The billionth time you stare into the beauty-saturated eyes of this phenomenon named Kathmandu, you will always and every time discover those pearls of novelty, almost theatrical mosaics of life, metaphysics of interesting cultural mazes, refreshing hazes of virginity, that you dream and keep dreaming.
If you choose the word ‘mysterious’ to describe the ambience, I totally agree. There is a remarkable combination of modernity, tall concrete establishments, flashy cars, sophistication and, at the same time, life is so backward, basic and medieval for many that seems so easy to read yet so difficult to comprehend. Similarly, there’s so much cultural diversity, there are languages, there are customs, there are textures, there are very different physical features and values that one can almost compare it with the multiple interweaving story lines of a classic movie script. Just like Audrey Hepburn’s elegant classic style that surpasses time and geographical boundaries, the style that Kathmandu characterizes is very scented, such that if you close your eyes, the imageries continue to cast a long, beautiful fragrance that remains and leaves an aromatic legacy.
One more look into the detailed eloquence into the script of Kathmandu, overlooking the socio-political melancholies that are challenging Nepal, you will realize life is just as normal as anywhere around the world. There are empty rooms of sadness over how our destinies are changing thanks to the flimsy situation in town, broken wings of poverty, sorceries of desperation of simple basic living, and miseries of starvation for social security and proper education. But, in spite of all the above guises in Nepal, la vie en rose, or yes of solid gold! There are still masquerades of bewilderment, the therapeutic joys of monotonous chores like hailing to the dharas for water, getting donned for festivals, posing for photographs, introspecting, spending time with loved ones, of loving, of creating things of beauty, for enjoying the pure bonanza of life.
The story in the movie line develops. If you slightly stand back, the panorama looks both serious and spectacular now with the virtues and weaknesses. There are some flickers of the good, the flecks of hope, hopelessness of barriers, prejudices of ideas but it is this duality that makes Kathmandu, the land of exotic flavors, so unique, so special–so Nepalese! In this realm of dualism, the most beautiful thing is that the lives are so intertwined, so linked, so related, so joined with a touch, with the same vein of love and blood, the observation itself is like an art as a transformative experience. The old lady at the pottery square weaves pots in Bhaktapur at a minimal wage as she baby-sits her grandson as his parents go and occupy their times in their agrarian calling in the fields. Time and again, she goes to join the retired lot resting on a nearby pati and talking the afternoon away. The potters look totally immersed in painting on their canvasses of pots and their brothers practice their selling mantras to tourists and alike. Theirs is a world apart, life moves at a pace so slow, it is therapy just to dance with that pace even if it’s for a super short time. They can only speak Newari and we only communicate via smiles.
Just next to the pottery square life is still blooming in the small, roadside restaurant. The owner plus cook of the restaurant serves local alcohol, tea, momos, fried noodles, and in the while, steals some time to play with her daughter. There is also love, love sublime, parental love, mystical love, love of Hindu motifs, of Christian motifs, the various versions of love in the dark streets, along roads, everywhere, everywhere, sometimes I wonder where real salvation lies in Nepal in ethical or in psychological hedonism.
And then, I think of those great philosophers of ancient times and wonder if they were to rub minds today in this magnificent ambience if they could help us find answers to the problems Nepal faces. Or, what would William Shakespeare have composed seeing this amazing land of contrasting expressions? Sonnets to last another billion years.
Then the lady who’s walking along the pavements of Basantapur in Kathmandu who adjusts her hair as she searches her soul; and the mother-son duo who pose for a photograph in Lalitpur near Krishna Mandir. In the streets, the town boys laugh and play oblivious to the world outside the narrow pavements they live in, and a middle-aged lady who’s rather clued up on what she wants on her son’s wedding is just returning from the jeweler who’s giving her a very special discount! Along shaky brick walls of her old house which is not at all safe in the very earthquake prone zone of Kathmandu, she smiles and places her utmost belief in God to look after the house and the grand ceremony happening in the house in near future. Little Helina looks angelic as she dons jewels and is fussed over by all her relatives as she prepares for her bel biha.
And just a few miles away, Nicchu Maya dons her elegant Newari sari to welcome a new day. Her friends and neighbors have already gone to fetch water in the rather chilly Kathmandu morning and though she is a bit late, she knows in her heart that they love her so much that she can take them for granted, so the water is just another reason to meet up with the girls. This second element in the school of Feng Shui is seen to be scarce in many parts of Kathmandu but little Rajendra is given a bath with the little there is!
The sadhu from Benaras finds solace in practising penance with handstands on the compounds of the Pashupatinath temple and a solitary dog enjoys the spectacle. Ironically, a lady sits below the magnificent stone-carving of the God Rama and Goddess Sita too deeply in love or maybe even more, but weeps that her love has gone sour too soon! The idea is that no matter what the caste, the creed, the traditions, the cultural beliefs, there is utter harmony and hence, the story shines, the characters emote and dreams are weaved and they come true!
I conclude by saying that the excellence of visual Kathmandu is not like the summer fruits, too easy to corrupt and ephemeral. The plot outline of the Capital is too difficult for me to do justice in one barren sentence. So, I would say Kathmandu is like my favorite book on essays, extremely deep and equally interesting, not necessarily conventionally handsome on the outside, but yet so entire. With a personality very unique with a mind that’s oh so soft, so gently sentimental, an individual with a compassionate heart who has compelling stories to share, seamless and unforgettable with encyclopedic layers whose facades like stories orbit around the kaleidoscope that is Kathmandu. Feel free to exercise the paradoxes of free will and human reason and dream as you read my
attempt into the portrayal of the storyline. Any filmmakers out there?
Moheindu Amiran Chemjong is a freelance writer and can be contacted at email@example.com
The image of the potbellied, elephant headed deity seen in every nook and corner of the Kathmandu Valley as well...