When I lived in Pakistan people used to laugh at me for not being able to distinguish the sound Kalashnikovs fired into the air in celebration (at a wedding, for example) and automatic-weapons fired in anger. They were the same weapons, for heavens sake. How DID people know? I felt just as foolish yesterday when I heard sounds coming from central Kathmandu that could have been automatic gunfire, or they could have been firecrackers.
For all the smiling Nepalis do, this country has a troubled history and there have been bloody uprisings. I could hear shouting but no screaming. I thought I could hear drumming and finally the ancient cannons fired and I knew these were celebratory sounds – announcing the Dasain festival.
Otherwise the city is quite quiet: this is the time when people return to their villages and link up with the family, and large numbers of goats are slaughtered. Handsome animals, some with splendid horns, are tied up outside butchers’ stalls, or are walked on leads or driven around in pickups. Bunting is put up and the scent of joss sticks is everywhere as people leave little food and flower offerings to favourite gods or to protect vehicles. There are parties on rooftops and music is played loudly for everyone to enjoy.
When the cannons were fired on the Tundikel, our local dogs replied, and one of the two donkeys that graze a patch of derelict land nearby joined in the cacophony. The crows too seemed excited and started up a shouting match with each other and a flock of gorgeous green parakeets. This city is as lively as ever and I love how everyone and every creature has a voice. But there is not only sound and colour but constant reminders that there is still much to do to recover from the earthquakes that struck nearly two-and-a-half years ago.