Category Archives: Nepal

Rest in Peace Hajur Bua

It’s been five days since we received the unexpected news—a series of calls from Kathmandu that ended with the death of P’s grandfather.

It has taken me a few days to think about what I wanted to say. It was quite a surprise, even though he was 88 years old, as he was very strong and active.

Hajur Bua was a very important person in P’s family, but I think he was of particular importance to P, who was the first born grandchild. Hajur Bua lived with P since childhood, teaching him how to play many sports, including his favorite—heck, it’s his passion—soccer. He used to walk little P to school every day and then pick him up and walk him home.

He was the “keeper of the house,” the person who was always opening the front gate or looking out the window to see who was coming and going when he heard its clank. Upon arriving at P’s family’s house in Kathmandu he was the first face you’d see, peeking out the gate or waving from the front window or roof, cup of tea in hand. He was always there to welcome us home or bid us farewell.

I first met Hajur Bua when I visited P’s family in 2005. Even then, I had heard many stories about him, and I was happy to have the chance to meet him, as I wasn’t sure when I would be able to come back or if I would meet him again. Luckily I had two more opportunities: He was there again in 2009, telling us stories about his time as a park ranger in Chitwan, acting out sitting on an elephant’s back during a tour. He liked to bring pictures out to share, or his school leaving certificate of which he was very proud.

After our wedding in July 2011 we were able to go back for Dashain. Although very strong, he was too old to make the long journey to America, but was able to participate wholeheartedly in the wedding party that was organized during our trip. He dressed up in a daura suruwal and coat in his favorite color which he called “gabardine” (which I think refers more to a type of fabric, but that’s what he called khaki-brown). He enjoyed sitting near us at the party, talking to people and introducing us to others. While we visited in 2011 he started calling me “Buhari”—bride—the same name he calls P’s mother. “Buhari, have you eaten?” “Buhari, have you seen this program?”

We were able to take our first married Dashain tikka from him. It would be my first and last.

I remembered seeing him many times sitting on the floor, cross-legged, like a man sixty years his junior. I couldn’t imagine my father being nimble enough to do that, let alone my grandparents. It was a testament to his health and fitness.

And then there was Rai Uncle, a former neighbor, who still liked to come over and spend time with the family. Hajur Bua and Rai Uncle had a love/hate relationship. Like two grumpy old men, they sometimes had feuds—“He took my umbrella!” “You cheated at cards!”—but they were companions as well, sharing in card games and conversations.

Hajur Bua also had a love of plants, a hobby I share. Back in Kalingpong, his home area, his family had a nursery with many interesting plants, and as an older man Hajur Bua tended to dozens of potted plants surrounding the P family home, several of which came from the nursery in Kalingpong. Many of the plants were unusual, much like the ones I enjoy collecting. In 2011 I complimented a giant green stemmed succulent plant, some type of Euphorbia, growing in a sunny spot behind the house. Before I knew it he plucked out a section of the plant, wrapped the roots in mud and wrapped the entire thing in damp newspaper and insisted I bring it home. I decided to try, and was able to sneak it in. The plant now grows on my window sill, and reminds me of him every time I see it.

Our Irish friend RH was visiting Nepal at the time of Hajur Bua’s death. He was staying with P’s family for a few days, before making a quick trip to Southern Nepal. He was due back to P’s home the day that Hajur Bua died. RH took the final living picture of Hajur Bua—as he looked through the front window, saying goodbye to him before RH left for Chitwan.

In an email exchange between P and RH, P wrote:

I almost feel as if you were meant to be there that week – to see Hajur Buba one last time. Since you met him, it almost feels as if you were there on our behalf. We also got the last photos of Hajur Buba that you took, looking from the window. It is hard to think that he is not going to be there to look out of that window next time we arrive home in Kathmandu and the next time the metal gate makes a clanking noise.

The whole news has been a shock and a surprise to all of us. He was old and had minor other pains and aches but we all felt that he was this strong person who would live to be 100 or more. At the same time, he passed away the way he wanted, without being bedridden, within a matter of hours. I am also glad that you were able to hear Hajur Buba’s stories once again while you were there.

I want to dedicate this posting to Hajur Bua. He always made me feel welcome and part of the family. We are all very sad at your passing, but we feel honored to have known you.

Advertisements

Royal Massacre, 11 Years Later…

I wanted to highlight an old post today.

P mentioned to me that I should write something about the Royal Massacre since 11 years ago today it took place. I wrote about this a while ago, so please excuse the recycling, but I think it’s an important enough topic to rehash.

Hope you are all well. I promise even though I have been quiet, I’ve been doing a lot of writing…

So now we are up to the point where Birendra, grandson of Tribhuvan (who re-took the throne), is now king. He began his reign in 1972 after his father Mahendra’s death.

King Birendra

Birendra was the first Nepali monarch to receive a formal education, studying abroad in India, the UK, Japan and even at Harvard University (from 1967-1968). Upon his return he married Aishwarya Rana (yes from that Rana family) in 1970 and had three children: Prince Dipendra (1971), Princess Shruti (1976)  and Prince Nirajan (1977).

Royal Family: King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra and Prince Nirajan

He ascended to the throne as an absolute monarch, inheriting a country with banned political parties, and ruling through the panchayat system. In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out across Nepal, and due to this Birendra eventually agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed a Constitution Recommendation Commission, and November 9, 1990 the new constitution was approved by the Prime Minister.

However quarrels continued leading to the Nepali Civil War between the Maoists and government forces between 1996 and 2006 (a post all of its own).

Which leads me to the massacre.

I’m not sure if we will ever really know what happened the night of June 1, 2001. Much like the American conspiracy theories of who assassinated President Kennedy, different theories about the Royal Massacre abound. The fact of the matter is—the Nepali Royal Massacre was the largest slaughter of a royal family since the shooting of the Romanov family during the Russian Revolution.

The more widely known story: Prince Dipendra was a bit of a troubled youth. Prone to drinking with a keen interest in all things military and a short temper. Not long before the massacre, Dipendra had been arguing with his parents over the choice of his bride. Dipendra wanted to marry his girlfriend Devyani Rana (also a member of the Rana family). Dipendra’s mother was against this match (due to the historical animosity between the king’s family and the Ranas… although Queen Ashiwara was also a Rana, so I’m sure I’m missing part of the story…) Tempers flared.

Dipendra and Devyani

On the night of June 1st much of the royal family gathered for an evening together including uncles, aunts and cousins. Missing from the party was Prince Gyanendra, younger brother to the king and potential heir (if Birendra and his two sons could no longer perform the duties as king).

Following an evening of heavy drinking, and still angry at his family, Dipendra was upset when he was scolded by his father for “misbehaving” at the gathering and told to leave the party. An hour later Dipendra showed up dressed in military fatigues with an MP5K and M16 and started shooting up the room, killing his father, sister, uncle, aunts, and a few other family members while wounding several others. His mother and brother escaped the room but confronted the prince in the garden, where he killed both of them, shooting the queen multiple times in the face (it was so badly damaged that her face was covered with a mask for the cremation ceremony). Before any guards arrived Dipendra turned the gun on himself.

Prince Dipendra survived his suicide attempt for three days, and was proclaimed king while in a coma. He died on June 4, 2001. While Dipendra lie in his coma his uncle Gyanendra (remember, the one conveniently missing from the party?) maintained the deaths were an “accident” but once Dipendra had died full blame was placed on him.

The country went through a period of national mourning—many people including P’s dad—shaved their heads as a symbol of death in their family, since the king was the “father” of the nation and revered as a god. The country was already embroiled in a civil war, and now they were without a symbolic figurehead.

Some people in Nepal suspected that Gyanendra was responsible for the massacre, and that Dipendra was blamed so that Gyanendra could take the throne. He was third in line to the throne (after Birendra, Dipendra and Prince Nirajan) and had been conveniently out of town during the party. It’s true that his son and wife were at the party and were wounded, but both survived (his son with only minor injuries). Feeding these rumors is the allegation that Dipendra was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the left side of his head, while he was right-handed, casting doubt on whether the injury was self-inflicted.

Gayanendra wearing the Nepali royal crown

Two survivors have publicly confirmed that Dipendra was the shooter, but many Nepali people still consider it a mystery.

Gyanendra assumed the throne and was king until 2008 when he was forced to abdicate due to social pressure and rioting.

Now people have their theories—but I was at the former Royal Palace in the summer of 2009 and went on a tour with the daughter of one of P’s family’s neighbors whose father used to work at the Palace as a food taste tester (I know, one of those strange connections). The suspicious thing is—when Gyanendra took over as king he dismantled the house in the garden where the massacre took place—brick by brick. All that is left is an outline of the house on the ground. A few bullet holes still mar parts of the garden wall but everything else is gone. It makes me wonder what he was hiding.

If you are interested in more information, the BBC had a documentary on the massacre, which you can watch on Youtube in five parts:

Bringing Shoe Stealing to a Whole New Level…

In some sectors of Nepali and Indian culture there is a wedding tradition where the sisters of the bride–and this could be immediate biological sisters, or cousin-sisters, or female friends, etc–steal the shoes of the groom.

The set up for this works well because during the ceremony the bride and groom have to remove their shoes since the mandap becomes a small Hindu temple, and in all Hindu temples one must remove their shoes. I believe it is the same with mosques, so I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe stealing happens at South Asian Muslim weddings as well–readers can weigh in.

The groom’s friends or male cousins/brothers are supposed to guard the shoes, and I’ve even heard about “decoy” shoes to throw the sisters off.

Once the sisters steal the shoes the groom has to pay a bribe to get them back at the end of the ceremony. Depending on the parties involved, negotiations can be pretty tough.

When my sister heard about this, she loved the idea, and stole P’s shoes at our wedding, but I gave her a limit on how much she could reasonably ask for. When she asked for $50, S said, “that’s too little!” and gave her a handful of money from his wallet. I think she made off with $100 and was pretty satisfied.

Over the weekend we went to an Indian/Nepali wedding in the DC area. It was the biggest wedding I had ever been too– about 600 people. The bride was a childhood/neighborhood friend of P and his brother, and she was marrying a Punjabi man. Both the bride and groom had 13 or 14 members in their wedding party–“bridesmaids” and “groomsmen,” so when the “bridesmaids” (sisters) demanded payment for the groom’s shoes, they meant business and had the numbers to back it up.

They started chanting, “$3,000! $3,000!”

The groom countered with, “It’s a recession! That’s too much for a pair of shoes!”

Sisters: “We want $3,000!”

Groom: “I’ll give you two-fifty each…”

Sister: “Two hundred and fifty dollars each?”

Groom: “No! Two dollars and fifty cents!”

Sisters: “Noooooooo! Boooo!”

Groom: “Be reasonable girls!”

Groom’s brother: “No more than $50 per sister, otherwise they are being greedy!”

Sisters (urged on by the bride): “No, we want $3,000!”

…Haggling back and forth for quite a while…

Groom: “Okay, how about I give you all the money in my wallet right now? Trust me, it’s a lot, you will be happy… and I’ll throw an awesome party!”

Sisters: “How much is in your wallet?”

Groom: “$800 and a gift card for $25, you can have that too!”

Sisters: “Noooooo!”

…Haggling some more…

Some of the brothers reluctantly open their wallets and sweeten the pot to make an even $1,000 plus the $25 gift card.

The sisters finally accept.

P’s cousin’s American husband leaned in and whispered to me, “Um, is this for real?”

Sisters enjoy their shoe money...

Apparently!

My New Anthem?

I had to share this… since my pitfalls in learning Nepali sometimes make me think, “I can only imagine… if I’ll ever learn!”

My personal favorite lyrics– “I can only imagine/when the day comes/when I find myself/with a loosened tongue,” “When they ask if I have eaten, will I say uh-huh or khae?” and “Surrounded by Nepalis, what will my mouth say?”

So enjoy this Friday fun video:

Auspicious April First

This April Fools Day there is something to celebrate, apparently. We were invited to two events on the same day. Both program dates were chosen by pandits in Nepal due to the auspiciousness of the day– a bratabandha in Wisconsin and a pasni in Connecticut.

Those of you familiar with American geography will know that these two destinations are at least a time zone away from each other. And since the bratabandha invitation arrived first, P and I are currently sitting on a plane making our way to the state known largely for beer and cheese.

I attended P’s bratabhanda but it was more of a rag tag, simple ceremony… there weren’t any older family members around to make sure everything was done according to proper family tradition. It was still fun, just probably not as “official” as the ceremony we will attend tomorrow, or anything that would happen back in Nepal.

It’s actually going to be a double bratabandha as P’s cousin’s son will be undergoing the ritual side by side with his other cousin, who is flying in with his family from Germany for the event. Other family members are taking the opportunity to visit from Nepal as well, so there are bound to be a lot of new relatives to meet.

P’s mother instructed me to wear my best new sari and bring my tilari. It’s important for naya buharis to make a good impression. It should be fun, although I get a little nervous when I’m around a lot of P’s older relatives. I’m embarrassed I still can’t speak or understand Nepali very well, and I’m generally worried I’ll do or say something stupid– but I guess most people feel that way around new people.

Sadly the event we are missing is R and S’s son‘s pasni or first rice feeding ceremony. I had really been looking forward to this event, and even told R to try and avoid April 1st so that we would be around, but S’s family pandit in Nepal declared that the 1st was the best day and R was powerless to reschedule. They will have a pasni party in the summer when S’s family visits from Nepal, and the ever tech-oriented S is planning to live-stream the pasni online, so hopefully we can tune in for a little while. At least I can look forward to that, although I’m still disappointed.

So may your April Fools Day not only be filled with practical jokes but much auspiciousness as well.

“The Engima of Bhutan”

I’ve written about Bhutan before in the post “Gross National Happiness” and Ethnic Cleansing, but I wanted to mention the country again as it recently featured in a great Nation article. I highly recommend the read as it maps out the history of the ethnic Nepali expulsion from the country.

Header from the Nation article

I hadn’t connected the dots before, but it was mentioned in the article, that the deportation of the Nepali population started in 1992– right around the start of the ethnic cleansing and killings in the Balkans, and continued through the  US military blunder of the “Battle of Mogadishu” (of “Black Hawk Down” fame) in 1993, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (gosh– the early ’90s were some harsh times).

No wonder much of the world hasn’t heard about the forced removal, albeit largely “brutal violence” free, of 80,000 people–15 percent of Bhutan’s population of 550,000. When competing against the more high profile, flashy news stories of the day, it was probably easy to forget a quiet mountain kingdom tucked in the far corner of the globe.

Recently an American couple moved to town (the husband is attending the same university as P). They arrived in Massachusetts by way of Bhutan, as the wife was offered a teaching contract in the country after finishing her cultural anthropology master’s degree. It’s been interesting to compare notes on our various experiences in lesser traveled to Himalayan nations.

She is now working with a local refugee organization that helps newly arrived Iraqi and Bhutanese (of the 108,000 Bhutanese in Nepali camps in 2007 50,000 have been resettled in the United States). I’m curious to hear more about her experiences with the refugees. I wonder what their thoughts are about interacting with an American who was able to travel and live in a country that they are no longer welcomed to return to or even visit.

Titaura

Today I simply have to link to another Nepali blog. Many of the readers of this blog probably already read NepaliAustralian‘s, but if not you should check out her most recent post on titaura.

From time to time I like to write about things Nepali people like…
momo,  sel roti, WaiWai, heck even the Bryan Adams song “The Summer of ’69

… and  titaura  should certainly be added to the list.

Often when friends or family return from Nepal they bring with them packets of these small dried and candied fruit snacks, and the packets don’t usually last long in our house.

There are several kinds of titaura– salty, sweet, sour or hot. Many are made from the Nepali fruit “lapsi” which comes from a tree native to Southern and Eastern Asia.

Lapsi fruit hanging on a tree

I’m not a fan of the spicy or salty titaura. Early on in my friendship with the Nepali crowd at my university I was talked into trying a spicy mango titaura and I’m not interested in eating another one of those any time soon! However I love the sweet and sour ones. Even writing about titaura is making my tongue tickle with sweet and sour anticipation. Too bad I polished off a recently found (and presumably last) packet  from our October trip a few weeks back.

Packets of Nepali titaura candies.

I like the yellow ones in the lower right hand picture, but I’ll eat the orange ones in the upper right and the ones right below that too! yum yum :) P likes the ones that are sticky and wet like the red ones in the lower left picture. I think he is also more of a salty or spicy fan.