“Of course, my father used to take me and my sisters to the one at Kupondole to let us indulge in books as birthday gifts. Oh, how he loved to see his kids searching for the best ones…!”
“Ah wait, did I tell you how unconsciously I had taken my unofficial first date there just to shake off the whole awkwardness? Thumbs up to me! Ha ha!”
Hi everyone, I am Sikuma Rai. Please ignore the above lines; I was just talking to myself. Actually, the thing is one sunny day I got to meet Pilgrims’ Managing Director for a small talk about the unfortunate accident caused by a rowdy fire in their old house on May 16 last year which burnt down to ashes almost everything existed physically therein. I was mumbling to myself as I was anxious. You know, Pilgrims has always given me happy and sweet experiences. So, to talk about the bitter part would be quite discomforting. However, I had a great time talking with her which made me realize that my level of respect for Pilgrims Book House, after meeting Elizabeth Tiwari, reached even higher than before and I am sure it will last forever.
The book house at JP road, near Ganesh Man Singh building was standing tall and was as welcoming as ever as I entered taking a deep breathe. I asked for Mrs Tiwari; they asked me to wait. In the meantime, I flipped through the pages of Ranas of Nepal while a little boy ran around playing with the staffs. Before I could get a full glimpse of him, Mrs Tiwari called for me for the interview.
Mrs Tiwari is such a bright and cheerful woman. I guessed- it would be hard for her to recall those shocking moments despite her nature; I was right. “May 11”, she said, “May 11 was the day my son, Siddhartha Tiwari was born and it was after 5 days that we heard the hapless news.” She went on, “As we are four sisters our family was celebrating the birth of a son after such a long time. Our feelings mixed but then our son, our little bumbum became the healer of our life.” Right then, I regretted for not clearly looking at the boy I came across before who was now playing with his grandma, Puspa Tiwari.
To lose something with which they grew up, something whose appearance would be crystal clear when eyes closed, would sure cause grief, the heaviest one. But Tiwari family got back again, they had to get back again. After all, their scattered customers all around the places and their cries were yearning for their return. “Their love towards Pilgrims, their tears behind the loss of Pilgrims and their wish to rebuild Pilgrims gave us a bundle of courage”, Mrs Tiwari expressed. Immediately, came in my mind a blog post of a traveller Mark Horrell (www.markhorrell.com) about his admiration and support towards the book house. There are infinite people like Horrell out there. Pilgrims family is definitely large, larger than we think it is.
As our conversation furthered, I could be formal no more; Elizabeth Tiwari’s amiable nature made me address her by didi (sister). She, in the same way felt close and at ease not just with me but Nepal and Nepalese as a whole. After the event, she realized Nepal was more like a home to her and her whole family instead of just another country. The affection and support given by the Nepalese supplier and general public were immense. They didn’t turn their back when Pilgrims needed them the most. “They are the ones forcing us to hit the show again. And we did hit a show”, she said. I say they hit a great show!
In the process of starting from a scratch the second time, Tiwari family didn’t take the chance to overshadow the dedication of their loyal staffs. Rather Elizabeth didi seemed to be very much indebted to all the staffs who stayed even during the crisis, caring less about their future or finance. One of them was Arjun Adhikari; he had been working at the Kupondole branch for one and a half year and then shifted to the former main house a year before the accident. He shared, “After whatever Pilgrims had given and done for us, treating us more than just workers, we couldn’t leave them. We had to give something back and that was what we had learnt till now in Pilgrims– our experience, knowledge and some time.” The faith in humanity still remains, doesn’t it?
In the above paragraph I have mentioned ‘starting from a scratch’, know why? Well, because the present Pilgrims used to be the smallest of ‘em all. No important or serious collection at all. Moreover, after losing more than two lakhs non-repetitive books, it is hard to imagine that the come back would be easy and so soon. Insurance? Nope! A little experience with an earlier accident caused way before at the old restaurant and the insurance company had discouraged to apply for another one. “It was our bad luck, which became worse as we had lost the biggest branch that had just been merged with others”, declared didi.
Whatever was the scenario then has changed now. It was obviously painful but mourning was not the way out. Sticking together was one of the options they had; working day and night was another and they accepted it. Despite being broken inside, all the family members tried giving their 100 percent to little bumbum and then to re-establishing Pilgrims. Among all, didi admires reaction of her youngest sister, Kahani Tiwari, who looks more after the account section, to the emergency. “She showed us how actions mean more than words; how things are and should be done when in crisis; she became the youngest but the strongest giving lights of hope to us all” ,didi recalled, “Her husband, our two sisters and their husbands also did a lot for us to which we are greatly thankful.”
Everything that goes up, definitely comes down. This was exactly what Tiwari family had learnt and I guess we should too. Ramnand Tiwari, the founder of the book house got enlightened; he realized material world had nothing to provide for lifetime. So, it is better to not think we have control over these things, didi shared her thought.
After sharing with me all these things, Elizabeth didi, left me alone for few minutes giving me time to recall her words. I looked around with a realization that my perception towards many things would change. For now I am sure of one thing– my views on Pilgrims changed; it was no longer just a source of books but of inspiration as well. Now I see Pilgrims in new light, well somewhat at a new place and as a new hope.
NOTE: This article was first published in June issue of HOPE Magazine. This one is the unedited/original piece.