no more surprises

Not much surprises me these days
not my madness
not yours
not the trees you say talk to you
not the voice that says sing, and definitely
not the tongue that lands on a particular line from a specific song

Every mad thing fits somewhere 
there is an algorithm to the signs:
your unplanned Arrival at a near empty temple flooded by the searing sun,
a blocked path on the way to an ancestral home,
a loved one opening up like a flower,
your body, unmoving, unwilling to open a door,
you, alone in a field with nothing but grains for miles.  

Each sign its own message: 
you are divine 
slow down, it gets bigger and better 
your heart is expanding 
don’t, you’re still not ready 
emptiness is abundance. 

How is any of this surprising?
the confirmation of signs
the timeliness of algorithms 
the sweetness of mad things?  

why don’t i have a reddit account, again?

*Fleabag spoilers ahead (lol)

You know when you like a piece of art so much you have this perverse desire to own it. Like you want to buy it, or re-watch it constantly. You want to be in the art. You wish you’d made it. You hate that your real life is coming in the way of you thinking about it. You suddenly hate your job because it has nothing to do with that piece of art. You want to wear it like a cloak. You want people to notice you wearing the cloak. You want to buy the merchandise but don’t because that would be crossing the line. You don’t even realize that wearing the merchandise is only an outward expression of the cult-like obsession you have with it already. You want the art to do all your talking and explaining for you for the rest of your life. You feel as though no art will ever be made that will speak to you like this one did (so dramatic, and so not true).

I feel all these things about Fleabag right now.  The end of Fleabag is the most realistic portrayal of Healing that I’ve ever read/watched. In fact the whole series is a journey about healing. Fleabag shows us the loneliness of healing, which is such an unfair  paradox we often have to live with. You would think healing from loss and lack of something would fix everything. Healing makes you want to stop wanting to die,  which is a good thing. But it does this scary thing of opening up the space for any number of possibilities. When you’re so used to not expecting much out of life, this idea is scary. And we know how bleak life had felt to Fleabag in S02E01 in a scene where her father asked her why she wasn’t being characteristically  ‘naughty’ during the family dinner, and she fucking stabbed me in the liver by saying “because it just doesn’t matter anymore”. She literally articulates everything that comes with the feeling of resignation in half a sentence and one sad look at her father. So going from there to the possibility of love she finds with the Priest is a huge deal. It’s no surprise that good love like the kind they shared would be healing. But what’s great about this show is that it subverts that experience of healing, or what healing can look like sometimes. The Priest leaving Fleabag was the utmost heartbreaking thing for them both (and usss!!), but Fleabag already liked herself a lot more than she did two years ago so this moment had a tinge of hope for the future. It wasn’t all doom. Fleabag and us both know this is kind of the beginning of something good for her. And not good in the sense that she’ll make wiser relationship choices but good in the sense that by the end of the series she was able to gather the many scattered parts of herself and put it together a little bit. But healing involves a loss of some kind of your old self, and even though that loss is for the better, it kinda leaves you empty. I really felt Fleabag’s emptiness at the end there. 

Contrast this to the Priest’s journey, he’s devastated too for having to leave her, but his healing probably won’t feel as empty as hers. Maybe healing when it isn’t anchored to something bigger (the Priest has God to go back to) than us is more complicated that when it is. Also, perhaps the Priest had found another fleabag who helped him heal before he met Fleabag. He says this somewhere mid season-2 to Fleabag, “I’ve done this many many times” or something like that. This guy has obviously evolved a few steps further than Fleabag, so he doesn’t believe she is “the one”, for him God is “the One” and the stability and peace of mind that provides is like no other. You can tell that Fleabag thought he might be “the one” from that crushing bus top scene at the end when her eyes well up when he tells her he loves her too as he’s walking away.

A week since I saw this, I realize that I’m no longer rooting for the two of them to get back together or fantasizing about a hot Priest. I’m rooting for Fleabag to be okay. If she’s okay, I’m okay.

I needed to get this out of my system. I’m sorry if you haven’t seen Fleabag and don’t know what’s going on. The only take away for you is that I’m obsessed with a piece of pop culture once again *eye roll*.

hi, i’m Glad.

I thought I’d do a decade recap but I won’t. The only thing to be said about that is, I’m so glad I didn’t irreparably hurt myself during my lowest of lows. I’m so glad the self-destruction was repairable. Very glad to be alive for the rest of the ride. Not excited though, just glad. Glad is such an underrated state of being even though it’s the most accessible and common. I don’t believe anybody who constantly uses the term ‘grateful.’ You’re glad, bitch, you’re glad. Glad is somewhere between grateful and resentful. Glad is closer to ‘relief’ but a bit above it. It’s five steps below ‘grateful.’ Be glad. Surrender to gladness.

 

 

i’m talking

my depressive episodes are like mud masks, but lathered all over my body, even the insides. it doesn’t hurt to move but it’s uncomfortable to stretch, smile, and especially talk. it usually follows a short phase of high eyeball popping energy, that feels nothing like happiness and rather like i jumped on a trampoline for too long. this is complicated by anxiety that physically manifests in the middle of my stomach in rushes that are cold and sour. i’ve tamed my anxiety quite a bit, the depression is harder to get a hold of. i chew gum only so i can release my anxiety by rolling it and stretching it round and round my index finger until i’m tired. chew, stretch, roll, repeat. i’m a bit hygienic now that i’ve discovered bluetac. i cannot leave nailpolish on for more than five minutes, i pick at it with everything i’ve got, not without grinding my teeth while i do it. the bridge of my nose has a small dent because this is where my fingers go when i’m restless, i’ve picked the skin enough to make the dent permanent. i always joked that my darkcircles gave me character, whatever the fuck that means, but they make me look sad and tired, which i am, which because i don’t want to talk, shows through this disease or that. i feel so strongly against talking my eyes brim every time i feel forced to do it. even otherwise, i don’t wanna talk anymore. i don’t wanna talk. i talk in order to save my future self from isolation. my current self is destructive, she doesn’t want to talk. i’m so disappointed that ‘being on the same wavelength’ is figurative, and secretly hope the dystopian future where we can read each others mind happens sooner so we don’t have to talk. i’m okay if that involves you knowing all my harry styles fantasies and seeing ideal images of other people i’m in love with. you’re welcome, because those images are truer than any word i ever speak. talking to communicate is a terrible phase in human evolution. i don’t wanna talk. but i’m talking, okay? i’m talking now. i’ve been talking for the past year. and i told you, forcing myself to talk makes me weep. that’s how much i hate it. but i’m doing it so now leave me the fuck alone. i’m talking.

 

 

visitors allowed

A family of mice have made a happy home above the fall ceiling of the ENT ward at a popular hospital in Kathmandu. The mice Olympics are scheduled for after midnight. But the only people who hear them, and even wait for this auditory spectacle are the few still-awake patients with throbbing noses, ears or slit throats. Once in a while a *”kuruwa” leaps up from their sleep and rather disoriented thinks its an earthquake and makes for the door.

Maya aunty, mother to our next door neighbour at the hospital had no time to notice the mice. She sat on the hard brown couch between her daughter Lila and another patient, awake and regulating both their pee cycles, even though she wasn’t related to the man. Her daughter Lila had peed in her diaper, on the murky green hospital sheets, on new sheets they’d brought from home while the man on the other bed was struggling to pee. She calls the bedsheet ‘chaadar’, and every time she says it it sounds like an anomaly coming out of her mouth. I imagine this odd choice of word for sheets comes from her time in India with her Indian Army husband. In Sautha, Morang where my paternal grandparents live, 15km from Maya aunty’s Urlabari, bedsheet is still ‘tanna’.

Maya aunty free associates from one story to another while my mum, who usually has an itch for cleaning the vicinity when people talk for too long, sits leg folded on the waiting couch to listen and laugh every few seconds. Because every few seconds aunty makes a joke about the Bauns in her neighbourhood. The Baun men who get drunk on a mere mug of home-made liquor she sells. The big-talking Bauns who cant hold their alcohol, and pee like they have enlarged prostrates, sprinkling any wall or tree in their sight.   The Baun men who swear to never eat pig, who once drunk yell for more pig rind. The Bauns who *need* tea in the mornings. She seems annoyed that her husband has picked up this particular Baun habit. In the mornings, her pigs need her undivided attention. They have to be fed and fed enough to go for 10K. Then she has her garment making gig and her alcohol brewing. Morning tea for her husband is the last thing on her mind. He makes his own tea, she says.

Aunty visits my mum and I in our room in the evenings when other visitors are gone and the nurse has given all of us **”naak-katuwas” as aunty likes to call us, our last shot of antibiotics for the day. This is Lila’s third sinus surgery so she knows the drill. Lila is thirty-six years old, much older and somewhat more experienced sinus-wise or even generally. But she has quite the temper on her and the doctors have warned her to calm down for the surgery. I was intimidated by her impatience at the OPD when we first met but now under her mother’s supervision she’s like an infant –giggling, being fed, being told off for sitting up too much, doing as her mum says- and suddenly softens in my eyes. I’ve known her on and off, distantly and intimately for the past two weeks. We were part of the same herd that was shooed in and out of rooms and windows for our pre-operation consultations in this awfully organised but apparently functioning hospital. Lila knows her way around this process thoroughly, she opted out of getting an ECG probably knowing that we would be exposing our breasts to a room full of people with no curtains around the bed as they tested us for abnormal heartbeats. Shame being the last worry in a list of worries I had about surgery I had willingly slid onto the bed, lifted my shirt all the way up to my neck without hesitating. Kamala, another patient in our platoon had covered her face with her hair in embarrassment at my exhibitionism.

Kamala and Paaru’s surgeries were cancelled the night before our scheduled timing. Paaru had somehow managed to get pneumonia in spite the weeks of antibiotic and steroids we had been put on. We’d shared my mum’s roti and chana tarkari in the canteen that afternoon and I’d rubbed her back once as she coughed her lungs and guts out in a way that has become all too frequent for me too in the past eight years.  Her husband brought her mutton leg soup the night we checked into the hospital hoping that would ready her to go under the knife. We heard that Kamala had passed out, half from her nervous energy and half from being the only patient without a reliable kuruwa to support her. That’s how, by the time the operation schedules had come out, only Lila and I had been left.

My hospital friends are my friends-for-less-than-ever because although a long-term friendship is unlikely it definitely has the intensity of an ideal friendship–to see each other at our physical and mental worse and not judge but be nurturing instead. There is nothing like the moving and shared vulnerability in hospitals. I think I like hospitals. I think the next time I have to stay at the hospital I will think less of the administrative hassle and more of the (rightfully) conditional love and empathy they offer.

 

*kuruwa  literally means ‘someone who waits’ but refers to the family member of a patient who stays and assists them when admitted to the hospital. Having a kuruwa is an unwritten but mandatory rule in Nepal

**naak-katuwa, literally people who got their nose cut off, figuratively people who bring shame to family name

Siphal

I pass by Siphal every day on my walk to work these days. But I always skirt around it and rarely cut through its narrow, claustrophobic roads. I do this consciously because Siphal is always alert, it feels like the old buildings are porous. They talk to me and listen to each other. They hold me by the shoulders and ask me to pay attention. On most days I don’t want to respond but I do. The route that I prefer and usually take encircles Siphal from the outside and leads straight to Mitrapark. Although only a few steps removed from Siphal’s cramped roads, this route feels deserted, it has nothing to share. Siphal is like an old friend I try to avoid and my alternate route home is a friend I am getting to know.

But old friends have a way of being that you cannot erase. They are usually dormant. These days they come alive when I give others a tour of their cycles, bumps and inroads. A few weeks ago, a new friend wanted to take the shortcut to Pashupati through Siphal. We’d walked from Gyaneshwor to Kalopul. I was going to stay quiet but just as we neared the pipalbot I pointed to the right and showed her Pushpanjali. Siphal doesn’t want me to stay quiet, she wants me to show her off. Siphal thinks I owe her this.

Pushpanjali doesn’t exist anymore, it was the first school I went to. My only memories of it are from photographs of my cousin and I wearing maroon overalls over baby pink shirts. We were snotty, or it was a fashion trend then, but we both have handkerchiefs pinned to the left side of our upper torso. I assume this is where I learned my ka kha ga and ABCs. A few houses to the left of the school I show my friend ‘Gurung ko ghar‘. A single room and shared kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor of this house was the second or third home my parents made since moving to Kathmandu. The first one was the first floor of one of the conjoined houses exactly in front of Patan Dhoka. As the legend goes, mum walked all the way to Patan Dhoka from Ratnapark while she was eight months pregnant with me. I think it involved an argument with my dad. The second one was ‘Mainali ko ghar’ somewhere in Baneshwor. The only reason I remember the Mainalis is because their son wanted a little sister and so for the first few Bhaitikas of my life he was in the lineup with my other Bhais. This surrogate Dai now lives five houses down the road to us but I’ve seen him once in the past fourteen years we’ve lived in Gaurighat.

I have a lot of second hand memories from Gurung ko Ghar. Apparently, the landlords’ kids loved me and still ask about me. They considered me family because of my round nose. My first hand memories are less happy. I had a birthday party in that house that I hated. I’m surprised how none of my memories of Siphal involve the chaur though, which has always been an important landmark in the area. We were always circling the chaur, moving house to house but never ran through it as kids.

I show her another house to the left, a few steps ahead of the pipal bot. That was where dad and his friends set up their first office. I learned from here that working with friends is usually a good thing. I didn’t know what to say when people asked me what dad did. He wasn’t a doctor or an engineer or a policeman or a shopkeeper. He went to office so I called him an ‘officer’. I realize dad’s friends asked this question a lot because they didn’t really know what they were either. But I remember this house most fondly. There were three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The floors had grass-green carpets. My dad and his friends came to office each day and did stuff, while I played outside alone on most days. I never strayed too far. I remember my favorite thing to do was to find and eat a tiny sour plant that grew wildly in the garden.

I think Siphal was good to us. Because my maternal grandparents decided that their first home in Kathmandu would be a conjoined house opposite the Bhandarkhal. This is where we met our life-long nimeses, the monkeys of Pashupati, who could reach my grandparents’ windows at an arms stretch from trees that hung over the Bhandarkhal railings. This is where I had my first plate of momos. My mum would send me with a five-rupee note to a bhatti opposite Jayabageshwori mandir every time I whined and watch me walk there and back from the terrace. And me, this usually timid four-year-old would brave my way there alone, ask for half a plate, and shove them into my mouth silently.

The path leading from Siphal Chaur to Jayabageshwori Mandir used to feel miles long when we were small. It’s hardly a two-minute walk now. I don’t have time to show her the little paati opposite Ganesh Mandir where I bought pau from the leftover change from buying milk. Once mum found out and smacked me with a kucho. I still think twice before buying pau or chauchau. One of my best friends lived on that road so I point and mention that quickly but there is no time to show her my other best friends’ house who lived in a galli behind our fifth or sixth rented flat in that area.

It seems impossible to cover everything. Almost every nook and corner leading up to Pashupati is peppered with sounds, smells and occasionally faces that force me to be awake.

It’s funny what places teach you about people. Maybe we forget old friends because remembering involves an exhausting two-minute walk through childhood. There is no room to begin all over. There are too many things hidden behind too many gallies.

I am trying to make friends with my alternate route home. Our only common ground is a laphing centre opposite Pashupati campus. But on most days we are out of sync. Sometimes I don’t have an appetite, and on days that I build an appetite on my way there, the shop is closed. And though my always reliable pau vendor at Siphal is probably open, I don’t want to go back there again.

clarens calling

In Europe cats are humans, they have names and places to sleep, and the liberty to throw tantrums. This is so unlike Sijuwa, where my grandparents use cats as mousetrap. At my grandparents’ home, cows are humans, and cats are useful. Also, in Europe cats love me. Zoe loves me. I don’t pursue him, he pursues me endlessly. I’m sitting near the old couch near the entrance minding my own business and he hops on and sprawls his soft grey coat on my lap. Subjectively, I am dying of glee from all this attention. Objectively, this is a beautiful scene that I shouldn’t disturb. So I stifle the sneeze and push it to my stomach and try not to squeal as his claws tickle my thighs over the Khasto. I have finally become a cat lady.

Zoe circles my ankles in the kitchen while I make dal-fry. Dinner is a concoction of  Sachiko’s Japanese culinary secrets, the aroma of ghee from the dal, Indonesian peanut paste, and chilled white wine from some corner in Europe. For the first time in weeks, dinner feels complete. It’s the home-made food, but also a little bit of history we’ve created in the past few weeks. Timbil has started to direct his brusque humour towards me rather than his friend Gegger. I take that as a sign of budding friendship.

We arrived here quite suddenly. We’d spent the car journey here trying to say French words. Clarens is a sound our Nepali and Indonesian tongues cannot make. Later Sachiko teaches us Pully (poo-ie) and Cully (coo-ie) which are much easier to say. Outside, the Swiss hills and peaks behind them are passing us unchangingly. I humour myself thinking how amused my grandparents would be with these clean cows and immaculate farms. My body is near dead from this non-stop trail we’ve been making across the country, but my mind still imagines the thrill of rolling down those hills in a body bag. The motorway and hills end sharply as we enter city roads, traffic and suddenly a small alley that leads to the house Sachiko shares with Sarah. We park in front of a huge green barn door but take the back door to the garden instead.

The rolling hills had been soft on our eyes. The garden here is untamed and the cherry tree is ripe with neglected fruit. This is now. Two days later, as we say our goodbyes,  even this tree comes alive when we hurriedly pick cherries for seeds to plant back home. But for now,  we sit on a yellow bench in the middle and the conversations travel from Yogyakarta to Kathmandu, Japan and back to Fribourg- the city we had traveled from. I drift off from a conversation about the life and growth of organisms that has become sweetly familiar after my month-long adventures with bio-geeks; Timbil is bent over a tomato patch and is fondly studying its progress. I notice two cats and think nothing of them, one of whom–Zoe–later manages to claw and snuggle his way into my heart.

Inside, the paraphernalia on the dining table, bills and bread loaves piled on each other are signs of domesticity I yearn for. At home, everything must go in its own place. Here, the kitchen is a chaotic museum. A whiteboard leans on one corner and inks remains of a discussion on biology or some other intense topic of thesis. The glue on other bits of paper that mean something to the owners is coming off fast. They seem like they’ve been hanging on for some time. Sachiko finds me examining a drawing attached to the side of the fridge. It’s from her nephew, he likes the taste of Swiss toothpaste and thanks his aunt for sending him some to New York. From the kitchen window, I see a mountain peak at touching distance. This kitchen feels lived in, this entire house feels lived in.

We make plans for the next day, we should go by the lake. Maybe we should scale one of these Swiss mountains. We should go to the vineyard in Montreux. We manage to do some of these things, and archive others for a hypothetical ‘next time’. I wonder if there will be a next time. I wonder how long cherry trees live. I wonder if cats remember body odour. I wonder when the next time will be, and if it will even feel the same.

maroon

I wear a scarf that smells like all the women in my family.

My grandmother’s odor is mustard oil mixed with body lotion her grandson sent her from the US. She hoards body lotion because she finds so little love to hoard

Today she smells of moov she rubbed on her sore back, but also of a tinge of hurt she carries from having no one to soothe those bruises

I came to return the scarf that smells like her. But she takes a sniff and says, it smells like your mum, keep it.

These days I pop in and flash past her like the winter sun she so adores. But today is different; today the sun and I both decide to stay longer. And she and I bask and sweat  side by side under the sun sharing the scarf that smells like her, my mum, and now me.

same fabric

We thrive on ambiguity.
No labels are made
for these
unsung heroes
who’ve picked on
the hard and soft
of your gut
who’ve swallowed your silence
and filled their bellies
with things they heard
even when you didn’t say a word