Law in Contemporary Society

Ke Garne?

We walk among the ruined temples of Durbar Square, and Manoj falls into his tour guide shtick telling me Hindu epics of sex and murder, secrets of the Kumari princess and conspiracy theories of the Palace Massacre--Indian spies, the King’s brother, the CIA. It’s a year after the Earthquake and bricks and mortar still litter the ground. Outside Kathmandu, it’s worse. “What happened to the money, the $4 billion?” I ask.

“It’s still only money,” says Manoj, “This is the problem. Something about paperwork.” He laughs his quiet laugh and sighs, “ Ke garne? Jiban yestai chha. ” What to do? Such is life. This is the phrase you say when you are dealt a shitty hand, but you do not fold because you can’t and you wouldn’t if you could. It is sad and funny and resilient, and it is what I like about Manoj.

We are heading to the courthouse in Babarmahal. Manoj is hoping to meet a man there. “ Tulo Manche. ” Big man. For someone whose favorite phrase is “what to do?” he always seems to be doing something, meeting someone. Manoj is a man of projects and plans, a keen navigator of INGOs and people who do things. Last year, he got a dozen computers delivered to his old village school in Bhojpur. This is impressive because it’s Bhojpur, and they don’t have much there. Manoj is the first person from the village to go to college and the first to train to be a lawyer. He smiles when he shows me the school calendar with his photo in it.

Manoj and I met several years before because he was my research assistant. He was my research assistant, and I not his, because I am where I’m from and he is where he’s from. But it was decent money for him, and I needed help, so it was a good partnership. We trekked through Manang district conducting interviews with collectors, traders and smugglers trying to get rich from yarsagumba, a medicinal fungus that grows in the Himalayas and is bought by people in China for a lot of money. Manoj made the right contacts, got us in rooms with the right people. Of course, Manoj didn’t use his real last name, which couldn’t get us in the right rooms with the right people. But one time he did, and the Nepali was too quick for me, but we were served tea on the porch, forbidden to go inside. Just then it started to hail, big sheets of ice pounding against that metal roof, and he didn’t say anything, and I didn’t say anything, the cosmos seemingly reinforcing the insurmountable unfairness of the world.

Manoj left Bhojpur when he was sixteen because the Maoist insurgents put their rifles in his face and ordered him to carry their bags of rice. I once asked him what he thought of the Communist Party of Nepal, now that they were leading the coalition government. “They weren’t willing to work then, they will not work now.”

We arrive at the court during afternoon tea. The courthouse is more like a courtyard with open space in the middle and small rooms lining the outside. It used to be a horse stable. Nepali men in suits and topis stand outside talking, sipping milk tea. I get two cups for Manoj and me, successfully convincing the Didi to give me black with no sugar. Scanning the crowd, Manoj spots the Tulo Manche standing with some other lawyers. He walks over, stopping a few feet away, patiently and somewhat apprehensively waiting for his chance. I turn away and look around some more, seeing the prisoners for the first time.

They sit in lines, handcuffed together in strings of ten. They are dressed in street clothes, the typical knock-off brands of Nepal--sweatshirts and jackets with American corporate brands like Facebook, Apple and Angry Birds, shirts silk screened with photos of Sid Vicious. Their expression is of boredom, and I think at this moment that this is the only emotion that can overcome fear. For they are so young, and I can’t imagine what jail would be like in Nepal.

After a time, Manoj returns and the lawyers begin to shuffle into their rooms.“ How did it go?” I ask. He pauses for a time. “It’s for my brother, he’s having some troubles in Bahrain. I think this will require some more work.” And his face doesn’t betray much, but his shoulders look heavier, and he is disappointed. He just pats my back and says, “We will watch for a little while.”

And so we pick one of the little courtrooms, no larger than a storage shed, and find seats in the back. A man stands in the front of the room by the judge, hands cuffed behind his back, while a woman stands next to him speaking rapid Nepali. It’s too fast for me, but I enjoy the performance, the quick parries back and forth between the woman and the judge, a third man to the right occasionally interjecting in loud decisive bursts. The judge eventually nods, and the handcuffed man turns to take his seat, but the only one left is beside me. So he walks to the back and sits beside me and no one seems to mind.

“Today, I am very happy,” he says.

“Why, what happened?” I ask.

“This is my wedding!”

Manoj smiles at my astonishment, and we laugh and congratulate the man. We watch him get married to the quick talking Nepali woman, and the man rests easy knowing he will not be deported upon release. I wonder the why of it. Love? Pragmatic necessity? But it doesn’t matter in that moment, because in their faces I see a simulacrum of hope. I see a dignity that they made themselves. Manoj must recognize it because he has it too. We walk back through Durbar Square, and I can tell he feels lighter amidst the ruins of it all.


Webs Webs

r5 - 31 May 2017 - 17:47:00 - JacobGodshall
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