Kathmandu has always fascinated me because it’s a city of contradictions. A walk around the city will acquaint you with life in its myriad forms. One of the things that always grab my attention is all the activities, or rather life, that goes on, on the streets. From vendors selling books, fruits, and electronic gadgets to people sleeping on threadbare blankets, or just watching the world go by, there is quite a bit happening on the pavements of Kathmandu.
In the past few weeks, I have been walking around town to basically watch people as they go about their daily activities. In the early morning, the pavements aren’t so crowded but as the day goes by it gradually starts to fill up as people get down to business. Men selling small electronic items, bags, bed sheets, shoes, and household items like plastic mini ‘vacuum cleaners’ and momo makers, women with their dokos full of Indian gooseberry, plums and peaches and, more recently, vendors with a nanglo of fidget spinners and hand fans, there is an entire mobile market on the streets. You could actually buy whatever you need and would find at supermarkets on the streets, at cheaper prices. But you could also be duped into paying a lot more if you don’t know how to haggle.
I spent quite a bit of time watching people haggle and it was amazing how this one boy bought a fidget spinner the vendor had asked Rs 500 for, for Rs 250, while another girl ended up paying Rs 400 for the same item. Then, there was the case of the man with the weighing machine. The man in the tattered black waistcoat and rubber slippers apparently charged ten rupees when someone stepped on his scale, but this one time a little boy got on it and the man refused to take money from him. He told the boy he reminded him of his grandson. It was touching how, despite his obvious financial problems, he could still do that. It reminded me of the incredible spirit of human nature and the fact that though money plays a crucial role in our lives, it is equally important to listen your feelings and emotions.
There is a lot you can learn if you watch life unfolding on the streets. It can teach you to be humble and grateful, and it can also make you appreciate these strangers who you would otherwise pay no attention to because you see them trying to make the best of their circumstances. These roadside vendors face so many problems on a daily basis: from the heat and pollution to the police confiscating their goods or forcing them to clear the area, but they find ways to go about their business, battling every obstacle that comes their way. As one bed sheet seller said to a shoe seller in New Road, you have to do what has to be done to survive in this competitive world.