This morning I woke up at half past six or, as we would say in Catalonia, two quarters of seven. It was to hear the distorted trumpets of one of the typical music bands, which are a must for Indian and Nepalese weddings and seem to specialize in continually going out of tune. They also give you the impression of being hopelessly drunk, as it said in that old South American song: “What happens is that the band is drunk, is drunk, is drunk…! I smiled under the covers and sang the song that for me is an inseparable part of this curious population of Nepal called Sauraha: “Life goes on the same”.
Just like every year at this time when the weather changes completely from one day to the next, from winter to summer and from fresh air to heat as if it were meant to surprise you (it always does), the neighborhood now jumps out of bed earlier, following the solar schedule. One example: until a couple of weeks ago, the dairy opened its doors to the public at half past seven and now it does so at seven.
I went to Shankar’s house with a litre of milk stored in my cloth bag, the same one I have been using for the last five years (eco, eco, eco, ecological). I laughed at the sight of three women who were talking loudly at the same time without paying attention to what the others were saying. Then I smiled at the smiles of Sauraha’s smiling children (free children, happy children), of whom a lot continue to be born every year and who are taught by their parents to put their palms together and say, “Namaste, Nando Baba,” as I jog past.
After going to the Shiva temple and descending to the river, the morning chai ceremony of course included a quick visit from Shankar’s mother-in-law, a heavy smoker who never buys tobacco and shamelessly caps the cigarettes we use for the porritos.
Another “sauraheña” custom that continues unabated through the years: people never close their doors. Here is the indispensable example: we will be in Mr. Tolstoy’s room with the window and the door closed because it will be night and it will be a little cold outside, and whoever enters and leaves (the warrior mother-in-law, the even more warlike sister-in-law, or the marching nephews) will do so by invariably leaving the door open.
I think I wrote in some of last year’s chronicles that the few changes that took place in Sauraha did not succeed in changing its placid atmosphere: and it still does. There are more hotels, although due to the coronavirus epidemic they are at 15% of their capacity, which should be the peak of the tourist season. New shops have also been opened, offering exactly the same products as in the other fifty in the surrounding area, despite the fact that there were already many for so few customers.
One improvement: they have paved the dusty, rocky road leading to this guesthouse and named it “Rhino Street”. They also widened the street that runs through Sauraha parallel to the Rapti River and gave it the appearance of a road. In any case, traffic is still mostly bicycles: advantages of living in an infinite plain where there is not a single slope. The noise of the engines will warn me of the vehicles behind me, but not the bicycles, whose silence is synonymous with danger, so I never crossed the street without making sure that some thrown cyclist does not arrive. Ricchó tricycles are used to sell vegetables and fruit on the street, and they also deliver boxes of soft drinks and gas bottles! Of course, the Kathmandu Post’ and the Himalayan Times’ come to my hut by bicycle: the monthly cost of each is one and a half euros.
If you think that going door to door pedaling must be very hard, think that much worse is the case of the carpet peddlers, who go around and carry their heavy products on their shoulders. I never cease to be amazed by the physical strength of the Nepalese people! Another custom that includes saving and recycling: people pick up the organic garbage from restaurants and use it to feed the cattle, whether they are buffaloes, cows, goats, ducks or chickens: Good!
The feast dedicated to the God Shiva was celebrated under an unusual leaden day in which it did not stop raining. Following tradition, the children closed the road traffic with ropes and charged a rupee to vehicles that wanted to cross these makeshift border posts, which were sometimes only a few meters away from each other. By that time, the kind people of Sauraha already carry loose money in their pockets for the purpose of paying the tax with a smile.
In the temple of Shiva, apart from smoking pot beans, they again prepared “jalua” (or “halua”): a delicious semolina candy in which, as every year, they included the wild datura that grows in the garden of that sacred site. I refused to try it because I hadn’t forgotten that, on another similar occasion, I was hallucinating for several days (and I’m not exaggerating). But I did accept the little glasses of rum to which Shankar and his brother-in-law invited me to water the roast duck we ate: a capital sin because “Shivaratri” is a vegetarian holiday. Narmada, Shankar’s wife, also took a few sips of liquor and then delighted us with a dance when the other two started singing to the accompaniment of some guitars. But we hadn’t finished, because soon some of his sons and daughters joined the dance and I enjoyed again one of those authentic Nepalese comedies that are rarely available to tourists. When I left for my cabin at midnight, I did so without knowing that a wild elephant had been wreaking havoc in the vicinity.
The language of the “Kusundas” tribes of Nepal is in danger of extinction. They are semi-nomadic and feed mainly on what they harvest in the jungle without ever having had livestock or grown cereals or vegetables. Today only one hundred and fifty of them remain who speak their language: they are old and after their death their millenary culture will also die.
Nepal ranks 127th (out of 140 countries) in terms of internet speed. But he’s ahead of his mighty neighbor, India: 128th.
According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of Caesarean sections performed on women in labour should not exceed 15%. However, in Nepal it is 33.5% and in some hospitals it has even reached 90%: “Money makes the world go around, go around…!
Nepalese salaries (euro: 124 rupees) Cook: 13,000 rupees per month. Kitchen assistant: 8,000. Mailman: 25,000. A government company officer like my friend Shankar: 35,000
THAT’S HOW WRITERS TALK
Craig Russel, Scottish: “We have created the Devil in our image.
Mashud Khan from Bangladesh: “I grew up in Dhaka, which is one of the most polluted cities in the world, and when a newspaper offered me a job as a correspondent in New Delhi, I accepted, believing that its air could not be worse than Dhaka’s and would easily endure the three winter months when pollution reaches its highest levels. But I was wrong, because my wife, the children or I did not dare go out into the street because, apart from our eyes starting to sting immediately, we were short of breath and coughed non-stop. Our children couldn’t go to school and my wife taught them at home, where we were locked up for weeks at a time.
Shashikala Manandhar, sixty-year-old Nepalese writer: “Writing is like singing, if you don’t practice you lose your voice.
And that’s all for today, my dear nincompoops. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba