The first days back in the tropics took a little adjustment. Memories of the brisk-paced city were lucid and poignant but the senses, having taken a euphonious nature of rural mellowness for a good time, took to returning with less fervent. There was the constant hum of the compressor in the background, the impatient and incessant traffic that had a life of its own and the glaring street lights that defies night. There are times when everything seems seen and re-seen even though we have yet to see it and for a brief moment I found myself in this indefinable space pulled between two homes. As the third day came along, it was as if rural Nepal was a distant dream. People moved wearily and we moved with them always conscious of time whilst staring into expressionless, masked faces. Something different seemed to be stirring from inside. The mask had seemed to accessorise distance, dissociation, detachment and perhaps, a habitual state of fear. But the eyes and eyebrows spoke. There were eyes that longed to overcome lassitude and lethargy, eyes that looked and stared but saw nothing, eyes that saw only what they wanted to see, and eyes that had a glint of hope and better times. Then realisation dawned. Anything and everything, depending on how it is perceived at that given moment – beauty or hindrance, a path or a problem – pointed towards my frame of mind. The frown that had begun to pucker my forehead smoothed out.
We quickly settled back into the familiar routine of school prep and the morning runs for a week. “Why am I going to school when this is supposed to be a holiday?” Big A wails. “Well, I believe that you are attending school for 5 days this year and if you recall there are a total of 365 days which amounts to an almost insignificant 1.4% statistically.” Mama I had anticipated that the sloth nature of the tween could kick in and had loaded herself. The conversation rolled into a familiar ground of debate. Big A knew the reasons well enough to pack his lunch but a sense of nervousness was detected from his sudden outburst. He had worked hard on the Onboarding Quest for the last 5 weeks prior to attending the first week of Middle School, a pre-requisite required. He knew there were old familiar faces to greet him but his trepidation of beginning a new phase that required hard work, or perhaps his feeling of awkwardness from his recent physical growth had translated into a kind of reservation.
Monday morning came and we set out to drive through the traffic rushes and scheduled appointments. We obliged as much as Time would allow, being with the people who occupy our lives and who continue to support our journey of completing the project. The conversations varied with a potpourri of people and penetrating perspectives. Family separations. Lockdown and surveillance. Covid and China’s agenda. Death and loss of loved ones. Technology and education. Discovering a personal journey. Broken and renewed friendships. Vexing relationships. Depression and mental illness. Rekindling fresh sparks and picking up the pieces. Losing livelihoods and starting all over again. Everyone and everyone had been through their shades of difficulties and hardships.
But the beauty lay stark, nude in its budding manifestation. They made their way back, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, some things shifted and normality took a new definition. I tried to make sense of it all. It helps to know that we are all here together to make the best of what we have and how a collective can make a difference. I am glad the invites that came our way were responded to on our part, with yes-es. Everyone had their own stories to tell, to depict, to portray and to enrich our scope of life.
As we left Big A at school, I drove Little A and Cousin R in search of nasi lemak. That was pretty much what Little A wanted to eat every day. “Not fair! Dump me at school while you guys hang out and eat nasi lemak!” Big A’s moans reverberated in the distance. Little A and his Cousin R were like 2 peas in a pod, packed with zest and laughter. I turned off the radio having caught an interest in their conversation, both wanting to outdo each other on what, which and why they thought were sexy or sexier. The ‘sexy conversation’ rolled on all morning, picking up where they had stopped when they were stopped, and often enough there was no stopping them. “The universe is the sexiest. It is naked, it doesn’t wear clothes, it never dies and has a black hole!” Raptures of laughter followed and were swiftly counteracted with another before I could even digest it, “No, No! The vacuum cleaner is the sexiest. It has a long dick and it sucks everything!” It helps that we are enclosed in a car, I chuckled to myself. “Wait. What about that sexy building? (both pointing at Merdeka Tower on the horizon). It looks like it’s trying to take off its clothes but is stuck.” When there are no boundaries, ideas overflow.
We spent our last day in KL at Escape with C, K and Z. I wanted to be the bigger kid, if not the biggest and allowed myself the disposition to have more fun than the others. The obstacles got testing as they cascaded upwards toward the five-storey atrium and we were greeted with windy rushes from a gigantic swivelling fan. There were the usual manners of mechanical clamping, clipping and clutching; but it was soon discovered that one could flow through the course with more ease by ascending with a lighter foot and a little jig. Seeing the expanse below from an eager height, I felt like a clipped bird set free. The vast roof space provided an escape from parent duty for a period enough to give memories worth reminiscing. I see the shapes of my boys hankering and zipping below independently, giving a future glimpse of what it could be like when they are ready to zip away from home. Big A faced his challenges, much larger than he had anticipated but stayed on course with incredible moral support from K whose courage surpasses any other kid I know of his age. They completed the entire circuit together which brought big smiles to one and relief to the other. By the end of the day, in the spirit of monkey business, we would not have said no if there was another level sprawling over the roof.
With stretched muscles and wearied eyes, we made our way to KLIA to catch the first flight out back to Kathmandu. Uncle EJ had made all travel arrangements smooth and comfortable for us to savour the last bit of home whilst Uncle R received us on the other side. There is much to say about the sweetness of life when drizzled with love and generosity from brothers and sisters who are always a sturdy beacon ready to lighten the path when needed.
I woke up the next day with the warm familiar feeling of having come home to the mountains. A faint slither of light fell upon my sight as I sipped my cup of coffee and as the gaze turned upwards; the towering Himalaya greeted the chill of late September with fresh snow and a whiff of autumn. I fell in love again, loving the stillness of dawn when all is sublimely quiet and, especially the stillness made more still by dripping droplets from the rainspout. The mountain, both metaphor and non-metaphor feeds my senses and opens out to a journey; a humbling kind that recognises that I am just one amongst many whose existence is no more significant than any other. As the soundscape rises with the first rays of the sun, there is interference and intervention and an invitation to connect with what we had left two and a half weeks ago.
G had stayed behind working on the landscape with the stonemasons and keeping the flow moving with interior installation of the last two structures. He grinned hungrily when given his treat of mooncakes, a far cry from the meagre meals he had prepared on his own in our absence. “It’s my turn to go the next time!” he exclaims with a hint of regret.
With deft fingers, the tile setter knocks the tiles into place setting the pieces neatly on a moist layer of mortar and working his way out from the centre of the room. The deep burnt orange and brown terracotta pieces freshly laid begins to give glowing warmth with the marriage of earth walls, its aesthetics keeping true to the constitution of its elemental makeup. The woodworkers assembled the measured cut-up carcasses in the rooms next door, piecing the pieces together and promising a coming-to-an-end phase. The residential rooms are beginning to take shape as the monsoon rain dissipates. Or so we thought.
Another outpouring from the skies came unannounced and has yet to stop. It has been 3 nights and 3 days of relentless rain. Familiar faces came splashing through puddles of mud with wet feet, stained churidars and salwars and drenched faces to receive their blessings on Dahsain from Ama and G. The stonemasons have taken a break to celebrate with their families in Tanahun. Although their work has been compromised throughout the monsoon, their mark on the landscape is vivid and encouraging. The four young men remind us of the Jumla boys. These are men with ancestral tribal roots that have the ability to flow and ebb with the ways of nature, needing very little to do the job but getting the job done anyway.
The dense forest ever ready to seize and take over the temporal landscape continue to spread her seeds of weeds. A deer, a golden tan against the starkness of robust green peered through the foliage with round soft eyes. With a tiny sound of crunching muffled by the dampness of the ground, the deer chewed on buds and young leaves a few metres from the grounds of the yoga shala, curtained by wild marigolds but unhindered by G’s observing eye and camera lens. A new tranquillity had come. It was a quietness that was like the beginning of a new season and without thinking, I know not why it had come. Under the temporary chrysalis of comfort and convenience living in the places I grew up, what lived on is still living and breathing. Still the same will, ephemeral, elusive, fleeting enough to let know that the air we inhale is the air we exhale.
I stare at the screen morning after morning bound by some inner compulsion trying to find the words to string. There was something that needed saying but I didn’t quite know how. Time ticked. Illumination glowed dimly from within.
There is always blood knowledge of inheritance given by forefathers and foremothers, fathers and mothers, whose lives were obscure and hard and whose work ethic was to present to the world that was often expressionless in the giving. They did and do not give voice to their hardships but common awareness is felt and touched in ways that are hidden. We cannot hide it because our experience is always reminding us of it and we betray ourselves when we speak, not of it. We are a piece of what was, and is, and a piece of what will be. On the threshold of awareness, I am reminded why the calling from the wilderness is magnetic. There is the urge to will and to survive and to find meaning in what gives, and that, which gives so freely. When all pieces find their places in their lifetimes and cyclic turbulences are overcome, there need not be another song of soliloquy for we come into this world alone and we will leave this world alone. But not without the love that accompanies us through it.