It was in 1974. The place was Thamel. Drops of rain were kissing the gray, dull, stone-layered lanes. We were taking shelter under one of the monkey- gabled houses. It had almost been a year that we had been living like waifs and strays. Time and again, the sky would get lacerated with threatening sparks of lightening. A toddler with a basket of soaked marigolds crossed the road. He also had a small, brown Lhasa Apso held tightly against his chest. Life indeed is dear, be it one’s own or of his dear ones. Some people don’t seem to get the hang of this and lead miserable lives.
Felt like ‘yesterday’. Three young men and a young woman trotting pillars to posts. ‘ Flower Children on Flower Tour’ they would swagger. Hira Kaji, Guru, Tshering and me. On coming back from a tour in Benaras, our hearts ached finding ourselves as total outcasts. Yes, they looked down upon us as outcasts - our folks and the orthodox multitude. ‘ Revolting generation’, ‘ tantrum throwing brats’, ‘breakers of the scriptures’ ‘ black sheep of the family ’ … words of reprimand straight from my father’s side the moment I was half way through the threshold of the heavy wooden door for the very last time. The Hippie Epoch had hit the city.
The lanes smirked flamboyantly in entangled, henna- tinted locks, in lulled eyes of the crowd, clad in tie- dye shirts, shirts with floral motifs and shirts with
‘ Hare- Ram - Hare- Krishna’ prints. The over - powering fragrance of Tibetan incense was taking over Kathmandu by and by.
Vivid pictures of that ominous moment still haunt my mind … the moment we left home. A rash decision it was, perhaps sheer adolescent wits to which words of advice meant nothing but water falling on a duck’s back. A hollow guitar, a tambourine, a pack of hashish - loaded cigarettes and a tide of colorful dreams shimmering in our green eyes. These dreams were the only things that were keeping the four of us together, away from all other worldly ties.
Yes, an every teenager’s dream of forming a musical band and earning a good name like The Rolling Stones and The Doors. Teething troubles that could crop up any time were always at the back of our minds, but our strong conviction had overshadowed all such troubles. Guru was the guitarist, who could pick a tune, the plectrum placed between his teeth. Jimi Hendrix, we would call him. Better and better he would get with our constant applause and pep talking. Tshering was the best tambourine player one had ever come across. ‘Vagrant Gypsies’ - she would address the four of us. The word Hippie vexed her beyond imagination. Hira had a good throat but then time and again he would caricature Bob Dylan. It killed us all, no doubt, but we missed our very own Hira when he did it. As for me, I loved squatting on the steps of the Taleju temple, two cigarettes clasped between the index and the middle fingers and dashing down whatever played inside my heart. Mind was nothing but a corroded vehicle piece dumped in the farthest corner of a junkyard. Feeding the pigeons in the temple premises was another thing I took pleasure from.
We sang and we played under the sweet intoxication of marihuana, collected alms from the passerbys and the spectators. This way or the other we always managed to save for the herb tea the local Shangri-La teashop offered. Then Pasa, a local farmer, who lent his rooms for RE. 1. We could not afford to miss these two things. Music, intoxication and freedom; the three necessities we ardently craved for and for what we were out there in the dungy, dark lanes of Kathmandu. Luckily police raids were something quite unheard of. Hippie camps were always crammed with foreigners who were always doped up and who never seemed to have an artistic inclination towards anything. Smoking and sniffing herb was their Paradise. No, not a place for us. Yes, we were doped up, but not always.
It was the fateful eve of July 19th, 1978. A party was organized by one of the nearby Hippie camps. The three of us were not keen to join them, but Tshering kept pestering. Guru was seldom callous to anything that escaped her mouth. They were the best of friends. Though uncommitted, all of us knew that Tshering had a soft corner for him since ages. But the pessimistic modern Sisyphus had no place for such bliss.
The party was waiting for all in Maru Tole. Bare- feeted, tattoo- biceped, unkempt, shabby men and women. Men and women with a make belief look of self - satisfaction. As soon as we took the lane, our eyes clapped upon them. A very fair and freckled brunette approached us and led us through a warped, termite eaten door. A few lanterns hanging down the ceiling poorly lighted the place up. The square, tan, oiled bricks for flooring and the white washed walls had the local color of the city those days. As we came in, we saw that no one even cared to open his or her eyes. The place was smoke stuffed and the only ventilation it had was a skylight with a broken glass.
After few moments of smoking, Guru sat cross- legged on the mat and started plucking a tune. Hira and I sat near him and started singing while Tshering began jingling her tambourine. In a moment, we saw a burly, red haired man coming directly towards Guru. Without sa
ying anything, he bestowed violent punches on him. Mad with fury, Hira stabbed the burly man right on the left chest with the knife he always carried handy. There was a big commotion. We still managed to escape by the skin of our teeth. That was a narrow escape. Everything appeared like a series of hallucinations.
The night was stormy. Big drops of rain rigorously drenched us to the skin. The situation would have deteriorated had we gone back to the lodge or to the slums near Bishnumati that had the highest rate of lunatic Hippies. And here, it was a cold- blooded murder. Hira’s eyes moistened with pangs of remorse. It rained the whole night. Starving and apprehensive, the four of us huddled together. Tong! Tong! The clock struck two at the bell tower. A low moan and then a series of broken breaths disturbed my sleep. Tshering and Hira were given to intoxication. A stream of blood trickled down the corner of Guru’s mouth and then his nose. A death rattle followed. Before I could wake the others, his pupils dilated and in a moment or so, he died … like a rain sodden, emaciated stray dog that had no strength to go further.
The next morning before the society could wake up; we took the body to the Pashupatinath temple. It was not that we hadn’t spared a thought for his family but Guru had an extreme repugnance for his folks whom he frequently addressed as - broken home, broken dreams. This man of dismembered dreams deserved a proper cremation at least, and he got one. After all it was the abode of the almighty. For him, no bar as such exists. Hira was doing his utmost to console the hysteric Tshering while the merciless fire was gutting its atonement. For the whole moment I saw it coming true, ‘ from ashes to ashes’.Guru’s right arm fell off the burning pyre. The cremator had it lifted up on a splintered shaft of fire- wood and carelessly flung it over the fire. For him, it was nothing more than a piece of dead meat. For us, it was the hand that plucked the six strings, religiously.
That fall, another mishap followed. Tshering was found dead in the shower. An overdose of marihuana. She had had a brain hemorrhage after striking herself on the floor. She had followed Guru. This thought had solaced us to some extent. But that could just be one of our superstitions. Born to a street- walker and a boozer, Tshering had had an impoverished and insecure childhood. Subsequently the vulnerable child had fallen into bad company, had started thieving, was a street urchin like her mother and ultimately had ended up becoming a flower child like us. Poor woman!
Now as our orchestra had bid us farewell, our singing stopped charming the listeners. The day did come when Hira decided to split and find a new walk of life. But who on earth would ever trust a tramp? Money became scarce; we were on the verge of starving. Hira finally got himself a job of a cleaner in a shop that served herb cakes and herb tea. A month passed, then another. One morning, the concealed truth was in its naked absurdity. Hira’s background as a murderer came into light and he was fired. The only place we could turn for was our own folks. Everyone gets led to things out of hunger and despair.
A blistering day in April 1979. We were moving back after five whole years. Those unsure and guilt - laden feet dragged heavily under the thread bare denims we wore. We tapped on the door for a whole ten minutes before someone came for the door. A very old woman, in red and black attire stood before us. Her hoary streaks had stains of yellow kitchen fumes. She threw her arms around Hira and stayed that way for a long time.
Fate still had a few more taunts saved for me. My father, who had aspired to be a lawyer himself, wanted me to be the same. It was not my cup of tea for I wanted to be a writer instead. He would lecture me for hou
rs, the last line always being - Does your flair for writing earn you a piece of bread?
I finally reached for the big, black gate. Tall trees of mimosa stood upright and with a holier - than - thou optimism. A small Labrador came barking and behind it, came an elderly woman. Mother. She looked the same. The same short and curled hair and with the same plump and affectionate disposition. On my home coming, I could see that her happiness knew no bounds. Father was also with his welcoming arms. But after a month or two, we continued getting at sixes and sevens. Once again, though undeliberately, I felt my heart nudging me to cut loose. With a pen, a notebook and some money, I walked out one night. Back then, my vision was blurred with inexperience and my feet mislead by the vain vigor of youth. This time I had my eyes shining with experience and my feet waltzing with confidence.