3-9 July 2015 #765

The quiet warrior

At 100, Sher Bahadur Gurung has seen it all: two world wars, two great earthquakes but urges to rebuild and plant paddy

FIGHTING SPIRIT: Sher Bahadur Gurung knows better than most what it means to be knocked down and to rise again. The 100-year-old fought against the Japanese in the World War II and survived the collapse of his house in the April earthquake epicentered close to his village. Gurung now lives in a temporary shelter with tin walls.

Two world wars. Two great earthquakes. At 100, Sher Bahadur Gurung knows better than most what it means to be knocked down and to rise again. The names roll off his tongue. “Kohima, Imphal, Chittagong, Rangoon...” The great battlefields of the Burma Front during World War II in which he fought.

The soft-spoken man from Kerabari of Gorkha district came of age during a tumultous period in the world history. He was born during the monsoon of 1915, when the First World War was raging in Europe. He was 19 during the great earthquake of 15 January 1934. “Even then, the Dharara fell,” he recalls. “Only two stories remained.”

The year after the earthquake he tried out for the British Gurkhas but was rejected due to an ear infection. The World War II soon began. The Japanese drove the British out of Burma in 1942 and were poised to invade India. Gurung recalls: “Judha Shumsher was the prime minister and he said we were needed to defend Nepal.”

Like most of the villagers of central and eastern Nepal, Gurung joined the British Indian Army in 1943. After a brief training stint in Peshawar, he was sent to the Burma border where British, Indian and Nepali soldiers turned the tide against the Japanese in the bloody battles of Kohima and Imphal 70 years ago.

“We were fighting the Japanese, but I looked like one,” chuckles Gurung, enjoying the joke. “The British officers in my unit called me ‘Jap’.”

The Allied forces lost more than 15,000 men in Burma, and 53,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. “We fought for each other,” Gurung says simply. “It had to be done.”

Today, having survived the collapse of his home in the April earthquake epicentered close to his village, Gurung lives in a temporary shelter with tin walls. Children come to him to hear stories, and their parents come for advice. He chats easily, a smile lighting up his face now and again.

ALL PICS: JANA AŠENBRENNEROVÁ

“He used to be the most handsome man in the village,” his granddaughter says with a laugh. Gurung has aged gracefully. Slowed by arthritis and failing eyesight, he still smokes, and his favourite nightcap is raksi mixed with Mountain Dew.

Gurung is now urging his sons to rebuild the house and plant paddy to get things back to normal. He says quietly: “It has to be done.”

Read also:

Should Dharahara be rebuilt?, Stéphane Huët

Epicenter of reconstruction, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Back to the earth after the quake, Sonia Awale

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