Nepali Times
Nepali Society
Life cycle

Life has never been easy for madhesi Nepalis in Kathmandu, whether they are vegetable vendors, barbers, masons or a bicycle repairman like Srikrishna Mandal. What set them apart is their willingness to work long hours in menial, low-paying jobs just to take care of their families. But all they get in return is abuse from arrogant urbanites who treat them as if they are not Nepalis. In addition, they face constant harassment from corrupt policemen and neighbours.

Srikrishna left his home village near Janakpur eight years ago because he couldn't feed his family from his small plot of land. They came to Kathmandu: father, mother, a small daughter and son, to start a new life. Srikrishna had hoped he could get a good job so he could educate his two children. But it wasn't easy to find one, so one day he picked a shady patch of sidewalk and started mending bicycles. All day, rain or shine, winter or summer, he repaired flat tyres. All he had was a toolbox and two square metres of pavement. Often, he would be harrassed by the municipality's staff or police. A local mechanic shop tried to bribe him to relocate his business somewhere else. But Srikrishna fought back and stood his ground defending the patch of asphalt on which his livelihood depended. All his daily earnings went to support his family and there were no savings. He tried to cut the costs of living in Kathmandu by sharing a house in Koteswor with 15 other tarai people.

It took four years of hard work for his business to become established. The fact that he was always there on the roadside in Pulchok gave him visibility and he developed a regular loyal clientele. Today, he makes Rs 200 a day and can send his 15-year-old daughter, Laxmi, and 9-year-old son, Baidya, to school. They and his wife, Ramkumari, help him on banda days, when business booms because everyone is riding bicycles. He has now expanded his sidewalk shop and also sells new tyres, repairs mountain bikes and has an inventory of bicycle spare parts.

"It's not as difficult as it used to be the first few years," Srikrishna says, yanking out the tube off a bicycle tyre. But as soon as the children finish school he plans to go back to Janakpur and start a proper bicycle repair shop. Enough of sitting by the roadside for him. He shrugs and says: "There are people who don't like us, but we work hard. My wife and children help me, and most important of all, they are proud of me."

(Naresh Newar)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)