It is more than 40 years since she took care of baby Chabilal and watched him grow. Today, she knows that Chabilal has become Prachanda. She has heard that he is somewhere, that he is well-known, and trying to become somebody. But she is still in her village, where Prachanda was born. Meet Devaki Dahal, aunt of Maoist leader Chairman Prachanda.
Devaki, a 72-year-old, still herds the livestock to the grazing grounds in the village of Lewade, Dhikupokhari Village Development Committee-2 in Kaski district. When people tease her about being Prachanda's "mother," old memories of Chabilal come to her mind-the boy who played in her lap, the one who could shut his eyes and rattle off the scriptures. Devaki recalls Prachanda learning the prayers to Goddess Durga from his father and uncle because there was no school in the village until he was eleven.
Since Prachanda's mother Devrani Bhawani was sickly, Devaki was in charge of his upbringing and looked after him until he was six. Prachanda's family continued to visit Devaki even after they moved to Chitwan in 1962.
"He came here with his wife before the "people's movement" began (in 1996), they even went to see his in-laws in Hemja, Kaski. I haven't been able to meet him since." Recalling the last time Prachanda was in the village, Devaki told Nepal Samacharpatra, "he said, \'aunt, we'll leave everything here and settle down in Chitwan, I'll come to get you.' I haven't seen a trace of him after that."
Longing to meet Prachanda, Devaki even sent him two letters. But she never received a reply. "I gave the person who came to see me a letter asking him to give it to Prachanda. He said he would. But now the messenger has stopped coming," she says, chin in hand and staring into space. "I wonder if he got the letter. If he did, he should have got in touch. He wouldn't abandon us. Maybe the messenger threw the letter away!"
"Meeting? I don't know whether that will ever happen. I'm quite old. I wish things would work out," says Devaki who's heard of the talks between the government and her dear Prachanda. "If they come to an agreement, there's a chance of seeing him again." There is hope in her voice.
"Who wouldn't appreciate their children's achievements?" asks Devaki, although she's not happy about the killings. "I wish people weren't killed," she says, "If we cry for our sons, others will cry for their sons when they die. Everyone's mortal remains are the same."
After her husband Kul Prasad passed away, Devaki's closest relations are her brother-in-law Mukti Ram (Prachanda's father) and Prachanda. At present, she looks after her in-laws family. Although they try very hard to keep up the family name, the branch of the Dahal family which continues to live in Prachanda's birthplace is often boycotted socially.
Close family members recall some neighbours and distant relatives saying they were the family of a murderer. "When the villages around got their first electric lights, we were not connected. They said they'd give us electricity today, tomorrow. Finally our family members raised money and got electricity themselves," says Devaki.
"It hurts to say this, but many of our relatives say we have a murderer in the family. We're isolated as they don't interact with us or talk to us." It is with a heavy heart that Tikaram Dahal recalls taking Prachanda to Chitwan when he was eight. It took eleven days as they herded cattle all the way to Chitwan.
"He's left, gone underground, but people who pass by this village say this is Prachanda's village and shy away from talking with us. Even after his departure, we've been through a lot of trouble because of Prachanda," says Tikaram.
He continues on a more positive note, "We may have borne a lot but he has kept the Dahal family name. If there were peace, we could meet him. May things work out with the government so we can see him, that's all we want."