Durbar Square Date
Words: Charlie Chaulagain
I will call him Mr. Francis because that was his Grindr ID. I asked him to meet me at Patan Dhoka, but, en route from Bal Kumari, he lost his way a bit and sent me an ‘I’m running late’ text message. Guessing that he may be closer to the Square – because that’s where we were supposed to go anyway – I called him. And sure enough, he was. I spotted him sitting on the steps of the Harishankar Temple, across the palace complex, towards the southwestern part of the Square. I had never seen him in person before but he didn’t look very different from his pictures.
A missed call and a quick scan across the crowd, and a short walk towards Mr Francis as he reached for his phone. When I suggested we go to a bhatti, he amicably nodded his head, saying “Yea, can we eat?” But when we peeked inside the dim Chyasal room located within the neighborhood’s maze-like northern alleys, an older guy half-heartedly shook his head, glancing quickly at a mound of unpeeled potatoes and said “World Cup.”
Yes, it was one of those June mornings, kind of early – it wasn’t even eleven – so I had to come up with a second plan. “I don’t really eat much in the morning,” Mr. Francis was saying as we walked back towards the Square”, “So I am usually starving by this time.”
I hastily entered the ‘D Square Café’ behind Krishna Mandir. I had never been there before, so I was pleasantly surprised as we climbed up the stairs. The open-air top level had a great view of the Mandir. I decided to let him take the seat from which he could admire the intricate artwork on the gray stone monument. At an earlier point, he had mentioned that he wasn’t familiar with the area; perhaps he hadn’t had a chance to appreciate Patan’s architecture at such close proximity before. With that thought, I pulled up a chair, facing a TV mounted on the wall across the restaurant, where three waiters were stationed, enjoying soccer highlights.
“So your parents were OK with the tattoos?” I couldn’t help asking. He had a phrase inscribed on his chest, which peeked out of a V neck. There was another symbol on an arm; the third one was apparently on his lower back.
“No, my parents have always been very cool. It’s my older brother and bhauju who tend to be a bit more traditional at times.”
Mr. Francis was from Dharan, currently on a short vacation from Melbourne, where he was completing a diploma on advertising. When we started chatting on Grindr, he was some one hundred and twenty-six miles away. “Let’s meet when I am in Kathmandu next week,” he had typed.
He stayed at a flat in Bal Kumari during his Kathmandu stints. When I asked him about his future plans, he seemed uncannily relaxed, “I was actually thinking of returning last year, but my family and friends nudged me to stay longer and try for a PR so I signed up for this short course.”
“I like Kathmandu,” he went on, “I lived here for a couple of years after my Bachelors in Singapore. Worked at an ad agency, had a boyfriend. It was fun.”
“Still in touch with the ex?” I asked.
“Nah. When I started to think about Australia, the relationship dwindled.”
“And your family? Do they know?” The inevitable question.
“Not yet, but soon. Once I am fully independent.”
“So what’s your last name?” I couldn’t help asking.
That’s the first question that most Nepali boys tend to ask online, a question that instantly annoys me. So I am careful while posing it myself. With him, I was genuinely curious. His response – Parajuli – definitely surprised me. I must have seemed puzzled for a second; I must have searched his face for signs of Parajuliness – there was none – because he quickly added, “My mom is a Gurung; dad Bahun.”
Aah. That explained a lot of things. His features – Gurung nose, big Bahun eyes – had been hard to place, strikingly unique for a Nepali. The tattoos and how the parents were cool about it. As he spoke, I tried to imagine his upbringing in Dharan; went even further back in time and tried to picture his father and his mother, how they must have had to face certain obstacles in order to come together, the long explanations they must have had to provide to their sets of parents, relatives, cousins, friends; how their daily life was a testament to their open-mindedness.
I envied Mr. Francis a little bit. Not many Nepalis are privileged enough to be blessed with parents who have an inherent understanding and respect for diversity; having parents who are courageous, who dared to challenge traditional notions.
How Mr. Francis’ entire life must have been shaped positively by his parents’ non-discriminatory attitude. And by default, how enriching his life must have been. No wonder he likes Kathmandu; no wonder he doesn’t have strong preferences between staying abroad and returning home. No wonder Mr. Francis is so calm.
A father’s wound is passed on to his child, writer Cheryl Strayed said. If one’s parents don’t resolve certain issues in life, if they don’t heal themselves, the children inherit them. The children grow up wounded. But if parents face difficulties and work through their problems, they pass that knowledge to their children.
As I was thinking about Mr Francis and his parents, I noticed him checking his watch.
He had wanted an approximately 11- 1 hang out session as he needed to get home early to prepare for a party. Taking the hint, I gradually started to slow down the pace of our conversation, hovered on the surface of this strange lake instead of plunging probing questions. Focused on finishing the one bara, the two pieces of chhoyla and the scattered chiura that were lying on my plate.
“Tonight, I have invited a few co-workers from back in the days. Tomorrow, my group of gay friends. And Sunday, my straight friends,” Mr. Francis was saying. That’s why he wanted to be home by early afternoon. His style was a bit different than mine. I liked to mix friends. I liked introducing one set of friends to another, preferred smaller groups.
When I asked about the gay friends, he threw some names. But I hadn’t heard about any one of them.
“They are all younger. Two of them are together. I can’t seem to meet people my age.” Mr. Francis was in his late twenties. I was amused to learn about all these different cliques of gays. Back then, it was tricky enough, trying to get four guys to have dinner together. The city sure has grown bigger, more complex, so many layers of lifestyles, so many people.
“Well, most gays your age are probably out of Nepal. That seems to be the norm.”
“I guess,” he said, “Well, maybe I’ll come back,” he returned to an earlier theme. We left it at that.
As I walked back home, I wondered about Mr. Francis; I wondered whether he will really return or when. I could imagine being friends with him; or exploring something more. But it is also possible that I may never see Mr. Francis again.