People say Kathmandu is not a city in the truest sense of the word. It is more of a town that is as polluted as a city, they say. This may be true.
The smoke emanating out of belching trucks and scootering motorbikes coat the intricate stone and wooden architecture of the once glorious city. Once clean and peaceful, the capital is now over crowded. The last few decades were marked by heavy migration of the village people into the so called city. Driven by dreams of securing better living standards, higher education and better employment opportunities, people poured into the capital causing an explosion of population. These people and their descendants now line the streets of Kathmandu along with thousands of imported cars and motorcycles. Water spouts and rivulets that once gave life to our ancestors have now dried up as a direct consequence of this influx. Taps run dry and the wells are empty. The Bagmati River flowing through the city is now choked with modern waste and filth.
Giving in to my strong desire to escape from the mess that I found myself in, I convinced my husband to take me on a drive outside of the city to the village of Champi. As we made our way to the village, we came across open green and yellow fields- green the paddy fields and yellow the mustard flowers in full bloom. Crops grew in abundance against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan ranges.
We lower the windows to take in the unadulterated air, our lungs taking in the oxygen as we close our eyes and smile. We see farmers plough their land. Goats, cows and buffaloes cross the road on a whim. Ducks do the same. To avoid being penalised for killing the ducks, we slow down the jeep and wait to let them pass. The owner watches the scene from the corner of his hut, all the while keeping an eye on his waddling bird. If the duck dies, we will have to pay a hefty sum to the farmer after which he will take the dead duck too. So this is life in the rural outskirts of Kathmandu. Space aplenty, simple and slow – and all of this within half an hour’s drive away.
We decide to take a break and stop at a small tea stall by the roadside where a Coca Cola advert jumps at us. We drink some tea boiled in fresh cow’s milk and also manage to drink a glass of thick and creamy buffalo milk. There is boiled corn on the cob- sweet and fresh from the field. After tea, we head towards a little village swimming with smiling faces. Village women taking a little break from their laborious work in the fields join their hands to greet us with Namaste. Little boys and girls flock around for some candy which I fish out from my pocket, all the while wishing I had brought in more. Their little eyes twinkle with delight to see my fists full of candy. We visit their little three roomed school where the children smile at us. The rooms are dark and cold with very little natural light. The wooden benches and tables are in a dilapidated state.
We move on towards the jeep. A group of women dressed in various hues of red rush up to me and ask whether I am a doctor. They all suffer from uterine prolapse, a condition rampant amongst married women both young and old. The heavy work in the farm and insufficient recuperating time after childbirth are the main reasons for their suffering. I stare back at them and tell them, “No, I’m not a doctor.” They have a health post but no doctor ever shows up. They all turn to go away, resigned to their fate. I run after them shouting, “You should come to the city! The doctors in Kathmandu will take good care of you.” They look back at me, smile and then walk on to live their lives without ever having a doctor cure their condition, I think. We walk on further until we come across some huts that smell of alcohol. The villagers brew liquor from corn and rice on their verandah in huge earthern pots. The adults consume it from morning till night. At times the children partake in the drinking as well. Alcohol is their friend and inebriation is a constant state of living for them. Most of the inhabitants of this village make an early acquaintance with the local brew, and drop out of school in order to maintain this life long relationship. Time stands still here – ambitions rarely surface.
Frankly, I do not know which is a better life to lead. The fast paced inhuman city life devoid of all its pleasantness or the rural life in all its natural and stark crudeness. Life in the city is all about going to school, building a career and excelling in life. It is all about learning, being exposed to the world outside and striving for a better life. Life in this village, on the other hand, is about living life as it was presented to you at the time of birth. No exposure to the outside world, no ambitions and certainly no desire to change ones way of life. But give a villager enough food, a hut for shelter and maybe some home brewed liquor and he will love life like no other. Had it not been decided by birth, I honestly do not know which I would have chosen. A chance to reach my full potential while feeling unsatisfied with everything I have ever accomplished or the chance to enjoy what I was born with while never being aware of my potential.
What would you have chosen?