The sun grew stronger as a new day stretched ahead and the van stuffier with the progression of the journey. Sunny awoke and right away opened his window, letting a breeze blow in. Erin asked for her Discman back, opened her window, and took pictures. The driver was mellow, his near-death experience several hours earlier discouraging him from overtaking larger vehicles.
When Kaali tried sitting up, the van abruptly made a turn, and she hit her head on the roof.
“That was just stupid Kaali,” Sarita said to her husband on the phone. “Can’t even stand straight. All right, I have to go now. We are almost here. Can you hear the conches? Looks like they’ve already donated a cow—wait, it’s a calf—to the priest. Bye. Be careful of what you eat in that strange land—don’t they eat anything that has four legs? Chyaaa.”
“Kaali is such a bad name, Kaali,” Parvati said. “From now on, introduce yourself to everyone as Rekha.”
“Rekha is a good name.” Sarita giggled. “Rekha, like the actress.”
Kaali looked bewildered.
“And maybe, Sarita, while we are in Birtamod, after the thirteen-day ceremony is over, we could go to Siliguri.”
You will stay in Siliguri for a few days before going to Bombay, he had said. You have to do as my cousin says. He’s a nice person but can lose his temper easily. Remember he has nothing to gain out of you—he’s doing you a favor because I have convinced him of your potential. You have to understand that everything he makes you do, even if you’ve been taught that it is wrong, is a stepping-stone to your becoming a big star.
“I hear these cleft-lip surgeries are a lot cheaper in India than in Kathmandu,” Parvati said as she headed to the house, and added in a whisper, “I am too tired to make arrangements for a separate room for me to mourn in. I hope they’ve already taken care of that.”
“I’ll help you, Bhauju,” Sarita offered.
“Kaali, Kaali,” Parvati shouted. “Yes, stare longingly at the road, like the overnight journey wasn’t enough. Or do you want to go home to your poor family? You know that’s the way to them.”
“Oh, so this is the way to India?” Kaali asked.
“Yes, fool, it is.”
Kaali was quiet for a while. “I have four hundred rupees I brought with me,” she said. “It might get lost in the halla-gulla here, so will you please keep it?”
“Where did you get the money from? Have you been stealing?”
“No, no, this is the money I earned from my singing during Tihaar.”
“Yes, must be. I keep forgetting you went singing with that terrible voice of yours from house to house. Maybe people didn’t throw you out because they were feeling bighearted during the festival season. Shouldn’t you have given it to me before we set off, Kaali? Give it to me, okay, but don’t make a scene out of it. Time and place for everything, girl, time and place for everything.”
* * *
Prajwal Parajuly, the son of an Indian father and a Nepalese mother, divides his time between New York and Oxford, England, but disappears to Gangtok, his hometown in the Indian Himalayas, at every opportunity. He draws inspiration for his writing from the many places he has traveled and lived. Parts of The Gurkha’s Daughter were written while he was a writer-in-residence at Truman State University, in Kirksville, Missouri. He also worked as an advertising executive at The Village Voice in New York City.