Nepali Times
From bahadur to chef


If Tanka Tiwari had a choice, he'd still be in his village in Bajhang walking from home to school every day. But the streetwise 12-year-old is working hard to support himself and his family.

Like tens of thousands who have fled the conflict back home, Tanka works as a waiter in a dingy kitchen in this western Indian city that dishes out suspicious Chinese food. He works 12 hours a day, but is not complaining. Back home, he may have been killed by the security forces for being a suspected Maoist or forcibly recruited by the rebels.

Had he been an Indian citizen, child rights activists may have rescued him from his miserable working conditions, but he is just another Nepali migrant worker and he's lucky. Things could have been much worse for Tanka.

Food and lodging are taken care of and Tanka saves most of the IRs 1,500 he earns every month. His uncle comes every once in a while from Mumbai to collect his wages from the employer. It's better that way. If he was allowed to keep the money, he may have frittered it away.

His savings will help pay family loans and expenses. He has become a respected earning member of his family. For now, his most difficult task is to keep his emotions at check. It doesn't matter that he couldn't go home this Dasain, "I will go next Dasain.maybe," he says, eyes misty with memories of happier days.

Hem Bahadur Pun had a stark choice. He was in eighth grade in Rolpa when the Maoists came to recruit. They abducted the entire class and forced them to attend political indoctrination. Afraid Hem Bahadur might be forced to join the 'People's Army', his father sent him to try to join the Indian Army. Hem Bahadur wasn't selected and he didn't want to suffer the indignity of returning to Nepal empty-handed. So he joined other Nepalis as a cook's helper at a roadside Chinese food stall here. Luckily for Hem Bahadur, his employer is a Nepali and an educated one, Suraj Sonar.

Sonar is an Indian-born Nepali whose father served in the Indian army. Suraj saw opportunity in India and decided to stay, though he visits his retired father in Nepal every now and then. Suraj has two food stalls in Pune and employs eight Nepalis. Each stall makes a minimum of IRs 2,000 every evening. Even though he graduated from Pune University, Suraj doesn't mind starting small. "I'm earning here and its honest earning. I don't have to worry about security," he says.

There are countless Hem Bahadurs and Tankas in Pune and the numbers are increasing. "There are around 5,000 here from Pokhara alone," says Dilip Pandey from Palpa, who worked his way up from dishwasher to now own two food stalls that employ 12 fellow Nepalis. Dilip's family has joined him and his sons go to English schools here and speak Marathi.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)