Mahabir Pun’s mother, Purbi, gave birth to two more children after returning to Nangi from Malaysia. She continued to live in Nangi with the five younger siblings when Kisna and Mahabir moved to Chitwan in 1968. Two years later she followed with the rest of the children. Purbi had six children total, with Mahabir being the oldest. Her youngest son died in a motorcycle accident several years ago but otherwise all her children are living. She now lives with her daughters spending some time at each home. She is strong and sharp minded according to Mahabir: “She has very strong will to live longer because even after the doctors had quit hope for her, she recovered from her health problem several times and doing good. She needs to go to the hospital frequently, but she is fighting very hard for her life and always recovering.”
Mahabir’s wife and daughter, Ommaya and Jharana, seeing us off on one of many remote trips.
She supported the move to Chitwan despite being separated from her husband because Mahabir was able to attend the 9th and 10th grades. These grades were not available in the Nangi area during the 1960s. She knew there were trained teachers capable of advanced teaching; actual textbooks for the students; and more students to stimulate his mind. The Chitwan area was newly settled due to advances in malaria eradication and it was thought to be a more progressive area. People were moving there in droves for a better life and this included demands for more education for their children. She also knew her husband could farm with his relatives and continue to earn a living.
When I asked Mahabir if he thought that had been a hard time for his mother he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nepali women are used to that”. Perhaps she was used to the separation from his father’s army days or perhaps she accepted it simply as what needed to be done to educate her son and his siblings. Or maybe Mahabir was thinking about his own wife and their long separations due to his work and travels. No matter the reasons, Purbi lives as an example of the tenacity of all Nepali women when faced with tough choices and challenging living conditions.
Have you ever had a tough decision to make that caused a separation of your family unit? Share your story with our readers by clicking on the speech bubble in the upper right hand corner and leaving a comment. Return next week to hear more abour Mahabir Pun’s early school experiences.
I am taking a short recess. Below are photographs taken of the children from Charicot, Nepal in 2009. Enjoy the pictures and return in one week for the continued story about the educational entrepreneur, Mahabir Pun.
Mahabir’s mother, Purbi Pun, had lived in Ramche before moving into her husband’s ancestral home. Ramche is a small village that lies across a narrow valley from Nangi. A lovely waterfall at the valley’s cirque high in the hills gives birth to the stream that rushes through this valley during monsoon season. As a young bride Purbi would have crossed the steam to reach Nangi high on the opposite hill.
She did not have the typical existence of a Magar farmer’s wife. Like many a Gurkha army wife she would only see her husband for six months every three years when he returned to Nangi on leave. I would suppose having generations under one roof made it less burdensome than modern single parent homes, but I would also imagine it fueled her independence. As did her journey to Ipoh and three years in the Malaysian culture. She would have been more worldly then her counterpart who never ventured farther than Beni, a six-hour walk from Nangi and the closest large town. She lived in Malaysia for three years and had two more children before returning to Nangi with her husband in 1963. I wonder how they settled into a more conventional marriage after her sojourn into another part of the world?
Purbi, Mahabir Pun’s 88 year old mother.
According to Mahabir: “My mother is very intelligent woman and what I think is that if she had gotten chance to go to school in her young age, she could have been a brilliant and smart student.” I met Purbi last year when she came to the hospital in Chitwan for a check-up. Suffering from emphysema contracted from decades of cooking over open wood fires in her home, she is in tenuous health. She also suffers from an irregular heartbeat but despite her lung and heart problems she always recovers and surprises her doctors. Last year after recovering from a bruising fall, pneumonia and heart failure she was able to live with family members and continue to cook. My impression is at 88 years of age she is strong willed, sharp minded and intelligent. Getting right to the point she had little patience or use for us doctors when we couldn’t alleviate the pain in her arthritic hip…I am thinking Mahabir inherited this candor gene and accounts in part for his successes and disappointments.
Have you ever moved to a location far from family and friends? How did you cope with the change? Share your story with the readers by clicking on the comment bubble in the upper right hand corner of this post. When I was 18 years old I loaded my VW bug with all my earthly possessions and with a former school friend and her demonic Husky dog headed to Colorado…but that’s another book. Join me next week for more.
Once the whole family had moved to Chitwan in 1968 they never returned to live in Nangi. Kisna’s home and fields were taken over by family members. As far as Mahabir knows they were not sold, just redistributed. Mahabir continued his studies in Chitwan and his father farmed until he died. The circumstances surrounding his father’s death are sad but not uncommon in a developing nation like Nepal.
View of Chitwan’s flat fields from the air. A very different farming style from the terraced fields of Mahabir’s childhood. Oct. 2012
In 1988, the year Kisna died, Mahabir was in Kathmandu investigating ways to study abroad. Mahabir’s sister had discovered a lump on Kisna’s back. When Mahabir heard about the lump he encouraged his father to come to Kathmandu. Mahabir took him to the Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. At that time there were no hospitals in the Chitwan area able to handle complex medical problems. Mahabir told me it took the doctors about a month to diagnose the lump as cancerous. In Mahabir’s own words: “I did not tell that to my father and mother except to my sister. After that my father went to Chitwan and died within six month.”
His father would have been about 58 years old, certainly no older than 60 when he succumbed to cancer. I don’t know why he kept it a secret except to spare them anguish for a situation they could not change. Back in the 1980s treatment for the probable diagnosis of malignant melanoma, a skin cancer, was not available for someone as poor as his father. Even now, with advances in cancer care in Nepal, most people cannot afford even basic treatment for comfort and end of life care.
The only pictures of his father are the ones I published in the past two posts. No one had cameras or the means to buy film for processing when Mahabir was young. I have heard Mahabir speak about his father as if he is still alive, and I believe his father is very much alive in Mahabir’s spirit of entrepreneurship, dedication and foresight. For Kisna to have moved his whole family from ancestral lands took courage and vision….vision to understand education is the basis for a better life because it provides choices…a vision Mahabir carries forward.
Who is your life left a lasting impression? Share your story with your fellow readers by leaving a comment. Just click on the comment bubble in the right hand corner of this post. Join me next week and meet Mahabir’s mother, Purbi Pun, who is still living in Chitwan.
Mahabir’s father, Kisna Pun, retired from the British Army after 15 years of service as a Gurkha and returned to Nangi as a farmer around 1963. Like many Nepali men he had joined the army as a youth, probably in the late 1940s. He had been stationed in Malaysia . He served in the army as a soldier and fought in Malaysia for the British to repress the rebel forces, ensuring a democratic Malaysian government. The photograph in last weeks post is one of many Gurkha cemeteries in Malaysia. Some men brought their families to live with them during their entire careers abroad but Kisna only brought his family to Malaysia for the last three years of his army career. During that time Mahabir’s second and third sisters were born before his father moved them back to Nepal. During the earlier years of his father’s army service Mahabir would have seen him once every three years when he was granted leave for six months.
Mahabir Pun, three years old, with his uncle, father, mother and younger sister in about 1959.
When his father returned to Nangi he resumed his occupation as a farmer and Mahabir, as the eldest son, worked beside his father when he wasn’t in school. His father insisted Mahabir go to school, so he studied in the small schoolhouse in Nangi and then in the nearby village of Mallaj where he completed the 8th grade. His education would have stopped here if not for the foresight of his father. There were no higher grades for Mahabir to attend so his father took him to live in Chitwan in 1968 where he could attend higher education.
This is what Mahabir remembers about the trip: “I was 13 years old then. I still remember walking to Chitwan from Nangi though Pokhara for six days to get there. After that my father did farming in one of my uncles field and I went to school. I helped him during the holidays.” The whole family moved to Chitwan two years later and his father lived there until he died in 1988.
Mahabir has told me many times, “I would not have been what I am now without my father. That is the impact he had.” Is there someone in your life who changed the trajectory of your future? Share your experience with your fellow readers by leaving a comment. Just click on the little speech bubble on the upper right hand corner of this post. My saving grace came in the form of my in-laws, Bill and Betty. They taught me what it means to be a family and I believe I would not be where I am now if it hadn’t been for their guidance and expectations. Join me next week for more about Mahabir and his father.