Daaphe Chari

हिमचुली त नाकमा फुली
हिमचुली नाकमा फुली
र ठम् ठमै डुली माया मा भुली
लेखाको डुनि र एकबारे जुनी
लाएको कली र ओठमा नली
सासु कि छोरी नि भोखले मरी
कठै नि बरि नि एस्तै चाल परी
कर्नाली भेरी सम्झाउदा खेरि
मन आम्छ कोरि कस्कि यो छोरी
मुरली चरी भोकले मरिछ
को देख्छ बेदना हो चरा
मीरा चरी हो मेरा डाफो
को देख्छ बेदना हो

∫∫∫

September 22, 1840
Basantapur Darbar, Nepal

Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight. Laccho counted the victory over each floor as she climbed her way up. She paused at the  bottom of the stairs that lead up to the  buईँgal. She looked at the small opening cut into the ceiling, undecided. She could already hear the sound of rain hitting the rooftops. She did not like the dark shadows up there.  But it was always quiet and nobody bothered her. So she climbed the stairs, swinging both arms to make sure the cobwebs criss-crossing did not touch her face and itch afterwards.

The last bent plank on the stairs squealed like a hurt animal when she stepped on it: CREEEEEEEEAAAAAAK. She looked up quickly into the corners of the buईँgal to make sure she had not startled the ghost of Bhimsen Thapa.  But there was no movement in the shadows. The dark thick curtains lining all windows were also still. Bhimsen Thapa was somewhere else today. The buईँgal smelled a little bit like incense, a little bit like firewood, a little bit like old dust. But all mixed together.  She crossed the room, set aside the curtains that covered the south window, sat on the nearby bench, looked out the window that Ajima called ga jhya. It had been four months since she came to this strange country and strange palace. That is …. sixteen weeks. Being this high up still made her feel very strange, as if she was flying but would fall at any minute straight down to the stone pavements nine floors below. The scenes of madness on those streets over the last few days still haunted her. What she remembered made the little pain in her heart come back. She did not know how to make it go away, so she looked up into the sky.

The rain fell on and on and on, so hard it came down slanted, and made very loud noises on the roof above like someone was throwing small stones. The wind blew in often but it passed through her softly at the very last moment. The air was not too warm. The air was not too cold. It brought in a mysterious sweet smell of oil incense wet metal cowdung from the city around her. In faint waves through the rain, she heard someone singing a miserable song, accompanied by a sad wailing sound that reminded her suddenly of the sarangis from her childhood. She jumped up, walked to the window, leaned a bit onto the latticework, but not too much because she did not trust the windows yet. She looked down and saw, along the porch of the elephant stables, a beggar. He was holding a little instrument that looked like a squished-in sarangi, and was singing the sad song with his eyes closed, looking up.  He was not in the rain, but because of the wind, he was surely getting gusts of rain every time the wind passed by. How long would it take before he was completely wet? As she listened, she realized that the song was not  sad, but was making her sad on the inside because it reminded her of home and the village singers who used to sing around the large pipal tree. There was nobody around in the rain to give the beggar any rice or coins. Laccho watched him for some time, got up, walked slowly towards the east window. Looking out, she saw that the field they called Tudikhel was completely empty of the usual crowds and full of big dirty puddles of rain.

A wave of loud thunder rolled through the sky. She felt its power inside her chest. The impossibly deep rumbles came down to  earth, and were now rolling through the valley, getting louder as they came towards her. Laccho clutched tightly at the wooden bar of the window so that the thunder did not sweep her away as it crashed through the palace …BOOM…she felt it pass through her heart and onto the chowks behind, towards the newar town and now growing quieter it climbed the hills in the distance and finally left Nepal far to the west. She waited for another wave of thunder, but it was just the rain now. She cast her eyes down towards the palace garden. Jalashaya Narayan was sleeping calmly in his pokhari and did not mind the raindrops hitting him hard and splashing off in bursts around him. But the goman guarding over Basuki Naag Pokhari  was as fearful today as he was four months ago, when she first saw him.The goman looked real enough to suddenly lunge at her and swallow her whole without any warning.  He stood tall, his large hood full of real bumps of fearful skin, too scary for her to even go near the pond. At night, she often looked at the crack under the door of her room to make sure he did not crawl in when he thought everyone was sleeping.

Laccho looked up towards the thickgray clouds. They looked like enormous solid slabs of rock. Maybe she could climb up on them, maybe from the top of Bhimsen Tower, and walk and walk for many days to the south. Maybe the clouds were connected all the way over, and she could walk to her house in Dharza Gurwa. I would skimp all the way home, watching the rain fall below me all around, but I would be dry because I would be above the clouds. Laccho decided this was a silly idea, and glided softly back down towards the buईँgal, then lower onto the streets lining the elephant stables, then flew towards Kumari Temple. That is where She lived. She hovered outside the window of the temple hoping to see Kumari again. Laccho had seen glimpses of her in between the chaos and confusion of the last few days: the three eyes, the red dress. But Kumari had always looked calm as they carried here here and there in a palki, surrounded by devils and monsters swirling and screaming around her. What did she eat? The red tika and abir that people offered her? Maybe that is why she is so red all over. Laccho thought of blood, lots of blood. Did Kumari ever think of blood? Did she get afraid?

Not finding Kumari, Laccho continued on down the street towards Ajima’s Maru tol. Behind her the beggar was still singing, scraping on the strange, dirty sarangi and making it cry all the while. He did not seem to care that it was raining so hard. Perhaps he is completely wet by now. Perhaps he is a madman. She wondered what he was singing about. Probably Ramayan or Mahabharat, since he had been singing for so long and only Ramayan and Mahabharat are that long. She walked a bit further. The enormous temple ahead of her impressed her as it had every time she had floated by here before. It looked like a giant hen sitting down, with her wings spread over Maru and guarding it like a mother. The vegetable shops around the temple had packed up and gone home because of the rain. But the jogis with their strange ears were huddled together in between the giant beams of the temple.

She stared at the jogis and the jogis stared back at her. Frightened, she weaved her way back and floated back up to the buईँgal. Buईँgal. Buईँईँईँईँgal. She liked the word Ajima used for the attic. She looked towards the sky again through the lattice window, her forehead pressed against the bumpy wood.  The rain fell on and on and on. She wondered how those floating dark clouds could hold so much rain. How much longer would it last? Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed along the corner of the roof eight pigeons pressed tightly together, their neck feathers spiky and wet because the rain made them clump together. They looked back at her with scared round eyes. Nearby, from the corners and edges of the roof, the collected rain was falling in long drops all the way down, nine floors down to the street level. She wanted to follow the drops on their long journey with her eyes. She pulled her head away from the lattice window. A soft pain hovered on her forehead. Running her fingers through, she noticed that her forehead had inherited the patterns of the window, probably in light scars of red. She did not want to follow the drops on their long journey any more.

Down below, the beggar was still singing his sad song.  Three dogs were now gathered around him in a circle, and pretending to sleep, heads tucked under their hind legs, but otherwise also not bothered by the rain that kept falling on and on. I wonder why …

CREEEEEEEEAAAAAAK.

Laccho startled.  But even before she turned, she knew who was at the top of the stairs.

Ajima!

Hail to Sri 5 Maharani Punya Kumari Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, Ajima said solemnly, then broke into a wide smile, showing all five black teeth. Her wrinkles even hid most of her smallpox marks. The tuki dangling from her ears danced in the dark light of the buईँgal.

She raised her arms towards Laccho ready for embrace. Laccho ran and disappeared into Ajima’s bosom. Ajima’s familiar smells of sweat mustard hay oil baby-vomit chiura smoke and yesterday’s garlic enveloped her.

How is your Nepali coming along, Maicha?

Little, little, it exists.

Ajima smiled. Make sure  you don’t miss your lessons.

Why didn’t you come for so many days? And why didn’t you bring Maiya today?

Maiya has been touched by Cold. And we never bring sick children into this darbar, ever since the time of…anyway…you asked why I didn’t come. Remember, I told you before leaving: we would all be busy with Yenyaa for five days. So much work, so much merriment!

But I thought it was horrible. There were elephants and fierce looking monsters down there in the chowk. Thousands of people screaming and swaying for days like mad-men, and loud music that gave me a headache. They were even drinking daaru from a demon’s mouth, right over there near the palace door! Why don’t they worship Ram, Shiva and Guru Gorakhnath like we do back home?

Ajima chuckled.

One day, I will tell you all about it. But listen, Maicha. I heard that your wedding day has been fixed for Jeth Shuklapanchami next year! You will be a real Maharani after that… By the way, who is older, you or the other girl?

I don’t know.

The wrinkles on Ajima’s forehead deepened for some reason. She held Laccho tighter in her bosom, ran blacknail fingers gently across Laccho’s hair, lingering the most around her temples. Laccho was happy.

After your wedding, you must make the Maharajkumar bring your father here. Jethi Badamaharani did the same many years ago when she got married. Did you know she is from Gorakhpur, near your home town?

∫∫∫

Nepali excerpt from the folk song Daaphe Chari, word and music by Jhalak Man Gandharva.

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