Nepali Times
For Kathmandu, With love and squalor- RAJAV

Author of three short story collections, one book of satire and two poetry collections, Rajav is one of the most skillful writers of today, capturing the psychological complexity of Nepal with a few deft strokes. The story below, originally published in his early collection Samaya Peeda, is one of his most compressed and succinct pieces, but the casual sadism it captures grows in the reader's mind after the story is over.

His father is the peon of Sharma and Company. Father leaves home at eight in the morning and returns at eight at night. Mother spends all day on the topmost floor braiding incense wicks. In the evenings she goes to sell these wicks to shopkeepers who have placed orders, then she takes orders from other shops and comes back home.

He's now ten years and three months old. When he was two months past seven years, his father introduced him to the first letter of the alphabet "ka" on the auspicious day of the Saraswati prayers. Till today he hasn't learned the next letter "kha." The year before last, his father talked of enrolling him in school, but then he'd put aside the matter, saying he'd have him enrolled next year. When that year came around, his father avoided the matter by saying it wasn't time yet, and this year he hasn't raised the issue at all.

He has a sister too. She's a total of five years and three months old. His father has spoken of introducing her to the letter "ka" during the coming Saraswati prayers. His sister either spends all day on the topmost floor sticking close to Mother, or she flees Mother's watchful eyes and scavenges pieces of half-eaten potatoes and grams and peas thrown about the courtyard, or collects eaten mango rinds and sucks on them in the passageway. His sister always tells their father to bring mangoes, but at night their father always returns empty handed in the half-trance of alcohol. His mother, though, sometimes brings home plums, peaches and cherries, and when they're cheap, pears and persimmons.
"Why are you sitting there with that look even after you've finished eating? Go down to the courtyard and mind the hens. Go feed a chick to the dogs like you did the other day!"-his mother said this a while ago, flashing a toss of the ladle. And he flung his pitcher to the floor, then headed straight down. After reaching the courtyard, he searched for and counted the two mother hens and twelve chicks. Then he took the alley next to the courtyard and reached the main street.
He spent half an hour at the edge of the street watching the amusement offered by the crowds of cars, bicycles and people. He found it really easy and amusing to spend all day in the compound of the cinema hall. The boy who sold ice there, the son of the dumpling vendor Pakcha, the son of Puncha the wheat and lentil fritter vendor, and the son of the midget Bahun had become his closest friends. He played marbles and sticks with them in the cinema hall's compound. Sometimes he stuck his ear to the hall door and listened to songs and dialogues. And he reached home before the film let out at night, before his father came back. By that time his mother would already have cooked noodle stew, and she'd be braiding incense wicks in the kitchen. His sister would be fast asleep on the floor.
Right now he's been standing for about ten minutes in front of a button store. There are two customers standing in front of him. They've been here since he came.

After the customers leave he grabs a hold of the shop's bars and stares keenly at a pile of marbles in front of him. Pulling together a handful of courage he says: "Shopkeeper, give me two marbles."
"Shoo, ass." The shopkeeper stands up, lifting a broom.
He runs off and stands at a distance where even if the shopkeeper hurls his broom, it won't reach him.

"Just two," he says again after the shopkeeper sits down.
"Do I have to splash water on you bastard, or will you take off?"
"I'll bring the money tomorrow. Can't you give me just two?"
"Do you dare to keep talking, you bastard monkey?"
"Just two."

The shopkeeper asks, "Can you go all the way to Indrachowk naked?"
"I can! Will you give me the marbles then?"
"All right, take off your clothes and I'll give you not two-but five."

"Yeah, first take off your clothes and go to Indrachowk and come back."
By this time he's already taken off his shirt. Seeing this, four children gather around him. The cigarette vendor across the street also steps out, laughing, to stand at the door to his own shop.

"Will you really give me the marbles, then? Shall I go?"
"Yeah, take off your shorts too."

He puts his shirt on the shop bars, and, unfastening the buckle on his shorts, starts to undo the buttons. His shorts drop from his waist to his feet. The ten or twelve children who've gathered around by now begin to clap.
He puts his shorts on the bars, with his shirt. Now he's completely naked. The shopkeeper, in glee, exposes his teeth to some fresh air. "All right, now go all the way to Indrachowk and back."

By this time, quite a long line of children has piled up behind him. Most of the nearby shopkeepers have come to stand at their doors.
In the beginning he crouches in running position. But then he walks at a normal pace for the first ten or twelve steps. Then, to trick the rows of children behind him, he suddenly breaks into run.

"Ha.ha!" The children dash after him, screaming.
By the time he returns, the crowd of children behind him has doubled.
The shopkeeper gazes at him with subdued eyes. But his lips are still split open like before, and his teeth seem to be hanging in the wind.
"Where are my clothes?" he asks, clutching his marbles in his fist.
"You're asking me, beggar?"

"They were right here," he says tearfully, pointing at the bars.
The rice vendor a few doors down holds up his clothes and calls out, "Eh, this way, come this way."

So he goes with the crowd of children to stand in front of the rice shop.
"Give them to me!" He jumps for the clothes in the shopkeeper's hands.
"Wait, if you reach New Road as you are I'll give you fifteen paisa."
"Where's the money, then?"
"Do you want your clothes or not?"
"Then where's the money?"
"Here, corpse!" The rice vendor hurls a total of fifteen paisa onto the street.

He picks the three five paisa coins from the street.
"What are you looking at, you cadavers," he scolds the army of children, shoving them aside and running off at a swift pace.

When he returns his face is drenched. The sweat on his forehead is trickling down the bridge of his nose and dripping onto his chest. In one hand he's holding an ice stick that he's sucking, and with the other hand he's wiping off his face and neck.
By now all the shopkeepers have gathered at their doors, laughing. Along with them laugh the housebound women watching from nearby windows, women whose husbands and children are off at work and school. A sharp satisfaction glitters in everyone's laughter.

"So where are my clothes?"
"Did you really go all the way there?"
"Here, look." As proof he shows them the ice stick he's sucking. Then he turns, with a questioning look, towards the army of children.
"He went all the way," says one boy in the crowd. The rest lend their support by clapping heartily at their leader's success.

"Here." The shopkeeper hurls his shorts and shirt towards the crowd of children, then picks up a stick used for shooing cows and steps onto the street to chase them away. They all scamper to a nearby sidewalk. From a short distance, three of them open up their shorts and pay the shopkeeper a special homage.
But suddenly he totters and startles in fright. He hasn't put on his shorts yet, he's been busy buttoning his shirt; suddenly a hard, rough hand strikes his neck. A foot kicks his spine. He gets knocked down so badly he grinds his cheeks against the tar road.

He's still naked below the waist, holding his shorts in his hands.
"Deceitful glutton!" His mother makes as if to kick him again.
From among the army of children, a boy who recognised him had gone home to tell on him.

His mother steps back a little, then lands another kick on his back. When she lands another kick as well, he skitters three hand-lengths away. But not a word leaves his lips. He just looks aslant at his mother with wild, raging eyes.
His mother's eyes, looking like fire, dance from shopkeeper to shopkeeper in the surrounding shops.

"Strip your own children you gluttonous asses! Just because you find a child of a poor man.." She stands in the middle of the road shrieking, with her sari pulled up to her knees. It's like she's Randchandi, goddess of war. A passion for vengeance animates her face, and her eyes spark with the giddiness of wrath. With one hand she's holding her son's neck and with her other hand she's lifting her sari.
By now the shopkeepers have covered their teeth. As retaliation against him, revulsion for his mother has begun to speckle their faces.

"Walk, glutton! You'll see what's coming. Did I tell you to stay in the courtyard and mind the hens, or to put on an exhibition for these other gluttons? You rice-gobbling glutton!" The mother strikes another forceful slap on her son's face. Her son reels badly, but with great effort saves himself from tears.

"I said walk, you stubborn gluttonous corpse! You like becoming a spectacle, do you?" She strikes another slap on her son's other cheek and starts dragging him off with both hands.

Her son is still naked below the waist. The teeth of the shopkeepers who stripped him have also become naked.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)