so, here's the weekly essay.
i am getting tardy as a writer. i have assignments, i have deadlines, i am pretty much empty inside. it feels like i have lost sight of why i should write, even to earn that small wage.
in any case, here's another terribly written piece:
“Does she look like a Chepangni? Does she?” Her husband asks. Chepangni leans against the still damp mud plaster, bright from the morning's wash of red clay. No, she doesn't look like a Chepangni. “She doesn't look like a Chepangni. What does she look like?”
Theuwataar is at the other side of a trail-bridge across the Trishuli river. At the very mouth of the bridge is a small tea and raksi shop with a bench on the Trishuli side. But, because I threw my chappals against the wall and sat, everybody is sitting on the floor: Chepangni, her husband the Chepang, Grandma, Lahure. Timo hovers around the edges, teasing a child, making her repeat her name. The two girls are in kindergarten and know how to say 'Morning!
“She doesn't look like a Chepangni,” I say, and mumble to my drink, “You are right. She doesn't look like a Chepangni.” Lahure begins to laugh, an interminable series of hiccups paced to allow a sip here, a smoke there. Chepang picks up a slimy, tart piece of gava and drops it into his mouth. Chepangni takes a cigarette and asks her husband for a light. Lahure is amused by the mild embarrassment that is spreading over my face. “She looks like a Bahuni, doesn't she?” Chepang slaps his thigh, shuffles on the balls of his feet to add emphasis. “Sir is probably thinking how did this ugly Chepang get such a pretty Bahuni wife,” he looks at his wife, who giggles back, haloes him with her flavored breath, mingling this and the other. Lahure continues his choked giggle.
“Does she look like a woman who has given birth to twelve children?” Chepang is very proud of his wife. His smile widens to reveal two more upper-molars. He swings his head back and finishes the raksi in his glass and instinctively reaches for the bottle that is empty by now, the second hour of our conversation. Chepangni smiles at her husband again, reaching her glass to the bottle in his hand. They discover together the small disappointment of a bottle without its gift of mild, sweet millet raksi. Lahure hands Chepangni the two bottles already empty. There is another round of disappointed laughter. Lahrue asks his daughter-in-law for another bottle.
“Twelve children?” It is hard to believe. There are a few lines around her eyes, but she couldn't be more than forty-five years old. “Four sons and four daughters,” Chepangni says. “Four died.” So easily said. Four died. Boys? Girls? No matter. Four. Dead. Eight survive; three work across the bridge, bring home eleven thousand rupees every month.
“So you are a Bahuni?” I ask Chepangni. “No,” she says, “What Chepangni, what Bahuni.”
“Ask her to speak the Chepang tongue,” Lahure says. “Such a pretty Bahuni she was when she was younger, but she knew only Chepang.”
“My father is a Bhatta Chhettri from Baglung. My mother was a Chepangni. He took her home. But these were the old days, you know how it was between castes. Somebody told my mother that Bahun-Chhetri let their Magar-Chepang wives sleep in the granary. But when they get sick or too old to work, they are put out in the jungle, in a cave hours away, to die on their own. She didn't believe that, of course, because her husband loved her. But when I was born, she waited for her mother-in-law to name me on the eleventh day. Nothing. Twelfth day, nothing, thirteenth day, nothing.
“There was another Chepang in that village. My mother and he were the only two Chepangs in the village of Bahun-Chhetri folks, and they were both orphans. So she went to him on the fourteenth day and said—Why aren't they naming my daughter? That's when the other Chepang asked her if she would leave the village and elope to a place where Chepangs lived. Can you imagine? From Baglung, they came here. My Chepang father died just a month ago.
“I hear my father has four sons, and is a rich man now. I heard he has a gairikhet that takes sixteen pairs of oxen. It may be that I have never seen his face, but he is still my father, and he is still alive. I want to go back and tell him I am his daughter. I don't believe he doesn't know I am here. Don't you think? These days even the law says I am entitled to his property.”
“You shouldn't be greedy,” Lahure says. Chepang adds without looking at his wife, “It is no good to live in hope. Expectations are no good, they only create trouble.”
“I didn't know that story!” Lahure exclaims suddenly agitated. “Nobody ever told me that story! I always wondered—the father is Chepang, the mother is Chepang. How did this bhauju have a Bahuni daughter? But I was always too polite to ask.” He starts laughing again. “But, now it doesn't seem at all strange. My father and mother were both Darai, but this Bhauju's mother was Chepang. Doesn't she look all Magar and none Chepang?” Grandma, our picture of silence, smiles just a little, looks at the finger of raksi remaining in her glass. She too was orphaned very young, without any memory of her father or mother.
“I was surprised,” I say. “I knew we were coming to a Chepang village. Had no idea there are Darais living here.” There were Bahuns, Chhetris, Gurungs, a Sarki family. Just no Rais and no Damais, they kept telling me. Over an afternoon of stories about migration and famine, fighting the Pakistanis and not getting to fight the Chinese, the most consistent color was that of mingling, mixing of bloods, each person sharply confused about their lineage, but muddled and assured about who they were. Chepangni, a Chhetri's daughter from a Chepang woman, had been called a Bahuni all her life in the Darai Magar-Chepang village. Now she smiled, accentuating her Bahuni features, smiling down her sharp nose and large eyes. Later in the day, some friends showed a photograph of an old Kandel Chhetri man, proudly flashing his strings of rudrakshya and tulsi rosaries and a vertical smear of sandalwood paste, who looked very much Chepang around the eyes and nose and the too, too bare strands of hair clinging to a round chin. I realized how vacuous and redundant my trained “sensitivity” became at the face of such a dynamic confusion of identities. These families had existed in harmony, nourishing and exploiting each other, looting and feeding each other, for centuries. Now we ask the Chepangni why she looks so much like a Bahuni, and that is alright.
“But, I am his daughter,” Chepangni is still speaking, her eyes searching the brown torrents of an over-brimming Trishuli. “He loved my mother. I was fourteen days old when my mother left the village. I don't believe he will be unhappy to see me. I am his firstborn. I must look like him, because I look nothing like my mother. I want to see his face once before he dies. He is my father, after all.”