Kathmandu is sari’ed women riding side-saddle on Yamasaki motorcycles as they pass by Magar girls in low-hipped jeans. It is a young police officer cornered roughly and shoved against a bus panel as he tries to issue a traffic ticket.
A Rahani-era roundabout imitates Piccadilly Circus but has a crumbling concrete center, a tangle of rebar and empty Fanta bottles. A construction site is confused with the abandoned home beside it but for the bamboo scaffolding. “Green water” stands across the sidewalk in defiance of a determined sun.
Kathmandu is a random street sign, an absence of address, a young man selling Skype connections at two rupees per minute. It is a professor’s son attending Albion College in the fall on soccer scholarship, a midnight road block in Dhalilkehl extorting tourists.
Kathmandu has no tax base, no method to measure its random and scheduled power outages. It is the bearded man with pliers on a street pole, adding his own electrical wire to his home. It is three million people making karmic choices, but ignorant of or resigned to consequence.
Kathmandu is tour buses nudging motorbikes, a holy man copping coins for photos, it is a refuse pile left to rot if it was not burned last night. Kathmandu is freshly waxed UNDP vehicles passing beggar children and tie-clad students. Kathmandu is barbed wire clay walls and broken sandbags behind which bored military hide. Kathmandu is youth cadres itchy for change. It is 90 rupees a day is a good day. A can of cold Coke Light is 210 rupees at Hotel Himalaya.
Kathmandu is a teen couple groping secretly in a sweaty parking garage, black leather-clad men sitting and smoking warily in Durbar Square, it is a Buddhist monk playing checkers.
Kathmandu is a security light stapled to ancient palace timbers, the sound of thousands of pigeons, it is a hawker of silk bags and singing bowls. It is a thin cow picking from that unburned street trash, a fusion of caste and non-caste, it is a man carrying ten foot bags of linens secured by head straps.
Kathmandu is “Naturally Nepal” in 2011, a dusty straw-swept alley crawled by homeless men, it is a hidden sanctuary garden through that low gate over there.
Kathmandu is no air conditioning, no ice cubes, and no clear sidewalks. It is truck horns and bicycle bells and “Excuse me, sir, cheap price just for you.” Kathmandu is English-speaking and America-buying, it is Baskin Robbins next to its abandoned palace center and Bollywood videos selling pale-skinned sex appeal.
Kathmandu is miles of ancient and claustrophobic market streets selling pashmini silk and Mylar balloons, Buddha statues and boogie boards, open-capped water and warm Everest beer. Kathmandu is the quiet woman who wishes for 40 rupees to which the American replies, “I have no money.” Kathmandu is the butterscotch ice cream sold behind a neon sign.
Kathmandu is a monkey temple of prayer wheels overlooking a valley of stacked home-made apartments. It is a faded prayer flag, a newspaper of party politics posturings, and a whiff of barbecued corn from the woman grilling at the bus stop. It is a 1970s diesel bus packed with morose expressions.
Kathmandu is the family living beneath the plastic tarps against a stale river, it is the toothless woman plodding against the heat, the gum-chewing girl with ear buds and iPod.
It is a mass of questions seeking resolution, but without a foundation, a UC Berkeley education matched against a routine of bandh and nepotism. It is a Hindu school abandoned by a newly secular government, an argument of literacies and untouchables, it is influenza and dysentery. Kathmandu is the small boy in the stained Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
Kathmandu is a forever-deposed king reclusive in a worn palace, freshly-cleaned from his family’s slaughter. It is a wedding celebration of 20 hours, a loud brass band parading against traffic, it is a daily greeting of warmth and blessing.
Kathmandu is the dog with mange which imagines something better, it knows not what.