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Hitesh Karki

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My Midnight Ordeal and the Road to Jumla

It was late in the night, way late by the Nepalese middle class standards where you normally go to bed after having your meal after the 8 pm news. I have not been following the ritual in spite of hailing from the same class for one or two sports update has almost become my sleeping pills without which sleep is pretty hard to come by. Federer had lost to Nadal once again on clay and Kobe had one more series of 50 plus point games etc etc but still, in spite of feeling the weight of the …

drowsiness, I could not afford to go to bed for I had my assignment cut out for the night, or should I say early morn, of having to draw some water into my water tank. For this first I had to keep a constant watch on the tap for arrival of water and secondly to keep a constant eye on the water so that I get to switch off the machine before the tap runs dry.

Having deprived of sleep in this manner which I assume is pretty unique to us, almost like the national flag, I had no option but to surf through the channels just to make sure that I do not doze off depriving my family of some water the next day. As I flicked thru the channels, of all things one simple program, in the midst of greatest biggest Bollywood marriage saga and yet one more bombing of the Iraqi market place, caught my attention and kept on doing so for next one good hour so. As it turned out later on, that really was a blessing in disguise of some sorts for I would not have liked the idea of having missed out on that program.

By the time I had got into the program, there was one good feeling of happiness , an aura around it, that got to the feel of what was about to come. I really do not now how many people must be out there, may be thousand plus, but one common thing was every body wore big smiles. It was big fiesta of thousand smiles, if I may call so. And neither was it a musical grind party nearby the poolside of one of the starry hotels nor the masses gathered in Basantpur or Maitighar Mandala to hear their political icons deliver speeches and along with it dreams of unfathomable proportions.

The host asked the people around whether they have seen a motor vehicle or a ‘gaadi’, and none of them seemed to answer in affirmative. There were people wearing torn clothes and looking at the camera in utter amusement. Rather they do not seem to be interested at all about appearing on the camera , or their shots being captured by it, for all they seemed to care about was to get a touch of a Toyota landcruiser that was passing by them. And if that was not enough, they were offering anything they could get hold off to the four wheeler as if the gods from heavens above had descended right in their court yard. Flowers, colors, barley leaves, they were rushing towards the vehicle. It was specially the children’s reaction that was worth noting amidst all the chaotic happiness. There were a group of children whom seemed to be having the greatest moment, may be the time of their life, running along the travelling landcruiser, and there were others who seemed so fearful of it, as if it was a roaring beast on the prowl, and every time the driver honked, they would run good hundred yards in fear.

At one point the host asked , so you now know what a motor vehicle looked like and instant came a reply, ’Sure we do, it has four wheels and is green in color.’

All the while, I could feel myself going through the range of emotions. Twenty first century where going to moon has now suddenly become an adventure sports and there they were, having a first look at a motor vehicle, forget the ride. But then again it was not just the children. There was no dearth of adults alike who were watching in awe. Some had the courage enough to come face the camera whilst others still seemed to be comfortably numbed by the sight of a tinned box on wheels. And there was a surprise element as well, I noticed a group of people waving ‘bye bye’ and ‘thank you’ ( I am pretty much sure that they must have been taught by the local school teacher that it is the language of the kathmandu people , ‘byes’ and ‘thank-yous’ ) to people on the landcruiser as it passed by them. They threw ‘abirs’, the red color, towards them as if it were a homecoming of a Paris Dakar rally winners.

Suddenly I felt a surge, a feeling of guilt perhaps, running through as to why do I groan and moan so much about the lack of facilities that I have to live up with, like waking up in late in night to get some gallons of water. Or a pot hole in the middle of the road. Or a perhaps those temporary load. Had I been born in a place where I would not be living through revolutions every other decade , a place where peace is not something that’s on focus or tires are something that are strictly used for wheeling, my complaint would have been completely justified. But here I was in a land where people were sighting a vehicle for the first time, many a children and adults but also people well past their seventies and eighties! No matter how I would like to place my self on par with the excellences of 21st century and as they say, on command of most of the things regardless of the boundaries on my finger tips, I was still living in a place where people have not managed to get themselves out from the may be 14th, 15th century!
The road access had finally reached Jumla. If one were to summarize everything I think this particular would perfectly do so. However there was much more to it. The geographical distance that we live in and moreover the way they see the world vis-à-vis the way we do in the comfort of a metropolitan city. Some might argue that the less said about Kathmandu’s metropolitan status the better but for some reasons I could not deny myself of the fact that I was getting the best of the facilities in a country where I live. May be that night I gained a different perspective of the country I live in. Its not that I have not been acquainted with various poors of the country but it was the time zone that we all lived in left me pretty much perplexed.

The event did get pretty good coverage on the print media but to see the raw emotions flow was something extraordinary. The icing on the cake was there was no Girija Prasads, Madhav Kumars or Puspha Kamals gracing the occasion as chief guests. And on many places, a simple torn red dhoti (cheap saree) tied on a bamboo made the traditional a ‘swagat dwar’, the door to welcome the guests.

Hold on, did I just hear the machine drawing the water making weird sound? I better go and switch it off. ‘No complaints’, of course!

The unedited version of the article which was printed on the Sunday edition
of the Kathmandu Post,29th April 2007.

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