Who’s who

The Suri people mentioned most often in “Surikokura” are introduced here – grouping them in alphabetical order by family name. In village Nepal, it used to be – and often still is – considered impolite to call an adult by their official name; thus people are commonly referred to in terms of relationships. For example, a woman might be addressed (even by someone who is not remotely related to her) as “elder sister” or “younger sister”, “mother” or “grandmother” (as appropriate). If a parent, she will be commonly referred to in the third person as “mother of [name of first child]”. The same pattern applies for men.

Who’s Who

The Acharya household (the Bauns or Brahmins)

Then: This was the family with whom I stayed when I was in Surigaon, renting a small room in the building opposite their main house. The family comprised the teenage couple Madhusudan, and Radika Acharya; Madusudan’s two sisters, Gyatri and Urmilla; and his mother (whom I only ever called “mother”). During the time that I lived in Suri, Gyatri married and left her natal home, and Madhusudan and Radika’s first son was born. Madhusudan’s father was a postmaster, and only visited occasionally; he lived outside the village with a second wife. The family ran a very small shop, and otherwise practised agriculture – being reasonably well-to do and growing enough to feed themselves through the year.

Now: The household comprises only one permanent member, Radika (described in chapter 7). Madhusudan has moved to the town of Dolakha, where has a job as a clerk, and lives with a second wife and his mother. Radika’s and his two sons are also based with him.

Hem Bahadur Ghatane

Now: Hem Bahadur comes from a small hamlet on the ridge above Surigaon – Suridanda. His family belongs to a group of Kami (Viswukarma) or blacksmiths specialising in making large cooking vessels. Hem Bahadur escaped this caste occupation by leaving the village early on; his experiences of working in Malaysia are described in chapter 6. He has a wife and two sons.

Jira Gurung

Now: Jira is a young unmarried woman from the Gurung hamlet of Kapti – a nucleated settlement lying beyond Nakpa. Jira travelled to Kuwait to work as a maid when she was just 15 years old, and recounts some of her experiences in chapter 6.

Tirtamaya and Hasta Lal Kami (Viswukarma)

Then: Hasta Lal and Tirtamaya were a young married couple in their twenties, with one young son named Moti. They lived in the Kami hamlet not far from Nakpa in a modest house with very little land. Their main source of income was from Hasta Lal’s work as a blacksmith making agricultural implements. Like his elderly father, who lived with them, Hasta Lal had abstained from leaving the village on seasonal migration.

Now: Hasta Lal’s father died some time ago, but meanwhile the family grew – the couple have four children, the eldest of whom (Moti) lives in Kathmandu. They have improved their house, and bought some land and animals (see chapter 7).

Kaili Kami (Viswukarma)

Then: Kaili was a young woman whose husband was absent most of the year on seasonal migration. They then just had one child, and it was Kaili who took care of the home, their limited land and livestock.

Now: Kaili’s husband is still often absent, although the family has been able to save a considerable amount, which, as outlined in chapter 7, they have invested in land and house-building, They have four children – one of whom (a daughter) is physically handicapped.

Chandi, Karnak Bahadur and Kumar Karki – the Yermu household

Then: This was the family with whom I stayed when I was in the upper Suri settlement of Nakpa. As described in chapter 3, it was a very wealthy and influential Chhetri household. Karnak Bahadhur Karki was the Upa Pradhan Panch, or Deputy Village Head, of Suri. Chandi (then in her early fifties) was the only surviving offspring of a wealthy Khadka family, and had thus inherited the household of Yermu, and all the land that went with it. She and Karnak Bahadur had six children who reached adulthood – two sons, and four daughters. Apart from Chandi and Karnak Bahadur, the family members living at Yermu when I was there were their daughter-in-law, and their grandson, Kumar. Kumar’s father was an occasional visitor, always known as sachib (“secretary”) as he held the official position of secretary in a nearby panchayat. He had married a second time and kept a second household.

Now: The buildings of Yermu were destroyed during the civil conflict. Chandi died in the late 1990s, at the house of one of her daughters in Kathmandu. Karnak Bahadur died after his wife, in 2005. Sachib was murdered in Kathmandu in the mid 1990s, and his widow now lives in Kathmandu. Their son Kumar, now in his early thirties, is married with four children, and lives in Nakpa, close to the site of Yermu.

Tomtar, Rukmini and Jagat Karki

Then: Jagat Karki was a young man in his twenties with two wives, Tomtar and Rukmini, who are sisters. He was a primary school teacher at the local school, but without permanent contract. He and his unmarried brother shared the modest sized family house in the hamlet of Mulabari, which they had split horizontally into two – Jagat occupying the upper half of the building. As the first wife and elder sister, Tomtar ran their household. She and Jagat had a young son; and a daughter born in 1990. Rukmini and Jagat had a young daughter; their second daughter was also born in 1990. Rukmini was my research assistant during the time that I lived in Suri, and patiently explained to me many matters that I would otherwise not have understood.

Now: Jagat and Tomtar occupy the upper part of the family home; their son is studying in Kathmandu and their daughter is married. Jagat no longer teaches; the family focuses on gaining a living from agriculture – also cultivating the land of Jagat’s younger brother who lives outside the village. Rukmini occupies the lower half of the house; her elder daughter is married, whilst the younger one is studying in Kathmandu. The family has sufficient land to get by, although sharing between two households makes matters complicated.

Birmaya and Ashok Sunwar (Surel)

Then: Materially, Birmaya and Ashok were amongst the poorest people whom I knew. A young couple in their early twenties, they lived in a thatched mud hut in Surigaon with their young daughter Pramilla. Birmaya is ethnically Tamang, but had adopted Ashok’s Sunwar caste on marriage. Ashok regularly left the village on seasonal migration, leaving Birmaya to earn what she could as an agricultural labourer. They had very little land – barely enough to provide food for three months of the year.

Now: The couple are in their forties, and are living in a small rented apartment on the outskirts of Bhaktapur, in Kathmandu valley. They now have three daughters, all of whom are attending school. Birmaya runs a small restaurant and works periodically in a garment enterprise, as does Ashok. Although they previously identified themselves as Sunwar, like others of this name, they have changed their identity cards to the more accurate term of Surel – as explained in chapter 10.

Dadika and Bude Sherpa

Then: This Sherpa couple was living in very simple conditions, in the hamlet of Kasika. Bude was in his late thirties; Dadika was younger. They had very little land of their own, and mainly practised share-cropping. The couple had three daughters – the eldest being nine year old Tsering. Dadika died of tuberculosis in 1988.

Now: Bude and his family have left Suri, and are settled in the Terai, where they live far more comfortably. One daughter is living outside Nepal

Langamaya, Padam Bahadur and Sita Tamanag

Then: Langamaya and Padam Bahadur lived in the small nucleated Tamang hamlet of Kukurabang with their young son, Shyam, and baby daughter, Chori. They owned sufficient land for less than 6 months food per year, so Padam Bahadur undertook seasonal migration to India to earn enough to feed them for the rest of the year. Langamaya died whilst her husband was away on seasonal migration.

Now: Langamaya died some years ago, when only in her early thirties. After her death, Padam Bahadur gave up work outside the village, and eventually re-married. His second wife, Sita, is a younger cousin of Langamaya. She has no children of her own. Shyam is married and has a baby daughter; his sister is as yet unmarried and still lives at home. The family focuses on making a living from farming – particularly from rearing livestock – and live considerably more comfortably than twenty years ago.