"Kathmandu" by Banira Giri (by permission of the author)

Kathmandu is a heater inflamed
by one hundred thousand volts;
this capital's orphan girls sit waiting,
like Sita on her pyre of fire,
ready to brand their bodies of gold,
snared by the noose of its love.

Snow-white doves fly the endless blue sky,
there's a prison in each citizen's eye,
as Rani Pokhari floods with color,
there come dark smugglers and sneaks,
fat hypocrites and backbiters,
and all are made pure.
Pipal trees, comb trees, mimosa,
kalki and juniper in rows wave their fans
at inhabitants pure and foul,
but Kathmandu is not just cool and calm,
Kathmandu is hocus-pocus too.

And isn't it also that white-wheeled Toyota
which gulps down its petrol,
never satisfied?
And isn't it also Nanicha's wine store
where young men come in swarms each day:
Gunjamans, Ram Bahadurs, heads held high,
who go home to beat their wives?
An auto's tire marks deep on the street,
green bruises covering women:
samples perhaps of each Kathmandu day.

Kathmandu makes my poor, dear son
cry out in his dreams every night;
half I understand, half I do not,
but still I wish to hear,
hemmed in and oppressed
by past attractions, repulsions,
I find that many will curse me,
I find there are few who like me:
I have come to live in Kathmandu,
but Kathmandu does not live in me.

The countless processions of these city streets
pour forth each night in my dreams,
my nights are weighed down by uproar,
they belong to Kathmandu,
covered entirely by mist.
How silent my cold mornings,
as if the city's dead have waited all night,
and are rotted completely away.

It is an interesting epic, beloved Kathmandu,
full of stories, sweet and bitter:
the opening verses of tremendous speeches,
the communal song of wants and needs;
wages--the happy chance of increase,
prices--the miserable rise,
an unremitting struggle of loss and gain:
oil for the lamp, and sugar,
everything is here.

Wretched Kathmandu,
dear to everyone, abused by all,
its people narrators of Satyanarayan,
forever repeating the ancient tales,
of Lilavati and Kalavati,
always singing the same forest creeper,
always walking the same back streets,
always keeping the same feasts,
always observing the same holidays,
always celebrating the same occasions;
ceaselessly they chant, like kakakul birds,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu.

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