After School Programs

Sunita Giri 11:01 PM |

When I look back, growing up in Bal Mandir had one distinct plus point, rather than growing up in family. At least this is what is my personal opinion, which I strongly believe, when I look back. Although there are many to count my blessings, here I am going to talk about the after school programs only.

During ‘80s time, there may not have been much talent honing institutes in the country as it is today. Even then it is made available today; its still not easy for anyone to come up and made  those services available under one roof. But it happened in that era, and it was the brainchild of royals. See; big can think big vision and small are afraid to see the big picture. Most of the preteens and teen children used to take part in this after school programs, but what I don’t know is was that paid or not.  Maybe it was paid classes to hone the budding talents of those children. These children were most of the time from the very affluent families of the society.

I grew up hearing many big names of the entertainment sectors early in my life. But they were the big names, I did not knew then. It was the meeting hub for the big name and the budding young talents of that time. At the same time, it was not just training center. It gave opportunities to compete in nationwide competition too. The big day for completion happened, undoubtedly on 4th of Bhadra  every year. It was the the children’s day and more than that, the day fell on Birthday of queen mother, who [perhaps] was the founder of Bal Mandir. So, not surprisingly; this day was the biggest day, for the children of Bal Mandir.

Some of the name of that time still has in my mind, some student and some teachers like Prachanda Mall was a drama teacher, Nati Kaji, the great musician used to train young singers, Nuchhe Dongol, was a madal player on dance group, who set record later on  in his life for playing so many madals at a time. Nir Shah was one of the the participants on those program, who later on became a well known name in movie industry. I bet you all must have heard the name Shambujeet Bastoka, who is a big name in music industry even today. He too, I guess was one of the participants of those after school programs.

My dance teacher of one time was the lead male of ‘Madhu Malati’, that  musical drama; which was the longest running  stage drama show of the Nepali theater history. After school programs had converted Bal Mandir the talent hub of Nepal, where many great teachers polished many budding young talents, who made the big name in society later in the art and creative field.

As a child, roaming around in the room to room to see the different talent classes going on was one thing, but to take part in one particular program was absolutely another thing. My turn to take part in one of those program came, when I was around ten years old. I was in dance class, it was a group dance as always. The opening dance for the grand finale was always and always from Bal Mandir and it used to get opened with a dance called Bandana. Bal Mandir used to prepare for three main segment of creative art; a dance, a song and a drama for the main event. Other children’s home also used to take part in this big event of that era and then there used to be some selected dance and songs, which won nationwide school level competitions. So without a doubt, it used to grab the nationwide attention at that time, as it was the royal ruling era.

As for the children, I mean we participants, whoever took part in dance, drama and songs [all group], it was a good break from our regular days. Preparing for this kind of classes happened more than five - six months and for the final day preparation, it used to be about 12 -15 days long that kept us busy doing all the rehearsal inside the Pragya pratisthan hall. When I was in Bal Mandir, I had never ever spend that much time as much as I had spent inside the boundaries of that building, while preparing for the final day. For one more reason also it was good for us. During those rehearsal days, which went all day long kept us from the bland taste of Bal Mandir food, giving us a sudden kick to five star hotel food.  As for me, that was the biggest prize. Later on, when I grew up, I came to know that, it’s the outdoor catering service, provided by Annapurna Hotel; a royal member owns this hotel.

Taking a stroll in the beautiful lawn and the territory of the building and sneaking in the lift and then offices of some staff was also part of fun. But our hectic schedule for rehearsal kept us mostly on the stage, doing all the steps over and over for the big day. It was so repetitive task, we used to copy fast the other’s group dance and song and some dialogue of the drama also.

About 15 days without school, homework and tasteless food of Bal Mandir and whole new friend circle around us, in absolutely new area was a real good break from the boring life of Bal Mandir. It was really fun for us, but dancing was a lot more fun and it also gave us chance to dance on others group dance and sing a song with others as we were fast on learning and copying then. It was really a good escape from the plain and boring routine of life and it did kept our mind busy from other things.

It was not just entertainment classes, but other talent classes also used to happen in this building, like painting and sculpture making and then there used to be poem, essay competition and then annual debate competition was some to name.

In short, Bal Mandir was not just famous for the biggest children's home of the country; but it was also famous for its after school program and we did get a chance to do many things, while growing up there. It was the time Bal Mandir was the apple of the eye of the nation. It also has the biggest art gallery, which kept pouring people all the time during the exhibition time, which of course went almost throughout the year. All that was part of our daily life, while growing up; all that made it more fun growing up in Bal Mandir than in a family.
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Letter Delivery Girl

Sunita Giri 11:00 PM |

Junkiri married Ambar Dai, who is 13 years older than her. Like all of her friends, I too know the reason, why she stuck up with old man like him. But on this article, its is not the idea to cover that side of the story here. No, she did not tell me the details behind the intimate involvement with him during the time, when they were in Bangladesh, for a six months training of ceramic arts.

She was my classmate for couple of years, we caught her in fifth grade where she had stayed for three years. Interestingly, she never regard me, as her friend and to add my uneasiness, she is really very vocal about it also. I can only guess, maybe it’s because of the age gap we have. If not all the, most of her close friends with whom she is comfortable to share her feelings are older than me. It so happened that, she was telling the details of how she got involved with him, during that short stay in Bangladesh. What all I remember is, there were bed full of girls huddled in a bed down side, who were so eager to listen to her. All eyes was glued to her with so much curiosity of sex, man and all the feelings and reaction associated with this. I don't even remember whose bed was that. Her voice was audible enough for me to hear all of it, from my upper bed [bunker]. That was bit distracting me to focus on my novel, which I was reading.

There used to be almost twenty girls in a room, and this was a big girl's room. Fourteen to sixteen years of old girls were regarded big girls; therefore it was not easy to keep a secret from each others. But, of course, when there are big number of people, small groups are inevitable to form and there are always chances one can find like minded people in small circle rather than in big circles. So there was almost no secrets but you know girls; they are at times very good at keeping secrets too. However, as I told you earlier it was not my intention to tell that part of the story with details.

Long before, she married to Ambar dai, it was Junkiri, who used to act as a letter delivery girl for him and to his girlfriend then [Shova Didi]. Junkiri was the one, they choose to deliver the letter to each other.  Needless to tell you, when she was growing up, Amber Dai was definitely not in her mind as potential life partner, not even remotely. She was a chirpy girl, very friendly to everyone. Today she knows, exactly why she called all of them her boy friends and why that number was so high. But before that, the time was different, she was just a carefree teenager who did not know whys of so many questions in her life ? I would not say she was dating but... I myself don’t know what to say of this kind of relationship.  there was at times two boys she was in relationship, yes simultaneously. Yes, she used to write them letter at the same time, although they were living under the same roof, playground was the same and was eating food cooked in same pan. Yeah, they used to live in different room. Just up and down at times.

Here I must mention this one fact of her life, Junkiri was a teenager suffering from learning disability; which I came to know years later, while reading some article on this subject matter and her name just sprang  in my head. For that very reason she used to fluctuate many times in one class. It probably must have taken her about 15 years to reach mere 8th grade. Other than that she is very jolly by nature, a natural storyteller which makes her very  likeable person and she is unbelievably compassionate also.

She was not very good in writing or putting her thoughts in paper. She could not read and get the meaning of it; which caused her to climb the grade ladder during her school days. But she is very observative and her visual memory is astoundingly good. As I told you she was very friendly person so, she did found a person to put it on papers for her and then another boy for deliver those letters to the prospective receivers. So Narayani became her confidant as well as letter writing partner.

Recently, when I met Gopal, he told me that he was that boy who used to deliver the letter to those two boyfriends of hers. Interestingly, Junkiri never mentioned his name whenever she shared her love lost stories, in her talk with me. Or maybe, who used to deliver did not matter to her.

So once the letter was delivered and read by those two boys, there was another different story, purely triggered by teen boys curiosity. Tirtha [Tamang], Goninda, Hansha [Bhandari], Suresh [Shrestha] used to search that letter once it was read by Rakesh or Ishwor Dai. Then in that plain mischievous act of teen boys, one of them noticed the similarities on the handwriting. To the boys who were studying in ninth or tenth grade this was something amusing for two major reasons.  First it was a love letter to rush their adrenaline and second, it teased them even more is that one handwriting and two different recipient of the letter.

One day the news got leaked to both of the boys. Four boys  who were reading it secretly for quite some time, took it in their hands then told what she was doing to the boys.

But this part amused me even more, than the other boys may have thought. Ishwor dai and Rakesh, recipient of the letters broke in to fight, of course for the same reason, she is mine, you back off. Both were saying the same to each other. Ishwor dai was tall and skinny and Rakesh was average in height and somewhat plum.

My God, my bad memory power; but the two boys must have been inside the Bal Mandir; when Junkiri married Ambar Dai. Although, her marriage party was one of the few that took place in Bal Mandir, I do not have clear recollection of attending the party today. Therefore the boys must have been in the party as well.  I was only in eighth grade, when she was married. The very next year, there was a boy in her house.

Oh, yes, she keep talking about them. I think this kind of talk gives them the kind of needed boost in life which perhaps everyone need.
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Plum, Pear, and Peaches

Sunita Giri 11:58 PM |

Junkiri remembers her experience of climbing a mango tree and stealing the unripe one from the nearest branch, that was good to make pickle only. As she was about to pluck it from the branch, she heard a stern voice from the above,“what are you doing, stop there.”  The voice was from the Housemother Kedar Shrestha, everybody  was so scared of her specially when they are doing something bad like this. Junkiri remembers that day, as if it just happened yesterday; she was really nervous getting caught like that. So, in her nervousness she replied, “I was only looking  at it” although her hand was fully wrapped on that unripe mango. I think this is universal truth that teenagers think they are a lot smarter; than the adult around them and adult have no brain at all. “Climb down from the tree” was her command, which Junkiri meekly followed.

For years when I was in my  teen years or  also  in my early 20s, I never regarded  plum, peach, pear in a fruit category, that was worth spending money the vendor asked for. Any amount of money seemed too much to pay. It was not that I don’t like them or never liked them, its just that do we have to pay for these also ? You must be wondering, why this question even crossed my mind.

There were about 10 mixed varieties of pears tree, about 5 or 6 types of plum trees and about 3 peaches tree, one big litchi tree and one about to die mango tree, inside the Bal Mandir premises. I think it was just enough to keep we children busy during the respective fruits seasons, to try our hands in climbing trees. Well, not just tree most of the time it invariably included climbing tall walls too.

Except for mango tree all the other tree used to get over laden with its respective fruits during the season, giving us plenty of opportunity to try fruits within the boundaries. This kind of trees also kept us busy from getting bored in the era, when there was no TV or computers to keep ourselves glued for hours. I bet it was more fun to climb those trees, which was laden with fruits than to glued with computer or televisions.

Big plum tree and bigger litchi tree just eluded us like anything. Only the high climbers used to go up and then taste the best one rest have to be satisfy with the lower branches green litchy that used to be so sour. Climbing tree was a group effort, to get the fruit down from its branches. One of us climbed the tree, to shake the branches and others stay under the tree to collect the fruits. Climbing wall was also needed support from two or three person, as we could not reach the nearest hole to hold on without a help. 

So it was fun to get other side of the wall and then the fruit.  It was not easy for those keepers to keep those unripe fruit from the children of Bal Mandir. Oh, yes they cursed like anything using all the words that was in or out from dictionary. But, hey who is minding. those fruits were a lot more tempting and inviting us towards them and we choose to forget what they were saying to us. Did I tell you we have mastered in hearing things, I mean those curses from one ear and letting it go straight from other ear.

Boys too but specially girls loved the soury and citrusy taste of green plum, mango and litchi. I do not remember anyone waited until it was ripe one. But I guess the children are the only one who eats the baby fruit long before it ripens. It worried like hell to the adult fearing we might have stomach disorder; how come they knew it caused us diarrhea ? By the time it was to ripen all the tree used to get empty, unless the fruit was on top of the branch where only crow could reach and eat it.

Yes, with some exception these fruits also used to get a chance to ripen if, I mean if only,the tree was not in front of our eyes. The tall and hard to climb boundary wall kept them away from us. But children always managed to cross those tallest and barbed wired wall too at times at high price.

It was perhaps Saturday, can’t remember exactly now. Sarala was bleeding heavily from her inner thigh and she was trying hard to stop the bleeding and also from the room nanny. I remember  asking her, “how come you are bleeding like this ?” “ a sharp glass from a window cut this” she replied in return. There was uneasy silence after that which I did not hear then clearly. Sarala Sharma was tall about 5.5 and heavy, maybe around 60 Kg and she was just fourteen at that time. I looked so small in front of her. 

She had gone to steal some plum with her friends and she being the tallest was the best bait to go inside and get some fruits from the NAFA art gallery’s garden. Some of her friends were helping her to go inside and then pulling her out. But when they pulled her out her leg got caught up in the thorny barbwire that cut her thigh from inside. Her young friends not know she was caught in by wire, pulled her harder thinking it was her big body that was the reason they are having problem to pull her out from the garden boundary wall. It was deep cut so her all her effort to hide it went in vain due to over bleeding that scared all her friends and ultimately she was taken to hospital and then where she got some stitches on her deep cut wound. They did get the   juicy and succulent plum but at the same time that stealing also landed her a hospital trip.

Do I have to tell you now, how good it taste when you have stolen fruits from others garden ? Well, if you don't know; then let me tell you this, the stolen fruits taste a lot better I mean ten times better than we buy in the market, which is so easy task.  All you have to do is to pay some money and get your fruit bag, so boring. And more than that there is more   fun in running ahead of those keepers, after stealing those fruits with our faces making in  teasing from to those keeper is even funnier than to go and spent some time to watch some movies.

I feel so sorry for you, if you have never ever stolen fruit from others garden. You should have tried this once, I mean should have been truly lived the life of a child once in your life, which I guess e get only once in your life.
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Sunita Giri 11:40 PM |

When I saw Alisha, first time she must have been about six or seven years old. She was being raised by one of my friend. She herself was living in one room apartment with her husband and her two children, who were in  their high school final years.  All of them went to the same school.

A big dog and her brood of cats and then a hen too used to stay in that same room. Oh, don’t be too fast  to judge her and make your eyes go wide. She really, does work hard to keep her room clean.

Why Alisha’s parents were not taking care of her, was always on my mind. My friend always used to complain, it was not easy for her to raise her; when her father  gave her so little money for her keeps sake. Its not that her parents had houseful of children to look after, and Alisha was needed to kept out of her family to ease the tension. At that time she was the only child of her parents yet she was not with them.

“How come you know her parents ?” I asked her one day. “We used to stay in same apartment and her parents were my next door neighbour. When they left for their home in Sangha, which is outskirt village in the valley, they left the child with me.” she replied my querry. “just like that ?”  was my reaction.

“Her mother Mandira [Karki], had very hard time pleasing her-in-laws at her home. She is kind of rejected there, because she could not give them a son as first child”, She replied. A village girl  facing this does not surprise me. It's not just what Alisha’s grandmother thinks its in fact also in the mind of Alisha’s mother also that she could not have son instead she has a daughter.

“Don't they want to take her with them ?” I was curious as always. “I have tried so many times to send her with them, but I could not or they are just not taking her with them”, she replied.

“Mandira is very careless and do not show any interest in Alisha and specially taking her to their home, ‘Loke’ [Lokesh Karki, father of the girl] is a driver and was posted in Royal Palace. So his work needs him to be here most of the time [Kathmandu]. Honestly speaking Loke, does not like her and told me to take care of Alisha. If I am taking care of her, its just because of my friendship with Loke.” They are very close and good friends, so she calls him with his slang name just like a brother.

Then around 2008, I did not see Alisha at my friend's place and when I asked her, “where is Alisha ?, she replied, “she is been sent to a hostel because I can't take care of her any more it’s very costly to keep her with me and I just could not manage the cost her father was giving me to keep her.”

But, when I visited a children's home here at the Kathmandu, there I see Alisha. When my friend had told me, “she is gone to stay in a hostel”,  I thought school hostel; children home just did not strike in my mind. But, why they kept the information secret from me, when I was directly or indirectly involved with this Children's Home, where Alisha was sent ?

It was Ritu [she died about six month back in an accident] who had convinced Madam S. to keep Alisha in the newly established children’s home back. She had twisted the information to keep her in the group home, so that the chances to be accepted is higher. Understandable, everyone does that to convince to anyone, especially; when they are desperate. Why my friends were keeping that kind of simple information secret from me ? when they knew that was Bernhards’ project here and sooner or latter I will come to know about it. It is just the matter of time for me to know the truth.

But most unexpected response awaited me, when I said to Madam S., “Oh, I know this girl, she is the one my friend was talking care of for couple of years and she was complaining that it was very hard for her to take care of her.”

Every time a line falls from my mouth she gets offended  so, not surprisingly  she said, “NO, she is the popcorn girl, because her mother sells popcorn in front of the Bal Mandir gate and she do not have her father, maybe you are talking about the other girl.”

It maybe me or she has that signature tone of offensiveness, which has not changed in more than 20 years. This is pretty strange. But at the sametime, my mind was saying Ok, this is the reason Ritu and my other friend who requested her to recommend Alisha’s name to keep in the hostel was keeping this secret from me. At that very moment my mind was also racing with questions, why Madam S. can’t take whatever I say ? and What I know ? Its always the same. I think she is like so many people, who can’t take the second version of news, once they are convinced of first hand news, because what they hear for the first time is the universal truth. There should not be any reason to welcome other news on the first version. By chance I always happen to be giving her my version of the news, and this is always second opinion, which she is not open to believe anyway.

First hand news is not always, as true as Bible.

Today, I am sure Madam S. knows, Alisha has both of her parents, which must have been confirmed by the other source, she is more open to listen than to me. Her mother never sat down in front of Bal Mandir gate to sell barbecue corn-on-the-cob to support herself as well as the child. Oh, yes; I must tell you now, Alisha has a young brother, who is apple of the eye of her parents. I am sure his arrival must have help patched up the relationship of her parents which was about to break up, when Alisha was the only child.

Alisha has grown to be a beautiful teen girl now,and who is one of the very bright students. She is very good in her study and gush me out, everytime I see per percentage in her report cards. She will complete her SLC in couple of year.

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My child

Sunita Giri 10:58 PM |

Recently, I read in a newspaper, how a father of a child, abducted his own child from the court premises, when the court had ruled out the custody of the child about six years old to the mother, after their divorce.

Well one thing is very clear here, without his explanation, it was impossible for him to think life without his child.

This  reading pushed me back in my memory lane. Long time back, when I was in Bal Mandir, there was a girls named Bhagbati, sorry can’t even remember her full name today. There are all kind of children, who land up in Bal Mandir for so many reasons associated with each child. Every child, has his or her own story to tell, why they have to find themselves, inside the Bal Mandir.

Bal Mandir do allows all visitors to visit their loved ones. I think, it used to be supervised from the distance; if my memory serves me pretty well. Of course, there will be some exception all the time and everywhere.

One day, a man came in, looking for his lost daughter. It is not easy for me to remember my own age, when exactly this incident happened. In my vague memory, I guess I could have been younger than 10 years old. Some of the girls did accompany Bhagabati, when she went to see her father. Today, I am guessing, it must have been off day; otherwise that many young girls would not have gone with her to see him at once. Or it could also be possible, that he must have visited her during lunch break hour of the school, which normally was very rare.

This was his first visit to her daughter. All the girls came to know that Bhagbati was abandoned by her mother in the Bal Mandir, without her father's knowledge. At the same time this news was well wrapped from him for so many years also. So, he was angry to see his daughter there. But more than that, he was angry with the mother of the child; who left his daughter there, without his knowledge, forget about his consent.

He must have been trying to catch up with her daughter, the time that was lost, while she was growing up in Bal Mandir. He could have been thinking, she would rather have been playing on his lap. Perhaps he wanted to play with his child while she was growing up. Maybe she was the apple of his eyes, which I don’t know for sure.

He shared so many things with her daughter and also with her friends, who accompanied her that day. He was a driver, may be for that reason, he did not think it necessary to hide his anger from them; when he was venting his anger for his ex-wife[?]. In the fits of anger and emotion he said, “if he sees his wife again in his life, he will crush her under the wheels of his vehicle.”

I do not remember swarming up the visitors or giving any of my friends accompany, when there was a visitor from their home. Needless to tell you, this time also, I was not there, to witness the high drama and anger felt by this father of a young girl , who did everything possible to find out, where  his child was.

But on the other hand, there must have been a whole different story, behind it. Why the mother left her child in Bal Mandir ? Lets try to find out some of the answers, with some simple questions. Were they married ? If so, Bhagabati would not have been ended up in Bal Mandir. Were they in love ? Maybe, but, why wasn't she keeping her love child ? Where was the man during nine months of her pregnancy ? or the beginning years of her life ? As the man was a driver of long route [?] he must have been away for some time, during her pregnancy or birth time. Was she scared to raise a love child ? Perhaps yes. It was the late seventies time or early 80s Nepal. Who could face the conservative society then, when single mother today finds it, difficult to face now ?

I do not remember at all whether Bhagwati was pulled from Bal Mandir by his father after that visit ? But she was not there with us, when I grew up little more to understand things and  then remember playing with her after that.

The other day, I was watching a crime reality show on Indian TV. There was another divorce, and wife was about to walk out of his life with two small children. He had married but until the court order, she was still living with him. She had  also won the court case of good maintenance for the children's upkeep from her husband, who soon was going to be her ex-husband.

Just weeks before, they were to separated, he lost his control during an usual argument with his wife and killed her. For two days her dead body was hidden in the bathtub. Then he bought a big freezer to keep that dead body. Cut her into thousands of pieces, kept in small plastic bags. Each time he went out he kept throwing one or two bags at a time. He chose   evening hours to throw those bags in  various parts of the Deharadun.

The reason he lost his mental balance, is so clear to him, when he told the interrogating police officers in front of his wife’s brother, “she was taking my children with her, how can she do that to me ?”

Remember the court had given the custody of their children to the mother.

If only she was loved and respected, wanted and needed in his life; what kind of mother would like to separate their child from their father ?

Is this love ? Do these men really love their child, without even showing an ounce of respect to their mothers. Or, maybe, I am the one who is not getting it correctly. It seems to me that their child is more than sigh of love but children feed them their ego ?

How come, men give so little respect and importance to the mother, yet their child seem to be the whole world to them ?

Does the child to these fathers, is just a signature of they being able to begate child ? I am yet to learn, how love dies and yet the act of love keep us reminding, once there was love between those couple, which is dead now. Those children and their condition, force us to think hard about some serious issues that lies in human behaviour.
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