Journal of South Asia Women Studies

Book Review: Bending Bamboo Changing Winds: Nepali Women Tell Their Life Stories

by Damber K. and Ambika Gurung

By Eva Kipp with contributions from
Kim Hudson, Lucia de Vries,
Marieke van Vliet and Alieke Barmentloo,
edited by Daniel Bayard Haber

Delhi: Book Faith India, 1995

ISBN: 81-7303-037-5, Price: US $ 14.95 (paperback)

Review by Damber K. Gurung and Ambika Gurung, Clemson University, SC (USA), August 25, 1997

This book is a garland of vivid life stories about Nepali women coming from unique socio-cultural contexts. Rukmani Shrestha's reproductive health care practice is an emergent model of its kind that combines modern techniques with traditional belief systems. The struggles of June Maya Praja and Kausirani Praja arer epresentative of a typical woman's life in a mountain village with meager resources. They also represent the economic situation of a native mountain tribe. In the story of Anuragi Jha and Hira Karna, the authors take us down to Nepal's plain area which is not only ageographic extension of the Indian plains but also lies in a the north Indian cultural domain. What is amazing is that, despite severe socio-cultural hurdles, they succeed in reaching beyond the realm oftheir traditional world. Khedani Devi Harijan, an untouchable by birth, cannot find any optimism in her life mainly because her familyis landless, and the income from their unskilled labor is barely sufficient to support a "subsistence lyfe-style". Maya Lama of the Nuwakot district not only returned from the brothels of Bombay and rehabilitated herself, but also progressed to become a teacher and ahealth worker in her village. She provides valuable information and plenty of hope for those who continue to suffer in this miserable trail from the mountains of Nepal to the misery of Mumbai (the new name for Bombay. Bakuli Khawar's story concerns the lives of those Nepali women who stay at home, run their farms, and raise their families while their husbands work away from home. Such tough conditions continue to bring tragedy to both the individuals and the families involved. Although the communists of Nepal may be evolving to be socialists, it is easy to find hard-core young communists in Nepal. Being a woman communist, Laxmi Banskota seeks equality for both sexes. Of course, people everywhere tend to migrate toward places with better economic opportunities. Lamseki Sherpa's life story reveals this trend once more. For this family, even a relatively good opportunity created by a cheese factory was no better than (at least apparently so) that in Kathmandu. Also in Dolma Lama's case it is necessary to migrate for a better alternative. A lesson she teaches us is that success is inevitable if one does not give up. Even in her life as a nun in Nepal, gender issues have prevailed. These days in Tashi Gompa, nuns as well as monks take responsibility for scholarly and religious matters. Despite a legal framework to eradicate the caste system in Nepal, it continues to remain as one of the barriers to development. Although Maya Devi Bohara belongs to an untouchable Damai family, they do not live on their traditional profession, tailoring. A change of profession is perhaps one way to get around this problem. Jagan Gurung of Ghandruk introduces Aama Toli — a mother's group that has been instrumental in the mid-western hills in bringing about socio-cultural changes. Evidently, Aama Toli is one of the social innovations of modern Nepal. Bel Maya Shahi and Karmasilla Kami are one of the most poverty-stricken places in Nepal — Humla. In addition, they are a contrast in terms of the caste system that is one reason for Nepal's underdevelopment. The life story of Man Maya Balampaki Magar is sure to convince readers that even in a male-dominated society, women can maneuver the critical ingredients of life and success. In a nutshell, this book is an excellent exposé of the current socio-economic situation of Nepali women, and is sure to inspire many more studies of South Asian women.

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