• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Leela Magar



    Longing for India
    Magar’s husband died when she was really young, leaving her behind with two young children. She suffered a lot when her kids were young, and went to India to work, in the hope that she could provide better for them. She repeatedly mentions that her son asked her to stay back home (in Nepal). She really wanted to stay with the family she last worked for, and not return to the village, but her son forced her in a way to return. Her heart longs to return to Chandigarh.

    Death of her husband
    Magar faced several hardships as a young widow, who had two children. Her husband died of TB, at a time when treatment for TB was not easily available. She says now medicines for TB are free.

    It’s been thirty-six years since my husband died. My son is also thirty-six years old. It will be thirty-six years this Baisakh. My son’s age is the same as the number of years since your husband’s death. My son was born five, six months after my husband’s death. He was born in the month of Kartik, my husband died in Baisakh. We didn’t have anything. We were poor. The first time I went, it had already been ten, twelve years since my husband died.

    “I took him to many hospitals. I hope others won’t have to suffer in the way I had to suffer for my husband.”

    Now, I am living here in Buttabari. Before, I used to live on the other side—in the hills in Udaypur. My husband was born there as well. My husband was sick. He had TB. After we had our daughter, he was diagnosed with TB. I took him to Dharan for treatment, by selling an earring—one with those chains, made of one tola gold. It cost me four hundred rupees. I took him for treatment, but they told me the TB medicines were only for people from Lahure families and not for people from Tarai. I also took him to Biratnagar, but it didn’t help. They didn’t have medicines even in Siliguri in India. I took him to many hospitals. I hope others won’t have to suffer in the way I had to suffer for my husband. Her father (points to her grandchild) was very young when all this happened. He was five months old. Her father was kept in a medical, and then my eyes started to hurt again. Should I take care of my baby or … Thank god a brother from Darjeeling came. His wife had died and his child was small. He told me which medicines to take.

    Now, the medicines for TB patients are free in both India and Nepal. In Nepal, it wasn’t so before—many years ago. My mitini was also diagnosed with TB, and we used to go from Urlabari to get the medicines. We had to leave one day in advance, stay overnight, get the checkup done, and then head back home.

    “I first went to Chandigarh in 1990; I was twenty-five years old then. I made three hundred rupees (a month).”

    I suffered a lot when I had these kids. Sometimes, I didn’t even get to eat. I sent them to school till class four. Then I had to shift them to a bigger school, and had to pay school fees and buy books. Till then, I didn’t have to pay any fee because they were government schools, but now I had to pay. I suffered a lot back then. I used to ask for clothes and slippers from my sisters. I wanted my children to study, hoping that they could serve the world. But I couldn’t make that happen. It turns out people’s wishes are not always granted. Is the fault in our fate or in us?

    I went to India in 1990. How old was I … I’m not sure. I was around twenty-four, twenty-five years old. I was born in 2014 or 2015 Bikram Samvat. Back then, they used to pay three, four rupees, five rupees for labor work. And there wasn’t any work back then like there is now, so I went to Punjab. I first went to Chandigarh in 1990; I was twenty-five years old then. I made three hundred rupees (a month). And from three hundred rupees in 1990, my earnings increased to eight hundred by 1996. I came back in ’96 and I got my daughter married. Then I left my work and joined another work. It was good there. I worked there for four, five years; and they were ready to take me to America. But my son did not let me go. And then I came back. Wherever I worked, I didn’t face any difficulty. They were all good. All I got was love, while working in households. In total, I worked in India for seventeen years. It’s been twenty-five years since 1990? It’s been eight years since I came back.

    The decision to move
    Magar was poor, and did not have any property to fall back on. She had a friend in Punjab who suggested she move to India, and find work.

    When my husband died, I didn’t have a home. My parents’ home is at Milatopo … I was living like a homeless person; I had made a ‘jhuggi’ (informal house/building). I had a friend who used to work in India. Through the years, she made several trips between Agra and Chandigarh. And during these years, her baby grew older and so did my children. I was still in the village back then. She said to me, one day, “Leela (that’s what they called me in the village), what are you doing here? Come with me. You could work and earn money, so you would send it home and send your children to school.” So, I left my parents. When I went there I was poor. I did not have anything. My husband had already died. I did not have any land.

    Having already been of a certain age when I first went there, it made things hard. My children were here. It was really hard for me to work. When I saw small children going to school, it used to remind me of my children. My daughter used to be occupied with other things. So, she studied till grade 6. When I had been in Punjab for two years, she left with some boys for Delhi. She only arrived to the place where I was after some time. Later, my son who was in another place in Nepal also left for India. He was out of contact for almost two years. I went to Mansha devi and pleaded for my son’s return. I even said that I wouldn’t eat salt for ten years. And in a few days my son was there with me in Chandigarh. So I told my son to get his certificates, and that he would study in Chandigarh. I told him that I was working in a Kothi (household), and facing hardships so that he could study. He agreed. I sent him with another Nepali boy, but he went back to Delhi telling me that something urgent had come up.

    I told myself that I couldn’t spend my life working in a Kothi. I could, but my kids shouldn’t. So, I asked my daughter to leave. But she refused to leave me. Around that time, my father’s brother passed away in Nepal, in this house. This is not my house. It’s my father’s house. So I came to visit with my sister. Then, the rest of my family, father and brother, fixed my daughter’s wedding. She got married. But my son disappeared again. My son did come back eventually—seven years ago. When he saw me, he asked me to come back home. Then I came back home and went to work in another place.

    “They used to take me with them to different places, keep me in big hotels. They used to treat me like a part of the family. I did not have any difficulty.”

    Working hard
    She says that unlike other migrants, she did not endure any hardships but she worked really hard – from 5 am to midnight, even.

    It was hard. I used to wake up at five and work till eleven, twelve in the night. If there were parties in the house, I would have to work till one-two a.m. But after finishing my morning work, I would also get two, four hours’ rest. It wasn’t that difficult. I did not know anything. I didn’t know the names of the daal (lentils). I couldn’t make roti. My friends told me to just say, “I know. Just keep observing; you’ll learn.” I knew a little. We call it roti, they call it fulka. They used to say, “chyapatti lao, amma.” At first, I wondered what ‘chyapatti’ is. I asked other helpers around. But they were cunning. They thought that if I learned, it would put their jobs at risk, so they would ask me go ask the employer myself. But it was not that bad. They used to take me with them to different places, keep me in big hotels. They used to treat me like a part of the family. I did not have any difficulty.

    The employer, of the first family I worked for, used to work in a prosthetic limbs factory in Chandigarh. There will be slight issues between the employer and the worker. But I didn’t have to suffer like others. We are the workers, so we have to endure a little. Otherwise, we won’t be able to survive in this world. I did not have to struggle much. If I got sick, Memsaab would take me to the doctor and get me medicines. When I first went there, I didn’t make any money. I used to get ten rupees a day. I had to work from five in the morning. And where I worked, they used to have parties every other day. They used to make prosthetic limbs. I have their pictures; do you want to see them?

    “The employers didn’t give us anything other than the salary. We would have to buy oil, soap, clothes, food, etc. with our own money.”

    The employers used to take me with them on planes. I have travelled with them on planes and ships, and on the metro train in Delhi. I worked for a long time. Many people endure different kinds of hardship while working in households, but I didn’t have to. In all the households I worked, they treated me very kindly—they used to call me ‘ama’ (mother). Now I’m more than fifty years old, and I still want to go there. The friends there, and the employers—they did a lot for me.

    The pay was less back then—three hundred, four, five, six, seven, eight hundred. I was making eight hundred in 1996, and with that I got my daughter married. The employers didn’t give us anything other than the salary. We would have to buy oil, soap, clothes, food, etc. with our own money. They didn’t give anything extra to help us save (the money). They didn’t give because they were supporting many other poor people there.

    Facing hardships
    Living in India, Magar made several friends – from different parts of India, as well as Nepal. She visited India last year, and says that things are different now. Workers are paid more, and also treated better.

    Initially, I was living there (in Chandigarh) in a Kothi (house). So when I returned from here, after my first visit home, I decided not to live there anymore. With the help of a few people that I knew I rented a room, and started living alone. And all these people had their rooms close by. I call them sometimes, they cry and ask me to come and visit. I went once, but how can I go again and again. We need money for that as well. What can I do? I miss them a lot.

    There were friends from Hosiyarpur, in Punjab, from UP – they are from around Salanpur. There were some Nepali from the west—Mahakali. There were many Nepalis, but I did not make many friends. I did not socialize much, just when I was invited. I kept myself busy working. Before, they used to keep us so much in the house; and sometimes they would not even pay us. When I was there, I wasn’t paid many times. I had my brother there. They did not let him out. They wouldn’t pay. And what they paid was not much. And instead, they used to boss us around.

    Now it’s different. Last year I had gone there, in October. The salary was good. I had to make rotis for around eleven people. I made around two-hundred-fifty rotis a day—for morning, afternoon and evening. I was paid 700 rupees. I did not meet the Colonel’s family when I went there as I got caught up in other things.

    The kind employers
    Despite earning less money, Magar says that all her employers were really kind to her. She really misses working for the family of her first employer.

    Let me tell you about them. I went to this house in 1990 and I worked there for 12 years. One day, when the old man was still alive, the youngest son came home and started beating this old woman. The old man had gone to Delhi. I tried to stop him. I even threatened him that I’ll call the police. He took the telephone from me and threw it on the ground. He also hit me, but that’s not important—he hit his mother. He broke all the things around. I told him I’ll go to the police station, then he took his car and left.

    “Even now, if my kids would allow I would go there and spend a few years.”

    When I had gone to Chandigarh, my whole family had lived in their house. This daughter of theirs did not get married. She had some mental issues. So I had to stay with her and look after her house. I had never worn a suit. One day, after many years I got sick. I tried several medicines but nothing worked. Then my employer told her,”Bina, try to make Seema wear a suit.” So the oldest daughter took out a few of her old suits for me. The youngest daughter used to work in Shimla. So I was there in Shimla. It was very good. I am Nepali but I like everything from there. Even now, if my kids would allow I would go there and spend a few years. I fell in love with everyone. I miss them a lot. They are all my friends

    “When I went to India, the second time, the family that I worked for was also very rich. It was always the rich families that I ended up working for.”

    My first employer died after suffering from a heart attack. His name was Col. Vohra. When the old man died, the remaining family members started to argue. The old man bequeathed all his children—left all of them rich. But money eats money. Greed! In this family, there is one girl who took all the fortune. She has so much wealth. And she didn’t give us even a piece of cloth. I am not saying this out of greed. Love is what’s important. She called me mother. She gave good food, and kept me with them. What will I do with money?

    After the old man died, Memsaab (employer’s wife) said that she did not want all the helpers at home. There were six, seven helpers. They called me Seema. She said, “Seema, you’ll be the only one staying. Sahab (employer) has died; who will give the salaries.” The others told me that they had all been fired. I told her that I won’t work as well, I’ll go back home. She gave me a saree. My daughter had just had a baby. Memsaab bought me clothes, and sent me off very kindly.

    When the employer died, his children started to fight. They fought a lot. They used to ask questions like who all ate in the house. How am I to take names? I think one of the couples got divorced. The second son, he hasn’t married yet. He has a bit of a tension. He had fallen in love with a Pandit girl, whose family refused to let her marry him—a Sardarji. But he was adamant. The girl came to his home several times, leaving her family. But the old man was a good person, he would ask her father to take her back. And his son hasn’t married till now.

    When I went to India, the second time, the family that I worked for was also very rich. It was always the rich families that I ended up working for. They owned 50-60 vehicles, which used to run in Punjab—Patyala, Ludhiyana and other towns. They were about to take me to America, as they also lived in America. I worked in their house for eight years. So they told me that they would take me to America, and they asked to me to get my passport. Then I made a passport and gave it to them.

    During that time, someone told my son about my passport. He came and told me not to go, promising that he would get married. He said he would get married and stay at home. After I got my son married, he told me I don’t have to work anymore. I have grandchildren now.

    I found both struggle and happiness. Where ever I went, everything was good for me. I don’t know; it’s a matter of fate. Maybe it would have been good if I had stayed back (in India).

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