The Great Escape – Dinner in the Hills, a night with the Majhis and caste system en route

Day 1 – Dinner in the hills

The next morning, Ganesh Man Singh was woken up early by his host. A startled Singh got up and was readying to leave when he realized he had no money on him. Therefore, very hesitatingly, Singh asked his host for Rs. 10 (saying he only had a 100 rupee note which would be impossible to break in the villages ahead).

The host however had no money, and Singh couldn’t compromise his or the hosts’ well-being any further. He bid goodbye and set on his way.

En route, Singh would be asked where he was headed. He would say Maisthan (Manakamana Temple).

“In this weather, during Ashar (mid-monsoons)?” everyone would ask in shock.

Singh would recite a story about his mother’s wish and proceeded ahead.

Thus Singh continued along. At one of his various stops, Singh sold his watch for Rs. 6.50 to a shopkeeper.

In the evening, as Singh was preparing to settle down at a suspension bridge, an elderly man offered Singh shelter at his place. Singh obliged.

The duo, headed home, arrived upon a mango orchard. Singh, who hadn’t eaten all day, couldn’t take his eyes off the mangoes. Sensing Singh’s hunger, the elderly offered him a few mangoes – Singh very proudly tells Mathbar Singh he ate about a dozen mangoes, and took some extra for the night.

A young woman, who is the elderly man’s ‘buhari’ (daughter-in-law), was the only other occupant at the elderly man’s home. The homeowner instructs her to prepare a meal for Singh too.

Singh and the elderly man settle down – far below he can see the meandering Trishuli, his destination for the next day.

Striking a conversation, Singh asks the elderly about the whereabouts of his son.

“He has gone to Lahur, just like all the other youngsters of the village”, the elderly man replies.

Singh shares an interesting insight about Lahur.

“The condition of life for the host and his daughter-in-law was created because of World War II. As Nepal was allies with the British, Nepali soldiers were recruited into the British Army. Then, there used to be a big cantonment of the British Army in Lahore (modern day Pakistan). Recruiting agents would go around the villages of Nepal and take the hill boys to Lahore, where they would be formally drafted. Hence the modern day term ‘lahur janu’ (to join the army).

Singh later recalls being unhappy about the situation – “Had I not come in contact with the host, I would not have realized how oppressed and poor the people of this inaccessible remote place were, and how their lives had been affected by war”.

Day 2 – Night with the Majhis

After a good night’s rest, Singh bids his hosts in the hill good bye. Steadily he makes his way to Devisthan. It is a long and hot day, and Singh, who hasn’t had anything to eat for the entire day is exhausted by the time he reaches Beni, the banks of Trishuli.

Seeing a huge crowd awaiting a ferry to cross Trishuli, Singh decides to rest for a while. He takes a quick nap, only to realise the boatman across the river anchoring his boat to a peg once awake.

“O Dai, I am yet to go, will you row me across the river?” yells Singh.

“Why didn’t you tell me before? How can I take you alone?” yells back the boatman.

Sensing the boatman would not take him, Singh decides to swim across the raging Trishuli.

Seeing Singh about to swim, the boatman unpegs his boat gives him a ride. A thankful Singh gives the boatman his extra set of clothes – the same Daura Suruwal which Surya Bahadur Bhardwaj had lent him in Kathmandu.

After crossing the village, Singh reaches a Majhi village. Ganesh Man Singh is visually moved upon seeing the poverty of the village people – houses are bare and food is scarce. All they have to eat is fried corn. Sometimes, if the family is lucky, Majhi dai will bring their catch of the day.

Despite the poverty, Singh finds a benevolent family. The mother of the household offers some food (corn and Gundruk), and shelter to Singh. Singh’s hunger is not satisfied, but since there was nothing else available, he tries to sleep.

Singh’s hunger would not let him sleep – just then, he heard someone approach the old lady’s home. It was the same boatman who had rowed him across Trishuli. In his hands he held some fried fish.

“You have indebted me by giving your clothes. I have brought some fried fish to express my gratitude.”

The old lady, her son, and Singh enjoyed the fried fish with more corn.

“The corn and fish filled my stomach. I felt energized”, Singh tells Mathbar.

Day 3 – Caste system en route

Singh had been warned by the Majhi family about the difficulties of the next day’s journey – steep uphill, lack of villages or shelter, and no water source.

Deciding to beat the sun, Singh left the Majhi village at 4 a.m. It took him four hours to reach the foothill of the mountain. As the sun shone bright, Singh slowly climbed the barren hill – there was no sign of life except of a few jackals.

Around midday, Singh who was almost on his all fours reached a Chautari (shade). Exhausted, he lay there flat. Meanwhile, two girls collecting fodder for their cattle reached the same Chautari.

“He looks tired, poor man”, said one girl.

“I have some puffed corn”, said the other.

“No, we are Damais (tailor caste). We will commit a sin”, the first girl said.

“How will he know? Besides, he is hungry”, says the second girl.

Singh, who had been overhearing the conversation, requested the girls for water instead.

Unfortunately, the girls were not carrying any.

Fortunately, at the same moment, rain gods blessed him with a small shower.

Having quenched his thirst, Singh carried on. Just before reaching the day’s stop, Singh reached a Kami (blacksmith) village.

Desperate for water, he approached a home and made a request.

The homeowner however refused Singh water.

“We are Kamis, we cannot give you water. If the state learns we gave you water, we will be sent to jail. No we cannot give you water”, the homeowner said.

Singh, realizing he will not get water there, moved ahead. In the next village, outside a shop, he saw a big jar (karuwa) of water. He grabbed the jar and took big gulps, and instantly started feeling giddy – he fell on the ground.

Once gaining consciousness, the shopkeeper told him he should have had something to eat before drinking water.

“Please give me something to eat then”, Ganesh Man requested.

The shopkeeper gave him some dried coconuts and sugar candy, and then instructed him to drink water a little further away.

“Why?” asked Singh.

“We are kasais (meatsellers). You will lose your caste”, the shopkeeper said.

“One’s caste is not lost twice”, said Singh, taking the jar from the shopkeeper and drinking it with the coconut and candy.

Profound experience(s):

These three experiences, sending the youth away to foreign land for other people’s war (while the wife lived an almost widowed life), endemic poverty in the village of Majhis, and the widespread prevalence of caste system along the hills struck a deep chord in Ganesh Man Singh’s heart. Singh’s journey across Kathmandu to India enabled him to see the lives of people outside Kathmandu, and was an eye-opener to the daily affairs and struggle for many Nepali people.

These experiences, along with other experiences encountered when he returns home to Kathmandu were some of the most profound experience in his life – it shaped his political beliefs, and further inspired him to fight for a change in Nepal.

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