But the Heart Is Where the Home Is

I’m in my early teenage years, traveling back home with my father and mother after a short vacation. We always fly through the Tribhuvan International Airport, and our stopover usually being the Qatar Airport. The Tribhuvan International Airport, the only international airport in Nepal, is small as a domestic airport here in the US, maybe just a small fraction of the large Qatar Airport. But that is what marks home when returning back to our little Nepal, so it’s invaluable to the Nepali hearts. We have three or four small baggage carousels whose entrance often gets blocked by some large or misaligned baggage. So every few minutes, you could spot a human pop out of the leather striped curtains from where the bags are supposed to come from. The person clears the obstacle. It works for now. Nepal ta chaldai garcha! Nepal will keep going on, any how.

राजधानीमा जीउन लास्टाँ गाह्रो भो
काइदा कानुन सम्विधान अड्कियो
नियम छैन जथाभावी गर्या छन् 
कल्ले के भन्ने?
लौन के गर्ने?

It’s just been too rough to live in our nation
Laws and Regulations are just limited to our constitution
There are no rules here, just nonsensical actions
But what can anyone say?
Oh well, what can anyone do?

Launa K Garney, Neetesh Jung Kunwar

Every day, every person is trying to dismiss an obstacle posed by corruption, inefficiency, and underdevelopment. But these very scenes are what agitates the Nepali citizens. Only some have the patience to meticulously fight the wrongs, the privilege to easily ignore the deficiencies, and the perseverance to merrily embrace the faults. Many citizens cannot afford to feed their family, provide proper education to their child, or accomplish their Nepali dreams in their lives. 

मन थिएन, यहाँ आउनलाई
मरिमेटी, धन कमाउनलाई
के गर्नु देशभरी,
बेरोजगारीथाम्न सकिएन,
ऋणको भारी

didn’t want to come here,
earn wealth through sweat and tears
what can be done,
there’s unemployment nationwide,
it’s hard to keep up,
there are loans to abide

Hamro Nepal ma, Neetesh Jung Kunwar

Hence, a lot seem to choose the easier way by escaping Nepal. Somehow that seems to have become the Nepali dream/necessity of our citizens. But the stories behind finding wealth and success in the foreign lands scream with heart-wrenching loss and diaspora.

असारै महिनामा,
पानी पर्यो रुझाउने।
एक्लो यो मेरो मन, कसरी बुझाउने।
भन्थिन है मैच्यांगले, रुदै धरर।
नौ डाँडा पारी छ, कम्पनी शहर।बिछोडको बेलैमा।
During monsoon,
when the rain pours heavily
I wonder how I should console my lonely heart.
Crying, my lover used to say,
“The city is too far, far across the mountains.”
It was time to bid our goodbyes.

Asarai Mahina Ma

At the Tribhuvan Airport, our suitcases arrived one by one from the carousel. It was densely crowded. It’s easy to miss your suitcase or bump into someone else’s. Like a celebrity is spotted, everyone’s going up on tip-toes and trying to peek through the narrow gaps of people’s shoulders. Things tagged with your name, that you identify as yours, is precious to lose – isn’t it? “

जसो गर,
जे भन,
जता सुकै लैजाउ मलाई 
यो मन त मेरो
नेपाली हो 

Do what you like,
Say what you want
Take me wherever you can,
This heart of mine,
belongs to Nepal.

Nepali Ho, 1974 AD

Moreover, your belongings, the carefully wrapped television, the new clothes, the jewels, etc are immensely precious, I think, when it is bought by hard-earned money. Along our locked suitcases came many cardboard boxes of materials bought by years of working hours and savings. These boxes tied with tight rope and wrapped with layers of plastic taped together with more tape had come a long way. I wondered how much did the airport crew bother to handle these boxes labeled ‘Fragile’ as carefully as they could during their fast-paced work. I wondered how the families of these ‘visitors’ will greet them and handle the gifts when seeing them after such a long separation, and knowing that this short reunion will be followed by another long separation. 

भेटघाट सपनी जस्तो
यो मन के गरी बुझाउनीहो
यो मन के गरी बुझाउनी

मै मरि जाउँला जीवन छोटो छ
मै मरि जाउँला जीवन छोटो छ
हो लेखेको सम्झना
चेथेर नफाल
सिरानमा फोटो छ
सिरानमा फोटो छ

Our meetings are like a dream
How do I console this heart
Tell me, how do I console this heart

I might just die. Life is short.
I might just die. Life is short.
Don’t tear apart the written memories
Your photo is under my pillow.
I have kept your photo under the pillow.

Siranma Photo Cha, Nepathya

I looked around the mass of foreigners employees of Nepal coming home. My dad told me, “This is the real hard-working people that are keeping our Nation alive.”  Later in a Social studies class in school, I would learn the term ‘Remittance’, an important GDP source of Nepal. I didn’t know how grim it looked; I really had no idea how the hopeful, happy and humble faces of the foreign employees could turn the eyes of the Nepali citizens sour in just seconds. 

घरको माया लागेर पोपरदेशीएको हजुर घरको माया लागेर पोपरदेशीएको हजुर परदेशी नभनपरदेशी नभनBecause I love my family so much,
I went away.
The love for my home,
Is the reason I left.
So, don’t call me a foreigner,
Don’t call me an outsider.

Pardesi Navana

Songs written to describe this scene, videos made to bring life to the dark days of these people, and poems spoken to honor these souls who are killing their youth to serve our country are pieces of work that the Nepali hearts can immediately relate to. This is a collection of translated pieces of those works that the people of my country have been crying in rivers of tears as fast-flowing as the Karnali and Koshi. It has always been hard for us to see dreamers, landing in heaven, on their way back home.

छैन टोपि सिरैमा
भोकै मर्लान धेरैमा
रातलाई माया उज्यालो छाया
मुटु तिनको ढुङ्गा 
डर छ तिमीलाई भोकको
सुनको जुत्ता जो लगाउँछ
रगतको बुट्टा बनाउँछ 
There’s no hat on his head, 
A lot die of hunger
The darkness loves the bright ones
Their hearts are made of stones, 
But you fear the hunger
Those who wear gold shoes,
Leave marks of blood.

Sunko Jutta, NIGHT

Foreign employment, by choice or by need, is a great opportunity for the Nepalis to earn resources that can help them run their families. When I landed in the Qatar Airport, I was shocked to find so many employees, women and men, in the security section, in the restrooms, in every floor of the airport, and outside every constructing building or constructed hotels of the airport! The Qatar airport, a popular stopover for flights, has many foreign employers working day and night to earn money and send some back to their homes.

“What even to do, going back to Nepal, right?”, said one Nepali woman I met in the restroom. She shared, “I might go back some years later. What can I do, the prices are so expensive!”, as she everyday, watched so many travels back and forth from work to home. 

विदेशी घरको एक मानो मागेरबस्दिन नेपाल हात खुट्टा बाँधेर 
I’ll ask for one gram from the foreign land.
But I won’t stay in Nepal with my hand and foot tied


But that’s so far been one good story here, right? Or say, one side of the story. Statistics, from the short movie Bola Maya, shared below, mentions that in the year 2074/75 B.S (2018 AD), 15 women and 593 men, died in the midst of shedding sweat and tears in their foreign occupation. Yes, a total of 608 coffins arrived home. Dead daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, wives, and husbands. Although, the data is unable to account for the number of tears shed, letters written, phone calls made, and the hopes kept by the person and their family for a reunion much before their untimely death. 

धन ल्याउछु भन्दै
गयका थियाै उडेर आकाशमा
कस्ताे भइ गयाै
कस्ताे भइ आयाै 
काठैकाे बाकसमा
सङ्गै जाम स्वर्ग भनेकाे भय 
मै जाने थिइन र
जबाफ देउ प्यारा
एक बचन बाेल् 
बाेल्दैनै किन र?
बाेल् माया…
एक वचन बाेल् 
तिम्रै बाेलि छ मलाई अनमोल
तिम्रै बाेलि छ मलाइ अनमोल
पेटकाेलाई शसार देखायर आउछु 
पर्खे है गेटमा 
saying you’ll bring wealth,
you flew up the sky
Oh how you had gone,
and look at how you’ve come 
in this wooden box
If only you had said
you wanted us to go to heaven,
wouldn’t have I come along?
say something dear,
just say one word, 
oh why don’t you speak
Speak my lover,
just say one word, 
your words are the most precious to me.
Your words are the most precious to me.
But I carry your baby inside, 
Let me show it the world and come to you, 
Just wait for me at heaven’s door.

Bola Maya

I remember, the very first poem I read regarding this diaspora of leaving home for foreign opportunities, was by Laxmi Prasad Devkota, the great poet of Nepal. ‘Muna Madan’ is one of those poems that wrecks your heart every time you come across it. It’s a tragic love story about a young man leaving his newlywed wife ‘Muna’ and old mother in the hopes of bringing some money for the family. Here, the story is set as a villager crossing the close border of China and Nepal. This theme of foreign migration has always been engraved in our history. If it is about crossing seas today, it was about crossing the mountains before. The poem portrays the day the young man finally returns home from his long and rough journey, he finds his mother on her deathbed, his wife already dead. This theme of leaving home and returning in a coffin or finding your loved one’s death is carried in most Nepali songs based on foreign employment. It is a grim reality; and all of them in the end, resonate the very words of Muna:

मुनाको बोली, लाग्दछ गोली!
सम्झन्छ मनले,
क्या मिठो संग सम्झाइ भन्थिन,
“के गर्नु धनले?”
गालामा लाग्यो,
मुटुमा घुम्यो,
अमृत वचन,
“साग र सिस्नु खाएको वेश आनन्दी मनले!”
बनाइहाल्यो दैवको धनले!
The words of Muna,
hit me like a bullet! 
My hearts remembers
How sweetly she used to remind me,
“what to do with wealth?
It’s on my cheeks, it’s in my heart, 
those nectar-like words she said”,
We’ll have spinach and nettle with our content souls.”
Sigh, the devil’s wealth trapped me in the end!

– MunaMadan

A few years later, I am back at the airport. I’m in my late teenage years. This time, I am at the airport, not after a family vacation. This time, it is to find me, leaving my country for my education. There was a looming thought, a looming feeling amongst my parents, relatives, and friends. As if everyone had assumed, that the path I chose was a step I chose to escape Nepal. “Euta Chori lai pathako? Aaudaina aaba. Aba uutai harauncha!”, a relative claimed when I said my goodbyes. That was just a statement that meant, “You are sending away your single child? She isn’t coming back now. She’ll just forget and start living in that foreign land.” And no matter how sincerely I meant that I have plans to live in Nepal, everyone believed it was a lie. I do not see why they would believe me. Brain Drain is a huge problem in Nepal. My Grandma’s favorite song wrote in the Panchayat (the 1960s to 1990s), calls every citizen of Nepal from all its 75 districts to stand up to fight for their rights, and build a rightful Nepal together. The time I live in now (the 2020s) makes this song sound ironic. Today, most students and citizens, stand up, from all different districts, not to change the face of our country together, but to leave Nepal – carve their own career away from Nepal.

हातमा कलम हुनेहरु,
कलम लिएर उठ
बाजा बजाउन जान्नेहरु, बाजा लिएर उठ
गाऊगाऊ बाट उठ,
बस्तिबस्ति बाट उठ
गाऊगाऊ बाट उठ,
बस्तिबस्ति बाट उठ
यो देशको मुहार फेर्नलाई उठ
यो देशको मुहार फेर्नलाई उठ
If you hold a pen, rise holding it
If you play an instrument, rise playing it
Rise up from every village, Rise up  from every town
Rise up from every village, Rise up from every town
Stand up to change the face of this nation
Stand up to change the face of this nation

– GaunGaun Bata Utha

And living as an international student away from our dear home is not easy. When we meet people from your motherland, when they speak our mother tongue, our heart lightens and our Nepali words just don’t stop pouring. We connect instantly, and we somehow build our homes in these foreign lands.

Kehi paal ma
Dherai ramaye
Taha nai vayena
kk gumaye
Yo aanjan desh ma
Kehi garney sochdai
Parai ko vid makohi
aafno khojdai

For a while,
I enjoyed a lot
Didn’t really know
What I had lost.
In this unknown land
I’m wondering what I can do,
In this crowd of strangers,
I’m searching for people of my own.

– Naya Sapana

As I write this, I’m reliving memories I built with my Nepali friends, here in this foreign land. The feeling of home lives very close to our hearts. Yes, we are here, chasing our dreams, but we cannot afford to forget our home and our responsibilities towards it. To those who thought we were gone forever away from our own nation, I think I must remind that even in this foreign land we still sing the following song with our hearts wide open, and our chest all strong, after all, wherever we go, we the children of the Gorkhalis! 

रातो र चन्द्र सुर्य 
जङ्गी निशान हाम्रो
जिउंदो रगत सरी 
यो वल्दो यो शान हाम्रो
रातो र चन्द्र सुर्य
Crimson-Red and Moon-Sun
Bravery is our Identity
Like the blood of the alive
Our pride burns 
Crimson-Red and Moon-Sun

– Rato ra Chandra Surya

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