Mahabir Pun also lives in Kathmandu where he conducts most of his business at his restaurant called “Mahabir’s Centre for Nepal Connection“. The restaurant decor is modern and the chef serves excellent food. The location, in the center of Nepal’s capitol, is located on the second floor of a pedestrian mall which offers a quiet atmosphere for business. Here he meets with local and foreign donors, politicians, friends and volunteers to discuss ideas, fund projects and implement goals. He also travels abroad to lecture several times a year. This gives him little time at home in Pokhara when combined with travel in Nepal to supervise new wireless sites or help communities build their own.
Jharana (center) with her cousins in Pokhara. 2009
Ommaya travels to Kaphaldanda to visit her family once a year and Chitwan a few times to bring the children to see Mahabir’s mother who is in her late 80s. Otherwise she can be found at home in Pokhara. When I asked her about his long absences she was perplexed by the question. She had no answer to a question which posed no problem in her marriage. She was content. When I asked Mahabir about it, he smiled and said, “Nepali women are used to it.” Especially Magar women, because over the decades they watched their husbands leave to work in the British and India military or for the Hong Kong police. Over the last few decades many rural Nepali men have sought employment as foreign migrant workers leaving the women to manage the family, home and farms. Separation is not only a means to a job, it is viewed as a way to survive and improve a family’s finances or education.
Mahabir Pun bridges the gap using the very technology that keeps them apart. He, like many absent fathers, calls his children almost daily and they Skype a few times a week. He will stop in Pokhara, even for an afternoon, to visit when traveling to the western regions of Nepal. During one visit at his home I watched him with Juna and Jharana, his daughters. It was a glimpse into a rarely seen part of his character. He is tender and proud. He told me, “They love me so much and I love them so much too.” This acknowledgement shared so freely stunned me. If you have never met the man…he says little and what he does say is never personal. He is a man who speaks with his actions.
Join me next week as I conclude this part of Mahabir Pun’s life and move onto his present projects.
I met Ommaya and Juna in 2002 the first time I went to Pokhara and stayed with Mahabir Pun and his family. Juna was four years old and spoke English well. She was curious but also shy and even at that young age she studied long hours after school. She takes after her mother, especially in temperament. Ommaya was shy and did not speak English well. My Nepali was far worse then her English so communication was laborious. But during that visit and future visits I was able to witness the family’s interaction. They were surprisingly traditional. I guess I expected Mahabir’s wife to be non-traditional. I thought she would be someone who had an advanced education and worked outside the home. But he is a very traditional Nepali man with respect to family life.
Mahabir and Ommaya Pun with their daughters, Jharana and Juna in 2005.
Ommaya is a homemaker and mother. The birth of their second daughter occurred February 19, 2005. Jharana Pun is the spitting image of her father in looks and temperament. She is fluent in English and her native language. She is also a thinker. She and I spent several days together in the fall of 2012. Looking over my shoulder she would correct my English grammar and spelling as I typed emails and articles. Even worse, she mercilessly corrected my Nepali…and she made no secret of her dissatisfaction with my language skills.
Both daughters are educated in private schools in Pokhara. They are better educated and more worldly then their Nangi counterparts. I asked Mahabir why he doesn’t live in Nangi with his family because he advocates for rural living and education. His explanation is best shared in his own words. “The only reason I put them in Pokhara is because I don’t have my own house anywhere where they can stay. As you know I stayed with my cousin in Nangi for many years. My mother is staying with my sisters and brother’s wife in Chitwan. In this way I thought that Pokhara is the better place for my family to stay so that I can get to meet them more frequently. I could not have met them so frequently if I had put them in Nangi or Chitwan.”
Join me next week and read how Ommaya manages the long separations from Mahabir due to his travels and how this traditional, yet modern family function as a unit despite the distance.
Mahabir Pun was not a conventional Magar husband or father. He did not farm as his family had farmed. His wife did not go to live with him in his parents home in Chitwan. He also did not continue teaching in the Nangi school. By the time he married Ommaya, in June 1998, he was moving away from the tradition teacher role as he developed broader plans for a wireless system and a local college. If you will recall, in 1994 he had sent four teachers from Nangi for their Bachelors Degrees, which were two year certificates. These four took over the higher level classes that Mahabir had been teaching in Nangi.
Mahabir traveled all over the Nepal region and abroad. He was working on multiple projects that kept him away from home. But where exactly was his home? He didn’t own a home and he didn’t want to go back and live in the Chitwan area. It was too far from his work and travel to and from Chitwan is difficult. Instead he joined Ommaya who was living with her uncle’s family in Pokhara. Ommaya had completed her ninth grade studies in Nangi. At that time this was considered a high school level. She wanted to study Home Science and Culture in college. She had been enrolled at the Kanya (Girl’s) Campus in Pokhara when they married. It was a three year college course.
Eight year old Juna Pun with Dr. Gary. Pokhara 2007.
The families shared a multi-level home with various cousins, aunts, students and renters. I have been a welcomed guest in their home many times. It’s a haven from the continuous assault of honking horns and yelling on the street. The house sits on a quiet side street in the old north section of Pokhara a few blocks walk from the college and a shopping district. Sitting on the rooftop you can look at Mount Machhapuchchhre. There is a small garden in the back and the neighbors are also relatives. It’s the kind of place where you lean over your second story balcony rail and chat with your cousin’s wife or sing a song to her baby.
Ommaya Pun completed two of the three year degree but never went back to finish after the birth of her first child. Juna Pun was born September 20, 1998 in Pokhara. Despite Mahabir’s goal and belief that students should stay and have access to education in their home villages he settled his family in Pokhara.
If you like what you are reading please share the link to my blog and join me next week for more about Mahabir and Ommaya Pun’s children and his reasons for living in Pokhara.
The legal proceedings required Mahabir Pun and Ommaya to register the marriage at the local government office in Chitwan where they were issued a marriage certificate. One last step required Ommaya to file citizenship papers as Mahabir’s wife in the Office of Chief District Officer of Chitwan. This completed the legalities but not the social complexity.
Nangi in the foreground; Ramche in the background; and to the left, out of sight, would be Kaphaldanda.
There was no celebration of the marriage in a traditional post wedding party. In Mahair’s own words…“I am strictly against any kind of party or ceremony. Neither I give party to anybody nor I attend party or ceremony thrown by anybody.” I had attended a wedding reception 10 years ago in Nangi. Even in the small village it was a huge occasion. Multiple animals were slaughtered, hundreds of people came to eat and dance and it was a generally merry occasion…not unlike the atmosphere at our own western wedding receptions. But he would not have such friviolties. Mahabir described their celebration as a “gathering” of a few close relatives at his brother’s home in Chitwan. They simply ate dal bhat, which is the daily diet of most Nepalese.
Months later, to complete the social process, Mahabir and Ommaya went to visit her family in Kaphaldanda and brought gifts. This is called Dhog Garne and Mahabir described the process simply and elegantly…”in Nepali meaning bowing to the families and close relatives of the girl’s. According to the tradition, we went to meet Ommaya’s parents and relatives with some of my close relatives from Nangi. We took a goat as present and some Raksi. All the relatives gathered at Ommaya’s house and we bowed our heads to the people, whom we were supposed to respect. This simple ceremony gives formal and final approval of the marriage.”
According to Ommaya this was a love match, but Mahabir Pun had been under social and family pressures from his mother to marry even years before Ommaya was born. It is no coincidence the families knew each other, lived in the same district and were from the same ethnic group called Magars. It was a match that pleased all parties involved.
If you lived in a culture where your parents chose your mate, who do you think they would have chosen? Join me next week to read about Mahabir’s life as a husband and father.
Here the story gets fuzzy because no matter how many ways I asked either Ommaya or Mahabir to describe their courtship it was difficult to get facts…Ommaya would look puzzled or shy and Mahabir changed the subject. Trying to match ages with dates and transpose those dates with the English gregorian calendar and the Nepali Bikram sambat calendar is difficult because they do not match day for day or month for month. It is also difficult because the dates do not matter to either party. The marriage occasion occurred, but it is not further celebrated or remembered. Further complicating the matter is my limited understanding of the culture, even though I worked with Mahabir for 12 years, read and study Nepali customs…fact remains it is not my own culture and my vision is shortsighted by my own prejudices.
Ommaya shops for vegetables outside her home in Pokhara. 2009
Ommaya was from Kaphaldanda, which is a small village a half day walk from Nangi. You can see it from Nangi, halfway down the far hillside, just beyond Ramche village. Her parents are farmers who raise potatoes, millet, corn and vegetables on the traditional terraced fields. They still live in her home village and she visits them about once a year. She has two older brothers, Nandabahadur, who teaches in Kaphaldanda, and Himbahadur, who is a guard in the Congo.
The families knew each other because Mahabir’s mother, Purbi, came from the nearby village of Ramche. Ommaya’s father is the son of Mahabir’s mother’s father’s cousin sister…yeah…try to figure that one out. Simple to say they were very distantly related. The marriage followed the usual procedures for social intercourse with a few adjustments. According to tradition the family of the man must meet the woman’s parents to formally ask for permission to marry. Mahabir’s father had died and his mother lived far away in Chitwan, unable to travel due to her health. Mahabir’s relatives in Nangi performed the necessary arrangements for him. Shortly after Mahabir took Ommaya to Chitwan where his mother gave her blessing in front of his family.
Join me next week for more about the social intricacies of Nepali marriage.