Bina Theeng Tamang: There was a beer factory in Hetauda’s industrial district. It was our playground. We played with marbles and chungi, crawled through thorny bushes to collect bottle caps. And since the factory roads were smooth and paved, we took our bicycles for high-speed spins.
Muna Gurung: Your family is from Hetauda?
B: Nuwakot, but my parents moved to Hetauda. They ran a little shop outside a high school. We never had a lot of money, but as far as I can remember, I always got whatever I asked for. I was pampered. Ama was Ba’s second wife and I was their only child. I have an older brother from Ba’s first wife, but he didn’t stay with us in Hetauda. I got all the attention. When Ba went to Raxaul in India, he brought back fancy dresses and crates of sweet mangoes…
M: It sounds like a dream.
B: All of it disappeared quickly in 9th grade, though. That year, my parents moved to Kathmandu but I stayed back to complete my schooling. Our shop was not doing well, so they had sold our house in Hetauda and bought a small sunless plot of land in Balaju. Then one day, Ama called to say that she wanted to see me. When I arrived in Kathmandu, I found out that they had arranged my marriage to a Tamang boy who was my age, but only studying in 7th grade. All I remember thinking was: He is so short!
M: This is your husband we are talking about?
B: Yes. He is taller than me now. (Laughs). My parents agreed to the proposal because my husband’s family said they did not want any dowry and that they would let me continue my studies. Our swayambar was simple: my husband’s family brought a rooster, some sel roti, and alcohol, and then we exchanged rings. But I still went to school and did not live with his family. On the 5th day after SLC, I came to this house.
M: And you have been here ever since.
B: Yes, I came here in 1995 when this entire place was a village. I still call Taulung a village. The people here may have fancy 3-storey houses now, but their way of living, being and thinking have not changed much. Back then, there were large rocks everywhere and the forest was much closer. So imagine, a freewheeling cycle-riding girl from Hetauda is suddenly dropped in a village in Kathmandu. There were only Tamang families here and they all spoke in Tamang. My parents spoke to each other in Tamang language, but I never learned it. In Hetauda, I mostly had Chettri and Bahun friends, and like them I did not eat buffalo meat and I operated in Nepali. After moving here, I woke up early in the morning and went to the forest with other women to collect firewood and fodder for the cows. I learned the language through them, the neighbourhood kids and my in-laws.
M: And now you are one of Nepal’s few women writing in Tamang. How did the language sit on your tongue?
B: With a lot of discomfort. I am still told that I do not have the tone right, like I am speaking like an outsider. Writing in Tamang came a lot later, though. I joined Padma Kanya Campus after I got married, but when I gave birth to a son, I quit school. The baby was big and healthy, a full 4 kilos! When he was born, the doctors at Teaching Hospital paraded him around. They could not believe that a 17-year-old girl could give birth to a baby that big. When they saw the father, they laughed at how tiny he was. But, that baby died. He was only three months old.
M: I am so sorry.
B: I was young, you know. I did not even know how to feed him. Both my breasts got infected and the milk would not come out. To make matters worse, the local shaman, an old man who lived near our house, was called to cure me. He pierced both my breasts with porcupine quills and squeezed my nipples to make the milk come out.
M: That sounds painful…and wrong.
B: It was the worst. And after all that, still no milk. So they took me to the hospital where they operated on my breasts. Meanwhile, the baby was drinking buffalo milk. But one day, he got weaker after each feeding. By night time, he was no longer alive. Later, we discovered that the pot used to heat the milk had a thin residue of insecticide, maybe to keep the flies off.
M: What was his name?
B: (Pauses) You know, I don’t even remember what we called him.
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