This Has Been a Good Year

At the beginning of the year, nothing was going right in my life, both career and personal. I was really broke, for one thing. As the year ends, still not many things are going right for me. One of my biggest dreams came tumbling down, started to collapse with the beginning of the year, and by November it had crashed to the ground. It came like a shooting star, like a lone star among the millions, and went out before it had lived to fulfill it’s purpose in my life. It reminded me of Gene Hackman, who once was one of my heroes, I can’t remember where I heard or read this line from him, but it stuck to my head, and for much of the year it kept ringing in my skull. ‘I’ve always been a lone wolf.’ I believe that now about me.

Can you believe that smile is from a lone wolf?

But hey, the title of this post says ‘this has been a good year’, and I did set out to write the one thing that went absolutely write for me. It’s the only dream I have ever had, the only thing I have ever loved, the only thing that kept me going, and still keeps me going, in the darkest hours. It’s the only thing I live for. Telling stories.

Okay, that’s a bit of a cliche statement. It’s not really that I live for it, that I have a passion for it. It’s just something that I do because I have nothing else to do, because I don’t know what else to do, because I can’t do anything else. It’s kind of like a curse. I’ve said that already many times before, not a passion. But its the only thing that can hold my hand in the dark and whisper in my ears, ‘Don’t worry Dilman, everything will be alright.’

 

And ever since I was about fifteen, when I discovered that it’s the one candle that will never go out in my life, I’ve longed for recognition of some kind. For something that will put me on the literary map. It finally happened for me this year, when I got shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. It opened a door I’ve been knocking on since I was born.

The Smiling Machine

As a result of it, the San Diego State University included one of my short stories, Homecoming, in it’s syllabus, at least for a semester. I remember reading the email three times without understanding what they were asking me. ‘We need your permission to make copies of your story, as part of an academic course reader for use in the upcoming semester…’ All the while I was thinking of the mighty dead we were compelled to read at school, the likes of Shakespeare and Hardy, and I was thinking, some kids are going to have to study my work to pass exams? If I needed an indicator that all these years of hard work are finally starting to pay off, this was it.

And then the agents came knocking. Or rather sniffing around, like dogs that suspect there is a bone somewhere. Normally, it’s the writer who has to go begging agents to look at his work, but for the first time I got emails from agents, asking for any novel I have written. I can’t say much more about this at the moment, for I have yet to polish the novel I’m writing, and give it to them first. One already didn’t like it, but it’s only a matter of time before one of them likes it. And then…….

Dance dance dance
Garlanded with victory. Smile, smile, smile
To crown off the year, I got an email from a publisher, asking me to write a short story for an anthology they are hoping to release in January of 2014. Again, it’s always the writer who goes begging publisher’s for a chance to have his name in print, but this time round, it’s the publisher who came to me. Another great indicator! And while the agent thing is taking long, and maybe another year before one finally says yes to me, this short story thing happened quickly. I wrote the tale they wanted, and they were impressed. Come January, and my first Afro sci-fi, set in a futuristic Africa, will be in print! Yay! Be sure to get your copy.

Whew, surprising how just one event suddenly turns my life around. Before the Commonwealth Shortlist, I was a struggling writer, struggling for attention, struggling to continue writing in the face of a pile of rejection slips, struggling to hold on to a dream (or rather curse) that has pestered me for more than twenty years now. I was wondering why the heck I’m bothering and seeing no fruits of it. I should have been world famous by now, if ever I was to make it. I was in that state, that miasma, nearly giving up, when I got the nod. And overnight, I was writing more than I’ve ever written in my life! In the span of six months, I had one romance novella published, Cranes Crest at Sunset, one novelette came out, The Terminal Move, one new short story in an anthology, The Broken Pot, another (the Afro sci-fi above) accepted for another anthology, yet another reprinted in the African Roar Anthology, The Puppets of Maramudhu – whew.

And I have to include the seven episodes of a sitcom that I wrote, the short film that I wrote and directed, the radio play I wrote, the adaption of an African folk tale into a stage play, the two short stories that I wrote from scratch — works that are yet to find a home, but I look at all this and I know it has been a very good year for me.

I’m sad it has come to an end, but I do know 2014 will be the year I finally make it!

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When to Kiss is to Sin: Dating in Nepal Pt 3

Normally, I don’t kiss and tell, but this happened so long ago that it doesn’t matter much. Sometime early in 2010, shortly after I arrived in Nepal, a time when I was still single and had not yet met the Filipino bombshell. A time when I was still befuddled with that timeless question: what is the meaning of love. This is probably the last post recounting my personal experiences of dating in Nepal. (Read here part 1 and part 2). The two years I spent there, I was more concerned with their love and marriage customs, for I was making a film about inter-caste marriage, but some mistook my interested to be a veiled expression of my desire to find a Nepali wife, so I got my fare share of proposals, probably more than most foreigners would get, because I spoke the language and lived in a rural community.

This is what I once found on my doorsteps. Read it here.

Well, last time, I told you about Sweta. I went with her on a date, which I thought went horribly wrong, but which to her seemed to be a big step forward. She asked to come to my place the next day, supposedly to cook for me a meal. I called in sick at work that morning, for she was due to arrive at about 10 am. That, in Nepal, is after lunch. She would make nasta, snacks, maybe chow-chow. I hated it. They were a kind of instant noodles, but cooked with eggs they served as my main meal many times. I wished she offered to cook a chicken dish instead, or something much more romantic than factory food.

When she showed up, she brought me a package. Momo. Dumplings. I loved momo, one of the few Nepali things that I fell in love with. She brought steamed,  buff momo, made from buffalo meat. I preferred veg momo, but since it was a gift, I wasn’t going to be picky about it.

I lived alone in a huge bungalow. It was walled in and gated. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, one living room, a kitchen, a dinning room, and a rooftop space, but Nepalis being very nosy people, I couldn’t be certain of absolute privacy. Being day time, I had no intention of doing ‘funny business’ with the girl. Since I used only two rooms, the bedroom and the kitchen, the other rooms were covered with dust and cobwebs, so I took her straight to my bedroom. She didn’t protest, nor did she expect me to dishonor her. Privacy being nearly non-existent, it was not uncommon to end up in someone’s bedroom on your first visit. Moreover, most youth lived in single rooms, with shared bathrooms and kitchens. It was not a big deal taking her straight to my bedroom. There being no chairs, so she sat on the bed.

Why is she gloomy while on her date?

I’ll skip the boring parts. Our conversation was pretty much a rehash of the previous day. She asked about my country, my people, the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the things we see on TV, how many people we were in my family, how many brothers and sisters I had. We ate the buff momo, the chow-chow, we drank a ginger-lemon drink with honey.

Then the interesting part came up. The kiss. I don’t know who did it, but I guess I made the first move. One second, we were seating on my bed, Kunti Moktan’s songs played in the background. The next, my lips touched hers. Nothings serious. Nothing deep. The kind of kiss you could give a sister, or a little child, but the girl jumped away in utter horror.

“You papi me!” she screamed. She fled into the bathroom and washed her mouth.

When she came out, I thought she would be fuming in anger, but she had this playful smile, which encouraged me to give it another go. Another little peck on her lips. They were cold, from the water, I think, and tasted of some lip cosmetic I couldn’t name, and again it was not the kind of kiss you would expect in a hot, romantic scene, but this girl jumped up as if her insides were exploding, and again she ran into the bathroom and washed her mouth.

I did not understand what the word ‘papi’ meant. I looked it up in my pocket dictionary the moment she had left, and learnt that it meant ‘sinful’ or ‘evil’. Every time I kissed her, she said ‘You papi me’ and ran into the bathroom to rinse her lips. The washing was a ritual of absolution, of purifying something polluted.

Lovers enjoy a cozy moment in Lama’s Cafe, Kathmandu

Nepalis believe the mouth is the greatest polluter. Once you touch something with your mouth, it becomes impure, and must undergo a ritual of purification. They have a concept called jutho. Food that remains on your plate is polluted, and no one other than those lower than you (untouchables, children, your wife, dogs) can touch it. One time, we were eating lunch with my boss, and I asked to eat a lemon she had left. I picked it off her plate without waiting for permission. She was scandalized. Though she had not touched it, it was part of her left overs. She snatched it off my hands, and sprinkled water on it before allowing me to eat it.

During my time there, I learnt to drink water off glasses and bottles without touching the vessels with my lips. It’s something that puzzled me a great deal at first. Water vessels were never individually owned. In offices, especially in the terrai region where temperatures hit 40 degrees and you have to drink water constantly, there is a big water bottle on every desk. You cannot have your own water bottle. People take bottles without asking for permission. They expect you to share it. But once your lips touch a bottle, it becomes jutho, and no one else will drink from it, even if they are dying of thirst. It was one of the first tricks I learnt the moment I landed, to drink without letting my mouth touch the bottle or glass. Sometimes I find myself pouring water into my mouth without letting it touch my lips.

A Nepali woman shows love for her husband,
by scribbling their initials S + J

While the mouth is the biggest polluter, water is the purifier (Gold, on the other hand, purifies polluted water). Hindus have great attachment to water and the concept of purity. Some people, I heard, have to bring fresh water into the house every morning, because the one that stays overnight becomes impure and thus unfit for drinking or cooking rice.

So it was with this girl. She washed her lips to purify it for I had made it impure by touching it with my lips. This game went on for about ten minutes. I kiss, she runs to the bathroom to wash her mouth, yet each time she came out I thought she was inviting me to ‘papi’ her some more, and each time I ‘papi-ed’ her, she ran to cleanse herself.

 

Naturally, it killed my appetite. After about ten episodes of the game, she finally excused herself and promised to set up another appointment, but I did not want to go through another nightmare. It scared me off having a relationship with Nepali women. I could not imagine someone going to wash herself every time we kiss.

I made discreet inquiries after this, for I was curious to know if the same thing occurs between married people, and the answer I got was; ‘there is no jutho‘ between husband and wife’. How convenient!

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