“I watch Hindi films too.” I say to Asutosh soon after arriving at the home stay in Jitpur Phedi village in Nepal. He lives next door. He’s the youngest cousin of the family I live with while volunteering with Volunteers Initiative Nepal. “Oh, which movies have you seen?” He asks with surprise. “I’ve seen a few, but I don’t recall most of the titles. I’ve seen Chennai Express. Shah Rukh Khan is my favorite Indian actor.” I answer. “You have seen Chennai Express!” He exclaims. “What else, which film?” He is glad to know the foreigner, born in Iran, raised in America, has seen Indian films, the same ones he and his cousins love to watch. “I want to see Jodha Akbar.” I don’t want to disappoint him so I name the movie which I had downloaded, but had yet to watch. “Oh, Jodha Akbar! Jodha Akbar! I have this on DVD. Wait, wait, I will bring.” He’s grateful as he runs next door to his house returning promptly with the DVD in hand.
He’s sweet, humble, and kind. Reminds me of my little brother. He has a spark that is pure and true, the kind we are given, at birth. The kind that unfortunately, too often sheds off, as we become, adults. “Which countries have you been to?” He asks, not to know, but, because he is knowledgeable. “I’ve been to about twenty-five or so.” I answer while reaching for the iPhone kept in the right pocket of The North Face jacket I wear to keep my body warm in the 6 degree celsius weather, inside the room. “Okay, Iran, Austria, USA…” I read the chronological list from the offline iCloud Notes. “Oh, Austria, it’s land-locked, like Nepal.” He remarks. “What? I don’t understand.” I ask him to repeat as I squint my eyes turning my head slightly, exposing my right ear to him. “Land, locked.” He stresses, clearly. “Nepal is also surrounded by land, no body of water.” He teaches me. “Wow, you’re right, I don’t remember ever learning this term.” I thank him for teaching me something new.
He studies in the mornings as I go to the city or the village for volunteer duty. He walks atop the hill where the two homes sit on, overlooking the open horizon where the sun rises. The flat lands below are abundant with green rice fields. He walks back and forth covering about fifty feet of ground, reading aloud, some time in English, some time in Nepali. The family’s calf, Maya, which means love in Nepali, munches on hay and grass as Asotush walks by, gently stroking her hair with his left hand, holding the textbook with the other.
Asutosh hugging Maya, the family calf.
“So, you always study on the weekend?” I ask him, two weeks later, as he curiously approaches me to see the screen of my MacBook Air. I am editing a poem I had written the night before. He carries two books, one in each hand, both geography, one in English, the other in Nepali. “Yes, sometimes, but this is not for school. I just want to know about the world.” He answers. It is a Saturday morning, his one-day weekend. I’m staying in the village this weekend to spend time with Asutosh and the family. We sit on the concrete flat, about two feet above the dirt ground, facing the sun. The eagles glide freely in the misty blue sky beyond. Nepal is known for its eight hundred and sixty-four species of birds. The rising sun evaporates the cool water on the fields below, clearing the misty air, as the eyes shed tears when an aching, broken heart needs to heal.
“What is your dream? Your aim.” I ask as he turns the page to the map of Iran to locate my birthplace, Birjand. “Oh, oh, my dream, I don’t know.” He hesitates, momentarily, as he brushes his fingers through his hair, lowering his head, bringing his chin to his chest in a side to side wobble. “My dream is to be an astronaut.” His head rises, his face glows, instantly, revealing an effortless smile. “Oh wow, astronaut! That’s wonderful. Why, why astronaut?” I ask to learn if his dream is for an imagined future prestige, or a pure and present pursuit in and of itself. “Because, I want to know more about the planets, and maybe one day go to space.” He confirms the happiness in his pursuit.
Asutosh locating Birjand Iran.
For Asutosh, school, is not about memorizing random facts to one day get a job that he’s not even interested in, as it was, for me. For him, going to school, is, living, his dream.
Asutosh, is not a thirteen-year-old boy.
He is, a seeker.
He is, an explorer.
He is, a dreamer.
He is, an astronaut.