Courtesy of Earthducation/LT Media Lab: Photo depicts representation of typical farmhouse as described by Iswar
Iswar Bahadur Sahi, Rifleman, 6 Gurkha Rifles, born 1942, Pokhara, Kaski District, Nepal; served 1960 to 1970
Like many Gurkha veterans, Iswar was born into a farming family in the rural district of Kaski. Iswar comes from a large family with two elder sisters and four younger brothers. All four brothers joined the Brigade of Gurkhas like Iswar. And like his brothers, Iswar fled from the family farm when he joined up and followed the recruiter (known as the Gallah Wallah). His parents didn’t want them to join because they were afraid their sons would be killed in war. They also needed their sons to keep the farm going.
Now aged 72, a congenial, gentle man, glasses, shaved hair, greying temples, Iswar smiles a lot, even when he is telling me a sad story of the incident when his friend was killed in combat beside him in the jungle of Malaysia and he was obviously moved by emotion at the same time. I ask Umesh afterwards why he smiled when he recounted this story but he doesn’t really have an answer.
Growing up, Iswar lived with his six siblings and parents on a family farm in a house which the family had built themselves. His grandparents lived very close by, next door. “Back then there were no cement and bricks … so we just used to do it with what we had, like mud and … make do, and we used to do it ourselves.” He says they all lived happily and everyone just got on with their jobs on the farm and enjoyed the occasional religious festival such as Dashain .
“Everything we ate was actually organic, so whatever we grew we ate.” They grew a range of food: rice, wheat, sweetcorn, mustard, sugar cane. They had cows and goats for milk and so they were self sustaining as much as possible.
Iswar says he was given “not much” to do by way of jobs around the farm. By “not much” what he actually did was cutting wood, grass and looking after the cows and goats. And this was from the age of five years old. Iswar’s earliest memory is at the age of five years old he remembers cutting his finger as he was trying to chop sugar cane. He laughs as he tells me this.
By “looking after the cows and goats” Iswar really means finding the food in the first place to feed the livestock, not purchasing it from a local convenience store and serving it up to the animals. I can’t imagine how much food a cow needs to survive during its lifetime on a farm yet alone gathering the food to feed it.
This was Iswar’s main existence every day and it was his world up until the age of 18. When I asked about any schooling Iswar said, “Nobody studied, there was no school around. It was very, very far and that’s why I’m not educated. There weren’t that many big issues, and if there was a very big rain then we would just stay in and look after the animals ’cause we had a lot of other things to do. So the field and the farming wasn’t the main issue and there wasn’t usually bad weather, much. … There wasn’t something as such, you know, like a family day out, it didn’t happen then. It was just kind of everyone got on with their own jobs and quite individual really. ”
Iswar knew nothing of what went on in the kitchen, it was what his mother would do and once his brothers got married their wives would do it. In his family the men, the boys would be out most of the time. The women “always eat after everyone’s finished, so the women in the house will eat after all the men have finished.”