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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