Photo by Erik Duinkerken(CC BY-NC 2.0)

From “Garden Poems”

"Good Credit" "Bhimsen-Lal" "How Quiet It Is Here"

Sushma Joshi

Good Credit

 

As I walk down the streets

Of Handigaon, my hands

Tucked into my mother’s arms,

She greets the people down

The street. They know her

For a lifetime.

 

She leads me through a back way,

past garbage dumps, and inside

the hollowed tunnel of an old house,

The archway the structure

Left standing, while all the rest

Of it lies in cobwebs and skeletons

Of wooden frames, and out again

 

We come to the bright street,

Where an old man sells ice-cream.

She asks for two for fifteen rupees

Each. The shopkeeper peers

At me and asks if I am her daughter.

 

He says he’s never seen me.

This is what happens when

You live too long abroad―not

Even your neighbours know

Of your existence.

 

Later he tells me

That his son is a singer, now famous

And that he will give me a cassette

Of his music. He remembers

That my mother gave many books

To his son when he was younger,

And this helped him to succeed.

 

A group of boys come in and ask

For credit, and he shoos them off,

Yelling abuse. Later, he refuses money

For the ice-cream, insisting its on him.

My mother, alarmed, says: “But you

Are a businessman. And we have

To come here again to buy things.

We cannot take your goods without

Payment.” She throws the money

And skips nimbly away as his wife

laughs. My mother may have flaws,

But in her own neighbourhood,

She always has good credit.

Bhimsen-Lal

 

The shopkeeper has told us

gossip about Bhimsen-Lal―

How he now owns factories,

And large buildings, many rooms

Which he rents to dozens of people.

He’s now a millionaire,

The shop-keeper says, awed.

Bhimsen-Lal is on his mind.

 

As we walk away, my mother

Tucks her hand in my elbow, whispers:

Bhimsen-Lal used to come and work

At our garden when he was younger.

Bhimsen-Lal is now a rich man.

But unlike us, he didn’t save his garden.

 

Later, when an in-law

Looks at the greenery, and mistakes

It for rural untidiness, and suggests

building an apartment complex,

My mother says with finality: we’ve lived

Like this, with trees and a garden,

For generations. We will live frugally

But we will not construct buildings,

We will not start factories,

And we will not chop down our trees.

How Quiet It Is Here

My neighbour came to visit
today. How quiet it is here,
she said. We are right by the road,
and there is a lot of traffic.

 

How quiet it is here,
she repeats again.
This is how it used to be
in Kathmandu before
all the land got split up
in little plots, each one
filled only with a car
and a gigantic mansion.
No room for the birds
or trees now―only goods
and humans.

About the village

 

Handigaon is the oldest inhabited settlement in the Kathmandu Valley. “Handi” means a fired pot, and “gaon” means a village. The village was originally a village of potters before the larger urban city enclosed it into its modern embrace.

 

Jyapu are a farming caste from the Newar community, and the traditional inhabitants of Handigaon. Handigaon is famed for its Jatras, or festivals―there were thirty-six recorded ones at last count. A proverb which says: “Kahi nabhaeko jatra Handigaonma” means “A festival which doesn’t exist anywhere else, exists in Handigaon.” One can still hear the sweet sounds of music from the musicians during various ritual days and events. A rath, or chariot, is still dragged from Handigaon to the Gahana Khojnay Pokhari, or Treasure-Seeking Pond, every April. Myth recounts how a princess used to go and worship a temple in the middle of the pond by stepping on lotus leaves. But one day, one of the leaves tipped, and she fell and drowned into the pond. The search every year is for her lost jewelry.

 

The author was born and grew up in Handigaon. Her family, Brahmin astrologers who lived in the middle of the inner city of Kathmandu, moved to Handigaon about 100 years ago. There she grew up in a large house and family with walnut, guava, plum, pomelo, citrus and other fruit trees. The house was surrounded by fields of rice till twenty years ago. There were two natural ponds filled with lotuses, as well as thirteen wells made of wood, before this old house. Her grandfather tended a miniature Persian garden in the front of the old Nepali home. After her grandparents passed away, the four sons subdivided the land. Now those ponds, wells, and fields are all gone, and the area is filled with concrete suburban walled compounds. However, the writer’s mother still plants corn, squash and tomatoes in the smaller garden. And they have, in the garden an avocado tree, three jackarandas, and one pomelo tree still left standing.

Sushma Joshi

A Nepali writer and filmmaker. She was born in 1973 in Kathmandu, Nepal. She went to the USA at 19, and received a BA from Brown University. She has an MA in anthropology from The New School for Social Research, New York; and an MA in English Literature from the Breadloaf School of English, Vermont. "End of the World," her book of short stories, was long-listed for the Frank O' Connor International Short Story Award in 2009. Her writings appear in many kinds of magazines and has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Vietnamese.