Work takes me to Rajbiraj the district headquarters of Saptari which is in the south eastern part of the Tarai (plains) of Nepal. I still have a lot to learn about its history but for the moment I know of its reputation. It is one of the poorest districts with a history of political unrest, still perceived by some as a place with a politically difficult climate and dim lights (someone I know told me that!) Except it is factually one of the poorest districts in terms of development indicators especially child nutrition.
To get to Rajbiraj from Kathmandu, one has to fly to Biratnagar and then drive for about 2 hours to reach Rajbiraj. I have done this trip 3 times for the moment and I loved every moment of the drive. It is a beautiful road.
Rice fields on either side as far as the eyes can see, dotted with clusters of mango or bamboo trees. Mud and brick houses with thatched roofs and wooden balconies and windows, green trees surround the cool, cosy homes. Women on bicycles, rows of them, cycling back from the day in the fields, some women in red, yellow, green and blue saris still in the fields bent over replanting the rice in the light of the setting sun. Young girls tending to cattle walking behind cows and buffaloes with a stick in hand, young boys seated on the buffaloes without a care in the world, long winding streams, little bridges over them, groups of children bathing in the water, the mighty Koshi screaming through the gates of the dam, the fields covered in silt rendered infertile from previous floods, old hindi music in the car, its all tinged with melancholic poetry – the kind that makes you drift off into the corners of your mind that only long drives on calm, green roads and old music playing in the background reveal. Thoughts come in waves of calm and chaos, feelings flow freely, I look out of the window, humming a beautiful song and watching my mind unveil.
I was frequently woken from my meditative daze. It was not the usual calm today. This time we were driving to Rajbiraj on a special day it was Janmashtami – the date of birth of Lord Krishna a favourite of many Hindus. Janmashtami meant every village had its ‘mela’ – a fair. Long lines of people and children dressed in their best clothes walked on either side of the highway, going or coming from the local mela. We passed villages usually quiet, now loud, colourful, festive and chaotic – kids with balloons and toys, ladies buying bangles and nail polish on the streets, rows of vendors selling sweet Jalebis dripping in their syrup. I watched out of the window of the huge car I was in that was blaring its horn at the pedestrians shaking them out of their preoccupation to take notice of the intruding vehicle. Our eyes met, I smiled apologetically. Villages passed and we were back on roads with rice fields and long streams of people walking to and from the melas and my mind slowly drifting back and forth from quiet calmness to loud chaos.