The bus stop is 20 seconds away from the gates of my house, and still I prefer standing in front of my gates waiting for the bus rather than walk those 20 yards...Nepalipan, it must be! Okay, when there is no one else waiting at the bus stop, I can probably move the stop a mere 20 yards in my favour - the commuter power...but as far as the bus that runs through our village is concerned, it stops at every yard if it can carry one more passenger, so my changing the attitude won't make much difference. For there will be others waiting for the same bus in front of their gates all along the way! Blaming on the attitude of the "others", I can easily (and conveniently) ward off my own guilt conscience. Anyway, once on the bus, I behave as if I am an untouchable - somebody with a deadly plague that could wipe off the entire village, or at least those on the bus. Does it work in putting off other commuters from pushing me around or stamping on my foot no matter how well I try to take it off the way? Of course not, as I have already mentioned elsewhere, pushing, shoving, stamping and shoulder charging without apology seems to be the norm in Nepal, especially while commuting. Even when I take a seat in an obscure corner of the bus, I get pushed further deeper into obscurity. I hardly seem to recognise faces in the village anymore, and the non-recognition seem to be reciprocal, which is quite a relief. Embarrassing exchanges I have experienced in the past where I didn't know the person I was talking to but they seem to know (and keep track) of everything I did or was doing. They would ask when did I return, and how long am I staying or have I finished my studies or if I am working in the foreign land or if I had come back to get married! I would answer politely (but with great difficulty) to all those queries without knowing who I was responding to...and for wanting to be polite, I couldn't ask who they were either!
Embarrassment, I have become accustomed to handling. But I have also been accused of being snotty, or snobby or something of those sorts in the past and may be at present as well because of my lack of knowledge about the village folks, and moreover at my failure to go around the village tea-shops or to the village focal-points, or to the houses of my numerous uncles chatting with them and inquiring about their and the village's well-being. In a village where I have hardly lived in for more than a few weeks in the last 8 years (10 years if I include my hostel days at Birendra Sainik School), its quite hard. Its extra difficult if you are of my sort who rarely ventures out to the village tea shops for gossips on god knows what! True, I should at least not forget the people I knew while I grew up in the village, and I haven't forgotten. But after 10 years absence, how do you start a conversation with people who now seem as much stranger as the recent immigrants to the village? And honestly, starting a conversation is not one of my greatest assets - hence the accusations of being snobby et. al. On my defence, all I say is when talked to I always respond politely and to the point...to the point? another reason for being labelled snotty et. al.? Oh well...I'm probably not going to be in the village for another 2-3 years so I might as well forget about it altogether and deal with it when I have to!!
Lagankhel "round about"
As the bus reached Lagankhel, I always breathed a sigh of relief. When paying the fare, I always gave a bigger value note hoping the conductor would charge me the student rate seeing my backpack, although not expecting to get lucky really. And hope almost always died and expectation conquered. I got off the bus thinking I should have claimed I was a student but then I didn't want to create a scene to get back 2 rupees from the conductor. From Lagankhel I always seem to have only one option for further travel in terms of which direction I wanted to go - towards Ratnapark. The how-to-get-there options would be to get on a micro-bus (stuffed to the bursting point, but quite fast considering the traffic), a safa tempo (3 wheeler, again stuffed but not as bad as micro-bus, and a bit slower), and a mini-bus (old mercedes-benz buses adapted for Nepalese commuting, not much stuffed but not much faster either), and there was always an option to take a taxi (a luxurious mode of travel but expensive and not really fast due to the traffic situation on the roads). I never took a taxi to go from Lagankhel to Ratnapark, nor did I get on a mini-bus. It was either the three-wheeler or a micro-bus, and I always chose the latter this time. I guess I was always in a hurry - I had to be for I had only a week in Kathmandu!
Nobody seems to want to go to the back seats of the micro-bus, but I find them the most comfortable, apart from the front seats of course. The middle seats are the worst in terms of stuffing peoples like sardines. Every seat that should hold two people are made to hold three. The little area behind the front seats, which aren't normally seating area are made to hold 4 persons, facing and knee-locking with other three persons seating just across them! I tell you those are the worst seats, you can hardly move your body or your legs without making yourself and all others around you uncomfortable. The back seat being relatively cosy seems to be the source of interesting conversations as well, at least that's what I noticed on most of my micro-bus journeys.
"I have so far managed to save Rs 190,000 towards the visa, still Rs 110,000 less [than required by the agent]" says a man in his early 20s.
"Can you not take a loan or something? I would have helped had I not had a family emergency last month." replies another of similar age.
When I hear more from these two youth, I feel as if everyone wants to get out of this country. Do they know its not easy in the foreign land, the land of their dreams? Do they know money doesn't grow in the trees as their belief suggests? And do they know they had to work hard to earn every single penny, harder than they are used to in Nepal? But yea, who cares in Nepal how the money is made overseas, as long as you send some home or return home loaded!
A couple in the middle seat have something else in mind.
"Can't we shop in the morning of the Christmas day? I have taken day off that day." says the man.
"That's too late. We won't have time to prepare dinner, considering we have to travel an hour to get to the church for the service." is the woman's reply.
"Can you not take half-day off tomorrow or on Christmas eve? We can do all our shopping then." she adds.
"I'll see if I can do that once I get to the office. I'll call you on your mobile to let you know." says the man.
Wow, people are really celebrating Christmas in Nepal this year big way. Okay, this couple is Christian but then I see every single store decorated with Christmas trees and lights, advertisements for Christmas dinner deals, or even Christmas SALE - in Nepal!?! Has the recent declaration of secularity anything to do with all these extravagant celebrations? I simply don't know but then what's wrong with celebrating? We Nepalis have so many festivals all year round, we could add one or two more!
Traffic at Sundhara
Ratnapark is...well, how can I describe this place? The only word that comes to mind now when I think of Ratnapark is "chaos". There are peoples everywhere, vehicles everywhere, street vendors everywhere and everybody seems to be on the move, apart from the street vendors of course. The overhead crossing seem to be providing a nice stall area for the street vendors, may be a bit higher from the reach of "Nagar Police" as well, who I remember chasing away the vendors from the footpaths when I was here last. The vendors also seem to have acquired innovative sales techniques.
"Every single item for 15 rupees", one was shouting.
"Every item for 10 rupees here", the other was cutting the margin further.
Pedestrians were slowing their pace when passing through these vendors and checking if they were selling anything that was worth buying for 10 or 15 rupees each. I was curious as well, and scanned through the items, which included cigarette lighters, ball-pens, combs, shoe polish and things of that sort.
Later I come home to see a similar satire on Nepal TV where one vendor was cutting off the price of the competitor, until one was giving away free lunch!
The big stores are no different - they advertise of "up to 70% off" SALE, when I check the price, it seems they raised it first by "up to 100%" and were giving up to 70% off! Seriously, I couldn't get myself to buy a single item (of clothing or shoes, which I can't resist normally) from the "departmental stores" in Nepal. Brands, you could get any in Nepal but guarantee on the quality - mostly NO. You could buy latest models of mobile phones for cheap that came with charger and if you are lucky a manual - but mostly no boxes. Every latest electronic gadgets you could think of, you can buy in Kathmandu, without the warranty of course! I saw an iPod nano, exactly same as my own, in a market selling cheap electronics, but only a lot cheaper. It turned out to be a fake iPod, and honestly I wouldn't have guessed it had it not been for the price! Before I left, my shopping in Kathmandu/Patan included of some Gudpak, some Pustakari, some Lapsi Paun, some Nepali Tea, and a cheap but comfortable pair of shoes (not from any departmental store but from a local shoe shop in Lagankhel). And thankfully, I didn't feel cheated/ripped off in Nepal like I did when I was in Delhi!!!