Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cease Fire

The Cup runneth over
Kathmandu, Nepal

It's Saturday night, and everyone is mesmerized by the World Cup (today it's UK vs Paraguay, zzzz). It works out well for me, because it means the bar band across the street isn't playing. Techno may have taken over the rest of the world, but Kathmandu is still a rock 'n' roll town. From about 7.30 pm to 10.30 or 11, I am treated to high-volume cover serenades like "La Bamba," "Cocaine," "Roadhouse Blues" (thank God they don't do Eminem covers, and do NOT tell them I said that; it might give them ideas for branching out). It's so loud, I really would have no reason to go to the bar at all, even if I wanted to hear the music. In fact, I could have a dance party in my room, if it were big enough.

Instead, the Full Moon Bar, like everyone else in town with a screen of any kind, is showing the World Cup, so all I hear are the occasional outbursts of cheering. The BBC, my usual source of a sane, English-speaking voice, spent no less than an hour (okay, it seemed like an hour) on World Cup Coverage this morning. Maybe all the Yanks in town can have an alternative get-together while this is going on. I am sitting in the Cafe New Orleans courtyard surrounded by Europeans. Not an American in sight - I can tell by the hushed, reverential silence.... How long does this World Cup stuff go on, anyway? I want to know how many quiet evenings I can look forward to. It's like having my own little cease-fire!

As time goes by... at the Hard Yak Cafe
Here at the Cafe New Orleans, I can type on free wireless while enjoying my tea and brown rice. I had planned to update all the Blogs with photos, but they just are not uploading regularly. An afternoon here has the feeling of Sam's Bar in Casablanca, an international outpost of outcasts, expats and misfits, riding out the storm of insanity elsewhere. It's got the tropical trees, birds chirping, strains of jazz and sitar music, tea and 4pm cocktails, and low tables with hippy seat cushions. Prayer flags waft in the wind. All that's missing is Sam's mojo piano, but we have CDs of Dixieland jazz instead.

A Message from Lama
At my guesthouse in Rishikesh, all the waiters, cooks and "house boys" were Nepali. I got to know them and bits of their stories. Some, like Ganesh, were trapped into arranged marriages at very early ages (in his case, 21; his bride was 17) so never had a chance to get higher education; they had to support kids almost right away. Others, like Deepak, Ramchandra and Rajkumar, are fleeing almost certain induction into the Maoists' army. Even if they are in no immediate danger, the insurgency has drastically reduced employment chances at home, so they join the growing community of some 2 million Nepalis who have migrated south to the neighboring superpower, hoping for a break. All come from small rural villages. Those who can send money back home to their families, though I learned that in many cases, they were working for little more than food, tips, and a place to sleep.

"Which is your village?" is a guaranteed opener in the Nepali diaspora. If you have heard of their village (or district), they are very happy and beam with pride. If you have actually been to their village, even just riding through on the bus, you are their instant adopted sister.

In the case of Rajkumar Lama, I became something of a hero. Not only had I heard of NamoBuddha, but I had been there; and not only had I been to NamoBuddha, I actually had photos of it - on my laptop. With the stroke of a few keys I was able to pull up images of his home town on my magic machine.

"I know him!" he exclaimed, pointing to a photo of people sitting in the community square. The people in the photo were processing the rice harvest, seated around the Buddhist stupa that is the centrepiece of so many villages. After a while I wondered whether Rajkumar actually knew everyone he saw in the photos, or whether he was just so homesick, everyone he saw began to look familiar.

As someone who was heading for the Promised Land in just a few days, it was obviously my duty to offer to deliver goods and messages. Rajkumar asked me to deliver a message to his friend working at a restaurant in Kathmandu.

"You go to Nepali Chulo," he said. "You ask for Hari Lama." Surnames are giveaways here; "Lama" indicates that they both belong to the Buddhist Tamang ethnic group, prominent in East Nepal. (The Buddha Boy was Tamang.)

"What should I tell him?"

"Just tell him Rajkumar Lama." He wrote his cell number into my book. I offered him a blank page to write a Nepali message, but he shook his head "no."

Blank University
Today I walked up to the restaurant, Nepali Chulo. It's an enormous "Nepali Theme" place, built in the style of a traditional Newari house, with a "traditional and ethnic folk music and dancing" floor show; the kind of place popular with large busloads of European tour groups. The owner had told me previously that they'd lost lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of rupees keeping this high-overhead place open during the lean spring season, when there had been riots and demonstrations daily. Now they are tearing up that section of Kantipath, seemingly to widen the road. Clouds of construction dust blew into my face as I walked up the busy four-lane street.

All of His Majesty's favourite conundrum signs are gone. "All organs of the State must remain alert...." which made such nice souvenir photos just a few weeks ago, are all history! Every sign for goverment offices has been changed from, for example, "HM Govt. of Nepal Tax Excise Office" to "Nepal Govt. Tax Excise Office." Even the signs for Tribhuvan University, named for a king of long ago, have had the "Tribhuvan" marked out so they just say "University." I wonder what they will rename the college. I suppose they will change the name of Tribhuvan International Airport as well. ("Blank International Airport.") It seems indicative of the state of the nation; they know they've firmly rejected the past; they're just not sure what's next.

Hari Lama stood a full head shorter than me, with the onyx almond eyes, razor-sharp cheekbones and elfin demeanor of so many eastern Nepalis. Despite the relative heat, he wore full-length traditional kurta-salwar, vest and black topi. I have always wondered how the men can move about comfortably in those stovepipe-tight pants, but they look like a million bucks.

In exchange for delivering this enigmatic message from afar, Hari offered me a cup of tea in the deserted dining room. I realized that, as a Tamang, Hari would be a perfect translator for my planned visit to Aama, the Tamang Shaman. I've really got to get rid of these stomach cramps, and I've tried everything else, including the expensive foreigners' clinic. Why not try a traditional Buddhist Shaman?

Glancing around the empty hall, I realized just how bad business must have been lately. I wish I could offer Hari something besides the message. If things don't pick up, he will have no trouble getting an afternoon off to accompany me to Aama the Shaman.

1 comment:

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Kingshuk in Bangalore writes:

I envy your lifestyle!
So hows the Magical Mystical Mountain Kingdom? And how are my comrades? ( I am Bengali & so kind of sympthetic to Commies worldwide:)) I see you didnt have too bad an experience with them in the comandeered bus.

I find Nepalis ( all hill people) some of the straightest & nicest people I have ever made. They don't have the cunning/sophistry we plainspeople have.

Also enjoy the way you pen your thoughts.