KTM revisited. October 5th- November 8th, 2010.

Writer’s Note: If you are looking for excitement, adventure and thrill, now is not the time and place for it. There’s a time and place for everything; for the aforementioned features, this is not it.

That was pretty much it. Insanity loomed close. A couple of packets of Cheese Balls, a few swigs of the wine left from last night, and a movie starring Dev Anand that was shot in Kathmandu later, the craving for the nicotine was just too great to mortally endure silently (I did yell out randomly a couple of times during the afternoon alarming my unsuspecting mother who was quietly ironing some clothes). Man can only put up with so much. That to me poses the single, greatest challenge of living at home- the need for the cigarettes. I’ve been trying to quit for as long as I remember smoking. I am not blessed with a strong will and driven integrity. But that’s just me. Please adjust accordingly. We were supposed to go watch Anjaana Anjaani and I politely offered to head out and purchase the tickets for later.  Plus after living in Bangalore for so long, staying at home in the Kathmandu suburbs and listening to the silence is deafening. The metropolitan call is just too persuasive to ignore.

Kathmandu probably has the most expensive cabs in the world. A short four kilometer ride in one of the city’s finest mode of public transportation would reduce the monetary contents of your wallet by two hundred rupees easily. I flung my backpack over the shoulders and walked down to Ring Road where a line of old, woobly taxis waited in greedy anticipation. My family owns a car; owned three at the same time at one point of time- I was never allowed to drive on my own. Paternal fear for my life seriously cut down on my freedom of movement. I got into a cab and instructed the bored driver to take me to Jai Nepal Cinema. If I had to choose one word to describe my city, it would be chaos. If I was granted two, I would go with ‘utter chaos’. The traffic breathes and has a life of its own; a giant millipede rushing forward while all its legs go into peristaltic over-drive but never colliding clumsily into each other. Traffic discipline is ludicrously unheard of. As the taxi weaves in and out of traffic, honking its shrill horn and narrowly missing every object/life-form/carcass it shares the road with, I find myself in complete agreement with my metaphor. There is nothing to do now but sit back, pull out a cigarette and phase out.

The city is something I love to hate. When I was studying in a boarding school, most of my school mates were from small neighbouring towns and cities which consisted of the bare infrastructure and minimal entertainment options. Kathmandu, at that time, seemed like the perfect city with the perfect blend of everything that a city would need and could provide. Problem is- it was always destined to have the same amount of available space. So while the other cities grew and evolved and flourished, Kathmandu pretty much remained devoid of any growth spurt. We only have a rise in the number of redundant plazas with passé stores to pass off as progress. Urban migration is a total bitch. I am not denying that the city does have its touch of charming, archaic architecture and an abundance of quaint around-the-corner temples and shrines. All I am saying is, these lay in shambles and with modern buildings thrown into the picture where convenient, the medieval allure is short-lived, especially so when you live here and are not on a vacation photographing ruins and trying to find symbolic meaning in a disintegrated infrastructure. The brick-paved streets were never designed to withstand the weight of heavy vehicles and the narrow roads were never laid down to accommodate the millions of vehicles that now ply through the roads. We do not really have a plan or proper management of anything under the Kathmandu sun. The traffic was routinely bad and just as we were nearing our destination, the cab driver got a call, probably a reminder about an appointment from the sound of it and as he hung up, he immediately pointed out that there was a traffic jam building up and I should probably walk the last stretch and save some money in the process. I agreed, paid him his atrocious fare and stepped out of his wreck.

=]

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Its morning now and the bright, sunshiny October air brings a smile to my face. This is something I love about Kathmandu; even the most frigid of winter mornings have their fog stripped away eventually and the sun shines bright and clear. Clarity is always at hand. The dust is a completely different front. It is also the reason Kathmandu has face masks selling like the national flag at some parade. It is still home though and I do love it so. It is small, enchanting, peculiarly warm city that houses almost all of Nepal while bursting at the seams. It is a city that echoes the life-style of its inhabitants flawlessly. It is a city dying a slow, painful death and groaning in anguish every time a bus arrives bringing forth a new wave of rural migrants to the heart of Nepal. I should assert here that I do not really shun urban migration, especially when it is a result of tyrannical suppression back home. When I was reading Shantaram a couple of years ago, the author had used the phrase ‘organized chaos’ to describe the life in Mumbai. Retrospectively, I had felt that the same could be said for Kathmandu. However, watching the city squirm and twist and turn in agitated agony, I’ve decided that there’s nothing organized about the circumstances; any pattern that takes form out of the anarchic disarray is completely accidental and there is nothing appealing or fascinating about it.

I picked up the balcony tickets for the 6:15 PM show and headed to a nearby café called Imago Del. Places like these never cease to amaze me. Tucked away from the main road, this bistro was the perfect refuge for someone with a book and lots of time to kill. The tranquil environment was supplemented by the lush flora planted around the compound. I picked out table at the corner of the stone-paved compound, pulled out my Wells Tower book, ordered a cappuccino and immersed myself in poignant literature. The skies were clear and the clouds snow white. Picturesque peace never fails to pacify and soothe internal strife. The book was sheer brilliance, the drink- a trip for the taste buds. I must have been close to shooting rainbows out of my ears and petting the unicorn that had wandered grazing to nibble on the rose buds growing next to me. It feels so good to retreat from all your problems and just coil up and bask in the warm afternoon sun. Evening was settling in, however, when she walked in. Her office was just around the corner and she was out on a break. We hung around for a bit while tasting some of the most delicious cheesecake ever. She had to leave in a bit though and I decided to walk her back and then walk on to City Centre to meet a cousin who I hadn’t met for a bit. I had heard that he had a store there and I thought I would surprise him. We were pretty close back then but then parental supervision, polygamy, early parenthood, distance, etc. did a pretty good job of driving us apart. As I made my way to City Centre, I imagined meeting him and envisaging our exchange. Cars sped down the narrow one-way street, kicking up the dust and almost ramming pedestrians while avoiding pot-holes, as Kathmandu bathed in the golden brilliance of dusk. I had an hour to kill before the movie.

Every time I land at Tribhuvan International Airport, time freezes. This happens without fail. I step off an Air India flight into the sweet, cold Kathmandu air and the worn-out tarmac, and the grains of the time stop falling through the hour-glass. Gravity is inversed and entirely disobeyed. Kathmandu is unhurried like that. I have been home for a week now and I can’t recollect how I have spent the last seven days. Everything is just packaged into a gray accumulation of days, events, and people. No one ages in Kathmandu. It is a pity that most are born old. Every day, I have been glancing at my watch at mid-day to find that it is around 2 PM. In Bangalore, my days are half done by then, and the better half is yet to come. In a way, at 2 PM, my day in Bangalore hasn’t even begun. Here, it concludes shortly after mid-day. I reached City Centre and looked for my cousin’s shop. I was pretty confident that I would be able to find it after a bit of searching. I rambled through all the levels of the mall atleast half a dozen times until thwarted, I finally acknowledged defeat. Kathmandu can, ostensibly, expand and be pretty huge at times.

I checked my watch to find that I had just enough time to walk to the movie hall and wait. I ambled along the dusty road once more to reach first and have just enough time to find a quiet corner and knock a few pages off my book as the skies finally turned dark. Chilliness was settling into the air but strangely, it just made me more aware of my warmth.

Like you must have already guessed by now, we *did* watch Anjaana Anjaani. The lesser I talk about that movie, the better. Let’s not end this on an unpleasant note. *runs into a dark corner, vomits, breaks down and cries*

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