A voyage through timeAlthough he had walked this road daily for a year, today he was conscious of a strange change. His instincts were screaming at him. Holding his breath, he paused and looked around.
As Prajwal Kharel walked in the dark, dusty street of Naghpokhari, he felt a niggling sense of unease. He sensed something unusual, like he was walking through a different town. Something had changed. But he couldn’t put his finger on as to what had. Prajwal walked unsteadily; he was still disoriented from the long nap he had just taken. He had a habit of going for an evening walk before his evening meal.
Although he had walked this road daily for a year, today he was conscious of a strange change. His instincts were screaming at him. Holding his breath, he paused and looked around. The old Newari houses that looked old and worn out looked strong and brand new. The government must’ve fixed the historical houses, he thought. He scratched his head: but how did they do it in one night?
As he stepped onto the pavements of Narayanhiti, he felt like something had exploded in his chest. Like a dead man being stirred violently into pulsing life, he felt life seep into him. The cloud of sleep evaporated. He looked around. The pavement was deserted. Strange, he had always jostled through a crowd of people. Maybe he came out a little late today. He looked at his watch, it was 6:30. The days were getting shorter. He examined the pavement closely; they seemed to have been made of tiny pebbles. In the blue darkness, the houses had a ghostly presence. The place seemed to have gone through a bewildering transformation.
He shook his head violently: I’ve got to get a grip upon myself he whispered. I’ve overslept today, that’s what it is. Taking a deep breath, he moved steadily towards Narayanhiti. The mist had covered the whole place and darkness was deepening. When he reached halfway through the palace, he placed his hands on his knees and panted.
Suddenly, the streets were illuminated by a fiery light from a distance. He looked ahead, gaped with wonder. Strength flooded into his soul and he ambled confidently. A loud crashing sound echoed and a long shadow slipped into the street, lengthened and rose into the houses on the other side of the road. Prajwal froze on his tracks. Loud noise rang like a peal of thunder: “Catch him, catch that bastard”, and three other shadows trembled on the wall. A solitary figure emerged from the darkness into the street and ran violently towards Prajwal. Prajwol looked at him in stunned amazement. The man wore clothes he had only seen in social studies books—a black daura suruwal—and he was clutching a red, bulging bag to his chest. Two other figures lurched into the scene and began chasing the man. Prajwals jaw dropped: they were wearing old Gorkha uniforms. A black daura suruwal with a white cloth around the waist, and a turban with a round silver badge on the head. As the men rushed past him, they turned their eyes and gave him an unwelcome stare. As the thrill subsided, he felt sick and missed home.
Feeling unmanned, Prajwa hurried for his home in Thamel. As he passed through the palace, he decided to give the palace one last, longing gaze. What he saw stopped him dead on his tracks. The Narayanhithi palace was gone. He squinted his eyes shut, rubbed them hard and opened. The palace had been replaced by a big, white colonial building. It was the most magnificent thing he’d ever seen, but it wasn’t the palace.
“Hey” a hoarse voice boomed and the guard flung himself at Prajwal with frightening fury and seized him by his shirt.
“What are you doing in the Narayanhiti gate at this time at night? And what the hell are you wearing? Are you a foreigner? Do you work for the Firangis? Where the hell are you from?”
Prajwol looked at him in feverish confusion. The guard shook him viciously. The language that the guard used was archaic Nepali. It took time for the guards' words to sink in Prajwals head.
“Whaaaat… what year is this?” he managed feebly.
The guard left his shirt. “You know Nepali? But what accent is that? Are you an easterner?”
“I’m from Kathmandu. From here.” He managed.
“Kathmandu? Where is that?” The guard was annoyed.
“Kasthamandap. I live in Kasthamandap.” His voice was choked.
“Then where the hell did you pick that accent? Are you a spy from the British Raj? Who are you?”
“What year is this?”
“It’s Bikram Sambat 1895. You must be a peasant. I don’t understand you or your beastly garments. What kind of beggarly clothes are you wearing? Go home and put on some decent clothes. I don’t want to see you around in these beastly things.” He pointed at Prajwol's shirt.
“Now go, you beast,' the guard pushed him, and Prajwal sprang towards the darkness in blind terror. He was now engulfed in the darkness, and as he ran wildly, his foot struck a stray rock and he fell face first into the floor, losing consciousness.
He woke up to the sound of fluttering birds. He turned his head to the heavens. Hundreds of pigeons were sailing in the grey, morning sky. As the faint morning sunlight broke, the pavement's memory came rushing back to Prajwal Kharel. A brutal, throbbing pain came to his head, as he looked around. A maruti taxi wheezed past him and Prajwal breathed a sigh of relief. It was all a dream, a frightful nightmare. He had fainted on the street and had imagined it all. Stroking his hurt forehead and consoling him with these explanations, Prajwol walked slowly to his home. At the back of his mind the horrible, haunting memories clung firmly like a tight and sweaty sock.