Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Real Housewives of Sukhrwar: On Maghi Festivities

One of my Kathmandu housemates, between her work as a researcher and photographer/ videographer with an NGO that works in the hill regions of Nepal, has spent a lot of time in various Nepalese hill villages. She made the comment one day that, instead of a reality television show about wealthy women in New Jersey, a similar show about the lives of Nepali village women would be so much more stimulating. In her honor, I’ve put together the following confessionals based on actual events and experiences in and around Sukhrwar. I’ve changed names, the order of some events, and embellished these occurances, so these should be read as fictional. Such a show would actually be better termed “the authentic daughter-in-laws of Sukhrwar” (Sukhrwarko Vastavik Bwariharu).

Bwari: My sasura (father-in-law) has been drunk for the past three days—which means, he’s just been sleeping off his booze, and so in addition to all my other work, I had to take the water buffalo out grazing too. So I hid the alcohol, but then my nanda (husband’s younger sister) who’s mind is weak (mentally disabled) found it and drunk it all! So now she’s been drunk all day!

Sasu (mother-in-law): The hen had eleven chicks, but now there are only five. Two got lost, three died from the Magh (January) cold this morning, and one we had to sacrifice at Atrai—that’s the ritual we have twice a year to apologize for any mistakes we made in rituals all year, or for any rituals we forgot to do. And this year’s sinki* isn’t nearly as sour as last year’s. Maybe it’s that new fertilizer we started using in the garden…

*fermented and dried radish stems then cooked with potatoes, oil, chilis, salt and turmeric to make a sour soup

Neighbor’s Bwari: We don’t have time to go dancing in the afternoon during Maghi like everyone else, which is a shame, because then its dark and people can’t actually see our dance. Why? Oh, we have to work all day. I mean, after we make bhaat-saat (rice and things), and take care of the goats, and go spread fertilizer in the khet (large fields), then the day is done. So we go dance at night. Our husbands? All of them work abroad, in Malaysia. My budho (husband) has been abroad two years now. There’s four of us bwaris at the house, with our kids, and then our sasu and sasura.

Sasura (father-in-law): Where’s the raksi (home-brewed alcohol)?!

Neighbor’s Bwari: We so wanted to go dancing, but our didi (older sister) wasn’t going to come—she said she was tired from working all day. Well so were we! But then she found out that her sasura had drunk jaar (rice beer) at the neighbor’s house and was passed out in their haystack! It was already dark and getting so cold! She had to go collect him. So we went with her, all four of us. We woke him when we found him, but he was so uncooperative! So we slung him between four of us—one on each arm and leg—and we started to drag him home! Then, another dancing group came by, with a guy in it, so he offered to carry my didi’s sasura home on his back. Once we got him inside, we went dancing for two hours. That night, we raised two hundred fifty rupees for our chuki (picnic)! I between all three nights, we’ve raised around eight hundred rupees—we’ll be able to get some fine meat for our chuki!

Sasura: The matawa (village leader) has good raksi at his house…

Bwari: Altogether, we’ve raised about eight hundred rupees. But my husband’s group raised almost seven thousand rupees! They had their chuki today, and he brough home some of the “boiler” (farm-raised chicken) meat for us all to eat. Why did they raise more? Well, they went dancing and singing all over the village. And each house gave them like fifty rupees or one hundred rupees. Each house only gave us twenty or thirty rupees. Why is that? I don’t know…

Sasu: The foreign nani* doesn’t eat raksi, jaar, or pork. She’s come to celebrate Dashai and Maghi with us twice now, and has refused to eat these things each time. I make plenty for everyone! I don’t understand how she enjoys herself otherwise…

*Nani is an affectionate term used for daughters

Nanda (husband’s younger sister): This onion tried to kill me! 

Pahadi (non-Tharu) Bwari: So my Tharu neighbors came dancing to my house last night. I was actually out at a friend’s house, and when I came back, they were singing to my empty house, how they weren’t going to leave without any money given to them! I crept up behind them and teased them about singing to an empty house. I asked them to sing me another song. So they started singing a song about how my husband earned abroad, and therefore I should give them five hundred fifty rupees! “Hey, bhagawan!” I laughed at them. “My budho (old man) hasn’t sent me anything for Maghi!” I know they were just teasing me though. They danced and sang well; I gave them thirty rupees.

Nanda: I ate too much haluwa* and I threw up.  

*wheat grains cooked with sugar, nuts, coconut and dried fruit

Sasu: My son goes out drinking and singing all night and then sleeps all day. I know its Maghi, but that’s so kutum-kutum.*

* Nepali term for short-changed or messed up

Jetho (oldest son): My friend “Boiler” caught a huge field rat the other day! His dad is home for Maghi—he works in India most of the time—and so we made a fire and he helped us make a spit to roast it!

Visiting Ethnographer: So I noticed that my didi kept calling the neighbor boy “Boiler,” so I asked her how he got that nickname? She said that his mom and grandmother gave him that name because he is the lightest skinned person in his family—so they think he looks like a white, boiler chicken! Well, she call’s her own youngest son “sinki” after the fermented and dried radish stems, because he doesn’t eat vegetables and that’s why he’s so skinny—dried up like sinki, she tells him—and her oldest son she’ll call “kupwa” after the rice-flour gravy she makes instead of daal. I guess that’s the Tharu equivalent to “nakali” (fake/flake)?

Neighboring Bwari: When I got on the bus to Gorahi, there was this foreign girl sitting in front, and I felt like I knew her. So I told her so. When she said she lived at my daju’s (older brother) house in Sukhrwar, I told her that I did know her. I reminded her that we were neighbors. I asked her if she was going to straight to Sukhrwar? She said yes, so I told her that we should go together. I told her that my family had land in Dhuekeri (the valley below Dang), and I had gone with my son to get some things. He was in Lamahi (the bazaar on the main road before Gorahi) selling a bag of rice. When we got to Gorahi, I asked her to watch my bags—I had two bags of potatoes, a couple bags of rice, and two dismantled bedsteads—while I went to see about the bus to Sukhrwar. I told her that there would be rikshaw drivers coming to offer to take the stuff, but she should tell them “no.” Rikshaw drivers, they take so much [money]! Well, I found out that the bus wasn’t coming until three o’clock, and it was only two o’clock now. So me and the foreign bahini (younger sister) sat down to wait. In the meantime, my son came back from Lamahi. He noticed that the bag of potatoes that the foreign bahini was sitting on wasn’t ours. Where did I get it? He asked. We were discussing this when the foreign bahini interrupted. She only understands Pahadi (Nepali), but she tries to understand our language. Anyway, she thought we had lost a bag, but I told her that his bag wasn’t ours. I knew that I had two bags of potatoes with me, and so when I got on the Gorahi-going bus, I had them put two bags of potatoes up top. I didn’t know that my son had taken one of the bags of potatoes to sell; so I ended up with someone else’s bag! Well, no use leaving a sack of potatoes. My son paid a rickshaw driver to take all our things to the Sukhrwar bus stop—he said no use waiting by the road in the open. So while I was sitting there waiting for the bus with the foreign bahini, this woman walks up and looks at the bag of potatoes, and asks where I got it? Turns out it was her bag of potatoes! She had lost it at the tinkuni (“three corners,” a common Nepali term to mean “fork in the road”), where I had gotten on the Gorahi-going-bus! She had been so upset, because it was a bag of really good potatoes. She was so happy to have met with the bag again! She and her husband took it off on their bicycle. The foreign bahini asked if things like that happen a lot, so I told her the story of my grandfather coming back on the bus with an extra bag of fertilizer one day. He still doesn’t know how he ended up with it, but no matter—it was really good fertilizer, so we used it in our khet (field).

Visiting Ethnographer: So one of the women on the bus the other day commented that she had seen me so many times coming and going from Sukhrwar. Did I own land near the village? Was I overseeing its cultivation? Most people just think I’m a teacher, or an NGO worker, and ask me how much my salary is…

Neighbor’s Bwari: I asked our foreign bahini if there are water buffalo in her country? She said there are cows, but no water buffalo! I was so surprised to hear that! I thought she had everything in her country! She said that the hawa-pani (weather) in her country isn’t good for rice, but corn and wheat grow there. I asked her what everyone ate if not rice?! She said lots of different things. (whispers) I hear that they even eat cow there…

[Sasu and Sasura get into a heated argument in Tharu, which ends with Sasu smacking Sasura over the head with her walking stick. Sasu turns and addresses the visiting ethnographter in Nepali:]

Sasura: Hey nani…kasto manche…sadai gali garcha…tara ma kahile pani mandina…*

*Hey daughter…what a person [she is]…[she] always scolds [me]…but I never pay [her] mind…