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Monday, May 7, 2012

Mahadev’s Hero Cycle

Mahadev Gurung awoke in the semi-darkness with a start, troubled and uncertain at first of where he was or what had happened, but then he quickly recalled that he had been sleeping in his dorm room at the construction company which he worked for in Kuwait. He had just had a most disturbing dream that he had been urgently peddling his favourite bike, the dark green Hero Cycle on which he had met his wife Mina, along the bumpy road in his home village of Kaski, in Nepal. He had been peddling so hard to reach Mina, that his legs were like lead and he felt that his heart might burst, yet he had to reach her as something terrible had happened, even though he somehow knew that it was too late for such urgency…
*  *
 At age twenty, Mahadev Gurung had been a determined hard working young man of stocky build at five foot seven and with predominant Indo-European features, though there was also a slight Mongolian look to him. He had started off as a carpenter apprentice in various villages adjoining his village of Kaski, near Pokhara, where he often made furniture, but mostly he had worked on construction sites, building homes for locals or guest houses for the growing tourist trade. Mahadev was hoping to learn all the skills needed in the construction trade as it was his intention to soon move into the city of Pokhara, where he would be able to further expand his developing abilities, as well as find more work at much better pay.
Eventually he wanted get married, settle down in one place and start a family, but to do all that with any financial security would mean having to work overseas in the Middle East or Malaysia for three or four years. However, the job brokers demand a lot of money to procure jobs in such countries for Nepali workers, therefore why it was important for Mahadev to move to the city to improve his job skills and work opportunities to achieve his ambitions. The problem was that many of the villages where he had to travel to find work were often a fair distance from Kaski, with no transportation back and forth for him and his tools but his feet.
Some of the villages were only accessible by foot in any case, along steep ascending paths and nestled on narrow ridges; and a few places could be reached by bus, or at least partly so, but buses were slow and often random in Nepal, so a faster cheaper and more reliable means of transport was desired. The best option for Mahadev was to buy a bicycle, but not just any bicycle would do for him, it would have to be a Hero Cycle, India’s best made bicycle, sturdy and durable, he had no need for complex gears or fancy suspension or other luxury gadgets for his cycle, just a lock and a bell and off he could go.
To that end, he had been saving-up his earnings, after all his living expenses and while helping to support his parents and siblings, for almost three years to buy a brand-new Hero Cycle, after all three-thousand rupees was a lot to invest for such reliable transportation. The Hero Cycle he finally bought had a glossy dark green frame, a black cushiony seat and stainless steel handle and brake bars, and it was Mahadev’s prized possession, even more so then the essential tools of his livelihood. For not only was the Hero Cycle his vital transport from home to work and back again, but it was also his gateway to freedom especially on his nonworking days, it was the vehicle he felt that would get him through this life, therefore he made sure to keep it clean, well-oiled and the tyres properly inflated at all times.
He found an excitement cycling swiftly along the roads, paved or otherwise, a challenge peddling up some of the steeper parts, and he had the satisfaction of leaving pedestrians far behind in his wake and the confidence of propelling himself towards his destiny. He mostly cycled to work sites between Sarangkot and Kande, but even on his days off work he might travel to such places to watch sporting events or to socialize with friends and relatives, or even just to take in the majestic view of the vast snow capped Annapurna range. Mahadev could have easily cycled into Pokhara as well, but unless he was to return with his bike by bus (a journey which might have been too rough for the cycle) it would have been a long hard slog home.
One of Mahadev’s favourite past times when he wasn’t working (and sometimes when he was) was bird watching, he especially enjoyed watching crested serpent eagles and red-headed vultures spiralling effortlessly on the thermal air currents along the mountain ridge Kaski sits on between the Pokhara Valley and the Ghobang-Seti River valleys. So it was certainly a common sight to see him casually peddling his dark green Hero cycle to or from work as he followed a cinereous vulture or a Himalayan griffon soaring just a few metres above him.
One time as Mahadev returned on his Hero Cycle from Sarangkot, after spending his day off checking out the nesting place of an Egyptian vulture (and the young female Korean and Japanese tourists there), he keenly began observing a few black eagles soaring overhead (lucky for him there wasn’t any traffic) when suddenly a girl’s voice urgently called out! Mahadev looked just in time to narrowly swerve around two young goats which had just ran in front of his path, but he couldn’t avoid the large pot hole and lose gravel which caused him to skid and lose his balance, and so bike and all he tumbled to the ground.
The first thing Mahadev did as he got to his feet and dusted off his blue long sleeve work shirt and grey slacks was to see if his Hero Cycle had received any damage, but apart from getting a bit dirty and a few very minor scratches on the dark green frame and fenders, it was fine. Then Mahadev quickly checked his own body for serious injury, however apart from a few gashes, scrapes, cuts, bruising and a sprained wrist, gained while protecting the cycle in the fall he was relatively ok.
He was a bit angry, embarrassed, hurt and shocked over the silly accident, but he knew that he had no excuse to blame the goats or the girl, since he had not been looking where he should have. By the time he was lovingly wiping down the frame and fenders of the Hero Cycle, to get rid of the worst of the dirt (some of which was there from before the fall), the girl had arrived to see if he was alright and to give out to him for nearly killing her goats! Mahadev found her to be a rather cute girl of ten wearing a shabby red Kamij and green salwar with her dark hair in two short braids tied with red ribbons, and knowing that he was at fault he patiently listened to her harsh tongue lashing.
-Oh, but you are quite hurt, the girl after a while remarked, -my older brother works at the nearby health post and is practiced in some medical treatments, come to my home so he might look to your injuries. -It is ok ramro keti, Mahadev replied, -I will be fine, it is just a few scratches. However, as he got on his bicycle to ride away, the girl grabbed the back and refused to let go, -No, she pleaded as her sweet face looked even cuter, -you must come to my home and let dai look to your injuries.
-Ok, Mahadev reluctantly gave-in with a sigh, -I will go with you if it isn’t far, and so what is your name then? -I am Sita Manang of Pateswara, and your good name? -I am Mahadev Gurung from Kaski, came the simple reply as they set off. It was indeed only a short walk to Sita’s home, which was just a small four room mud plastered farm house with a thatched roof, there was rice growing in paddies surrounding the house and ears of corn drying in the rafters.
Sita’s dai wasn’t home yet, and apparently the rest of Sita’s family were off doing chores in the fields or gathering firewood, so she told Mahadev to wait and made him some tea, meanwhile she ceaselessly asked questions about himself and his family. However, halfway through Mahadev’s tea one of Sita’s older sisters returned from the fields to start cooking evening dal bhat, -Mina didi, Sita called out, and then quickly explained the situation as to why Mahadev was there.
At seventeen Mina was somewhat plain looking when it came to beauty, being a cross between Indo-European and Mongolian complexions, yet without any distinct features from either group, she had yellowish-brown skin, with some freckles on her cheeks and nose, and her long plated hair was reddish-brown from using henna. She was dressed in a Dhaka Kamij and faded old blue jeans and seemed a bit uncomfortable with a strange man in the house seeing her in her working clothes. Nonetheless, she quickly took charge of the situation, looking after and washing Mahadev’s wounds, wrapped his wrist in a tensor bandage and directed Sita to chop vegetables and to start cooking the rice.
-Oh, and the sleeve of your work shirt has a tear, Mina commented having finished her doctoring, -here let me mend that for you. -That is ok, it was ripped before the accident, Mahadev quickly replied as it was his turn to be embarrassed because of the state of his clothing, -but thank you for your kind offer. -It would be no problem to mend it, Mina again shyly insisted, -Sita could make you another cup of tea while you wait? -Very well then, Mahadev replied to hide his growing nervousness, for in truth he found Mina too pleasing to look at, then he took off his long sleeve shirt, even though he felt even more uncomfortable sitting with two young girls in just his pants and under shirt.
Still, despite their awkwardness Mahadev and Mina managed to occasionally chit-chat about each other, Sita watching from the side with a knowing smile as she continued making the dinner. Mahadev discovered that he had gone to school with two of Mina’s brothers, though he hadn’t been close friends with them; Mina found out Mahadev shared her passion for bird watching; and they also knew a lot of the same people from the surrounding area, and therefore they felt less like strangers then when they had started.
After Mina had professionally mended the rip in Mahadev’s blue work shirt, and he had finished his second cup of tea, and Sita watching them had prepared the vegetables, Mahadev reluctantly decided that perhaps it was time to leave. After all he was running out of things to say and Mina’s family were beginning to return home and giving him funny looks, so he politely thanked Mina and Sita for the tea and medical attention, and then bid the Manang family a warm Namaste before cycling away.
Over the next few days as he cycled between Kaski and Sarangkot he was hoping for an opportunity to accidently meet-up and chat with Mina, or at least to catch sight of her working in her family’s fields. However over the next ten days the only member of the Manang family he saw was Sita, and even so on just one occasion, again dressed in her red kamij and green salwar while herding the goats a few fields away as he pedalled along the road, so all they could do was wave to each other.
The following week as Mahadev was cycling home from Naudanda, after work, he spotted a young woman ahead of him wearing a Dhaka Kamij and faded old blue jeans and knew strait away it was Mina, so he stopped to greet her as well as offer her a ride on the back carrying rack. It didn’t matter that the rough road was mostly uphill, as they would walk up the parts that were too steep for his peddle power, and once again he was glad that he had a sturdy Hero Cycle, not that Mina was heavy by any means, yet most other bikes couldn’t endure carrying two adults over such harsh conditions. It was also fortunate for Mina that she had a bit of extra cushioning on her backside, since the metal back carry rack didn’t have any.
-Where are you coming from now, and what have you been doing, Mahadev wondered as she sat side-saddle on the Hero’s back carrying rack, -you can’t have been down in Pokhara shopping since you have no baggage with you? -I have been taking advanced dress making classes with my cousin in Naudanda, Mina replied as they started off, -in another six months I should be skilled enough to work in a professional tailor shop, though eventually I would like to have my own business if possible.
-How often must you go to these lessons, Mahadev wondered aloud, -and are they always at the same time? -Five days a week Mina replied, -and more or less at the same time each day, it is a long distance but it will be worth it soon as I can start working. The rest of the journey they talked of this and that, Mahadev continuing on past Kaski directly to Mina’s Pateswara home, since it was mostly downhill and not far for him to return home.
-I might not be able to give you a ride each day into Naudanda for your tailoring lessons, Mahadev remarked as Mina stepped down from the cycle, -but most days for the next month at least I should be able to give you a lift home, if you would like? -Huncha, I would like that very much, Mina quickly replied before running into the house. Mahadev was quite pleased with himself at that point, so when he turned around to cycle home and saw Sita and Mina’s other sister, Sophia, smiling knowing at him as they herded the goats, he didn’t mind.
Over the next few weeks almost every day Mahadev gave Mina a ride home, on his dark green Hero Cycle, from her dress making course, and every day that he wasn’t working, that she had the lessons, he would give her a lift there and back. Often they talked about each other, or their families; expressed various dreams they had for the future; or discussed and compared notes of various griffons, vultures and eagles they had spotted previously or those which they observed together along the way. For Mahadev whenever he was cycling with Mina, especially on the downhill stretches, it felt to him as if he was soaring effortlessly with the eagles and griffons, sharing all the thrill of their freedom among the snow capped Annapurnas nearby.
Whenever Mahadev dropped Mina off, she always went straight to wherever she was going without looking back to watch him leave; just as he never bothered to look back to see if she might wave good-bye to him. Perhaps they took for granted their growing feelings for each other, or were too embarrassed to express them. However, on one occasion, Mahadev had just dropped Mina off in Naudanda for her tailoring class; he cycled a few feet forward and then stopped in front of a shop as he casually turned to watch her go.
Meanwhile, the shop owner had been doing some cleaning and was in the process of dumping out a bucket of water, which landed at the exact same time and spot where Mahadev had regrettably stopped. Mina, who normally didn’t look back as she left Mahadev, on this occasion did turn to wave good-bye, only to watch as his blue long sleeve work shirt and grey slacks got soaked, and she couldn’t stop laughing at Mahadev’s rather shocked expression.
Every few minutes during the next two hours of her dress making group, Mina couldn’t help but to burst out laughing each time she thought of his face with that look, of course the other women found it funny, once Mina explained it all, but they didn’t think it that funny. Nonetheless, that was the moment that Mina realized that she was in love, after that Mahadev and his dark green Hero Cycle were constantly on her mind.
Unfortunately, not long after that Mahadev’s job location changed, instead of working around Naudanda he was to work on the construction of a guest house in Sarangkot, therefore he no longer would be able to give Mina a lift to her dress making lessons other than on his days off. Suddenly he no longer felt like he was soaring with the vultures and eagles, not without Mina on the back carrying rack, without her as he cycled uphill it was as if his feet were of lead, the Hero Cycle seemed more a burden than a means to his freedom.
Although Mahadev could no longer give Mina a ride to or from her tailoring class on his Hero Cycle, other than on days off work, still each day she would wait by the side of the road for him to cycle by on the way to Sarangkot, to greet and briefly chat with him. Sometimes she would make him extra chapattis or some ahchar to go with his tiffan, or maybe a thermos of tea, so that he wouldn’t be thirsty or hungry while at work.
On one occasion when he was returning the thermos to Mina’s family, Mina wasn’t home yet so he handed it to Sophia, -Your sister Mina is a good cook, Mahadev cheerfully remarked, -her chapattis and achhar are too delicious. -Ohho, you don’t know how many times she has to practice before she gets the chapatti or achhar right for you, Sophia groaned while rolling her eyes, -she might make twenty chapatti for every five perfect chapatti you get; or make five servings of ahchar for every one serving you get, and Sita and I have to eat all the bad ones! -Oh, but doesn’t she usually cook the family dal bhat, Mahadev inquired, -So she must be a good cook if that is the case? -For the family she is a good cook huncha, Sophia replied, -but for you she is always too nervous to cook and so burns half the food or adds too much spice!
By this point Mina’s family had certainly taken note of Mahadev and his relationship with Mina, but Mahadev really impressed Mina’s family, and especially her father, when he made a few minor repairs around their house after Sita asked if he could fix a broken chair. After which Mina’s father Bhadra, who wore soiled shorts, a double breasted tunic with a North Face down filled vest and colourful topi, and who was as tough and wiry as a goat at the age of fifty, invited Mahadev over one evening for a chat, so that they might get to know each other better, and to find out if indeed Mahadev was suitable for Mina.
Bhadra’s intended method of getting to know his daughters potential husbands was by drinking raksi with them (if they were old enough to drink, and if they knew good raksi from bad), any young man who refused to drink with him (and many didn’t, feeling it would be uncomfortable to do so) instantly failed since in that case they wouldn’t be suitable son-in-law material; on the other hand, if they did drink with Bhadra, but drank too much, then they were also rejected as potential suitors.
Mina had given Mahadev her father’s invitation to chat with him that evening, during the morning as Mahadev was heading to work, she had also hinted that it would involve some drinking, so after work Mahadev went to a friend in Sarangkot who made very good raksi and bought two bottles. This impressed Mina’s father to no end upon Mahadev’s arrival, especially once he had tasted the raksi, they then decided that one bottle would be enough for that occasion and that they would save the second bottle for the next occasion they would drink together.
As they drank and ate snacks of roasted soy beans or curried vegetables, Bhadra inquired of Mahadev’s family, his ambitions for the future and what his intentions for Mina were; after talking about his family and explaining his plans for the future, Mahadev told Bhadra that he very much liked and cared for Mina, but that in the end it would of course be up to her as to what she wanted and would make her happy. Mina’s father was most satisfied with Mahadev’s answers and his family’s background, so not only did he invite his potential son-in-law to stay for dal bhat after the drinking, but further encouraged him to continue seeing and spending more time with Mina.
After that Mahadev and Mina saw more of each other whenever possible, Mahadev pedalling like a dark green blur past Kaski until he met-up with her returning from the tailoring group, to give her a lift the rest of the way home; on his days off from work they would go on bird watching excursions in the area, or to view the beautiful Annapurnas, though not always on his Hero Cycle since some of the better places were only accessible by foot, besides they just as much enjoyed walking side by side as they chatted.
On two occasions Mahadev took Mina all the way into Pokhara on the back of his Hero Cycle, to do a bit of shopping that she couldn’t otherwise have done in the surrounding villages, even though it would mean having to return by bus as far as Naudanda. They also took advantage of those opportunities to go to a cinema house and watch romantic Bollywood films starring Shahrukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan, and to take a leisurely paddle over to Tal Barahi followed by indulging in a bit of ice-cream.
When Mahadev’s work came to an end at Sarangkot, at least for the time being, he easily found work closer to the Kaski-Raniswara area; meanwhile Mina’s dress making lessons were coming to an end, therefore they were spending even more time together. In fact, Mahadev was spending a fair amount of time with the rest of Mina’s family as well, occasionally having a glass or two of raksi with her father, helping her sisters with their homework, helping to fix things around the house and even on occasion helping out in the fields.
Therefore, when the Dashain festival was approaching, Mina’s parents went and had a talk with Mahadev’s parents, who each had discussions with Mahadev and Mina as what was to be done. On the first day of Dashain Mahadev took Mina on a bit of a bird watching excursion, however once they arrived at a secluded place, after a bit of nervous beating around the bush he finally asked if she would marry him, -Even though I haven’t much money, or a home of my own, and even if I have no other means of transport than my Hero Cycle? -Of course I will, she laughingly replied, -even if you were rich and owned a palace I would marry you, and I love you most of all especially because of your Hero Cycle and the rides you give me on it, if you had a car or a motorbike I might not have loved you nearly as much as I do now!
On the ninth day of Dashain they held a simple wedding ceremony at a Shiva shrine near Kaski, Mahadev dressed in a dark grey three piece suit and colourful topi; Mina in a crimson sari and veil while her long henna coloured hair was pinned up in a lotus design. There were no musicians to beat drums or drunkenly blow trumpets, no fancy decorations or marquee, since such things were far too expensive for them to afford, besides they felt no need for such extras and were happy enough with just the few family and friends they had as guests.
First Mina led Mahadev walking three times clockwise around the shrine to signify how early in the relationship the man has to chase after the girl to win her heart, and then they went inside the shrine where a Brahman priest said his mumbo-jumbo, as they threw rupee coins at the altar. Next they exchanged rice shoot garlands around their necks, as well as gold rings, after which Mahadev led Mina three times clockwise around the shrine to signify that from then on she must obey her husband. There was also a small feast with dal bhat, and some drinking and dancing, after which Mahadev brought Mina to his family home (as is the tradition) on the back of his dark green Hero Cycle (not the usual tradition) while still in their wedding clothes.
Mahadev’s parent’s home was a bit bigger then Mina’s family residence, built of clay brick and having two levels with a slate roof, yet his room at the back was quite small and had very few furnishings. There was a rusting metal wardrobe for the bride and groom to put their clothing in, a night side table, a chair and two beds; the new double bed was obviously meant to be their wedding bed, whereas the single bed was Mahadev’s from his bachelor days yet no one had decided what to do with it yet.
So it was their wedding night, an exciting night for any groom to be sure; but a rather nervous and perhaps frightening evening for any bride. Therefore, while Mahadev slipped under the covers of the new double bed, anticipating the wonders of his life with Mina; she hid under the covers of his old single bed trembling with fear, and perhaps with a bit of longing to be lying next to her husband in their matrimonial bliss.
-What are you doing over there, Mahadev gently whispered over, -we are married now so it is ok for you to sleep in the same bed with me. -I know, Mina timidly replied, -but I have never slept in the same room as a man before, let alone the same bed with a man, so I am a little bit frightened right now, maybe tomorrow… Although Mahadev was quite disappointed, at the same time he didn’t want to rush and put pressure on her, she would come and sleep with him in due time on her own, therefore he simply wished her mitho sapana.
Over the following days, as it was still Dashain celebrations, Mahadev and Mina spent a lot of time together further getting to know each other, and Mina getting to know her new family, all of whom she found quite friendly and helpful. However, each of those evenings again as Mahadev slipped into the double bed, Mina sipped under the covers of his old single bed, and no matter of gentle encouragement to entice her over to him would sway her. He didn’t want to force her, but ke garne; she couldn’t spend the rest of her married life sleeping in the other bed, therefore on the morning of the fifth day of their marriage he went and asked his father for advice.
-Hmm, Mina sleeps only in your old single bed each night, Mahadev’s father pondered; -well I just remembered that your uncle has been asking for that old bed of yours now that you are married, so let’s bring it over to his house before we forget. So that was exactly what they did, even though the uncle didn’t actually have room for the bed either, and so that evening Mina had no other choice but to slip under the covers with her husband, though that first night she would only allow Mahadev to cuddle with her.
As a married man Mahadev felt an even stronger urge to move to the city and find work; while he was single it had been easy enough to provide for himself from work in the surrounding villages, but now he had a wife to support. Besides, in Pokhara there would be more opportunities for Mina to find the tailoring work she so much wanted to do, then if she was to stay in the villages. Therefore, after the Dashain-Tihar celebrations, Mahadev went down into Pokhara to see about work and a place to rent that they might call their home, he talked with family, friends and other people he knew in the city about such prospects, and soon began to come-up with some positive results.
Especially once Mahadev met with a young carpenter/wood worker named Sidip Subedi who had just taken over an uncle’s cabinetmaking shop in the quiet lakeside community of Dihiko Patan. Sidip couldn’t promise Mahadev any long term work, but certainly some occasional work and contacts for other jobs, but perhaps more importantly Sidip knew of an old nearby storage shed with a loft that was up for rent. Furthermore, when Mahadev mentioned his wife was a tailor-dressmaker, Sidip replied, -That is exactly what our little community needs, and the old storage shed I told you about would make a perfect dress making shop for her.
Within a few days Mahadev and Mina had made arrangements to rent the old storage shed in lake-side, and by a friend’s truck to move what few furnishings they had, yet they didn’t go down in the truck themselves, preferring to make the journey on the Hero Cycle. From Kaski first they cycled to Pateswara for a quick visit with Mina’s family, then on to Sarangkot and down the hill into Pokhara, finally following the Baglung highway into lakeside.
At first the old whitewashed stone storage shed didn’t seem like much, yet between Mahadev building a partition to block off the kitchen area, with its sooty clay oven, from what would be Mina’s tailor shop as well as making repairs to the loft; and Mina painting the window and door frames a dark blue and giving everything a good cleaning, soon they had a proud little home. Soon they even had a bit of a garden growing many of their favourite vegetables, yet what really made Mina the happiest was when that dark green Hero Cycle was parked alongside their new home.
It was indeed a cosy little neighbourhood with six community enterprises currently struggling to make ends meet, there was Sidip Subedi carpentry shop of course; a butcher shop run by Ram and Sita Kumar; a grocer by the name of Rita Bhupta; an electronic repair shop owned by Bhadra Rana; a blacksmith run by Ashok Shah; and a stationary/bookshop owned by Saru Ramja. Some of those neighbours quickly became friends of Mahadev and Mina, while with others that friendship was slow to take root, nonetheless everyone in the community was helpful towards their new neighbours as they settled in.
It didn’t take long for Mahadev to find work, sometimes with Sidip, or doing odd jobs for the people in the community, but more and more often on different building sites around Pokhara, making his Hero Cycle just as vital as it had been in the past. Mina’s tailoring business had a slow start, after all she didn’t have the capital to start off big, and she was rather intimidated at starting up her own shop, when she had been expecting to work as an assistant in someone else’ business to start off.
However, Sidip then approached Mina to make a suit for him, and when that turned out much to his liking he next got Mina to make a few saris for his sisters, after that many people in the neighbourhood started to go to Mina for her tailor skills and soon word spread. That was the happiest point of their lives, they each had their work to keep them busy and which was slowly earning enough rupees that each month they had saved a little after their rent and all other expenses.
Their work was not always easy, and usually they worked five days a week apart from holidays, but mornings and evenings, as well as those few days they didn’t work, they had mostly to themselves. Of course, they often visited their families and spent time getting to know their new neighbours as well, but on their days off it became their tradition to take whimsical cycling rides along lakeside until they found some secluded spot for a romantic picnic.
Mahadev would usually be wearing a dark blue long sleeved shirt and black pants rolled up the calf with blue sandals on his feet, as those were his only non-working clothes. While Mina would sit sideways across the back carrying rack of the dark green Hero Cycle, wearing a flowing orange sari of her own design with a matching scarf, holding a black umbrella over both of them, rain or shine, to protect them from the weather.
In a tiffan tin, hanging from the handlebars, they would have a few chapatti, some curried vegetables and perhaps a bit of ahchar as well, enough for a poor man’s feast. When they found the perfect spot they would spread out an old blanket on the ground, recline leisurely and gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, as they lovingly fed each other, and once again went over their many elaborate plans for their bright future.
However, happy as they were, there was one thing which would make them happy to no end, and that was to have at least one child, whether a son or a daughter in mattered not, someone they could share their life and happiness with, some who they could watch growing from infancy to adulthood… But of course, to raise and school children is rather expensive, and although Mahadev and Mina were saving rupees each month, it wasn’t enough to support a child; therefore the only way to afford children was for Mahadev to work overseas.
Unfortunately the job brokers demand a lot of money to help find work for Nepali overseas, and sometimes the job brokers are con men or sometimes the overseas employers are slave drivers, so who to trust? Often a person will have to work two-three years just to make back what they paid the job broker, never mind starting to actually make it all worth whole. For every person who has made big money working overseas, it seems there are perhaps eight people ending up with less then they started off with before working overseas.
Nonetheless Mahadev was willing to take the risk, if he could save up enough for the job broker fee, yet for over a year and a half he and Mina between them had only saved up half the amount. Becoming more determined as he cycled from job site to job site trying to earn as many extra rupees as possible, while Mina attempted the same with her dress making work, neither wanting to be separated but knowing in the long run it would be for the best.
One day Sidip quietly approached Mahadev, saying, -I have a few lakh which my wife and I were saving up to support any children we might have, but as my wife has left me and we had no children, well…So if you like, I could loan you the balance of what you need for the job broker fees, I won’t even charge any interest, as long as you pay me back shortly after you return to Nepal from overseas, I know how much wanting a child means to you and Mina. Therefore I would like to help you both achieve what I cannot…
At first Mahadev and Mina were hesitant to accept such a generous offer, not wanting to borrow money from anyone, but this way they might reach their goals sooner, nor was it likely they would get an interest free loan from anyone else. For quite some time they debated over whether they should accept Sidip’s kind offer or not, eventually the balance of their thoughts on the matter weighing towards the former stance. They knew that accepting Sidip’s offer they might be separated anywhere from three to five years, at the least, and that in many ways during that period their lives would be more of a struggle then it currently was.
Soon all the arrangements were made, through a job broker, for Mahadev to work for a major construction company in Kuwait, starting with a three year contract which then could be extended for as many years as Mahadev wanted after that. For the next few weeks until Mahadev’s departure they tried to live their normal everyday lives, and on their days off work they visited with friends and family or went on rural excursions on the Hero Cycle. However it was a very difficult time emotionally for both of them, and though outwardly things might have seemed ok, yet inwardly it was a time of sadness and anxiety, a time when nothing felt right and everything seemed to be falling apart.
Their most wretched moment was the very last night they were together, Mahadev’s flight to the Gulf countries was early the next morning, so they had very little time left for a proper good-bye. Nonetheless, each of them wanted desperately to express their love for the other, as well as make known all the pain and sadness they felt at having to be separated for such a long unbearable time. No matter how much they tried to express the profoundness of their feelings, all the words got stuck in their throats, not that it mattered as they were confident as to how the other felt about them.
Mina would not even allow Mahadev to share the same bed with her that night, even though it was usually their custom to snuggle intimately each night. However, on that occasion, Mina felt that even the most innocent of caressing touch would be far too emotionally upsetting under the circumstance. Therefore she felt it best to part in this way, rather than with a strong passionate departure, which would have otherwise only broken their hearts.
It had been an awkward farewell in the morning all the same, seeing Mahadev off in the taxi which would take him to the airport. In fact, soon as he was in the car she quickly turned and started to walk away, not wanting to experience any more sadness over the situation. Mina simply wanted to get on with her life as it would then be, at least until Mahadev’s safe return, but more than likely that would not be for many years yet to come.
Normally, whenever Mahadev and Mina parted company, she always went straight on with whatever she was doing without looking back to watch him leave; just as he never looked back to see if she might wave good-bye to him. Only on one occasion early in their relationship had they done so, and on the morning of Mahadev’s departure to Kuwait, as he drove away in the taxi, Mina again had promptly turned and waved good bye. Meanwhile, as the taxi began to accelerate, Mahadev quickly looked out the rear window just in time to see Mina wave to him, and from that point on he began counting the moments until he would see her again.
Mina rarely ever used Mahadev’s dark green Hero Cycle for herself, as it was one thing to leisurely be riding on the back carrying rack (though with road conditions that could be quite uncomfortable), but to peddle the cycle was another matter. The hills in and around Pokhara are deceptively longer and steeper than they appear, indeed Mina was amazed her husband could get anywhere on that cycle, especially with her on the back! Furthermore, the traffic was quite bad throwing out black clouds of choking exhaust, on coming and passing vehicles cutting off cyclists just because they know they can; then the roads themselves crumbling at the edges and full of dangerous potholes, so Mina preferred to walk or take the bus.
Nevertheless, whether she used the Hero Cycle or not she kept it in good condition while Mahadev was away in Kuwait, keeping it clean and in a dry place, oiling it from time to time, and for a cycle that had seen some heavy usage over the last four years it still looked brand-new. Maybe there were a few more very minor scratches here and there on the dark green frame, and the tread of the tyres was slowly wearing away, but nothing was bent, no dings in the fenders, nothing loose or falling apart, after all it was a Hero Cycle built to endure.
Meanwhile, although Mina had made some profit from her tailoring, and Mahadev sent home what money he could, it was still a financial struggle for her at the best of times to pay the rent and all of her living expenses. Besides, Mahadev wasn’t always paid when he was supposed to be paid, nor was he always paid the full amount he was owed for the work he did, therefore on a few occasions Mina had barely scraped by from month to month. On one occasion she had to sell their double bed, for which she received only half of its original price, and after which she slept only on a straw mat on the wooden floor of the loft.
Then again just the previous year, because of the bad economy, lack of steady business and rising cost of living Mina was again short on the rent, and Mahadev’s employer was holding back on his wages. Sidip offered to help Mina make up the balance owed for the rent, Mina felt that she and her husband already owed him too much money and would not take any more, she then had a long discussion with Mahadev about the problem paying the rent, and after a lot of hesitation he suggested selling the Hero Cycle.
It was the second hardest decision that he had ever made, the hardest being to leave his wife and Nepal to work overseas, after all that Hero Cycle was still his most prized possession and the second most important thing after Mina. After all, that cycle had always been his gateway to freedom, his means to transport him and Mina through their life together, and it should have been a heirloom to pass on to their child.
All of the wonderful times he and Mina had pedalling through the countryside, yet those would only be fading memories without that Hero Cycle to revive the old memories and create new ones. Oh, of course he could always buy a new Hero Cycle when he returned to Nepal, but even if it was a dark green one it wouldn’t be the same, as it wouldn’t be the same cycle he had met Mina on, and that day had led to the happiest moments of his life.
When it was finally sold Mina only received one thousand rupees for Mahadev’s Hero Cycle, one third of its original price, even though it was relatively in mint condition, but ke garne, it was important to pay the rent or she would have nowhere to live or run her tailor shop from. Even so, the thousand rupees was only enough to pay three months’ rent, however by the time it looked as if it might be a problem again, Mahadev’s employer released all wages owed to him and so that solved the rent problem for another year, though it was too late for the Hero Cycle.
*  *
   …All of that reminiscing had brought Mahadev back to the moment when he had woken in his darkened dorm room from a rather disturbing dream a short while ago, where he had been urgently peddling his dark green Hero Cycle along the road in his village of Kaski, in Nepal. Pedalling in mad desperation until he felt he might break, and all the while he was filled with a frantic need to be with her, in order to save Mina from something terrible which was just about to happen or already had!
He had been aware of the twenty-one days of protest across Nepal to overthrow the monarchy, but surely Mina would never get caught-up in all of that political mess, she was too meek to take part in such wilful destruction and violence. Mina had no political sense, nor any care for such things, besides all of that had ended days ago and according to the news reports the situation in Nepal was returning to normal, if not already. So what could have happened to Mina, was she ill, had she been in some accident, certainly whatever the matter was she would be ok?
Just then one of Mahadev’s Nepali co-workers burst into the dorm room, his face red with anxiety and from being out of breath after running from the main office, -Mahadev, come quick, he rasped, -there is an urgent call for you from home, I think it’s bad news…


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