Uptown Funk Shoes
In Nepal, Manisha Shrestha is a traditional wife, doing all the chores for her husband Dhiraj’s family and working full-time and studying civil engineering. She has no time to pay attention to her son’s dreams of wearing shiny leather shoes to perform on stage. Her new life in Calgary gives her time to listen.
Black, pointed, shiny leather, stylish boy’s shoes. These were the shoes my son, Bhushant, dreamed of wearing. The same pair of shoes united my family and brought me the joy I had desired for many years in Nepal.
Nepal is rich in folk music and dance. However, when I grew up, singing and dancing were not part of my life. And when I married, it was made clear to me that it was disrespectful for a daughter-in-law to dance in front of her husband’s family.
Maybe that was why I ignored my son’s wishes. When he was four years old, he held a spoon and pretended that it was a microphone. Wearing my black shoes, he stood on his bed and imagined that he was performing on a stage. He lined up his toys as an imaginary audience. He told me he would like to sing and dance on stage. But I paid no attention.
In Kathmandu, I lived in what we call a “joint family” in my in-laws’ house. I had an arranged marriage. This is typical in Nepal. I liked my husband, Dhiraj, but I was nervous about his family. Being a daughter-in-law, I had to do most of the household work. That’s the tradition. I had to do it—even though I was working full-time in a designing consultancy while also studying civil engineering.
Every day I cooked two meals for the entire family and washed dishes by hand. I hated every weekend: doing everyone’s laundry, cleaning the house, and serving visitors. Once I had a child, my responsibilities increased, so I worked almost eighteen hours a day. I was afraid to tell my husband about my daily workload as I didn’t know him very well. Anyway, Dhiraj could not interfere. It would have been tough for him to speak in favour of me, against his family.
When Bhushant was little, I left him at daycare every morning, rushing to work and thinking I would spend time with him in the evening. But by that time, I was cooking, or he was asleep. I liked my job and the opportunities to travel that it brought. But my family had little time together. Almost every night, my pillow was soaked with tears.
When Dhiraj went to Canada to study in 2011, I stayed with my son in Nepal and kept my good job but moved out to live on my own. I accepted my life as it was, though I wasn’t happy. For almost two years, we three only communicated over Skype.
When Bhushant was six years old, he learned about “a family” at school. He said, “Why is Dad always inside the screen? I need him to complete my family picture.”
That forced me to rethink. I promised him that we would take a family picture in Canada, and we left Kathmandu in 2013 to follow Dhiraj to Canmore. I worked at Canadian Tire. Dhiraj, Bhushant and I walked, biked, climbed, and drove miles and miles together.
One evening, when we were watching TV, Bhushant jumped up from the couch, saying, “Mom, I want to wear black, stylish leather shoes on stage.”
This time I listened. I said, “Sure, we will buy you a pair.” He hugged me so tight that my ribs almost cracked. Then he did the Moonwalk to his room. We all spent time practicing the song “Uptown Funk” with Bhushant’s new shoes. This was the first time our family danced together.
In 2015 at a Calgary Nepali cultural program, Bhushant sang and danced on stage in front of hundreds of people, wearing these black leather shoes. My eyes were glued on him with tears of joy. He was on the stage sharing his dream while I was picturing my real family.
MANISHA SHRESTHA works as a volunteer coordinator for Australian Volunteers Program in CECI Nepal (https://www.ceci.ca. She holds a master’s degree in Geo-Informatics from the International Institute of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), The Netherlands. Manisha came to Canada with her spouse and son in 2013. She lived in Canmore, Alberta for five years to support her husband in pursuing his Ph.D. She and her family returned permanently to Nepal in 2017. During her stay in Canmore, she volunteered and worked for many community development activities in the Bow Valley.