Excerpt from Maanche ko Rang, Anbika giri

I had not met Shikhar in a month. I’d heard he went to Kathmandu. Not that I really cared where he was. But his face after what happened to Bhima Didi flashed in front of my eyes and threatened me every now and then. There were times when I thought he had left the Party. But I couldn’t enquire about him with my father all the time. In fact he didn’t even know about my decision to join the Party. Regardless of how I felt for him, he was the only person I wanted to tell about my decision after my father. I had a feeling he wouldn’t believe I’d work for the Party. So I was already elated, confident that he would try confirming it with my father.

-

Father had started coming home less often. While his arrival was exciting for me, for my mother he was only a filthy man. I used to practice speaking like a communist in front of my mother’s tiny vanity mirror. The communists I had seen used to only talk about serious stuff, fists clenched firmly. They gave us stern warnings, raising their forefingers, fierce looks in their eyes. I used to practice the same, with wide open eyes and a somber expression on my face. Sometimes I became aggressive too. My practice session used to take place when mother was busy on the farm and my sister was out playing. One day I was talking about how “our revolution won’t be successful without wiping out the class enemies,” and while practicing in front of the mirror it turned slightly and I saw my mother’s face in it. She didn’t say anything, just watched. I couldn’t face her so I just looked at the floor. She was standing right at the door. I couldn’t even leave.

If only I could blurt out “I was hungry” it would be easier to change the subject.

“Didn’t you say you wanted to study to become a doctor, Maya?” she came close and asked. I froze, seeing her on the bed.

Really? I must have been quite young when I said I wanted to be a doctor. I don’t remember any of it but my mother did.

“Mother, I want to be a revolutionary communist now,” I suddenly held her hands.

“Nothing will happen by becoming one of them,” she held my chin, “you’ll only become filthy.”

“They are revolutionaries, mother, not filthy,” I explained to her, knowing it would be in vain.

-

From then on, I began practicing behind the haystack at the back of our house, where no one used to come. I raised my forefinger, making it look staged and muttered to myself. But one day Hari Baje walked past the same path. He was shocked when he first saw me.  Why wouldn’t he be? It was as if I was waiting for him with my wide open eyes and clenched fist, ready to knock him down. I was just as terrified when I saw him there, after which my fists loosened up and my gaze returned to normal.

“What are you doing here all by yourself, dear?” he scanned me from head to toe. Squinting at me with his black eyes under bushy eyebrows he looked around to see if anyone else was there.

“Or have you joined the Maoists?” His piercing eyes were now inspecting my face. I was trying to avoid eye contact with him.

“Speak up,” the old man wouldn’t stop asking.

“I am practicing for the school play,” I replied hastily, surprised by my own response. But it was such a relief to see the composure returning to his face after hearing me say that. I had to change my practice venue again, but couldn’t find another good spot. The police patrols had increased in the village, so it was dangerous to practice anywhere.  As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, Hari Baje was incessantly asking me about the play, driving me up the wall.  And then there was always the fear of being questioned about it in front of my friends. I had started avoiding him altogether.

When mother wasn’t around I used to call my father Comrade Pahadi at home. How I enjoyed addressing him that way. My chest swelled with pride. Hearing long conversations about the organisatio and the attacks at different places was far more interesting than my textbooks. For the first time I ranked second in the mid terms.

Standing first in class meant nothing for the revolution. But mother was really disheartened. Even Father told me to focus on my studies first. But I wasn’t interested. Even with books in my hands my mind would wander off, thinking about what name should I pick for the Party. Kranti, Jwala, Agni, Natasha and the like. When I asked Father what name should I settle on, he told me “my time hadn’t come yet.” But I couldn’t contain my excitement about getting a new name and being part of the Party soon. I too wanted to take action, especially against those who troubled their wives, bullied the poor and then those who talked about caste differences. In fact I had a list of people I wanted to take action against in the VDC and dreamt doing so in my sleep too.

One day, after mother was fast asleep, Father showed me a newspaper. A bearded man’s picture was published on the first page. I didn’t see anything particularly striking in the picture of this chubby man and looked blankly at Father. He gestured at me to read the caption beneath the picture.

“Maoist dialogue team’s coordinator Krishna Bahadur Mahara,” I read out to Father.

“The government and the Maoists are in talks now,” he said, “now is the time to expand our organisation as much as possible. We’ll have many new friends coming over.”

“And Shikhar comrade?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

“He’ll be here too,” Father said and went to sleep.

I fell asleep reading the paper. That night I was asking my father in my dream if the old regime could be changed through dialogue.

-

Shikhar came home late one night with the same old man. Father wasn’t home. He knocked on the door several times, after which my mother switched on the light outside and woke me up.

“Tell them Father isn’t home and send them from the door.” She looked irritated.

I went downstairs without saying anything. Both of them were standing in front of the door. Shikhar and the old man looked frail.

“Father is not home,” I said hurriedly.

Neither of them said anything. Shikhar shook hands with me. I didn’t look at the old man. He didn’t bring his hand forward, instead he sat flat on the ground. Since the lights were on I was petrified about being seen by others. Mother was probably worried too.

“Do you have some money?” Shikhar asked.

How would I have money? I didn’t work, and the money I received at Dasain was finished by the time the festivities ended.

“How much?” I muttered. How could he think I had the money? He had no idea how poor I was.

“Around four, five hundred,” he said briskly.

That much money? My eyes almost popped out after hearing him. The truth was I only had twenty rupees.

“I don’t have it,” I was furious, “how can I possibly have that much money?”

“What about your mother?” he said looking upstairs.

Maybe, but she won’t give it, I wanted to say, but couldn’t. “Why do you need the money?” I asked.

“A snake bit him, he has to be taken to the hospital,” Shikhar said, turning towards the old man.

“Snake?” I panicked, “Where, when?”

“Snake?” another anxious voice came from behind. Mother had climbed down and had been listening to us.

“Yes snake,” he said again, “on our way here, bit him on the calf.”

Only then did I turn towards the old man. He was in shorts, and was holding his hairy calf and looking towards us. Mother brought the rope used for tying the goat and rushed upstairs again. She handed me a crumpled five hundred rupee note that had been folded into several layers.

“Take out the cycle Maya,” she said and went up.

Yet again I couldn’t fathom my mother’s mysterious ways. I wanted to run to her and hug her but she had already gone up the stairs. I hurriedly brought the cycle down, which was safely parked upstairs. The old man glanced at me. I helped him get on the cycle. I wanted to watch them leave but mother turned off the lights as soon as they moved a few steps ahead.

I couldn’t tell Shikhar about me joining the Party. By the time I got upstairs, Mother had already turned off the light in her room. I still wanted to hug her tightly but somehow couldn’t. I stood still at the door for a while and went to my room.

“Didi, why do these people keep coming to our place,” my sister asked as soon as I got to the bed. I thought she was fast asleep. Under the dim light I saw the fear in her face. She was staring at me, hoping for an answer.

“They are Father’s friends,” I tried smiling.

“Mother doesn’t like these people,” she closed her eyes, “and neither do I.”

The warmth in my body faded when she said this. I looked at her face. She looked peaceful with her eyes shut. It was the first time she had said anything about those people. I had thought she was oblivious to all these things. But it didn’t take me long to find out she was keeping tabs on everything.

“But I like them.” I slept, turning to the other side.