MG: You literally learned to read and write in between the lines.
MT: Absolutely. I always feel that spaces open up for us, we just need to see them and take them, and fully occupy them. I was not given much, but I think I took all that I could take. When I was 14 or 15, and had begun to read Nepali and Hindi magazines, Satish Sir approached me. He knew that I was interested in reading and writing but had never gone to school. He told me to come to his house for tuitions just like the other girls in 10th grade did. He told me not to worry about money. When I got to his house the next morning, he was still in bed with his wife. He saw me and said, Ah, you are here. Do yesterday’s dishes, sweep the floor, make some tea. When I asked him when we were going to study, his wife said, Do that first and sir will teach you after. Thus began my schooling. I would do household chores for them and in return he would teach me all the subjects I had to take to pass what they called ‘Matric’, which is equivalent to Nepal’s SLC.
MG: You passed?
MT: Yes, 32 out of 100. In third division. I was so happy. But even then, people said that I probably passed because I did the examiner some favour. I was, after all, a bigreko keti who went from house to house doing peoples’ dirty dishes.
MG: I seem to have to repeat this in every interview: but, people are the worst. And then, what? How did you arrive at being a writer?
MT: Then I got offered a job to teach little kids in the cantonment school. I was being paid about 50 rupees per hour, but I was no teacher. I would climb trees with them, dance with them and the principal would get really frustrated with me. One day, I don’t remember why, but she slapped me. It made me so angry, I pushed her to the ground, placed my knees on her chest and poured ink all over her face. I was terrible. Muwa pleaded with them, told them I was wild but that I would apologise and behave. I told the school to kick the principal out, but of course they would not. So they kicked me out instead. (Laughs).
MG: What? Wow, stories like this cannot be made up.
MT: I was a wild horse, you know. Everything belonged to me and nothing belonged to me. But I think the writer in me was seeded by Muwa and my grandmother. Muwa had one book she read repeatedly her entire life: the Ramayan. She would read it to me in verse; I am sure I learned about cadence in language through her readings. And my grandmother would come from Rukumkot and tell these elaborate ghost stories.
MG: Do you have a favourite one?
MT: There is one about Sani Bheri, this ghost that always haunted people in the form of a baby (laughs). Jhul Neta is a grand uphill, so this man is about to climb up when he hears a baby cry by the river. He sees it and feels sorry for it, so he picks the baby up and begins to walk up. But the baby gets heavier and heavier, and it gets harder and harder for him to walk, until he can’t walk anymore. When he looks down at his legs, he realises that one of it is missing. It is back in the river where he picked up the baby.
The stories that my grandmother and Muwa told me appear in my fiction. For all my work, I take from life what I have seen, experienced, heard. I never have to make any of it up. My story ‘The Night Is Mine Too’ is based on a real-life event of a woman who was beaten for not wanting to have sex with her husband when she has just given birth six days earlier. In the story, I have her take sweet revenge.
MG: I love that story, and the ending made me feel like I had somehow won.
MT: I think she left him in real life. In Shillong, as we played house out in the common yard, the women who were knitting or working would tell each other about their husbands, their pasts, their troubles, I listened to so many stories. They were all around me. Then, once my friends started going to school, they would read out loud from their textbooks about Gaje Ghale. How he was so brave, all the amazing things he did, Our Gaje Ghale, they would say.
MG: This Gaje Ghale is a mythical character? Clearly, I have no clue about him.
MT: If Gaje Ghale is a made up character, then how come I have his autograph?