Nepali Times
Literature
The face I seek in a crowd

MANJUSHREE THAPA


Story and essay writer Sita Pandey has earned fame (or, among orthodox flanks, notoriety) by writing frankly about sexuality-a topic still deemed unseemly for Nepal\'s women writers, and even for "respectable" men writers. Eschewing convention, Pandey does not flinch from the dark aspects of human desire. Her most memorable characters include a married woman waiting for her lover in "Nandabeer", a husband abetting his wife\'s prostitution in "Tok", a teenaged girl threatened by men\'s sexual interest in her in "Jwaro", and in "Sundariya", a young woman who supports her family by selling her only possession; her body.

The story translated below focuses broadly on the search for connection in an anonymous, maze-like city. The gender of the verbs in the original Nepali story indicates that the narrator is a man. He teeters dangerously at the crossroads of an intensely volatile desire, which might just as easily lead in wholesome or unwholesome directions. It is this unpredictable and un tamed desire, in my view, which motivates the characters in Pandey\'s most evocative stories.

I\'ve known this city for about ten years now. I know its every alley and crossroad, its every temple and shrine, I\'ve placed myself amid each of its festivals, gatherings, and crowds. I too have started the journey that everyone must take; yet I still feel 1 have another new journey to start, and I think, "The path I have to take, the path leading to my destination must be another path, not this one." Then I stop walking old roads and start taking new ones. But when 1 walk all day and still don\'t find my destination, I think, This isn\'t the path I\'m looking for either." I\'ve switched many paths in order to find the one I\'m looking for.

This relates to a time when I first entered this city for my studies and had nothing to do but study. I would study all morning. So, ordinarily, my whole days were free. But this free time wasn\'t really "free", since I didn\'t need a job, or, even more time-consuming than that, I didn\'t have to work at finding a job. Yet I\'d be searching for something. I\'d walk a lot, and always keep myself busy. My father and mother had sent me to the city to study, and I was staying with a relative\'s family. They had office work.

and they were so busy with their own concerns that other than on holidays, they never knew how each other was-maybe they didn\'t want to know.

Each morning, I\'d leave the house shortly after they left for their offices. I\'d walk briskly on the roads, feeling that I too had somewhere to reach soon, I had some new journey to begin in a car that was about to leave, somewhere. But that course of reaching and rushing would break, snap and finish before five in the evening, let\'s say before the end of office hours. In this way I\'d go out in search of something each day, and after roaming all afternoon, I\'d return alone and empty in the evenings, broken, snapped, shattered and finished within. Still, I\'d think: maybe tomorrow I\'ll find something.

In this course there is another matter. In this city there are many roads which look very similar, and new faces to the city who can\'t figure them out can easily get muddled. At that time I too was new to this city, or rather, this city was new to me. But I never thought, "Maybe I\'ll lose my way if I walk this road." The place I had to go could be anywhere. The path I needed could be any path. In this way 1 walked through many places and roads without ever knowing them. Another reason I could walk, without worry, through unknown roads and places was-time. "Time" was abundant for me then, so I could walk anywhere, i could even stand a while at any crossroad and wipe away my sweat.

But now I\'m employed. This whole course has broken. Now there can be nothing for me to read but newspapers. These papers, too, I read only for one reason: I\'m anticipating some news which might appear in them any day. After reading each headline, I realise the news wasn\'t printed today. Again 1 start anticipating the same news in tomorrow\'s newspapers...I\'ve been doing this, I\'m still doing this.

Many people say, "I feel anxious in crowds." Yet they remain apart. But each crowd is an excitement for me. A stimulation. Excited and stimulated, I plunge into the hordes. Studying each face I examine these hordes, turning over everything.

In each horde, I feel that I\'m looking for a face. This face can belong to any ethnicity, age, sex, or individual. This is why I\'ve spent so much time and effort to recognise it. But when the crowds start to thin, I slowly become agitated- won\'t I meet that face today? Then, the next moment, I wonder-is it that I haven\'t been able to recognise the face that I\'ve been looking for all this time? At this point I want to grab each person by the arm and shake him, asking, "Where\'s the face I\'m searching for?"

Even now I\'m looking for some face in the crowd; at the sight of the hordes I am filled with the same curiosity, excitement and sense of stimulation. Excited and stimulated, I study each crowd. I study everyone: the boys and girls, the young men and women, the old men and women of the crowd.

These days I\'ve also started to wait, each morning and evening, at the gates of schools. I feel that the face I\'m looking for might even belong to one of these small schoolchildren. I\'ve also begun to think that along with that face, I\'ll have to create the path I\'ve been wanting to take all these years. And if I never find that face in any crowd. I\'ll also have to create it within myself.



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LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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