I arrived at my brothers’ house in Nakhu just before 4PM. “Tori didi, you know we’re supposed to be at the caroling site by 4PM,” Niran told me when I walked in the gate. I simply said, “I know.” By the looks of it, none of them were ready to go anywhere anytime soon either.
Sunil was sitting on a stool, playing away on the house’s madal. Anish was standing with his back to the sun.
“Hey, Sunil, give Tori didi your seat,” Niran barked at his younger brother. I waved for Sunil to stay seated. “Not needed,” I told him. “I’ll just sit over here.” I moved toward the steps of the house.
“No, it’s a bad habit of his,” Niran countered. “He needs to change it.” Anish came to the rescue by grabbing another stool and insisting I sit on it.
Indra Maya, their mother, was the only one I left with about fifteen minutes later. We weren’t caroling far, just about a ten-minute walk from their place. The rest of the group showed up at around 5:15. “You’re late,” I stated placidly when Niran and Anish walked in the gate.
Our host agreed. “Yes, you’re LATE! Didn’t we tell you 4PM? Come, there’s tea upstairs!”
My brothers weren’t the only ones who arrived late. Kumar showed up about fifteen minutes later. He was greeted with “Hai, you’re LATE!”
“Didn’t I tell you I’d be later?” Kumar countered. “If I’m late, why hasn’t the party already started?”
By this time, it was dark, and the bonfire was lit in front of the house. We all gathered around it to keep warm; this night was colder than previous nights. “Hai, Anu, don’t get too close to the fire, or your new favorite kurta will get lit up!” someone yelled.
We opened with a short song that wasn’t in the hymnbook, but Rupa had the words printed in a small notebook. The women around her crowded around to read. It was a short chorus, telling brothers and sisters, old and young, that we had come to declare the good news of Jesus’ birth, and we entreated them to listen.
Tonight, Radhe dai was leading on guitar, Ashish played madal (Sunil had been complaining that his hands hurt from playing the drum for three days straight; it was someone else’s turn), and Ram played a second madal, much smaller than the one Sunil had been playing all week. Two tambourines from church were also present, and were passed around the womenfolk.
Tonight, more women also danced. Sangita didi and Rosen’s mother, who had both been dancing all week, were there too, but more than one song featured a trio of older ladies, slowly turning tight circles, with their hands in the air. Sangita’s husband decided to join his wife on one occasion, imitating her feminine movements much to her amusement/embarrassment.
The flirtatiousness between Sangita didi and her husband was something else. I had only put the two together three nights before. I knew Sangita didi was married, as she always brought her two daughters with her to church, but I wasn’t sure to whom she was attached. Men and women sit on different sides of the room during the weekly worship service, so it’s not always easy to put families together. For all I knew, maybe her husband didn’t go to church. So I asked her one night after dance practice, “does your husband come to church?”
“Oh, yes, he comes…do you not know him?”
“I don’t think I’d be able to recognize him,” I replied.
She smiled slyly. “Well, I’ll have to introduce you to him next time.”
Once I put the two together, I had enjoyed watching them. Both of them were quick to help the primary host serve food, tea, clean up plates, or whatever else needed to be done. The van we had all crammed into the night before (and that brought people again today) was most likely theirs, or belonged to some member of their family (which would make sense since Sangita didi was the one shoving and arranging everyone in the back). Over the course of the caroling nights, I saw the father show considerable affection for his two school-age daughters; I found this refreshing to see in a Nepali man as sons are usually the more favored. Nor did he fear others catching him showing affection to his wife in public. The night before, Sangita didi had a pile of dishes in her hands, so was unable to take the candy piece he offered to her. Un-phased, he unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth, despite her protests.
At one point, Indra Maya didi walked across the bonfire circle and firmly grasped me as well as the lady next to me. “Come, dance!” she ordered. Both of us protested, but those around us pushed us forward too. The other lady soon got out of it, dissolving back into the singing crowd, leaving me and another lady to dance. I did my best to demonstrate what the song was about, but not knowing the song well, and not being able to think of dance moves on the spot, I failed miserably. Anita didi must have caught what I was trying to do, because she soon joined me, and gave me movements to imitate.
“Hai, let’s sing ‘ding-tang-tang’ ONE MORE TIME!” someone yelled. I rolled my eyes—the song had simply become about shouting “ding-tang-tang, ding-tang-tang, hai madal la bhajyau!!!” as unmusically as possible, with the guys jumping up and down as they shouted it. Radhe dai and Amos dai were probably the only ones who actually knew the words and melody. Our host shouted, “EVERYONE needs to dance! Just dance where you are, for the Lord, not everyone needs to see!” I was somehow caught up in a can-can line with Sangita didi and Anita didi, alternating with “ting-ing” the hips and flicking the wrists. That was quite something. And, despite the fact that his hands hurt, Sunil was drumming away on the madal with Ashish. The two of them faced each other and mirrored each other’s drumstrokes on the same heads. That has to be difficult, I thought, as it would require one of them—in this case, Sunil—to reverse his drum strokes.
After dinner, I had the pleasure of walking home with Karjun dai, the eldest of Indra Maya’s sons, and consequently older brother to Radhe and Amos. Ashish was his eldest boy. I had unfortunately not been able to spend much time with Karjun since I arrived, as he is a vehicle driver for a large INGO, which frankly overworks him. He was able to make it out that night though, and offered to walk me home. A large group of us were going toward Pulchowk, but we brought up the rear of the group. Out of nowhere, he stated, “Tori, I’d like to see you settled.”
“Um, what do you mean by that?” I asked, though I figured I already knew what was coming.
“Oh, for example, Ira is settled—she’s married, has children. Ira is my younger sister, but I have one more. I’d like to see you settled too.”
He talked like Ira had been newly married, when in fact she had been married at least fifteen years. While married life had not been easy for she and her husband—she had been married, quite hurriedly in my memory, to a Hindu, and things had not been smooth running in their relationship or in becoming financially established as his father had left the extended family in huge debt after his death—they were now at a place where business was going well, and he had been baptized perhaps five years back.
“But don’t do it hurriedly. Don’t make any rash decisions,” Karjun continued. “And now, Radhe, Rajesh, and Amos are all settled. You should be next.”
I had actually been anticipating this conversation. Radhe, Rajesh and Amos had all brought the subject of my marriage up last year when I was here, but Karjun hadn’t said anything. Having a 24-year-old, unmarried “sister” seemed to have become their shared concern. But the course of Karjun’s conversation communicated a concern for me—that I seriously somehow work toward getting married, but not to do anything in haste and not mistake “singleness” for “freedom”—rather than pressure me to change my marital status.
“So, Tori didi, are you coming tomorrow night too?” the young dude, whose name I was still uncertain about, asked me, as he, Karjun, and Abishek (Karjun’s youngest son), dropped me off at my gate.
“Abi, Tori didi, this is such a BIG house!” Abishek exclaimed. “And you’re staying here alone?!”
“Just tonight,” I assured him. Traditionally, Nepalis don’t prefer sleeping alone. Most share bedrooms even, if not beds. “And its not my house, it’s another family’s house. I won’t be there tomorrow; my friends are coming back from Chitwan and I have to meet them.”
“Oh, ok, see you Christmas Eve then! Till the day AFTER tomorrow!”