Originally from Bhojpur district and now living in Biratnagar, writer Parshu Pradhan is the author of seven short story collections and one novel. In the story below, which originally appeared in the 2050 BS (1992/93) collection Euta Krantipurushko Janma, he gently mocks the petit bourgeois narrator for drifting through life, in a way that is familiar to anyone observing the youth of Nepal's comfortable classes. He also mocks, just as gently, those who do not drift, but connive fixedly for wealth-even if that means selling their gods.
Many years have passed by aimlessly. This is how my life is; yesterday it was the same as the day before, or as a few years back. Who doesn't dream of eating well, wearing good clothes and spending their days in comfort? That's how life was, that's how it is, that's how life came, and that's how it's moving along. But in the past few months it feels like there have been changes in me. I look outside-the sky has been replaced, there is no blue in it. It's like a heap of black, the black of a demon that seems to rise to block all my roads. For many days I hadn't been able to venture out, I still haven't, I don't even want to go out.
There's a winter's chill, but I don't know how the cold feels. There is a city to roam all day long, and friends to meet. And in the evening if there is a chance I must visit the campus. What new cinemas have come out, who are the hero and heroine? How is their acting? All this I have memorised by heart. This too I know: whether or not there's rice at home, there will be rice on one's plate at night. Whether or not there's money to pay the fees, on the 15th of the month the fees will be paid. On Saturdays, if there isn't goat meat, there'll be buffalo meat to feast upon. And sometimes in the evenings there will be parties to throw with companions. There's a readymade answer when I reach home late-"I've been studying all night at Dhruba's-I'm sick of all this trouble! What do you know about studying?" The censure of my aged mother gets squelched by my father's voice-"What do you know about studying, whore? A son is a son. You don't have the right to scold him like that." I sit, always, on the back bench of the classroom. Everything taught by education is easily understood, and just as easily forgotten. The memory of any pretty girl on the street burdens the entire brain. Her eyes give chase when I sit down to study. Sometimes I sing a song, sometimes I compose poems of youth from early in the morning. There is a whiff of beer in life, and a whiff of romance. At times life rises like the sun, at times it dies like a corpse in a graveyard. Sometimes jokes get traded in cups of tea and coffee: and sometimes I yearn to babble unconscious. I also feel like sleeping in an open state. That's how it is..
And then there arises a fancy for a soldier's life. Some friends have already become lieutenants, some brag of having become captains, some are in line to become colonels. I reach home in the dark night. I know that my father and mother are already asleep. I click my heels together and salute my father in full soldier's form. Half asleep, half awake, my father startles-"Since when did you become a soldier?" I laugh proudly.
"If you want to join the military, I'll call on all the bosses I know. So? But you can't run away and come back home.."
I nod my head, signalling agreement. I am enrolled as a soldier. Training begins. The start of an extremely organised life! Wake up to the toll of a bell and sleep to the toll of a bell. That too I get sick of. One night I run away and reach home. Instead of saluting my father, I join my hands and make a humble request-"Father, I can do any work, but I can't be a soldier. You can feed me only one meal a day. I'll come back home."
I know that it's hard to leave once you're a soldier, but my father's reach goes way up. How far up-that I don't know.
Again another horizon unfolds. One must to business, the goddess Laxmi graces businesses. There is much wealth to earn. One must erect huge buildings, it's fun to cruise the three cities at the steering wheel of a car. I rent a house on one side of the street and open a shop. Crowds of customers start to form. Cash and credit are both in use. Not that I haven't hung a sign saying "Udaaro premko kainchi ho"-credit is the scissors of love-but amid winks and whispers, credit is granted somehow. The list of items in the shop starts to dwindle. But the list of people in the credit folio burgeons. My shop is a central meeting point of sorts. Once in the morning, once in the evening, the boys of the neighbourhood gather and talk of the world. Why did Nixon lose the elections and the Vietman war and so-and-so's daughter eloped: all this is heard here. Connoisseurs capable of comparing the taste of booze with the taste of hashish gather here. Film heroes also show up. A few heroines come as well, on the excuse of buying something. I not only trade in daal, rice and oil, but also step up to exchange the love letters of friends. Sometimes I am kept up all night by thoughts of going to Bombay to star in a cinema, and at other times by thoughts of becoming Toyota's primary agent.
I also start to exchange looks with the lass who lives across the store. Sometimes she smiles a crooked smile, and sometimes she's bold enough to blind me with the reflection of the sun on a mirror. In the store there is no cash for her, and no credit: whatever she needs, she is immediately served. The daal and rice stocked for a month don't even last a week. I keep on supplying. I am pleased to hear my father and mother comment that their son's habits have improved, business is doing well. But who knows what is going on inside me? There's great loss in business, it seems. One night I pick up the lass across the store and take off, without any aim.
As long as the money lasts, there are regular trips between Calcutta and Darjeeling. We miss no cinema, we skip no high quality hotel. But slowly our dream world starts falling apart. As the money runs out, our undying love story starts heading towards tragedy. Her road and mine separate. She starts working in the vast urban space of Calcutta. I measure life in streets and buses. Sometimes there is a train station, sometimes crossings and bazaars. Sometimes there are the brothels of Sanogachhi, sometimes the Kalighat temple. The city I left behind scares me from time to time-with the thought that I am abroad. But I placate myself by meeting others who share the same fate. Sometimes I turn myself into the dirty glasses and plates at hotels, sometimes I become a Gorkhali doorkeeper. I have become capable of compromising with any situation I am met with. There is bravado in my mind, and bravery.
Then again another horizon unfolds. I return to the old city. Many of my own people have forgotten me, many have stopped recognising me. The small girls I left behind have become young women, and the elderly have been lost. My father and mother too have taken the road that does not turn back. Because of business debts, the house has gone into the hands of merchants. Now only the city is my own, because I was born there. But there is no house, and no warm room. I am in the street. I make myself believe that I was always in the street. Those living on the street I left behind have erected buildings, they have begun to ride cars and rove the five star hotels. I hear that all the gods and goddesses showered them with their love, gave them all their wealth and headed abroad. No such blessings were showered on me. If only I'd devoted myself to god! I always doubted god, I always said one shouldn't succumb to blind faith.
I walk in a city frozen by the cold, and compare myself to naked trees. My friends aren't willing to recognise me. They've already forgotten the past. I remember the past but have forgotten the future. My hair is graying and lines of old age are sketched under my eyes. Only one thing is unclear now-which country am I from? Which soil will I have to rest upon? I have with me an old coat, given by some general from the Rana rule. Most of it is torn; I've stitched it in twelve places. I can wear it in any heat or cold. How many days I'll wear it, I don't know. I'm looking for an American hippy to whom I can sell this antique.