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Do You Understand? A Story from Nepal

Dulal Baje Nepal
A friend recently introduced me to Humans of New York, a photoblog with an enormous following on social media. Ranging from the mundane to the profound, these portraits and snippets offer brief but intimate glimpses into the worlds of others. They feed our collective craving for stories, personal tales, to hear and to share them.

Not long after I came across an offshoot project called Stories of Nepal. As visitors to Ekostories might know, I’ve written a few pieces on my trip there in 2012, and even though I was in the country for all too brief a time, the people of that land have remained dear to me. Reading through some of their stories, one in particular resonated with me during this tail-end of the holiday season and calendar year. With the permission of photographer and translator Jay Poudyal, I would like to share it with you a passage by a farmer named Dulal Baje:

“There was no animosity during our times. We were farmers. We were strong communities. We were families. No politics.

Do you understand? We did not seek employment. Our earnings were the crops that we grew by our own hands. Do you understand? But now, a different kind of age has taken over. No one is equal and no amount of money is enough to satisfy our greed.

Do you understand? In our times, we really didn’t need money. Why would we need such a thing? The only thing we needed to buy was kerosene and salt. Do you understand? There was no buying and selling. You grow and you eat. During winter we ate homemade ghee and potatoes and yam from the fields.

Do you understand? We raised animals. All of us. For milk and for fertilizers. And we were strong men. Not like those men of today who have pregnant bellies and boast about strength. They eat bad chicken and drink. Everyone carries some kind of disease. All of these diseases have names. You tell me babu. The thing is we, after all the hard work, walking distance that you won’t believe in, would make it back home before sunset, and before calling it a night, drank the purest of milk. The next morning we felt so light that we could fly.

Do you understand? I don’t have any disease. Now money, when will it ever be enough. For a hundred you need a thousand, and then a lakh, and then a crore. And they started farming buildings instead of crops, in this fertile land. They all forgot about nature. We all forgot about nature. Do you understand?”

-Dulal Baje, Manthali Bazaar, Sindhupalchowk. (Reposted with permission)

Baje’s story is a lament for a simpler past. It is a clarion call against the trappings of modernity, the corrosive nature of capitalism, the growing disconnect to the rhythms of the land, the pitfalls of desiring more for more’s sake. These things we in the west know in our bones. The things I explore in my writing.

What makes the piece powerful is in the telling. Told in the oral tradition and shared in a conversation, Baje’s story demands to be read aloud, heard aloud. Whether the account was transcribed word-for-word or translated into its current form, his short statements and fearless use of repetition gives the story shape, heft, and urgency. Do you understand what it felt to be alive with joy? Do you understand what is now being lost? Do you understand the road we are going down?

I think I do.

For more portraits and conversations, check out Poudyal’s work at Stories of Nepal.

Related Ekostories:

Featured image reposted with permission.

7 Comments

  1. nannus says

    “they started farming buildings instead of crops, in this fertile land…” what an excellent observation and formulation! An outsider of something can see simple truths where the insider is blind.

  2. Paula Peeters says

    Great story – thankyou. For some reason, the repeated ‘Do you understand?’ has a similar resonance to the repeated questions from the father, and the responding ‘ok’s’ from his son in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Not sure why.

  3. I guess I mixed feelings about the farmer’s sentiments. His way of life works best by having his community isolated from the First World.

    However what is telling that how possible it is to be still healthy in mind and body with enough food that one has grown and living in a healthy environment. I would love to hear his wife…what she would say.

    I guess what I’m trying to say that we have to be very careful not over-romanticize subsistence living..because everyone in the household has to work hard. And it can be very demanding on the body…(helps if there was some modern medicine for certain situations).

    But yes, it is possible to be poor…and still healthy. Here is my background:
    https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/judge-not-the-poor-eating-healthy/ I know how incredibly hard my parents had to work and raise us..it wore down my mother..but there are other personal stories from close friends of immigrant parents who gave the same gift of health to their children in Canada.

    Am focusing on food..because now Canadians really notice the higher price of food this year!

    My paternal and maternal family backgrounds are rural China…I have to say we need modern medicine to help with difficult diseases.

  4. Hi Jean, I totally understand what you are saying. Over-romanticization of a subsistence lifestyle is a pitfall I am always weary of, because it’s so easy to fall into thinking things are better on the other side. There are many advancements we take for granted that make huge differences in quality of life. Modern medicine, as you mentioned, is a huge one that cannot be understated.

    I think his story is an interesting one to tell, because it sheds light on the troubles we have in our culture. I think conversely telling our story might also shed light on the deficiencies in his way of life as well!

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