‘Buhran’: Reflections on the Grim Reality of the Squatter Tharus

 Sushila Rawal

Mahanand Dhakal, who has been constantly writing in various literary genres, is a well-known figure in the field of Nepali literature and also a member of the Academic Assembly of Nepal Pragya Pratisthan. He is a teacher by profession and has published various collections of ghazals. He has receiving several honors and awards. Buhran is his first novel, published in 2079 by Sangri-La Books.

Buhran tells the story of ethnic equality and co-operation. The Tharus called Banke and Bardiya district of Western Terai ‘Buhran’, which is the newly explored domain of the Tharu people. Tharu is one of the largest ethnic communities in Nepal. Buhran represents the beautiful dream of poor Tharus – dream of food, shelter, and cotton. In this piece of writing the author depicts the historical, cultural, socio-economic, and political aspects of migrated Tharu society. It narrates the story of mutual relationship, cooperation, and understanding between two communities: the Tharu and the hill communities. The plight of the poor, squatters, and free laborers forms the central focus of the book. The novel portrays the physical and mental exploitation of the innocent Tharus in their own land, which has been snatched by powerful and cunning landlords. It describes the struggle of poor squatter Tharus for their rights, identity, dignity and liberty to fulfill their ancestors’ dreams, as they were cheated and rendered homeless and landless.

Although, they engaged themselves in various revolutions from generation to generation, their dream of Burhan was never fulfilled. The poor Tharus were repeatedly deceived. This book reflects on the pathetic situations of different revolutions, such as the Kandra Revolution, Tharuhat Revolutions, Nepal’s civil war and so on, and also shows how their sacrifices are gone in vain. Besides depicting this sorrowful and pathetic lifestyle of Tharus, this book explores the hidden treasures of the Tharu culture, harmony, and mutual relationship with other communities.

There are two main characters in the novel: Maila Tharu, representing the poor squatters, and Parbati, epitomizing motherhood, caring, sharing, and co-operative traits. The story is narrated by Ningma, a government officer of Sukumbasi Aayog from the Sherpa community in Ramechhap district, recently posted in Bardiya. Ningma recounts the story of Parbati, belonging to the hill community, and Maila Tharu, belonging to the Tharu community of Tarai, focusing on the relationship, co-operation, and the theme of the poor, squatters, and the mukta kamaiyas, the freed bonded labours.

This book is divided into three sections and fifteen chapters. Each section is equally exciting and the author’s choice of words adds fragrance to the narrative. The first section is titled ‘Dream’. In this section, the author beautifully describes the geography of Buhran and the dream of good food, shelter and cotton. It revolves around the pitiful journey of Maila Tharu’s family from Dang Chitrakut (their ancestor land) to Buhran and the struggle of poor squatter Tharu for their liberty, identity, and right to reclaim their land from the government. This section depicts how Buhran became a dream for poor migrated Tharus and how they become landless and homeless due to the powerful landlords, trapped in generation of enslavement.

The second part is ‘Struggle’, which describes the sorrowful life of Parbati in Syanja, Arjunchaupari and Bandipur. While going through this section I feel that God is testing her endurance. In comparison to other sections, this part evokes a heavy heart and teary eyes. It also illustrates the mutual relationship between Maila Tharu and Parbati and highlights how illiteracy contributes to the backwardness of the Tharu.

In third part, ‘Self-Respect’, the story focuses on Somlal, presented as a rebellious character fighting for his ancestors’ dream and self-esteem.  He challenges the caste discrimination in the society and rebels against his own customs by marrying the daughter of a landlord. At the end of the novel, Somlal tears up Sagar’s proposal letter and leaves the house, seemingly hurt in his self-esteem. The novel is left open ended, allowing readers to interpret it in various ways.

Overall, Buhran is a clear reflections of the lives of poor squatter and muta-kamaiya Tharus, including their real struggles, pain, grief, and sorrow. In my opinion, this book is one that embodies the self-respect of those with hungry stomachs and portrays honesty. The characters, who rise again and again after falling several time, have taught me another meaning of life and struggle. I would like thank to Mr. Mahanand Dhakal for creating this beautiful masterpiece that portrays struggle, equality, cooperation and goodwill.