The houses in the picture stand on the river and its fringe. The government should confront the owners with pictorial evidence to determine the legality of the structures.

Would the government agencies do that as they may have a big hand in planting houses on river beds? But, owners forget that they are the first in line to suffer. Who knows, they might get compensation, yet their family would live with the harrowing memories for the rest of their lives.

When I first went to Chautara in Sindhupalchowk in 2056 to visit my father, who had taken up the position of a campus chief, I congratulated him for his choice of a picture-postcard village on a ridge. The narrow road, partly blacktopped and partly cobbled, was lined up by typical houses on both sides.

But a decade later, the pretty houses had turned into ugly ducklings, concrete structures that seemed to be competing for tallness.

I asked a man who matters what happens if an earthquake strikes. His response was full of hubris: "Dai, our houses will stand a 10 Richter scale quake."

The man was pushing to sell me his land for Rs 50,000 a hat (elbow to the tip of the middle finger).

Post-quake, I called him to express my sadness for his loss and that of the village.

Back in quake-stricken Kathmandu, our neighbours insisted that we demolish my mother's house. Although we could have repaired it as it had not suffered much damage, the neighbours cited a threat to their lives and the pedestrians from the falling pieces of bricks and tiles.

When the government first announced it would allow only two-and-a-half storey houses in the suburb, I could not have been happier. But in a year, the government made a U-turn and decided on four and a half storeys.

My crafty neighbour advised that I build four and a half-storeys, get the completion certificate, and add a few more storeys by bribing the engineer. I asked him what about another quake? He was confident that the next seismic upheaval would not be until 2172.

Likewise, many houses in the Kathmandu Valley stand close to the high voltage transmission lines in contravention of the laws. Once, a man, a guest, inadvertently caught the transmission line while opening the window of his room in Chayabahal in Patan Dhoka and instantly fell to his death on the street.

I asked the part-owner of the house how the government permitted him to put a window parallel to the transmission line. He said it agreed on the condition that we did not open it. "The guy who opened it and fell to his death was a guest from Darjeeling," he said with a smirk on his face.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 2 2021, of The Himalayan Times.