“I should have drunk more.”
As wrong as it sounds, and as wrong as it is, I would go on to find that it is the first thought that strikes almost every single person who ever gets caught for ‘Mapase’—driving under influence–in Kathmandu.
“It was only ONE beer.” I couldn’t have stressed enough.
It’s apparently always one, if not less. All my cousins, friends, and their cousins and friends who have ever been caught for ‘drunk’ driving had actually only had not more than one at the time.
It was just another Friday night; I was out with my best friend of forever, talking over dinner at some hipster ‘Restro Bar’ in Thamel. We had ordered exactly one beer each alongside the mandatory cheese balls and chips chilly. By the time our plates and glasses were empty, we were not. We still had so much to pour out! So we ordered one more beer, of which I probably drank less than what would make one Chiya-glass.
Later that night, we walked to the Mandala parking lot, hopped on my scooter and left for home. I was sober. I was wide awake. I probably didn’t even smell of beer (on the outside).
As it would turn out, all the one-way streets that could take me out of Thamel—except for one in Saat Ghumti, which for some reason eluded me– were under construction that night. Which meant: I would have to make a round-about and cross that one little spot in all of Thamel where the traffic police would stop me for a Mapase check.
Thanks to experience and over-confidence, I didn’t think of running away. There was no reason to. One: I was not guilty; it was one beer, and two: there was no way I was going to get caught. The impression that I make as a petite woman with a good girl face and polite demeanour has always helped me get through these checks without any suspicion.
But there it was; my first ever encounter with a breathalyzer, pointed at me like a gun. There it was; my doom.
Everything after the breathalyzer failed me is blurry and hazy. If we were not tipsy earlier, it felt like the alcohol was taking over us now. We were giggling one moment and scratching our heads the next. I was let go of, and on my scooter, with a chit that said I had to pay some fine before I recollected my license from the authority. It was going to be okay. Too nervous to speak a word and too desperate to just get the hell out the place where so (so so so) many people were passing remarks on us, we left without asking what I was supposed to do with that small piece of blue paper.
Few minutes and umpteen ‘that didn’t just happen’ later I sulked. “Hare! I think I have to pay 25,000 worth fine,” and my friend went “WHAT? Should we go back and maybe buy your license with whatever money you and I have instead?” Sounded like a good idea. But, instead of acting on our whims we ‘rationally’ stopped our scooter and scanned the document, it said Rs 1000. Never have I ever been so happy in my life. Nothing mattered anymore; it was an embarrassing but funny misadventure that the best friends could hold on to. But, five minutes into riding again, paranoia hit us both. No, none of us was tipsy, let alone drunk, but we both were there questioning our conscience, “Was it one or ten? Three or four zeros?”
Upon reaching home, we encountered an angry mother worried about two young girls who had not made home until 11 pm. We apologised, shut the door behind us, took out the blue chit and checked again. Crime: Drinking and driving. Penalty: Rs 1,000. We giggled it away, slept it over, and cursed our fate the next morning.
I would go on to tell everyone: “Can’t believe it was one beer, should have drunk more.” And everyone would reply: “It’s always just one beer, never more.”
If my life was some dark comedy, Sunday was not going to disappoint. As I lined up at multiple counters in the Baggikhana–to pay for my sins–many people asked what it was that I had done. Upon hearing ‘Mapase’ both civilians and police chuckled alike. Initially, I thought it was definitely the ‘petite woman with a good girl face’ thing that amused them. Later, I would learn that it was merely a ‘woman getting caught for Mapase‘ thing.
At 14:30 sharp, I entered a tent that smelled of and housed at least fifty sweaty, greasy men, also my classmates for the day. We would be taught why drinking and driving was wrong. I scanned and skimmed. No seat, no other woman, positive. It was going to be me and the men. The eyes that were initially gawking at me, the only Jadiya woman in the world who was paying for her ‘drunken’ shenanigans on the day, soon had their attention grabbed by the anthem on the screen at the front: “Rakhnu parchha samjhana traffic niyamko, garnu parchha paalana traffic niyamko”—Remember and follow the traffic rules!
The next hour would be the most horrid and hilarious I have ever lived at the same time. The screen played (what felt like a gazillion) footages of people, bikes, cars, trucks—anything and everything–running one another over, all the time. It was so graphic and gross that it cracked many of us in the room. It was so sad that it was funny. One moment people would go “Oh, shit!” and the next they’d just laugh out loud at the stupidity that was being showcased to teach us a lesson. Everything about the class was dark, and everything equally comic.
If the traffic police were trying to make us quit drinking and driving, I must say they have been successful at the attempt. The men around me were like, “Hait! I’m just going to take a taxi next time.” And in saying so they were echoing my own thoughts.
At the end of the class, the policeman called me at the front and made sure everybody in the room realised–if they hadn’t already–that I was the only woman in the room. “Only Mahila, please come and collect your document” he said and as I walked my walk of shame, everyone’s gaze just followed. Dammit!
I collected my receipt, then my token and then my license which had now been adorned with its first hole.
As soon as I collected my license, I giggled. There was something oddly amusing about the whole episode: that one hour and that one hole, brought upon by that one beer because I missed out on one street–much fun, such wow.