One evening in the November of 2014, I walked home from Basantapur with a friend. The moment we passed Jana Bahal, his eyes twinkled with memories. These were the very streets, he played in as a child, he’d said. The roads he first stepped on, the area where he first went to buy pau with ek suka. He was full of stories till we reached Balkumari, where his childhood home was located. I remember walking inside a dark tiny galli right behind the Balkumari temple to see his old home.
Upon reaching there, I noticed that the eyes that were twinkling with memories a while ago was now staring silently at a big white washed building which had its doors and windows closed. The house that was home to 32 members once was now standing aloof to all the houses aligned; the place where his family shared joys and laughter was now the quietest and darkest one in the chowk. Both of us were teary eyed as we walked down towards Thamel crossing Asan and Jyatha. For someone who hadn’t moved out of the place from where she had grown up, I was finding it difficult to imagine how he must have been feeling. His memories no longer matching with the reality or worse, were in total contrast.
But five months after our walk, a big earthquake took place. He told me that although his house looked alright from the outside, it wasn’t the same from the inside. Of course, nobody had lived in it for years. But the walls had cracked so badly that all the members from his large extended family decided to tear it down. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Almost eleven months after the earthquake, a few evenings ago, we walked home again from Basantapur. And this time, instead of talking about our memories of the long stretch to Asan, we speculated each building that we passed by, wondering how many years they will have before they would face the same fate as his house. Those houses behind the kurta pasal, bhada pasal bag pasal, some with French windows and others with traditional Newari ones, what would become of them when more concrete buildings will appear in the neighborhood. With tekas placed in front of each houses, we wondered what will happen to them after a few years.
As we reached Balkumari, we decided to visit his house again. Right after the galli finished, we came across a pit that was dug up for a foundation. I remembered that there were small shops at that spot when we’d last visited. “Another concrete building will come up here” he said with a bitter tone. This time this once a large house was not only the quietest and the darkest but also the shortest one in the chowk. I looked at this house that once awed me (I went back home to tell mother about it) and wondered what had been lost and what had been gone. It now was reduced to two floored building and seemed lost among other houses in that chowk.
As we moved out of the chowk, into the stretch that would take me home, my friend looked sullen. “I couldn’t save my house,” he told me as we walked away from his memories. Unlike last time, I knew what he was talking about. In my own case, I haven’t really succeeded in convincing my mama not to tear our house. Although he has been postponing the process despite the protest from my maiju, I still wonder if I can save what’s left of it.
Soon we reached Asan and my friend pointed out a half destroyed building that used to be home to Annapurna Seed Store. “Look that house is gone.” I then looked at a home by our side and said “That might go too. I love the window of that house.” We both looked up to see a darkness, of what we could make out of the window that was there. “And that will definitely go,” he pointed out to a long sattal near Annapurna Temple. “But that’s a sattal. At least they might retain the windows”, I told him.
While our last walk after Asan was full of silence with him gulping down his memories; this time it was full of pointing out random chowks, gallis and homes and giving it a timeline of when it will disappear. I told him how all the houses hidden inside the dark gallis have already gone down, leaving a large open space behind the outer layers of houses now. When we reached Tyauda, we looked at what once used to be a long wooden window, now a part of its gone after the house was divided into three.
Along the way, until we reached my home at Thamel, we talked about how we don’t know what to do, how to do or just where to start from regarding the current context of tearing the old houses in the name of modernization and now, security. We lamented over the fact that we are hopeless and we felt helplessness. And that we haven’t been able to do anything about it, even on a personal level. Because how can you save a city if you cannot save your own home.