Kathmandu is vibrant, buzzing with confusion and chaos. It is amazing the capital city has met the demands of so many people with so little wear or breakdown. The everyday connection of the people with the city’s infrastructure is marvellous. A carcass of a dog dodged, a garbage-adorned sidewalk navigated; these are trophies we ought to present ourselves at the end of each day, full of adventures and anecdotes. Under these bizarre circumstances is a vast diversity of people, interacting with each other, be it in criticising the error-strewn political system of the country with fellow passengers on the bus, in pushing others aside to get ahead at a queue or in arguing with conductors for a student discount. The valley contains a miscellany of settings, events and characters, all adding a little bit to the turmoil, which is Kathmandu.
The comforting presence of delicate ruins is dispersed throughout the capital. Stray bricks on roadsides from the dismantling of illegally built houses align themselves so as to create more chaos and the combination of monsoon and sporadic potholes on streets is lethal. Luckily, I haven’t been splashed once this summer! I have, however, stepped onto puddles of grainy water on the streets, every time feeling the queasy wetness under my shoes with my socks soaked. But hey, wet streets also mean less dust inhalation, right? Nevertheless, there is no escape from the thick plumes of black smoke, accompanying the laboured accelerations of ancient microbuses and pick-ups that boss the streets of Kathmandu.
Woes of near-dead vehicles aside, the jostle of people in Kathmandu grows livelier by the day: more passers-by bumping into you on footpaths and more people stepping on your toes on their way out of buses. And as the density of the cohort increases (quite exponentially), politeness and courtesy in people seems to slowly diminish. The other day, my dai and I were glared at and cursed by a foul-mouthed youngster (aren’t they all full of cuss-words these days?!) for honking at him as he stood shamelessly, stretching his arms and legs in the middle of the road. Within a month of being back in Kathmandu, I have witnessed a couple of rows between conductors and passengers on Nepal Yatayats (needless to say, insanely packed Nepal Yatayats). People seem to have been so greatly influenced by the idea of living in a democracy that they have adopted befitting aggressiveness and short-temper. Amidst such frenzy, the capital seems like a busy house-party with very rowdy guests.
Yet, I suppose it is this chaos and this hectic daily routine of the capital that makes Kathmandu what it is. Some have fallen in love with this crazy swirl of entropy (suspiciously, most of these are foreign expats). Personally, I don’t see much charm in pigs trotting besides heaps of mud and poo-laden plastic bottles and Wai-wai chauchau packets. Nor do I enjoy any of my car-rides through the city (I find myself pressing imaginary brake pedals with my feet when we come very close to other cars in front or when my dai slithers us past pedestrians crossing streets). But close-to-the-edge driving and (sadly) garbage heaps on the streets and accompanying stray animals are just trademarks of our capital.
But even in the plight of such disarray, the city continues in struggle to stride forwards. The cracks (literally and metaphorically) of the capital aside, sometimes we hear news that we can celebrate. The recently inaugurated night-bus service in the valley, for example, is an exciting project; a praiseworthy attempt at providing facility to capital-dwellers. The chaos-loving bricks I mentioned earlier are also the by-product of a good cause: breaking down of roadside houses (built illegally) for road expansion. So, albeit at its own pace and with its own processes, Kathmandu does show signs of progress. Progress which is desperately welcome!