Fleeing Mai Fair: Bye Bye, Guddusingh!

The sound of swift footsteps and occasional chitchats continued to fill my room as the pilgrims scurried past my house a cold January night. I was trying to sleep but I kept wondering, with one eye open, how long it would take for those people to get to Mai Fair and what the fair would look like as they congregated on the riverbank. I was anxious to start the journey myself to this fairyland where, I had heard my grandmother say, there would be a lot of fun stuff, including the circus and small train-like horse rides. I had seen a mini-circus at the local bazaar. Of all the shows, I had liked the trapeze acts most when the trapeze girls excitedly flew and flexed their bodies in the midair with perfect control of their bodies. I also was fond of the ropewalk of a goat in the arched space without an apparent support to hold it onto the rope, and, yes, without even losing the balance! In my imagination I was roaming in the midst of Mai Fair before starting my journey from home in reality. I spent rest of the hours weaving my dreams about Mai Fair.

Koti home near Mai River

Koti home near Mai River

Outside, everything was covered with a thick fog. A biting cold breeze trickling in through the small openings of my wooden windows kept me pulling my quilt to cover my head every time I felt the gust of the breeze caress my thin, delicate face. The footsteps of the Fair walkers were getting denser as the Dhruba Tara (Polestar) shone brighter in the northern sky, as it cast its dim light occasionally onto the graveled foggy street. Some of the passersby were calculating time by listening to the roosters announce the arrival of dawn with their recurring cock-a-doodle-doos.

“It is three in the morning, Kanchha. The cock has crowed three times.”

“No Maldai, it may be earlier than that; the Dhruba Tara is not in the middle of the sky yet.”

My father had already left his bed to wake up his nephews, Timsina Thuldai and Bhakta dai, in the neighborhood. He had got his accessories for worship ready in one of his khaki bags that my army uncle had brought home from his camp. I was mindful of almost all the activities going around, for I could fall asleep only intermittently for the suspicion that my dad would go with his friends leaving me home, although he had promised the other day that I would be part of their journey to the Fair. When my father came back with Timsina Thuldai and Bhakta dai, I was already out of my bed, clad in my green sweater and cotton pants that my mom had got ready for me before I had gone to bed. I was even more overjoyed to find that Ganesh, Timsina Thuldai’s six-year-old son, was also a pilgrim in our journey to Mai Fair. A year younger than me, Ganesh was the only companion around my age I would have in the journey. I felt happy that I would not be the only child to fuss over walking a long distance bothering my dad to carry me on his shoulders most of the way to the Fair.

*

Hours slipped by as we walked along with other pilgrims.

The cold winds blowing from the north collided roughly against the robust tall sal trees standing like rocks on the northern side of the highway. The overcrowded buses and lorries wheezing on the East-West Highway occasionally fenced the winds and left us in the mercy of the gusts, swallowing under their purring sounds the animated curses some of the women shouted against them for not stopping to board them in. I wanted to ride the buses too, but when my dad said that the crowded vehicles were too packed to stop for the walkers along the road, and we had no option except covering nearly the seventeen-kilometers journey on foot, I felt sad. I had been accustomed to hearing my dad’s grumblings by the time we arrived at Jhiljhile. Sometimes, however, he even forgot that he was carrying me on his shoulders and joined a group of folkies ahead of us, who rang the surroundings with their melodious voices as they walked.

“Gai kote kote, ma budho hoina hai dant matrai thote”

(The cows in their sheds, don’t call me an oldie, for I am only toothless)

“He lai lai Mai beni mela, sauteni bhanera nagara hela”

(The Mai River Fair, don’t look down upon me just because I am your step son)

“Rote linge ping, basaunla bhanthen hai aigo hidne din”

(Bamboo and wooden swings for swinging, I wish I could stay longer, but alas, my days are done)

My father complained every two kilometers or so when his shoulder muscles cramped as he carried a seven-year-old boy. I, however, enjoyed the ride so much so that most of the time I pretended not hearing anything he said. I wished the folkies continued their crooning all the way as these songs would keep my dad too enmeshed in them to groan any complaints. I could only comfort him once in a while:

“Buwa, don’t worry. I won’t ask you to carry me on our way back home. We will find a bus to ride home.”

A glimpse of Mai Fair

A glimpse of Mai Fair

Ganesh was riding on the back of his dad too.

It was already daybreak when we reached Mai River. My feet were numb and tingly when my dad put me down on the ground. They were also aching to have to walk the first couple of kilometers before I felt too weak to walk further. But the cold breeze coming directly from Mai River refreshed me. Timsina Thuldai, and Bhakta dai bought a bathing soap in a nearby shop while my dad waited for them, Ganesh and I holding his hands. The whole River seemed to be filled with people bathing, shivering, and chanting morning prayers. I saw the men in their shorts and women in their petticoats dive into the cold river and bubble out along with the foamy water. I felt a chill pass down my spine to see people bathing in the cold foggy morning. I told my dad that I would not take the holy bath in the river. He agreed with a condition that he would sprinkle holy water on my body and wash my face. The surroundings rang with the bathing chants of the people: Hara Hara Ganges, Hara Hara Kashi; Hara Hara Ganges, Hara Hara Kashi.

As we walked north along the riverbank, Ganesh hand-in-hand with me, we came across some people in colorful clothes preparing puja and offerings after taking bath. Some others who could not swim were still waiting for the people to come out of the river so that they could waddle in the shallow water. By the time we found a less dense area and our crew finished taking bath and prepared for the puja, it was already 11 am. We planned to first visit the circus and then go to the train-horse ride before going to the other side of the river to see the tribal dances from different parts of the countryside.

“You know, Gopal (my nickname) I will jump the rope with the trapeze girls in the circus,” Ganesh hopped releasing my hand.

“I will ride the unicycle without losing my balance.” I felt as if I had said something very serious when I looked at my dad’s face, and waited for his response.

We were silenced by Timsina Thuldai, who snapped by saying that he would not take us to the circus if we spoke of mischief any further.

No sooner had we finished puja than we heard a loud noise coming from a nearby field in the north where people had laid tents and were busy gambling, drinking, and dancing. Then with an uproar ran a bunch of people out of the crowd. Some ran to the north while others dispersed around trying to avoid the crowd.

“Someone has got him.”

“What happened? Why are you running?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s run away.”

“Don’t run to the north. It is dangerous.”

There was an uproar that nobody could decipher about. I was only concerned about the people running around lest they would run over me in the crowd. My dad swiftly hoisted me to his shoulders and started running southward, followed by Timsina Thuldai with Ganesh on his shoulders and Bhakta dai behind him. I did not know for a long time where we were heading. Ganesh and I looked at each other in dismay and puckered our faces when we came to know that we had left Mai River three kilometers away on our way back home.

On their inquiry, my father and Bhakta dai found out later that the uproar was the consequence of the murder of Guddusingh. This was the name that I feared most because every time I did something mischievous, my father used to threaten to call Guddusingh. I had seen him once in our local Campa Bazaar drinking with his gang in a local tavern. My mom had rushed me home by saying that Guddusingh would kill us if he found out that we asked for more money and did something wrong. I vaguely remember a long-haired, sturdy figure with a thick goatee hanging down his chin, occasionally tapping on the backs of his friends and laughing as he drank.

When we stopped for tea and snacks at a roadside restaurant, I turned to my dad with a mischievous smile and asked him now that Guddusingh was dead whom he would call when I messed things up. Although I felt relieved for some time at Guddusingh’s death, I never forgot that I could not get to the circus and the train that I had been planning to see for a long time. This was the only time my father had allowed me to go to Mai Fair with him. Now I did not know how long I would have to wait for the next one.

I went to Mai Fair several times during my stay in the village, though, but never did I get as excited as I had been the first time. Neither did I ever forget the loss of my joy due to the sad incident. I never understood why Guddusingh was killed that day, nor did I worry about the loss of Guddusingh. What I regretted most for a long time was loss of fun that I had been looking forward to at the fair—the circus, the train and everything that Mai Fair had to offer.
(This piece was originally published on a creative non-fiction blog).

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