1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
[Image: Molenbeek, the most notorious of Brussels’ 19 municipalities]
In line for customs at the Brussels Airport, my passport in hand, I wait anxious. As a brown man with a beard, I expect scrutiny and a barrage of questions. Never mind that I am not from a ‘sensitive’ country or that my religion is not that which evokes fear. But I know the ease with which perceptions take hold. I am dressed in a semi-formal blazer and cotton pants, large glasses and have trimmed my beard down to a stub. I have come prepared.
My turn arrives and I hand over my passport. The man behind the glass asks me if this is my first time in Belgium. I nod. He asks me if I’m a student. I nod again. He asks why I chose Belgium. I reply that the programme I am enrolled in is a fine one. He stamps the passport and hands it back, motioning me to leave. I am relieved and just a bit surprised that things went so easy.
Over the course of a week in Brussels, I discover that Belgians do not cower. After the terrorist attacks at the Brussels Airport and at a metro station in March, I had expected heightened security, armed guards patrolling the streets, a more visible ramp up in the security theatre. I spy heavily armed armymen in twos walking around the city centre and outside the Central Station, but they are less intimidating than I had imagined. As I watch, a presumably homeless man walks up to them and asks them for a smoke, gesturing wildly and laughing maniacally. The two armymen, massive rifles slung across their chests, only smile back and do their best to pretend not to see. I try to imagine just how this incident would’ve played out in the United States, or even in Nepal.
At the European Quarter, headquarters of the European Capital, anyone can simply walk into the courtyard of the European Parliament building, a couple hundred metres from where the head of the European government has his office. There are no security checks, no patrolling guards, no tanks and no heavy machinery. There is greater security outside Singha Durbar, I think.
But besides a few more guards, there is very little that would impress on a visitor that Belgium had just suffered its worst terrorist attack in history just half a year ago. Outside the Maalbeek station, the station bombed in March, there is light art on the walls that spell out in large white letters: ‘REMEMBER’. Right opposite it, on the walls of the station, the corollary: “FORGET.” It is as if to say, remember what happened but do not let it define you.
Brussels is a conundrum. It is as if it is always being pulled in different directions. Often literally. Belgium is nation with dual identities – the French and the Dutch. Half the country speaks French and the other half speaks Flemish. This divide is everywhere, from the top levels of government down to the communes and neighbourhood enclaves. As a capital, Brussels is spared the language divide somewhat, but even the universities that I attend – the VUB and the ULB – were once the same school; now they are divided along language and culture lines. It is not utopian. There are lessons here for Nepal but I am yet in the process of figuring out what they may be.
In Brussels, diversity is not overwhelming, like in New York. It is a quiet kind of difference, one that takes some searching to find. The neighbourhood of Matonge is one of my favourite areas, an African node that attracts people from across Europe and from Africa. It is not simply a black African neighbourhood in Brussels; it is a meeting point that stretches from the Congo all the way across Belgium, France and England. In Matonge, the air smells different, flavoured with African spices and exotic meats. It is noisier, with music shops blaring raucously rhythmic African music. It is also much more colourful, yellow, reds and greens abound on women’s dresses and men’s shirts. It is a welcome enclave in a commune that feels too clean, too sterile, too white.
I have now been in Brussels for a little over a week, during which time I have walked much and I have walked long. This is a city where walking is not a chore. I have rediscovered the inherent pleasure of stepping out of your door with no destination in mind and simply allowing yourself to be carried by the eddies of whim. It is possible here to be a true flaneur, simply observing, not taking part. Last week, when I visited the Ixelles commune town hall to register myself as a resident, an argument broke out between a white woman and a black man, both of them yelling at each other in increasingly louder French. Although they were arguing in public, I felt as if I was privy to something secretive. Perhaps it was that I couldn’t understand their words, and so, felt like a voyeur, peeping into a situation where I had no referent.
Exploring a new place, I feel like a cartographer, treading unchartered territory and drawing my own mental maps. I am starting once again to enjoy getting lost, the simple joy of the aimless wander. Walking is therapeutic for homesickness. It is easier to not long for the wonted while engaged in making a new place more familiar. To most, a new home is not easy to make but for the rootless, home is nowhere. But it can be everywhere.
[Published in The Kathmandu Post, October 1, 2016]
Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –
[juxtaposition by she who makes sing, the spaces in between]
there are spaces in between the disjointed and the disconnected and it is these spaces that give shape and contour to what is defined and angular. the without that defines the within. From in between bamboo stalk bars, words, बिदेशी, peer out like eyes above a fence, looking in or looking out. what is it about the petals of a flower, that when dissected, seem to create a pattern that was never there. moments that are fragmentary often do not add up to a larger picture, sometimes they remain just what they are: fragments. but patterns emerge, not of a unified whole, but of a series of ideas that shape understanding. like a sunflower sun that gazes down on the dissonant, like a childhood picture of happiness sliced in half.
is it enough to say this is beautiful? is it ever enough to say you are beautiful? beauty is an order, an assimilation of the disparate into an aesthetic whole. it is more profound to leave the fragments unjoined, separated like twins at birth. there is a different beauty in the spaces between what is said and what is left unsaid.
come, tear me apart, break me open. i shall never want to be whole again.
I often send you words, wrapped clumsily in feeling, like gifts from a child to their first love. And I wonder if they are ever enough. Can words ever replace a touch, a caress, a meeting of the eyes, a brush of the lips? Can words ever replace the warmth of another body? My words are but veneer, a gaudy coat on things that churn and roil inside like an animal caged. If only I could show you, without words, without signs, without symbols. If only I could talk to you mouth-to-mouth, so that when you breathe out, I breathe in. So that where you end, I begin.
My prose is clumsy, it stumbles and falls often. There is little beauty in these words, except for the kind you impart when you alight like a muse, like my own Maya, my Calliope. What is a poem but the sound of your laughter or when you sigh in contentment or in desire. What is a poem but the way in which your voice swells with love. What is a poem but your muted whisper as you fall asleep. Poetry is not in my words, it is in between the lashes of your eyes, the webs of your fingers and every strand of your hair.
Poetry is your language, it was never mine. All I’ve done is borrow it from you.
in every inkling there is a certainty, cocooned inside a heart once encased in lead, the same muscled heart you massaged into dancing again, two-step, merengue, jhyaure.
on days as hot as the inside of a tea-kettle, that same heart hops like a hare, furls like a flower, there is perverse pleasure in patience, like a face turned towards the sky, waiting for the rain, a desert in heat.
on nights as long as the waiting we do, when i confessed like a sinner, on my knees and pleading, you were giddy, ecstatic, choosing me as i chose you, and your presence wafted to me from across the seas, warm and light, so that even cold kathmandu nights now burn like falling stars.
this meeting accidental, a bump between two ants and two antennae, and like that, the damp and the cold recede like with the coming of the sun, like hallelujah, like hey ram, like goddamn.
how often do you think of kathmandu, how often do i think of lancaster,
i love you kathmandu, but i must leave you.
the skyline of your breasts, the asphalt of your stomach, the streets of your fingers, the furrows of your hair, what is a city but a person, what is a person but a city, what is the world but one person, what is one person but the world.
what is rain to the sound of you.
something else. In such a way do the days pass—
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen; then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill.