When Reetu Returns

– Kashiraj Pandey 
“There is a new face in the village.”
 The headman is informed by one of the village women.
“Yeah, he must be a tourist who might want to stay here for a couple of nights and might leave.” Says Jimuwal, the headman.
“Jimuwaal Baa, Jimuwaal Baa
Shouts another Youngman from the distance – a clear voice some two kilometers away, very audible, very familiar.
“Oh, Hello? Who is that?” replies the headman.
“This is Ramesh, Jimuwaal Baa. I just wanted to make sure you are home.” As he adds, “I am coming to you with guests, a couple from Amrika.”
“Oh yes, come on by”, says Jimuwaal Baa.
“Namaste Jimuwaal Baa”
Ramesh greets the headman and both the Amrikans also exchange greetings with him.
“I heard about you.” Says Jimuwal Baa.
 There had come a woman that morning who had told him that she had noticed a new person in the village.
“Where have you come from?”—
“England, do you know?” The couple spoke in unison.
“Oh yes, yes, Amrika”, replied the headman.
“Amrikans come and visit our village. Some years ago, many Amrikans would come and stay here almost every day, but for the last couple of years I have not noticed any. Amrikans favor this village very much. You see, tourists can see the mountains from here so clearly. They give money, stationery and sweets to our children. Last year, one Amrikan even brought books, a bagful of books, from London where she came from. She worked in our village primary school for a month. She lived in that shed, down there, above the cow shed. Downstairs we keep cows and upstairs a room to live. We have even constructed a toilet for that Amrikan. She was so shy to go to the toilet in public, or even in an open space. And, she was the one who persuaded us to construct more toilets in our village. Now, each household has at least one toilet in the village. So, we value Amrikans very much.”
“Ramesh, what a beautiful scene, especially when the first rays of sunlight reach the mountain peak; so vibrant, so enchanting”, observes Mike, the male tourist.
“Yeah, beautiful for you but our people do not have time to regard the beauty of nature like this. Their days come and go routinely. They are more worried about earning their bread, even without butter! They take nature for granted, expecting it to readily support their needs. Tourists view it as an opportunity of a lifetime to experience the ecstasy and the bliss of nature; they feel as if they are in heaven whenever or however they visit this place.”
 Mike interrupts, “Ramesh, Look! What a nice baby goat, we never see them in our country. Right, Isabelle?”
Isabelle smiles and says, “Yeah- amazing! How lovely are these goats, buffaloes, and the vegetables in the kitchen garden, so lively, so fresh.”
Visiting the remote village as a tourist was nostalgic; totally lost was Isabelle, now a young woman. They had just arrived the previous week, had been in Kathmandu for three days, taken a mountain flight, and come directly to the village.
For a long time she had carefully kept her identity card with an old photograph glued to it. She now removed it from her purse. The card read, “Reetu Nepal, Grade Two, Roll no. one.” The name of the school- Shree Pancha Kumari Primary School, Dhading, formed the background.
Isabelle showed the card to Ramesh. Ramesh, a guide belonging to a trekking company had not realized the tourists’ motive in visiting the village. Ramesh too had attended Pancha Kumari School. He studied and took his SLC at the same school, some nine or ten years ago and knew everything about it.
Ramesh, who had never met his parents, had left the village on passing his SLC. It was also his first visit to this place since he had left. Although he lost his parents at an early age, the people in the village remembered how they loved and cared Ramesh over all those years. Ramesh also remembers his people telling him the story of his parents who had died right after he was born, one after the other, within a year’s time. The villagers a long time ago had also told him about his sister who was ten years older than him. That’s all he knew about his family. He is so indebted to the villagers for they all were compassionate to him which was more of an incentive to return than the orders his company had given.
Ramesh, looking at the card more seriously, reads aloud—Reetu Nepal, a card of a student who went to Pancha Kumari school years back in history for him. The date read as “Expiry: 1981 January 14”, 21 years ago from February 20, 2005 – the present date. Ramesh, also with his family name “Nepal”, recalls the story of the girl Reetu, doubting whether this Reetu was his own sister who he remembers the villagers telling him of who was sent to the city after their parents died.
An old woman from the village appeared and he showed her the picture. Sitting next to the tourists, “Aren’t you Ramesh, how can I forget you my love?” the old woman says, “oh, yeah! This picture – I remember.”
“Baboo! This seems like your sister, Reetu. She was both a brilliant and beautiful girl. We could not keep her with us. Some twenty to twenty two years ago, before you were born, there lived a fine family of three; a young couple with a daughter. They were your father, mother, and sister, Reetu. After your birth the couple died. Your father had a serious disease, HIV, which he caught from Bombay, the colorful city of India where he had gone to work for some years. And your mother followed the same fate. The man died almost five or six months before the woman, and before you were born. After the man’s death, the woman, who was also pregnant, gave birth to a boy. That’s you, Ramesh. She died some two months after your arrival.”
“ Reetu, your sister”—looking at the picture the old lady unravels, “so cute but little mischievous, I still remember had a hard time to live a life here in the village so we sent her to the city with Kainla, who had a mason’s job in Kathmandu. Kainla later told us that a kind gentleman took Reetu to a charity that accepted orphans for foreigners to adopt. A year later, when my husband went to Kathmandu, I asked him to find her and bring her back to the village, to our home if she wished. He said he could not trace her, a story from some 20 years ago. Who gave you this card, Ramesh?”
Ramesh replied, “The Amrikans.” This young couple have come from London to see our village. The company I work for asked me if I could be their guide. I accepted the deal and I am with them. The card belongs to this lady. The old woman looking at Isabelle, was puzzled for some time and tells Ramesh in Nepali to ask the young lady how she got that card. Ramesh, translating repeats, “Where did you get the card from?”
“This is my card. My own card”, Isabelle replies. “This is all I have since I was taken away from my birthplace, nothing more, and nothing I remember more than this except some shallow images of the hills, the mountains, and the clearing nearby. I was given everything; a new name, food, shelter, and support. I have been treasuring this card as though it were a part of my body and the same card has brought me back to this village now.
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