Blog Archive

Blog Archive – May, 2016

One Happy Man- A Nepal Case Study

May 10, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/10/one-happy-man-a-nepal-case-study/

Only occasionally, in contrast to anecdotes of the fashion conscious Nepali upper class occupied with tech trends, music and new eateries, I meet someone whose personal life is advancing with optimism and pride, also without reference to luxuries their Nepali relatives enjoy in Texas or Sydney.

It was an hour-long ride through Kathmandu’s slowly moving traffic on a sultry and dusty pre-monsoon morning. So I had ample time to talk with Purna Tamang. From the moment I peer into his cab, I’m warmed by his smile. His round golden-hued face is inviting and obliging. Inside, I ease into the comfort of a new car, one of a fleet of over 1,500 vehicles recently imported, many of them this India-Hyundai model (an India-Korea partnership) that further clogs the streets of Nepal’s capital.

The windows can be closed so dust and noise is somewhat less than usual; and the car’s functioning springs makes our ride over the city’s severely potholed roads infinitely more bearable. The car itself leads to a delightful conversation on the progress of Purna’s life. Hyundai’s a good car. How long since you bought? I begin. “Yes, India-made. Six months only. I buy with a bank loan—low interest. (Purchase price is about 640,000. rupees--$6,400.--  but Nepal’s 252% tax on what is considered a luxury takes Purna’s cost to 1,800,000 Nepali rupees (~$18,000.).

We would talk later about his business. Meanwhile, always curious about personal histories, I ask Purna the question that starts any introduction in Nepal—Your hometown?

“Kavre”, he replies. I recognize Kavre only because it’s one of the five districts bordering Kathmandu Valley badly stricken by the earthquake a year ago. Before I can pursue that topical subject, Purna continues; “But my house is here, in Dallu”, the neighborhood where I found him. He continues: “I live here with wife, my children. My daughter’s in class 8, my son, class 3”. In the next hour I learn this man is Purna Tamang, so he’s of the Tamang ethnic group; his wife is Sherpa and he knows Solu Kumbu --it’s in the middle hills NE of Kathmandu—her birthplace. He eagerly volunteers: “love marriage”, then chuckles (love marriages are uncommon; and to volunteer this personal information to a stranger is even more unusual).

Purna’s parents live in Kavre where they have 16 ropani (about 2 acres) of good land, which his brother farms. “My father-mother are 70-75, too old for farm work. My father, he sees everything, looks, orders.” They grow vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes--selling all in Kathmandu’s market. His land is hardly 90 minutes by road from the capital so the urban market is handy and profitable.  There is more: “My brother has a tractor, a small one; 500 ($5.) an hour to service others’ lands in Kavre. A good business.” He repeats approvingly: “Good business: one hour—rupees 500”. Still more: “and buffalo- not cow- buffalo, good fat in buffalo; one buffalo gives rupees 30,000 monthly milk. We sell to government in Kathmandu—to DDC (Dairy Development Corporation)”.

So why don’t you join your brother? Surely such a productive family business is better than taxi. “No. I stay in Kathmandu for children’s education. My daughter is very clever; she is 14 and I wait she finish high school, then go to college, then later I and wife go to Kavre village. “I will buy buffalo.” (Purna is unambiguous about this plan.)

And your young son? “My daughter, she will look after him when she is in college; he is not well, not clever; she will take care. She can do anything- my daughter will be successful. I send them to a good school here--private school: rupees 4000. one month for daughter; one month 1000 for my son.” Every year 60,000.—more-- for my children education.”

I start calculating; if his wife is not an income earner (although I later learn that she’s currently in the village and involved in marketing their farm produce), can a driver support this lifestyle? “I have 3000 daily from this car after petrol, my food, after my bank loan. I have another car, another driver. He pays me 1000 daily; all petrol costs/fixing car, he gives. So I have 4000 daily.” when I opine that it seems not much, he retorts: “It’s good; I am happy. I love Nepal.”  

Purna, now 50, must have been one of the first of what has become a deluge of Nepali laborers to Saudi Arabia. It was long ago; he altered his age so he could qualify and came back here when aged 35, 15 years ago. With some of his earnings, he purchased his vehicles. He tells me with pride: “I speak Arabic; it’s easy” and proffers a few words. “I learn my English in Saudi, not good, not like my daughter; but I can speak. I speak Newari (a language with its own grammar and script which few outside Nepal’s Newar community manage); I speak Tamang.” And Sherpa? I challenge; “Of course, I speak Sherpa. My children’s names are Sherpa too: my daughter is Tashi Dolma Lama; my son Ang Norbu Lama.”

[ One Happy Man- A Nepal Case Study ]


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