I was reading some short Nepali stories this evening and came across one that related to one of my earlier postings (Can You See Everest From Your House?) so I thought I might re-tell the story here. The story was actually written by the mother of one of my friends, so it made me even more interested to share with you. The story is called “Identity” by Bhuwan Dhungana.
He had tried to introduce himself many times. His name was difficult even to pronounce. It was not possible at the time to find another name easier to pronounce because his identity card bore the name which he had brought with him from his country. To be sure, he looked younger on the photograph attached to it. Whoever looked at him and the photograph simultaneously would ask, glancing at him, “Are you the same person?” He would shrink back, tug at his wrinkled cheeks and reply with a smile, “Yes, of course.”
This had repeated itself many times. He had to forget everything he was supposed to say when it came time to pronounce his name. Often he felt as if his name had no existence at all. He wanted to replace the name with an easier one. But he was compelled to write the same name he had borne since birth, brought all the way from his own to this unfamiliar city. How precious that name was for him! His own name! How easily he could pronounce his precious name as many times as required! His whole family would be linked to his name, his city and his country. He never liked to conceal his name in his city. It was not his country but his name that came first.
But in this city… He had to make his country stand out tall against his name. And in that country he had to search out the snowy peaks, find their height, and move his head back and forth in lively descriptions of their natural beauty, although he himself had not climbed them. In fact he was compelled in this unfamiliar city to be Tenzing* to every stranger he met, to be the Himalayas for them. At such times his name ceased to exist.
Just now something similar had occurred. After he had introduced himself, the stranger shook his hand and said with a smile, “I know Mount Everest; you belong to it.” He suddenly became listless. How meaningless was his name! He thought of stealing the name of an unfamiliar city; he wanted to change his name. But this was both impossible and impracticable. In this large city he possessed nothing apart from his identity card to protect his existence. He was absolutely alone and helpless.
He could name each and every part of the capital of his country. He could get many things done by using his name in his city. But in this unfamiliar city he could not find anyone who could even pronounce his name correctly.
Something similar had occurred the day before too. As soon as he entered the office, he offered his hand to a man seated on a chair and told him his name. But the man kept on gazing at him with wonder. He pronounced his name more clearly. The stranger laid out a map of the world in front of him. He looked for the outline of his country on it. He felt a thrill upon reading the name Himalaya. He felt excited. Shaking hands with him, the stranger said, “You belong to Mount Everest.” This time again his name did not surface. He was introduced by way of Mount Everest. This kept occurring to him the whole day. He kept shivering from the icy cold of Mount Everest. At dinner that evening he could not feel proud of his name; he could not roar with laughter at the party. He lay sleepless for a long time that night. he kept thinking: What should a country be like if its name is to evoke instant recognition? What kind of name should a person have? He could not find an easy means by which he could introduce himself. The sentence “You belong to Mount Everest” kept reverberating in his ears. He felt himself to be a mound of snow. The whole night he felt cold. He clung to the snowy peaks in search of the existence of his name.
He was sitting eating in a restaurant. A boy eating by his side showed a map to him. It was a map of Machhapuchhre. It was very beautiful. “Have you been to this place?”
He vacillated for some time. He was forced to publicly proclaim the fact that he had neither seen the mountain directly nor climbed it up. He felt as if he were an announcer announcing Machhapuchhre standing beneath the Himalaya and reducing the whole country into an enclosed area.
The big city was larger than his country. There were people from different countries. He was invited to a feast. He had his identity card in his pocket.
He too looked busy among the crowd of people. He was lost in a new civilization of a new country. He wished to present his identity distinctly; he wanted to introduce himself by his name but failed to do so again and again. He shrank back during introductions. Before him were tall people. He was forced to stand next to them and to shoulder the existence of the high Himalayas. They were like flames of fire; he, like a melting peak, was turning colder. Every time he became a mountain he turned colder.
Every time he was invited to such get-togethers or parties, he found his identity card to be meaningless. He wished to display a large photo of the mountain on his chest before leaving his room- a nice photo, an attractive photo. In a foreign land, he had no better way than this to introduce himself.
Taken from Selected Stories from Nepal edited by Sajha Prakashan.
*Tenzing Norgay, along with Edmund Hillary, were the first people to sumit Everest. Due to this Tenzing is one of the most famous Nepalis for people from abroad (although sometimes he is considered Indian because he spent a considerable amount of time there).