Finding Nemo

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't Break the Banda

The angry drunk crowd slammed their hands on the hood and pushed.  My taxi driver shook his fist and yelled some things that probably weren't evening greetings.  He laid on his horn which of course just made them angrier.  He tried to gun it, but his 1970 Toyota hatchback and its gerbil-powered engine was no match.  We were stuck.  They began to rock the car back and forth.  I rolled up my window and locked the door as the mob came to my side and started pointing and slapping the window.

"Big trouble," said Dipu.  I'd never heard him say this before, normally he was a cool as a cucumber.  It was all my fault.  How had things gotten this bad?

Just an hour before, we had ended our trek and were waiting at the side of the road.  It wasn't clear if our taxi could pick us up as it was a national strike and it was dangerous for people to break the lines.  My taxi driver could be pulled from his car and beaten if he wasn't careful.  But then he called back and said it was probably OK to drive after 6pm when it got dark.  We waited until then and he pulled up.

A large wedding party was assembled, they had piled into a special bus.  In Indian weddings, the groom is picked up a large crowd of a hundred or so people and then brought to the party.  Everyone gets drunk as they assemble on the bus, filling every space inside and stacking like sardines on the roof in their suits and ties.  The bus was decked out in streamers and good luck signs.  During a banda (strike), the only people allowed on the road were emergency vehicles and wedding parties.

After they took off, it got dark and the taxi driver signaled OK.  We clambered into the car and hit the road.  We drove along the winding hills, and finally we passed one of the wedding buses.  When they noticed me in the passenger seat, that this was a taxi car, they got angry and started yelling and throwing things.  We sped up and passed them.  I realized that perhaps I should keep a lower profile.

We kept going, swerving at the last possible moment to avoid cars, buses, and people on the bombed out strip of pavement.  I couldn't believe there weren't more accidents.  Then, on a long straight bit of road, we had to stop.  The other wedding bus was blocking the road, and a large mob of people were milling around.

The taxi driver slowed, but I was thinking he really ought to speed up.  I was going to get him in trouble.  The crowd looked at me and started asking him questions.  Apparently they didn't like his responses, because they got in front of the car and signaled for him to stop.  He yelled and started getting angry, pointing at me.  My guide Dipu also pointed at me and started explaining something.  The crowd got angrier.  An old woman came up and spat at the taxi driver and started yelling hysterically.  That got the crowd fired up, and they surrounded the car on all sides.

The driver started yelling, honking, and tried to speed up but the crowd just pushed his car back.  It was getting ugly.  A group of them reached down to the front tire and appeared to start to deflate it.  After they started slapping on my window I just looked down and stared at my knees.  The car was the safest place, there was no way I was getting out of the car into a drunk angry mob that didn't speak English.  The taxi driver got out, and one of the younger guys started spitting in his face.  They started throwing punches, my guide was in the middle of it.  I couldn't believe it.  One of the older guys stepped between them and stopped the fight.

We waited.  Noone spoke.  Finally my guide started talking.  We waited some more.  Then, the old lady who had spat at the driver re-appeared with a piece of paper.  They walked to the front of the car.  Then, everyone seemed to calm down.  The older people in the crowd shook the driver's hand and appeared to apologize, and we finally drove off.

After a minute, I said, "Hey guys, I'm really really sorry.  I know this is all my fault.  We should have waited until the banda was over tomorrow."

My guide spoke up, "What?  No no not about you, don't worry.  Just little bit before, car hit one of the guests, then drive away.  They think we are same car."  It seemed people in Nepal loved to pound some liquor and then drive on these already insanely dangerous roads, whizzing within inches of each other as they passed.  Apparently the game of Asian car chicken was more fun at night when you were drunk.

We were driving a white beat-up Toyota hatchback, which pretty much matched every other car on the road in Nepal.  I told Dipu that it was pretty ridiculous of them to think that this guy would return to the scene of the crime.  They were going to sit here all night, stopping every other car and find noone.  Or even worse, beat up someone innocent.  "Yes, they are country people.  Not smart.  They very drunk for wedding.  They want maybe hurt some people and make big problems."

They weren't trying to deflate the tire, they were looking for blood on the fender.

My taxi driver had a split lip and a torn shirt, but incredibly started laughing.  He popped Justin Bieber back into the cassette deck and starting singing along.  Just another night in Nepal.

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