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When Reetu Returns

– Kashiraj Pandey 
“There is a new face in the village.”
 The headman is informed by one of the village women.
“Yeah, he must be a tourist who might want to stay here for a couple of nights and might leave.” Says Jimuwal, the headman.
“Jimuwaal Baa, Jimuwaal Baa
Shouts another Youngman from the distance – a clear voice some two kilometers away, very audible, very familiar.
“Oh, Hello? Who is that?” replies the headman.
“This is Ramesh, Jimuwaal Baa. I just wanted to make sure you are home.” As he adds, “I am coming to you with guests, a couple from Amrika.”
“Oh yes, come on by”, says Jimuwaal Baa.
“Namaste Jimuwaal Baa”
Ramesh greets the headman and both the Amrikans also exchange greetings with him.
“I heard about you.” Says Jimuwal Baa.
 There had come a woman that morning who had told him that she had noticed a new person in the village.
“Where have you come from?”—
“England, do you know?” The couple spoke in unison.
“Oh yes, yes, Amrika”, replied the headman.
“Amrikans come and visit our village. Some years ago, many Amrikans would come and stay here almost every day, but for the last couple of years I have not noticed any. Amrikans favor this village very much. You see, tourists can see the mountains from here so clearly. They give money, stationery and sweets to our children. Last year, one Amrikan even brought books, a bagful of books, from London where she came from. She worked in our village primary school for a month. She lived in that shed, down there, above the cow shed. Downstairs we keep cows and upstairs a room to live. We have even constructed a toilet for that Amrikan. She was so shy to go to the toilet in public, or even in an open space. And, she was the one who persuaded us to construct more toilets in our village. Now, each household has at least one toilet in the village. So, we value Amrikans very much.”
“Ramesh, what a beautiful scene, especially when the first rays of sunlight reach the mountain peak; so vibrant, so enchanting”, observes Mike, the male tourist.
“Yeah, beautiful for you but our people do not have time to regard the beauty of nature like this. Their days come and go routinely. They are more worried about earning their bread, even without butter! They take nature for granted, expecting it to readily support their needs. Tourists view it as an opportunity of a lifetime to experience the ecstasy and the bliss of nature; they feel as if they are in heaven whenever or however they visit this place.”
 Mike interrupts, “Ramesh, Look! What a nice baby goat, we never see them in our country. Right, Isabelle?”
Isabelle smiles and says, “Yeah- amazing! How lovely are these goats, buffaloes, and the vegetables in the kitchen garden, so lively, so fresh.”
Visiting the remote village as a tourist was nostalgic; totally lost was Isabelle, now a young woman. They had just arrived the previous week, had been in Kathmandu for three days, taken a mountain flight, and come directly to the village.
For a long time she had carefully kept her identity card with an old photograph glued to it. She now removed it from her purse. The card read, “Reetu Nepal, Grade Two, Roll no. one.” The name of the school- Shree Pancha Kumari Primary School, Dhading, formed the background.
Isabelle showed the card to Ramesh. Ramesh, a guide belonging to a trekking company had not realized the tourists’ motive in visiting the village. Ramesh too had attended Pancha Kumari School. He studied and took his SLC at the same school, some nine or ten years ago and knew everything about it.
Ramesh, who had never met his parents, had left the village on passing his SLC. It was also his first visit to this place since he had left. Although he lost his parents at an early age, the people in the village remembered how they loved and cared Ramesh over all those years. Ramesh also remembers his people telling him the story of his parents who had died right after he was born, one after the other, within a year’s time. The villagers a long time ago had also told him about his sister who was ten years older than him. That’s all he knew about his family. He is so indebted to the villagers for they all were compassionate to him which was more of an incentive to return than the orders his company had given.
Ramesh, looking at the card more seriously, reads aloud—Reetu Nepal, a card of a student who went to Pancha Kumari school years back in history for him. The date read as “Expiry: 1981 January 14”, 21 years ago from February 20, 2005 – the present date. Ramesh, also with his family name “Nepal”, recalls the story of the girl Reetu, doubting whether this Reetu was his own sister who he remembers the villagers telling him of who was sent to the city after their parents died.
An old woman from the village appeared and he showed her the picture. Sitting next to the tourists, “Aren’t you Ramesh, how can I forget you my love?” the old woman says, “oh, yeah! This picture – I remember.”
“Baboo! This seems like your sister, Reetu. She was both a brilliant and beautiful girl. We could not keep her with us. Some twenty to twenty two years ago, before you were born, there lived a fine family of three; a young couple with a daughter. They were your father, mother, and sister, Reetu. After your birth the couple died. Your father had a serious disease, HIV, which he caught from Bombay, the colorful city of India where he had gone to work for some years. And your mother followed the same fate. The man died almost five or six months before the woman, and before you were born. After the man’s death, the woman, who was also pregnant, gave birth to a boy. That’s you, Ramesh. She died some two months after your arrival.”
“ Reetu, your sister”—looking at the picture the old lady unravels, “so cute but little mischievous, I still remember had a hard time to live a life here in the village so we sent her to the city with Kainla, who had a mason’s job in Kathmandu. Kainla later told us that a kind gentleman took Reetu to a charity that accepted orphans for foreigners to adopt. A year later, when my husband went to Kathmandu, I asked him to find her and bring her back to the village, to our home if she wished. He said he could not trace her, a story from some 20 years ago. Who gave you this card, Ramesh?”
Ramesh replied, “The Amrikans.” This young couple have come from London to see our village. The company I work for asked me if I could be their guide. I accepted the deal and I am with them. The card belongs to this lady. The old woman looking at Isabelle, was puzzled for some time and tells Ramesh in Nepali to ask the young lady how she got that card. Ramesh, translating repeats, “Where did you get the card from?”
“This is my card. My own card”, Isabelle replies. “This is all I have since I was taken away from my birthplace, nothing more, and nothing I remember more than this except some shallow images of the hills, the mountains, and the clearing nearby. I was given everything; a new name, food, shelter, and support. I have been treasuring this card as though it were a part of my body and the same card has brought me back to this village now.
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Literature

 

Dolmia’s Different Direction

 – Kashiraj Pandey
A middle-aged woman, tall and tired, accompanied by a charming child steps down from an airliner that brings the majority of workers back home and some tourists to Kathmandu from the Middle East everyday around lunch time.
Everybody was in a hurry to reach their destination, some to their long missed family members and others to a hotel, most probably.  Dolmia, a village lady, who had left home some ten years ago, now with her baby appeared so lonely and confused. The beautifying new set of garments and high-heeled shoes she wore made her look younger than her actual age. She was sitting with a boy in one of the far off rows of chairs that otherwise would be occupied only during the rush hour. She neither talked to anyone nor moved ahead towards immigration.
People came and went, passengers from around the globe, some from Bangkok, some from Beijing, and others from Delhi or Doha. Nothing touched her. Everyone looked at her and passed by. 
“Mamma, Lit’s go”, says Mohammed who is visiting Nepal for the first time. 
“See mamma… there”. The boy poking his mother points in the direction of all the other passengers waiting for their turn to be cleared by immigration.
“Wait for some time. I am wondering where to go”.
“Everyone has gone over there. I am hungry.”
“Okay. Here you go.”
Dolmia unzips her hand bag, takes out a packet of biscuits, and gives them to Mohammed. “Great”, expressed with a sense of happiness on finding some water saved from the flight, and a muffin.  She gives them to her boy. 
She stares at everyone who passes the arrival desk when everything around seems so alien to her.
“Dolmia Lama from Qatar” shouts the airline staff. Full of mirage, she wakes up. 

“Yes, Yes. I am here.” 
“Oh you have unclaimed baggage. Yours is the only one left from Flight 354. We were wondering what had happened to you. Please come and take your stuff. Two pieces, right?”
“Yes.”
Dolmia proceeds further, fills in the form, and passes through immigration. The man at the counter stares at them, verifying their documents; Mohammed, a very unlikely name to suit this Family of Dolmia. After official procedures, they walk down to the baggage claim, then to the customs counter, and then outside.
Fresh air and a natural life with all her people, people all alike, her own type. 
Dolmia is very nostalgic. It’s a cool and chilly afternoon. 
Dolmia and Mohammad on one side and a whole lot of people gazing at them on the other. Some were waiting to receive their own friends and relatives and others for the tourists. No one knew about Dolmia’s arrival today. Today, she is with Mohammad, her 6 year old child.
“Mohammed, your name is Mohan from today. You can call me by the same name, “mamma” but you will be addressed as Mohan. No one ever from now onwards will call you Mohammed.
“And Papa?”
“No. We will not meet him again and you will never remember that man. He will be forgotten.”
……
Dolmia was alone when she left Nepal. She had promised with Karma and two grown up girls that she would return soon with much affluence. She left this fantastic family with hope that one day she would return and pay off their loans and buy their own piece of land to build a home of their own. Her mission was to work in Qatar for three years as a caregiver. 
All her life in Nepal, she was a good wife, a mother of two girls, and an honest member of the society. The poor economic condition of the family was responsible for sending her abroad. It was against her interest but the very usual trend of people in her village forced her to think of foreign employment.
After long and deep consideration, the family together took the decision that Dolmia would go to Qatar for three years while Karma would take care of the two girls in her absence. Karma, though he had never gone to school himself, was very devotional and dedicated to the prosperity of their children’s future. He raised the girls with full care — fed them well and sent them to school with appropriate amenities. Dolmia too would send money to the family, until she experienced a twist in her life. 
Waiting outside the airport, where many taxi drivers ask her destination at minute intervals, Dolmia is speechless. 
She talks to herself, “should I go to my own family, to relatives, or towards an unknown place to other people?” 
Seeing his mother in a very confused state, Mohan speaks.
“Mamma, what are we waiting here for? Let’s go to meet my sisters. You said I have two lovely sisters waiting to see me, didn’t you?”
“Darling! Hold on. Let me think.”
“What mamma? What has happened to you today? I am so excited to meet and play with my sisters.”
“Mohan, my dear son, as I changed your name today, everything has changed. We are neither seeing Karma, nor your sisters. We should go to a hotel, to a place where no one knows us. A place where we two can have our own world, my space and Mohan’s space. A new place where you will play with me, and I with you. Something that we never had. ”
“Taxi…. taxi…. !” Shouts Dolmia. 
“Take us to a moderate hotel, will you?”
“Rupees 1000, for the ride. I will drop you at a nice hotel with a very reasonable tariff.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Literature