A tribute to a Limbu Woman
Nawa Raj Subba
Many people have got respect inside the life and even after death. The children who are born pay their father’s homage. But an ordinary Limbuni woman, and even a mother who today has no children in this material world, at least as far as I can recall, seems to have no human being. That is why, by going forward as a human being, I try to pay homage to her – by writing a memory.
In the Vikram Samvat of the 2030s, there was an aged single woman named Saily Budhi or Limbuni Budhi. She lives underneath the playground of Saraswati High School in Hangpang village of Taplejung district. At that time, out of fear rather than respect, I used to call her Saily Baju (grandmother). She used to be a high school student villain like us and often hurt the students. If a football fell from the field to her field when we were playing, our hearts would pound. We used to be afraid of thinking she could pick the ball and make a hole in it with her sickle. I also remembered that the old lady picked it up and took it home to conceal it. She was chasing students like a female hen to defend chickens when she went to ask for football. She used a sickle in her hand to chase the student. Students ran away in terror at the time. We used to play football almost every day, even amid such worries and anxieties.
There were two playgrounds at our school. One was large and the other small. On a big field, we kids don’t get to play too much. So I had to go and play on the narrow ground, where the ball would fall directly on the old lady’s field. It seemed like a woman at that time was so rigid, so brutal, but I finally understand the psychology of the pain of such a cruel person today. I’m trying to learn how tough people need to be to survive. I now realized the significance of the thrones rising with the flower at this time. So I am writing those words as a tribute to her, remembering her.
One day, there was a football match between the students in the school’s big playground. The ball crossed the playground fence in the middle of the game and went straight down to the lady’s field. The aged woman struck the straight with a sickle, chasing the football. The football had a hole in it, and the wind was swirling and collapsing. The students got excited. Then they destroyed the millet field by dancing and jumping. There was a big debate between the lady and the students. She was the only one on one side and the hundreds of students on the opposite. However, nobody even touched her. But after crushing her crop, the students returned to a winning mood. The same loss she suffered all year. She was a school victim of humiliation. But she was a kind of villain for the students/teachers.
During Dashain, Lady Saily Baju used to invite my mother to eat something. I used to walk over to her house with my mother in tow. She used to amuse my mother with Yangben, a sort of edible mushroom that grows in the upper forest on a tree cooked in the blood of a buffalo, and millet liquor. With chili, it used to be hot. And in a small jug of water, she used to give me water, to wash Yangben’s spice into my stomach. I liked Yangben very much, however. She used to feed her specially made pickled chicken feathers occasionally. It was bitter but tasty. I used to use water to eat it. Only during the festivals were such dishes used. She used to make onion pickles, often pickles of Dungdunge leaves, sometimes pickles of local tomatoes (Rambhenda), when my mother went to see her periodically. I used to sit beside my mother and lick my mother’s pickle secretly. I felt yummy at that moment.
At the time, I was probably five or six years old. The taste of the Yangben, Onion, Dungdunge, and Tomato (Rambhenda) pickles is still on the tongue even today, forty years later. Nowadays, I remember her vividly when I see the greens of Yangben/Dungdunge somewhere. Not just that, if anywhere I see gourd, sponge gourd, I am going to remember the same Lady Sailybaju. She used to surround the goat’s shed roof and grow gourds. I can see her developing and growing each day as I walked along the path to her yard. When did Baju go to the garden to collect pumpkin, gourd, and sponge gourd? I was intrigued by the vegetables in her backyard. I used to be shocked when I saw the pumpkin and guard on the window display.
Until I was old, I couldn’t help but speak to the rigid Lady Saily Baju. After completing my medical certificate in Kathmandu in 2037 VS, I came to work in my village as the health post-in-charge. Lady Sailybaju was very old at that time. She was sitting on the floor of the house one day, talking to my mom. She said to me in a soft voice, ‘Nawa Raj, if there is medication, give it to me for this itchy wound.’ She showed me the wound on her head. I’ve seen that it’s tinea capitis (Ringworm). From the health post, I brought the medication. That went a little bit. Later on, I moved to a different district in 2040 VS.
I found out later, when I came home, that she had died. In pain, she died. To find out, I was upset. The school and the playground moved, I saw. The playing field that we used to have is zero as well. Downstairs, the house of Sailybaju stands alone, stunned, like me. The door is closed; the house is locked in the building. Students don’t play football there. Ironically, after her death, the students went from there when the school and the playground moved away. The destiny of playing with the student was difficult for her.
I’ve seldom seen such an influential woman, no matter how hard she tried. A woman who is always steadfast in her desires and values and unwavering. Who recalls her even after her death? Even if someone remembers her, they are scattered like me today. Some students can recall her as a fun and bitter character of a landlord.
But as a struggling heroine, I remember her today. At the moment, I don’t even have a snapshot of her. But I have in my mind a vivid image of her. I’m never going to be able to eat those delicious dishes I used to eat in my childhood, of course. I will not be able to eat it for health reasons, even though someone gives it to me. The taste and the memory of her will always be with me. As a determined person, I will always admire the heroine who managed to survive. My heartfelt homage to the celestial Sailybaju, the mother of the living. My tribute to the lady who, ever after, lived happily and died alone.
[‘Manko Majheri’ essays, translated into The Mind Canvas by the author. ‘मनको मझेरी’ निबन्धसंग्रहको श्रद्धाञ्जली एउटी लिम्बूनीलाई स्मरणात्मक लेखलाई लेखकद्वारा अनुवाद गरिएको]