Early memories of reading in Kathmandu

I want to read at least 25 books this year, which would mean an average of two books a month, a realistic feat considering that I work full time and have a newborn. My love affair with books started when I was young. Some of my precious memories from childhood are that of sunny afternoons curled up in the terrace with a good book. At that time library in Kathmandu was a rarity, these were few and far between.

There was the grand and intimidating British Council housed in a beautiful white washed Rana palace at a walking distance from my home. Thick hard cover books mostly from strange mostly British writers lined up the walls. There was plush carpet, computers for use that were always occupied, and glass doors that led to a hushed silence and tantalizing opportunities for overseas studies. I knew from talking to friends and families and a job at one of these libraries were highly coveted.

One my earliest memories from the British council is that of a friendly Newar reed thin man with thick black mustache who looked down at me and said ‘did you actually read all these books? You just checked them out yesterday; we haven’t yet entered these into our system’. Yes I had read them; I chose the thin skinned abridged versions of the classics that were easy to read.

Then much later my best friend introduced me to American Women of Nepal (AWON) library run by AWON that was casual and appealing to my age group compared to the British Council. The library was housed in one of those modern buildings right next to a main traffic line. I remember it like yesterday, the library was housed in the second floor, you had to take off your shoes and put it in one of the brown cubby holes, and you walked into the reception area.

I learned much later that the library itself was mostly run by volunteers, students from one of those prestigious schools who could speak in English and who were honing up their resumes to apply to foreign schools. There was only one paid employee and his name was Ram dai a soft spoken friendly man with pock marks on his face. Ram dai lived somewhere near my neighborhood, I started running into him, shy painful hellos started turning into warm conversations.

After registration I was given 5 paper pockets and an identification card. I could check out five books at a time, the librarian would take the book card and insert it into the pocket with my name and keep it in his files. He would then stamp the return date onto a paper sheet attached onto the last page of the book. Much later when I myself joined the library as a volunteer to get a free membership and yes to hone my resume to apply to schools overseas, the paper cataloging was replaced by an electronic system.

AWON introduced me to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie; famous five and yes Mills and Boons romance. Right before schools closed for winter recess, my dad would take me on his red motor bike and dispose me in front of the library, I had 15 minutes to find books and check them out. Most days tired of waiting he would come upstairs and find me locked into the painful indecision on which book to take home. The sweet anticipation of 5 books waiting to be devoured was one of the few things that I looked forward to in my childhood.

Books and reading has since then been a constant companion for me. These have helped me get through some of the toughest points in my life and taught me how to be my own best friend. Over the course of time my tastes changed, I discovered my love for travel writing and non-fiction spiritual writing and self-help books. I try to think of that exact moment in life where I knew that I enjoyed readings, there is not one particular moment but several small incidents that come to mind.

The yearly trip to the bookstore in Kalimati at the one and only Ekta book store in Kathmandu would end up with me browsing the story book aisles while my mother worked with the store clerk on getting together the yearly school supplies. One time my mother splurged and bought two non-school books for us mine was sleeping beauty and my sister picked the ginger bread man. That was my very first story book that I owned.

Another time my grandfather who was on the board of an all boy’s boarding school in phurping right outside Kathmandu took us there for a visit. The school sent us a mustard green jeep for pick up. When we arrived there at the headmaster’s modes one floor living accommodation, I discovered there a room full of books. These books were donated by foreigners with good intentions. The headmaster seeing my amazement said I could pick out two books to take home with me. I picked a fat red book with a collection of fairy tales thinking that these would last me for a long time.

There are several such memories. I want my daughter to enjoy reading and I dig through my memory lane to find a pattern or dig up a formula that would get her hooked to reading. I haven’t come up with any so far- my father never finished high school and does not like to read; my mother finished her graduate degree but I have not seen her read for pleasure. None of them spent time with us to get us to read but they did the best they could with the limited resources we had at the time and plenty of encouragement to nurture my love for reading. And I want to do the same for my daughter.

Snow is here

 

When I looked up from my moving train window, all I saw was soft powdery snow lightly coating the greys and the dark of the capital city. When I first moved to the US from Nepal in 2001, I experienced my first snow in Iowa at my alma mater. The snow in Iowa is not a joke, more than a foot of thick white pile that has the potential to blind you and that gushes at you from everywhere. When I told people that this was my first time seeing snow, the first response I received from people was ‘but you are from Nepal- the land of Mount Everest’. I had to explain that I lived all my life in Kathmandu valley where it never snows, true for the most part until recently when there were some snow flurries.

Fast forward, a decade later, here in the east coast, there are talks of the first major snowstorm, a blizzard of epic proportions that is headed our way. It is supposed to strike tomorrow. How exciting! But wait the papers today clearly used negative fear generating words like ‘devastating’ to describe the impending snowfall. Yet the picture accompanying the article showed a lady stocking her van with chock full of grocery and a smile playing on her face barely hiding her excitement.

Are we confused? Shouldn’t the words like blizzard, snowstorm, and ‘devastating’ raise alarm bells? When my husband first told me about the impending snowstorm, I was surprised by my reaction. I heard myself say something like they always say that but it never happens; it’s just hype and nothing more. I sounded like a disappointed petulant child. Where did this come from?

Does the snow bring out the child in all of us? It is the time to let go, take a day off from work, go out and play, shovel and flex those muscles, or stay holed up at home without feeling guilty. There will be warm pajamas all day long, hot cocoa, thick hearty soup, fresh baked bread and a fireplace. I cannot wait!

Little Bits of Wonder

I was trying to find a topic to write about and it (the topic) happened to me. On Monday, on my way back from yoga class, I heard someone calling me from behind. I turned around and there was a homeless person handing me back my credit card. I had dropped my credit card while fumbling for my phone. My annoyance quickly transformed into relief. I thanked him. I wanted to give him some money but I did not have any cash on me.

I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee, it was a cold afternoon. He seemed visibly excite at the offer. We walked together in search of a café. It was awkward. I have never walked with a homeless person before. We tried to make small conversations but failed. I had to go back to the office; my one hour break was over. There was no café in sight. There was a grocery store close by so I asked him what he would like from the store. He asked for only one bag of potato chips. He said the store would not let him in so he waited outside.

I browsed through the aisle of the store and bought him a bag of chips, pretzel, and cake. He was waiting for me. I put the goodies on his black plastic bag that he was carrying; there was a small box of fast food peeping out. I thanked him again and we smiled at each other surprised by this unexpected turn of events.

As I hurried to go back to the office, a middle aged man with black hair and glasses started talking to me. He had seen me giving food to the homeless person. I told him the whole story. He had just moved to the city for a new job and was familiar with my home town of Kathmandu. We chatted for a while. I walked back to the office pleasantly surprised by how this afternoon turned out to be and the random connections that I had made. Things could have gone into a completely different direction. I was chosen today for a ‘random act of kindness’. I realized while writing this that I forgot to ask the ‘homeless person’s’ name.

 

 

Chocolates and tea and minimalism

Yesterday was a long day; a long commute to work that was made even longer by a missed train that set me back by 45 minutes. Yes it was a blah sort of day- but then there was chocolate. The day started off with a piece of almond covered chocolate; then there were ginger cookies coated in dark chocolate; then brittles of dark Belgian chocolate with all healthy and organic nuts and sea salt; and finally there was the classic neuhaus Belgian nuggets. And in between there was warm raspberry lemon lined cups of tea to cleanse the palate.

And somehow on the way back home I found myself in front of the Neuhaus Belgian chocolate store at union station- a perfect ending to a long grey day. I bought six bags of small almond coated dark chocolate wrapped in rectangular plastic boxes with velvet ribbons on the side and one big box of classic chocolate dressed in the holiday red. These are all gifts for my friends and coworkers. Chocolates and sometimes tea, I find are easy gifts for almost any occasion. They represent warmth, sweetness, and care and unlike the ‘stuff’ that sits and accumulates dust long after the gesture is over; these can be shared with friends and family and are almost always instantly consumed.

I think these are how most gifts should be- light and gentle and sometimes fleeting. I am a minimalist at heart and I am on a quest to live with less. I live with an extended family, a modern version of a traditional South Asian family (yes an oxymoron and yes I can explain but some other time), where family values frequently trump individual values. So I try to do what I can to practice what I believe in– in small ways. One thing that I do have control over is where I put my money and outside of what is necessary to live on a day to day basis, I choose to spend my money on ‘experience’ rather than ‘stuff’. Personal growth classes and workshops, entertainment (theater or improvisation); dining experiences and travel is where I put my money. It is liberating and it also gives me a great deal of pleasure.

When I give gifts, I try to put myself into the receiver’s shoes- would I want that extra piece of gadget; or that piece of decoration; or that extra pair of whatever the latest fashion trend is —no I don’t. When I bring something into my home, I want to give it the attention and the care that it deserves, and increasingly I find that I do not have the time or space in my life for these extras. My time, energy, and resources are for my family and friends and especially myself.

I have always been conscious of the amount of resources that we take up and the waste that we create, but recently becoming a mom has propelled me into action. I am often reminded of growing up in Nepal, where we did not buy much of ‘stuff’ and whatever we bought we used it forever to the extent that there was not much left to throw out. My mother is still using the refrigerator that she bought 20 years ago; the sofas have been upholstered several times; and we constantly got hand me downs from family. For me, buying something no matter how cheap is a moral act and a responsibility. It is not just about minimizing items at your home but also using up less of earth’s precious resources and recycling as much as possible. I do not always succeed, there are plenty of times that I let go, but I do not stop, even little things matter like bringing a traveling coffee mug instead of buying disposable cups or choosing the type of gift that you want to give to people.  So yes chocolates and tea with as little packaging as possible.

Yoga day !

Yesterday was the first day back to work after a two weeks hiatus. I took time out for a one hour yoga class in the middle of the work day. Taking that one hour break during the busy work day meant arriving at the office by 7am looking like a bag lady (work bag, breast pump bag, and my yoga gear bag). Yoga is not cheap in the capital. A one hour class can run anywhere from 20$ and up but it was worth the splurge.

It was free flow yoga for all stages. The teacher was experience with a gentle and soothing teaching style. The yoga studio was white walled with glass panels on the ceiling; I could see the greys and the blues of the winter sky while breathing my ‘om’ on the mat. It was a wonderful break from the work day routine, and walking back to my office I could feel that extra lift on my steps.

Sometimes the key to happiness is balance, the right amount of family, friends, career, and health. I can always push for a bigger position, more work, but is that what I want, more of the grind and time spent in front of the computer, while there are so many amazing things to experience. It is not always an easy decision; there are days when I am beating myself up for not pushing harder. Sacrificing one for the other does not always feel right; but there are days when I feel completely at peace and yesterday was one of those days. Everything felt just right.

Hello World!

 

It is 2016 and I have decided to take the plunge into the world of blogging. I have been wanting to this for several years now- but yesterday I decided to act. You may ask why. I have a good life- family, friends, job- I have it all but still there is this sense of growing discontent that I can no longer ignore. The mundane, the everyday humdrum of life is precious but also stifling at times. Once upon a time, I used to be a different person with a different life.  I recently came across this quote on the net by Jonathan Safran Foer from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” And it clicked. Please don’t get me wrong- I love my life and I am grateful for all I have but sometimes I wonder what if I had taken a different path- what would life had been like.

I cannot and do not want to make drastic changes in my life right now but that does not stop me from reading countless articles about ‘packing up your lives and traveling the world’ or ‘quitting your job and pursuing your passion’ and I salivate and I dream and I tell myself one day I will. I will move into a small one bedroom unit and downsize my life; I will purchase a one way ticket around the world; I will only own a few sets of clothes and shoes and books; I will write every day; I will take long coffee breaks with nothing to do but just people watch; I will become fluent in French; I will read every day; I will practice yoga and mindfulness everyday; I will connect with new people every day; I  will sign up for an internship in  a French bakery; I will talk long walks in the nature; I will learn to do organic farming. And there are more. One day I will do all of these but until then I have decided instead to incorporate this sense of adventure into my everyday life. I am going to do at least one adventurous thing each day and document it in this blog. I am defining adventurous as anything that is ‘not mundane or routine‘. Someday it might be an early morning walk and sighting of deer; or pushing out of my comfort zone and connecting to a stranger; or trying a new recipe or just adding a new ingredient to an existing recipe; or taking an impromptu yoga class; or connecting with an old friend on social media; or a big one like taking a Euro rail trip through Europe with family. I am alive and the possibilities are numerous. So let’s begin !