Haunted or being watched ?

Sunita Giri 10:51 PM |

Last year, I met Manju didi after almost twenty two years, at a friends apartment; where we had gathered a day after Ritu’s death. She was very hard working lady. She used to work in as an assistant to the school  I went as a child and then as a part time job, she grew vegetables at the kitchen garden in Bal Mandir.

When she told us, that her monthly pay as a school assistant was Rs. 70 back then and she used to make almost the same amount of money working in Bal Mandir in the morning and evening during vegetable planting seasons only. Because we needed all kinds of vegetables to consume for 200 people and there was plenty of lands to grow vegetables, it was almost 6 months of job for her. She used to make Rs 1 for one times work, whether its morning or evening and she was also paid, a time’s meal after that. That was the time, money seemed to have more value than, that of today now.

She had to support five or six children, with her husband.  But may be for that very reason, she really worked hard to put food on table.Her husband also used to work but I guess with her hard work she used to make more money than her husband. When I left Bal Mandir,  she was still doing her hard work and growing vegetables for us.  Because of her we were able to get the garden fresh vegetables everyday and that was for throughout the year.  Except for potatoes or and some spices like ginger, turmeric or other stuff, almost all the other vegetables including corn and soybean for daytime snacks, were grown internally.  

She continued further that, “when the manager was changed maybe somewhere during the 1990 era, she was told not to do the work, telling that this is the work some other people also should get a chance and then they hired somebody. The other person, did not last long and then, they again came back to ask Manju Didi to do the work.”

By this time, some of her big children had started working and making money, they thought the new management specially the manager, treated her like as if she do not have any dignity. They can hire her anytime and fire her anytime they want. For this very reason, her children did not allow her to do the job, even though she wanted to take it anyway. They told the new manager, “she is aging and its not time for her to work hard like this.”

Then the manager was Mira Upadhaya, who was the principal of nursery school for about 15 years may be, where we went as a toddlers, they call this kind of school kindergarten now a days.

During her gardening days, housemother Kedar shrestha used to supervise her work very closely and keenly and even staying with her whole time chatting and instructing. Every vegetables in Bal Mandir went on rows and rows and rows of beds, not just couple of it. Whether it be radish, cauliflower, cabbage, green leaves, eggplants, garlic, onion or big black eyes beans, which we consumed green. And lots of other varieties of green beans, tomatoes according to seasons. On top of that the leaves of cauliflower and radish were used as to make gundruk for summer seasons, Besides they used to grow plenty of cauliflowers and radish that it was enough to slice and sun dried it for summer use.The vegetables were plucked at the time its needed and then used to chopped  and make it ready to cock.

It seems the land remained barren for years and now they must be buying vegetables when the whole land is staring at the face of every mangers who works in Bal Mandir. Last November I went to Bal Mandir carrying some caps for all the children and at that time when I was waiting at the gate for a staff to appear, I was quite stunned to see the wastage of  vast land, that was once served to grow vegetable for 200 children for whole year. That was not just one year. it was during the time when Kedar Shrestha was Housemother.

The housemother died during late ‘87. Manju didi, then added that even today she, sees her in her dream, asking her, “why  are you not working in the garden to grow vegetable   ? See its so barren, and if only you would have worked on that land; they would have got to eat fresh vegetables.”

When she mentioned that seeing the housemother Kedar Shrestha,  in her dream, it reminded me that, I also used to see her in my dreams for almost two years or maybe more now I forgot. Seeing her in our dream is not just limited with me all of my other friends of the same time used to see her in their dream and some of them still see her but not me.

I have once mentioned about it to Mrs. Shrestha who was in the management and knew housemother. Both of them were headstrong just like me. Her reaction was, “maybe you are haunted.” When she said that, I didn't know the meaning of haunted, and was too lazy to go and see it in dictionary. It should not have surprised me but then I did not knew the negative meaning hidden in it. As she is one of the most naysayers, I know in my life and everything has almost negative meaning.
But, when Manju didi mentioned the above lines, I felt lumps in my throat and now I get it. The housemother was not haunting us for years but her souls is still hanging in the Bal Mandir and she was watching everyone even after her death. 

This is some thing new to know !
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Single mother

Sunita Giri 11:34 PM |

 Last year, during  the first week of January, I have asked  Ritu’s permission saying, “Ritu I want to write about you in my blog, think about it and you know so many people read it, so talk with Rojan [her only son] also, because his name is inevitable to mention in my blog once I cover about your life.”

She thought for sometime and said, “okay.” I thought she did not wanted her son’s permission to give me her consent. that's a good sign. II went on telling her, “ I will do it some time but just think about it and give me some info on this.”

She just nodded when I spoke. But after a brief pause, she gave me some of her personal info that I needed to put in my blog, when I really write about it. A week later, she suddenly died in a road accident. It was really shocking and I had been holding that post until now. I am really missing her visits at my place. Unlike others it did not bother me that she was the single mother, personally speaking I have more regards for single mothers than those who stick around with their abusive or useless husband due to societal pressure.

She really would have helped me, to make couple of sweaters; without me telling her which pattern or design I need, as she had plenty of photocopies of good designs of sweaters, which she had collected during her work with a Japanese Man, which she did for more than ten years.

Ritu Shrestha, was a single mother of a boy. My friends circle from Bal Mandir were very judgmental about her character, which made her a single mother. I was singled out, for my opinion from them, because I took is as a mere adult mistake, of course, a stupid one. She was judged for her bad character, because the boy shared a father, who is not only nowhere in the picture, but was the father of one of her sister’s child, whom; her sister had been dating then.

She was not considered a stupid girl, to make such a horrendous mistake, until she actually made one. Because unlike her sister she was good at study and a lot better than her two sister too. Everyone judged her because, they said  the man belonged to her sister. But, I did not see it that way, because the man was never married to her sister and he was not there for her sister even after this stupid mistake. He is a man like millions others walking on the street, hunting for vulnerable women, who are in need of protective figure around.   

Ritu, did not shared it with me but I am told that the man vanished once he found out that Ritu was pregnant ! Through a common friends, I also came to know that, Ritu had tried to abort the pregnancy. Understandable as she was not married and as the father of the child was not going to be there for her to support her in future, forget about it; that the same man was dating her older sister too. She did almost every other things, but went to hospital to abort it, because the cost was so expensive, and she did not have that much money to do this. Unlike today, it cost about Rs 1,000/- in maternity hospitals but my guess is, in that time, which is around 1994 -1995  the abortion was not legal in our country and only some private doctors did this with high price.

When the baby boy was born, Ritu’s condition became worse. She had to support herself and her boy without a job for long time. That was the time she stated knitting sweaters  a project to support children in Bal Mandir and the ladies who were out from Bal Mandir was encouraged to make the sweaters. She saw the kind of life which was definitely not meant for her. Her own childhood friend regarded her as a prostitute, behind her back for that stupid mistake. This new tag was even more fueled by her own sister, spreading nasty and ugly feud between them. When Nisha, the oldest daughter of her sister grew up bit, lets say about eight or nine, she joined her mother to spread nastier and uglier inside stories about her aunt, to their close circles and later on in the school she joined with her two sister and Rojan followed later. More nasty and uglier information about Ritu kept coming out in a way I rather avoid it.

I secretly wished I did not know them that closely, but sometimes, we don't have any choice but to hear it all. However, at the same time, I choose not to judge people based on what happened in their bedroom. The change in her life was not just the lack of finance and insecurity associated with the financial matter; it was the social stigma that was worse, which she had to face. The harsh and cruel side of her own childhood friends must have been very hard on her as she lost all the confidence needed to join a decent job according to her education background.

When Rojan, her son was about four, she started working as a domestic maid to a social workers home, because the boy was kept in boarding school, since then. Please don't get I wrong here, it was not part of her pay. It was the social workers job to find the poor and needy people to add in an education project funded by Swiss Nationals here Nepal so that they can provide them better future.

If I listened to Mrs. Shrestha, she was doing Ritu a favor by giving her a chance to work, because, it gave her something to do and some money to make so that she had some to spend, and this is the fact that nagged me most. Because, it was not the full time job, not even regarded as a part time job. It was a job that anyone could do on Saturdays, she was paid a times meal for the days work and pay was so meager it was not sufficient enough to support her half a week.

Ritu working as a domestic maid to Mrs. Shrestha’s home was out of obligation or to simply say her thank you, for keeping her son in boarding school until he completes his education was a shocking for me to digest for most of my life. It kept me nagging and it still nags me.
Its really not easy for me to understand the real motto of Mrs Shrestha to keep her as her domestic maid. Who on earth keeps college educated as a domestic maid ? Mrs Shrestha is is the chairman of this project and children home here in Nepal. Its not just the college educated but Ritu went to Kanti Ishwory Shishu Vidhyalaya. This is the school, Royals and the affluent family’s children went for education, when they were young back during the Royal era. Ritu was the only one from Bal Mandir to complete her full time scholarship from this school [until Seventh grade], and after that she went on to continue her further education from Martyr Memorial school due to her good school background. Her percentage was higher in school when she passed SLC and her college percentage is also higher than that of mine. I never got a chance to go to English medium school; throughout my school and college life !

Because, Mrs. Shrestha was in the management of Bal Mandir, she knew it very well that Ritu’s school background was fantastic and her college record was also not bad. When she, knew it very well then and that the pay was not sufficient to keep her alive even for a week then how come it was a favor to her ?  Ritu or any other person, who gets support from the project she is involved for more than twenty years do not have to pay  her back like this. She is not the one who picks up the bill because all the she money she is in charge of here is paid and borne by the Foundation which main office is in Switzerland. It does not come from her family’s charity box.

This incident gives us just the glimpse of how our social workers work here in Nepal. Ritu serving her as a domestic maid for almost 10 years was what exactly they think about the people they work for years. Ritu was fired from her work as a domestic maid in about early 2010 for her backbiting habit. Oh, yes her backbiting subject was Mrs. Shrestha and her family members good work.

Its their prestige to work for us but we are not their pride even if we do good in college and life. Somebody else will take pride in our work and achievement but definitely not the social workers who work for us for years.

Note : Rojan is in his 2nd year in his college and studying management and his favourite subject is Computer science for which he is still getting support from the same foundation.

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Lighter side of a grumpy lady

Sunita Giri 11:14 PM |

Jamuna DIdi was a room nanny, serving in the in children's section, younger than eight years old. She was in the same room for years, with another didi, because young children needed two ladies to take care of, instead of teen’s room which had only one didi to take care of all 18 - 20 girls or boys. She was not the kind of person, who was happy, instead, kind of grumpy looking all the time for unknown reasons. She was ever ready to snap for the things that did not go, as she wished. It was kind of good for her that, she was in the children section not in teenagers room, as a nanny otherwise, same could have initiated many uneasy and unwanted arguments most of the times.

Normally, room nannies did not wore make ups, on their daily work. Even if they put which is the birthright of women to color them and do anything to make himself feel good about, I guess I was just too ignorant to care about it and remember it even today. They wore very natural look and wore dhotis on duty and off duty as they were on 24 hour work. They kept their long hair always braided on. Most of the didis have long hair, that went almost below their hip line.

It sure looks she was in different mood today, no wonder she put makeup, that red lipstick on her lips which highlight her lips extra. She had two long front teeth, which came outside  her lips; without her permission and it was not the good sight. It was bit yellowish in color no not off white color. She was not the beautiful looking lady, in fact her grupy nature, kind of suited her average look. Was she angry with her own look ? I would not know that answer never ever. She was just average looking lady, in her forty may be; but when I was small, I found her bit older than that, about ten to fifteen years older than her real age, perhaps.

Today, when we were studying after evening meal, before bed, which is just half an hour or so late now. But, she was in different mood. Today is not the special day in any way; but she felt it so to do something different; different just to feel good and nothing else.  

So, she put her make up and then lose her regular dress, which is dhoti and then done herself in the extra pair of pants and shirt. She also seem to have a hat to wear on her new dress, just like the foreigners. Back then, it was not the common sight to see an adult lady, wearing a pant and shirt, because that was not the dress; even most affluent people in society choose to wear. As for her long hair, she hide it under her hat and she also found the cane to walk like a man. She looked different, I mean funny. She found it funny too and she was the one who was enjoying her new look than anyone else.

No, wonder she went from room to room to show, new and lighter side of hers to everyone. Our first reaction was to be surprised at first sight of her and then when we recognized her we laughed like crazy. She also did some funny walk and pose and then she used to laugh like crazy bending almost double in her fits of laughter.

Watching her light side of that moment, would have taught us something; but we were just too young to get something out of those moments. It was just a fun moment for us, so much fun we laughed hard and long. And not only laughed hard for that moment, it remained in my mind for long after to look back and reminisce now; and then smile again remembering those funny time I have spent in Bal Mandir.

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Gundruk [a fermented green vegetable]

Sunita Giri 10:48 PM |

 Gundruk is very much part of our food life; I mean kitchen life. In fact, to some, its a part of our lifestyle also. It very Nepali, inside out.  I love the citrusy, soury and tangy taste of it, and why me only, everyone loves its taste, purely because of its simply lovable taste.

Gundruk is also related with winter seasons. No, not because of its taste, but because gundruk is made during the winter seasons; just like many of the pickles, we make during  winter seasons. Normally, people talk about the gundruk being very tasty, if its the radish leaves, or if its the mustard leaves or garlic. But I guess, its the individual taste, which people are used to of liking and eating during their childhood, because when people talks about gundruk, I know, only one of it and that is made of green leaves of Cauliflowers that they used to grew in Bal Mandir, where I grew up as a child.

They grew plenty of Cauliflower in our kitchen garden, that it was not only enough to feed  200 people for more than two months; in some years, there was so much of it, that they even sun dried it, to manage it for summer time, when normally people face scarcity of enough curry to cater the palate. But that was not the one of my favorite memories of curry from Bal Mandir.

Its not that the soil was not fertile for radish because they grew plenty of it and it too was enough to slice it and then sun dry it  but they only made the gundruk from the leaves of cauliflower, not the radish leave or I just forgot it now. I don't have much good memory at times.

Making of gundruk, used to take place during long winter vacations day. In those days, we used to get really long winter vacation from our schools, like fifty days straight, and those vacations are called ‘min pachas’ holidays. It took me years to understand, why those days are called ‘min pachas’. In those 50 days, even fish feels cold, thats why; its called min pachas [min = fish, pachas = fifty ].

Making gundruk was a good time pass for didis and housemother also took part in it. Housemothers used to supervise for it, and didis [room nannies] used to make it. Big girls used to help those green leaves cut and clean. Although I have seen them making it for so long and for many years; yet I do not know how to make it, and I have never ever made it myself.

How they made gundruk : I think, first they used to let the green leaves sun dry in crisp winter sun for a day. then next day they clean it in water. and then they bang it with bit heavy wood to tenderize it and then they cut it in small piece i mean in about 2” size and then they stuffed it  in big tin can of oil or ghee. after filling the big can they used to pour hot water to fill the empty space and then they used to close its top with hey and then plastic cover on top of it and then they used to pressure the can with two big size brick so that the gas won't enter in it, and then they used to let it stay like that under the winter sun for may be about 15 days or 3 weeks. For a good quality gundruk winter sun is a must; otherwise, all the hard work and  the vegetables will go wasted. I have seen in those cold months of January when they used to open the tin and half the tin was wasted just like that.
Once it completes its time under the sun then they used to sun dry it for about a week. may be due to dim power of sun was not enough for couple of days to dry it under the winter sun. Once its completely dried they used to store it for summer. Okay, this tells me now that, we have plenty of curries during winter season than in summer to cater our palate.

Gundruk is normally eaten with soupy way, better if you are not planning to make lentil for the day. Its so tasty, it more than sufficient to replace the lentil for the day. Some use it to make the pickle also. Pickle can be made from the raw or dried gundruk. I have tasted the pickle of raw gundruk, its taste is so wow. Those who love the taste of it, will go gaga for the fresh scent of gundruk, when it fills the air. For a soupy curry, in Bal Mandir, they used to make it with some dried soybean and potatoes and then once its done they added  lots of water. That's how normally its eaten.

Although gundruk is regarded poor man's delicacy but its taste is so good that it is not just the poor man's meal. Gundruk is in fact is hassle free curry for some working class people. Adding some tomatoes and topping it with egg is icing on the cake and only some well-to-do people can have it this way.

I do love gundruk like many and like the taste of it for long; but once I grew up and started noticing lots of pigeons which had settled in the Bal Mandir walking on the open drain that carried the kitchen waste and water to the drain holes, which passed the round of the front yards walls. Every time ever one passed them to go to the tap  all of them flew up in the sky and then rested on top of the roof, where  the gundruk was kept for sun dry. Since then, the thought of eating gundruk as a curry started to make me, not only sick; but it started giving me diarrhea. It may have been the psychological sickness, but I could not help watch the pigeons wander on our summer curry and then forget about it when eating it. Its good  taste meant nothing for me after that, and I forgot but only remember it make me sick. I can eat it, if I don't know the whole story behind  it of how its made and how many flies or pigeons flew over it; otherwise I might still throw up.
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