Sweet, sour, spicy (Stories of our lives)

5 min read
Published:
01 Aug 2017
Duration:
5 min read
Words:
854 words
Segment:
Miscellanous
From the Archive (Mar, 2016): Having made chatpate for more than 18 years, Rajan dai’s hands dart about like swift swallows—the arcs of their motion dictated by muscle memory
So much depends upon the poet who mans the blue chatpate cart outside Norvic 

Having made chatpate for more than 18 years, Rajan dai’s hands dart about like swift swallows—the arcs of their motion dictated by muscle memory. He throws some puffed rice and noodles into a red plastic mug with some peas that have been soaked overnight. His knife slices through the onions, tomatoes, green chillies and boiled potatoes, which he then swirls together with the spices. “A good squeeze of lemon is the secret,” he says. All the ingredients get a good stir in the mug. And ready to indulge in his creation is yet another Rajan dai regular. "Today, I can do this with my eyes closed," says Rajan dai.

A large part of the experience of getting your daily dose of chatpate from Rajan dai comprises taking in a bit if his earthy wisdom
“But you should have seen me when I was just starting out,” he says. “I always messed up. Sometimes I forgot the salt, or the lemon, and sometimes there was too much salt or too much lemon. But people were always nice to me. All they wanted was something spicy and tangy for their afternoon snack—it didn't matter if it was too spicy or too tangy.”  


Today, he concocts a snack that’s exceedingly addictive. Thus at no moment is his bright blue cart, which he usually parks outside Norvic International Hospital, not surrounded by at least half a dozen customers. A large part of the experience of getting your daily dose of chatpate from Rajan dai comprises taking in a bit of his earthy wisdom. Even as he stretches his hands over the ingredient-compartments on his cart, or as he is cutting, or stirring, he keeps up a steady flow of chatter with his customers. The conversations usually revolve around the “sorry state of the country.” “It's all because people are bothered about someone else's possessions,” he says. “They don't let each other work. Live and let live—that should be the mantra. People seem to have forgotten that,” he says, about the numerous shop-owners around town who constantly try to get him to move his cart elsewhere, and away from their establishment space.  

“If Nepalis could rid themselves of envy, and focus instead on working hard to better their lives, the country would be as beautiful as a marigold,” he says. “If we don’t mend our ways, it will just keep dragging itself on its broken legs and end up dying the death of an insect.” His customers, munching on their chatpate, respond to his flow, by nodding as he peaks and troughs with his insights. But Rajan dai is not all sagacious and avuncular all the time. He’s a master of the art of deflation too. To a customer who is not happy with the portions, he’ll say things like, “Maybe it’s just your eyes that are getting smaller by the day. You get the chatpate for the 20 rupees you pay. You can’t expect it to be as tall as Dharahara.”  

But for someone like me, who has visited him many times, I have also witnessed his quiet moments. Sometimes he is so immersed in his thoughts that he simply forgets to acknowledge you. I would guess that during these moments his thoughts are usually occupied by his house in Sindhuli, which he lost in the quakes. He had to build a makeshift house for his family. “I have to go home more often now because these organisations want to take photos of me for the relief programme,” he says. “But I don’t mind going there because it only means that I get to see my family more often.”  

He’s got family here too—his regulars. “I could have gone to the Gulf, but there I would have had no one to talk to when the going got rough,” he says. “And I love talking to the people here.”  

“But there are also these other people, elsewhere in the city, who want me to move my cart away. Actually, I don’t really harbour any ill will towards them. I’ve got this game plan, whereby I’ll just tire them out with my resilience. I’ll do this for at least 15 years. And even the most hardened soul comes around in that timespan. Or they’ll just let it go.”