lives that they feel like someone we know personally. As a result, that image of Haribamsha in the papers, felt premonitory; it felt like the universe had lost its balance. I hope he finds enough strength within himself to deal with this huge loss. RIP Mira didi.
There’s nothing to raise dampened spirits than a little song and dance and some great Newari food. The first day of May, a government holiday marking Labor Day saw Bu Keba – The Organic Village Café organize Jatra – a festival of Newari food, Newari music and Newari dance. So as a covert US army mission (supposedly) put an end to an era of terrorism by offing bin Laden, I happily put an end to my craving for a good Newari Samay baji set by washing down chhoyela and bhattmaas with some good quality aela. Everyone welcomed the afternoon’s light drizzle, the sweet smell of the earth adding to the organic theme of the place. Also in the air was the distinct smell of marijuana; someone had taken the organic theme in their own hands (literally), lighting up a “joint” on the open road.
Taking things in their own hands seems like a Nepali thing sometimes. Notice how the ubiquitous +2 colleges in the capital have the most fun names in the world? I’ve seen a Caribbean College – flip flops, shorts and hula shirts as uniform (?), an Einstein Academy – talk about pressure on a kid and White House – a great bet if your master plan is to be the first Nepali president of the U.S. But nothing beats my favorite name for a school – Oxbridge, which apparently brings the best of two top academic institutions of the world together conveniently in Mahalaxmithan, Lagankhel.
Lowest point of the last month – the inter-caste Nepal bandh called by Tamang and Newar politically affiliated groups. Highest point of the last month – a few hours of street photography, on the same Nepal bandh as I captured a game of street cricket… Still, Die Nepal Bandh Die!