Welcoming the Monsoon

Kathmandu has been wet this year. It rained throughout April and May only to be called pre-Monsoon by Meteorologists. Monsoon has just arrived and they say it will rain as much as it should.

On Sunday morning, the typical Monsoon clouds poured–the soft drizzle that comes down without much noise. It was fun walking in the rain with an umbrella over my head.

The rain stopped before I reached college. I put the umbrella in the corridor for drying, complained with my friends how it rained and ruined every morning, and attended my classes.

Later that day, I realized I lost my umbrella. It was a new one my Mom had bought less than a fortnight ago. She murmured about how careless I had been. She had the right to be angry. What would I do without a good umbrella this Monsoon? All I could do was say, “Let it be. If it’s gone, we won’t get it back lamenting.

I had lost it. But where?

“It was in the corridor,” you might say but I didn’t tell you that I had folded it as we went away to a canteen for lunch. I remembered taking the umbrella there but could not remember carrying it back. If the canteen owner had found it, it would be safe. If somebody else had found it, it would be gone.

Thankfully, I got the umbrella from the owner. She had kept it! I was speechless because I had not thought I would get the umbrella again. She brought me to senses by asking for a “Thank you”. (I was about to thank her anyway!) So, I thanked her.

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Red Sun

Sun is red in the sky!

Could it be Dawn or Dusk?
Could it be a new beginning?
Or beginning of an end
Of all the red spilled
In the forests, streets and homes?

Will the blue-bordered red
Continue to smile as it does
Under the red sun?

रातो सूर्य

सूर्य रातो छ नभमा
मिर्मिरे हो या सन्ध्या ?

नयाँ सुरुवात ?
वा अन्त्यको सुरुवात
सडक, गल्ली र घरहरूमा
बगेको लाल रङ्गको ?

नीलो किनाराले घेरेको रातो
मुस्कुराइ रहला
सूर्यको लाल प्रकाशमा ?

चुप !

थाहा थियो तर चुप थियौँ । बोल्यो कि पोल्यो ! अपशब्दको वर्षा हुन्थ्यो । बोल्न खोज्नेलाई किचकिचे बनाइदिन्थ्यौँ । चुप बस्थ्यौँ । अझै पनि खुलेर बोलेका छैनौँ ।

सार्वजनिक यातायातमा अनेक सास्ती भोगेर यात्रा गरेका छौँ त्यो पनि प्रायः जसो बढी शुल्कमा । १३ रूपैयाँ लाग्ने ठाउँमा १५ रूपैयाँ तिरेका छौँ । यस्तो होइन भन्यो भने कुनै यात्रीले नै भनिदिन्छ, “दुई रूपैयाँको लागि किचकिच किन गर्‍या ?” लाग्छ, दुई रूपैयाँ त साह्रै सानो रकम हो जसका लागि बोल्नु पनि पाप हो ।

हामी सौखिन नेपालीहरूलाई सिक्का बोक्न मन लाग्दैन । १, २ रूपैयाँको नोट राष्ट्र बैँकले छाप्न छोडेको कति भो कति । सिक्कै पनि कहाँ पर्याप्त छ र ? २०६५-६६ साल यताका सिक्का मैले त भेटेको छैन । एक दुई रूपैयाँ चलाउनु छैन भने १३, १७, १९ जस्ता अङ्कमा भाडादर किन बनाउनु ?

यो भाडादर वैज्ञानिक छ । उनीहरू लुट्न खोज्छन् । हामी लुरुक्क परेर घुँडा टेक्छौँ । टेक्न नचाहनेको हात समातेरै तान्छौँ अनि झुकाउछौँ ।

हामी विद्यार्थी (म सहित) त पढेका मुर्ख नै भयौँ । यातायातमा ४५% छुट पाइन्छ तर २५% भन्दा कममा पनि रमाउछौँ । १३ रूपैयाँको भाडादरको ४५% हुन्छ ५ रूपैयाँ ८५ पैसा । तर १० रूपैयाँ तिर्छौँ । तीन रूपैयाको छुटमा रमाउछौँ । कसैलाई सोच्ने फुर्सद छैन । फुर्सद हुनेलाई अर्काको खुट्टा तान्न पाए पुग्छ ।

सरकार अहिले यातायात व्यवसायीलाई कम्पनीका रूपमा दर्ता गराउन प्रयास गर्दै छ । राम्रो ! तर भाडादरको कुरा अझै के हुने हो थाहा छैन । बोल्नु नपरे त झन् राम्रो ! बोल्नु पर्‍यो भने ? नानीदेखिको बानी न हो, चुप लागुँला !

A Wedding: The Feast of Love

I am thrifty. I think thirty times (ok, that was an exaggeration to relate thrifty and thirty) a lot before I spend a hundred rupees. When my expenditure increases, I get worried. Therefore, I say to my parents often, “My wedding will sure be expensive for sure. How can we cut expenses?”

“By not including alcohol in your feast,” Dad says.

I like the idea for I am a teetotaller but I offer a radical solution. “Let’s not have the feast at all.”

“Don’t say that,” Mom disagrees. “We have attended weddings of hundreds of couples. We can’t exclude them.”

I shut my mouth and start thinking the solution. The thriftiest solution would be a temple wedding and no party hence. But my parents disagree to that. Society has an more important role in helping me and my parents the mode of the feast.

Society criticizes someone who does not conduct a feast. Some complaints are:
“Falana* did not call us in his wedding.” (*Falano is a word used to indicate someone without mentioning their names. Falana is masculine. Falani is feminine.)
“Falani bosated her son earns crores. She did not give a party on his wedding!”
“Can’t they spend a little of what they earn to feed their neighbours?”

But people complain everytime. They make a fuss if they are not called. The invited ones complain about the variety and quality of the food. If you don’t include alcoholic beverages, they say, “That was like a Pooja, not a wedding Bhoj.” If somebody pukes because of excessive drinking, others holler about the inclusion of “hard” drinks. You can’t satisfy everybody.

But there might be more to to the feast. Jantis plus the relatives, neighbours and friends who could not attend the main ceremony are yet to celebrate the union of the two families. The groom and his family invites them before the actual ceremony on a feast called the Preetibhoj. The compound word is derived by combining Preeti (love) and Bhoj (feast). An English term “Reception” has become popular but I like the translation of Preetibhoj, “Feast of Love”, more.

The Feast of Love is the first formal gathering for the couple. Where a guy and a girl walking together in the street can be a taboo, the Bhoj helps people identity the groom and the bride as a couple.

Dowry, huge feasts and high expense make me feel that appeasement of the society is more important than the real status of the community. So, people fall in debt to try making others happy, who unfortunately are never going to be satisfied.

***

The Feast of Love of my neighbours is held at a party palace not too far from my home. Therefore, there won’t be much problem when we return. My family goes with many of other neighbours. Once we reach the party palace at about six in the evening, one aunty says, “People around here must be happy. Music and feast everyday!”

We have an excellent proverb: “गुण पनि धेरै खायो भने तितो हुन्छ ।” (Translation: If you eat too much sugar, it gets better.) Too much music and partying is hated by the people of the surrounding. They shut their doors and windows, shut their ears and mutter curses! Some curses come up on Twitter. Most get welled-up.

Another aunty says what I had in mind. We enter the one storeyed, zinc plate covered party “palace” which has been divided into two sections. A second wedding feast is taking place on the other side. The feast has begun, people are clicking photos with the bride and the groom, eating, drinking, dancing and are everywhere!

Children are running. No parents can control them. Forming suitable groups, they go here and there. They sometimes knock upon elders, sometimes upon waitiers and sometimes break glasses spiling cold drinks to the floor. While the owner is earning, the workers are burning!

In almost every wedding I have attended, I get to see unhappy faces of the waiters and helpers. While the host and the guest are enjoying, they are in grief that they have to work.
It’s natural to be sad that you can enjoy, it’s human to be jealous. Even anger can be justified because of the activities of people and their children. The food might be good, the drink might be excellent, the music may be loud, but the owners and managers have failed in making their employees smile.

Had they been in the West, their Party Palaces may not run for long with unhappy workers. Because we only care about the food and the behaviour of the owner(s), they’re still doing good. However, in long run, they must pay attention to keep their employees happy. They must sort out the problems.

But still I feel bad for people who are sad. Will they ever be happy?

***

The food items that are used as starters are good but heavy. They fill my stomach even before I reach the dining hall for the main course. I don’t feel like eating but I’m attracted by chicken and fish, which I don’t usually get to eat at home.

I make my stomach believe that it can accommodate more. I take about half an hour before I eat everything except a few bones. Will my stomach digest it? I doubt. So, I decide to boost digestion by chewing up antacid tablets as soon as I reach home.
I get a remedy in the form of yogurt. It’s cold but refreshing. My stomach already feels better.

Meanwhile, people take more than they require and leave food on their tables. Just as at bride’s during the wedding ceremony, a lot of food fills the trash. My parents taught me never to throw food. Maybe their parents did not teach them, maybe they forgot or maybe they chose not to follow their parents’ advice.

***

The dance never attracts me. I shy away from the crowd listening to songs now dominated by Nepali over Hindi. “We now have a lot of “party” songs,” my sister says.

They are not Western-style Bollywood party songs, they are Nepali folk style party songs. (Sometimes, they are remixed, which I don’t like.) I agree with my sister and we make a list of songs that are being played. We can count them on our fingers but it’s okay to have something than to have nothing.

The bride and the groom, their parents and relatives, neighbours and friends all dance together. I wish everyone stayed as happy as they are. I also wish they didn’t need a stimulant (alcohol) to make them happy.

At 9 o’clock, the music stops, the party palace prepares to close and we all prepare to leave. Kathmandu has no night life except at a few places. I sleeps after ten. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. As a tourist city, it’s bad but as we are a bunch of free and happy people who must sleep in time, I think it’s okay. We don’t want to be zombies!

A Wedding (Part 3/4): The Ceremony

Birth, wedding and death are the three most important ceremonies in the life of a human. One does not know what happens at birth and what happens after death but they can witness their wedding. While birth is a ceremony of joy and death that of distress, a wedding is an affair that mixes both joy and distress. I’m going to see this just as the bride prepares to arrive at the groom’s house. Before that, I must attend the ceremony with the groom and and his family.

***

Nepali Panche Baja that also make the Naumati. The combination here is Naumati. Source: Wikimedia

The music of Panche Baja wakes up the neighbourhood. Panche baja is a set of five instruments: Narsingha, Damaha, Tyamko, Sahanai, and Karnal (often replaced by Madal). These instruments are traditionally played by Damai men. Wedding processions are led by these men and are called auspicious. However, they are also called “lower” caste and are “untouchables”. How hypocritic!
Anyway, the Mangal Dhun (auspcious music) has begun the beautiful day. The sun is shining but its not hot. The groom and his parents are in their house making final preparations before the Janta or Bariyat (wedding procession).

Janti (Bariyati), the participants of the Janta (Bariyat), have begun gathering. The number is increasing every minute. Soon, there are around a hundred men, women and children.
The musicians are encouraged. They begin playing some old folk tunes and some Lok dohori (folk song sung by two groups, one of boys and another of girls) tunes. This genre of Nepali music. During the latter part of the decade modernization shot down the folk part and reduced it to Dohori. Folk instruments are now replaced by computers and auto-tuning has been creating robotic voices.

But folk tunes that use folk instruments have become popular again. And these are the tunes the musicians of the wedding procession are playing. The crowd gets excited, gets to its feet and starts dancing.
The groom’s brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and even some neighbours are dancing on the last available piece of land in the neighbourhood. Had it been covered by a house already, the dancers would be on the streets. They are, but no vehicle or pedestrian is disturbed.

The way the Janti is dancing without the groom, I feel they are happier than the groom himself. They seem more excited than the groom. Why? I don’t know. If you analyse happiness, the remainder can not make you happy.

The Janti is tired but the groom has not come out. Questions are increasing: “Where is he? Isn’t this the time for Bariyat Prasthan (the beginning of the procession)? Why are they doing it late?”

Its midweek and not a public holiday. Most of the Janti will have to go to their jobs. They look at their wrist watch and then the people who are still dancing. They look at their wrist watch and then at the groom’s house.
Dad is not worried. “Have you taken a leave?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “You must attend your neighbours weddings. Janti is a proof that the groom’s family is not alone. The bride’s parents will feel secured that the neighborhood will support the groom’s family when they are in trouble and they also feel safe because there is a society that will secure the bride in case the groom’s family tries to hurt her.”

“That’s beautiful!” I exclaim. Before this, I thought wedding procession was just a medium to show off and that it was something that added woes to the bride’s parents. Sure, it increases their expenses but happiness and security are far greater than money.

And if groom and his family beat up the girl and neighbours interfere, they cannot say, “Get out off it. It’s our family matter.” The neighbours have the right to say, “You brought this girl here with promises of happiness in our presence. We are the witnesses of your oaths.”

***

The priests and the groom’s father put Teeka on each of Janti’s forehead including the musicians. The groom comes out. He is greeted with smiles, laughter and hootings. He then revolves clockwise round a decorated car, hired for the day, thrice. The musicians lead. A column of women carrying Kalash and other items follow. The groom’s car then sets off. The road gets blocked for a quarter of an hour. Other people who are passing by get irritated. Some don’t hesitate to curse!

A bus can easily come to the street but the groom’s family wants us to walk to the Chowk. We don’t mind. Elders say, “A Bariyat without a walk is boring.”

***

Wedding at the bride’s home or Tole (community) in Kathmandu is rare these days. Party palaces have the catering, ample space and wedding ground. They may be expensive, but are more convenient.

The bride’s family, relatives and neighbours (Ghargaule) greet the Janti. As I am distracted looking at the people, the groom disappers. About fifteen minutes later, I find him seated on a chair with the bride. The bride’s relatives are washing both of their feet. Her parents have done the “Kanyadan”, i.e. they have given their daughter to the groom.

Janti is sent to the “Dining Hall”. They gobble up food quickly. Those who have their office duties rush. Some people have taken, on their plates, more food than they can eat. People waste a lot of food in weddings. It’s beyond my understanding how they don’t know what and how much they want.

Ghargaunle eat next along with the bride and the groom. More food reaches the trash!

***

The sound of Panche Baja comes up again. Everyone rejoices. The use of Panche Baja in weddings has increased again in recent times. There was a time when playing folk Panche Baja was looked down upon. Band Baja (a Band with European instruments) was considered “modern” and better than the traditional folk music.

The dresses too have changed. I hear an elder saying, “When we were young, wearing Daura Suruwal meant you were going to be teased at. You would be a cartoon because no young people wore it. Time has changed. Young people have begun taking care of their culture again.”

Yes, young people don’t wear Daura Suruwal everyday but we have at least adopted it as a formal wear. I believe the youth of other religions and castes too are now taking care of their culture. I am not sure but I believe this is a result of the socio-political changes in this decade.

***

While the music has woken up people, the bride and the groom come to the Yagya. There are several rituals before and after the groom puts sindoor (vermillion) on the bride’s head. I don’t remember all. What I notice is that the bride is to the groom’s left in the beginning. At one point, I’m not sure when, the groom lifts the bride and puts her to his right. She will always be at her right in Yagyas since.
In Hindu tradition, before his marriage, a man conducts Yagyas all by himself. He alone makes all the things necessary. He alone pours ghee to the sacrificial fire. It’s the same for the girl. After the first Yagya with his wife, they’ll always perform the Yagya together. Both of them sacrifice their solitude in the fire and unite for life.
We have rituals that can go for hours.

Some people find these useless. I too thought so before I saw American weddings. Christians have short weddings. Father reads something and asks the man’s promise to take care of his wife. If he replies “Yes”, he asks the lady if she will take care of husband. If she too says yes, they become “Man and Wife”. Our Priests too read out something and asks for promises–all in Sanskrit. Most of us do not understand.

When the short wedding ends, bride and the groom play different games, sing and dance. Now, our rituals already have games like tug of war, gambling and so on. I feel its alright.

***

As the rituals are coming to an end, I see a plethora of emotions. The bride and her parents look sad, the groom and the Janti look happy. The Ghargaule are happy as well as sad. These play of emotions makes the wedding ceremony special.

The bride has lived her life with her parents until that day. After the ceremony ends, she will move to a new place, surrounded by new people. She is full of emotions. Sadness of leaving her parents, joy of ending society’s questions like “Why aren’t you married yet”, fear of not being accepted by her husband and his society. I am not a girl but I can feel her pain.

Parents are the saddest when their children leave them. I know this. I had a kitten. I loved her like a child. When she died, I could not control my emotions. Daughters are more than cats. Daughters are more livelier than sons. They laugh, dance and sing. They help parents in chores more than sons do. They heal their parents’ griefs more effectively than sons can. Without their daughter, her parents will lose the home she had created.

Relatives, neighbours, all cry. They have special bond with the girl. Friends cry seeing their friend in tears.

The groom and his family are happy because she will make a new home, similar to what she had built, in their house. Their happiness does not touch me much and despite being a Janti, I get emotional.

***

Sadness is not going to stop the custom. She must leave her parents. Before leaving, she cries and along with her cry all her family members, friends, relatives and neighbours. By the time she reaches at groom’s, she does not look too sad. Some brides cry for hours. She does not. The groom and the Janti have done a magic. May the charm stay forever!

A Wedding (Part 2/4): The Groom’s House

(A Wedding is a single essay that I chose to break into 4 parts because of its length. This is the 2nd part. The feature photo was obtained from http://photos.merinews.com)

***

A pile of furniture items, plus a television arrive the groom’s house. The furniture set includes everything: a double-size bed, a sofa set, a glass table, a dining table, six chairs, the TV drawer, and a beautiful wardrobe. There is a problem. Where are they going to keep everything?

The groom’s house is not that small but renting two other flats have made it smaller. The porters do a good job of bringing the furniture set up to the terrace. They scatter the items all over, one after the other.

Dark clouds are hovering close to the hills. They have not hidden the sun but the cold wind is threatening to bring a downpour. I look at the groom’s house. I don’t see anyone. I find it a little strange. Where are all the people?

***

A couple of hours have passed. The clouds have darkened. My mom comes home from her work. She is curious. She opens the curtain and looks. “Who piled all those? And where are all the people?”

“Don’t know,” my sister and I say.
“It’s going to rain. If the furniture all get wet, they’ll damage soon.”

I look up again. It’s really strange. There is no hustle and bustle. What’s going on?

“Before my wedding, I’m going to sell everything and empty the house. A part of the expenses will also be covered,” I say, laugh and roll on my bed.

“What are you saying? Why would you do that?” Mom and sister are shocked and then they understand. “To avoid this situation?”

I reply with a nod. Mom starts laughing. I laugh more. Sister stops me.

“What would we do with the double furniture set?” I ask.

“One set for us, one for you and your wife. Don’t you understand?”

“No, I don’t. Why should the bride’s family should give everything to the groom? And why should a groom accept everything he is given? As if he does not have anything. As if they cannot buy anything on their own.”

“This strange new custom is making things difficult for the bride’s parents.”

“Exactly! They are not only sending off their daughter, they are also drowing themselves in debt in their old age. If they’re in their youth, we can expect them to earn again. How will they spend the rest of their life?”

Mom agrees. She understands the problems but can’t solve them. Neither can I, but point out another problem, “The bride’s parents send everything with their daughter so that the couple can easily separate from the family.”

“Yeah, she has everything already. She has every right to use her stuffs. She can also fight when others use her stuffs.”

“Couples also get lazy. They don’t have to work to earn anything. They don’t know the value of the stuffs.”
As I was preaching, I remembered that Mom too had got some furniture and stuffs from her parents. When I said that, Mom said, “But I left them in the home (in Terai). We had only a couple of utensils when we came Kathmandu. We earned everything one after the other. We didn’t expect anything from our parents.”

Will I expect anything from my parents once I get independent? Will bringing stuffs from my wife’s parents damage my self-esteem.

I can’t decide. The bride’s parents love their daughter, obviously. However, back in their mind they have other issues:

  1. showing off
  2. daughter’s security

“Showing off” is what Mom said “the strange new custom”. A part of our society is always better off. They can afford anything. Another part copies them. They don’t “cut their coat according to the cloth they have”. They borrow money and stuffs. They fall in debt. They show to the society that they are better than that uncle with the biggest house in the community.

I can’t describe the feelings parents go through when they send their daughters to someone else’s home. In rural areas, parents cannot meet their daughter for years. In some places, daughters-in-law have suffered for “not bringing enough dowry”. The groom’s family beat, burn and kill the bride. In urban areas, particularly in Kathmandu, such cases are rare. Daughters can visit their parents whenever they want. And the parents send away stuffs even if the groom opposes. Still, they are scared.

They are scared that their daughter may not get the love and affection she gets with them. They are scared that the mother-in-law and/or sister(s)-in-law may not stay in harmony for long. In their subconscious mind, they have implanted a thought that the bride and the groom may/will have to separate themselves from the family.

“Parents should teach daughters to be independent,” I say. “They should not show that their parents can do everything for them. They should also focus on their family’s integrity. They should not provide their daughters a backup for separation.”

Mom disagrees a little on my last statement. “They are not giving backup for separation. They do it thinking it is the best for their daughter. The bride should also take care of the husband’s parents as her own and she should not boast of what her parents gave. Her excessive pride can cause separation.”

We come to the same conclusion through different routes blaming the bride and her family completely and overlooking the problems that the groom and his parents might bring up. In almost every part of the world, a girl leaves her birth home at marriage. It is etched as one of the most important gender roles. Accommodation in the new home is always difficult. In absence of good facilitation, the bride may feel excluded and the rest of the family might ignore her. Both result in conflict.

Right now, however, we are looking at the dark clouds and the groom’s house again. The wind is howling. Mom decides to help them out. She flashes out amidst the clapping and sparkling clouds.

***

Wedding expenses have always bothered me. More often in the bride’s side. Groom and his family too have expenses but as my Mom says, “The only real expense is on feeding people. Actually, there is a net profit.”

The party begins the day (in some cases, a week) before the wedding. Usually, the day before the wedding, a Yagya is perfomed. Relatives of the groom, his neighbours and friends come to his home and take the Prasad.

The wedding reception is the occasion where the expenses are maximized. The same people who attend on the Pooja above, come to the reception as well but there is a substantial increase in the number of mouths, main course, desserts and beverages.

The net profit for groom comes with the “precioussss” yellow metal and papers that can be used instead of the metal. Both the bride and the groom receive a good amount of gold from both their parents. They again receive a hefty amount, in Kathmandu, during the reception.

***

The groom’s house is now covered by beautiful lights, almost as in Tihar. The family is exhilarated. A Laxmi is about to enter the home.