“Fasten your seatbelts!” The airhostess’ melodious voice reverberated inside the plane. The Qatar Airways Boeing was ready to take off from Kathmandu to Doha.
A young boy next to me was trying hard to fasten his seat belt. I leaned to my right and fastened it for him. He smiled back at me.
When the airhostess was asking everyone to switch off their mobiles, this young boy was busy talking on his phone. Even as the plane veered onto the runway, he didn’t stop talking. I glanced at him; I could see that he was irritated. I understood right away who he was talking to so passionately while ignoring the airhostess’ request.
“I’ll bring you back a token of love, wait for me. Ok!” With that, he ended the conversation. As the plane climbed higher into the sky, the mobile network was lost automatically. He looked at me and smiled.
If this were a car, you could open the window for some fresh air. You could watch the trees, hills, jungles and houses and small markets travel with you. If you felt like it, you could spit out of the window. But what could you do on a plane flying above the clouds?
For a long while he sat there silently. I myself started talking to him. He was an 18 year old Tamang boy from Dhikure in Nuwakot. Maybe because he took me as a fellow traveler on a four-hour-long flight, or perhaps he felt confused and alone, he poured out what had piled up inside him - how he had lost interest in studies after failing his SLC. How I am going to spend my life working as a porter and a mason at home, unable to save even a few rupees and trying to make ends meet with great difficulty! This was the worrying thought which had driven him abroad.
As we talked more and more, we became friends. I asked him teasingly, “Who were you talking to for so long as we took off?”
My question made him blush. Not so much out of fear than shyness. After some time he said in a small voice, “A young girl from my village.”
“What young girl? Your beloved?”
He nodded in agreement.
At a time when he was supposed to fall in love, he was going abroad. That’s why his heart was feeling sad. He didn’t know for certain if she would be there when he got back. But still he said, “I’ve told her that I will be calling her from time to time. If she really loves me, she’ll perhaps wait for me.”
It hasn’t been even a year since he fell in love. He had fallen in love with the young girl while going to the village fair. “What’s the point in marrying if you’re not making any money?” He said, “I want to marry her after I return.”
In fact, I could tell that his heart was restless. Showing me a picture of his girl on a small blurry and scratched Nokia mobile screen, he said, “This mobile doesn’t take great pictures. If I can make enough, then I’ll buy a better mobile and take her picture.” He was trying to tell me that his girl was better looking than her photo.
One could clearly read on his face how sad he felt about leaving his love behind. If the village had the kind of job and income he wanted, then why would he go abroad?
On an average, 1,338 young people leave Nepal daily to go abroad to work. Among them, many leave their loved ones behind waiting for them, like my friend. In fiscal year 2070/71 alone, 527,814 young people went abroad. How many of them were feeling gut-wrenched like my young friend sitting beside me? And I wonder how many of the young girls whose lovers go abroad wait for them? And how many of them see their love stories cut short before they blossom?
(Excerpts from journalist Janak Raj Sapkota’s latest book, Kahar, which is based on real stories of Nepali youths going abroad for work. Translated by Akhilesh Tripathi)