‘A City Fit for Royals’ by Shweta Sinha #TheCityasMuse Special Mention
As an IT professional, Shweta Sinha has been to several places around the world. When what is seen is not enough, she loves conjuring up worlds through her writing. Her stories and articles have been published on Kinooze.com, a children’s news website, and in Woman’s Era. There’s more from her at http://shwetasheel.wordpress.com. An avid reader, Shweta believes books complete her world that she otherwise shares with her husband, two boys, parents and an aquarium full of colourful fishes.
Comment: Shweta’s intensely personal and emotional piece on Kathmandu delves deep into nostalgia, but leaves a mark by making a poignant statement about the ethos of her city.
A CITY FIT FOR ROYALS
Houses crumbling to dust, the air resounding with haunting cries, historic monuments turning to history – these images rocked the world only months ago. While they shook every heart, mine bled with an unfamiliar angst. For the city of Kathmandu had always been my paradise.
The snow-capped Himalayas, casting their protective shadows over the valley, added a mystical allure to the exquisitely carved wooden houses. Smiling faces ambled the narrow, winding paths, nattering in a language that made them sing. My earliest memories from the 70’s consist of scuttling up a creaking wooden staircase into the attic kitchen, drawn by an aroma of sautéed jeera dunk into freshly boiled pulses. Of huddling together at bedtime, listening to my grandfather describe his treks across the mountains to the valley. Tall tales littered with sky-high bears and walls running through the wilderness that slithered and morphed into hissing snakes. His month-long hike sounded much more thrilling than our journey on rickety buses scraping the curvaceous mountain roads.
Kathmandu was once a shoppers’ delight for all things foreign. Summer after summer I waited with unbridled eagerness to spot the latest Hot wheels model or buy a blonde-haired doll. Sometimes Nani would tag me along to the teeming bylanes of the old-town market. She would pause at shops displaying hordes of ‘potey’ in red, blue, green and a myriad other colours. Miniscule beads, strung together into brilliantly crafted necklaces. Nani would haggle in Nepali while I pretended to follow every word. At the end, the shopkeeper, often dressed in a red saree over a white and red cholo, conceded to sell at Nani’s quoted price. As she stuffed the selected necklaces into paper packets, the lady would flash me a grin and ask my Nani if I were her ‘chhori‘. Shy at the sudden attention, I would wrap my tiny self in the loose end of my grandmother’s saree.
The city gave me my first fizz of Coca Cola, a drink banned in India then. Eons before they became ingrained in the Delhi street food culture, spicy momos gained popularity in the Kathmandu eateries. The flavour of the tangy-sweet-spicy titaura, a local version of candy made from fruit, still tingles my taste buds. If you’ve ever tasted one, I’m sure you’re already drooling. If you’ve not, you’re missing something.
My grandparents’ house provided an unhindered view of the royal palace grounds. Often I would find myself in the balcony, gazing at the ten-foot high brick wall surrounding a thicket of trees that hid the Narayan Hiti Durbar from prying eyes, even as I dreamt of the life the imperial family led inside. But never did I envision the gory circumstances that tainted the dazzling white walls a dirty red.
Jokes about Nepali watchmen abound, shared with an iota of smug merriment. To me, however, Nepal remains the country of the Sherpa who stepped aside to let Hillary claim his name to fame. A country whose spirit no calamity dare suppress. Kathmandu – the city with the wooden house – will resurrect itself with unforgettable smiles.