Of Hills, Hopes and Happiness

On my way to interview Bisna, wife of a migrant worker in Tanahun, Nepal

On my way to interview Bisna, wife of a migrant worker in Tanahun, Nepal

After weeks of brainstorming over field guides and running up to unsuspecting strangers to ask for interviews for our dummy protocols, we were finally good to go to Nepal. Except that I almost missed my flight and survived through a real life episode of ‘Need for Speed’ in order to ensure that I didn’t. As we ran through the length and breadth of Terminal 3 of the IGI Airport, my colleague and I (who I happened to share the experience with) finally understood what it felt like to be chasing distraught lovers about to take off to another country. The only reason that I could board the flight that day was because it got delayed. Thus began my much awaited trip to Nepal.

En Route Koedim Village, Tanahun

En route Koedim Village, Tanahun

Anyway, we reached Kathmandu and I stayed there for a day before I headed out for Tanahun, the district that I was supposed to go to for carrying out my protocols. Kathmandu and Dhanusha (in the Terai region) were the other two research locations and I was pretty excited about Tanahun because when I thought about it, I always imagined it as discreet mud houses in the middle of nowhere, where you could hear the gentle babbling brook run by, while you soaked in the expansive greenness of the hills.

Tanahun was a one and half hour drive from Pokhara Airport and by then I had already fallen in love  with the place where I was about to be for the coming two weeks.

Somewhere between my open mouthed appreciation of the place and my constant demands to know ‘what do they call this in Nepali?’, I was told that the first thing that I needed to do after reaching the hotel  was to  go out and buy a new pair of shoes. Shoes that were meant for climbing hills.  (So I did, and by the time I was to return to Delhi, its soles had worn out completely).

I put my shoes on and stuffed my backpack with the necessary armory of field guides, recorders and cameras and set off for a (literally) breathtaking expedition. My first participant, Prasun Rasaili, walked 45 minutes from his little clay house up in the hills, to reach his college. After his classes got over, he worked at a radio station and hosted a live program called ‘Youth Journey’. He had come back to Nepal about a year ago after working in Qatar for 15 months. He said that he had always felt uneasy because he had to leave his education to go to Bidesh to earn money to pay for his parent’s medical treatments. He lived with his father, mother and aged grandmother.

As I was doing a namaste to everyone before leaving, Prasun’s grandmother gave me a long hug as she murmured a stream of extremely sweet sounding Nepali words in my ears. She hugged me some more and kissed me on my cheeks as I saw everyone around me suppress, what seemed to me an unstoppable bout of laughter. Only Prasun was blushing profusely and explaining something to his grandmother. Once we managed to leave the house after much difficulty, I was told that grandma really wanted me to make me her grand-daughter-in-law.

I remember how amused I was with the madness of it all and I would often remember the incident later on and laugh alone in my room. That was my first protocol, the first time I was thought to be a Nepali girl. Throughout my stay, this continued whereby my patriotic Nepali research partner was mistaken as an Indian, while I was thought of as a local girl. I didn’t mind one bit of it.

For another protocol, which was to be held in the rural areas of Tanahun, we had to hire two bikes to take us to our destination.  I was riding pillion with a local person, who had rented out the bikes to us for the day while our moderator and translator friend followed us on a white scooty. The route was uphill, it was less a road and more of disjointed potholes and a sea of grim and muck. The dainty scooty of my research partners gave in very soon and I remember how we stood there in the middle of nowhere for a while before we decided that the bike would have to seat three while one of them maneuvered the scooty. There I was, in a new country with more new people around me every day, getting in between two strangers on a bike to some place I didn’t know. However, for some reason, it did not feel awkward or scary or any of the negative emotions which I probably would have felt if I had to do the same back home. We were laughing making every adjustment possible in order to ensure everyone was comfortable. I don’t know why, but as a girl, for me, that was a moment of happiness for me. For not having to think, judge or be too careful. Also, that was when I learnt to say ‘baato choi na’ (there is no road).

Glimpse of an ongoing interview with a respondent

Glimpse of an ongoing interview with a respondent

We would wait for our respondents at the tea shop near their house for hours over embarrassing quantities of tea cups only to find out they were too drunk that day for an interview and we would also take interviews for hours and realize it had gotten dark and it was time for them to cook food. Once we stayed back and had dinner with Khumaya and her husband, whose eldest son was working in Qatar. She plucked some saag from her front porch, lit the firewood and then was kind enough to let us cook.

Some of the protocols had tears being shed, some had family members who had gone incommunicado and some had extreme anger and discontent with the inefficiency of their own government. However, some had smiling faces of satisfaction at having been able to provide their families with enough. The stories of each individual we talked to along the way, at some shop we stopped to eat at, some neighbor who joined in the conversation, were all mesmerizing and enlightening in their own rights. Each story taught me something new and I hope I can put all of it together and answer some questions which might help us in our project. But when I look at my worn out shoe and my scribbled on post-its, I think of Tanahun and it always takes me to a happy place.


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