Special On-line Feature: FICTION
COLONEL GETS A VISITOR
Sushma Joshi (see also "Hunger"
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…
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
Nepal: New Voices, an anthology of short stories, and
also wrote Art
a book of essays about contemporary art in Nepal.
("The Global and the Local")
("The Fiction of Truth, the Truth of Fiction")
held by the author
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