A book could be boring if it is not of your field of interest. But not all books. Some can be damn interesting regardless of what they are about. Dambar Krishna Shrestha’s ‘Nepali Pravasan: Niyati ra Rahar’ is one such book. It tells stories of Nepalis who have gone to foreign countries—from Asia to Europe to Australia to America. These are stories of life, aspiration, success, failure, pain, death, labor, entrepreneurship, and hope.The stories take you on a world tour and connect you to Nepalis everywhere. You’ll meet Tulasi Kumar Gurung of Pokhara in Hong Kong who ensures that his boss Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in the world, is safe and sound. You’ll meet Sabin Sapkota of Dharan in Germany, coaching golfers. There’s Gurkha soldier Indra Bahadur Rai from Dharan, showing his five medals of bravery from World War II. And Hakim Shrestha from Jhapa who runs a chain of grocery stores in Malaysia. The construction company initiated by Dipak Khadka in Hong Kong employs 360 people from Australia, China, and the Philippines. Lakesh Gurung from Gongabu (Kathmandu) is an army officer in French Foreign Legion.
Gulf countries may be risky for Nepali women but they are doing pretty well in Hong Kong, Japan, the US, and the UK. Pavin Rai from Dharan is an officer with British Armed Forces. People often assume she is a Gurkha soldier or a wife of one. It’s hard for them to believe she has fought hard battles in the bunkers of Kenya, Cyprus, and twice in Afghanistan. Her most difficult moment was when three of her colleagues were killed in Afghanistan in 2008.
Sushila Rai found it difficult to sustain the family even after working from 4am till 9pm at her shop in Dharan. In Hong Kong, earning a living has never been an issue.
On board Qatar Airways, you may run into the music video model Pragya Panta, who is now an airhostess with the airlines. There you may also meet ‘hot’ cybernepal.com model Sicilia. Eating Nepali food at Monika Rai’s restaurants in Japan and shopping at her department stores can also be an experience.
In America, you’ll meet many of Nepal’s missing celebrities. If you’re one of the music-loving teens of the 1990’s, you may be interested in knowing that Harish Mathema is ‘found in the US doing something or the other.’ It makes me nostalgic as I still have his songs ‘Aankhako Nani Hau Timi’ and ‘Swapnil Rangma’ in my collection.
Actress Arunima Lamsal smiles in front of the tables in a Maryland restaurant where she works. Singer Yam Baral poses for a photo on a street. Actresses Saranga Shrestha and Puja Chanda stand for a group picture with their families. Premraja Mahat, Yam Baral, Sapanashree, Jagadish Samal, Roshan Gurung, Dipesh Kishor Bhattarai sing Nepali songs somewhere. Yam Baral quips: “There are so many Nepali artistes in the US that one may have to take them from here for a show in Nepal.”
The stories are written in direct and unpretentious tone of newspaper journalism. The skills of Shrestha as a writer-reporter and of Rajendra Dahal, Kundan Aryal, Shiva Gaunle, and Kiran Nepal as editors at Himal Khabarpatrika combine to give reading pleasure.
Had it been an academic thesis or an NGO report on migration, it would be half as fun to read. But written by a journalist who is himself a migrant in Hong Kong, it sounds real and lively.
The book is a collection of stories Shrestha wrote between 2000 and 2015 for Himal Khabarpatrika. The 41 stories are thematically divided into nine sections. There are success stories of Nepalis but also stories of awful deaths abroad. It’s appalling to learn that three dead bodies fly into the country daily. There are people who have committed suicide after failing to repay debts even after working under the hot Qatar sun.
There is the gloomy story of Sudarshan Khadka of Lele, Lalitpur, whose brother Ramesh Khadka was one of the 12 Nepalis killed by terrorists in Iraq in 2004. The government gave the family a million rupees in compensation. The family spent Rs 100,000 to build a bust of the dead son at the courtyard of their house, and gave Sudarshan Rs 250,000 to go abroad for work. Of all the countries, Sudarshan chose Iraq. The reason was better pay. He confides to the author: “It’s no use just remembering him [Ramesh]. Though the fear of death looms every moment, there is also the hope of earning well.” But he couldn’t enter Iraq. His agent took him to Jordan via India, Dubai, and Kuwait. After spending three months on the tour and losing the money, he returned.
Why would Nepalis go abroad after all? The book offers some ideas. In his preface to the book, Rajendra Dahal writes: “On reading the success stories of Nepalis abroad, a question comes to the mind: Nepalis don’t have work at home, but they have no dearth of it abroad. Why is that?”
Published by Himal Kitab for the Center for the Study of Labor and Mobility, Social Science Baha, the 296-page book is priced at Rs 390