“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” so said Ernest Hemingway. The great man said it only to get us mortals under pressure. Right from the moment yours truly read it (sometime in his teens), he´s been hit by this ´journey´ bug. As if every step you take has to conform to the statement made by the man who wrote ´The Old Man and the Sea´ (It´s a different matter that during our college days, we used to find titles like ´The Old Man and the She´ more appealing).
Yet the line touched a chord, somewhere… And ever since the microbuses hit (yes, they literally hit!) the Kathmandu roads, yours truly started relating microyatras to ´journey´. The journeys have rarely been soul-searching, except for a few times when your fellow passengers were breathing down your
neck, yet they have been reflective of what stage of development our society is at.
Having been in microyatras at least a multiple thousand times, this scribe can assuredly tell you that there are more women using this mode of commuting than men. Yet you´d see many men complaining that two (or sometimes three) seats are reserved for women. “Why do they sit on other seats if they already have seats reserved for them?” The line is common. Yet some women ´dare´ to sit on places not specifically designated for them. And thank God they do!
A lady, possibly in her early 20s, entered the microbus that I happened to be in. Relying on my guess about her age can be bit misleading since I´ve taken her age to be an average of late teens to early 30s. The mantra of life is: It is always good to be safe than sorry (needless to mention here that I´ve lost some ´friendships´ after being forced into guessing age ´accurately´).
The summer was yet to set in, and the early Kathmandu morning air was still nippy. Yet the lady defied the temperature with her choice of clothes, just like US defied climate change for years. The vehicle wasn´t much populated; hence she could easily navigate her way to the back seat, where yours truly was. I always believed that the backbenchers – due to their ability to picture the entire scene, without being a part of it – enjoy the most, whether it is a class or a microbus. But she chose to park herself on the seat right in front of me, besides ´another´ man. This man was in his early 20s and I can bet my wallet on that (his age).
The lady had already attracted a lot of eyeballs, thanks to her dressing sense. For some men, that provided a sneak preview of what things are going to be in line this coming summer. But she appeared relaxed about it, almost having devil-may-care attitude towards those who were gawking at her. Yours truly wanted to see the reaction of ´another´ man, the one sitting beside her, was going to have, now that the most ´happening´ person in the microbus was besides him.
This man, a good six inches taller than the lady, appeared to twitch the moment she sat. For a moment, he appeared to look outside the window. But that changed in just a minute or two. Without moving himself an inch, he started looking at the lady. Due to his height advantage, he could look at her from almost top. Gradually, his focus got fixed to the plunging neckline of the lady. To my amazement, he kept on looking at that part for a good 5-7 minutes. Such minutes can be very long in a microyatra, where your objective is only to commute. Most people do not stay in the vehicle for that long. For most girls, that time period can be an eternity, after they learn where the man sitting next is looking.
I imagined that the man must be an archaeologist, looking intently at an object of historical importance. As if the archaeologist was thinking of ways how the artifact could be excavated. As if, in his mind, he had already thought of ways what he wanted to do with the ´prize.´ And I felt, his look had already objectified her body (or parts rather).
For a moment, I thought the lady was oblivious of the ´archaeologist.´ Suddenly, she asked him, “Dai, does this microbus go to Jawalakhel?” It startled the man, and he struggled to focus on the question, clearing his thoughts. He blurted, “Sorry?”
The lady repeated the question, and he meekly said, “No.” All this while, the conductor of microbus had been shouting, “Ratna Park… Ratna Park!”
Moments after successfully breaking the archaeologist´s train of thought, the lady prepared to get down. And just when she was getting off the vehicle, she looked back at the man, smiled and winked. The archaeologist looked flushed, and started to fiddle with his mobile device…
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. And more importantly, what the journey teaches you all along.
PS: This write-up appeared in the weekend edition of Republica, The Week, on 18 April, 2014.