While Hanging and Floating
Fall, 2012. Astoria. I’m at the end of my US stint. A dozen years. My entire twenties. All that planning and hard work – But it didn’t work out. And I am not happy. So I decide to return.
The flatmate talks about international transfer rates, offers tips on credit cards. I have savings but I need to cut costs. Once all that is set, I turn inwards. I have a few months to sort out the tumult inside my head.
I stick to a strict schedule. I cook every meal. I stop going out. I sleep a lot and wake up early. I make coffee and sit in front of the computer. I read blogs. Blogs posted by people changing careers, pursuing passions, quitting addictions. I find time for books I have collected over the years. I immerse myself in all this, achieve a bit of mental clarity. But the future looms ahead, casts shadows on the present. I am hanging. Hanging between lives. I try to imagine Kathmandu while floating in this void. I am scared. But one day, a sharp thrill shoots up my spine. I have never experienced this before.
I start writing about the void. I capture memories that enter the void. Memories of earlier visits to Nepal as well as thoughts about the future. I describe how I feel and what I see while hanging and floating. When the autumn sun enters the flat one morning and falls on the tattered green couch I bought in 2005, I write about the calmness that emanates from these quiet moments. I write about the vegetables I select at the grocery store, about the kale’s strong, green fibres and the swiss chard’s softness. I start discovering new tastes, learn to segment days in new ways.
But the words I produce are dismal first drafts. They are all over, scattered, just like my life. The structures are flimsy. There is no style. I cannot find a voice. But I hold on to the morning schedule, keep punching away on the keyboard, desperately trying to make sense. Finally a story emerges, a story that justifies all these wasted hours.
Spring, 2013. Kathmandu. I take some time settling down. A year passes. I replicate the 2012 routine. I am no longer floating, I realize. My feet are firmly on the ground. Certain emotions have crystallized and dissolved. I am able to see more clearly. I write about what I see.
One morning, on a remarkable day, I find myself, once again, walking down an alleyway; with sprightly steps, momentarily throwing caution away. There I meet an Aussie, and a boy who took a micro from Samakhushi. The host serves black tea; he has a charming way. We make small talk, us three, before we start to play.
After quickly undressing – the cold, it is January! – we huddle on the narrow bed, have an adventure; there is no room for intimacy. Morning gradually turns into day. Outside, ancient pathways are washed by soft sunrays. A Thakali thali each, for the strangers and me; then we go about our ways.
These encounters, the stories, are part of our world, a part of me. There are masks, there are costumes; there is also shame. There is “What will they think?” constantly drumming in our brains. So many men, so much pain. Bound, internally maimed. What to do, how to be, what to say, what not to say.
My name starts appearing in magazines and online portals. An executive nudges me to contribute a piece. He has recently founded a mainstream men’s magazine. An idea quickly takes shape. I am eager to push boundaries, attempt a fresh perspective. I submit a story about men in Kathmandu. The piece gets published. I write a follow up.
More time passes. Earthquakes jolt Kathmandu. The constitution gets passed. Long lines snake around petrol pumps. The magazine continues; so do I. But it is time to be more careful about the column, about writing in general. Time to think about – Why? For how long? Why does it matter?
I like to write, no question about that. I like the stimulation, getting connected to many things. I like being in flow. There have been studies on this. On what happens when one works spontaneously, when one is so engaged that the whole process becomes joyful.
But it’s a struggle. It takes discipline and practice. “I must try it out,” I tell myself. “I must find out whether it suits me.”
So I continue jotting down thoughts, continue submitting to the magazine. Each encounter leaves its own ephemeral imprint, like clouds that fleet across the sky. In the US, I rarely looked up; in Nepal, I learn to appreciate the puffs that change form and hue every day. Sometimes, a date with a guy disappoints, causing heaviness. But I meet others who stir pleasant emotions, the way one feels while watching short dashes shimmering on a red, evening sky.
“I have a regular buddy,” says he, after he flashes a photo of his six-month baby. Faceless, spineless – is he lost, or is he the one who has found his way? They do very well here, can’t you see? It was here that Vishnu once became Mohini. “Oh this is just a phase, just a phase,” they say. “What is this thing – being gay?”
Some give up, some run away; some are caught in between, they pretend to sway. Explorers, travelers, risk-takers, they are all here. If only, if only, they could explain this to Soci-e-ty. So they do this, they go there, they make up stories. Eventually, most choose the easy way. Many ways to be, so many – but in this country, really?
Thousands of men, multicolored pain. “We are damaged!” they yell. “Goddamit. Why did you make me this way?” Read books, meet people, the wise ones say. You have no choice; you are just fine being this way. “No no no, you see. There is tremendous difficulty. This is no Sin City. Here, everything is holy.”
There’s routine, there’s regularity, then there’s reporting. I try to capture raw emotions before they mature and mutate. Certain dialogues demand urgent documentation. Sometimes, I pay more attention to these tasks than refining aspects of my craft.
A modest readership emerges. That is another reason why I write. Because I remember how growing up gay in Kathmandu felt like. When I was younger, there were no stories about Nepali men who liked men. And we know how stories can inform and teach, can show us the way.
Early 2016. Kathmandu. These are important times. There have been tremendous national debates about identity and access; about rights and recognition. Beliefs and attitudes are shifting. I can feel the energy. The LGBT movement, for instance. Who would have thought there would be a Blue Diamond Society back then? Now here we are, two decades later, reading about new laws.
But society is taking its time. Most gay men are still closeted; there is still fear, denial. And misconceptions. People still equate gays with transgenders.
What can one do though? The transgenders were the first ones to come out, the ones who became visible, took risks. So I write to address these stereotypes and misconceptions. To encourage other gay men to embrace their identity.
Evening comes, darkness falls; suddenly the world shrinks. Here I am, once again, with odd leftover hours from the day. Inside my flat, on the balcony, I consider the hours; I contemplate. There is the bed, there is the chair. Doors, windows – everything is perfectly in place. So I sit down, light a cigarette, push buttons, meet someone who lives far away.
Starman is the messenger’s name. He is Lazarus, he is Ziggy. At one point, he was a Space Oddity. He sang many songs, he told tales; he became exactly what he wanted to be. So in my world I have to live. And to this world I have to return, even though it is a maze. Also, I know – it is here, only here, that Truth and Pleasure ultimately stay.
In this way, night once again turns into day. I make coffee, cook eggs, go to the window, watch the minutes slipping away. The fog lifts, the sun shines, a bird flutters, dropping a message my way. Those words, I remember well. It is from another stranger who died in an unexpected way. He was only forty-six, he, when the car crashed near Paris. A few years before, he had said, nothing matters anyway.
Almost three years have passed since my return; more than one since the first story I published here. I am working on another piece, trying to figure out what to say. I spend days writing drafts. I experiment with structure and style. But the ideas are vague; the voice is still missing. I share the drafts with friends. Some provide feedback. Several times, I decide to let go. But I grow restless.
One morning, I am wide awake at 3 am. It is cold. Thankfully, there is power; the heater can be turned on. Sleep seems elusive so I decide to write. Knowing that I have to start all over again, I open the laptop and reach for a shawl. A sentence begins to take shape. The sentence takes me back to 2012.
This piece was first published on March 10, 2016 by La.lit magazine on its website – lalitmag.com. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org