photo of person from Nepal Sindhulpalchok
Nepal
 
GLOSSARY
Nepal glossary

Soma

(NEPAL 29)

Sex

female

Age

74

Identity

Tamang

Occupation

farmer

Location

Kavre district

Date

2002

 

transcript

Section 1
What is your name?
It is Som Tamang but I am known everywhere as Soma. My birthplace is Thalaaney (Maney). This is my husbandís home.

At what age did you get married?
At 19.

What about your husband?
He is with me.

How old is he?
He must be nearing 80 years.

And you?
I am telling you! Iíve reached 74 years. The husband is nearing 80 years, but he isnít that exactly yet. The husband cannot see properly.

Has he got a cataract?
No, it isnít a cataract. He will be all right if he has an operation. He will be able to recognise letters printed on paper using spectacles. We have brought the spectacles given by the VDC (Village Development Committee). I do not use spectacles.

Your eyes can see all right?
I cannot see all that clearly after nightfall.

There have been a lot of changes in the village between now and when you were young?
Now if you are talking about village matters there will be many things, isnít it? We have older and younger sisters, younger and older sisters-in-laws. We used to work the whole day long. We had these infant sons and daughters. We toiled so hard, fed the cattle. We used to chop firewood all night in the forest. We set out carrying loads of firewood, set off at four in the morning, walked in the darkness carrying firewood to sell at Bhadgaon for 5 mohurs (1 mohur = 50 paisa). We had to sell it at 5 mohurs and yet we had to be alert in case the forest guard caught us while going to chop firewood - he would tell us repeatedly to follow him to Godavari. He used to call us thieves. Then I would brandish my stick to scare him off. I kept shouting for help while brandishing the stick. Altogether we would be 60 to 70 in the forest collecting firewood. I would swing my stick at the forest guard and let 60 to 70 persons escape. That was how it was when we were young. We used to bring firewood once in the morning. Then we had our meals and looked after the cattle. Then we brought one more load of firewood during the day, had our food and took it for sale to Bhadgaon.
Section 2
How many hours did you have to walk to reach Bhadgaon [town]?
To reach Bhadgaon it is about a kos and a half (one kos = 3.2 km).

One and a half kos meant it took 4 to 5 hours?
It did

It took one morning?
It did.

What time did you start at night for Bhadgaon?
We got together at a point (place) at 5.30 in the morning. From there we all went together. Then by the time we reached Bhadgaon it was around 11, 12 oíclock.

You would set out from here carrying loads?
Of course, carrying our loads. Yes, we went straight off with loads of firewood. When you are going around with firewood, the forest guard turns up here and there, isnít it? You have to keep avoiding the forest guard. The forest guard waits for us at the crossroads.

Why does the forest guard wait?
He waits to loot us - to seize our firewood. So around 100 firewood sellers, all those going to sell firewood from the village, have to get together and say, come on, letís go. Some get scared and say they donít want to go. Then we, the elders, start brandishing sticks and shouting for help once we have surrounded the forest guard. Then everyone would run helter skelter, everyone would start running away. Even the forest guard would run away after we brandished our sticks. Then weíd say, come on kids, and set off for Bhadgaon. Weíd sell the firewood for 5 mohurs (one mohur = 50 paisa), no? Sell the firewood at 5 mohurs and return. Then all the sisters from the village would say that they were saved because of me. During those days some of us didnít have rice in our house, [and] no salt, so what else could we do but sell firewood for money? That is why we had to confront the forest guard, brandish our sticks and scare him off to sell firewood at 5 mohurs - for [the sake of] survival.

You used to take firewood to sell every day?
Every day.

At what age did you start doing this?
We have been doing it for 20 years.

Before your marriage or after?
After my marriage. I didnít have to do that at my parentsí home. At my parentsí home there were seven buffaloes at home and at the goth (livestock enclosure in pastures some distance from homestead). There were altogether 14 buffalos. My stepmother, auntie and uncle took care of one side, and my father and mother took care of the other part. That is how it was done. At my parentsí home the only work that needed to be done was to get fodder and cook meals. After arriving here at this home, I suffered a great deal and had to resort to selling firewood. I have suffered.
Section 3
You have suffered at your husbandís place?
We have suffered so much. I had to carry firewood from the day I arrived.

Who else was there at home?
Mother-in-law wasnít there. There was the father-in-law. The father-in-law expired within a year of my arrival and each of us had to shoulder our burdens on our own.

And your husbandís younger brotherís wife and your husbandís elder brotherís wife?
The husbandís younger brotherís wife and husbandís elder brotherís wife were there. The husbandís elder brotherís wife was a widow and the husbandís younger brotherís wife was too. We suffered.

And so all three of you - husbandís younger brotherís wife, husbandís elder brotherís wife - went to sell firewood?
We went to sell firewood, to bring fodder/firewood, to fetch drinking water and to weed the cornfields. All three of us did that together.

Where are they now?
The husbandís younger brotherís wife and husbandís elder brotherís wife have already died. I am the one unable to die.

You protected everyone from the forest guard when you went to sell firewood Ė you werenít afraid?
No, I was not afraid. Not afraid of anyone. Instead, I used to beat the forest guard. I would beat him with the pruning knife and drive him away. That was how it was in my youth. Even now I can scare off one or two. I have strength. I do not talk much. Who would you scare off - if not somebody who talks too much and is abusive? That is why others should not be allowed to abuse you. I will not spare anyone who is abusive and talks much. I donít care whether it is a man or a woman.

Do you still have to interfere in case someone is in trouble?
A man or a woman?

You have no son or daughter-in-law?
No, the daughter-in-law and son are dead. The son died; six daughters were born. Two daughters died, the youngest and second died. There are four now, four daughters and this is the youngest.

And the son?
Oh, he died within a month of being born. The first and second daughters are married and are in the Bhaktapur area. The second one is settled on the Dhulikhel side. See this youngest one [pointing to her daughter], I have to die at her feet. It is good, what else? Life is good. Yes, it is good. We do not know how long we will live, when we will die, it is that way. I suffered after my marriage. Now it is a little better. Now there is no need to go anywhere. Still, the heart is never content. To collect fodder and firewood, that is all, isnít it? Now we cannot manage. In those days, it wasnít just Bhaktapur Ė we had to go to Thimi from here to sell firewood.
Section 4
And who buys the firewood?
The Newar (major ethnic group) buys. The Newar buys from us and sells it again. Yes, those days it was really difficult to get 20 annas (then 16 annas made a rupee). Even if you took a large load it was difficult to get 20 annas.

How much is 20 annas?
Ha ha ha. They used to be called two rates, three rates(?)Ö That rate is lost now.

Is that silver money (coins)?
No, copper.

Then what would you buy with that much money?
Many things. Now with one paisa (100 paisa =1 rupee) [laughs] Ė then you could get a lot with one paisa. You could get kerosene oil, cooking oil, spices, tobacco and cigarettes, all of that.

So much with one paisa?
We used to get so much with one paisa. Now it isnít there. We shouldnít talk about those things, no? To do those things now even 100 rupees is not enough. These days it is like that, now a new era has come. Now if you have the money you can get rice to eat. Spices are available, too. Without money you will get nothing to eat.

You could manage even without money in those days?
In the past, if you had a paisa you got more than you could carry. You got enough to eat. What [is there] to say? We had difficultiesÖmoney had a high value. Now money has little value, it is cheap, isnít it? Now it is expensive to buy grain and other things. Now 100 rupeesí worth of stuff isnít enough to hang on the shoulder poles (a shoulder pole with baskets hanging off both ends).

Before, one paisaís worth was more than one could carry?
Those days you needed porters and helpers to carry shopping worth 10 rupees. Now even 1,000 rupeesí worth of shopping is not enough for porters to carry. Now that sort of time has come.

What sort of clothes did you wear then?
Listen sister, where could you get saris like now in those days? In those days we had this thing called dharkin markin faria (markin Ė coarse, canvas-type cloth; faria Ė clothing like a sari, but worn differently) Ė with printed designs, like this.

What was it like?
The clothÖ the cloth was thick (coarse), like gunny bags (sacks made of strong coarse jute fabric).

Where was it brought from?
It was woven and printed at Bhaktapur itself. It was called dharkin markin. It was quite cheap, you could get it for 1 rupee, 3 mohur (1.50 rupees). The faria used to cost 3 mohur, it used to be so heavy we could not carry it. Those were the days, now they are gone. These daysÖ whatís that, what are they called?Ö yes, cotton, silk, polyesterÖ all very light.
Section 5
You wore 3-mohur farias - and how much did the blouse cost?
Blouses! Those who could afford it used to wear the so-called silip (faux silk, fine silky material) blouse. They were called silip, you know; the dotted ones used to be worn by the young women. The one we older women wore was like the material used in todayís umbrellas, you know, umbrella material. The cloth for the blouse would come to one suka (one suka = 4 annas = 25 paise). You know the black cloth in the umbrella? That could be had for one suka. Thatís what we got for blouses. We spent our lives wearing that.

What clothes did they give during weddings?
You know, the type worn by the Newars. That faria - the red faria. I got married in that. And, what was that called? Öthe dharkin markin, I got married in that. I went through the ceremony [in those clothes].

And ornaments?
Ornaments? If you had 20 rupees you got so much gold. And yes, it would be more than enough for both bridegroom and bride if you had 20 rupees. Whereís that now, then? Such times are gone. Now what times have come? They used to say in the old days that, some time, even water would catch fire Ė those times have arrived now. Thereís no fire below the water now, but just watch, thereís the Maoist movement now. We are afraid the Maoists might kill us, isnít it?

Was there no fear before?
Where was the fear then? You could merrily go around singing. There was nothing to fear even if you walked through the forest all night or if you spent the night there. Now, it is frightening to even walk out on your own from here. As soon as night falls, one is afraid to step out of the door. It is like that now. Such times have come upon us, child. This is the story now, sister.

Those days, you all used to walk in the forest all night?
Oh yes, we used to walk the whole night. We used to walk around singing the whole night while collecting firewood. Now that sort of life has gone.

How often were there jatras (pilgrimages, fairs or religious festivals) in the village earlier?
There were quite a few jatras. We could comfortably witness these all night. Now since the Maoists [came], it is not the same.

What jatras take place here?
We used to have the Dhaneswor, Pashupati, Mahatirtha, Gokarna, Phulchoki jatras here. We celebrate these.
Section 6
And you sing the entire night during jatras?
We stay there the whole night at Dhaneswor.

Who do you go with to see the jatras?
We friends go together. There are so many friends and small children in the village to go with. We all went.

Doesnít the husband stop you from going to jatras?
No, he doesnít. Who will stop one from going to jatras and pilgrimages? It is only now that there are restrictions, because of the fear of Maoists.

This time there are fewer jatras because of the Maoists, isn`t it?
They have become fewer. Well, this time I could not go to make offerings for my mother and father.

You didnít go because of fear?
I couldnít go because I was afraid. Now everyone, everywhere, people talk and say that Maoists come freely and that they kill. They even said who had been killed.

Which are the jatras you like most?
I like all jatras and holy places. Dhaneswor is beautiful. Matathirtha is also wonderful when one goes to perform rituals for oneís mother. Gokarna is equally lovely, and so is Pashupati, isnít it?

You used to sing at the jatras?
Of course we sing. There is no question of not singing at jatras. Friends are very eager and insist we sing.

You sing Tamang songs?
We sing Tamang songs. Some play the madal (Nepali drum, played with the fingers). I sing songsÖ many, many.

You liked singing songs from the beginning?
I loved it very much. I still sing now.

You sing juwari songs (traditional song style; men and women compete with each other, composing lyrics as they go along)?
Some take part in juwari, but some women compete among themselves.

Do your husband and friendsí husbands also sing?
No, the men do not sing. Even when we sing they do not like it and beat us badly. ďDo not sing,Ē he says. They do not like us singing.

Why is that?
I donít know. I have no idea.
Section 7
Is it because he thinks you might elope with another man?
Maybe itís because he thinks I will elope with another man, he keeps telling me not to sing. Now, will one elope because one sings? He doesnít know. Itís in our own mind, isnít it? Can it be that one elopes because one sings, or one elopes even without singing? That makes no sense. The husband gets angry because I sing, what to do?

Has he beaten you for singing?
He has done that. Yes, he is always like that even now. Whenever, whichever jatra it is I go to, it is always like that.

And you continue to sing without fear even after getting beaten?
Yes, I sing as I find it pleasing.

You sing even these days when you go to a jatra?
I sing even now. The husband yells at me even now if he sees me singing. Now not many go to jatra because of these Maoists. This time I wanted to go to Matathirtha at Kathmandu but everyone refuses to go now because they say they will be killed. ďOh no, we wonít go,Ē they say. We didnít even get transport. We used to go to Matathirtha before, but this time I missed that, too.

Is this the only year you werenít able to go?
This was the only year. Otherwise I always went. During the old days we walked, but these days we hire a vehicle. We hire a vehicle so that the whole village can go.

It used to be great fun?
Of course, it was fun. Isnít it fun when you are at a jatra?

You still long to go to jatras?
I love to. I really like to. Another big jatra takes place at our Phulchoki. Here also many did not turn up this time for fear of the Maoists.

Compared to the past, the present day children enjoy a better life, isnít it?
Of course, they are better off compared to our times. During our time we had to collect and carry fodder, water and firewood even during the rains. Now they donít have to. See those boys, they are loitering in the village. They have so many comforts.

Wasnít there anyone studying during your time?
There was no one studying, not even during our younger sisterís time.

Do you wish to study now? When you see others studying?
Now I canít see Ė how can I study? What can I do? My eyes canít recognise the characters. How can I read these words?

What are the differences between then and now?
There are many differences - in eating and dressing. In those days we used to eat maize porridge, sokan (dried radish) and gundruk (fermented dried spinach). They eat those things even now. Nowadays we eat this vegetable, what is it - this sokan - only occasionally. Other edible things have come onto the market. Villagers have started cultivating vegetables.
Section 8
What is this thing called sokan?
Chopped and dried radish.

You didnít get other green vegetables to eat earlier?
Where would we get vegetables? One had to go to the market in town with soya bean and exchange it for potatoes. Nowadays villagers themselves grow the onions and garlic they need. Those days if one had the money, one could go to the city and buy a little bit.

You didnít know how to grow them before?
There was no water to grow vegetables. We knew how to, but there was no water. Now theyíve brought water in pipes, brought electricity. There are many comforts. It was not like that before. That is why those days we mostly ate gundruk, corn gruel and dried radish. To eat rice one had to go to Bhadgaon and stand in line to buy parboiled rice. After standing in the queue for parboiled rice we would get 5 manas (one mana = 10 handfuls, approx 400 gm) for one mohur, for one mohur! To buy that much one had to walk one whole morning to reach Bhadgaon from the village. And one didnít immediately get rice when one got there. You had to stand in a long queue to buy rice. We got rice that way and we used to get beef Ė we ate that with beef. To eat that sort of rice we had wait for festivals. We used to persuade the children to stay at home by telling them we would have a meal of rice, while we went to get the rice.

It is very entertaining to listen to your stories of the old days.
When you think about the old days now, it is interesting. When I want to talk about the old days, I feel like crying. Now you get everything here. If you have money, it comes here, even food. If you have money now, you get food grain to eat. But with all that you still have to do household chores, have to do [this] and that. It doesnít come free; you need money. Now the time for us to die has come.

Now it is easy to eat greens and vegetables whereas it was so difficult to get meat before, isnít it?
It was difficult before. To eat meat, Dasain (Nepalís main festival) had to come round, Tihar (festival of lights, following Dasain) had to come. To eat rice and chiura (dry, flattened boiled rice) - you know, it (chiura) was milled in a dhiki (foot-operated pestle). ďDasain has come, Dasain has comeĒ would be the call and paddy (rice) would be milled Ė 10 pathis (one pathi = 3.2 kg), you know, everybody bought their own. Then the paddy was boiled and after a short sleep, we started husking from four in the morning. We could manage to husk 10 pathis in one morning. By nine to ten in the morning we had finished 10 pathis. From dawn, we could finish one muri (equivalent to 20 pathis). Those days are gone now; now there are mills. Now chiura is processed in mills. It is much easier now.

What donít you like these days?
In those days, you know what, in our times, this foreign manure (chemical fertiliser) had not come. Now this fertiliser is used. Now there are huge harvests of maize, wheat, paddy and mustard. Weíve got all these things to eat. Now during those days, there was no fertiliser. Whatever harvest was possible, it was due to animal manure Ė even wild deer feeding in the corn and wheat fields Ė that was it. And you know where we used to go to grind the corn? We used to go as far as Timal and Gadey. In Jyestha-Aashaad (June/July), we would go there to grind corn Ė it used to take four to five days. You see, weíve got to this age by grinding [corn] and eating that way. It was difficult in those days to rear children even after travelling to Timal, Gadey. It has become easier to sustain ourselves since that foreign fertiliser came.
Section 9
Is the coming of foreign fertilisers good?
It is good. Thereís maize, paddy, wheat. Havenít we benefited?

They say fertilisers have ruined the fields and soil. Is that so?
Well, they say it does. I canít say for how long it will continue to cause damage.

There has been no damage until now?
No. Since we started using fertilisers, everything has grown and we get to eat that [harvest]. This is what has benefited us.

There was no chow chow, shau shau (instant noodles) in your time, isnít it?
Of course, there wasnít. There was nothing. There werenít even biscuits. There was nothing. These days they get to eat chow chow, biscuits, sour pickles etc. You only have to have money. To buy and eat these things kids steal money these days, they steal money [laughs]. Wherever you hide it, they will search and steal. They steal even from underneath the pillow.

They steal to eat chow chow?
They do. For chow chow or whatever they eat, they steal everything. Oh yes, the kids these days have started watching movies. They bring a TV and watch the whole day. They watch TV and do no work. They just watch TV.

And because of that children are spoilt?
Yes, naturally theyíre spoilt. They donít study. They fail in their studies. They donít work. They simply loiter around. If you scold them, they quarrel with us and come to beat us. Thatís how children are today. They have no interest in working in the fields these days. They donít do anything. If you ask them to bring fodder, they refuse. If you ask them to bring firewood, they will not. They just want to be heroes (meaning show-offs).
See these boys [pointing to village boys standing around her], they donít do any work now. Itís not good. Their studies are spoilt. Their studies are affected by this TV and because of films; before, they were all right. There was no electricity till a couple of years ago. There was no TV either. It was good; but now this plagues us. This wasnít there before. Even small children would come carrying firewood, would bring fodder. They would carry loads. But now even boys of this age loiter around. Just look, this grandson of mine, those grandsons, they all loaf about. [Turning to the boys.] Why donít you ask them yourself? They donít want to work, even if you teach them.
Now what to do? There are thieves in the forest, itís not like before. You know, the Maoists live there. Itís just that if we want to enter the forest now thereís a fear that they might kill us. That is what is bad compared to before, little sister, otherwise it is quite good for us.
Section 10
Do you still have Maoists around here?
No, if the Maoists come around here the villagers will beat the shit out of them. Over there, they beat them last year, or year before last. They were beaten, whether they were thieves or Maoists. They were beaten till their backs turned blue.

Are Maoists scared to come here?
Yes, they get scared. They donít come to this area.

Who beat them?
All the boys from our village. Our elder sister beat them. We will beat them.

Did you also beat them?
No, I did not. Instead, I tell them not to. I say, donít, please donít. Feel sorry for them and ask them to stop. Will feed them and pity them instead.

[Note: This answer was difficult to translate, and the tense is vague]

Before, there was no electricity, school, or tap water in the village. Now everything is there?
It is beneficial. It is better now; there is cleanliness. Before we used to bring water from one kos (3.2 km) away. It used to be dirty because we had to bring water from two miles away. We could not clean up.

Where did you have to go to fetch water?
To fetch water, we had to come to this river or go one kos away, down, way down. It was like that. You ask anyone about this, everyone knows. Anyway, how long has it been since water came in the tap?

Now it is easier to collect water?
It is easy. There, the tap is in the yard.

How long has it been since tap water reached here?
Since the pipeline came itís beenÖhow long has it been since the tap came in?Ö itís been about five-six years. Itís a bit better than before. Itís easier for everyone. It hasnít been that much better even after electricity came here. What about electricity, now? I have to tell you about electricity, isnít it? Our guests here will have started to eat. I have served the food and just as it is time to eat the electricity suddenly goes off. And there is chaos and we have to light candles or [find] something to eat. If we have to light candles then why do we need electricity? Every time the light suddenly goes off. If you decide to do anything in the evening most of the time the light goes out. Every time you have to bring candles or something, light that and eat.

Before electricity came, you used to go to bed early?