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.
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.