City of Dreams (Book Excerpt) by Pranaya Rana

Pranaya RanaPranaya SJB Rana is sometimes a writer, sometimes an editor, oftentimes both. He has worked as a journalist and editor for The Kathmandu Post and Nepali Times. He lives in Kathmandu and listens to hip hop. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from City of Dreams. Courtesy: Pranaya Rana.

Buildings, roads and bridges made up the city, Kanti knew that. So did trees, rivers and hills. But he had never quite thought about people. He was told that that they, too, were integral parts of a metropolis; if Kathmandu were an organism, people were its red blood cells, navigating busily through road-veins and street-arteries. But Kanti didn’t welcome humanity’s presence. To him, people were appendages, vestigial organs that had served their purpose. The fact remained—in every social situation, Kanti always felt like he did not belong. Among people, he was truly lost.

Once he walked into a narrow alley in between two bhattis where three teenage boys were smoking ganja and passing around a half-bottle of cheap whiskey. They hastily stepped on the joint and hid the bottle behind their backs when they saw him and his suit. But Kanti simply smiled at them and deftly squeezed through a crevice in the wall they were leaning against. Another time, he walked down a dark first-floor corridor of one of the hundreds of massage parlours in Thamel and, insidea side-room with a curtain for a door, saw a clothed man and a naked woman on a rickety cot in an amorous embrace. The woman screamed and the man cursed when they saw a suited gentleman looking in.

Kanti met, or rather surveyed, all kinds of people during his travels. Most people he saw but once. They were blurs, shadow people in a city alive. But some he found intriguing: like an unexpected modern anomaly on a fifteenth century temple dabali in Basantapur, they surprised him. He came upon two hairdressers kissing behind a black water tank, each with a cigarette in his hand. He saw a young kid, barely fifteen, selling brown sugar to an older kid, barely twenty, who was swaying on his feet. He walked into a studio space, in the middle of a photo shoot, and saw the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. She was standing stark against a dazzling white background as three high-powered lights shone down. She had an oversized floppy hat on her head and a short Chinese dress that showed off her legs all the way to her thighs. She had spotted Kanti, and, instead of being annoyed at being interrupted, she had smiled, a tiny mole by the side of her lips rising with the corners of her mouth. Kanti left the studio the way he had entered it, predictably shaken out of his confidence by a beautiful woman. Another day he heard, through the thin walls of a rented room, a couple breaking up, the man’s voice trembling and sorrowful and the woman’s steady and callous—no, she hadn’t found another man, she just didn’t like him anymore.

Over time, Kanti passed by grieving corpse-bearers, revelling groomsmen, jaunty bikers at motorcycle rallies, strike enforcers, citizen protestors, armed policemen, political leaders, British Gurkha hopefuls, women’s rights activists and Hindu-nation fanatics.
Kanti knew that he was not one of these people. To them, the city was just the streets they walked and the buildings they entered. To Kanti, Kathmandu was something infinitely more. This city—at once vibrant and chaotic, capricious and whimsical—was friend, lover, mother and sister. She was time and eternity. She was Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati. Everyone else could cut her trees, suck her waters dry and spit on her buildings. But not Kanti, no—he cared for Kathmandu. He mourned her imperfections, like a teenager would a wart, a pimple, a scar. And slowly, he came to accept them, too—for, his love came with no conditions. Despite having known the city for more than twenty-five years, Kanti still explored her like a man learning a new lover.

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