Rom Bista, Nashville,TN
During a short time off once my white manager, despite being not her concern, shot two questions at me—“Rom, if you don’t mind, can you tell me which country you belong to and what circumstances led you to the USA? Meanwhile, she offered me an option—whether to give an honest answer or not. I conceded not to disregard her curiosity. And without being more specific I went on to roll out the story.
“Ma’am, I belong to Bhutan where I was born, grew up there and had education”.
Before I hurried to pick the second answer she paused for a while and asked, “Then why you guys are called Nepali here?” referring to the other Bhutanese employees who initially had introduced as Nepalese to the hotel.
“It is because, I went on, and we are in fact the Bhutanese of Nepali origin. Our forefathers were born in Nepal, migrated to Bhutan hundreds of years ago, settled in the southern belts, expanded the population, tilled the rocky terrains and generated good revenues for the government. All went well until the then king, his ministers and cohorts began seeing us with ‘jaundiced eyes’! The growing population and booming economy in Southern Bhutan became the eyesore of the ruling dynasty. Consequently, as the time rolled by and basically with one pretext or the other, the government started tightening the knots of freedom on the southern population.
At this, the manager looked more eager and solemn, and gave me a nod to continue.
“Initially the common folks silently bore the despotic wrath. However, when the oppression spilled all over and went out of proportion, the people hit the street one day and some even went to retaliate”.
Meanwhile, she raised her eyebrows and snapped again “then what?”
“Plunder, sporadic shootings to death, arrest and at times rape ensued. Armies and police were immediately deployed to hunt down the dissenting lot. In due course of time, when the newly and hastily- fermented repressive dictums gave birth to all tentacles of ruthlessness — increasing vigilance, harassments, questionings, arrests and at times even deaths— the southern dwellers mostly of Nepali origin had to pull out of the country to evade the systematic persecution.”
The hazel-eyed manager, seemingly without the blink of an eye, kept staring at me. This time she looked more firm and stony-faced.
Again I proceeded, “With heavy heart, the rigmarole of exodus began in the late 80’s as one-third of the population were forcibly evicted, traveled all the way through India and finally found a refuge at a riverside in eastern Nepal.”
‘Day by day more families trickled in and joined the new, obscure settlement and when the alien population grew alarmingly large, it drew the attention of the Nepalese government and subsequently UNHCR (United Nation High Commission for Refugees) took over.
A long pause ensued. The lady closed her eyes seemingly trying to consolidate the stock of the saddening situation.
“We lived as refugees for nineteen years”, I went on. “And with no tangible solution at sight and the future looming increasingly large, some Good Samaritans from United Nations in collaboration with seven refugee recipient countries readily stepped forward and offered primarily two options— to be relocated somewhere in the Third World or live in the camps forever.”
This time the young blond brightened up and gasped, “Hunh, hunh!”
“Heated debates, arguments, discussions and differences in the opinions thereafter in many of the families transpired and engulfed the entire seven camps”, I resumed. “Although, in the beginning, the very first offer received a cold response, most people eventually gave in. Today, among the seven countries eighty thousand have already resettled in the USA alone and in the process, a small chunk of the caravan made their way to Nashville. Indeed, a few thousands are still making hue and cry in an apparent bid to get back to Bhutan but to no avail”.
“This is the odyssey of our long and sagacious trail from Bhutan to America and this is how I’ m right in front of you and at times, having lived in Nepal with no differences especially with regard to origin, culture and the way of life, we do not hesitate to call ourselves Nepali, Ma’am!’
The young manager looked enlightened and gave me a pat,”Thank you, Rom. You guys are incredible.”
Many Americans, until we furnish our ids, unwittingly nurture doubts on our part of being illegal aliens. Gazing at our relatively inferior built ( no pun intended) some even go to the extent of calling us ‘migos’ (friends in Spanish lingo).
Further, when we show up in Nepali attire—daura, suruwal and topi in most occasions, speak Nepali and claim ourselves Nepalese, many in the Western World tend to see an array of confusions and would like to dig more of the truth.
Furthermore, our saga of tumult, the long travail and the eventual sunshine and renewal of lives in the far-off lands can invoke many pens and most importantly—a subject of societal research.
Therefore, as far as we can, we should always be handy, forthright and well- equipped with our fairly adventurous tale and above all, upon being asked we should be ready to explain our true self so as to dispel all dubiety in the eyes of all strangers.