Nepali Times
Sudha Tripathi


In the essay below, Sudha Tripathi expresses a common sentiment among first-generation migrants to Kathmandu: love and nostalgia for a village home that feels centuries away, along with alienation and a fear of returning. The essay is translated from Tripathi's 1997 collection Jeevansutra ra Swapnabhas.

Soonkhaani, my birthplace, you must think I've stopped loving you. It would be fair for you to think so: I've done nothing for you even at the end of my youth. I hear that you look towards Dolakha again and again, shading your forehead with your hands and lifting your feet.

I haven't stopped loving you. To do so would mean to stop loving myself because my 'I' is you. I stay in the depths of my emotion and drench myself in your affection and well wishes. How else could I survive this desert? I won't tell you to stop looking at my path, but I'll likely have to wait a while yet before coming to curl up at your lap. What else can I, your destitute daughter, offer for your faith? What have I to give? I am rich in feelings. I long to place two cupped palms full of white flowers at your pure feet. Scouring this whole city, though, I haven't found flowers enough that bloom from the immaculate grounds of the heart. I so wish to see you decked with buds at least once in this life. But virulent pests are gnashing the roots of the plants. Tell me, Soonkhaani, when will my palms be full?

A part of me thinks-let me stay away, fidgeting at your memory, but not meeting you, not seeing you. Some kinds of pain are delectable, and dreams too can be tantalising. It's better to love from afar than to hate from nearby: Everything looks good from a distance. When I see roses far away I feel-let us live in their midst, let us die in their midst, even if one were to commit suicide, let it be amid rose bushes. Those who follow the allure of beauty become wild. Intoxicated, they approach these bushes, then come to their senses when pricked. They look-such ugly thorns! Beauty is just a trap that roses lay out. I don't know why, these days I'm afraid to come near you, Soonkhani. May your ugliness not break my faith, may I not stumble off the edge of trust in panic. My return to you might be held back by the lame foot of my scepticism.

Yet even away from you, I am near you. I laugh with the fragrance of your soil on my hands. I live with your sighs in my life force. I sprinkle the waters of Tama Koshi through my veins. When from this desert I see Gaurishankar himal, my hands move up to feel you, Soonkhani. I hear the lisping words I spoke as a child echo off Gaurishankar and return to me now. When I see the peak's white snows, I remember the lumps of butter that I ate sitting on your lap. When I see the rivers lining the peak, I remember the rich curd that spilled over my fingers as I tasted it from my cupped palms.

I'll stand you, now, at the threshold of the past. My eyes water at this memory and a smile appears on my lips all at once. This is what happened: I was small, and you were angry for some reason, and you raised your hand to strike me, but by the time your hand reached my cheek it had become affection. At that, the dam of my tears burst, and I showered you with the blows of my dainty fists. My earth, I couldn't forget you even if I tried to. When I place an imported orange in my mouth, my mouth goes bad with its aged, sour taste. I remember the sweet, juicy oranges that you fed m and my mouth waters by itself. I swallow the oranges here in memory of your oranges. Even the water that Kathmandu offers me is unspeakable: your buffaloes wouldn't wade in such waters. I close my eyes and evoke the taste of Tama Koshi as I drink water here.

Your memento, this life, erodes as it grinds along Kathmandu's stony centre. I tremble that I might never return this memento to you. I yearn to return it in whatever condition before my body collapses. Yet what chance is there that Kathmandu will allow me to return to you in good condition? This desert grinds down the youth that you gave me. So I may come to you, mother, but please don't panic to see my harried state. Don't gather tears at your eyes to see the erratic ways of my heartbeat, the life that you so cared for. The beauty of the body isn't all there is. The heart of humanity is never ugly. This city's touch may have stripped my body of beauty, but my heart is as you made it. That's why though I live far from you, I soften with your love, and drop, melting, in each of these letters.

My earth, my mother, I'll ask you a question if you'll reply honestly. I've started to see bad dreams these days. They say that it's not good to see trees falling, but I saw that all your trees fell and you were making an offering of tears at their roots. I saw that your upper teeth had fallen out. They say that's also inauspicious. It means I'll see the destruction of those whom I revere. I revere no one more than you. Mother, tell me without looking down on me as a daughter, I ask you under my breath, with difficulty, unable to even speak aloud: are you somehow in danger? I see eagles and vultures swooping down on you in daylight. The terror of wolves grows not just there and here but all over the world. Ah! How cryptic life is! How ill-intentioned!

Soonkhaani, what news of your other sons and daughters? I hear that your sons, untouched by their birthplace's warmth, walk from twilight onward draped in the snug blankets found in bottles. Didn't you make them take an oath of affection? I hear that your daughters, seeing their own brothers, startle as though they've seen tigers, and come crying to hide in your embrace. Someone who came from there the other day said that once, when you tried to offer counsel, one of your sons came after you with a khukuri, trying to kill you. Unable to even cry out, you rushed away with all your pain locked up inside you. Soonkhaani, don't take refuge in the house of someone who shows you a moment's pity. Don't throw away your life for the lust for ease and riches. Don't get led into in the calm ocean in search of coolness. That would mean destruction for us, who do so much in your name, who see our identity in yours: it would mean the end for us. My world would drown with your disappearance. I might not be able to save you from deep waters, so rather than drown, play holi with two fistfuls of blood. Recognise your ill-intentioned sons who'd snatch your ears and nose. When I come, don't give in to maternal love by shielding them and sending me off along another path, saying, 'They've gone there.' You may regret it, because once I fall from your sight on the wrong path, those sons could pierce your lap with a knife and drink your blood.

Soonkhaani! Don't feel sad that I'm late coming to you. No matter what happens, no matter when, before evening time falls in my life, I'll come with cupped palms full of white flowers and offer them at your feet. In that joy I'll wash your feet with tears and ask forgiveness for the wrongs that I've committed. No matter how selfish you think me, I haven't forgotten the comely youth of the rhododendrons of my village, I haven't forgotten the free flight of the pheasant, I haven't forgotten the calls of the cuckoo, I haven't forgotten your song of sorrow that the barbet sings. I haven't forgotten anything about you because I haven't forgotten myself.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)