Friday, December 23, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


The editors at ECS Magazine asked me to write about the Krishna Temple, and my experience there during the earthquake. This is what I wrote for the December 2016 issue.

Sushma Joshi

Lying on the bed of the B and B Hospital, I tried to explain to people what had happened to me in the Patan Durbar Square on the day of the earthquake. But try as I may, I didn’t know what had happened to me. “The Krishna Temple fell on her,” my mother said, by way of explanation. My nose and ears was stuffed full of the dry, dank smell of centuries old dust, making me feel I was encased in burial and death. My head was full of wounds and caked with blood. Doctors and nurses, breezing in and out and injected me with antibiotics via the IV drip, didn’t seem to think the wounds needed cleaning. They said airily: “Oh, don’t worry, that will fall out in a few days.” But in those few days, I slept with a giant ball of hair full of dust. The smell of decomposing blood got stronger as the days passed. At night, I would awake with the feeling that something very heavy was pressing down upon me, making it difficult for me to breathe. The women in my family finally found a pair of scissors and cut the hair off.

My father handed me The Kathmandu Post, and I saw that in fact the Krishna Temple had not fallen on top of me: the photograph showed the temple standing, intact, in the background, but another temple next to it was gone, like an uprooted tooth. It was not until I returned to my house, eighteen days later, and a friend of mine showed me a photograph she had taken of the Square. The Mangal Hiti water complex was buried in the detritus of the small pati that had collapsed on top of it. So that, I thought, was what had buried me. I felt relieved to see the Krishna Temple, where I’d often walked around the stone balustrades, was intact.

The Krishna Temple remains etched in my memory of that day, if only because something odd crossed my mind as I looked at it just a few seconds before the earthquake. I had stood beneath the Krishna Temple, and noticed that somebody had painted the stone cornices of the temple with gilded paint. I felt annoyed with what in hindsight appears to be uncharacteristic pessimism—who, I thought, had done that? This was a historical structure made of carved stone, and a glitzy paint of this nature showed a lack of historical and archaeological knowledge. Almost, I thought, as if the gilt paint was a way to mark the temple from some other location, from which it could be targeted. Then, as I looked at this gilded cornice, this very un-Nepali fear crossed my mind:
What if a terrorist attack is about to occur in this place?

Reader, I have no idea why that fear crossed my mind in that specific instance. But it did. As you will agree, this is a very unusual fear for a Nepali, since we don’t have terrorist attacks on religious places, as other countries do. Almost with reluctance, I took those steps towards the water complex. Then, of course, the quake occurred.

I have no idea why the very specific sense of unease arose in me in that instance. Talking to people later, it occurred to me that the quake was already in motion when I started to move towards the stairs—in other words, I must have felt the pre-quake, but it did not register consciously.

Perhaps Krishna gives precognition to his devotees. Whatever it was, it was clear the few seconds I spent lingering under the eaves of the temple made the difference between my life and death-a few seconds earlier, and I would be dead under the weight of the huge beams that fell on my ankle instead. As it was, I fell neatly on a broad section of the stairways, where the wooden beams made a little shelter for me, protecting me from the debris. This position also made it easy for my rescuers to pull me out.

It has taken me multiple operations and eighteen months for me to be back on my feet again. When I take my elbow crutch and go out for a walk towards a different Krishna Temple, I noticed how the people would react to me. First, the babies held by their mothers who turned and whose expressions change when they catch sight of me. Babies know intuitively when somebody has been hurt—after all, the boundaries between their own bodies and those of the other is still unclear, and for them, the hurt of someone else is the same as being hurt themselves. Humans are born with empathy, and this has been nowhere more apparent than in my walks, when I see the face of baby change from joy to an existential sadness when they see me. The moment I see the facial expression of a baby change from total happiness to sudden dismay, it reminds me of the Buddha and the moment he learnt about illness, aging and death. And this, I think, is also the reason why the baby Krishna is so revered: because at that age, there is no hatred and no fear, only love for the other.

Then there are the toddlers, who at two or three know something is wrong when they see me with the stick. “Oo!” they say, pointing. “What is that?” They are not saddened like the babies, but they are not going to walk past ignoring my injury either. The answer depends upon the diplomatic skill of the mother, who may try to hurry the child through, pretending to ignore what he or she has just seen. Other mothers are more kind, and will say: “Oh, didi has been hurt, see. She needs a stick to walk.” Often they will smile at me, teaching the child the all important lesson: “look, this is not so bad. She just needs a bit of support now.”

And then the human race starts to get darker as they head towards teenagehood. One day I heard hysterical laughter behind me and turned: a girl dressed in all black, in the manner of Angelina Jolie, could not control her laughter at the sight of me and my elbow crutch. Her laughter was so uncontrolled her boyfriend, embarrassed by her cruelty, separated himself from her and started to walk on the other side of the road. The teenager, seemingly oblivious to the ravages of time awaiting her pretty body--operations, broken bones, cancers and hospitalization—pulled out a mirror and checked her beautiful face, before being on her pretty way. There was nothing Radha-Krishna about this encounter, although in the height of her beauty this young woman should have reminded us about the beauty of love. Instead, she made me think about the cruelty of teenagers, and she made me wonder what it was about our society that turned loving babies into these monstrous beings.

Another day, I was minding my own business, walking with a bag of butter I had managed to buy after my first long trip to the dairy, when I saw two men being disgorged from a long distance bus. The men, big strapping young men with the face of those from the far or mid-west, then stared at me and my crutch with unabashed contempt, and made some sneering sounds. I looked back at them, amazed at their handsome oafishness. Did these men not know how dumb they looked, harassing a woman with an elbow crutch? But they seemed quite oblivious to how mean and cruel they looked. It occurred to me that where they came from, sneering at a woman with a disability was probably the height of manliness, and something that bolstered their status and prestige. I glared at the man, but he only looked back at me with the most startling emotion of all—a hint of hatred. They were only doing what had been taught to them by a patriarchal Hinduism. That day I got a taste of what it feels like to be a woman in a different part of my own country—the far-west, or the mid-west, where women are still treated like animals if they ever have the misfortune to ever need a walking aid. And this, I realize, is what is wrong with Hinduism, despite all the love Krishna tells us is in our culture: unlike the Christians, we never made a real effort to address disability, and to teach people that these misfortunes can befall anyone. Having a sports injury is a normal everyday part of life in America: even the worst behaved person in America would not deliberately target those with disabilities. And yet, in Nepal, it is obviously still something that we have not learnt to be practical about, and deal with in a compassionate manner.

I do not want to blame Hinduism for everything. If so, I would also have to blame it for the outpouring of love and concern that people heaped on me the first few days I was able to walk again. Strangers were stopping me on the streets to ask me what happened to me, and how glad they were that I was walking again. One day, my mother and I went out for a walk and a gentleman stopped me, said how he was in his seventies and could almost be my father, how his own daughter had suffered in the same manner and how she had finally recovered and gone to Australia, and how I should not stop doing physiotherapy. “Hai baba, don’t stop physiotherapy hai,” he said, before being on his way. Then a farmer carrying straw on his bicyle asked me if I was now fine, almost as if he knew me, then more people started to stop me on the way. “Humanity,” my mother said to me, using the English word by way of explanation, and making me cry.

A few days ago, I had that glorious moment when I realized I could stand up by myself and do a slow pivot around the vegetable market. Dazzled by the sudden freedom and the colors of the market, I took out my cellphone and was in the process of doing a 360 degree shot around the market when I heard this little voice say: “What is this?” It was a boy about ten, the mischievous Krishna age, and he was pointing to my elbow crutch. Caught up in my photography, I tried to shake him off. In that voice you use to two year olds, I said: “Oh, it’s a stick.”  When I looked down after my photograph was done, he was gone. Then I realized how I’d missed the opportunity: here was a little boy who was genuinely interested and asking me, “What happened to you? Are you okay?” And instead of giving him the answer he deserved, I’d brushed him off, much like the mothers who hurried their toddlers past me, muttering “Lets go.” I had missed an opportunity. To tell him that I was injured, but was now getting better. And that this stick was an implement that helped me to be strong and helped me to balance on my feet. And that yes, it could happen to him too, in the future, but that he shouldn’t worry, because when a human being falls down, the whole of humanity picks him or her up, and makes them walk again.

For those of you who can't get the hard copy of the magazine, here is ECS Magazine's table of contents:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My poems in Kyoto Journal 87

The Kyoto Journal just published two of my poems from my series "Garden Poems". Please buy the journal--its a literary and artistic feast about Asia!

You can buy the latest issue here:

And here is the PDF of my two poems, with beautiful illustrations.


Friday, November 04, 2016

Kyoto Journal #87

KJ 87
Amazingly, Kyoto Journal is approaching its 30th anniversary—not bad going for an all-volunteer non-profit publication, in any context. Back in the pre-Internet days of monochrome cut-and-paste layout (art-knife and toxic spray-nori) we had no inkling that the magazine would last more than a few issues, or that it would continue to evolve over three decades into its current Asia-spanning digital format. Deepest gratitude to each and every one of KJ’s multitude of supporters: our contributors, subscribers, and editorial/production staff!
Our soon-to-be released fall 2016 issue, KJ 87(!), features excerpts from three exceptional new books, complemented by a wide-reaching ensemble of encounters with people engaged in extending creative boundaries in Japan, India, Kazakhstan, Cambodia—and North Korea. Marc Peter Keane’s forthcoming Japanese Garden Notes: a visual guide to elements and design, is a feast for the eyes in explicating behind-the-scenes aspects of this quintessential art; the always-thoughtful Alex Kerr’s newest publication, Another Kyoto, is equally rich in insights into the essence of classic Kyoto. Artist activist Mayumi Oda’s autobiography Sarasvati’s Gifts melds her Buddhist/feminist art and social commitment, revealing an intensely-lived life.
In two separate interviews we delve into the evolution of haiku and its world-wide relevance, with Richard Gilbert, a Kumamoto-based scholar and poet, and Kala Ramesh, poet and founder of an ongoing international haiku festival in Pune, India.Toyoshima Mizuho and Hara Masaru, a Kyoto Noh actor, discuss hidden depths of this ancient performance art. Remo Notarianni profiles contemporary Kazakh artists including photographer Almagul Menlibayeva, who documents cultural transitions through a fashion-style lens; George Saitoh interviews artist Tatsuta Tatsuya, who focuses sunlight through a Fresnel lens to transform his sculptures.Elle Murrel mingles with artists from East and central Asia, and beyond, who created installations in Nara for this summer’s spectacular Culture City of East Asia program, “A Journey Beyond 1300 Years of Time and Space.” Raymond Hyma presents the inspiring story of Nika Tath, an entrepreneurial blind massage therapist in Phnom Penh with “seeing hands.” Stacy Hughes joins a pioneering surfing tour in North Korea—the DPRK—helping set up an impromptu surf school; Ilyse Kusnetz visits Tomorrowland, located in Tokyo Bay, and Robert Brady farewells an era beside the shining vastness of Lake Biwa in Shiga. Plus poetry by Ami Kaye, Sushma Joshi, Leanne Dunic—and translations of ghazals by 19th century Indian poet Ghalib—new fiction by Sacha Idell, and a raft of topical reviews.
To be published digitally in mid-November, available by single issue or subscription. Track us on Facebook for updates as we go to press—we’re also fine-tuning plans for our anniversary party in Kyoto in January.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kathmandu Post review of "House of Snow"

The Kathmandu Post's review of "House of Snow" says:

The book crisscrosses genres, straddles ages and dissolves the boundaries of nations and cultures to bring together those who are bonded by the common desire to talk about their Nepali experiences. Alongside the works by the gems of Nepali literature (Bhupi Sherchan, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Lakshmiprasad Devkota, and Lil Bahadur Chettri) and popular Nepali authors writing in English (Manjushree Thapa, Sushma Joshi, Samrat Upadhyay) are the accounts of foreigners writing about the country. There is Michel Peissel with his story of Boris Lissanevitch, the Russian émigré who opened the first hotel in Nepal; an excerpt of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling  personal account about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster; and  Michael Palin with his trekking diaries.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Far Cry Zine

And if you are into science fiction, do order a copy of the Far Cry Zine, which just published my short story "Orange Peel."

Here's their website:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Emanations: 2+2=5

I was thrilled to receive in the mail a jumbo copy of Emanations!

 As an earthquake victim buried under rubble for half hour, 
with seventeen days in the hospital for various surgeries,
then four months on my back as I tried to get up, via physiotherapy,
then more months as I realized I needed pins in my ankle if I was to walk,
then full body anasthesia again to remove the implement in my broken arm,
and to insert pins into my right ankle, and then more post-op recovery, exercise, 
and physiotherapy... I was feeling exhausted. 
 I had had no access to any reading material other than Twitter,
and the books that my friends bought me, during all this time. This includes 
a tattered copy of world poetry
that belongs to Wayne Amtzis, and a book about a dog written by Jack London, 
which formerly belonged to Sara Shneiderman's 8 year-old son Sam, if I'm not mistaken. 
Both of these were excellent (the Chetan Bhagat and Jhumpa Lahiri bought
by other concerned friends I declined to read, because I don't read Bhagat or Lahiri.) 
So I was very thrilled to see a jumbo anthology by my bedside,
in which my story had not just been published, but also seem to have a number of other works
which kept me reading throughout the blackouted nights. This was a good sign.
So I hope you will get Emanations, a copy thereof,
because there is a lot there you won't find in mainstream journals. 
And I say this not just because I am on the board,
but also because I think you will genuinely like it. 

(End of crappy poem #78. The great thing about having a blog 
is that you can write things like this 
and none of your 12 followers will mind, or even notice.) 

Emanations' blog:

House of Snow: An anthology of the greatest writing from Nepal

Dear readers! Please do order a copy of "House of Snow," newly published by Head of Zeus in London this August. The anthology looks big and fat, and I'm sure there will be something there for everyone! You can also find my short story "After the Floods" in the anthology. All proceeds go to rebuild a school in Gorkha, one of the districts most affected by the 2015 earthquake.

Thank you for your support, and I look forward to hearing your feedback!! -- Sushma

Amazon says: 

HOUSE OF SNOW is the biggest, most comprehensive and most beautiful collection of writing about Nepal in print. It includes over 50 excerpts of fiction and non-fiction inspired by the breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage of this fascinating country.
Here are explorers and mountaineers, poets and political journalists, national treasures and international stars such as Michael Palin and Jon Krakauer, Laxmi Prasad Devkota and ManjushreeThapa – all hand-picked by well-known authors and scholars of Nepali literature including Samrat Upadhyay, Michael Hutt, Isabella Tree and Thomas Bell. All profits from sales will be donated to charities providing relief from the 2015 earthquakes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Quake in Setopati

  • 936

A rain of bricks.
I thought somebody was hitting me from behind with bricks.
Surprise, anger. What the…! 
My instinct was to turn behind, to look, to react. But the earthquake gave me no time. Everything happened in the fraction of a second. The next thing I can remember, I had slid down the stairs midway to Mangal Hiti, and was lying pinned on the ground. A latticework of heavy pillars of wood and bricks, the debris of a temple that had collapsed behind me, pinned me down. It took me a while to register this thought: “This is real. This just happened.” This wasn’t fiction. This was the real deal, the apocalyptic accident of unimaginable horror that we think will lie safely within the pages of books and on the screens of the cinema, but never experience in real life. The incident I’d imagined would never happen to me—until it did.
I could raise my head a bit, and I could see the light through the small chinks and openings. I had just eaten my samosa and in my left hand I held a jelabi wrapped in paper wrapping—one of those absurdist details that bring home the irrelevance of human concerns when one is face-to-face with death. My left hand opened and I let go of the sweet—I knew I wouldn’t be eating it that day.
I put my head down again, and noticed the drip-drip-drip of blood from my mouth. The blood was dark red. I put my tongue against my tooth, and felt it shake. I had no idea, in that moment, what had hit me, and what had hit my country. As the cries of the people rose around me in eerie terror, it felt like an attack of some sort—a military attack, perhaps, or a bomb. It didn’t occur to me that this was an earthquake.
I’m not a good practitioner of dharma, and my practice tends to be patchy, at best. But at this instance of gravest danger, I fell back upon the Tara Mantra, almost by instinct.
This is how I’d gotten to it: on a visit to Choeki Nima Rimpoche, I had requested his support to do a Tara puja. Rimpoche had said to me: “Why do you want to do the Tara puja? That is very complicated.” When I insisted, he’d said:  “Here, I will teach you the Tara mantra instead, and you can do it at home. After you’ve practiced for a while, come back and we can discuss about the puja.” Then he’d given me the mantra. Which was the same mantra I started to repeat in my head, over and over, as I lay buried under the debris in Patan Durbar Square. There’s something about a mantra that automatically calms the mind, gives solace and dispels fear.
I knew somebody would come get me—the Patan Durbar Square is usually full of people, and I imagined that people would start to come down the steps to get water from the stone spout at Mangal Hiti around 5 pm for their evening meals, if not before. So there was little chance I would be left behind, buried under a pile of rubble. I waited. The apocalyptic cries of despair around me did not cease. After about half hour, I started to panic. “Didi, didi!” I shouted, thinking of the handicrafts vendors who laid their wares on the left side of the water tap complex. “DIDI!” The more high pitched my screams, the more agitated I became. As if in punish my cries, the second earthquake hit. The shaking was extraordinary—everything on top of me and below me and around me shook and gyrated violently, like the wheel of the Kalachakra. It seemed certain I would die—it did not seem possible that anybody would escape this moment alive.
The shaking stopped. I lay quiet and supine under the debris. Making a noise and disrupting the atmosphere, it seemed, could bring certain death. And besides, there must be so many other people who needed more help than I did, I reproached myself. I knew I had to exercise patience, and I had to do was wait. Sooner or later, people would come get me. And this is when I went back to Tara’s mantra, and this when I made a promise to the female form of the Buddha: If I ever get out of here alive, I’ll spend my life spreading word of your teachings.
After another ten minutes, I heard someone climbing down. I imagined the person who scrambled down to be a child—a curious boy, perhaps. “Babu, I’m in here, please take me out,” I said, in what must have been a perfectly calm and casual voice. Then all of a sudden, a crowd was upon me, pulling the wood apart, trying to force apart the pile of brick and centuries old earth to get to the human body lying at the bottom. From their terrified voices, I felt everybody must be shaking with adrenaline and fear—nobody knew when the next quake would hit.
The instinct of the crowd was to pull me out as fast as they could. Which is what they did. First they tried to forcibly pull my body out, but the ankle was pinned. Instead of raising the big blocks of wood, they tore the leg out--mangling the ankle in the process. “Didi, let go of your bag!” somebody said, and I let go of the straps on my arm.
Then as they held me aloft in what must have been a spectacular rag-doll human effigy moment, I felt the crowd pull me to the left, then the right, as if I was the ropes of the Machindranath chariot—and then in that push-pull moment of Newar co-operation and competition, I felt my left arm snap, fractured by the energy of a crowd trying to pull me in different directions. I’m a Vipassana meditator, and can be unnaturally calm in the face of pain. But this thought occurred to me: “I better cry out, or I might be pulled apart by the crowd.” Which is what I did: “My arm! My arm! Please don’t pull!” I felt like something out of a jatra—held aloft, a mangled body covered with centuries old dust, a totem of some ragged victory. My eyes opened to blinding light. I saw what appeared to be the white ramparts of a fort, where people stood in a line, watching the rescue. And then I lost consciousness.
My first responders were kind and brave, and they worked hard to get me out. I will be forever grateful to them. I look back at the photographs my friend showed me later of the site where I’d been buried, I wondered how they’d managed to get to that pile of rubble, because the pile of broken wood and construction material seems impenetrable. I am alive today because my accident happened in the middle of an urban space, with a co-operative community of individuals who were ready to spring to the rescue, putting their own lives at risk to rescue me. My only motive in sharing the above anecdote is to hope that the UN and other agencies will provide first responder training to communities, especially ways to remove bodies from rubble, and to work in teams, so that next time the earthquake occurs, injuries of this nature can be eliminated.
An ambulance siren blew. I heard two men discussing where to take me. “She’s a bideshi,” one said. “Lets take her to B and B.” The ride from the site of my accident to the hospital took half a minute—it was incredibly fast, or perhaps I was injected with so many painkillers I lost my sense of time. A minute later I heard the man say: “Didi, here’s your bag.” That bag, with my cellphones, keys, and papers (and sadly, some rather lovely silver jewelry), was never found again.
Later, my father would laugh and say with amusement about a cousin traumatized by aftershocks, and her method of sustaining her sense of security: “Your cousin is walking around clutching a small bag. She has her citizenship and passport in it, and some other things, like a torch. Everywhere she goes, she takes this small bag.” And I replied: “Tell her the bag is useless.”
The much-hyped go-bag is in fact rather useless. The only thing that will save you from a situation like this, of course, are the networks of family and friends who love you, and who will eventually pull you out of this mire. I had months of painful rehabilitation and surgical operations awaiting me, but I did not know this as I was laid down on the ground by the hospital building, and from where I stared up at the giant concrete buildings, wondering if they would collapse on top of me, crushing me into the void after all, despite my rescue. Another after-shock rippled through the grounds that afternoon, sending the hospital staff into a state of anxious anticipation, as they had no idea if the building would hold up or collapse in the aftershocks.
I lay on the ground with hundreds of other injured people and their families. A triage situation was going on--teams of young medics swooped down upon me and injected me and bandaged me. “Amputation?” I heard one of the doctors say, unaware I could hear them. My drugged eyes flew open, and I rose as if from the dead and said loudly:
“No! I’m fine!” They left me alone after that. As the afternoon lengthened, a tent was set up, and people set up camp, as if we were a field of war injured.
My family arrived at the hospital at 6 pm--they wandered around calling my name, because they couldn’t recognize me lying on the pallet, my face swollen, my hair matted with blood and dust.
Dr. Bibek Baskota of B and B Hospital, and serendipitously also my cousin, drove back from the children’s camp he had been attending and came straight to the dressing room at 8pm, where he washed my wounds and pushed the bones back in place. Bibek had driven by himself, and he described how he’d seen houses rolling down the hillsides as he drove on the highway to get back to Kathmandu. “It looked,” I overhead him say, “as if a bomb had gone off.” As he talked calmly and worked expertly to bandage my feet, he made me feel perhaps my pain wasn’t so excruciating as I felt it to be—only later he told me that he’d pushed the bones back into place without anesthesia and that if left unattended, I could have died from my injuries.
- See more at:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

May Peace Prevail: A Memorial for Nagasaki

(Click on image to enlarge)

I made the collage above 20 years ago, as an undergraduate at Brown University. I was taking a class on digital design and art at Rhode Island School of Design. The collage brings together old photographs of Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. 

The yellow images at the top are of Fat Man, the bomb that was dropped on the city on August 9th. 

The bird is the fallen bird of peace. 

The blue gate symbolizes peace. We cannot go in or out of the gate till we have looked at the horrors of the past, and acknowledged our mistakes. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Art Matters: download your copy now from Pustakalaya!

Download your copy of Art Matters from Open Learning Exchange's Pustakalaya.

Art Matters was published in 2008, with support from the:

यसैमा फेरी खोज्ने

 The book is a compilation of reviews I did for the Nation Weekly Magazine as well as ECS Magazine between 2004-2008. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My short story "Tom's Diner" in Cerise Press

To read my short story "Tom's Diner," go to Cerise Press and click on the link on the right.

New Asian Writing: "I Woke Up Last Night and I cried"

I found the link to my short story "I woke up last night and I cried" on the New Asian Writing website. It was published in 2010.

‘I Woke Up Last Night and I Cried’ by Sushma Joshi (Nepal)

Short story selected for the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
I woke up last night and I cried. This is all too much, I thought. I can’t handle it. My husband’s been gone for six years and he shows no sign of returning. He doesn’t send any money either. Wait till I return, he keeps saying. I’ll return next month, he says. He’s been saying this for a while now. He’s in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah, you ask? Never heard of Jeddah. Bantum? Somewhere. I don’t really know where.
His mother comes straight to my dera when she comes to Kathmandu. I’m the eldest buhari, after all. She stays with me for a few days then goes to her daughter’s house. She broke her leg the other week. We brought her down and took her to the hospital. So much expense, so much money. I wish I had another job, but I can’t find another. How did she break her leg? She was climbing up a cliff to cut grass—you know in the villages we have to climb these steep cliffs to get grass. Then she lost her footing and fell. The leg is broken. I took care of her for two weeks, and then it got too much. Her other son took her then. She went back to the village but now I hear she’s worse, she can’t even step on the foot, so she’s coming back. They were asking me to come to the village but I couldn’t, not with two children to look after. They think I live in Kathmandu, work here, take care of myself, and don’t care about them. Thuli bhayaki, they think. What do they know? Do they know how hard I work? Do they know how tough life is?
And my father-in-law, he’s not well. He fainted for four hours — lost consciousness for no reason. My sister-in-law doesn’t take care of them very well. She doesn’t cook food for them on time. She only feeds them when she feels like it, and you can’t do this to old people. We have to take care of them better, you know? We’ll also get old one day. We’ll have to go through this one day.
I asked my husband to send home money to put our son in school. He’s three now. “Paisa,paisa,” he begs all the time. Yes, I’m smiling but I want to cry at times. He takes the paisa and goes to the corner shop and buys a chocolate. All the time, all the time. I am getting so tired, I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t know what to say. “Baba, baba,” he says, while looking at the photograph and pointing at the man in the picture. He’s never seen his father. And no, his father has not seen him either. “Baba, bring me a car when you come home,” he says on the phone. He took my cellphone the other day and threw it at the wall. He keeps taking the cellphone and throwing it. I have to buy a new one because he broke the one I had. My daughter, she’s seven now, she’s not like that, she understands everything. My son, he’s too proud. He does what he wants.
My husband, he works as a cook in a private home. He thought he was going to work at a hotel but they put him in a house. And life there is hard too. Sometimes I feel like crying when I hear his stories. His shirt can be wrung out, it is that hot in that place. All that sweat. He used to work as a carpenter, then he got this new work. He had come back three years ago, but he stayed only… only fifty days before he left. Never seen his son, and look at him now, he’s three now. I said to him: “Lets stay here, as husband and wife. We can share our sorrows and our happiness. Now we are scattered all over the place, and we don’t know anything about each other any more.” When you’re close to the people you love, even hunger can make you full. But he won’t listen.
He’s twenty-eight now, two years older than me. I was married at sixteen, so we’ve been married for ten years. But last night I got so mad I told him he doesn’t have to contact me when he returns. He can stay by himself. Maybe he’s afraid of not finding work here, that’s why he stays behind. Maybe he doesn’t have the same tensions I do. He’s leading a free life, just one soul to take care of. He makes fifteen thousand rupees in Saudi, and most of it goes on food and telephone. Maybe he goes out and spends it. I asked him to send me ten thousand for school fees, he told me he would and that’s been a month ago and I still haven’t seen any money.
It’s better to be single, I realize. If you don’t feel like eating, you don’t have to eat. All you have to do is take care of yourself. You don’t have any tension — no children, no in-laws to look after. I don’t want to live like this all my life — always doing the dishes. I’d get a better job if I could, but there aren’t any. I work in two places and I would work more, if I could, but even these kind of jobs are hard to find. I also want to eat good things, to enjoy my life. I told my husband: “Come back, we can sit down and think about this together. We can make a common decision.” Maybe he’s afraid he won’t find work if he returns. And would I take care of him then? No, I can’t. It is already too much for me. He’d have to take care of himself. Each to his own. I couldn’t sleep all night last night thinking about all this.
You think I’m smiling all the time – but last night I got up and I cried.
Baba: father
 rented room
 small monetary unit used in Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; it is worth 100th of a rupee
 currency of Nepal 
thuli bhayaki:
 to be bigger than your boots

Friday, January 01, 2016

Republica: Inside the Pool Lies Two Dead Bodies

Inside the Pool Lies Two Dead Bodies 

Two white grains of rice are stuck to the man’s forehead, strangely askew. The vermilion that should have colored the rice bright red is absent. You are reminded again of who’s not there. 

“The bodies,” he said, “were found inside the pond.” Next to the gurgle of the river, halfway up the hillside, in the heart of a jungle, where the women, seduced, had entered. 

Note: The original title of the story was modified by Republica. 
- See more at the Republica website.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Setopati: Kachin-Gorkhas

Read my travel essay about Burma: "Kachin-Gorkhas," in Setopati, Nepal's digital newspaper.
It was published on December 7, 2015.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Setopati: A Visit to the Vihar

Read my travel essay on Burma: "A Visit to the Vihar." It was published in Setopati, Nepal's digital newspaper, on November 30, 2015.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Emanations: 2+2=5

Read my short story "The Zia Motel" in Emanations, Issue 5. 

Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth" exists. ... The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, "It never happened" – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.
            -- George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1943)

The quote above from editor Carter Kaplan's blog:


Two past lives plus two past lives equals five past lives. Two hand grenades plus two hand grenades equals five hand grenades. Two votes plus two votes equals five votes. Two speech crimes plus two speech crimes equals five speech crimes. Two laurel wreaths plus two laurel wreaths equals five laurel wreaths. Two genetically modified organisms plus two genetically modified organisms equals five genetically modified organisms. Two celebrities plus two celebrities equals five celebrities. Two political parties plus two political parties equals five political parties. Two decapitations plus two decapitations equals five decapitations. Two pandemics plus two pandemics equals five pandemics. Two financial crises plus two financial crises equals five financial crises. But two volumes of Emanations plus two volumes ofEmanations equals FOUR volumes of Emanations. The addition of the fifth fake integer is embodied in this volume, and all it contains are real emanations.
Buy the fifth edition of Emanations here:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Setopati: A Visit to Myitkyina

Read my travel essay "A Visit to Myitkyina" in Setopati.

Interesting note: Himal South Asia published an abridged version of this essay on October 2011. A day after it appeared online, Burma cancelled the dam contract with China and for the first time since the death of Bogyoke Aung San took the side of the Kachins, with which the state of Myanmar had been at intermittent war for almost 65 years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Asialyst: Interview regarding the Constitution

Népal : la nouvelle constitution
 dans l’oeil des artistes

Check out this interview with six artists and writers about Nepal's new Constitution in Asialyst, a new publication. I am featured in the interview.

You have to create a username and password to log into the site.
Interview by Ingrid Chiron, in French.

You can find Asialyst here:

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Setopati: Gasoline by Sushma Joshi

  Published in Setopati on: Wednesday, November 04, 2015 10:24:35  
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It was going to be a nice, relaxed baby shower video shoot in Edison, NJ. I was the videographer. Sammy, originally from South India, was the photographer.
Before we drove off, the driver of the rented van, a small, stocky man with an abrupt way of talking, asked Sammy: "Now did you forget anything? Cameras? Directions? Cellphone?" The man was organized, I could tell at first glance.
"I got everything," Sammy mumbled.
"Per-fact directions? Per-fact directions? It has to be per-fact, otherwise we waste lod-of time."
As we cruised down Queens, I asked the driver, "Are you a Sai Bhakta?" A small picture of Shriddi Baba, the previous incarnation of Sai Baba, was on one of the cupholders. Sai Baba, afro-haired guru of the Indian subcontinent, has millions of followers who believe he can perform miracles.
"My wife. She believe too much. Every year, she go to see him. She takes a flight from New York to India and then goes by train and car to his place. Every year."
"Why does she believe too much?" 
"Because she always get what she ask for. She pray, and then she get all she asks."
I had read about this wish-fulfillment factor of Sai Baba worship. When I had been nine, my great-aunt had come back with a richly illustrated book that showed in great detail how devotees always found their lost suitcases and recovered from polio when they followed him.
"Which wishes did she get fulfilled?" I asked. I wanted the nitty-gritty. Did she wish for cauliflower curry for dinner, or were her wishes more high maintenance?
"She want a son, because we had two daughters only, and it was granted. So now she give ten percent of all we earn to poor people. She sent it to her sister in India to distribute so that all our wishes will be fulfilled."
I was disappointed. Same-old, same-old subcontinental obsession. I had hoped the wife had asked for something more extravagant. At the very least, I wanted a couple of miracles - healing of blindness, parting of rivers and oceans, multiplying fishes, that kind of stuff. Something other than a baby with a penis.
The driver, it turned out, was an accountant in 7-11 during the weekdays. I wondered why he was freelancing as a chauffeur during the weekends if he was already a corporate money machine.
As we drove by Long Island City, he gave us a tour in his dry, precise voice: "This here is the warehouse of Bloomingdales. This big building, all six floors, is Macy's. That is the warehouse of LIRR." The whole industrial derelictness suddenly took on the delicious underhand flavor of insider knowledge.
Soon we were in midtown Manhattan.
"My company rents a store in the Empire State Building. The rent is $90,000 a month," the driver said.
"Monthly rent, or annual rent?"
"But its okay, we make $100,000 in one day."
More fascinating stuff flowed out of him. There was a man from B and H photo store who spent $40,000 on lottery tickets every month. He wired over the money straight to the lottery store's account. The Empire State Building, with 103 floors, was the second largest in the country - the Sears building in Chicago, with 108, was the first. Macy was the biggest retail store in the world, with six floors - except they had to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy over their store on Queens Plaza because there were no customers.
Sammy, who was from Gujarat, started to talk to the driver in rapid-fire Gujarati. The syllables, rock-hard, rolled round every other line, but I could still understand fragments of it.
"Are you also from Gujarat?" I ask the driver.
"Gujurat, from Baroda," he replies. Both of his daughters are going through medical school. His sister's daughter just graduated from law school. "She make $150,000 straight out of school," he says. "Lod-of money."
"Lod-of money straight out of school," I agreed. Sammy, who had confided in me that his daughters would be married after high school, looked discomfited.
As we got to Edison, it transpired that Sammy didn't have per-fact directions. The highways soon turned into narrow cul-de-sacs and dead ends, and we spent a fruitless hour leaving messages for the man arranging the party.
"We will ask directions at Royal Al-bart Hall," said the driver. "It is owned by the Indian man. Everything here is owned by Indian people - Dunkin' Donuts is owned by Indian. Seven Eleven is owned by Indian."
Finally, we turned down the driveway into a large, white mansion-like building that had little sugar-icing, Islamic turret-like structures at the top. The glitter-from-99-cent-store look predominated. There was a gigantic black statue of an Indian man in traditional outfit in the front.
"Royal Al-bart Hall," the driver said impressively. "Million dollars to build. It is possible to hold five-six weddings in the same place. There are many halls here." He was clearly pleased at the bigness of the ambitiously titled Royal Albert enterprise.
The two men stood in front of the massive statue of the benign man in his Indian outfit and asked me to take their photograph. I framed them carefully, and hit the shutter. "Now your picture," Sammy insisted. I declined politely. Indian nationalism, especially of the large and expansive variety, is something that Nepalis always try to steer clear of.
We drove up to the entrance, where a wooden gateway decorated with flowers stood. Hundreds of men and women in elaborate outfits walked in and out. Inside the massive hall, a bride and groom covered with gold jewelry on a brightly decorated dais were being shot by a videographer and ten photographers. A thousand relatives sat back and fanned themselves, watching the proceedings with genteel tedium. The children ran around, screaming and chasing each other with manic energy. Sammy tried to get directions from the wedding videographer, unsuccessfully. The man, absorbed in catching every moment, glared at this interruption and shrugged Sammy off like an irritating bug.
I went to wait in the car. "Whose statue is this?" I asked.
"Sardar svdhvrddddmnmv Patel," the driver answered.
"Sardar who Patel?"
"Sardar svdhvrmnmvvrddd Patel."
"What did he do, Sardar Patel?"
"He was one of the great leaders. He did good things for our country."
"I've never heard of him," I say, ashamed of my lack of historical knowledge.
"Oh," he says disapprovingly. "He provided a solution for the Hindu-Muslim problem. Whenever there is problem with Hindu-Muslim, he provided answer."
Was Sardar Patel some sort of Gandhian figure? I cursed my Nepali education which had given me zero knowledge about our neighbours’ histories.
"When Hindu-Muslim fight starts, he get really fed up and said this time I am going to take care of it. So he go to the bazzar, and he says to people he will bring water to put out the fires. He come back and people think he bring water." Here he pauses and looks at me consideringly. "But he bring gasoline."
Oh, I say, stymied. Was this supposed to be some aphoric morality tale, some metaphor of explosion awaiting society? Was Sardar Patel going to demonstrate, like some wily fox in the Panchatantra, the literal quality of infernos that could destroy the fabric of society in order to knock sense into his followers?
"So he tried to negotiate peace by bringing gasoline…?"
"He said we have to deal with the Muslim problem once and for all. He said they cannot do bad things like take down temples and build mosques in their place. They are minorities, they cannot do what they want."
My instantaneous thought - but it’s the Hindus who are trying to demolish the mosques these days, not the other way around. Aurangazeb the temple-destroyer lived and died centuries ago - is left unsaid. The man, who had seemed eminently reasonable only a couple of minutes ago, suddenly took on the aspect of a caged tiger, somebody I would have to walk around carefully, offering no sudden movements. This was not the interfaith loving Sai Bhakta I had been imagining. This was the tip of the Gujarat inferno that killed hundred of Muslim men, women and children. The Gujarat massacre had been coolly calculated and pre-planned with cellphones, computer print-outs of Muslim houses and businesses, and SUVs. They had had per-fact directions. They had not wasted any time.
"Oh," I reply, unable to respond. My very silence seemed to communicate my sadness. For the first time he lost his numerical, factual calm.
"Muslims are minority, their leaders lead them, but their leaders are bad anyway," he said. "Sardar Patel told them they have to agree, or else they would be taken care of." Had George W. Bush had gotten his "if you're not with us, you're with them" ideology from Sardar Patel?
"India is a country for Hindus, for all people. But Muslims are minority, they cannot go around doing what they want."
As a Nepali, I was in a minority myself. Since the rights of minorities was being articulated with such unambiguous generosity, I kept my mouth shut. The silence lengthened. The tension in the car became taut.
"A lot of Nepali people come to Baroda to do business," he said abruptly. He had made the same minority connections between Muslims and Nepalis that I had done in my head. Being disagreeable, meat-eating Hindus apparently didn't win any brownie points. "They sell sweater in wintertime."
"Oh really?" I say brightly, as if I am oblivious to the fact that this has been couched as a grievance. I don't want to hear his opinions on one more minority. "What is that store over there? I've always wondered."
The conversation successfully deflected but not resolved, we drive down in crackling, electrical silence to the baby shower. On the way, we stopped for some gasoline at a gas station. "Fill up the tank," he said. When the gas station man, who sounded like an Arab, took out the pipe without filling it up, the driver told him in a dismissive and rude tone, "The tank fills up automatically, then it stops. You don't know?" The gas station attendant shrugged at this accusation of ignorance. It looked like his first day at work.
"Building number Tir-ple Five?" Sammy asked as the cellphone rang. The baby shower we were contracted to film was being held in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Everybody was lavishly dressed, and a preponderance of gold jewelry was in evidence - the Gujarati community, with prolific business links, tends to be affluent amongst Indians. As I walked around, I wondered how many of these gentle, vegetarian folks held the same views that the driver had expressed, and how many of them, if asked with enough conviction, would send back money to buy that gasoline.
(This piece was written in 2002 while the author was a graduate student in New York)
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