Gopi encountered cheese two years after he came down to Kathmandu.
Prakash Babu was returning from Switzerland. That land of miraculous clocks which always told the time in minute precision, not like the few minutes late, few minutes early time of Nepal. That twin land of mountains, that mirror image of peaks, but so much more Westernized, so much more modern, than Nepal's own mythologically burdened ones. Everybody was sure the mountains of Switzerland must somehow be a little bit better, a little bit nicer, a little bit more civilized, than their own poor, benighted country's. Never mind if Nepal had the tallest ones in the world - who cared about tall when there were more important things to think about, like cleanliness and hygiene. Modernity and precision. Who cared about tall when you could have the cleanest, most sanitized, most modern mountains in the world.
Prakash brought back with him a suitcase full of gifts: cashmere sweaters, Italian leather shoes, quartz watches, wooden birds that popped out of wooden houses and went "Cuckoo!", porcelain figurines holding hoes and buckets in pink and gold. And stuffed into some side pocket of the hard vinyl suitcase was the most important of them all - a grab-bag of airline goodies, embossed on the side with the name of the airline. After all, how could one prove one had flown an airline without one of those bags filled with mustard yellow socks, black eye-strain masks, little plastic containers of orange marmalade, plastic spoons and knives, little mint candies? How convince a country populated with disbelieving skeptics that those claims, indeed, were true? French chocolate was always good, a solid chunk of bitter foreign material melting into your tongue and signifying distance, travel, adventure, truth. But even chocolate, these days, could be bought at some shop, and was no longer a reliable indicator of long and distant travel. The only sure proof, these days, was cheese.
The cheese sent the household in Mahaboudh into a minor furor, and got the neighbors talking even before Prakash Babu arrived. Sharmila, the recent married daughter-in-law, was so excited she boasted haughtily to no one other than Fulmaya, the teashop lady: "Prakash Babu wrote to us, telling us he'll bring some cheese. Cheese from Switzerland, if you can imagine what that is like. But how can Nepalis ever appreciate real cheese, when they haven't even tasted any?" Fulmaya, never one to give up a good piece of gossip, had told the entire neighborhood about the cheese by the end of the morning. "Those Tiwaris will be talking about the cheese - Surjyaland cheese, if you can imagine what that is like," she said, imitating the recent bride's stuck-up tones, "for the next ten years." The old woman who sat in the tiny butcher shop next door snorted. "Yeh, Sanokanchi. Who the ** does that fool of a girl think she is, anyway? And cheese - that family can stick it up their insides, for all we care. After all, we're never going to see a piece of it, are we? Huh, huh?"