The Dream-Bridge

Mahesh Paudyal

 Everyone passing along that narrow hill trail saw the two brothers—one ten and the other eight, probably—playing on the bank of the Mugu Karnali, but few cared to stop and see what they were doing. We thought of taking a short rest there; we were extremely tired from walking uphill for around seventeen hours. So we sat, and took interest in the children’s game.

It was Seri, a remote village in Karnali that had not seen the face of a vehicle, yet. A little further downhill, a broken cable that had, until recent times, formed the only means for the villagers to cross the river, hung downward, snapped into two parts, almost from the middle. It was no longer in use, and hence, people along the two banks of the river did not meet each other anymore.

We stared at the children for a long time. They were offering leaves and flowers to Mugu Karnali. It was worship at their disposal; they were executing what they could. When they realised that we were near, they fled away.

One among us was Simon, a New Zealander. He showed them his camera, and that brought the boys back. We got to talking. When they had told us who they were and where their village was, I asked, “What is that you had been doing in the river?”

“Puja!” the younger of them replied.

“Why puja?”

That was an intricate question. They hesitated for quite some time. After the long pause, the elder one spoke, “Uncle, haven’t you come from Kathmandu?”

“Yes, we have,” I replied.

“We have heard that a bigger god lives in Kathmandu. Is that true?”

“Yes, Pashupatinath Baba!”

Once again he stopped. He stared at Simon’s camera for a long time. While his brother one was still engaged with the camera, the younger one turned to me and said, “This river carried our mother away.”

Almost immediately after these words were spoken, little drops of tears—not one but many, made their way out of those innocent eyes and fell on the rocky surface. The rest of what he spoke was drenched in sobs, and from what we could understand, their mother had fallen into the river while trying to cross it on the cable, and died. Thereafter, the villagers had cut the accursed cable into two, to prevent further deaths. The children had fresh memories of the incident. The dead body had not been found. It had been a year so or so since the tragic incident now.

We expressed sympathy. After a long pause, the elder of the boys spoke, “There are gods in our Mugu as well. But, they are small ones. Pashupatinath is a big god, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is.”

He wanted to share something quite serious with me. Simon was busy with the younger one. They were taking photographs, and talking. Others were mediating the talks between them, translating and interpreting.

“Uncle! This river of ours flows to Kathmandu. You know, this Mugu Karnali joins the bigger Karnali a little further, and flows to Kathmandu. Then, it reaches Pashupatinath Temple.”

I knew his knowledge was wrong; the Karnali never flows to the Pashupatinath Temple. But I did not correct him. That was what he thought was true though; someone must have given him that information, passed it on as ‘general knowledge’.

I wanted to listen to his story.

“You know, we cannot go to Kathmandu. The leaves and flowers we have offered will flow with the river, and reach Pashupatinath, though. And then the big god will be happy with us. After that, he will send vehicles to our village. A bridge too will be constructed. After that, no one will have to cross the river on a rope. Isn’t that so, uncle?”

I kept staring at his face. He was innocent. A glow of happiness had returned to his face as soon as he had finished his sentence, as though he had just accomplished a very difficult task.

He was determined to change the face of his society, and was doing whatever was possible with him, I thought to myself.

“For how many days have you been performing the puja here?”

“For around five months, I think. Now, there is no rain and the river is running low. Our offerings will not flow as far as Kathmandu. Later, when the rainy season comes and the rivers run high, it will surely reach the city of the big god. And then, vehicles will reach our village as well.”

Simon, who had, by now, gotten the seriousness of the issue, turned to me and said, “At the moment, children of his age in cities are possibly chatting on the Internet. Some might be enjoying meals in restaurants with their parents. And he, there! He is struggling (in his own very individual way) to change the face of his society.”

In fact, in the absurd attempts of that great pioneer of change, we could all sense how dire some situations were, and how crucially some changes were needed, just so people’s lives could be saved.

Before we left, I asked him what he wanted to become when he grew older.

“I will bring vehicles to my village. I will construct a bridge across the river, and snap all these ropes. After that, no mothers will fall into the river and die,” he told me.

We said we would help him and his brother. As we mounted up the hill, the little pioneers of change waved their little hands at us. These hands still held flowers in them. In their little, innocent eyes sparkled a big hope—a dream-bridge that floated with all elegance.