Character Analysis: Maila Tharu in Dhakal’s ‘Burhan’

Begam Thapa

Mahanand Dhakal, a well known literary figure in Nepali literature, is a poet, novelist, journalist, and educator. He started his literary journey with ‘Aama‘ poem. His masterpiece poetry anthology ‘Khandit Aatma’ was published in 2058 B.S. Following, Ustai Ustai Nadika Ustai Ustai Chhalaharu (Collection of gazals, 2059 B.S.), Avyakta pratyaasaa (Collection of gazals, 2063 B.S.), Gham Udaae (Collection of haiku, 2068 B.S.) and Simana (Collection of Muktaks, 2078 B.S.) are among his published literary works. Currently, he also serves as a member of the Academic Assembly of Nepal Academy. Litterateur Dhakal has been honored with various literary honors for his literary contributions.

Dhakal’s first novel is Burhan. Published in 2079 B.S by Shangri-La Books,  Burhan narrates the story of societal peace, cooperation and ethnic equality. The study of Tharu customs, culture, and social presence has been presented artistically in the novel. Tharu belongs to one of the most common ethnic groups of Nepal. The titular place, Burhan stands as a symbol of dream of the food, shelter, and cotton that poor Tharus have. The author of this novel describes the political, social, cultural, and historical facets of the migration of Tharu communities in Nepal, particularly that of Bardia. The innocent Tharus have been portrayed as being physically and mentally exploited in their own land in this tale.

This novel mainly deals with three main characters from three geographical regions of Nepal, namely Ningma (the narrator of this novel, who is from the Himalayan), Parbati (from the Hilly region) and Maila Tharu (the protagonist, from Burhan of Terai region).

Maila Tharu, being the central character, is a representative of Tharu communities living in Burhan, the place from where this novel is born. From the perspective of Parbati, he is supportive, honest, innocent, simple and laborious. After having read this novel thoroughly, readers find Maila Tharu having following attributes.

Innocent, Simpleminded, straight-forward:

Maila Tharu is presented as an innocent and polite character in the society. He, who works for hill people and so- called high class people, is not paid for his labour. He often goes to Parbati to ask even for simple matters. Parbati consoles and gives guidance to him. He exchanges his rice with radio. He prefers radio for recreation to rice for survival of him. Hill people occupy the giving sweet to the Tharu people. Tharus like Maila are kept as workers by those who lure them with chocolate and take away land.

Illiterate, believes in superstition:
Maila Tharu is deprived of school because he is a bonded laborer in the so-called high class hill people. His children, too, are unable to continue their school due to poverty. Moreover, as their mother tongue is Tharu language, they feel difficult to understand Nepali language in the school. So one can explicitly see how language as a barrier has prevented them from school. Maila Tharu doesn’ lacks the idea to solve day to day problems himself. So he quite often takes suggestion from others. Once, when his daughter in law was bitten by a snake, Maila Tharu disobeys Parbati who had suggested him to take her to hospital. Instead, he calls guruwa (exorcist of Tharu people) to cure her in spite of taking her to hospital. Unfortunately, she dies untimely.

Economically poor yet culturally rich
Maila Tharu works in so called upper people’s houses for survival. Although he is indigenous inhabitant of Terai region, he doesn’t have his own land. He relies on others’ land to cultivating corns and various agricultural products. Sometimes, hill people cheat him to give corn as per their promise. He cannot afford quality education, clothes, proper health service for his children. He lives in small cottage which is not safe in winter and rainy season. During the religious festivals and his children’s marriage, he borrows money and rice from Parbati. He has own language, religion, tradition and belief.  Their food items, ways of worshiping god are typical and unique compared to hill people.  He loves his language and culture.

Honest, Patient and Laborious

Maila Tharu  supports Parbati’s family and in return gets supports from her while he is in need. He never lies and cheat others. He fulfills his responsibility honestly. He doesn’t harm others knowingly. Due to which he has to pay the loan, which he has not borrowed before, he was forced to work for his whole life period in the house of so-called high-class people without wage or in a very minimum wage to return the loan and to make his daily expenses to run his miserable life. All the hill people dominate him, cheat him, curse him but he never quarrels with them. He does not lose his patience.

Easily manipulated by leaders of different political parties
Different political leaders from different parties show him greed to give land but it is only consolation. Maila Tharu participates in different Tharu’s movements but his lifestyle remains same, rather becomes more miserable. They start the Tharu movement risking their lives. They are injured during the movement and are threatened by the government to leave their homes. He is used by different political leaders in different course of time in his struggling life. The biggest weakness of the Tharuhat movement is the lack of a strong, credible and widely-accepted leadership. He is one of the representative members of Tharu ethic groups. All the Tharus are victim by the so called people in their land. The Tharus have an experience and encroachment of land they traditionally inhabit. Some political leaders become members of legislative assembly, some leaders become minister and fulfilled their dream but tharu people become landless and are bond to become simply a labourer in their whole life.

Miserable and struggling life:

His ancestor had migrated from Dang to Burhan, Bardia in quest of a comfortable life. In the process of hill to Terai migration, many Tharus lost their land. The people of the Tharu caste have been occupying the land before the people of the hill caste. But they do not get the land owner part. The Tharu caste has neither the dream of becoming rich in the society, nor the dream of building a big house, nor the dream of running the country’s administration, nor becoming a minister. They are only worried about how to meet their family’s basic needs.

 Exploited and oppressed by the administration of the government and by the hill people:
He becomes landless in his own land. Hill people are well educated and involve in different government sector’s administration. Maila Tharua long with other Tharu people of Burhan are uneducated belonging to marginalized ethnic group. They feel difficult to speak and understand the official language i.e. Nepali language. So called hill people cheat and hate them by attacking over their language, culture and self-esteem becoming the victim of oppression in many ways. They don’t want to keep family relation with Tharu people. Discrimination and inequality can be seen between Tharu community and hill people. Problem arises when Maila Tharu’s son, Somlal marrys Ramita, a Brahmin girl. The girl’s father Sarbaraj curses Maila Tharu using vulgar words, and asks him to return his daughter. He behaves him as a slave and tortures Maila Tharu’s family physically and mentally by using police force. In one of the Tharu movements, Maila Tharuis was brutally exploited and oppressed by the government administration.

All in all, the novelist, Dhakal, through this beautiful novel details history, culture, identity language and miserable life of Tharu people living in Terain for a long decade. MailaTharu whose life has been impacted greatly by poverty and ethnic discrimination, represents lifestyle Tharu people living in Burhan. Mutual cooperation between struggling Parbati’s family and Maila Tharu’s family gives the message of social harmony between hill people and Tharu people. In the novel, it is seen that they respect each other’s religion, culture, values ​​and beliefs. Both families help each other without selfishness in happiness and sorrow. Maila Tharu also gets parentage from Parvati. Maila Tharu and Parvati, who are from different regions, castes and cultures, but their unity and religious tolerance ,  gives a message of social unity to all of us.