Out of the bus window, I chanced on seeing a man selling a few tidbits: packets of noodles, paan parag, chewing gum and churpi. The bus was cold and I was eager to be on my way home but we were waiting for more people to board (unless you’ve got elbows in your face and butts on your back, there’s room for more) and I saw the man exhaling a plume of thick smoke.
I’m no smoking connoisseur, but his dragon’s breath left no doubt that his lungs were lined with more than the nicotine of a cigarette. As to what substance he was breathing, your guess is as good as mine. I watched as he continued to let concentrated clouds escape from his lips, he sat, dull faced, allowing the city to walk by.
The bus finally rolled off but not without people being packed tighter than a FedEx shipment. I’ve always wanted a picture of full public transport here, but taking a photo is difficult for various reasons. Seated in the last row, all the way in the corner, I had my camera on my lap and room to move my arms, and so I peered through my lens and in poor light took a few shots. The photos were horrid and I know my friend will give me an earful, but I couldn’t get a good picture.
The man sitting next to me saw me and so he inquired, “Foreigner?” I did not dignify him with a response. Simply because I choose to photograph a crowded Nepali vehicle does not mean that I belong somewhere else.
I ignored him.
Arriving close to my home, the khalashi yelled our current location and the man next to me felt the need to repeat it, twice, as if I didn’t know where I was. He poked me and told me again where I was to which I said in Nepali, “Thank you Dai, I know where I am”. I don’t know why, he felt the need to ask for a second time, in English, “Are you a foreigner?” I shook my head, looked out the window discouraging any conversation.
Working at a paper, I always leave late and get home even later, the perk of this being I get to see the city at night. In a way, the streets of Kathmandu have dissociative identity disorder and night and day give way to opposing personalities. One night, I found myself roaming the streets and alleyways close to 1am and I found the city was run by dogs. Human activity was limited to high beams momentarily blinding me, and one man, in rubber chappels loading and unloading bricks from a tractor, all alone, in the cold, at night.
This morning, my friend and I were meeting a fellow blogger we are fans of and while we were sipping coffee (and I, my strawberry milkshake), my attention was directed to two men outside the window, climbing a pole.
My ability to measure height with my eyes is poor, so I won’t feign numbers, but two men were shuffling their way past the 2nd floor we on to the tip of the pole. I think they were fixing lights, I can’t be too sure, but our blogger friend pointed out that one wasn’t even wearing a safety harness. Behind the pretty beads that decorated my window, I could see the dirt splattered on the glass, and past that, two men hovered precariously above a busy street:
This post doesn’t really have a point. Perhaps it’s just about this city. Kathmandu, city of smog and smoke, of beggars and dogs that are but bones, a city where strangers sleep on the streets, a city, I suppose, that is my home. A place where thousands migrate for a better life, perhaps holding onto to the belief that when God( or the gods) closes a door, he opens a window, but a lot of times, the city feels like this:
But I, a stranger on these streets… what do I really know?