Mahabir Pun’s family, like many families that live apart, is feeling the negative impact. Both daughters grew up with his long absences but it has not made it any more digestible. Speaking to Juna in 2012 she told me she “feels lonely” without her father. Like her counterparts around the world she is a busy teenager. She attends school six days a week from sun up to early evening. She studies native dancing and socializes with her friends. But despite living with relatives she prefers the days her father is home. Jharana is more resilient. She is never far from his side when he is home, but she seems to accept his departures in stride. Watching them part one day went like this: Ommaya nodded and watched from the doorway; Juna stayed back in the house; and Jharana clung to his hand until he got in the car, then she ran to be by her mother’s side in the entryway and watched the car pull away. I think she was more disappointed in not going with him then his departure.
Jharana (center) and Juna (right) at the kitchen table in Pokhara. 2007
Juna, the oldest, is reserved so it is hard to gauge her feelings. She doesn’t engage in conversation like her younger sister. Jharana is expressive in her sadness over the parting but she quickly found activities to divert her attention…such as supervising me. Ommaya, is a busy mother and homemaker. Along with raising her daughters, managing her home and tending her garden, she was studying clothing construction. She is surrounded by her extended family and she accepts the departures with grace. It is her way to support her husbands humanitarian and entrepeneurial projects. Ommaya understands his goals go beyond educating the Nepali population and require his constant attendance.
Mahabir Pun does not accept payment for his speaking engagements but he does receive a monthly stipend from Himanchal Education Foundation. By western standards it is very small. By Nepali income standards it is a comfortable sum. He depends on this money and living in his uncle’s home to support his family. This allows his to send his daughters to private schools but you will not find expensive toys or electronics in his home. He does not care about material possessions except to keep his family comfortably clothed and fed. His wife and daughters are proud of Mahabir and they understand he is not only a father to his own children…he is a father to all of Nepal’s children.
During my travels and research for the book I spoke to many people who worked with Mahabir. Join me next week as I begin chapter ten and start to expand on the man and his work ethic.
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.