Credit: Premu Ghimire
Credit: Premu Ghimire


It is 2014. Blue, flowing water glides into my memory. The Bagmati River is healthy and calm behind my brother and me. It was perhaps 1977, when my brother was about four or five and I was five or six years old. We stand arm in arm in our thick crepe polyester outfits (me in a red and white top with matching red pants; my brother in a blue and white top with matching blue pants), smiling at the camera, our mother. In this picture, we’re standing next to each other on a roadside. Slightly hidden behind my brother is a white milepost that rises from the earthy bluff by the river somewhere between our home in Kirtipur, and where a tributary of the Bagmati River—the Balkhu River—flowed circuitously in Sanepa. Behind the river is a lushly verdant, pastoral landscape that is now overrun with concrete buildings. We look so innocent, so young, so nestled in the scenery around us. We belonged and we look it – it’s in our smiles and in the way we stood: my brother leans against me, bamboo stick in his hand as my left arm drapes around him, securely holding him close to me, so close that there is barely any space between our bodies. He stands, smiling but looking away from our mother. Where he is looking is off to my right, to some place that exists past the picture’s edge. And while we are standing, posed, his glance to that other direction makes him look as if he is about to run off and play with his bamboo stick, with whatever is competing for his attention. And yet, even with a good number of distractions that surround us and that we want to adventurously leap towards, in the picture, we look shy. We are posing, after all, and it is possible our mother even instructed us to look sincere and not goofy or solemn as we are in many of our pictures. Whatever it was, it worked. We look cherubic.

Some thirty years later, I hold that photo in my hands and am jarred by its stark reminder: there was a time when I was once taller than my brother; there was a time when the full Bagmati occasionally rose even higher. I am no longer taller than my brother. The Bagmati does not flow. Instead of a swollen river, now there’s a long and winding sand lot where trash gathers, animals and people defecate, and encroaching concrete houses claim a part of the earth that at one time only ever saw fish.  Like the two innocents who posed in front of the Bagmati, the river has aged, its young waters also a memory. When I last visited this section of Kathmandu, I couldn’t locate the scene in that picture. It no longer exists.


It is 1980. My brother and I leave with my father for the United States. My mother is already there, studying for her PhD in Anthropology. My brother and I don’t want to leave; we have friends and relatives in Kathmandu and throughout Nepal and now we won’t be seeing them so often. But, my parents need us elsewhere, need us with them.

We stay in my mother’s one-room apartment for a month. She lives in a graduate student dormitory. We have to share the kitchen and bathroom with her fellow students. My brother and I take the month to acculturate to the United States, while my father looks for work. He seeks out the help of a headhunter and my mother goes to class. My brother and I spend the days learning English from soap operas. We drink a glass of cold milk. Then we drink glass after glass after glass of cold milk. We’ve never tasted it before. I take long hot showers. I learn that I don’t like taking baths: the water just slowly cools, and my body finds no comfort in that. Hot water that flows freely from the showerhead is a luxury. In Kathmandu, we had to first boil the water and then bring the hot pot of it to the tub so we could bathe.

There is an outdoor pool on my mother’s dormitory grounds. It’s open to graduate students and their families. My father enjoys swimming and commits himself to teaching us that same love. I’m twelve when I learn how to swim. My brother is ten. Maybe it’s because we were so late in our youth when we learned to swim that my brother will grow up with distaste for swimming, for just being in the water, actually. But he will take his future daughter to frolic in the ocean near where they will live. For many years, I too will dislike swimming. It will be something about vanity, something about feeling shy while wearing a bathing suit. But mostly, it will be about feeling uneasy in the water, that it could consume me whole.


It is the summer of 1991. I’ve just finished my first year of college and my brother is about to become a senior in high school. We travel to Kathmandu. We are without our parents and are visiting Nepal for the first time since our departure. I’m 19, which makes my brother 17. We are a decade older than when we left. I know some Nepali, more than my brother. But we both understand our mother tongue when we hear it. We stay about a month.

In that month, we connect with grandparents, with old and new aunts and uncles, with nieces and nephews. But in that month, we are cherished as a novelty. People ask my brother about his origins when he walks around Kathmandu in shorts and a t-shirt. They don’t believe he’s from here. And so he feels alienated from his own countrymen. I am no help to my brother. I cry wherever I go, mourn the loss of what was and what will never be again. My brother and I are strangers. We are strangers in our own family. And our homeland is a stranger to us. It has changed. We were heartbroken.

Bagmati is nearly dry. The water that should be flowing is competing with mounds of human waste and people trying to take ownership of any land, even if it belongs to the river. What little water that does flow, especially after a rainfall, is compromised for drinking and bathing and rituals. Yet, in a city like Kathmandu where the water table is also drying, residents who rely on the river hold their faith in it, even as it continues to disappear because the carpet industry keeps recklessly tapping it. So, my brother and I also put our faith in the river, though it no longer flows. We want our homeland as we knew it. We want to be a part of our family as we knew it. We leave with pictures of dear family members and phone numbers and promises to return. On the tarmac, I hold my brother while he cries with more pain than I have or will ever see him express. And then, our plane takes us away from Kathmandu. 


It is the summer of 2010. I join a gym for its pool. I’m not quite sure what’s motivating me. For about the next year, I try but cannot completely quench my inexplicable longing to be submerged in the water. Submerged as if I am trying to get somewhere spiritually in that blue depth. It is my habit to not rise early, but here I find myself waking up at 6 a.m. to go swimming. I feel euphoric and at ease with my body, all because I’m moving through water. The silence under water is so peaceful. And, I will return to that pool again and again, getting that spiritual sense each time. But then I will throw my back out. And then a few months of healing will go by. And then I will go back to the pool, but will suddenly be afraid of its depth. I could drown. This one thought will completely overwhelm me. I do not try to swim again. I stay on the ground, gazing at what scares me.


It is 2014. Here we are. We never received letters from our family overseas, though we wrote. We haven’t returned to Kathmandu together. Nor has the water to the Bagmati. And yet I drown. I drown in the dream of never knowing what it’s like to leave home, to leave family.

Now, I am holding that picture and I see three extinct innocents looking up at me: two siblings at ease in their homeland, and a river behind them, blue and fulfilling in its flow. 


Vipra Ghimire is a student of writing at the Johns Hopkins University. She has an MPH, and her interests in writing and health care range in topics from animal rights to civil liberties to disease. Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, she’s lived in the US since 1980. The vast world sometimes frightens her. However, she laughs easily and has been known to say and do many nonsensical things. 


Deep-Fried Diversity

SwayambhunathOn Thursday, my family and I will (thankfully) have a festive Nepali meal. We’ll gather around my parents’ 1980s country style dining table with its white legs and blond wood top. There will be an awfully white, bright light above us spotlighting our non-traditional meal. And seven people will be squeezing in around the table, making the best of an American holiday.

For much of the 1980s, the first decade my family and I spent in the US, we spent a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a family friend. This family lived in rural Bucks County, about forty-five minutes away from where my parents and I lived in a town outside of Philadelphia. There were over twenty people at the dinner table, including children. There was turkey, duck, ham, several sides, and so many types of pies. The women cooked, with the mashed potatoes being made closest to the dinner. Those not cooking would be in the basement, either watching a football game or chatting by the warm fireplace. There was a refrigerator in the basement, and my brother and I enjoyed many a cold coke bottle during those hours waiting for dinner. While waiting, we’d chat shyly with the other adults there. At least once, the host would take us out for a ride on his farm tractor. We’d pass the other hours playing billiards. There was a formal pool table too, and I formed my first schoolgirl crush on the man who taught me how to play pool one year. These gatherings shaped my family’s fond anticipation of this holiday.

In the 1990s, each member of my family left the nest for one pursuit or another. For a few years, my mother taught in Upstate New York, and family gatherings usually consisted of just us four. Then, I went to college and so did my brother. I went to graduate school. My mother went to Nepal to find employment. And my father moved to Virginia. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when we found time to gather again, consistently, as a family during Thanksgiving. But by then, our palates had changed.

This year on the dinner table there will be: puri (a fist-sized round flat bread rolled from chapatti flour and then deep-fried), two vegetable dishes (one a curry, the other a sautéed green), homemade yogurt (which I won’t eat because I’m vegan and the yogurt is not, but the vegetarians in my family will enjoy eating it with the puri), and cilantro chutney. When I first shared this menu with my parents, there was general satisfaction but my mother was hesitant.

What about mashed potatoes, she asked? Oh my. I became anxious.

The story of the mashed potatoes:

In 2002, many years before the idea of making our Thanksgiving meal align with our taste buds that are accustomed to Nepali food, I started the tradition of making vegetarian and vegan lasagnas a standard main courses at our holiday dinner. Sometimes the rice cheese either didn’t melt or if it did, tasted odd, musty. I managed to get down each cruelty-free bite with the help of a heaping forkful of cranberry sauce. Fortunately, there were also mashed potatoes at the table. All I did was add water to the boxed mixture. I was the only one who liked it.

In 2003, I tried to make mashed potatoes from scratch. It would be vegan and easy to make. No recipe needed. What else was there to mashed potatoes then just, well, mashing? But the word glue comes to mind with this memory. At first, I dug into the process of making mashed potatoes using my hands. It was, to say the least, hard to do. I persisted. But soon I switched to crushing the cooked potatoes with a big fork. Then I tried adding milk, which only made the potatoes more viscous. There was no fluffy quality to them. Like I said, glue. I eventually discovered the reason behind the congealed quality of the taters was that I didn’t use the masher tool that could transform potatoes into clouds. It’s quite an essential element.

In 2004, my dad wanted to spice up my mashed potatoes with mustard oil and salt. Mashed potatoes are to be eaten with gravy, not mustard oil, obviously. And while I was still no expert at the art of mashing potatoes, I at least new that gravy provided that complete feeling to the mashed potatoes. My father added the mustard oil and salt anyway, trying to make the best out of cold and gooey potatoes, trying to salvage my version of mash into a Nepali dish.

In 2005, I got into a fight with my brother, because I told him that he couldn’t mash potatoes with a plastic masher, which my father had proudly bought at the Food Lion. I’d forgotten to bring my stainless steel masher — which I owned by then — and I was beside myself with fear of eating lumpy mashed potatoes. That year, my American boyfriend from Michigan joined our dinner and created magic with the masher and the potatoes. We ate silently, but thankfully.

In 2012, my parents insisted on boiling potatoes and getting them ready for my boyfriend to mash. We ate them, but the consistency, according to my mother, wasn’t as good as in the previous years. My boyfriend investigated. It turns out that I’d erroneously guided my father on what type of potatoes to buy.

What about mashed potatoes? My mother asked this year, knowing they would be the cloud kind made by my boyfriend, not me, and so they are now a desirable dish. And she knew that he wouldn’t make the same mistake as last year. Still, I had to stop myself from asking her why she wanted mashed potatoes when lately she was against eating white starch. In the last two years, she’d even convinced my father, who grew up with a rice paddy as his backyard and who needed white rice at the table even when there was bread, to substitute quinoa for rice. She seldom cooks with potatoes. It’s safe to say that my mother and I have tension when it comes to potatoes, my go-to vegetable.

In the space of the last eight years, we have attempted and then given up on some of the more traditional American Thanksgiving dishes—mainly disregarding the thought of lasagna altogether. One year, I tried to serve soup in a bread bowl. My parents couldn’t figure out how to eat the bread, especially with soup in it. Honestly, I didn’t know either. That year, I fed much of the bread carcass to the birds. Another year, I cooked Tofurky. The boxed quantity of it was too big for us, partly because of how filling even just one bite of it was. Everyone said it wasn’t a bad dish, just “interesting.” By this time, my boyfriend’s delicious mashed potatoes were a staple at the table. So we didn’t go hungry. I’ve been asked not to cook “that tofu” dish again.

As you can imagine, preparing delicious yet vegetarian and vegan-friendly Thanksgiving dinners is a challenge. Another year I offended my brother, again, insisting that no turkey be cooked in my presence. I have to admit that while I am proud and thankful that no turkey has since been cooked in my parents’ home, that demand once made, has created an uncomfortable social environment. Which brings us to this year and how I wanted the menu to be simple and uncontroversial.

A few weeks ago, I declared to my parents that this Thanksgiving we eat Nepali dishes for dinner. Thankfully, they obliged. My mother and I usually discuss the dinner menu about a month or so out. Typically, these conversations are dissatisfying because every year, we’re trying to find that dish that is a perfect substitute for the turkey. Yet, we haven’t even eaten a turkey at Thanksgiving in over ten years. I figured we could make dinner this year to be simple, since it will just be my parents, my boyfriend, and a few family friends. The family friends are of South Indian and Nepali ethnicities. And then there’s my white American boyfriend from Michigan who, thankfully, likes Nepali food.

The 2013 menu: puri, two vegetable dishes, the homemade yogurt, and cilantro chutney. We’re also including mashed potatoes and gravy (no mustard oil and salt), cranberry sauce (of course), apple pie (I make it and my parents love it), and pecan pie (because my mother has been craving it). Sigh. The intentions for a simple dinner are already becoming complicated again. Like us, like my family consisting of Nepalis, a mid-western white American, and people with both vegetarian and vegan diets. Regardless of the success (or failure) of the meal, we will all be thankful for each other. We can, after all, be a family as complicated as our meals, yet still love sitting a bit squished next to one another around the Thanksgiving table, enjoy our diverse meal and diverse selves all under bright lights.


This Round’s on Me

Prose in Pubs

Prose in PubsLiterature. Literati. Libation.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jack’s Draft House serves its patrons a bi-monthly reading series called Prose in Pubs. The recipe for this stellar event is quite simple: “No microphones. No stage. No fancy cheese.” The organizers declare this on their Facebook page. “Just prose…oh, and beer.” I’m heartbreakingly in.

Unlike those ‘normal’ readings you have attended at bookstores or some dive-y coffee shop, this literary troupe congregates at a pub, because, as Amye Archer, the founder of this assembly says, “[I wanted to] host a reading series that felt like a few friends just hanging out in a pub… I didn’t want people to feel that they had to dress up or be self-conscious in any way.”  Prose in Pubs, then, is a success. The laid-back and welcoming qualities of the bar creates an encouraging atmosphere in which we artistically minded folk can feel comfortable and un-judged—a place where we can both work on and celebrate the writing that we do, with an elixir by our fingertips.

“I started Prose in Pubs simply because I found a great venue, and I felt the atmosphere lent itself nicely to an artistic crowd,” Archer explains “The audience and the readers get to share a drink, share stories, and just share space.” Maybe Bukowski had it right all along: bars and booze can be the writer’s muse.

In April, our very own Rae Bryant, author of The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, read at Prose in Pubs. But you don’t have to be a published author to attend. Any writer or admirer of the pen can take part in Prose in Pubs. And, many do. Especially when the readers offer a writing workshop for only $20. Add to that the “seriously casual” tone of the workshop—as Archer puts it—and you have a well-attended event in which “a dozen or so writers” gather to ponder “what moves us forward as writers.”

Archer elaborates that “the tone of the workshop is usually set by the invited reader; so, it can go anywhere the writer wants to take it. Sometimes we write and write and write; other times, we talk about process, which can be inspiring in its own right. The workshops usually run for about an hour and a half, but we’ve gone over that length often.” Archer’s literary crowd can listen to and learn from writers of plays, poems, fiction, and nonfiction.

Hopefully, Archer and her colleagues can sustain this gathering that is longingly evocative of the beatnik era, because gone seem to be the days when literature graced more than just coffee shops. It’s fitting, then, that Jack’s also offers music, such as jazz. Ah, bebop. Let the impassioned, howling, and beer guzzling-spurred creativity begin!

Prose in Pubs meets every other month. In June, the reading will have an open-mic session. “The readings are supposed to run for two hours, but everyone usually stays and mingles well into the night,” says Archer. Damn. How cool is that?

So, why not be a Beat and hop a train or catch a ride, and caravan it over to Jack’s Draft House to revel in those enlivening words? As Bryant said, “the group who does this, several talented writers and poets, are a lot of fun to just hang out with, read with, talk craft with.” I’ll see you there. The first round’s on me. 


Vipra Ghimire is a student at the Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing Program. She has an MPH, and her interests in writing and health care range from felines to tuberculosis. Originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, she’s lived in the US since 1980. Her passion is literature, feminism, animal rights, politics, music, and art. The vast world sometimes frightens her. However, she laughs easily and has been known to say and do many nonsensical things.