20th August 2022

Of Shoes and Sticks

Jugada, Seti, NPL

At four past midday, the skies finally opened up, and the old market shone in all its stone thatched glory. There were a few meekly stacked concrete structures and shacks made of corrugated steel, just not enough to disdain the aerial harmony of the town, when seen from the Badimalika temple on top of the hill. I had arrived in Martadi with a woman I had met on the way. It was only natural for me to seek the company of locals who were headed the same way; it saved the trouble of navigation. She seemed to be in her mid twenties, wore a bright red kurtha suruwal, and carried a bag half her weight, strapping her child behind it with a shawl. Throughout the better part of the morning, she yelled on the phone, pouring vexation. A non-government organization-initiated cooperative formation meeting she had mobilized other women in the village for, with promises of incentive for attendance had been canceled at the very last moment. Regardless, she chose to make the best out of the occasion and travel to the bazaar. Partly out of sympathy, and partly to quicken the walk, I took her load upon my shoulder – a gesture to which no gratitude was offered; it was my understood responsibility as a young man to do so. At the bazaar, wearing Hattichhaap slippers had led to that ugly slip the previous day, I went around looking for cheap and reliable Goldstars. Finally, at a fancy store (one that sells modern apparel) run by perhaps the most fair and courteous shopkeeper I have ever encountered, I tried on a pair of shoes. For the first time in seven years, I put on shoes! Then kept them in the bag and forgot about them. (The shoes eventually became a burden. I passed them on to a soldier in Jomsom, unused.) I started carrying a stick too, and that proved to be a game changer. As for replacements for the torn apparel, I bought a half pant and made a call to my friend Sachin to send in the usual khaadi one from Thahiti on a bus. Excavators and great old houses were a common sight on the way to Kolti. Both invited grimace; the great houses towered above petty shacks as feudal remnants, while the fuming yellow arm on wheels ripped on without a pause. Howbeit, the humility of the people, that elevating spirit, made things seem well and good. The boy in Jilli who climbed a tree to secure kafals for me on that uphill climb, the engineering student from Pulchowk who was on his way to Humla via Kolti, the people who showed me the way with a smile, the self respecting elderly woman from Chhededaha who was busy sieving grains, the hotelier in Baandho who was trying to introduce vegetable farming to his village, the women who sent prayers and offerings with me – like the aqua blue of the Karnali, they are unforgettable. I remember them all fondly. For me, they were Bajura.