Grandma told me a story when I was young. She said that there was a girl taken away by wolves. The king wolf then turned out to be a young prince and they lived happily ever after…. I imagined myself being that girl and waited for the “Tiiihoooo” sound which grandma said, was made by wolves. The sound never came. The wolf didn’t show up but my obsession with the wolf story didn’t falter. The story is large enough to fill a page and I feel lazy to write it down. I have listened to this story, so many times, with so many variations, from so many grandmas. And I still wonder about it. The wolf and the girl. The night and Tihooo sound. That’s what stories do to me from childhood. I get obsessed. I get chained.
More than the story, I associate myself with my grandmas telling me this story. When my great-grandma told me this story for the first time, I had spilled hot water on my knees. This was the story that shut me up for a night. Tihoooooo… I remember imagining the sound right next to the front door of my old house….. Tihoooo and wolf and the prince. This was the first story I ever heard. And I remember each and every grandma’s version of the story. They were so happy when they told it and so full of joy as if it really happened.
Stories…. they still have the same effect on me. I believe them so blindly and I live them so faithfully. People say that I live in fictions more than I live in reality. But what if I say that fictions seem real than reality ever is? In reality I’d be learning complex cycles of amino acids and in fictions, I’d be turning them into witty magic charms and laughing at its silliness. I get all possessed by the stories. I irritate people with stories. I get into fights for stories. I have been to cities that never existed and as weird as it sounds, I love the characters, more than I’ll ever love real people. Yes I sound absurd, mad and to some people even lifeless. But to me it’s like a single world is not enough. I live in multiple universes and I rejoice every moment. And it all started with TIHOOOOOOO!
When I was 5, I greeted her every Saturday morning. I played with her in the old palaces of ancient Kings and Queens, where she was named. She greeted me back with smiles and lots of pigeons. She made me run with joy, chasing the pigeons and feeding them. She gave me wings on otherwise boring Saturdays where all I could hear were songs that weren’t in her mother tongue. When I was 5, she was my best friend. I learned her smell in spice shops of Ason and Kilagal. I learned her voice from my Grandmother’s stories. The ways she sang while making rice wines in a small terrace from which I could see the towers of Dharahara and Ghantaghar. Standing in their grandeur, rejoicing the beauty she was. She was my city.
When I was 10, I greeted her from the silent micro-buses where the polite conductors refused to take the 5 rupees I offered them. I sat on the last seat with the windows open. Taking in the air around the Keshar Mahal. She was the place where my school and my house were equidistant from each other. She was the place where bats hung upside down the witchy looking trees. She was the place where my friend and I conspired against all the odds to run to the pani-puri stall and grab a few pieces of extras. She was the place I used to sneak off to without telling my grandmother. She was the place that lead to my favorite library. She was my city.
When I was 15, she moved with me under the Swayambhunath Temple. I greeted her with anger and fear of losing my faith and my voice. I refused to look at her as I closed my doors and wrote letters to people who did not exist. I refused to notice her broken limbs. I walked on her, carrying with me, her parts. She stopped smiling and so did I. It was a difficult year for both of us. We lost our parts in dramas of daily lives. We lost our friends in all those complicated story lines.
When I was 18, I hated her. I cursed her from the crowded 5 AM micro bus rides. I hated her for sheltering the old dirty men who stared and probed. I hated her for her bumps and bruises. The ways she was so difficult to understand. The ways she was just like me. Confused and crowded with thoughts like people and people like thoughts. But she was still my city.
When I was 21, she shook me with all her strength. She cried for help as the rocks beneath her broke and slipped into hell. She screamed in pain as her children broke their bones and took off with their souls. And I cried with her. She looked like an old broken woman begging for a quiet life. Her skin patched up in pieces of old tents, she looked sad and frail. Almost suffocated with the dust that blew over her, the rain that violated her and the ground that cheated on her. I hugged myself and pieces of her that were attached to me. I tried to calm us down as I waited for a familiar face. She shook all night in terrible silences. I could not understand her still but she was still my city.
Today, I greet her with smiles and hugs. My legs love running along her difficult roads. She is still broken but broken still she stands. She still sends me pigeons from her wounded palaces. She has purple clothes draped over her and she has asthma attacks. But she still lives. She still loves me like she loved me when I was 5 years old. And I cannot hate her even when I try. She is my city. She will always be my city.