Kathmandu: Gunnilla arrives

16th April
Dear Sugata

Gunilla, you daughter, arrived exhibiting commendable energy keen for a beer her first evening landing.  She began recalling not your story but the previous time she was here in 1981 with her husband. With your attention to material detail she brings with her a 1980 map of Kathmandu (published by non other than Madhab, our publisher) together with an early Lonely Planet. She reminds me much of you with her penchant for details and numbers and her delight in things Nepalise. This is such a strong illustration of genetics over conditioning. With such strong simularities, yet none of your conditioning, no eastern experience, no German rebellion, rather she is rooted in Sweden and family life. I have noticed she is particularly keen to tell us of Swedish life and customs, not helped when Bharat made the mistake of saying she came from Norway.


Of course, I wonder what you would think of this: bringing a secret you have so carefully guarded to yourself your long years, out into the brazen light of day. Does it disturb the aura of your monk life here? I think not. I don’t think it does you or your ghost here any harm. The Buddha had a child, and as Giri reminded me, Amrit Ananda had a wife, son and daughter, and lived a full family life, yet was a strong monk. The out of wedlock stigma has long gone. Your friends here will be surprised – Sumitra laughed at your white rabbit from a hat. But above all this, back in the land of the living, it is right and fitting for Gunilla and I for our differing reasons.


We began where you began at Swayambhu, where you – and your wife – landed in 1954, on the start of your pilgrimage to become a monk. It was late afternoon, with cooling heat and family rituals when we ascended the steps, monkeys swinging on  the prayer flags. Gunilla found pleasure in the workmanship of the rugs for sale, and asked about taking photographs before we descended to the quietness of Ananda Kuti. It was home only to monkeys and young lovers at that time.


Sumitra greeted us in her home. Yes, the house is hers. I have news for you: that great wheel (one of four) given to you by Amrit Ananda to smooth your way in Nepal, your first Nepali friend, Thirta, died earlier this year. He was working up to the very end, Sumitra said.

It was not the only news. Giri is Married. To Lochan, Thirta’s daughter. AND with a new set of teeth. Are the two connected?

‘It was Sugata’s doing!’ Giri quipped.
Although Giri had known Thirta and his family for family long years, he met Lochan, the only daughter living outside Nepal in the UK, for the first time at your hospital bed 2 years ago. It must have been just before I’d arrived, and Lochan must have been visiting from England, and I missed seeing her again.


The atmospher was a mixture of Giri’s youthful happiness and the sadness of missing Thirta.


Of course they were curious. I unfolded the bare bones of finding Gunilla, then left for a cigarette, giving space for Gunilla to enter. (Yes, I’ve taken to having an occasional evening cigarette. I have still to find your discipline.) Outside Giri’s chauffeur was playing folk songs on Nepali pipes, thunder crackling around, with an occasional burst of lightening, illuminating his young face and all the mushrooming brick ‘monsters’ around. Sumitra’s word. You would be horrified too. They like you have witnessed the surrounding rice fields grow into buildings, check by jowl, and once the ground space occupied, the bricks have begun to climb to the sky. What was their homes clear view of Swayambhu is now a 40 ft concrete façade of houses, windows onto their lives.


Naturally we talked politics. More women than men voted, Sumitra the feminist informed, giving two indicators. First that more women are informed and involved, and second that so many Nepali men are out of station – they say the growth in Nepali economy is mostly fed from outside money. A vote for change, they all say, none certain how it will evolve. ‘Fasten your seat belts!’


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