You have to be a local or an expert haggler to survive in Varanasi. If not, a rickshaw-wallah will sell you right there, on the street as you stand, to another rickshaw-wallah! Almost all tourists have to go through sometime torturous and unending offers of all kinds from touts, wannabe guides and rickshaw/autowallahs. Those offers include shaking hands with them, to let them massage you right on the busy ghats, to tip them for nothing significant and to go with them around the city. The moment they realize you are not from the city, they are after you.
Unlike other Indian cities, Varanasi offers amazing excitements and challenges to tourists. First visit: 24 December 2004. Second visit: 6 January 2010
My visit to Varanasi five years ago was first in many aspects. That was my first India trip, my first visit to any city outside Nepal. That was my first encounter with the Indian crowd, the intense and chaotic city life that can’t be seen in Nepal. Most of the things appeared to be larger and louder. The river Ganges seemed to be slightly bigger than the Indian Ocean of my imagination. I hadn’t seen the sea. Continue reading
Some people complain while others struggle to make their lives a success.
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
In the hilly north-eastern Indian town of Shillong, music is your identity. More so in the case of a cabbie. What the audio cassette player in your taxi blares says who you are. When I heard Sanjeev Singh asking, “Why did you put chokho mutu tikho chulesima from inside a cab that was parked at an intersection of Police Bazaar recently, I instantly recognised the man behind the wheel.
“Wassup!” I greeted the man in Nepali without being too excited because the Nepali sound wasn’t unexpected in Shillong. This is part of a region that is home to hundreds of thousands of Nepali Indians. The cable network here distributes TV channels from Kathmandu. Some of the Nepalis in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal are fighting for a separate Gorkhaland state within the Indian union while Shillonge like this taxi driver, resident of Meghalaya, are quietly struggling for their own right to live a respectful life without humiliation. Their own sorry state of being a marginalised minority was in a way similar to the tragic song’s theme.
“We live a torturous life here, daju,” said the driver.
Meghalaya is a Khasi majority state where Khasis claim to be “the sons of the soil” and exploit resources without sharing. Nepalis are a minority and, therefore, sidelined and deprived of opportunities, he complained. Perils of federalism, I thought. But I sensed he was slightly exaggerating the situation because there’s no atrocity being committed against the Nepali community in the region these days as it was during the 1980s. At that time, thousands of Nepalis were chased away from Meghalaya and neighboring states like Manipur and Assam. It was noted that India had breached the now controversial 1950 treaty of peace and friendship with Nepal by failing to stop and being a mute spectator to the exodus of Nepalis. The driver insisted that Nepalis still had no equal rights, and that they were not represented well in government services.
“Many young people like me have become drivers,” he said. Some of them drove shared taxis, the primary medium of transportation in Shillong, like him while others went out to cities like Kolkata for better options. Ultimately, they return empty-handed as they fail to struggle in those cities that have a different atmosphere and cultural environment. “We are hill people,” he said. “We can’t live in hot places.”
I was amazed, albeit understandably, to see him at so much ease while talking with me in Nepali. It was his language as much as it was mine. The language brought us so close that, at one point in a similar situation the previous evening, I felt my two Indian co-travelers, students of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, found themselves excluded when I was talking with another Nepali youth on the streets of Shillong. That young man also complained about a difficult life in a state where Nepalis are a minority lot.
Some people complain while others struggle to make their lives a success. They are not discouraged by countless humiliations and obstacles. They keep on working towards achieving their goals despite facing serious setbacks. They keep journeying despite being cheated sometime by their own comrades and on other occasions by fate. This is the story of Hom Bahadur Rana, an autowallah of Delhi.
Twenty years ago when Rana fled his home in Bandipur, Tanahun, he was 15. Unable to bear the torture of her drunkard husband, Rana’s mother had killed herself a few years ago by hanging herself from a tree not very far from home. He couldn’t continue studying, and thought life wasn’t going anywhere. He arrived in Delhi along with a neighborhood dai. Like millions of other migrant workers in India, he went for whatever work came to him. Money didn’t come. He was already dreaming about Bombay. He found a friend in a Nepali guy he met in a farmhouse in Chandigarh. They decided to catch a train to the seashore.
“We had this dream to make it to Bombai,” (that’s how he pronounces it) recalled Rana. “We wanted to see the sea.” They arrived at Old Delhi railway station only to be tactfully looted by a Nepali-speaker who pretended to be going to Bombay. Rs. 1200, half of the total money they had, was gone in a jiffy. Then they were cheated another Rs. 100 by the railway ticketing agent who sold them “seats” in the general compartment. The journey itself was unforgettable. “We didn’t get space to sit inside the dibba,” Rana said. “We went near the lavatory and sat on the joint that connects the train compartments. In the morning, we saw that our clothes had all been covered with feces.”
In Bombay, they were clueless about the destination. They walked up to the sea and wandered around the city until a taxi suddenly halted in front of them. Two guys got out and started beating them. “You Nepalis,” they said as they threw Rana and his friend inside the cab. “Why do you come here? Take out money.” Another Rs. 300 was gone. The only remaining Rs. 200 was hidden inside their collars. “We knew Bombai was a city of looters,” Rana said. “We had hidden some money in our collars. We were forced to take off even our kattu, but they couldn’t find that money.”
Terrified, they went back to the railway station planning to go back to Delhi without a ticket. If caught, they thought, they could at least get free food. There they met another Nepali who, like the one in Delhi, offered help. This one turned out to be genuine, and they found a job. They thought it was a miracle. After a few years of struggle and stints as security guard and painter, Rana was making money. But he lost all his earnings, Rs. 12,000 in total, in an incident that involved one of his friends eloping with his co-worker and the girl’s relatives filing a complaint to the police. He had to leave the job and the city.
But he wasn’t defeated. Coming back to Delhi, he decided to start all over again. He drove an auto, the three-wheeler that is, in a way, the backbone of Delhi transportation. After a few years of working up to 18 hours a day, he bought a small piece of land in Rohini, west Delhi. There he set up a shack, and for the first time in about 10 years, returned home to marry. Three years ago, he finally bought his own auto on installment. Ownership of an auto has given him a sense of liberation. By the end of next year, he would have made all his payments. Then the profits will come. A week ago, when I was in his three-room home, he served me with a cup of milk tea and some cookies.
“A month ago during Dashain, I organised a small gathering here,” he said, beaming. “I invited many Nepalis living in Delhi and served them masu bhat. I had bought a goat costing Rs. 7,000.”
I have met many Nepalis in India as part of my work, but Rana’s story was by far the most inspiring. He was happy except that his wife badly wants a child, and they haven’t been able to produce one. The day I visited his home, Rana had invited a Nepali jhakri (witch doctor) for jharphuk to satisfy his wife.
I took a train to Guwahati from New Jalpaiguri. I had come there from Sikkim in a bus in a near-five hour journey. The bus ride wan’t very enjoyable as the road was curvy and I feel dizzying in such trip. Glad that I didn’t throw out. Waited for a couple of hours in the NJP train station eating and charging iPhone. A Nepali couple, just married I assumed, came to my table. Initially I thought that was just another Indian couple heading for honeymoon or something. I had to wait until they talked. I just listened to their conversation for a few minutes. There was no alternative in fact as my phone was plugged in and was being charged. And the food was there at the table. Continue reading
My Sikkim impression as published in Koseli: [PDF version]
The word Sikkim evokes a very different sort of image and emotion in us, Nepalis, that is anything but exotic and touristy. Sikkimization is a term often used in Nepali politics. For those of us who are in our 20s or early 30s, it is hard to believe that Sikkim was an independent nation state till 1975. India attacked and annexed Sikkim in a broad day light April that year. [Here is the story about that] The same India that suffered under the British Raj (who reportedly puts signs such as ‘dogs and Indians not allowed’) and fought so heroically to gain independence in 1947. That’s the story of Sikkim that lost its independence to the sinister conspiracy of Indian intelligence agencies and their political leadership. Here are photos from my tour there that portray the present day Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.
“I don’t know what sins we committed in our previous life that we have to serve in a foreign army. It feels like we are going to all these dhams all over India to wash away our sins.”
Bhagiram Gharti didn’t want to be photographed
By Dinesh Wagle
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post Op-Ed
It was his solitary lunch. Perhaps his time to think and reflect upon the life he had lived so far. He was slowly chewing rice from a small plate in front of him. Under a concrete shade in the middle of the wide courtyard at Chandigarh’s main marketplace, he was seated cross-legged on a concrete bench fully focused on the meal. He was hungry. I don’t know what exactly, but there was something familiar about him that prompted me to ask (in Hindi), “Where are you from?”
In fact, I almost did that in Nepali. The reply, delivered in low but firm voice, confirmed my doubt. “Nepaaal,” he said, looking directly at my eyes. Continue reading
Tweets (in reverse order):
6. @snkr It’s ramailo bt camel daudida chai afulai bado pida n kasta hune! Same 4 sand-sleeping. But now, thinking after doing it, feels good! [Riding camel’s an enjoyable experince but when they run you feel the pain in your butt]
5. Leaving Jaisalmer in train (which’ll move in few mins-@11:10) ll reach Jodhpur @ 5am 2 catch bus 2 Udaipur. Jaisalmer fort’s like old city
Videos from the desert
Riding Camel, Video
Here are some of the tweets from the journey to Jodhpur from Chandigarh.
1. After making a round of Chandigarh, heading 2 railway station 2 catch train 2 Jodhpur, Rajasthan. A Chinese n a Nepali exploring India
3. This berth’s pain in my neck, v low, can’t sit. Thankfully long enough 2 stretch legs but 1 in Bombay-Gorakhpur train in Oct was torturous
4. Tryin 2 sleep, missing pillow. 2 days ago, in Jammu-Amritsar train, my shoulder had kindly become pillow 4 a man!http://twitpic.com/gc1ui
5. The rail journey to Rajasthan. Smile from the berth. Co-travelers including Xu Jie are sleeping 🙂 http://twitpic.com/gc0vh
6. As I switched on phone, got dis SMS: Airtel Welcomes you to Rajasthan. We wish you a pleasant stay here…[it’s mornin, train’s still movin]
7. Feeling unbelievably sleepy. Train moving smwhere in Rajasthan. Desert like scene frm windows. Dust particles flowing in, can c em on phone
8. Arrived @ Bikaner Jn. leaving Lalgarh station behind. It’s not the same Maoist hotbed Lalgarh of West Bengal. I am in Rajastan.
9. Dis lil Bhanjo was makin his Mama (maternal uncle) go crazy by all his lil fundas. Almst jumped off (halted) train http://twitpic.com/gej5v
10. This train makes it’s passengers hungry! No chaiwallah, food vendors in sight since morning. Amazed. N will soon be starved : (
12. @abishadh yea, got pakauda like things in a station n water n some juice. After eatin Slept and Xu had to wake me up @ d Jodhpur station
13. @peterfrancon Dal Bhat’s paramount. God, hail d almighty, can wait. Jst had nice dinner @ Shivam paying gst house near Clock Tower, Jodhpur
14. The itinerary. Tom: Jodhpur, night: head to Jaisalmer (desert). Next: Udaipur via Jodhpur. From there, back to Delhi on 10th
15. @peterfrancon it was a nice day 2de. Can hear 9 PM dhamakas nw, coming frm Fort. Will reach Jaisalmer tom morn. Hoping 2 c desert 1st time!
In Chandigarh, where we came from Amritsar in a bus, Xu Jie was my guide. He had been there the previous week. He took me to the Rose Garden, Rock Garden, a museum (which was closed by the time we reached) and a beautiful lake (where we couldn’t boat though as we were late by half an hour or so.) But it was fun all day long and I found the city of Chandigarh, ‘first planned city’ of India, beautiful and organized. Before venturing out, we had booked our rail tickets to Jodhpur. In fact, I wasn’t sure about getting tickets and was planning to head back to Delhi in the evening. But Xu managed to get one for me. [Tweet: @snkr LOL @ Chandigarh n in railway reservation center. Lookin 4 train ticket 2 Jodhpur. If I get, will go, if nt bak 2 Delhi 🙂 1:30 AM Sep 3rd from Echofon in reply to snkr (disppalyed time in tweets is incoherent but so what!)]