"Sauraha, Sauraha", a tangawala was shouting for the passengers to go Sauraha, the gateway to Chitwan National Park. A woman alighted from the bus at Sauraha Chowk and headed towards the tanga. Her tall slim body was swinging rhythmically and long black hair was flying in air as if she was cat-walking on the ramp. A bunch of bachelors, sitting on the bench in front of grocery shop, could not resist the temptation to tease her with sharp whistle, seeing the beauty at her best.
In a moment, tanga was racing to Sauraha leaving the desperate boys behind. The woman asked tangawala, "How long will it take to get to Sauraha?" "Not much, just half an hour !" he replied. Expression in the face of woman clearly depicted that she was not enjoying the tanga ride as she had to be squeezed between other passengers in the limited space. She murmured herself showing disappointment and frustration.
Getting off from the tanga, she walked briskly towards Holiday Safari, a tourist hotel located about 50 meters ahead from the tanga station. After cursory inspection of room, she decided to stay in the hotel, not because of satisfaction with the amenities but reluctance to walk down further to find the hotel of her choice. Raju Chaudhary, the hotel manager, asked her name and necessary information to record in the guest book. "Jessica" she replied.
Jessica Amatya, final year student of Bachelors Degree in Sociology in Kantipur College, was traveling all the way from the capital to do the field work on socio-economic survey of Tharu community that is the part of mandatory research thesis on ethnic community of Nepal, in the final year.
September is good month in Chitwan as weather is mild and sky is clear after the monsoon rain. White flower of kans looks beautiful and prominent against the dark green backdrop of dense forests. Rivers and streams are subsided to be calm where people swarm to swim and fish.
Jessica went for elephant ride in Baghmara Community Forest followed by the canoeing in the Budhi Rapti River and Elephant Breeding Center visit in Khorsor. She clung to her cell phone which rang every now and then. “It’s so boring, yar….. There’s nobody to talk with…. People are so stupid you know...” During the brief interval between phone calls, she took photos of rhinos, deer, crocodiles and baby elephants.
She asked Raju to find the suitable study area and an assistant who could translate local dialect during the interview with local people. Raju suggested Harnari, a traditional Tharu village, that is about 2 km east from Sauraha. “Some of educated youths come from that area to our culture house to perform Tharu Stick Dance. Tonight, I will talk to one of them.”
Bikram Chaudhary, a tall and sturdy figure with dark complexion, had been studying BBS at Shaheed Smriti Campus and working as professional dancer at Tharu Culture House. His good personality is enhanced by the sense of humor, honesty and intelligence.
Jessica described him the methods to take interview with people."How to get there?” Jessica asked. “I have a bicycle, and we always travel in bicycle.” She did not feel like to ride bicycle at the hot and humid days but found no other alternatives.
While they were on the way to the village, Bikram was explaining details about the village, people and the environment. He had been excited to share the information but Jessica was struggling with bicycle ride and sweating a lot. With frustration she said, “It’s so far away. How long it will take?” “Not much. We are close to the village.” Bikram replied.
He took her to his house, a traditional Tharu house made by wood, mud and thatch grass and the wall is decorated with traditional paintings of animals, peafowl and fist-print. At the left side of house, there is cow shed and there is water tap on the other side. Open space in front of house was spread with gundri, a traditional mat. Bikram’s mother and younger sister welcomed Jessica and offered tea and snacks. She tried to smile at them while she was struggling to sit cross-legged on the mat.
They finished the couple of houses on the first day because much time was consumed in Bikram’s house. Bikram escorted her back to the hotel as she found it difficult to find the way. On the way back, she was cursing herself why she had chosen this place for the research work while she could have done the thesis easily in Kathmandu enjoying all the home facilities.
The interview was occasionally interrupted by intermittent phone calls. During the interview, she got a phone call from Amrit, her boyfriend studying in US. She was excited to hear from him but gradually her charming face got distorted. With some weird expression, she said, “You know, I have to travel in cycle in hot day to come to this site that is so far from hotel. It’s so hard….Ya, I will leave this place immediately after finishing the survey….” One of the members of the family offered her tea while she was engaging in phone. Accidently she hit the plate with tea with her hand and tea was spilled over her cloth. She suddenly got furious. “So disgusting!!” she said with her raging face. People looked perplexed and astonished by her behavior.
She became desperate to finish the field work quickly and go back to Kathmandu. She left out the questions irrelevant to the main subject and she wanted the specific answers from the interviewees. She also switched off the cell phone during the interview.
They concluded the field work in a week. While they were returning to hotel on the last day, Bikram saw the empty canoe at the side of the river. He asked Jessica, “Would you like to ride the canoe to cross the river?” She was excited and agreed to ride the canoe.
The canoe was moving smoothly on the calm river. As Bikram wanted her to take his photo, she took camera from the bag and focused on him. But, she could not focus because they were sitting close together. So, she moved back looking at the camera. But, she became off balance and the canoe was swinging both ways and it suddenly capsized. They both fell into the river that is deep enough to sink both of them. Jessica started flapping both hands desperately and jumping the body up and down. Bikram snatched her hand and dragged her to the side of the river. Then, he groped for the camera and handbag immersing himself under the turbid water. He found the bag and camera that were all drenched with water. Bikram asked her well-being but she remained silent. She was trembling with fear, anger and cold, and her bosom was rising and falling with heavy breathing. After a while, she said to Bikram, “You go back home, I will be back to hotel myself.”
Jessica did the data analysis and prepared the paper immediately after returning from Chitwan. She shared the experiences of field activities and the accident with her friends. She was able to get the good marks from the thesis. Department head also appreciated her work.
Jessica was shocked to read the e-mail sent by Amrit. She was reading the same line again and again with utter disbelief – “…I have decided to end our relationship from this point because of this new development in my life….” She never thought that Amrit would even think of other girls. 'How could I realize that his love and promise were all fake !' She slowly moved to her scooter, drove back home and got into bed with despair and deep pain.
Winter fog was gradually engulfing the valley that incurred touch of relief to its denizens who had to suffer the irritating heat resulted by suspended particles on the air. However, Jessica was having the moment in loneliness and void where she tried to decipher the meaning of life. She read many books during the moment of solitude that helped her to recede the trauma.
Jessica and her family were watching television of documentary movie about the baby elephants of Elephant Breeding Center, Chitwan. Bibek, her younger brother was excited, “Wow, what a cute baby elephants. So wonderful to be out there !”. Jessica remembered her first visit to the Elephant Breeding Center while she was in Chitwan for field research. 'Upbeat baby elephants looked really cute.'
Jessica opened the folder in the laptop containing the documents and photos of the research that she did in Chitwan. She went through the report and remembered applaud and appreciation from teachers and colleagues when she received the excellent marks. There was another folder ‘Chitwan Photos’ that contained the photos taken during the field visit. While she was clicking on this folder, she was wondering how digital camera survived while the mobile went dead from the ordeal. She gazed upon the pictures and a low voice come from her heart, “Wow !” In a picture, couple of canoes are flowing on the calm river with long stripe of white flowering grass at its edge that are more prominent against the dark and dense forest at the backdrop. Beyond the forest layer, beautiful hills are visible at the horizon of blue sky. These different layer patterns that contrast with each other, constitute the beautiful color combination of magnificent art. Each photo evoked the past memories of the Chitwan trip. She found the photos wonderful that made her confused if she had actually taken them. ‘Why I did not see the beauty with my own eye?’ She wondered, ‘If the images are prettier than the reality’.
Her eyes fixed on guy with tall and sturdy figure. ‘Bikram’ She looked more photos of different poses of Bikram taken during the interview. While he was asking questions to the villagers, he was teasing with them and cracking some jokes that made villagers laugh. She realized that because of his tremendous help, she would be able to do the field work quickly and effectively. A tinge of smile in one of the photos attracted her attention. ‘So seductive’.
The eventful memory of the past was haunting her late on that night. She was cherishing the every bit of the events. The event occurred on the last day was intriguing and painful. She remembered the canoe ride with Bikram and the unfortunate accident. After she was rescued from the river, she was very angry and upset. She tried to figure out, ‘Why I was angry and whom I was upset with? With Bikram? But, it was not his fault. In fact, he saved my life.’ She felt guilty with her enraged behavior. She left remuneration for Bikram in hotel and asked the manager to give him later. She had returned back to Kathmandu on the same day. ‘Oh God !, how could I be so rude to person who helped me and saved my life?’.
Next day, she was working on the laptop to write a project report but she could not concentrate on it because of the grief sustained in the heart. Her hand moved towards the same folder containing the photos of the Chitwan trip. She was remorseful when she saw the photo of smiling Bikram, ‘I am so sorry’.
After finishing the project report, she went to office but she did not feel like to be at the office. So, she took leave early and went to meet Shila, her good friend, who knew her breakup with Amrit. “Don’t bother yar. Forget him, you get the new one ni.” “Leave this matter. I do not want to think over it again.” After having coffee together, she returned home. On the way back, she was thinking of potential candidates. Suddenly, smiling face of Bikram flickered in memory.
She could not focus on reading magazine as her attention was on same photo. She tried to dismiss the thought but it kept coming such that she could not help herself but to look at the photo. ‘Oh, what happening me?’ She was compelled to compare Bikram with Amrit. She found Bikram more attractive, humorous and handsome.
She rose early from the bed and looked at the eastern horizon from where sun was rising. 'Morning is so beautiful.' She was feeling much lighter and happier. During the lunch, she said, “Bibek, I will take you to Chitwan to see the baby elephants.” “Really didi ?” he was excited.
They had good journey as Bibek’s friends, Prasant and Lalit also joined the tour. They stayed in the same hotel, Holiday Safari. They enjoyed the Tharu Culture Dance Program at culture house that evening. Jessica's passionate eyes were searching for Bikram, but she was disappointed not seeing him in the program.
Raju informed her, “Well, he no longer dance in culture program. He is master saab now. He teaches at high school in his village.” Raju also informed her that Bikram refused to accept the money as he felt so sorry for the accident. “He asked me to say you sorry on his behalf but I had no contact of yours.” Jessica was really dumbfounded. The sudden surge of desire to meet him rushed in her body and mind.
Next morning, they all went to Elephant Breeding Center to see baby elephants. Babies were free and they were playing with the visitors. Bibek and his friends really enjoyed the company with baby elephants. Caressing the little brown hairs on the head of one baby, they said in unison, “How sweet !”
After returning from Khorsor, Jessica prepared herself to go to Harnari on bicycle. “Ok bros, now I go to meet my friend. I will be back at 4 for elephant ride.” “Ok didi. We rest for a while in hotel then go around the town.” they replied.
She stopped for a while at the bridge to see the river below where she had been drowned. Some floating plants were moving downward on clean and clear water surface that looked dark green because of reflection of the forests. The ambiance looked perfect.
She was impatient at the prospect of meeting Bikram. She was a bit nervous when she was closer to his house.
Bikram’s sister welcomed Jessica and she asked her to sit on the chair. Jessica sat on the chair awkwardly and glanced around the house. She held her breath, when she heard the familiar sound of Bikram approaching towards her with usual smile in his face.
“Namaste ! Jessica ji. Good to see you after long time.” Looking at his eyes, she replied, “Namaste”. She found no difference in physical appearance. 'His voice got little heavier.'
Bikram inquired about the research and also expressed his apology for the accident. “Oh, please do not worry. That was not your fault.” she said. Trying to be normal and casual, she asked, “Heard that you became master saab?” He burst in laughter, “Ke garne! I do not feel like to jump all the time in the culture house.”
Jessica smiled and opened her mouth to say something but a woman in red sari appeared in front of her. She greeted her and offered a cup tea, “Chiya”. Bikram introduced her to Jessica, “She is Laxmi, my wife.” With bewilderment, Jessica stared at Bikram’s face for a moment and gradually moved her head towards Laxmi. She slowly stretched her trembling hand to pick up a cup of tea.