Saturday, January 3, 2009

The World Out There

Lily and Alex's blog This Ridiculous World, included in my blog roll, won third place
in the "general blogs" section in a Chinese blogs listing. Nice work, Weed & Weed!

Students at Budhanilkantha started a blog of their own, called We Are BNKS They also posted a link to this page, but misspelled the link. Good for me. Sometimes I tend to write stuff I worry young adults shouldn't read. I tend be profane, and worse, self-engrossed. Better they don't read my posts.

And, below, I am preempting TKP and posting the article I submitted for tomorrow's paper. Very high chances of it not being published: writing this was harder than pushing a four-day turd, the kind that wanted to come out two days ago, but you forgot because you were running between places or errands, and two dehydrated days later, it has solidified in the rectal cavity into a nugget of such regal stubbornness that you'll forever after argue with a woman that yes, you do too know what it feels like to give birth. And you can't even coo at it afterwards like you can when you make a mini-you. In any case, writing this was just as forced, and full of self-loathing.

In any case, here it is:

Throw Out the Driver

--Prawin Adhikari
Sometimes, a knowing smile is the best answer one can give oneself. “What is that rattling noise?” a man sitting in a bus asks nobody in general. The khalasi knows what rattles so: “Spare tire,” he says. Something inexplicable, perhaps a mistimed affability or a hiccup of casual honesty, prompts him to add: “Waiting for a tire to go bust.”

What? I turn around. He is serious. No cheap wit plastered on his face. The person who asked the original question seems not to require any further explanation. I cannot understand why a tire must go bust mid-journey before it can be replaced. “An hour or two, at most, then it'll go bust. It is not a problem. Takes maybe ten minutes to change.” Nobody else on the bus seems to mind. It doesn't worry me to trust my physical wellbeing to a driver-khalasi pair that finds perfect logic in waiting for a tire to burst while traveling at high speed. After all, they are in the same bus, the same figurative boat of a common mechanical fate.

As predicted, the tire goes bust with a sharp crack and a long hiss. Passengers look relieved at the opportunity to step out and relieve themselves, stretch their limbs, crouch to watch the khalasi worm his way under the bus to change the tire. It is shocking how little he had been hiding about the defective tire: it has been ripped apart, a gash guts half of its circumference into a goofy, outsized smile directed at itself, and the frills of its dark innards seem disappointed at the whimper with which they had to let go of so much air.

How comfortable we are as a people to let such driver-khalasi combinations steer our lives to the edge of disaster. But, politicians are never in the same figurative boat as the rest of us. They have exits where we fall to rot. They have hordes of mindless servants whom we feed and clothe and provide with drug money. They have the bombastic vehicle of rhetoric and threats while we have the dismayed, betrayed look of the generically weak and faceless. When our prime minister reminds us that there is never any fuss to be made about a scuffle where nobody dies, we almost agree, our heads already in half-nod without our bidding. We can wait for the tire to go bust before we replace it. We must wait, those in power tell us, and we half-nod, “Of course, we must.”

Soon, the bus gets rolling. As terai ends and the ribbon of a highway finds another ribbon of a river, a clear sun shines through the dim fog that had blanketed over the terai. People and their small, messy lives along the highway look exactly the same as I have always seen them. There is no register on faces that approach the bus at stops along the route of the new erosion of peace that is spreading through the country. Their concern was more quotidian. They voices were for selling and soliciting, not for protesting, asking, condemning.

But, my expectation of meekness is ill-founded. A young man enters the bus with a platter of roasted maize ears. An old woman abuses him for the price he quotes. The young man turns to look at her, but says nothing. A pahadi man laughs, joins in with the old woman in abusing the dark young man, taunting him with a voice that mocks a plainsman's accent. The young man turns back and replies in a tongue more pahadi, more rustic and colorful than they expected. He wins by the dint of accent, and his is a unique victory. They lashed at the color of his skin, the station of his labor by windows of passing buses, his lifelong wares of coconut and cucumber slices, peas and grams in plastic packets. He retaliated with the decidedly superior token of local accent, proving himself more of the soil and soot than these passengers whose claim to nativity, in that locale, came from shared geography. They forgot he is the lord over his small kingdom of bus-aisles and half-slid windows, transacting in the salt and water comforts of weary travelers, and that they buy passage from him to their barbaric lives in the backward corners hidden under highland mist.

The politics of place is once more a playground for the silver-tongued and wily, greedy and divisive, deceptive politicians. They argue that a place belongs to a particular people. It doesn't. It doesn't belong to the past. It belongs to a future for which they have no right to articulate a vision, but every duty to prepare optimal conditions for future citizens to inherit a civilized discourse. The pahad doesn't belong to hills-people any more than the terai belongs to the plains-people. It is already a tragedy that there are arbitrary political boundaries. There are to be tribal boundaries added to this mess? Who does the addition and subtraction, making vital decisions that affect each of us? Not the dark young man selling corn, but the driver-khalasi combination that wants to wait for the tire to go bust before replacing it. It seems we have a driver now who wants to wait for a fatality before considering anything news. We can't be two-times lucky in epoch-making revolutions. The limits of trust must be constantly examined, to see if we do, indeed, share a common fate with the driver-khalasi nexus that drives our destiny.

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