A stroll around old alleysIf only I were rich, I used to say to myself long ago, but not anymore because in all likelihood I never will be.
It is 12 o’clock on a pleasant Wednesday afternoon. I find myself, as any unemployed man with a commerce degree would, taking a stroll along the ever-busy roads leading up to Maha Bouddha. A lot has changed over the years. The passing vehicles no longer provide a soundtrack to the energetic verses spit by the one-man marketing department of public vehicles, and Durbar High School opened by the Ranas now stands rejuvenated after an apparent makeover courtesy of the Chinese. Alas, the pond across the road and Dharahara, which is only a few minutes away on foot, still haven’t made it out of the operation theatre of post-earthquake recovery. One can only wonder about the cause of such discrepancy.
Much has changed over the years, I say again—and that is true—but much has stayed the same too. The sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians who are always accompanied by their two friends—masks and earphones—and those who don’t have the latter find themselves being tempted by a budding retailer with a cheap model that lets out sound as if it was coming off a radio. I make my way past the bus stop area and I hear the pleas of an old woman. I offer her monetary assistance that would barely cover a bus fare, all the while feeling happy with my act of generosity.
I continue ahead and I see many more like her but at the same time, I also do not see them, half expecting they also do not see me, and my reluctance to open my wallet filled with money, handed out to me, albeit in limited amounts, by virtue of birth. But then again, the process of subtraction is as such that it does not bode well with the material pursuits of youth. If only I were rich, I used to say to myself long ago, but not anymore because in all likelihood I never will be.
I take a turn and I enter the main road leading up to the shop I am looking for. If it were up to me, I probably would never find the place but thank god for Google maps. Granted they’re getting rich out of selling my info to some Russian bot who probably knows more about my preferences than I myself, but the convenience they offer is something I cannot complain about.
In the distance, I see a white man taking photographs of the intricately carved markings on a temple which would otherwise never get my attention had it not been for his apparent curiosity. And turns out, it is indeed beautiful, especially when you take into account the horrendous concrete slabs surrounding the area that the inheritors of this fine temple now live in. Having a full stomach without having to work, I find, is the biggest killer of innovation. Somewhere down the line, creativity must have been usurped by the phenomena of rent-seeking, the leader of which undoubtedly was and still is the state.
The photographer arches his head back and then some as he looks at the monitor of his camera before letting out a smile. Judging by the lense on his device and his position from the subject, I can tell that it’s a close up, which makes sense because the hashtag ‘beautiful Nepal’ wouldn’t be quite the apt description if it was photobombed by the mountain of trash resting nearby. I take a moment to ring the large bell outside the temple and I pray that my pending college applications end up with favourable outcomes. When I was young it was only on Saraswati Puja that I’d remember the divine, but now as I get older and independence awaits me at the horizon, I tend to frequent god’s premises a lot more often, knowing that even in autonomy you need to have someone’s blessings.
As I finish my selfish prayer I turn around and I am surprised to find the white man with the camera standing right in front of me. I offer him a smile that he can later use as evidence of friendly behaviour when leaving a review on Trip Adviser, and I proceed to go around him. “Excuse me,” but the man says, “Do you know the name of this temple?”
I take a moment to think about my response, and then like any bilingual person, translate that thought into foreign speech, before offering my best English accent which I would otherwise never showcase unless in front of another white person. The entire ordeal is summed up in three words, or four upon expansion, “I don’t know.”
“No worries mate”, the man is quick to reply.
“But Buddha was born in Nepal,” I say to him and I get away.
I open my phone and continue along the trail that Google maps has proposed to me. After the earthquake of 2015, every time I visit narrow streets lined on both sides by houses, an image of a possible earthquake flashes in my mind albeit not for long. With each passing year, the image takes up less and less of my time. Perhaps eventually it will disappear altogether like it has from the minds of many. The person who said ‘Ignorance is bliss’ must have seen the Nepali way of life.
As I approach the shop I am looking for, which according to the map is 50 metres away from the first right, I spot a person holding a camera yet again—but this time it is someone who is a local.
The young bloke seems to be interested in filming the streets that we now walk in, which despite its apparent simplicity, I’d wager, will end up looking quite magnificent in someone else’s newsfeed. I remember the time when I saw the photos of Rani Pokhari sometime during Tihar and was left in awe of it. But when visiting the actual site the very next day, I could find none of what the photographs had promised. A picture tells a thousand words, but apparently not enough to fit in a disclaimer to address the discrepancy between expectation and reality.
Perhaps the new-found passion for photography among the Nepali youth, further proliferated by the use of Adobe Photoshop and the likes, makes us momentarily forget how bad things actually are. Before I take the final right, I notice the 50mm lens on the young bloke’s camera. I think to myself, maybe a wide angle reveals too much for our liking and we would rather avoid the inconvenience such an accommodating picture would invite. I make my way to the end of the street but there is no sign of any shops.
I look at my screen and it says, “You have arrived at your destination”. I dial the number of the shop, again given to me by Google, but it does not go through. I take a deep sigh. So much for convenience.