Z Store is situated on a cramped corridor that literally cuts through the base of a residential building. Like Les Halles in Paris—as dérived and described by Khatib in 1958—it is a unité d’ambience connecting Thamel to Paknajol. Almost everyday, I sat for tea with its owner Kailash Tamang, whose background was typical of a city labourer getting by on day-to-day earnings. The 28-year-old shopkeeper comes from a village in the outskirts of the valley that should take 30 minutes by car, but what is—with the poor infrastructure in Kathmandu and its even poorer to absent counterpart in the periphery—a four to five-hour bus-then-local-taxi ride. When he was a teenager, he migrated to Kathmandu after his father had abandoned him while he was at a boarding school in India. He made what he could from remittances sent by a brother in Malayasia. Today, like a codger who has just about settled on a life behind the tabac counter, Tamang quibbles about politics, load shedding, gas prices and the lumpen indifference with the Maoist-led government. Here, the cups of dudh chia, or milk tea, are always free and flowing, and attract storytellers far and wide. What began as a transaction of midnight hankerings for dried peas and a glove of Indian whiskey evolved into friendships upon friendships made at Tamang’s shop.
Lastly, the arrows and dotted footways that lead off to nowhere represent the seamlessness of the urban sprawl and the infinite potential for the dérive. Inversely, the gridded, empty space acts as a frame to my solipsism. To take from Debord, speaking on the self-imposed restrictions on the urban environment: “We could expect nothing of anything that we ourselves had not altered … People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves.”5 Driven by a conditioning or a hypermutation of needs, the spectacle induces a “tunnel vision” that possesses the city, its dwellers, and their notions of “city” and “dweller.”6 It limits their capacities, desires, and destinations. It compartmentalises space into ganglands.
In conceiving a map of Kathmandu, I realised why I never encountered Tyata in my time in Nepal and why it is only now that he emerges—as an afterthought, an anecdote, a metonymic bowl of curd, and a contour in a post-experiential dérive. For most, Tyata could easily be essentialised as a Luddite embedded in tradition and reluctant to yield to the invisible hand. And even elsewhere, artisans like Tyata and their production have been fetishised by advanced capitalism; bread aisles in global food chains vend a more expensive, artisan-baked loaf. But what is business as usual for Tyata is for me an inspiring peripatetic protest against what Debord calls the “banalisation” of urban space into the functions of capitalist production and against the spectacle that subsumes us.