Champa goes home.
Imagine leaving home in September 1968 to attend university in a foreign country and not returning to your parents, brothers, sisters until August 1983; married, with two children, now the most educated woman in your country, the first with a doctorate. And now, you are going to walk into the house where you were born, played, grew up, and began school, after all those years: scary!
It was Champa’s mother’s birthday and the kids were excited because yesterday we had ordered and collected a birthday cake from a bakery near Rani Pokhari, bakeries being few and far between in Kathmandu.
The taxi dropped us off near Basantapur and we slowly walked through Indra Chowk, Naiken Tole and into Ason: shops, street vendors, bicycles, scooters, rickshaw and so many people. This is the original district of the Newar people, Champa’s ethnic caste and especially of her family group the Tuladhar. It was like a maze but Champa seemed to remember every street, shop, corner and alleyway.
Eventually we took a sharp turn down one alley, almost like a tunnel, and after about 50 metres emerged into a quadrangle or chowk with houses on 4 sides and a water pump in the centre. On our right was Champa’s old house and immediately there was shouting and laughing as we had been spotted from one of the balconies.
The house is 6 floors high with narrow corridors and low beams, very dark, between rooms. As well as Champa’s parents three other families live here, those of the three brothers Subarna, who is head of the Nepal Sugar Corporation, Gopal an accountant at the university, and Dr Madan head of Nepal Royal Drug Corporation. This is Nepali tradition, male children stay at home upon marriage, females move out to their husbands homes. Here in Ason, Subarna had 4 children, Gopal had 2, and Dr Madan had one. A very “full house” with a large kitchen on the 6th floor which also had a veranda with ducks living on it!
The excitement was obvious and overwhelming with so many people living in the house and entering sporadically as they came home from shopping or from work. We based ourselves in Madan’s bedroom but the kids just disappeared with their aunties and cousins all over the house and as usual they began to feed us the classic Samay Bujay, or “bits and pieces” in small amounts, fish, fried potato, momo, before being summoned upstairs to the kitchen for the traditional daal bhaat.
We then spent a little of the afternoon wandering around Ason amongst the shops and merchants selling vegetables, fruits, spices, pulses, unhealthy looking meat and fish, pots & pans, clothing, colourful beads and bangles before returning for the ceremonial cutting and sharing of the birthday cake.
The final twist in this long, tiring and emotional day came as evening turned to night and darkness fell. Goatam, one of Gopal’s children who is 15 years old decided it would be a good idea to take Michael and Sharon outside to see some traditional Newari street entertainment as we were entering the festival of Gunla. So off they went into the dark streets, out 7 and 5 year old children!
An hour passed, then another half hour and we started to worry and with high blood pressure went out into the streets to search. We were met with a seething mass of people watching various Lakhe dancers dressed in the devil-like masks and costumes performing to the sound of drums and cymbals! We found them having a great time, Sharon on Goatam’s shoulders and a Michael holding another cousin (Omulay) by the hand, blissfully unaware of the panic they had caused.