From The Annapurna Express (February 8, 2024)
A documentary screening in a cinema hall, about inter-twined lives amidst mutual loneliness
A fine documentary film about two lonely, elderly women of Dhorpatan is about to end its splendid month-long run in a cinema theatre this Saturday. There is still time to go watch the lives of Ratima and Kalima, Bisowkarma ladies who guard a village when everyone else has moved down to the ‘aul’ for the winter.
The showing of ‘Dhorpatan – No Winter Holidays’ is at the multiplex on the 8th floor of CTC Mall, Sundhara, next to the Jagannath Temple at the top of the Thapathali slope.
The village of Pakhathar in Dhorpatan’s expansive elevated valley is peopled over the bitterly cold months by just the two women, both widows of a popular local man who died nearly a decade ago. They are adversaries forced by circumstance to support and comfort each other, living in adjacent houses in the company of a cow, a dog, a pet cockerel, and a flock of pitch-black ravens that provide constant background cackle.
And forever there is the accompaniment of clouds surging up-valley to this part of Dhorpatan. The fog bellows up from Bobang, pushed by winds that howl through the window slats and shake the rafters, and at other times bring soft snow that settle on the roof eaves and fences of stone. They also provide lovely shadows on the wide terraces that the women guard, and sometimes darkness at noon.
Dhorpatan entered national consciousness in August 1962, when a Dakota airliner of Royal Nepal Airlines headed from Kathmandu to Delhi crashed here, killing all including the Nepali Ambassador to India, Nar Pratap Thapa. A smaller Pilatus aircraft which went on a search-and-rescue mission met with a similar fate here.
Life has not changed much in Pakhathar Tole in the six decades since, other than a micro-hydro plant that brings weak electricity and a jeepable road that the village folk use for transhumance.
At a time when all the talk is of abandoned terraces and out-migration, the story crafted by documentarists Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey is about two who stayed. Theirs is a barter arrangement where villagers going down to Bobang give Ratima and Kolima grain and produce in exchange for guarding over their properties.
If you believe Ratima, Kolima is crafty, loud and self-centered, a ‘sauteni’ who throws rocks on her roof at nights after altercations. Ratima is unwell, walks with difficulty, and (says Kolima) drinks more raksi than is good for her. Ratima takes strength from the belief that her late husband loved her even after fathering a child with Kolima. In her dreams, she walks together with her husband towards a bridge, he crosses over but she falls into the torrent. ‘Kasto bhainthyo hola’ she wonders—how life would have been had he still been alive.
For a friend, Ratima has a stately red rooster who is tied to his mistress with a long string. When it gets cold, Ratima snuggles him inside a blanket all his own. While the elder woman mostly stays indoors, Kolima is the active one, forever chasing after Mali the Cow, tracing her up-valley from the hoofmarks on the snow. She also has her daughter for company, down in the ‘aul’, with whom she connects on her mobile phone and provides long-distance child-rearing advice.
Both ladies complain about the other to the filmmakers, who remain discreetly off camera. The elder calls the younger (nearly) a slut, and ‘drunkard’ is the counter. But they have no choice but to assist each other through the winter, sharing a hearth, meals and gossip of times past.
Filmmakers Kathet and Pandey report that Ratima is no more, a departure one could see coming in the documentary given her difficult breathing and uneasy sleep. Ratima has crossed the saangu to meet her waiting husband on the other side.