— Ashesh Maharjan
I’m not surprised, not at all. I knew all along that this day would come. I knew it right away, back in 2008. Well, I know it’s easy to boast about your ability to predict the future when the future is ‘now’ and nobody is really going to know if you really predicted it right. But it doesn’t matter at all, since it’s too late and nothing can be done. You have no choice but to walk all the way to your office, a few miles from here, and your home is a few miles in the opposite direction. This place, in Maitighar, used to be a busy traffic island. Now it’s a park. We come here to ease our poor legs, since they have been working all morning. I live in Lagankhel and work at the Bir Hospital in Sundhara and it’s a tough day.
Anyway, it’s 2048 A.D. and Kathmandu is a dark, cold city. It can hardly be called a city as there are no automobiles running on the street anymore, just a few ambulances pass by now and then. Ambulances don’t scream as they used to, because the road is all theirs now. We had a few of these things around till 2015, some distinctly rich could put up to ride till then. But the unfortunate ones wouldn’t tolerate them. I heard they flipped those cars and burnt them. Still, we see a few aeroplanes, since they are fueled elsewhere. But, aeroplanes are of not much use to us since there are only a few fortunate ones who can afford to get the hell out. Load shedding schedules were modified every six months or so, all the while lengthening the dark hours, till it stabilized about a decade ago. Since then we have had three hours of electricity a day, three days a week.
Television and music systems are no longer a part of daily life. The crime rate has gone up. People have been shifting from one alternative resource to other since. The owners of candle businesses, those with manual industries, and the few with land have become the wealthiest ones in our society. But they are no less anxious than you or I. They have their own aches to ease when it comes to transportation and efficiency. People have changed professions. Most of them are turning toward agriculture since people in the city are short of food and it’s quite impossible to transport food from elsewhere without fuel.
I used to believe that everything happens for good. Now I don’t. Since I work in a hospital, I’d observed some brighter sides of the crisis. Less people suffered from respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, throat inflammation, chest pain, congestion and a host of other different diseases pollution would bring. But that was only during the few years that followed the crisis. After a few more years, people poured in once again. A massive number of malnourished people came to us. With the abated food supply everything had started to become more expensive. The poor were the first to suffer miserably. People who studied at night in the candle light suffered all different kinds of defects in vision. Myopia, hypermetropia, purblindness to name a few. Every now and then we heard that an international agency had arrived to deliver aid, but it never happened. Or maybe the donation was never large enough to be noticed. Or maybe we had expected too much. Or it could be the same old story of dirty politics. Politicians- they never seem to back off. Not even in these desperate circumstances when we seem to be going backward.
When I was young, back in 2008, we had lots of vehicles around. Anyone older than their mid forties should be able to recall the dreamy scene back then when Ratnapark was just a few minutes drive from Lagankhel. Now, it’s a two hour walk on a day like today and an hour and a half when I’m in a hurry. Legs are the kings of the street, bicycles too. I wish I hadn’t damaged my old bicycle after I had my motorcycle. I guess I shall buy a new one soon. It’s hard to believe I once had a motorbike. I see it every day in my garage, but I miss riding it. It had only been a few years of luxury. I was a kid back then with a thirst for speed and risk. I was amazed by the way bikes could make you feel the rush of the air. Then, we ran out of fuel. And it was never the same again.
I keep telling myself not to be nostalgic, but I can’t seem to help it. Not a day goes by with the thought that kid in me is long gone. This old man is all there’s left. I got to live with that. And hope. Hope is a good thing, probably the best of things. Yes, I hope that someday the dust covered piece of metal in my garage is going to come alive once again. And I’m going to feel the same rush of air, with the rays of crisp sun on my shoulder. Well, I know it seems unlikely. But not impossible, or is it?