A foggy morning is often the ideal time to walk the streets of old Patan. So is a bandh, but no point in advocating more of those exceedingly costly occasions. Hurrying to an early appointment in Mangalbazar, the mist matched the mood on the streets. Gloom and vague forboding was everywhere. Earlier in the week, Krishna Mohan Shrestha of the Armed Police Force had been gunned down on the Ring Road by who the authorities immediately said were Maoists. A woman among those squeezing triggers was pretty clear proof.
Not just the inhabitants of Patan share the fear and paranoia of the local elite who saw one of their own targeted and killed with apparent ease. No, the reaction to the sad events of last Sunday were more complex. First stop-just before Durbar Square-a metalworking shop where intricate Bhairavas, Buddhas and Ganeshas are formed from molten brass and loving craftsmanship. The heat of the forge kept the morning chill at bay. In fact, the man stirring a pot of liquid metal wore a T-shirt and trousers and still wiped sweat from his brow.
Here the conversation was about what the government would do now that the Maoists had apparently shown their weaknesses-on a very personal level-at the heart of state power. "No one deserves to die like that," said metalworker Raj, stirring his silvery brew. "And they shouldn't have killed his wife too. She wasn't commanding police forces and fighting their cadres. I guess that means the end of the peace talks."
I'm not sure his gloom is justified, but it's certainly heartfelt. Like so many ordinary Nepalis, Raj wants peace most of all. But he'd also like to have leaders that paid attention to his concerns and didn't just lurch through the streets in armoured four-wheel drives that are worth more than the lifetime income of his family.
Now the rain is coming down so people hurry past the yoghurt sellers and the vegetable merchants. "Pyaj, kauli, moola," they chant like song lyrics. Most are Maithili men in lungis who work 15 hours every day, peddling endlessly from tarkari bazar to back allies and bahals. A few dozen rupees profit is good.
Mahesh was wheeling his battered bicycle past housewives with no interest in his wares, their day's dal-bhat was already hissing in the pressure cooker inside. He'd heard about the Shresthas' murder on the Radio Nepal news at midday on Sunday. He pursed his lips as he thought about an answer to my question, "What do you think will happen now that the Maoists seem to be assassinating top people in Kathmandu?"
"Why didn't they do it before?" He wonders, "Why did so many like me get killed or captured or forced to leave the village. Nobody should have to die at all, but if they're fighting against the sarkar, then why not attack the sarkari people?" Mahesh could understand why they police officers in the field and soldiers were attacked. "But why abduct students?" I had no answers. I'm a journalist. I have the luxury of just posing the questions.
In Mangalbazaar itself, the most miserable day of 2003 so far was well and truly underway. The men crouching in front of the Krishna Mandir next to the road had taken shelter in the temple's top tier. None wanted to speak to the khaire with the questions. A few "ke garne" was the best I could do.
But I can't help but wonder if the people of Patan just reflect the feeling of Nepal as a whole. This tiny, almost perfect urban enclave at the heart of the old city is as much a beleaguered frontline in the conflict as the hills of Rolpa or Rukum. People here know what's going on, and they worry that the tragic deaths of Krishna and Nudup Shrestha and their bodyguard who were killed while walking back from the nearby Bangalamukhi Temple might just leave them as exposed to violence and despair as ever. While the elite hire more armed guards, add more armour to the jeep and build the glass-topped walls to their compounds ever higher.