You have been climbing for three hours. Every pore of your skin is sweating. Your legs are tired. Your head is spinning. You are still conscious of not slipping down the narrow foot trail. There are small round seeds that have fallen off the tress beside the trail. They threaten your existence. The peak is just “there” but you can’t seem to reach it. The peak is just at an elevation of thousand metres, and it takes your breath away. “What if it was Mount Everest?” you ask.
One of your friends, Anish, climbed a five-thousand metre peak last year, above the Everest Base Camp. “It was cold. I felt my fingers would fall off. But once I reached the peak, I forgot all the pain.”
‘This is not even a tenth of the harshness of close to the Everest’, you think. Your spirit lifts up a little. Legs drag you up better than they had a couple of minutes back. But your lungs are not helping. Your low stamina hampers your movement.Luckily, your friends are in your support. They themselves are tired, but they do not lose the hope of reaching the peak. The hope of finding the target village-Sathimure.
Your climb began from Mugling—an old hub connecting Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan with three of your friends: Anil, Anish and Ishwor. The town is at the altitude of about 180 m from the mean sea level,well-developed, full of life. Your twenty-eight years old topographic map shows a foot-trail leading to the village in question. The policemen show you a road. It looks easy, but it’s long. ‘How long will you have to walk?’ you discuss with your friends. You and your friends decide to take a foot trail if possible.
You are not hiking. It’s a geological exploration. You measure the rock orientation, wonder at the folds you see and imagine the amount of stress the region might have undergone. You know these rocks tell the history of the evolution of the Himalayas over a million years. These mountains are not as tall as the mighty mountain peaks that are popular as the Himalayas or Great Himalayas. You call them Lesser Himalaya, but reaching its peak is tough. More so, when you realize you have to climb up another two hundred metres and climb down to Kalikhola if you are to make an accurate geological map. But you lack time, and you make a rush.
You realize your stamina has lowered because of eating and sleeping for the last couple of months. You are panting. You take long breaths. Nothing helps. You have not walked a mile and you have felt the heat. You strip off your jacket. Your body balances heat by sweating. You reach a shade. The sweat cools you. After a rest, you don’t want to move. Yet you carry your legs forward. “Return back if you can’t,” your friends suggest. It’s a good advice. One person should not slow the group. Yet your ego gets hurt. You can’t give up before it has begun.
You ask help from the locals. Most of them are girls. Some help, some don’t. It’s a cultural thing. Villagers don’t trust city men. Girls are told to shy away from men in most of the occasions. Male-female interaction is still spied in the cities. Anyway, you find help and catch a foot-trail, width decreasing with each footstep.
You don’t find villages along the trail. One house at an interval of about one-hundred metres climb. They have farms and gardens. You and your friends express desire to reach Kalikhola. The locals say it’s a dangerous path. Three people died some months back. You and your friends are scared. Safety comes before the map. Your teachers did not expect you to go all the way. You give up the thought of completing the track. Had you been allowed to stay for a day at Sathimure, you could have hit the target. But you have restrictions. You decide to reach the village, at least.
“Look out for the real trail,” Anish calls. Foot-trail has forked. Each time you saw a fork, you made a unanimous decision: “Take the route that goes up.” This time, the up-going trail looks dangerous. Ishwor says the other path goes nowhere. “Are we stuck?” you fear. Anil goes up the dangerous route, reaches the peak and calls out. You follow. The ground is slippery and covered with grass. You don’t know where you are stepping. “Goats would not climb this,” your friends behind you tell. You are attacked by ants.One last step. And you reach the top. You lose yourself for a moment. At that moment, you have become victorious over the mountain. You feel blessed.
A little farther, you see what you had been longing for. Sathimure. A small village. A place where you have found solace in it even from the distance. Bamboos, oranges, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables. A farming village. That’s what you wanted all day.
The village has less than twenty houses—small, all of them painted in blue and red. The people are amicable. Your group wants to buy some oranges. They don’t fix a price. “Give whatever amount you want to give.” These people have hardships. There is some help from the NGOs but the nearest town, Mugling, is miles downhill. There is no good road. They have to buy everything.Yet, they are generous. They don’t take our offer for granted. They believe in emotional relationship, not commercial. They give you noodles. You longed for it but can’t help wonder that noodles have made way into even in a village that small.You eat anyway. The taste reminds you of home.
You begin to descent. There was an error in the map. You have decided to correct it. Sitting upon a ground facing north, you look at the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the miniature town of Mugling. You can’t see a human from that height. You feel lost. “Humans might have built civilizations and have dreamt of exploring other planets but we are microscopic in the universe. If a portion of the Earth is this big, how big the Earth is! And it is not even the largest planet.” The extent of universe amazes you. It’s not for the first time, though. The universe has always fascinated you. Geology was one way you thought that would help you understand the universe.
Mugling viewed from Sathimure
The walk downhill takes two hours. The villagers at Sathimure had told it would take about forty-five minutes. “Time is relative,” you begin to understand. They have lived their whole lives going up and down the hill. Their legs have strengths your legs do not. They are faster because they have lived with the mountain. You see school children going up and get a stronger proof.
When the journey ends, you are satisfied. You might not have met all your goals but you made memories. You have learnt something. You have something to tell others. You have stories for your children and grandchildren.
I was thinking about it every time I had some leisure. I had discovered a “mind-blowing” way to convert my short story “Leave Me Alone” into a novel. I had worked about eight chapters within a month. These chapters would end the first part and I was ready to move into the crucial second part. Then I suddenly felt I needed a prologue. A chapter apart from the rest of the story that would create suspense. (It already had some suspense. I was trying to mix some spices.) That prologue introduced me to the major problem in my plot: how was my heroine doing what she was doing?
I had worked out the “why” and I had thought I knew “how” but things got complicated. I was teleporting her to places where I wanted her to be, and she was doing things the way I wanted in an unnatural way. My story is not a fantasy. It’s a contemporary psychological thriller. No way was I going to introduce myself opening doors for her (I feel this would make a good sci-fi!), and neither was I going to let anything happen just like that. So, why the plot hole?
I don’t know. Maybe, I planned in the wrong manner. Perhaps the changes I had brought about in the prologue rang the bells. Whatever it was, I believe, was for the best! How would I make others believe in an unbelievable story? I’ve stalled it until I find a solution.
I felt an itch. Actually, I’d been thinking about it for a few days now. I had linked “Quest” with “Leave Me Alone”, and the latter with “The Peacemaker” (I have built its concept but not written a word yet. Or, can I say it’s first chapter is already in “Leave Me Alone”, just in another POV?). So, because there was a link, I was thinking of completing “Quest”.
The biggest problem in this rewriting was that my old computer is dead and until it’s repaired I had no access to the “latest” version I created about last year. Or, so I thought. Then I searched my phone. I found the original version (Thank God!). I checked Google Docs. There were eight chapters each of last two versions. Now the problem is: I first need to sort out which “doc” belongs to which version. Then I need to compile and (probably) rewrite.
This rewrite is going to be fun. I have a guide. I have versions in third person and in first person. I need to decide what to use now. I have events in different orders. I might have to reorder, delete and add. I have written four or five versions of “Quest” already. I must make it my final. The solution for the plot problem I had discovered last year, is going to make it interesting. But the biggest challenge is to stand out as the self-proclaimed genius! (After sorting out the problems, I had called myself a “genius”. Damn, that’s a crown I cannot handle!)
Kazuo Kiriyama is the best “player” of the “game” that involves killing classmates. He alone kills twelve of his classmates. Yet he ends up dead. A lot of Battle Royale video game fans seem to be annoyed by this fact. They say, “He deserved to win.” I say, “He didn’t. A novel or a movie is different from a video game.”
The kid who never smiled
We get the first and the most important insight into Kazuo Kiriyama’s character through Mitsuru Numai in Chapter 11. Mitsuru had been in an occasion, saved from bullies by Kazuo and since then, he had revered the latter. He believed Kazuo was the one capable of beating the system and destroy the Battle Royal Programme because he had defeated local yakuza (Yakuza is an organization of powerful Japanese gangsters or mafias).
Mitsuru and his friends make him the leader of the gang called the Kiriyama family. Despite being called notorious in the city, the Kiriyama family never bullied upon others in the school. They all relied on Kazuo Kiriyama and did things for fun. However, when Kiriyama kills his gang within an hour of the beginning of the game, Mitsuru Numai notices one thing that they had always ignored: “Kazuo Kiriyama never smiled.” (Chapter 11, Battle Royale)
Kazuo Kiriyama is apathetic. He does not feel anything. Neither joy, nor sorrow, no pity, no guilt. We later know that while he was still in his mother’s womb, she fell in an accident and a stake had entered Kiriyama’s head. The accident destroyed his emotional centre. Whatever the reason, Kiriyama is what Shogo Kawada tells us: “A hollow man … There’s no place in his heart for logic or love, no. For any kind of values. That kind of person. On top of that, there’s no reason for the way he is.” (Chapter 67, Battle Royale).
The coin toss
If one thing that changed the complexion of the story, it is Kiriyama’s coin toss. He had two options:
To participate in the game, and
To destroy the Battle Royale Programme and the government.
Kiriyama’s choices are not based on logic. They were based on chance. Had he used logic, he would have chosen the second option. He would have been a great helping hand to our heroes Shogo Kawada, Shuya Nanahara and Shinji Mimura. None of our heroes believed he was capable of killing his classmates. He hadn’t even bullied one! Kiriyama’s coin toss, thus becomes a bane for all his classmates.
Even if Kiriyama had not been thinking logically, had the coin toss made him destroy the Programme, he would have got support from his gang as well as the others. They would not have to fear their own classmates. Forty of them could have brought down the Programme in no time.
In the movie, however, Kiriyama is a new student like Shogo Kawada and is a mystery. In the novel, he is their classmate and still a mystery. Kiriyama from the novel, to me, is a bigger villain. But he could have easily turned into a hero.
Why Kiriyama did not win
Simply, because letting Kiriyama win was against the books theme of love and kindness. Kiriyama is the exact opposite of love and kindness. Had Koshun Takami, the author, let Kiriyama win, he would have set a wrong example. He had to save the lovely Noriko and the lucky Shuya to send a message: “Apathy is a vice,” and: “Choice made without reasoning is a curse.”
Had Kiriyama won, another theme of the book would have been crushed: rebellion. After the coin toss, Kiriyama’s chance of being a rebellion dies. Rebellion stays alive in the form of Nakagawa and Nanahara. They didn’t get long lecture from Kawada about the system and change to get killed in the end. They are there to bring about some change. Kiriyama’s victory would have shattered Shogo’s dream, and our hopes that the Battle Royale Programme would come to an end. Kiriyama did not win. We still have a hope.
The fieldwork was going on in its rapid pace. We barely had time to rest. On Wednesday, October 31, fieldwork had been set for “individual” areas. Each of six groups were in separate routes looking for the geology of the area around Mugling, Chitwan. We (Anil, Anish, Ishwor and I) were walking up to a small village called Sathimure. On top of the hill in the north east, we could see a bazaar. “Is it Manakamana?” we had discussed. “It is Manakamana, indeed,” the villagers had later confirmed.
“If we get to go Manakamana tomorrow, can we walk all the way up?”
It would have been difficult. The way to Sathimure had proven to be tiring. We were bathed in sweat the whole climb.
May be fatigue, may be disinterest, we didn’t actually want to go Manakamana. There were other friends, who were absolutely excited about the climb. My experience fifteen months earlier had made me sad. But I had seen a photo of my sister-in-law in front of the newly made temple. Aha! The temple has changed! I had thought but still I didn’t have the desire.
In the evening, our teachers announced the six routes to be taken the other day. Two groups were to take the routes that included Manakamana. The first route was: Aanbu Khaireni-Manakamana-Arubot-Tinkilo. The second route was: Aanbu Khaireni-Manakamana-Kurintar. To avoid dissatisfaction, our teachers suggested a lottery. Anil picked up a cheat and we got the first route. Despite having no desire to go, the Mother had called us.
As soon as you cross the Marsyangi Bridge at Aanbu Khaireni, you step into the Gorkha district. Then taking a dusty road to the north, you head towards the famous Manakamana Temple. After we separated with other groups at the bridge, eight of us took the road to Manakamana.
Geological study began as soon as we reached near the confluence of Marsyangdi and Daraudi. We took some data and set off again. As per the instruction from our teacher, we took shorter routes asking the villagers. Some of the foot-trails are not being used due to the bigger road.
Short roads were not so short though. We climbed up and up. As we went higher, the mist thinned and we were up above the clouds. On the north were the mighty white Himalayas. “People must have been to a place like this and called it a Paradise,” we wondered.
At Dhadbari (?), we left the motor road and climbed up the stairs to the temple. On the way, we bought flowers and Prasad. The climb took more than half an hour. We were all fatigued.
The New Temple
The new structure of the temple was enough for me to forget my tiredness. The two storied pagoda now had new brick walls and two golden roofs. On the top, is a golden pinnacle. I am mesmerized. I can’t believe the change that had occurred.
Fifteen months ago, I had seen a broken temple. It was distressing. I had written an account showing my pain. Now fifteen months later, I was standing before the temple praising the grandeur of the Mother.
The new structure has not been a temple yet. The Mother still stays in the small temple built after the Gorkha earthquake. “Isn’t she established in it yet?” my parents ask on Saturday after I am home. “It was supposed to happen during Dashain.”
“Maybe they did not find an auspicious date,” I say.
Fifteen months ago, I had been so sad that I had asked for the reconstruction of the temple as soon as possible. I had also doubted on the powers of the Mother. I had asked, “If the Goddess cannot make Her own home, how do I believe asked?”
This time, I believe the Mother called me to show that She has a new home. I believe She made me write this so that I could tell to the world the change I had seen. I don’t see any other reason why my group was selected despite having no desire at all to visit Her abode.
Time was tight. We had miles to go. Taking several snaps, our groups took our respective routes.
शनिबार, कार्तिक १० बाट सुरु भएको फिल्डवर्क रफ्तारका साथ चल्दै थियो । बुधबार दिउँसो मुग्लिङबाट दक्षिणमा रहेको साठीमुरे गाउँ पुगेका थियौँ अनिल, अनिश, ईश्वर र म । झन्डै चार घण्टा ठाडो उकालो चढ्दै गर्दा ठीक पारी पट्टीको डाँडोमा ठूलो बजार देखिएको थियो । मनकामना बजार हो त ? हामी एकअर्कालाई सोध्दै हिँडेका थियौँ । साठीमुरेका बासिन्दाले त्यो मनकामना बजार नै हो भनेका थिए ।
त्यहाँबाट मनकामना बजार झन्डै उस्तै उचाईमा छ भन्ने लागेको थियो । “भोलि मनकामनातिर पर्यो भने त हिँड्न गाह्रो हुन्छ,” सल्लाह गरेका थियौँ । यसपालि एम. एस्सी. पहिलो सेमेस्टरको फिल्ड आँबुखैरेनी परेको थियो । मनकामनाको “रुट” दुई टोलीलाई पर्ने कुरा थियो ।
थकानले गर्दा हो वा पहिल्यै गएकाले हो या अघिल्लो साल देखेको दुरावस्थाले हो, मनकामना जाने इच्छा खासै थिएन हाम्रो ग्रुपको कसैलाई । इच्छुक ती साथीहरू थिए जो पहिले गएका थिएनन् । अघिल्लो साँझ फेसबुक चलाउँदै गर्दा देखेको एउटा तस्वीरले मन केहीबेर तरङ्गित भने बनाएको थियो । “ओहो, मन्दिरको रूप त बदलिएछ” भन्दै खुसी भएको थिएँ । जाने लालसा भने पलाएको थिएन ।
बेलुका गुरुहरूले भोलिपल्टको रुटको जानकारी दिनुभयो । मनकामना पुग्ने दुई टोलीका लागि दुई रुट छुट्याइएको थियो । पहिलो रुट थियो । आँबुखैरेनीबाट मनकामना पुग्ने अनि त्यहाँबाट गोर्खा जिल्लाको आरुबोट, ज्यामिरे हुँदै तीनकिलो झर्ने । अर्को थियो, मनकामना पुगेर कुरिनटार झर्ने । मनकामनासम्म दुई टोली सँगै हुने थिए ।
मनकामना जाने रहर प्रायः सबै ग्रुपले गरेकाले चिट्ठा गर्ने सहमति भयो । अनिलले हाम्रोतर्फबाट चिट्ठा थुत्यो । मनकामनाको पहिलो रुट परेछ । अरू ग्रुपलाई पनि उनीहरूको इच्छा र क्षमता अनुसारको रुट परेछ । “माताको इच्छा होला,” मैले भनेको थिएँ ।
आँबुखैरेनीको मर्स्याङ्दी पुल तरेपछि गोर्खा जिल्ला टेकिन्छ । त्यहाँबाट अरू साथीहरूसँग बिदा भएपछि हाम्रो टोली र निर्जल दाइको टोली दरौँदी तरेर उकालो लाग्यौँ । चट्टान देखिएको सडाक किनारमा काम सुरु भयो । केही डाटा लिएत अघि बढ्यौँ, सरहरूको निर्देशनअनुसार स्थानीयसँग छोटो बाटो सोध्दै ।
छोटो बाटो पनि छोटो कहाँ थियो र ? स्याँस्याँ फ्याँफ्याँ गर्दै उकालो चढ्यौँ । बाटोमा चट्टान धेरै भेटिएनन् । जति भेटिए ती तलका भन्दा खासै फरक थिएनन् । बरू धुलोको रङ्ग हेरेर तलको माटो कस्तो होला भनेर अनुमान गर्यौँ । डाटा लिने परिस्थिति भने थिएन ।
डाँडा चढ्दै गर्दा तल नदीले बनएको कुहिरो हट्दै गयो । सात-आठ सय मिटर माथी पुगेपछि बादल हामीभन्दा तल तैरिएको देखियो । उत्तरमा देखिए, सेता हिमाल । बाटा छेउमा सुन्तलाका बोट । केही दिनअघि बन्दीपुर जाँदा पनि यस्तो दृश्य देखिएको थियो । त्यही पनि “यस्तै ठाउँलाई स्वर्ग भनिँदो हो,” हामी कल्पित भयौँ ।
मनकामना पुग्नै लाग्दा हामीले मोटर बाटो छोड्यौँ अनि सिँडी चढ्यौँ । सुन्तला खाँदै माथि चढ्यौँ । फूलप्रसाद लिएर फेरि चढ्यौँ । सिँढी चढेर माथी पुग्न झन्डै आधा घन्टा लाग्यो ।
मन्दिरको बदलिएको स्वरूप
अगस्ट २, २०१७ तिर गोर्खा मनकामना शीर्षकको यात्रा संस्मरण लेख्दा साह्रै पीडा भएको थियो । त्यसबेला मन्दिरको अवस्था देखेर विचलित भएको थिएँ । भाग्यले भनौँ या माताको प्रभावले, मौका जुर्यो । साथीहरूसँग म पनि मनकामना पुगेँ, ठीक पन्ध्र महिनापछि ।
पहिले जस्ता बेरेर, खट बाँधेर जीर्णाव्स्थामा देखेको “मन्दिर”को ठाउँमा अहिले लोभलाग्दो संरचना छ । ईँटको भित्तामाथि सुनको छाना छन् । अनि दोस्रो तलाको छानामाथि सुनकै गजुर । दिउँसो घाममा मन्दिर झन् टल्केको छ । मन्दिरको संरचना पुरानो छ तर सामग्री सबै नयाँ । पुरानै प्रकारका सामग्री राखेको भए पुरानै जस्तो देखिन्थ्यो भन्ने बिचार पछि मनमा आउँछ । त्यहाँ भने म निस्तब्ध हुन्छु; मन्दिरको सुन्दरताले मोहित ।
मनकामनाको नयाँ मन्दिर
नयाँ संरचनाभित्र देवीको स्थापना भइसकेको छैन । गोर्खा भुकम्प (२०७२) पछि बनाइएको अस्थायी मन्दिरमा नै क्षमापूजा गरेर देवी बसाइएको छ । शनिबार (कार्तिक १७) मा घर आएपछि मामूबाबा भन्नुहुन्छ, “यही दशैँमा स्थापना गर्ने कुरा थियो त ।”
“जुरेन होला,” म भन्छु । मैले देखेको दृश्यका आधारमा निस्किएको निष्कर्ष त्यही हो ।
अघिल्लो साल मनकामना मन्दिरको दुरावस्था देखेर विचलित भएको मैले मन्दिरको पुनर्निर्माण छिट्टै होस् भनेर कामना गरेको थिएँ । उहाँको शक्तिमाथि प्रश्न र गुनासो पनि पोखेको थिएँ । यसपालि माताको बोलावट भयो । सायद उहाँले मलाई आफ्नो सामर्थ्य देखाउन बोलाउनु भयो । अनि यो लेख लेखाउन पनि नत्र त्यति धेरै उत्सुक साथीहरूको बीचबाट मेरो ग्रुप किन छानियो ?
मनकामना माताको नयाँ मन्दिर हेरिरहने मन थियो तर समयको पावन्दी पनि थियो । तीनकिलोसम्म पुग्न कति हिँड्नुपर्ने हो ? थाहा थिएन । तैपनि दुई ग्रुपका अनगिन्ती फोटो खिचेर हामी आआफ्नो रुटतर्फ लाग्यौँ