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MUSINGS ON THE NON-RESIDENT NEPALIS

The "Lahures" were the first Non-Resident Nepalis conscripted in the Punjabi army of Maharjah Ranjit Singh at Lahore after the 1806 A.D. conflagration between Nepal and the Punjab. The "Lion" of Punjab was suitably impressed by the bravery and fierce-minded independence of the hill tribes of Nepal. They were the precursors to the "Gurkhas", conscripts in the British forces in India from the hills of Nepal. These soldiers, for over two centuries, have brought back their experiences, indomitable spirit and life savings to the motherland after retirement. The pension they get from the British and the Indian armies plays a significant role in modernizing the high mountain hamlets these soldiers left behind.

The progenies of the brave Gurkhas can be found in many places of the erstwhile empire. Besides India there are significant settlements in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Burma and so on. These third or fourth generation Nepalese have taken local citizenship and created for themselves a niche in the host countries in certain sectors of the economy like providing personal and industrial security. Notwithstanding their present nationality the Nepalese are active in local organizations preserving and fostering Nepali-pan; from religious ceremonies to cultural festivals the Nepalese there do exactly as their kith and kin back home. Often times they take brides from the hills of Nepal.

Following World War II and the Communist insurgency in Malaya there were 5,000 Gurkha soldiers stationed there. From among these the government granted citizenship to about 600 and resettled in Rawang in Selangor, some 50 km from Kuala Lumpur. They are from four clans: Magar Rana, Chettri, Rai and Gurung. I fondly remember Bal Bahadur Rana, President of the Gurkha Society in Selangor and Federal Territory as a one man emissary non pareil. As a successful second generation Gurkhali businessman heading a huge private security firm, "Baal" was never found wanting when it came to doing Nepal proud. He passed away suddenly in the prime of life a few years back and he will be missed by many.

A decade after the reconstruction of Europe following World War II foreign immigrants started filling in the menial labour vacancies left by now affluent citizenry of many countries of Western Europe and they also started staying behind by taking advantage of tantalizing loopholes in their liberal immigration laws. Just as Turks and Yugoslavs were allowed in by Germany, Algerians and Moroccans by France, the favorite Nepalese work place was Great Britain joining their brethren from the Indian Subcontinent. When I was studying in London in the seventies, I came across many of the first generation Nepalese settlers there mostly working in the Indian Tandoori Restaurants. Their life's ambition was to make enough money to invite their families from back home, educate their children and invest in an abode. In the early nineties I found that half the village of Gulmi had followed one enterprising son-of-the-soil émigré to Finland! Two childhood friends from Nepal enjoy mixed fortunes in England: while one is still working in tandoori joints, another is a partner in a very successful accounting firm. Both will not return.

Perhaps the most successful émigrés of them all were the Nepalese students who were studying in the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Al Capone days of the breakup of the evil empire. They promptly left the classrooms and went into business, unlikely vanguard of the crass commercialism the demise of Communism presaged. How they went to Singapore and Hong Kong and carried back electronic goods to sell to a techno-starved populace, and eventually how they set up a huge shopping mall on an exhibition ground in Moscow that once proudly showcased "Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy", well known by its Russian acronym VDNKh, are stuff of legend. Mammon had overtaken Communism!

Nepalese émigrés capable of getting U.S. Green Cards or its equivalent across Europe are there to stay for good. They have taken their children there for better education and when children are born there, they are automatically granted citizenship. There is no way these children will ever come back and adapt themselves to the penury their forebears coped with, nor can we expect them to. The world is our village now and we must fit ourselves as best we can in any corner of the world without chauvinistic Nepali-pan encumbering us. We can only wish fame and fortune on these Nepalis wherever they may choose to live. They may come back and invest in Nepal only if they see opportunities as elsewhere. But with a very few notable exceptions most of these émigré Nepalese are not at the top of the pecking order in their host countries and they are working hard just to make ends meet; they do not have the spare money to invest back home.

The third category of Nepalese in foreign shores is the labour force now prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Gulf States and Malaysia. They are there on short-term contract at a time, with neither hope of assimilation nor of citizenship. They are the true NRNs sending 100% of their earnings back home. They are the new Lahures who have helped the local economy when traditional resources like tourism and agriculture are running dry. They are the unsung, faceless heroes of the country who have taken to foreign shores to toil in blood, sweat and tears under sometimes excruciatingly difficult conditions. Constructing roads in 40 plus Celsius, or farming in tropical climes do not come easily to the highland dwellers of Nepal.

Whether one arrives at Kuala Lumpur International Airport or one checks in at a hotel in Dubai, the instant smile of the Nepali porter or the bell boy is testimony to Nepalese hospitality and discipline given the right environment of employment, sorely lacking in the divisive and disruptive trade unionism of present day Nepal. I remember several years back leaving my hotel in Kuala Lumpur to find the security guards clustered together and one of them animatedly explaining something of import. Curiosity getting the better of me I approached them to find that back home the king had taken over. All the Nepalese guards were confident that now things would get back to normal. I was aghast! Were not these people the constituents of a Maoist Republic? Why were they joyously greeting the news of the king's takeover? It then dawned upon me that most Nepalese would like to earn a living in peace without the political baggage forcibly thrust upon them by the political masters from the left to the right.

The Non-resident Nepalis are our representatives in the global village and they deserve our recognition as such. Dual citizenship is the umbilical cord attaching them to their country of birth. Whether they are Americans or British, Australians or Russian, they are also Nepalis and will always be our emissaries in distant shores and one day they will shine. Granting them Nepalese citizenship offers us hope and thrusts responsibility on them. I don't believe they can offer any significant relief to Nepal at the moment, but the future is hopeful.

Comments

  1. Succinct and, as usual, well written summary of the history of the lahures.

    One statement struck me much: "It then dawned upon me that most Nepalese would like to earn a living in peace without the political baggage forcibly thrust upon them by the political masters from the left to the right." How true! And that "peace" is nowhere in sight. Case in point, the agitation schedule just made public by the Maoists. They are actually going to anounce the components of a federal state!!

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  2. I like your emphasis of the unsung heroes from the hills and Terai who continue to completely "fund" Nepal (equally in the king's time and today) in the most significant manner.

    While political and journalist punditry is at its zenith with self serving,smug statements like the famous sound byte on BBC by a local journalist some years ago ("the political change bodes well for Nepal"), the people who actually sustain Nepal are these unsung Lahures without whom bankers, politicians, journalists, doctors etc etc would be the poorer.

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  3. I came across your blog about a week ago and I've been reading your postings off and on since then. I must say I find it very captivating. All the historical tit-bits that you've shared may not carry a historical value to most but I think some of the events that you've described certainly does. Some of the events that never made it to any history books I find it quite interesting and of great piece of history. Such as tussle between Tribhuvan and Mahendra when the latter wanted to marry Ratna. The pressure on king Tribhuvan from his cabinet and Indian Ambassador to land the Indian troops in KTM during Dr K.I. Singh incident. I've read quite a few history books on Nepal but didn't know about these incidents. If these incidents had gone the other way..Tribhuvan declaring Mahendra's younger brother as crown prince, Indian troops in mission in Nepal...one can only imagine.
    I also really enjoy reading about your childhood experiences. Combined with your story telling skill and choice of words makes it fun to read.
    Thanks
    Prabhat

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  4. Quite a balanced view of the NRN situation. Granting dual citizenship will at least tie their umbilical cord to the mother(land)- very thoughful.

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