The American Ascent

As his family prepared for another day of work and school, Prakash turned on the home audio system and played a devotional song dedicated to Ganesh, the god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. Prakash looked out the sliding door to the balcony and noticed that his wife Shristi had decorated their stone sculpture of Ganesh with flowers. Prakash smiled and hoped this was a good omen. More than anything else, he saw religious devotion as playing the odds. He had escaped to America from a dangerous situation in Nepal two decades earlier when Maoist forces were attacking rural villages, including his. He left a region that had no electricity and no running water, and after a few months of wandering, he chose to live for a while in Kingman, Arizona with his cousin, who owned a restaurant there.

Prakash tried school for a few semesters but gave up when the pressure of earning a living became too much. At one point, he was working three jobs—at Perkins, Village Inn, and Conoco. Nevertheless, although he was always exhausted, he refused to give up on his dreams. He brought Shristi, his girlfriend from childhood, over from Nepal, and she enrolled at a local high school. They married when she was 17 and he was 19. Once Shristi graduated from high school, the young lovers seized an opportunity to open their own Nepalese gift shop in Flagstaff.

Within nine months, they were $37,000 in debt and very much on their own, and Shristi was pregnant with a girl. They knew this feeling, what it meant to be poor and threatened, and they didn’t ever want to live that way again. By sheer chance, they met a woman in downtown Flagstaff who owned a half a block of two-story properties. She had been to Nepal and undergone a series of profoundly positive life-changing experiences there. She loved and trusted Nepalis, liked Prakash and Shristi, and decided to rent them ground-floor store space and a small upstairs apartment for a cut-rate price without so much as a credit check.

The young couple opened an import store called Everest Spirit and stocked it with statues, incense and oil, clothing, jewelry, gorgeous tapestries, and so on, all courtesy of friends and relatives who sent everything over from Nepal on loan, knowing they might never receive any payment but not caring so much since money wasn’t everything. Over the next ten years, Prakash and Shristi paid off all their debts, stored a significant sum of money in various investments, and expanded their business to four stores strategically located throughout town. They brought over more than 100 Nepali friends and relatives to work in their businesses, escape the dangers and poverty of their country, and pursue the American Dream. They also added a boy to the family and earned American citizenship. The children spoke excellent English and adapted easily to American culture.

When the economy crashed in 2008, Prakash and Shristi lost an alarming sum of money. Many of their investments evaporated. Instead of panicking or giving up, they kept their existing businesses running and opened a restaurant next to their first Everest Spirit store. They called it the Nepal Restaurant, populated the menu with Shristi’s recipes, and pushed through the hard times. But the pressure finally started affecting Prakash’s behavior. He began drinking heavily and fell into a state of deep depression for several months. He had never been very religious, but he and Shristi chose a guru they agreed would do them some good. They needed guidance that might light their path, mostly for emotional, not metaphysical, reasons. Neither of them thought much about reincarnation, for instance, because it wasn’t an empirical reality that affected them in any direct sense, and they considered themselves empowered in their faith because they chose their guru based on their own inner convictions and on their own terms. They needed practical advice, and they found it through their guru and the texts he encouraged them to read.

What changed most was their appreciation for the here and now. They learned to better value the love they had for each other and everyone around them in the immediate present. The deities they worshiped offered simple directions for a better life. For instance, the explanations for how Ganesh wound up with the head of an elephant didn’t matter as much as the fact that he symbolized hope, opportunity, and wisdom. Prakash quit drinking and became even more responsible in business matters. In time, he fell in love with his parental duties, which led to a sensible balance between work and family obligations. By focusing on happiness, patience, and hard work, the family regained much of its wealth while making better use of its leisure time. Still, Prakash could never shake the feeling that he and Shristi would always be different from those who were born and raised in America, even though families like his defined the soul of the country.