“The Global and the Local”
“The Fiction of Truth, the Truth of Fiction”
The Colonel Gets a Visitor
BY SUSHMA JOSHI
Hello? Yes? A visitor? I’m not expecting any visitor at this hour. It’s a young man? Ask him his name, you dhindo-eating idiot. Dinesh Neupane? I don’t know any Dinesh Neupane. Ask him—ASK HIM what he wants. He wants to meet me. Well, what’s new? I’m a popular man around these parts. This doesn’t mean I meet with every Dinesh Neupane who drops by to see me. He works for Jagriti, you say? Jagriti is trashy, like all newspapers, but at least they print both sides of the story. I see they ran a story about the police IGP’s abduction the other day — all those other Maoist rags never print anything about anything. Trash, complete trash. That’s all they ever print. He’s a staff writer? Oh, that young man. Yes, I remember him. A very pleasant young fellow with glasses, and a soft-spoken voice. Yes, indeed, I remember him. He has a brother in our prison. Absolutely, I recall the boy now, clearly. Why didn’t you tell me that before, Kalay? Do you expect me to remember the name of every street journalist working for a one-paisa rag? Let him in, let him in. And yes, bring us some tea as well, we’ll be talking for a while.
Namaste, Dinesh. Namaste, namaste. Please sit. Yes, the sofa is fine, you can sit on that side because it’s sagging a little in the middle. Ah yes, I see you’re glancing at the photograph of our late King Birendra and his family. I…yes, yes, I was saddened, absolutely saddened, by their demise. So I have yet to take it down. Ah, I see you are carrying your paper with you. May I have a look? Ah, I can have the copy, how nice of you to bring me a copy. I swear I don’t read the papers these days — the news is so biased. They say Samachar is the biggest newspaper in town, and they just wrote a trashy article about the King. What kind of “journalists” are recruited by these rags? Do they have no respect for the head of state? Of course he raised his salary, he’s entitled to it. How can somebody be the head of state of a country and not have a budget to entertain diplomats and ambassadors? He would be a poor King indeed if he couldn’t feed his visitors. But come, you didn’t come to talk to me about the newspaper business. Its doing well, you say. That’s good, I say. I always like to see a business do well in this environment where business is suffering. So you’ve come to talk to me about your brother, I presume.
Well, Mr. Neupane, to be very honest with you, I like your brother. I find him to be a very intelligent young man. In fact, I often request his company. He’s taken out of solitary confinement, where unfortunately he’s been put these days, so I can chat with him. He’s a remarkable young man, your brother, well-versed in contemporary world affairs. An intelligent man, no doubt about it. He was studying English Literature you say? Remarkable, remarkable. Too bad he got involved in this People’s… please, have some tea. No, no, I insist. Please, before it gets cold.
So as I was saying, so unfortunate that your brother had to go and get involved in the People’s War. I really like him on a personal level. A nice young man, Satish. I often ask him to be brought out so he can have a chat with me in the afternoon. It must be boring for him in the solitary confinement cell, all alone, with no lights, I think, so I often get him sent to the yard.
Books, you say? He asked for books. Why, certainly you can send him books. As many as he wants. Just don’t put any Marxist trash through, but otherwise anything else is fine. Yes, he was just discussing with me some fine philosophy from Europe the other day. I forget what he was trying to tell me — something about Althusser, maybe? Or Gramsci. He explained to me that Gramsci was Italian and the proper way to pronounce it. Gram-chee, like so. Yes, he was telling me about this philosopher called Gramsci, some interesting philosophical stream of thought which I have now forgotten… but a very interesting man, your brother. Too bad he took to the hills and started to preach revolution. They caught him in a village with all the other Maoists, you know that, don’t you, Dinesh-ji? He had a whole stash of guns with him. Surrounded by guerrillas, a whole battalion of them. He was the one training them, they say. Their naikay! Imagine. That soft-spoken boy was their naikay. I still can’t get over it.
Oh, yes, your mother. Your poor mother must be worried. Such a nice young man from a middle-class family, studying for his bachelor’s degree in the city, and he ends up in the hills. She must be going out of her mind. Please give her my regards. Of course she would like to see him, which mother wouldn’t… Unfortunately, he’s a very dangerous man, your brother, Dinesh, and we cannot let him go. Yes, I know, you would like him back with the family. But really, if we let him go now there’s going to be trouble — a lot of trouble — from the top. They will have my head for it, if you know what I mean. He’s going crazy, you say? Ah. Solitary confinement is something that drives most men to madness. But what can I do, it’s not within my provenance to change his situation. I can allow more books in though, if that would help… when can I consider letting him go? Dinesh-ji, I don’t think you really understand what I am trying to tell you.
Your brother, unfortunately, is a dangerous man. An extremely bright but extremely dangerous man. So the orders say we keep him in indefinitely. Indefinitely means until we get orders from the top to release him, which may not come till your brother changes his mind, and this, it appears, is unlikely. Your brother, for some reason, has gotten the insane idea that the monarchy should be eliminated. I tried to talk to him and change his mind, but he’s adamant. As you realize, Dinesh-ji, this is madness, absolute madness. We cannot allow this madman out into normal society. You should be thankful he’s not executed, like most guerillas we find. He’s been lucky. I keep him here within the safe confines of this barracks, and some afternoons I even sit with him and drink tea and discuss politics. He’s a much more entertaining companion than these stupid sipahi who surround me, I assure you. He topped his board exams, you say? I don’t doubt it. But Dinesh-ji, please understand my dilemma. I really cannot give you a release date — we’ll have to keep him in here…how long, you ask? Ah, that’s a difficult question to answer. As long as he’s needed, let’s put it that way. Your poor brother, I know, his sanity, his mental equilibrium, but what can we do. Oh dear, your poor mother, she must be worried. Anyways, would you like another cup of tea? No?
I guess it’s time for you to go then. You can tell me more about the latest news when you visit next. Ah, this is the book you would like me to pass on to your brother? He asked for these titles, you say. That young man is remarkable, the way he knows so much even though he was just a college student studying for his bachelor’s degree in Biratnagar. He’s not even from Kathmandu. My ancestor, Kesar Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana started a library in Kathmandu, Dinesh-ji. You should go see that library one day when you’re in that capital. And that ancestor of mine — which culture wasn’t he acquainted with? Which people did he not know about? This entire palace is filled with books from all corners of the planet. Leather-bound books, fat volumes of them, smelling of old paper. There are heads of dead animals on the walls — bison, antelopes, a tiger rug on the floor. Ah, those were the days. That was the time of real civilization.
Now we know nothing, nothing. I am ashamed to say that I rarely read, Dinesh-ji. But I enjoy smart conversation, and smart minds, this is why I get along with young Satish, he’s a relief from these stupid dhindo-eating sipahi who surround me all day, everywhere. This book Satish asked for…it’s about Cuba? And the writer is… hmm… Fy-del Castro. Cast-ro…I have heard his name before, I think. A big world leader, you say? A big world leader like George Bush and Tony Blair? Yes, he was on television the other day, I think… I’m sure he will teach young Satish a lot more than those trashy Maoist books that almost destroyed his mind. He needs some lessons in world leadership. That brother of yours, I swear to you, Dinesh-ji — if he hadn’t become a guerilla he would be destined for greatness. The way he talks, the way he moves… anyways, I wish I could say something more, some ways in which we could help your family, but I can’t. Yes, indeed. This book will keep him occupied for a while. No doubt he will tell me all about it when he’s done reading. I don’t have my glasses with me so I cannot scan the text but yes, do please leave the book here and I will have the orderly carry it in, Dinesh-ji. What a pleasure to see you again, and I am sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Do come again soon. And please do give my regards and deep apologies to your mother, who I understand must be very worried about the whereabouts of her youngest son…
SUSHMA JOSHI is a filmmaker and writer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her company, Sansar Media, has produced documentaries and short films. Her book, The End of the World, has just been published by Fineprint, Kathmandu (title story, here). She is also a columnist with the Kathmandu Post, co-edited New Nepal: New Voices, an anthology of short stories, and also wrote Art Matters, a book of essays about contemporary art in Nepal.