Sindhupalchowk to Mumbai via Darjeeling
Sita didi holds a position in the Shiv Sena, a right-wing political party. She is the Women Sub-Committee’s chairperson. It was difficult to get Sita didi to agree to meet me. When we first spoke, on the phone, she misunderstood my call as a call asking for donations to help earthquake victims. Even when I clarified that I just wanted to interview her talk about her life as a migrant in India, she was not sure if she wanted to meet me. The ice breaker was me telling her that I am an Indian, living in Nepal, who speaks Nepali. She said, “Now I have to meet you.” She invited me to meet her at her home in Bhandup, a suburb in the North East of Mumbai.
Sindhupalchowk, Then …
Sita didi moved to India, as a young twelve-year old, and says that everything that she has learnt – both, the good and the bad – she learnt in Delhi. Growing up, girls her age weren’t encourage to study. She hadn’t even seen a big school building, but she is happy that things have changed in her village now.
The most important thing is our Sindhupalchowk District. It lies on the border of Nepal. There is a village called Panchbokhre, after which there isn’t any other village. When we were young—ten, twelve years of age—we did not know what a school was. If there was anyone who had been to India and Nepal (Kathmandu) and learned a few things, they would teach the boys—just the boys. If any of us tried to go to school with our brothers, our parents would scold us and tell us go herd the cows, buffaloes and goats. I have experienced it. My parents used to tell my brother to go study but did not let us study. We did not know what a big school looked like. Whoever came here, to Delhi, including my mother’s sister, learned in Delhi, both the good and the bad.
“If any of us tried to go to school with our brothers, our parents would scold us and tell us go herd the cows, buffaloes and goats. I have experienced it.”
I came to Delhi at the age of twelve. Then, I did different kinds of work, like sorting rice, cleaning shops and working in households. After a lot of difficulties I got married, when I was sixteen, seventeen, in the year 1975. When I first arrived in India, I used to miss home. I used to think about eating the food from my village, eating rhododendron flowers in the village because I didn’t want to come to India; my parents sent me here. Now, they have both passed away; they passed away a long time ago. It’s been almost thirty-nine years since my mother passed away—it’s almost forty years. When I first came here, I used to miss my grandmother a lot. Then when she passed away, I used to think about my little brother. Then he also passed away. I don’t know how, I just got the message. We used to exchange letters back then. It took around six months to reach. We used to get information about the whole year. After that, I slowly realized I had to make it work in India.
“We didn’t even know what slippers and shoes were. For us, rice was a luxury.”
But one thing is that, now, in our village in Sindhupalchowk district, with the blessings of god, there aren’t facilities lacking, like it used to in our time. We didn’t even know what slippers and shoes were. For us, rice was a luxury. Now, only twenty, twenty-five per cent of the people eat dhindo (traditional Nepali dish made of buckwheat and corn flour, commonly considered an inferior meal), the rest eat rice. After the earthquake, there isn’t anything left there. The rice has to be taken from India. If it’s thirty rupees here for a kilo of rice, there they buy it for eighty rupees. We sent goods according to our capacity. But how much can we do? Just because we are giving, they cannot stop farming. They still do it. My nephew still calls me.
Whether we say it’s like this in our village or in the whole of Nepal. There are seventy-five districts and fourteen zones. There are so many areas in Bhandup. There is Bhattibara, Temepada, Sarojini Nagar and so on. Similarly there must be so many villages in each district. In such villages, education has still not arrived. Like I said, we suffered so much. In my house, when they asked me to get eggs (andaa) from the shop across the road. I would repeat ‘andaa’ till I got there. But I would still forget the word. I couldn’t ask the shopkeeper to give me eggs. Such things happen to people like us from the village. ‘Shirag’ (blanket), you know what a shirag is. Here they call it rajai. We have to put cover on the rajai. Those rajais are so heavy. It was very cold in Delhi. It must have taken me three, four hours to put the cover. Then, I got fever. We have worked that hard.
Marriage and separation
Married to an ‘army’ man, she says married as per her wish but her husband turned out to be a ‘playboy’ and she walked out with her son in tow.
I neither felt good nor bad in Delhi because I did not have that much ability to think back then. Then I got older, I got married, and went to Darjeeling. My husband was in the army. I used to like army men a lot. I had only one wish, that I would get married to an army man or a policeman. So, I got married as per my wish. But then I wasn’t educated. There I had to listen to my sister-in-laws. They, like most people in Darjeeling, were educated—like you have in the South (Southern India). But in our village, there was no such system. I don’t think, back then, anyone of my age from my village had even seen a school. Now, our children have learned to read a little, most of them having come to India. I don’t think some of the old women in our village had even ever gone to a city in Nepal.
“I was twenty-one years old. He was—what do you call them—a playboy. He went after other women.”
In 1978, when my son was a year old, I came to Bombay. My husband was still in the army. Later he left the army job. We used to live in Colaba. My mother-in-law also came there. They helped me a lot. My husband was young, and so was I. I was twenty-one years old. He was—what do you call them—a playboy. He went after other women. My mother-in-law told me about it. I felt very sad. My husband later asked me, “Do you want—a house or me? If you want I’ll give you a house, if you want food I’ll give you food?” I thought to myself, if a house is all that’s important, why do I need to be married—I could build it myself.
We had a fight, so I left and came to Thapa dai’s in Bhandup. Here, slowly, I was able to send my son to a good school. Whatever I have done till now, including living in Bhandup, I’ve done it for my son. It’s the same in Darjeeling, and it’s the same in Nepal. You have to cut grass in Nepal, and you have to cut grass in Darjeeling as well. So, for him, I stayed here, whether I felt happy or sad. I stayed here. I saw a lot of both good and bad. I suffered as well. Even now, I can’t say that I’m completely happy. I still have problems. People always have some kind of problem.
Now, our hearts and minds, both, have grown. When your husband gets another wife you get hurt. But now we have become immune.”
It’s been twenty years, and with the blessing of god, we have enough of everything. I have a son; he has a daughter. My husband has another wife. She has three children. One is in Dubai. One is studying in the village. And one daughter is with me. Now, my husband is in Darjeeling. We live separately, as in I live here and he lives there. Back then, maybe we did not have enough brains or heart, we could not get separated. Now, our hearts and minds, both, have grown. When your husband gets another wife you get hurt. But now we have become immune. We don’t feel anything. I don’t need or want them. It turns out all these things happen because of desires.
Happy in Mumbai
In the village – one has to struggle for everything. Mumbai isn’t easy, but she says that despite problems and hardships, she is happy in Mumbai.
We are happy here. We haven’t seen that kind of struggle here. Here, if I just eat one Vada Pav (a local snack), my stomach is full. I don’t even get that hungry here. The weather is so good here. Bombay is like heaven to us. The village is also good, but the thing is you have to struggle a lot—for everything. It’s not like there aren’t facilities in the village; there is everything in the village. Before, they did not know how to do things. Now, people have learned. Now they grow cauliflowers, beans and pumpkins. They used to grow crops during the monsoon season only. Now they have started to grow vegetables all year round. There isn’t any shortage for water in our village. We have never had to close the taps. Our rivers are always flowing. Now, they have learned.
“How can we build all the houses in the village? So, we are thinking of doing something for the school. Let’s start, and hopefully Nepal government will continue our efforts.”
The destruction of 25th April 2015
Sita didi was in her village in April, and returned a few days before the devastating earthquake hit. Sindhupalchowk, the district she belongs to, was amongst the worst hit. She talks about trying to get help from wherever possible, for the affected.
There is an elected MP in our village, I am told—from the UML-CPN party. I don’t know what kind of support he has provided. But our village hasn’t received the amount of the support it needs. With God’s blessings, we have everything in our village. We have vehicles. We had electricity, but the lines got destroyed by landslides. We are thinking of doing something for the school. If it was only one house, we would have built a house, but there is a whole village. How can we build all the houses in the village? So, we are thinking of doing something for the school. Let’s start, and hopefully Nepal government will continue our efforts. We have an MP—what was his name? I can’t remember. I have to ask my sister or my brother in Nepal. So I guess it’s getting better in Nepal and in our village. But everything has become very expensive. We have been thinking about doing something for the school, not this year but the next. Whatever we can do from here, through people who know Thapa dai (K T Thapa). Many people in Bombay know him.
“The custom in our village is that, if someone dies in any house, a member from every house must go there for three days. So the families receive everyone’s help.”
So, that’s what we are thinking. We are trying to get help from wherever possible. My sister lives in Delhi. What we have planned is: no matter what, let’s do something for the school in our Gothang village in Sindhupalchowk. That’s what we hope to do. I don’t know if it’s going to happen today, tomorrow or day-after. Let’s see how much the government does. We had a building—a one-storied building. We are hoping to do something for the school. We are talking among ourselves to determine how we are going to do this. But you know, our heart can go to different places, what’s important is that our hands get there. What can we do for the village? We cannot do anything. Because, eight out of ten houses in our village have a family member in America, London and Dubai. They are all outside. Even in my own house, two, three of my nephews are outside.
The village looked very good. But now it’s not there. Nothing happened to any of my relatives, but there are houses where three, four members have died. The custom in our village is that, if someone dies in any house, a member from every house must go there for three days. So the families receive everyone’s help. And we have to go to every house. It takes time. We have to work together. It must be a system particular to villages. We have to feed everyone in the village, and everyone must come and eat.
That’s why I had gone there. My niece had had an accident—in 2013 or 2014, probably 2014, on 14 April. The vehicle plunged 500 feet. It’s still there. They haven’t been able to take it out. Now, it’s out of question. With all the landslides, it’s probably buried. When we told a scrap collector to take the vehicle out, he did not give any amount. It is so expensive to take it out. It was a big Mahindra/ Toyota car. It was bought for twenty-five lakh. The family members also died—five, six of them. With a lot of effort, through connections in Nepal, we were able to claim fifteen, sixteen lakh from the insurance. That’s how it is everywhere.
Sita didi says that Nepali migrants, returning to Nepal from India, are routinely troubled at the Indo-Nepal border. Less, when they return by flight. She hopes the Nepal government will take cognizance and improve the situation, for its own citizens.
My request to Nepal Government is that they should know that we don’t take anything with us that would be harmful to Nepal. All we carry with is old clothes and utensils, and other things that normally people take—biscuits and chocolate for the kids. By god’s blessings, I haven’t had to go through the roads. But whoever has to go through the roads, they face a lot of trouble. They are checked at the border. They make you pay even if you take a dhoti or a saree worth two hundred rupees, they have to pay. Our own people, the Nepalis that we know, complain to us so much. My only request is for them to address this problem. What would we take to our village from Mumbai, from India? We’ll take our friends a few sarees, shawls, sweaters, shirts and pants. But we can’t even take these things. We face a lot of trouble at the borders—at the Indian border, the Sunauli border, the Gorakhpur border. They cause trouble for no reason, wasting our time.
“My request to Nepal Government is that they should know that we don’t take anything with us that would be harmful to Nepal.”
They give similar kind of trouble when we come here from there. They ask why we are carrying this much money. Someone comes to travel abroad with twenty, twenty-five thousand rupees, and they don’t allow. I have a brother who lives in Delhi. He is my step-mother’s son. He used to play football in college. He brought a nice pair of socks. We get good socks here from China, Malaysia. There isn’t anything Nepal-made, everything’s from abroad. He was told to leave the socks there. He tore the socks right there with scissors out of anger. That’s the kind of problems we face.
Yes, it is a small thing. But if you think about it, it’s a big thing. There are these kinds of struggle, which shouldn’t be there. What’s wrong with taking clothes? If it’s drugs or bomb, or anything illegal then it’s different. What’s wrong if we buy a small amount of gold—five tola, ten tola—by working hard. We aren’t carrying illegal bricks of gold. That’s also very difficult. They even asked me if I had brought my Sai Baba’s locket from Nepal—in the airport. I told them they don’t make this design in Nepal, they are only made in India. I have got an Indian passport. I fought in the airport myself. But it’s not that difficult if you travel by air, it’s mostly difficult for the ones travelling by road. But the government does not understand that we are bringing some things for our village.
“But it’s not that difficult if you travel by air, it’s mostly difficult for the ones travelling by road. But the government does not understand that we are bringing some things for our village.”
We are making our village rich. Everyone wants their country to be rich. If the country’s rich then the house will be rich. If the house is rich, people will not suffer. It is so difficult in the village. Our village at least has a generator, because my brother knows a lot. He has lived in India. In our village, in the whole of Gothang village, only our house had a shop that sold chocolate, peppermint, bidi and cigarette. There was nothing else. Even salt, we would have to carry it for six months to bring it there. I have seen that in our village. Now everything is better. There are shops that sell everything. We have a hotel there. But they give a lot of trouble at the border when we take things from here. Our daughters must have washed dishes to buy those things. Some must have worked day and night to save those things. The employers would probably give their old, unwanted utensils and clothes; they don’t buy you new things. They give you trouble even for those things. But they have made it a little easier these days because of the earthquake. We hope that they continue to improve the conditions. Besides that I don’t have any problem. With the blessings of Lord Ganesh I’m doing well in Mumbai.
“Nepalis are very gullible. They are much clever now. The naïve ones have remained in the villages and the smart ones have moved to the city.”
Helping others, especially the Nepali migrants
Sita didi holds a position in the Shiv Sena, a right-wing political party. She is the Women Sub-Committee’s chairperson. Many Nepalis in Mumbai are associated with Shiv Sena. In the suburb where Sita didi leaves, this could be due to the popularity of late K. T. Thapa, who was revered as the most helpful Nepali there. He was a part of the Shiv Sena, and many just followed him and joined the party. Sita didi was close to K. T. Thapa and lives and works in the same suburb that he did, when he was alive.
I am doing social work since I came here. I got people admitted. I do whatever is in my capacity—I teach them. Even now, there are women who have to wrap their newborn baby with their husband’s shirt and car cover, and sleep in the garage. I have got these women jobs.
The Nepalis – they come here, despite these kinds of hardship. And Nepalis are naïve and simple. They get off at the station, they leave the things and go to the bathroom, and their things get stolen. Something similar happened to a family who had come to get a family member’s leg treated. They had a relative in Kalwa. After three, four days someone told them to go to Bhandup to get help. They stood here. They smelled so bad. They had been on the train for three days and for another three days they had to go through that trouble. We let them take shower here. I gave them my son’s clothes. I gave the woman my own clothes. And for the child I got another child’s clothes. We got his leg treated. We first got his leg’s x-ray done. They said that they had lost three thousand rupees. I called five, six of our own people, and took five hundred from each. I gave them two thousand rupees, bought tickets for them, and I sent them on a bus to Patna.
“Even now, during the time of Dashain, we have meetings and programs associated with Bala Saheb Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray. But I don’t go on that day. I apologize for not making it.”
Nepalis are very gullible. They are much clever now. The naïve ones have remained in the villages and the smart ones have moved to the city. Now, they are very smart. Even in our own village there are many educated ones. They have made films in our own village. The young ones know a lot these days. But still, one or two show up after being conned. There was a woman who got lost while going to the market with her sister-in-law. She just cried. The others thought that I might know her so they called me and asked me if I knew her. I asked her who she was and where she had come from. She kept repeating “thread cutting company”. There is a company called Panna Lal Company, their family cuts threads. I have a friend named Bhandari, Indira Bhandari. I called her and asked her. She had said that there was a woman from her village who has gone missing. I figured out that the woman must be from Indira’s village, so I gave her a call and told her that the person that you are looking for is here.
Things like that also happen. “Why do you come if you can’t speak Hindi?” – but you can’t say such a thing. Even I couldn’t speak when I first came. Later, I learned. Now, I can speak in Marathi, Hindi and even English. With the grace of god, we have received a lot from Bombay. Not just me but many have gotten much from this
We, Nepalis, get together to celebrate festivals. We celebrate Teej together. Dashain is an important festival for us. Even now, during the time of Dashain, we have meetings and programs associated with Bala Saheb Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray. But I don’t go on that day. I apologize for not making it. On that day we celebrate the festival. We celebrate Laxmi Puja. It’s once in a year. You have been to Nepal; you know how important it is for us. We believe that Bhairab will turn up. We clean the house. We do pujas. We celebrate our festivals properly. Before, people used to play Deusi, but not so much anymore. The young ones have grown up, and people our age have grown old. The young ones don’t really care much for Deusi. Earlier, when our brother-in-law was still there, we used to play Deusi.
Hardships of migrants
Talking of the hardships of migrants working away from home, she says that it is the people who stay back in the village, the older generation, who demand more from the migrants. The families of migrants in the village do not realize how hard the migrants work.
Now, what I think is if you are able to feed yourself, then you’ll be able to feed others as well. In Nepal, in our village, not the young people but from the older generation—they don’t think of how their daughters are making money abroad and what kind of hardship they are facing. They just demand money without any consideration for their daughter or son. They don’t think if they have enough to eat. They don’t have any brain—the people in the village. They think that in India money grows on trees. Money is earned with a lot of difficulty. Instead, you don’t have to buy anything in the village, besides clothes and salt. The rest we can grow on our fields. Here we have to buy tool for the sweeper, and even for the garbage collector. The people in the village do not think that those guys are working and that’s how they are able to send money. They are not thankful. They demand more.
In our village, there was a house. The son in the family was in Delhi. In the village, the old members and the young ones remained. This house is in the neighboring village. On May 12—the day of the second earthquake, after having lunch, the father in the family came out to wash his hands while the others were still eating. And the earthquake hit and everyone in his family got buried under the house. Everyone died, but the old man survived. The old man kept staring at the rubble. His son in Delhi found out and came to his village. Here, everyone is prompt to help. They cremated all the bodies and the old man kept staring. They had money in the rubble. They had kept four lakh seventy thousand in the pile of kodo (millet). Four lakh seventy thousand in the village!
“The people in the village do not think that those guys are working and that’s how they are able to send money. They are not thankful. They demand more.”
Who has that kind of money? And think about it, it’s in the village. There is a lot of money in the village. Why; because all their sons, daughters-in-law and daughters are abroad. And the daughters of our villages love their parents so much that whatever they demand they provide. I have my nieces and nephews. Two of them are in Dubai. One of them is in some place. They have also gone to Bahrain —the Nepali girls. Now, they don’t think about their own future and send whatever their parents demand—everything. They keep sending money every month or two.
The people in the villages need to understand what kind of struggle their daughters have gone through, how hard they have had to work. They get yelled at, if what they cooked isn’t tasty, or the clothes aren’t clean. The people in the village must understand this. The rest is in the village already; they know what happiness and sorrow is. They know there is more hardship in the village that’s why they are working outside. The money that they earn from hardship, instead of keeping it for themselves, they send it all to their parents. When the parents pass away, the brothers and sisters won’t say that you have sent the money.
“That’s why Bombay is such a good thing for everyone, if you are able to make things happen for yourself.”
Talking of famous Nepalis
She briefly talks about Raju Lama, a famous Nepali singer from her village, and Manisha Koirala, a well-known Nepali Bollywood actor, in the context of making things happen for oneself.
Our village is quite remote. You know the singer Raju Lama? He is the best Nepali singer. He is from our village. He is from the lower parts and our house is in the higher parts. He is a very famous singer. Raju Lama is the best. You know Manisha Koirala, she is the granddaughter of Nepal’s prime minister. He is still the prime minister. What does she not have in Nepal? But she still comes to live in Bombay. That’s why Bombay is such a good thing for everyone, if you are able to make things happen for yourself. Lastly, what I’d say is: To succeed in the village, one must pray. And to succeed throughout the country, one must learn and understand. So, we need to learn, understand and study like it’s our own.
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