I have memories of the painted glasses and the bread vendor. I used to watch him each time he came around; the buns used to be soft and tasty. I remember getting together with some girls once to pretend that the bun was a cake. We got one of those buns to celebrate our doll’s birthday. You know how we all play those games that make us feel creative, older and wiser. Another time we were in “Lahan” for my cousin’s wedding, I was seven years old. The ladies dressed in beautiful “Banarasi Silk” sarees sat in a room accompanied by their endless chats. I thought to myself, “Wow! They really can remember so many things and talk about them all at once.” I wondered how good I would get with it, with storing information and vomiting it just when I wanted. I also wished to have a lot of grey matter in my head and be well spoken.
English – the language I mean, that is what I wanted to be good at. I wanted to talk and express, not sure what though. Maithili, Nepali, Hindi or any other language was not as significant but fortunately I was good at all others except Hindi. Even after watching infinite Hindi movies I did not speak it well. Maybe I was just not interested. I struggled learning Nepali because I was already thinking in Maihtili and each time I spoke my brain got down to doing more work than what a monolinguist’s brain would probably do. But it got alright, my skills and awareness only got better and I ended up disliking mathematics.
I went to Little Angel’s School for 12 years and I am glad I did. With a capacitating strength of thousands of student accommodated initially at the Dhobighat and later at Hattiban buildings, I stood out mostly through the later part of my childhood. Teachers liked me, kids liked me too but they did not like me when I was chosen the “Class Monitor” for obvious reasons or when I stood up for the “Madhesis” and “Bhaiyas”.
It was a tough job, to be stern, a changemaker but most difficult was to be true to myself and my strange feelings. Trust me when I say this I had the softest heart and the most non-violent approach to life. It was my length of 5.5 inches in the fifth grade and 5.8 when I was in the seventh which gave an impression otherwise. I was tall; some called me “Ghhatocghac”, “Lambu”, “Big Show”, equally often “Madey, Dhoti, Indian, seldom Marshya and then “Moja – Short for Moni Jha “.
So I was the class monitor, a good student, tall, but I was “Madhesi”. That was my problem, I even remember when I had to talk for a few minutes before we finished our ninth grade, I spoke about “Bhaiyas”, how it was not a good feeling when you are perceived as the strange one and you are too big and you mother tongue is beautiful but different and you do not speak it as much because you are worried, scared and just not sure.
All of us have grown up with preferences. We have grown up loving and hating things and it only seems natural to do so. No one wants to be honest but everyone talks of it, of how it is the perfect policy. We hate but we hide because there is a limit to expressing oneself and hate is never pleasant .We hide that hate because we know it is not as decent and fancy as “love” and “respect” but more so because we do not want to work towards love, towards betterment but want to be “the best” already.
I have experienced that hate, I have known how it is to be a minority, I have known how it is to be different, and I have known how it is to speak a different language. I have known it better because our culture to some ignorant people looks not just different than the usual “Nepali” culture but also like a split fraction of the “Indian culture”. The hatred that resides in the heart of these people and the hatred that arises from well exhibited and clearly stated preference of white/fair skinned Nepali.
As a “Madhesi ” I have experienced it all. I grew up that day when a couple asked me if I were a Nepali or an Indian, I clearly did not know the answer. I was 6-year old and my parents did not teach me all of this because they did not want me to know the hate that was already thriving in my surrounding. I was confused if “Nepali” was a national or an ethnic identity and I still am.
I felt unfortunate when people who chose India as their country had better chances of getting my country’s sympathy and support, only because they looked “Nepali”. I have always held India on a respectable level – as the country where a small part of my family belongs to, the country where Gautam Buddha was enlightened, the country where “Sita” lived with lord Ram, the country where I learnt my biggest lessons, the country that I lived in for nine years, I had no reason to not celebrate the similarities and differences.
My grandmother whose heroic stories I have heard was an Indian too, I really wanted to meet her but she was gone before I took this birth. Today I can proudly say that I do not have hate for any person or nation. I did not know how I ever was an Indian, whose only thing I was using was, for example, food, crop, supplies and television movies. But everyone else did that too, so why only me?
So what was it that was going on, my grandmother used to be Indian, my aunts get married into India, my language Maithili is also spoken in India. It pleased me, it made me happy to realize that a part of my culture was being preserved somewhere, I was happy I could go to those universities in Bihar and UP where they would still have things remaining from our literature and culture.
Don’t judge me but I said, “I am Madhesi” and the couple did not understand me and walked away. They looked lost, so did I. At the age of 11 or 12, I changed my name from “Moni” to “Monica”. Not so important. Also not very important that I cried each time I was put into a non-Nepali category. I felt bad when, at the age of 16, I heard the guy I liked saying “who’s going to date that “dhoti”.
It should not have hurt because I knew this feeling for a long time and thought I was immune to all of this. I should have given up in the battle but it was all so difficult. It was difficult to let go of what made me, what made my parents, what my sensibilities found interesting and the little things I loved doing at home but was not so sure about outside. It was difficult to remind myself that Maithili was not Nepali and that I was being judged. Sometimes I did not want to fight those battles in my head, some days I did not want to be a “Madhesi” or “Marsya”. All I wanted to be was a human and a Nepali. That is what I wanted. When nothing worked I chose a mask, I chose to bear with my friends calling out a street vendor “bhaiya”. I listened while my friends said, “Oh come on, you know you are not like other Marshyas” and smiled. The reality was I was like one of them one the one hand, and on the other hand nothing like anyone in this entire universe. I chose a new name, I chose Monica.
I have a problem when people thrive on hate and other’s miseries and perpetuate it. I have not had it easy in my life, but yes I recognize the efforts of the beautiful people around me -my parents, my people, my country, my teachers, my favourite actors, Lord Shiva, my sisters and my dearest friends.
I was lucky to have the low life balanced by the five beautiful girls I grew up with. Even when I did not know the spelling of “Diversity” I was already learning about it. I have been fortunate enough to be capable of channelizing my energy into a productive direction; today I understand that hate is never the solution. It hurts me when people like me do not speak up, or the ones who speak are shut down. I have chosen to stand by love; I have chosen to not let those few interject fear and hatred in our lives and souls. My political journey has been my method of connecting with my country, the country that people told me did not need me or people like me and the ideologies, the ideas, the beliefs and the promises that did not care for emotions of any minority.
There are revolutionary measures taken this time to make our society inclusive, on papers. But I have met them who have written these papers, I have spoken to them and I know good intentions are more relevant than good paper work. I know the other side of the reality where the one making these promises have still not risen above their vantage points and the belief system that dictates their actions. Things have changed “apparently” but my cousins still called names and face probably more problems. Till date no one has looked at me and said, “That is such a pretty Nepali face” after 27 years. I ask you all today, why? Why am I not a Nepali face, who decides where I come from and who is going to measure my patriotism with someone else and give me a comparative analysis on it? I am a proud Nepali, a worried Madhesi, concerned Monica and a hopeful Moni this time.
It is not a status update, this is my story. This is the story that has by far affected me the most and which is still killing a lot of dreams. The chapters of this hate story is conceived and written by minds like yours and mine. I have always tried not writing stories like these because I have known the pain of non-belongingness, the feeling of hiding, the feeling of being watched and the feeling of living with fear. If I could have it my way, I would write a story where all of us were together for love and peace. I would write a story where Buddha was actually understood, where society and individuality existed in harmony. I would write a story which has more dreams and smiles. I would erase that chapter where I chose a new name. It’s difficult to live with two names.
Today if I am fighting a battle, I am only fighting it for love and the little kids who are probably 6-year-olds and want to change their names too. I have stopped looking at people as a single entity; I look at people as magic and I have gathered enough energy to fight for love and not against a person, ideology or a community. I have fought my battles and I surely will continue, I hope you fight yours too.
Jai Madhesh, Jai Nepal.