Recall an ancient Chinese blessing – may you live in interesting times. However opaque the future may be, apparently I wish my father that you will live in interesting times, times that are challenging, promising, perhaps even dangerous. At the moment it is virtually a chimera to think happy days will be here again. Father wrote back: my son, you asked a road of freedom, I’m giving you not one but many.
Father’s words drum inside me. I try to work out what freedom means. The ancient Indian sage Chanakya, after torching his mother’s pyre, said, “I lost my father, now mother is ready to incinerate – I’m free, nothing in the world chains me.”
Do parents chain their offspring? A great Englishman said – man is born free but always chained. Is it parents or material substances? My old man is inside me, I’ll never be free of him. Even in the days when he exasperated me and I resented him vehemently, I was unable to resist his existence in the facade of my inner self. Prince Shiddhartha forfeited royalty, Rahul and Yashodhora to become the Buddha Nirvana. Why did my father walk away? Was he too, seeking peace in this world of sorrows? He was the one who never gave up hope, always said – one day this glimmer will be blazing.
Father lost his mother when he was barely one old year. His father married again. As the Nepali saying goes, stepmothers are witch, so was the woman his father married. When he was ten his step mother eloped with another man and his father never married again. He was married at the age of 15 because his father thought there might be an end of his lineage. Father was very frail boy. The very next year he was a father to a son. Misfortunes began again. He lost his pregnant wife and a sister, but he survived. Until than he was school dropout, he now joined a local school and his life became somewhat normal. He was married at the age of 29 to a girl of 17. My mother. Father did his MA to become a journalist and a news agent. He did not get along with his boss. He quit. He bought a printing machine to start a news magazine. His partner cheated him. He founded an NGO, investing in business. All attempts were in vain. Father was bankrupt.
Now I know it was wrong to impose expectations on a man who had suffered so since a young age. “My son, my relationship with your mother was a quest for bliss but you took birth,” he said, eyes brimming with tears. “But now you are here and you have made feel proud.”
I read his intellect in papers and my face glows. I am proud to have a father like him. He used to tell me, “I’d like to lead a solitary life in a peaceful environment, write some books.” I hope he is doing it now. He used to tell me about wanting to write about Ashvathama, the immortal but doomed character from the Mahabharata, and fictionalized account of his family tree who are believed to be the descendent of Veda Vyasa, the editor of the Vedas, who also penned the Mahabharata.
Differences between the two men evoked one day when father came home face slackened, heaving a deep sigh, and no twinkle in eyes. As usual we had a fierce debate, not because we hated the other in person but because we loved to flaunt our thoughts on Becket, Coelho, Camus, Sartre, Marx, Mao, Huntington, Chomsky, Obama; Democracy, Communism, Socialism, al Qaeda, Taliban; Koirala, Prachanda; Greek, Rome, Indus, Egypt…
“Father, sometimes I want to laugh at your naivety,” I said to him. “Yes, Pakistan was conceived on religious lines but the country grew upon military base.” Unlike his true self he became quite. “You may have envisioned past but of present and future I have better understanding.”
From cell phones and texting to religion and manners, two sets of people, younger and older,find the world different. In this twenty-first century, after the tumultuous years of culture clashes, civil rights and women’s liberation, ending of colonialism, sex revolution, in the last century, differences in ages are increasingly keeping people at odds over a range of social issues like disagreement over lifestyle, views on family, notion on relationships. Thinking about morality and work ethic, I have pretty much felt differences in point of views with father. Religion is a far bigger part of my parents’ lives, continuing to bond with relatives is their custom. Apparently, father cites differences in sense of entitlement.
Father sat grimly, not speaking a single word. For a while an uneasy silence hung between us, until mother burst into the room. “I’m fed up with the men in this house,” her jeremiad ran. “I’ve called hundreds of times but you don’t pay heed. Dinner is set on the table.”
“Did you really count,” I sniggered.
I measured the temperature of her anger, it was hundred. “Why don’t you go and stay with your daughter, if you can’t stand us,”I ridiculed in my usual tongue. Had I watched father’s face I wouldn’t have blurted out this, however, it was too late. He glanced at mother.
“Wife,itsthe time to leave the house to son.”
Mother would have been stunned if she had sensed the future. “Where do we go from here?” she asked carelessly.
“Anywhere, but away from the grown-up son.”
“No!” she said. “I want to stay here and correct my mistake of begetting this guy.” She twisted my ear. “Don’t be silly.” She walked away. I didn’t know who she directed her last statement, it could be for me or father, or both. She turned back at slightly ajar door. “I won’t call again. Be right on the table.”
At the time when father walked out of my life, I was gingerly taking steps towards professional life. I had not taken any family responsibility but the sense of independent self was outgrowing inside me. “Father, I asked a road of freedom. But this doesn’t mean family disintegration.” I tried to soothe him. He smiled faintly, at least I believed so.
And that was that. The very next day mother went to my sister’s home. There she was to manage household affairs for her eight-months-pregnant daughter. In the evening, I prepared meal and waited for father – he did not show up. I thought he went toour ancestral place in the Tarai, where we had our farms.
I was alone in Kathmandu, everything seemed to be in order. I cooked my food, washed cloths, and remained in the flat at weekends reading course materials and literary works. I was not the kind of a person to make frequent calls to mother, father, sister or brother-in-law. I have had communication lacuna always, until we got together for festivals and celebrations. Between recess of university and work, I pondered over the foundations I stood on. Many things embarrassed me. One of those was how I treated my father and mother in my younger days.
I don’t know how, but as a high school sophomore I was a kind of nihilist. I loved Nietzsche. Not caring social implications, I made a “Swastika” print on my T–shirt or wrote “Holocaust?” My statements of negating the liberal world. “Make sure what the particular signature you choose to wear conveys to the world. These kinds of labels were never in fashion and will never be in fashion,” father would say.
“What about this,” I showed him a T-shirt with Che on the front, knowing he hated Communists.
“That’s okay,” he grinned laconically. “The World History brims with many stories of political parties once considered bad jokes. When they did not laugh, they simply dismissed it. And the Party reaping from turmoil takes over the government, or becomes overtly powerful – think of Hitler, Mussolini, the Soviets, Mullah Omar, even Prachanda and his Maoist Party – all laughing stops.” Father’s democratic views had overall ramifications in my later life, but initially, I hated him for inculcating me.
“Father you’ve committed many mistakes, the greatest one is giving birth to a son like me. Do you know why?”
“Why? I don’t know.”
He didn’t join my laughter. I took a pinch of tobacco and began chewing it, and off course did not forget to offer him. How would he accept my insolence? I voraciously chewed spilling my fury. Father would never ever reciprocate my madness, his solemnity most of the time ridiculed me. I laughed to reiterate my insanity, what I was deft at was loathing. Something sinister was at work. “If I had some alcohol I would drink and spit over your face. Why? It exasperates me.” No doubt father would be angry, however, he always controlled his hands, the last time he hit me was when I was studying in seventh grade and was twelve years old. Since then, his reaction to extreme situations like this was always to walk out of the room, leaving me fuming all alone.
“You’re setting sun. In few years time you’ll perish. But I have to live here. How will this half baked man survive? You’ve spoiled me.”
“All my life I’ve tried to see myself in you. I want you to turn my failures into success.”
Words were nothing that they could never console my wounded vanity. “I’ve understood you people. I’m unable to do anything, a grown-up man but burden to his parents. That’s why, I know, you slur me. I understand this.” What did you do for me? Giving birth was not in anyway a great thing, you were seeking pleasure. And, most of the time you tried to stop the pregnancy. It would have been better if you had aborted me. Since I’m here, you have to endure.
Mother, always a weak woman, wept silently, whenever war of words broke between two righteous thought and the reality. Sometimes she protested but I routed her,with my acrid words I vanquished whoever would affront me. “Mother, what a worst woman you are to give birth to nasty me.”
“Reject millions of times, but I’ll always be your mother. And you can’t stay away from your father’s name.”
“Mother? Ha! Don’t joke.”
“Watch your words bloody swine.” Yes, scold me. Abuse me. I’ll be delighted. Because, hatred is reciprocated with hatred, it ushers me to tranquillity. Peace! I find only in the darkness. Hate me. Mothers are silly creatures. All women are filthy things. In the name of beauty they make this world dirty. “You’re mad. Now I understand you need an electric shock.”
Now you’ve seen the right me. I’m demented. But think, what made me so. You did, father did. This was not my nature. Your nurture was faulty. “In the beginning, as you said, I was cognate with a full-moon, but now I’m an eclipse.” A devil. I had wanted to be good, do good. What befall into me? What am I now?
Father you named me Vinay because I was born 8 days ahead of Buddha’s Fullmoon. One of the Buddha’s texts in Pali is called Vinaya Pitak. Vinaya has deeper meanings in Buddhist canon but the most common is politeness. However, the irony is I’m not so polite. What’s in a name, after all, father?
Dear me! Why does it matter who you are?
Days, weeks and a month passed away, I’ve not talked to father or mother. The last evening we spent was in my flat. All I could remember was my father’s drawn face after I refuted him. Then one day I heard from mother. My sister had delivered a baby and I was so excited to hold the little girl on my arms that hearing the news I almost cried. But to mother, when she said her grandchild is beautiful, I had replied, even the puppies are beautiful.
I went to the Tarai, to my father, to my mother, my sister, my niece, my brother-in-law.However, something terrible waited me, within the contours of happiness, poignancy stood feigned.
“Father has been missing,” mother hugged me sobbing.
“Nobody has seen him since a month,” my sister said. Her red face child was lovely despite giving pungent smell of oil massage. I didn’t know what to do – should I cry for my father or smile at my niece? So it went, for months we knew not, what made him abandon us. Nobody but I blamed myself for being too harsh towards him. Anyways he knew, of all I loved him most.
I had never taken interest on how father financed his children’s education; sister’s wedding, mother’s medical bill, son’s motorbike and many other things. People came to us and said all sorts of things. He ran away because:
He was suffering from chronic illness.
House was mortgaged.
Large parts of farmland were already sold to pay sister’s dowry.
He could not settle the loan he borrowed for his son’s MBA.
The callous people asserted that he ran away from obligations. I told myself, they were wrong, but still I cursed me for not seeing the weight he sagged under. I commiserated my old man, prayed for his well being, cursed myself for all the wrongs I had inflicted on him. There was no need to sway away, I thought, we – father and I – could have deliberated and manage everything outright.
Six months later he was back, his beard long with streaks of grey strands. He had grown older, dark and frail – wrinkles appeared over his eyes and forehead. Two days passed, still I could not face him, and a pang of guilt enveloped me. Then on the third, he called for me. I sat abreast and tried to skip his direct gaze. From the corner of eyes I saw his face – I had never seen so much compassion on any mortal’s face.
“Wanted to have a look.”
“I mean why you left me?”
“An astrologer said to me, you love your mother more than me.”
I laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Crazy boy.” Mother walked out of the room.
I’ve come out of age. I never talk about past and they never mention my yesteryears.
“Mother! People express love from their mouth and I from heart.”
“I know what you’ve got inside. Because I made you,” she says when happy but at a time when she’s furious at nothing particular she stares. “How could a nice child grow into this malicious man?” I laugh and laugh.
“Sun is in his head and Sukra in his mouth,” father time and again reiterates. “That’s why he is hot tempered and speaks harsh.” Sun-God rules my head,he is hot. Surka, the dark lord, reins my mouth, I speak rude. However, I’m indifference towards father’s astrological reasoning. The differences, the rude talking, berating, belittling – every things are temporary matters. Wise men have said, people make mistakes and only few are sensible to rethink their way. Let nothing of arrogance of past remain today, but easier said than done. Time has taught me a lesson, to act in a right direction. But would I ever change?
“My grandmother died of hair-pain,” my mother says. Don’t be silly, I want to say but I cannot. She would be offended when I say hair strands do not have sense so there is no question of hair-pain. “Lots of people complained of hair-pain those day,” she recollects.
The other day I shared with her a report that said the researchers at King’s College, in London, found out that many people didn’t know where the major organs were located. She pouted her lips and made an expression that meant she wanted to debate. I simply had to let it go. “It must be head ache of severe kind,” I finally say.
Houseflies and mosquitoes are bothering me all the time. It is torrid and humid,which means its summer in the lower land called Tarai in Nepal. But it is also a quiet evening – birds twitter, leaves hiss, soft breeze is aromatic. Indeed, a beautiful evening for mother and son.
“Your grandaunt always insisted that she must not be cremated in the village crematorium.” I’ m surprised, an old lady wanted to die away from the place where she lived since she was eleven-years-old, her age when she was married. “She feared her spirit would be awakened by –” she names our dead female relative. “Don’t laugh,” she says looking at me. “She was a witch. She taught exorcism to her daughter-in-law, who later passed the dark-art to her daughter. Poor girl! Could not master the mantras and rites and lost her brain.”
Why is she telling me this, maybe she is trying to confide some dark secrets of our family tree. I’ll be embarrassed if she tells me one of our relatives had illicit affair with his widowed daughter-in-law, who got pregnant and was exiled to Benares in India, and spend her life counting the waves of Ganges. But instead she asks me, “Want more?” I smile for I know she will be furious when her son eats little. She is peeling mangoes and slicing the pulp, very admiringly, into small pieces so that I can eat easily with a bamboo pick.
“Possibly we can make some money this year.”
“Yes our mango orchard is rich,” she smiles. “But I will sell only when my son is content.” I laugh out loud, “Do you think I’m Kumbhakarna?”
“At least he sleeps a lot.”
Mother do you care, a record one billion people around the world are undernourished; one in six human beings does not have access to food. And here you are expressing your love, by feeding your son more than he can hold in his belly. A dangerous mix of economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some hundred more million people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty. Contrarily you are intent upon making your son a Kumbhakarna. This mythic eater in the Ramayana slept six months only to be awakened from aroma wafting from food brought into his chamber.
“The world is hungry,” I say to her, “and a hungry world is a dangerous world.”
“There are people to care about the food crisis,” she reiterates. “I only care about my family.”
“Hail to thee O Annapurna!”
She could have smiled at this connotation to the Goddess of Food, however, she screws her eyes. “I can’t segregate your castigation with praising.”
I want to laugh, nevertheless, this time I let my urge dissipate. Father says your mother has love on her hands – hands that cook and serve food to her subjects. We men are subjects of Goddess Annapurna.
Its official, according to a recent study in Australia, men prefer food over sex. I believe mother knew this already. In the survey males rated taste sensation as their top pleasure trigger with physical arousal coming in fourth. Can’t tell if mother is happy about her role but what I know is she is more into values as a whole and we men are into bottom lines and logic. Still, why that would give one more pleasure from food or from life in general – I can’t imagine.
It is said of women who want to have the time of their lives should make the most of being 28, for they are at their happiest at that age. British researchers have found women feel most confident and happy with their love life and body shape shortly before they reach 30. Happiness is relatively short lived. By the time they turn 30 they start worrying about growing old and developing grey hair and wrinkles. Looking back at mother’s past, I can say, surely she was not happy. Her conjugal life was at mess because father was drawing nigh to the other woman. She had just lost her mother and her children were too young to give her comfort. There was a problem with inheritance of her mother’s property as her kinsmen were bent on not giving up.
Security of job, having a steady income, being in a perfect relationship and having strong friendships all help create the perfect point in our lives. Nevertheless, this was missing in her 28. Reaching and surpassing 40 she gained confidence – she was old, children were no more kids, father an old retiree depended entirely on her ability to manage everything. Now she put aside her hectic scheduled for self-pampering and the beauty products to make her feel and look young. She tones her body accordingly to Ramadev, the satellite yoga guru from India. She reads VOW, a feminist magazine published 250 miles away in Kathmandu to satiate her vanity. Kathmandu TV helps her to better understanding the world around. She is most content with her financial situation and at ease with home and family life. This should have come at 33 and 32 respectively. But now she is almost 50.
She is silent for a while and suddenly says, “You know,” she mentions our kin “could not bear a son because of a curse. Her father-in-law had killed his brother’s widow for the sake of property. Men committed such crimes in those days.”
I ask her how she feels about the recent Domestic Violence and Punishment Act. Her eyes brim with tears. “How could people force a woman eat faeces on the charge of practicing witchcraft?” She is talking about news report she watched on TV the other day.
“I thought you believed in sorcery,” I wrinkle my nose.
“After all you can’t treat women like that, “she pauses “the Government is planning to establish service centres for victims of violence but there won’t be improvement.” Her face is slackened.
“Mother, I thought we were talking family matters,” I reprimand.
“Men in this family have always been violent,” she says wrapping up her enterprise to feed mangoes to her child. She is angry now. At times, it gives me great pleasure to irritate my mother, blurting the harshest words I can remember. Sometimes, she understands that I’m kidding her but sometimes, it really does get to her. I am completely calm when I’m with her. In her lap, it worries me no more if distribution of subsidized cereals in Karnali region has resulted in drastic decline in farm yields and increased dependency on Shimadurbar. Here, in this village, where my mother has been living since she was 17, here, where I was neither born nor raised, but still call home, I’m in peace.
I grew up in Kathmandu, studied and worked there; actually, I descended from heaven and opened my eyes for the first time there. As a concerned citizen of nascent republic, I’m always worried. Karnali denizens, thanks to Nepal Food Corporation and World Food Program handouts, have stopped growing food, and the farms are turning barren — or so I hear. In the power circles of Kathmandu, mismanagement of state coffers exasperates me. Nevertheless, here, far from the maddening crowd, on the lap of high hills covered by dense foliage, a river splashing by its side, I’m in tranquillity.
Here, I no longer is the judge-appointed to evaluate the beauty, I appreciate everything in its entirety. As of yesterday, I had a new revelation when the rain was shallow, wind blowing soft. I’m washing my hands in a stream just across the dusty trail, a village lass walks under her umbrella, pulls up her long skirt while crossing the stream, yellow skin glistens, I gaze her through the corner of my eyes, her elegance and sweetness dazzles mind. Rose flowers among the thorns, orchid is found between the branches, rhododendron grows in the high hills, beauty is far away from the crowd. The country girl gone far away, but my mind chases her.
Birds chirp, cows moo, vermilion appears in eastern horizon and the village rises from peaceful slumber. Dark velvet appears in the blue sky, foxes and jackals howl in the outskirts, dogs and cricket reply within. After a hard toil, the village has reposed. In between the twin realities of dawn and dusk, I’m tanned (blackened, if you insist) by the Tarai summer, but, it is peace out here. Bandas and chakajam make no effects for I know not of such strikes. Who cares the prime minister resigned? The country had no effective leadership for a month! I don’t give a damn. Neither does my mother. Or does she? Must I ask her?
“Want some tea?” Lo! Her love surges again. I watch the milieu and sniff soft and cool breeze, fragrance of flowers and tree blossoms. Perspiration is glistens on her upper lip. I want to wipe it out, with my finger, gently, very gently.
“So you want tea for yourself?”
Her hands rest on her hips. I abruptly turn my head. I see a sparrow on a tree branch. He has a companion, they chirp together. A cow is running towards a distant meadow, a calf in tow. She moos, the mother turns. Emotions seeping out of my heart are unearthly.
“Why did you come here, to mock me?”
If I don’t say something she will surely start to weep. Words are powerful. Words make you happy, words make you sad. Then what is love, only words? Words are said to be hollow, words are mines of knowledge. What are they, actually?
“Mother, in the morning I open the window, the aroma of earth and plants invigorates me. I sniff gently.” She is looking askance. “Later, I run across the field, soft sunlight kiss me. Dew washes my feet.”
“Yeah! I have seen you,in your underpants and vest. Running, laughing, crying. Neighbours are beginning to talk. They think you have lost your senses.”
“I have talked to your father.”
“What he says?”
Mother is again giving herself airs. “Do you think the old man ever listens?” I laugh aloud.
In mirth. Here I am, happy as a monkey with a banana, enjoying the present, not worrying about past, or fretting over the future. Given the unprecedented depth of economic crisis, unemployment in Asia-Pacific could reach 100 million. That’s according to the new ILO projection. “Unemployment is a major challenge today. Everywhere people are losing their jobs. Working poverty is a major concern,” I blurt. Mother seems lost.
“That’s no good way to tell your poor mother you don’t have a job in the city.”
“There would have been no swine flu had the doctors treated swine well.” I relish my words, and let loose a violent laugh.
“Men in this family have always been violent,” she says walking away. “I hate men”. Now this is a blatant lie.
She has always been fond of men. She started knowing them only when she arrived at this place. She had no brother, her father died too early to be remembered. As her father-in-law had no daughter, she was pampered no end. Her husband — is it too rude to use the term — has mixed feelings about her, but anyways she loves her man.
I grab a magazine next to me. It is old but that doesn’t matter. Old stuffs are starting to throw in a nostalgic binge. At least there is no dearth of reading materials in the house. I read loud, wanting to hear my own voice.
A suspension bridge.A narrow river
A mountain towering towards the sky
Narrow trails.Dense wood, steep stairs.
What kind of writing is this? I laugh.
“Why laughing?” mother’s voice comes from a distance.
“Want to sublimate pain with laughter.” What am I saying…If I were to rewrite this, how would it sound? Oh, its crap, I can’t salvage it. I have to compose my own.
“Why don’t you write poetry?” Here she is, encouraging me, to liberate myself. A tumbler on her hand is filled with mango juice. RealMango Nectar.”
“Its not Real Juice. I made from our own mangoes.” My lips are pulled to ears. She is mixed up. I want to say: Mother you are really innocent. Instead, she is the one to speak out. “Why you always laugh? Neighbourhood children are scared.”
Last time, didn’t she say children and oldies alike absolutely admire me? “Nobody is going to publish it. And who’ll read my poems?”
“I will. Your father will.”
My vanity stoked, I assume posture of a poet.
In the middle of the road
Not cluttered with a house and car
No wad of bank notes and gold to worry about
I’m the master of the situation
I gulp the juice. “Its good, no?” I look at her
“Yeah! A beautiful poem,” she says.
“I mean the drink.”
Father has just arrived.He sits on the patio and says – its hot – giving emphasis to the word hot.
“Hey dad! I don’t see any hotties around.Damn I’m in a village.”
He laughs – a craze burst of laughter – very similar to mine, or should I say I inherited his drawing-other-insane-laughter. “Hey did you listen,” dad raises his voice, “what your son says.”
Mother has always been erratic.Dad can’t predict her temperament how could I. We, father-son, wait for her words. “I don’t have ears, only hands.” Her tempo is not undecipherable to the men outside.The voice is laden with anger,but when she joins us in the courtyard, she is smiling. “Had you been a diligent son, by this time I’d have had a daughter-in-law.”
“So, what do we do now?” I blurt out.
“Pull up your socks, boy. I’m fed up with men.”
Father, me and I smile. We all know she’s lying, because she had always said she didn’t care about women, not even her mother, but however, craved to be with men. I missed men as a child, as a teenager, and as a young woman – this was her exact statement. She was raised by a single mother, she did not have brothers, and I’m sure she did not have any boyfriends. She was married shortly after being hormonally charged.
If everything had gone according to my parents plans, I would not have remained a bachelor. My father said, “You’ve completed your university, are working for a reputed firm, already pushing 28, so it is the right time for you to tie a knot.” I dilly–dallied, but I’m 30 and can no longer put him off. Only that something is missing in my unique selling proposition. No excuse that I cook up can deter him from his vision of his son getting married.
“I have little money left to pay the cost for a wife’s hair perming or mascara or skin toner or stiletto…,” I utter as one feeble excuse after another.
“Do you think twenty first century wife is like your mother who depends on her tight-fist hubby for everything?” Mother looks straight into father’s eyes.
“Count yourself lucky, woman! I never thought of abandoning you despite you being uneducated and ill informed and semi skilled and…”
Mother cuts him. “It was you who made my life miserable. I had always wanted to pursue university programs.”
I laugh and laugh and laugh. And they are quiet, looking at me serenely. “How could you tout marriage when all you do is nagging?”
Father smiles. “It will never happen to you, son. You both will be educated and understand the other well.”
I know mother will surely object, and she does. “You’ll be more callous to each other, because you both will have something to give airs. Your education, your earnings, your positions….” Mother is not erudite like father, but when it comes to give opinion or make decision she proves better than her confused hubby.
“Do you want a daughter-in-law for yourself or a wife for your son?” I don’t say but I want the answer from mother.
And tactfully her comeback is, “I’ll try to find a daughter-in-law in your spouse.” She’s right, he is right, but this is not the way I had envisioned welcoming matrimony. However, like a dutiful son, I prepare myself mentally for my upcoming nuptial. They are looking for a girl with caste, nobilityand social status, ability for household affairs, behaviour, and looks. What am I looking for – aptitude, attitude, education, beauty? And I’m waiting, waiting for wife. But before that I have to have a job. This waiting has now become hectic.
“If you’re looking for happily ever after, Australian researchers have a suggestion: Find a partner who shares smoking habits,” father says.
“Where on earth did you find that?” Mother seems more interested than me.
“Religion, education levels and alcohol consumption have no effect on marital stability,” father continues.
“It’s all here, in The Kathmandu Post.” I laugh. Father joins. And mother is lost. “Listen,” he starts reading. “The study titled – What’s Love Got to Do With it? – found that relationship in which the man was at least 25 at the time the couples got together were likely to last. So were the ones where both partners shared desire to have or not to have children. Couples in which the man was one year younger or up to three years older than woman had less than half the separation risk of couples where the man was nine or more years older.” He looks up and winks at me.
I snatch the newspaper and read. “Couples with low household incomes were more likely to split than those with moderate or high incomes. Men who were unemployed had less stable relationships.” I wink at him.
“Rubbish,” mother asserts.
“Keep your opinion to yourself,” father snaps.
“This attitude doesn’t work for perfect relationship.”
“A VOW woman, father.” VOW is her favourite magazine. It is kind of feminist actually.
Father laughs, but I don’t. Mother can endure father but not me.
Men take more risks when stressed – father had been uttering this line all his life. The major risk being the decision to start a family. But he also reiterates taking risky chances will make you somewhat successful. The other day he read newspaper article based on a study conducted in the US. Evolutionarily speaking, it is more beneficial for men to be aggressive in stressful, high-arousal situations when risks and reward are involved. Contrarily, stressed women moderate their behaviour and are less likely to make risky choices.
“People living without a partner at midlife have around twice the risk of developing cognitive impairment in later life compared with married people,” father says. As a journalist he had always sneaked-peaked into other’s privacy. You are a kind of voyeur, I said of him, and he always refuted my chagrin saying he was being diligent to his job.
As I wait for my perfect match I say to myself – life is compromise. Looking at my parents’ lives, I find, at every turn they had reached a kind of compromise. My Father wanted to marry university graduate, however, bowed to his father’s wishes and married my mother, who on the other hand had wanted to study and have a career of her own, but was married when she was still a high school girl. Raised by single mother, my mother did not want to cause her mother headache. In the traditional set-up of rural Nepal, growing daughters always pose a threat to the family reputation.
Even my conception was a compromise on my mother’s part – she was 18, trying to carry on with her education privately, and I was conceived to appease her mother and father-in-law on death bead. They had insisted playing with a grandchild was their last wish. Thirty years and two children my parentsare moving on. After they married off their daughter they want their first born to walk that road.
I know life is a compromise, but I am sure I will be pleased with whoever my wife will be, because I know she will be a perfect match.
Through the banana leaves and peach blossom, I watch Chuklepata, the summer residential place of my progenitors in the days when this place was a malaria jungle, habituated by ethnic tribes. I’ve never been there but I can assume the fort is only rubble of stones consumed by weeds and hedges. The zoom lens whirrs as the first light flushed the northern hill. A proud eagle crosses the frame. Surely this one will fetch a good price. But first, I must find a customer. A “white man” flashes into my mind. Shut up! You’re off with money making activities.
Unlike the other days, today, I’ve donned shorts and T-shirts, a camera on my hand – a new pass time affair. Out of the courtyard and then farmyard, I stand at the gate and glare a single red word: UJHALI
Yesterday afternoon flanked by school-returning ragged-children I had nailed the wooden board and painted it. Here, I try to synchronize me, with my lineage. The proud Ujhali history, my ancestral legacy, gives me some solace. An old man carrying heavy loads hung over his shoulder through a bamboo pole stops and joins his palm – Namaste. Middle aged women blabbing while washing-up on the road side stream smile – Namaste. A stooping woman on the path – Namaste; and to her grandchild, stop crying and say Namaste . Children attending private school – Namaste. Young men resembling my age – Namaste. Young girls coyly – Namaste.Very like a tethered dog, I can’t scamper from these Namaste-greetings – a signature of welcoming, putting on the pedestal, venerating and what not. Even when in the clearing, the surrounding trees hiss – Namaste. On the bank of river splashing and gurgling – Namaste. A man hits his dog when it fails to say – Namaste. Cowboys flog their animals whey they don’t say – Namaste.
Father! I came here to be lost, but instead found myself. What did you come for? Is it to flaunt what you are – a descendent of men who gave names to these places, built schools, constructed roads, managed the landholdings, dug wells, tilled soil, tamed the wilderness.
Born in a family with hectors of hand holdings, his patriarchs had ownership over dozensof families. They were pundits, could interpret religion and philosophy, sided with Ghurkhas during unification, had participated in 1950’s revolution; were always against authoritarians.
The available chronicle sayswhen Muslims began invading India around the 9th century, the ancestors began moving from Ujjyan, India via Khasa Empire into Dang valley. The pedigree glorified that the progenitors belonged to the court of Bikramiditya and Bhoj, the legendary emperors, more than historical figures in the sub-continent. And family saga mentioned that Sri Krishna Agnihotri, who lived around 16th century was the most noticeable patriarch and Laxmi Narayan, one of his descendent came here in this place. The early people were nomadic Aryan tribe, who later started cultivations, and then climbed the social hierarchy with the knowledge and wisdom they accumulated. The Legend has it they were the children of Kashyap Rishi, the great savant who married Brahma’s 13 daughters. And the history has it seven generations earlier Shovakar was the ruler appointed in the Western Tarai, by the Ranas.
“My ancestors had helped the Great Prithvi Narayan during the expansion of Gorkha Kingdom and unification of modern Nepal,” father flaunts his proud history. “And also, the House of Ghurkhas.” Pride is evident on his visage. He has a Xerox of a document,safely stored as a coveted prize, that states King Rajendra Bikram had burrowed three thousand rupees in gold from his progenitor and given them some parts of Dang as birta-token. General Bhimsen Thapa is one of the witnesses. For seven hundred years they had been playmakers in various warring kingdoms. Lots of people schemed, they had enmity for the privilege they exercised. Thus, after the unification, his fathers and grandfathers gave up everything for agriculture. Since then they have had been landed gentry.
Regime change of 1950 gave his kinsmen exposure, they had sided with Nepali Congress. They held positions in the democratic Nepal, but also clung to the feudal status as jamindars. Nevertheless, in 1965 he was obliged to concede his ancestral land to King Mahendra’s Land reform Law. He was a teenager then, so, instead of agrarian business he pinned his hopes on education.He went to Benares; graduated in world history and political science, completed his masters degree in journalism, from Benares Hindu University. In Nepal he had only two job options – National News Agency or Gorkahpatra Corporation. Interestingly he was accepted by the both organizations, however, he chose to work under the aegis of the National News Agency. For twenty years he held different positions and when he retired, his designation was equivalent to Under Secretary. Then he started a weekly newsmagazine, which later became fortnightly, monthly, daily, and finally died out.
“My publication crashed because I could find very few competent journalist, concept of commercial advertising was quite unknown…” He lists the causes. He joined different kinds of publications, edited and proof read books and journals, contributed as a columnist, registered a nongovernmental organization, bought printing press. Couple of years later he got a licence of Freelance Journalist from Department of Information. “Only thirteen people had received such kind of licence before me.”
“I had all the grist to the mill to become a big name, but the establishment, politicians and echelons schemed against me,” his narrates his jeremiad. His anecdotes are amusing, sometimes uncanny. He says he had advised King Birendra to hold suffrages on the basis of liberal and conservative party politics.
“Having an audience with the monarch meant you ask for personal benefits, instead of favours I had suggested Birendra to practice the party-politics, even though it would be under the absolute monarchy.” Well father, you have studied the evolution of party politics in the UK and the US, haven’t you? He believed, in doing so, the monarchists would gather under conservative flag and the Nepali Congress and the Communists polarize in liberal camp. “If that had been done the Communists wouldn’t have outgrown and become destructive force like the Maoists.”
At first he was a Communist though not a party member, then he became staunch supporter of Nepali Congress. In the past he had rubbed shoulder with leaders. Why than he never ventured into politics? “I was not a monarchist, Nepali Congress thought me a Communist, where as the Communist did not accept me in the rank and file.”And suddenly he wakes up, not from sweet dreams, but the melancholia of unfair treatment. In India, he was asked to join newspapers in Benares. Even a magazine in New Delhi wanted him. “But I returned to Nepal to give voices to the voiceless, to write the history of subaltern.” Why is he telling me this?ThatI’m no one, despite residing in Kathmandu almost all my life burrowing time to create an identity. Like tears of young mothers, aggrandizement has frozen.
Already treaded wrong path cannot be corrected, can you father?
“Rice crop has become a disaster this year, but I had a good harvest of corn and mustard. It will fetch me good money.” In a remote village all he thinks is about agriculture. A Publication had accepted his manuscript, but he retired from Kathmandu and came to the Tarai. Another book is about political history of Nepal but he doesn’t want to forward to a publication. He has aborted brilliant ideas for fictions and non-fictions.Had he ever thought himself as an agriculturist? “No, but there is no escape from the cruel fate.”
I feel the shoes of my conscience pinching. It’s not easy to find out where your shoes pinch when they are not on your feet. Inner consolidation perhaps, fresh wounds of new mothers that would be treated between men’s legs. Father! There, at least, you were someone.
I meet my father on the porch. “Father, it’s a nice morning.”
He grins. “We don’t give a damn about nature in this part of the world. All we care about is plants.” He speaks between chewing twig that he is using as a tooth brush.
The only person that has no work is me, myself. Too proud to do menial labour, I squander my time. I’m overtly surprised, how my father – who has seen places, met people, read books, and knew things – is compatible with a rural life. After he retired, I had wanted him to remain in Kathmandu, freelancing in papers and writing memoirs, autobiography and even novels. His story, plot and characters, when he revealed to me, had looked promising. Instead he chooses to live in his ancestral village some two hundred and fifty miles west of Kathmandu.And, apparently now, I’m trying to tune myself.
I remember the time when everything crashed. The following day, I packed my rucksack and took a bus. During the 12 hours journey, I began thinking about possibilities, but in vain. But then when I saw my father’s farm, an idea struck me.
I cross the lawn and walk towards vegetable garden, my mother is watering the plants. “Want to give a try?” She asks. But before I could say yes or no, she hands me the water pipe. I watch plants soaking in the water, they dance.
“Mum what is the best thing you like in this garden?” I ask not because I want to know something but I want to start a conversation.
“Eggplant,” She laughs. Seeing her laugh, I laugh. She knows I don’t like eggplants.
“Mum, why don’t I see any cucumber, here?”
“Every dog has its day.” What does that mean? I turn to look at her. She is weeding, hand fork and trowel in her hands, her head askew, surrounded by red and green peppers. “Mum!”
“Don’t pester me boy,” she says without looking at me. “Cucumber gets cold and easily dies in winter.”
“Mum, what are we going to do with these all cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes…”
As if in a cue, I pluck a tomato, and take a deep bite. “Do you think I’m Kumbhakarna?” Kumbhakarna, identifiable with my face, flashes in my mind. This mythic eater in the epic called Ramayana slept six months only to be awakened by aroma wafting from food brought into his chamber.
I laugh. “Mum, how long are we going to do the gardening?”
“Until I feel the sun warm.”
“And when’s that?”
“Ten, or perhaps 11.”
“Ten, alright. Happy?”
I push the wheelbarrow as I walk away from the garden. “Mum, its ten fifteen!”
“Okay, I’m done.” She stands up and rubs her palm. “Turn off the water pump, alright.”
From garden to the lawn and then to the backyard, it takes almost ten minutes to reach at the compost pit. I moan as I stretch my body. Father laughs, I laugh. Father, who had not even washed his socks before he retired as an editor of a news agency, is now shovelling manure into a wheelbarrow. He says, “Throw that stuff into the pit and take this one to the garden.”
“Dad, how long are we going to work?”
“Until your mother calls for lunch.”
“Dad, mum is still in the garden!”
He stops, perhaps to take a deep breath. “You know, our ancestors had helped the Great Prithvi Narayan.” Ugh, not again. “And also the House of Ghurkha.” This is not the first time he is telling me the story.What does this mean to me when a great-great-great grandson of Prithvi Narayan has been forced to abdicate the throne? What is this legend to me when I live in a Republic?
As if he heard me, he says, “You can’t erase your past, no matter what.” Father, it’s a terrible life being a legend, you are dead long before you die.
“Also your present,” I counteract.
He laughs, I laugh. Father is shovelling again, I’m pushing the wheelbarrow. At 60, father has given up his tryst with journalism for his family occupation – gardening and livestock business. At 30 I’ve given up my job in Kathmandu and tying to follow father’s footsteps.
“Potato harvest has become a disaster this year, but cauliflower and tomatoes fetched me a good price.” These days all he thinks is his garden, he does not ponder into what could come out of him – the history that will be never written, the novels that no one will ever write. Had he ever thought himself a gardener?
“No,” he has said to me numerous times, “but there is no escape from the cruel fate.”
I look at my father, he seems to be in sublime state. “My boy, a gardener never grows old, you’ll see him tilling his garden until the day before he dies,” he says loud.
Tomorrow morning I have to go to the market to buy seeds, in the afternoon I’ll scrap the terrace and till the soil, and in the evening I’ll plant, beans, peas, zucchini and what not. I’m also a gardener now, burrowing time to create an identity. And most importantly I don’t want to grow old. I want the time to stop.
The morning is bright. I walk into the animal shed with a bucket, trowel and rake. I scrap dung from the floor and fill the bucket. Then I walk towards the bio-gas plant, empty the bucket into the blender, pour another bucket of water and churn the mixture of dung and water. Every day I have to do this otherwise there will be no gas in my kitchen. ‘Clean energy,’ I smile at myself.
At the plant outlet, I shovel bio-waste from the pit and fill the bucket. Then I walk towards the vegetable patch, sagging on the left side with the heavy load. Right at the garden, I unearth a plastic can from the soil and pour its content in an empty bucket lying on the freshly tilled ground, and then empty the bio-waste from the bucket into the same can. This mixture when let to decompose for two weeks will be useful as organic insecticide and compost for my plants.
Two hours later, I’m at the deck. Mother peeks through the screen door. “Done with running, laughing, crying. Kissing your tomatoes, cauliflowers.”
Sometimes she is too sarcastic at what I do.
It’s a warm afternoon, but there is no time to squander. I’m warming my stretched back, standing below the water tank. I turn on the tap and gaze water running into the transparent pipe. I almost run towards the vegetable garden. The sprinkler is rotating, hurling thin jet of water into the plants. I watch my plants, dancing rhythmically, enjoying the rain. Tomatoes are flowering, radishes and carrots getting taller, their white and red roots poking out of soil. Cabbage and cauliflowers are so young, and tender. I must be very delicate to them.
With the sprinkler – still rotating on my hand, soaking me thoroughly – I walk little farther. I have to treat my plants equally.
In the village evening comes soon, not with the cacophony and blinding glitters of city, but plants and the earth titillating me; ephemeral sound of birds twittering birds, mooing of cows…
With a hand fork I uproot weeds and toss into the wheelbarrow. My plants need neat place to grow healthy. A while later, I take a hoe and scrape the terrace, the saplings need breathing space. I stretch my body, take a deep breath, and dig again.
I’m done for the day. Standing at one end, I look into my garden. I caress the tomatoes. The ripe fruit makes me smile. Cauliflower buds are white, pure white.
I sniff cool breeze. Flowers, vegetables and raw earth invigorate me. Love that is.