Ode on unlocking

Nature is settling into the hollow spaces of the lockdown

View of Gauri Shankar peeping through dark monsoon clouds on the 80th day of the lockdown, on Saturday evening from Baudha. Photo: MANI LAMA

No-one forgets there is a lockdown going on, but you could be forgiven for believing the Valley is a beyul cloaked in emerald, a sanctuary freshly washed with unseasonal downpours, the air unusually pristine and clement.

No-one forgets that the process of unlocking might be even more painful, but the distant white peaks are unveiled, every scrap of empty land is productive with cultivation, the birds clatter in the unaccustomed quiet.

No-one forgets the growing clamour of dissatisfied voices throughout the country, but the garden has exploded into a thousand shades of green, soaking up the showers and storms, and the voice of the river makes itself heard as the waters swell.

No-one forgets the tear-gas attacks as protesters politely request accountability from their leaders for pandemic preparations during the past ten weeks, but early morning mists swathe the hills and swarms of insects cloud the cobwebbed trees. Nature is settling into the hollow spaces of the lockdown, creeping like the purple convolvulus that has overtaken our neglected hedge.

No-one forgets the terrible human cost of the virus, but birds twitter, trill, chirp, sing and squawk louder than ever, the cuckoos dominate the cacophony and navy thrushes are most strident long before dawn.

No-one forgets the plight of the hungry and the sick, the distress of the deprived and destitute, but dark kites delicately tilt their wings on their overhead patrols and flocks of rose-ringed parakeets fan their tapered tails to perch noisily in the yellow bamboo.

No-one forgets the devastation to the Nepal economy, but the twilight symphony at dusk features staccato crickets in stereo with undertones of cooing pigeons and croaking frogs, and the occasional basso profundo crow.

No-one forgets the suffering of migrants, the dismal border quarantine and the dilemma of the stranded both here and abroad  but butterflies float through the blossoms, bees industriously collect their nectar and dragonflies hover hopefully over the quiet pond.

Despite the science, we eagerly embrace the freedom to fill the formerly deserted streets on odd and even number days, to escape our over-familiar locked down homes, the sunlit shadows chasing around the rooms, moods fluctuating with the day, whilst outside the window seasons evolve from spring to summer.

No-one forgets how long the shutters have remained closed and how daily commerce has stood still, but the plums weigh down their branches and stain the ground, the jacaranda carpets the driveway mauve, the pale hydrangeas flourish then fall, and the datura trumpets pinkly wilt and drop.

No-one forgets how much anguish has been endured these last two months, dreams dashed, exams untaken  livelihoods suspended, but the crimson bougainvillea bravely withstands the onslaught of the rains.

I leave the house bleary-eyed and face-masked on an early walk as the pink light steals across the horizon. A brown dog sniffs along the edges of the dirt road and an old lady wrapped in an orange shawl sweeps her doorway. A skinny man in a grubby singlet stretches irritably at the start of his workless day, and a girl crouches under an outdoor tap washing metal plates beside her house. A woman arranges oranges in her makeshift roadside stall. But no temple bell rings, and no offerings of petals, fruit and tika powder stand ready on a brass tray.

Only a crackling radio disturbs the timeless morning routine of life in the time of the coronavirus.

Lisa Choegyal


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