Good Morning, Kathmandu.
Dawn breaks in Kathmandu. Morning light as grey as steel spills quietly over the hills like thick paint from a bucket. At first it is stealthy, the light creeping up on you like an assassin in the night. There is a point where the darkness and the light meet, locked in a cosmic battle but each a complement to the other. The darkness seems to hesitate at first, as if unwilling to give up ground, but the light is insistent. While one retreats, the other advances. The light seeps in, through cracks, into crannies, around sky-high buildings and centuries-old temples, across beggars crouched in doorways and street-kids huddled under a cardboard box for warmth, over the Rani Pokhari, over the Durbar Square, over New Road and into the heart of Kathmandu, it pierces like an arrow.
This is a liminal time, neither day nor night. Dawn and dusk mark the edges of time, that grey area where an old day has not ended and a new one has not begun. This is time that is neither yesterday nor today, neither here nor. It can only exist for a fraction, for a fleeting moment when the cold has not dissipated and the warmth has not permeated. It is at this time, when most of the city is in bed, that Kathmandu seems most itself. But this lasts for only a moment and then, like magic, it is gone.
Then, the city stirs awake. A resounding gong from a temple bell resonates throughout the city, bouncing off of walls and hills. Roosters crow, each roused by the last and eager to join in on the chorus. Newspaper boys pedal furiously under the cover of the fast disappearing darkness, aiming papers at doorstops and over gates with the precision of a marksman. They share the streets with milkmen, trucks more often but sometimes a lone man, also on his bicycle, two jars of milk balanced perfectly on either side of his rear wheel. Weary policemen at Maharajgunj yawn at their checkposts, an eye open and ear cocked for their long-awaited relief. A transvestite prostitute limps home on high heels from outside a guesthouse at Sundhara. An old man, almost bent double, a gnarled walking stick in his left hand, shuffles along Jamal in a waist-coat, daura-suruwal and a Bhadgaunle topi. Dogs that roamed the night streets like militia men now shrink under doorways and into corners, as if afraid of the brightness. Rats and cockroaches scurry into drains and birds awaken in their nests and roosts, the pigeons cooing rhythmically, crows cawing intermittently and sparrows chirping erratically. Slowly, the city rouses itself out of one era and steps gingerly into another.
Kathmandu is time out of joint, a haphazard, confusing, eclectic mix of centuries, all the way from the 17th to the 21st. Wood and stone temples jostle for space with concrete and glass monoliths. Women in red chaubandi cholos share the streets with socialites in Ray Ban sunglasses and Louis Vuitton bags. While rich young kids sip Illy coffee from ornate mugs in cafes straight out of American sit-coms, Madhesi vegetable hawkers wheel rickety Avon bikes laden with produce in large bamboo baskets. This is a city of contrasts, of breathtaking beauty and eyesore ugliness. And as the morning breaks, as buildings and hills come into view, as breathless panoramas are revealed as the Chandrama recedes and the Surya advances, as eyes open and pupils dilate, the body responds, sluggishly at first but then more urgently: awake, it says, it is day and everything must pick up where it left off.
(The Kathmandu Post, September 8 2012)