Machama Maharjan, a 90 years old passed away quietly under the supervision of 82 wears old Ram Maya Pode (known by Haku in our house) who probably must have been one of the oldest Newar couples living together in Kathmandu without marriage. Machama was only 12 years old when my mother, Hira Devi Yami decided to bring him in our spacious 7 Ropani compound with 5 storied mansion like building in Bhurunkhel where we the seven children were brought up. Machama had lost his father and the mother had abandoned him. He not only helped in farming in our spacious compound but also cooked food for us. At the time of his arrival my mother was being helped by Purna Maya Pode, grandmother of Haku Pode. Haku then four years old used to accompany her in our house.
This was in 1951 when my father Dharma Ratna Yami became Deputy Minister under the Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala. Known by ‘Yami Chhen’ this house had hosted eminent persons like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the constitution of India and the Buddhist Dalit crusador and Rahul Sankrityayan, also called the the father of Indian Travelogue and a Buddhist scholar, who had mentioned the house as a place where a practical battle was fought against caste herrarchy and untouchability. Yami was the second Newar to become Minister after Ganeshman Singh. He had called Newar guests to a feast in celeberation of being a minister and were served by his pode helper. This created a big uproar half of the Newars left the feast without eating and the other half ate but later went to clean themselves in river to purify themselves. Not only that my parents decided to hatch chicken at the top most floor of our house facing the main road that joined Asan and Bhagwan pau in Swayambhu. This again brought uproar amongst arthodox Newars as then pautrly work was looked upon as untouchable for the Tuladhars. The Newars used to call our father Wen, (Weird) and they used to call us wein ya macha (children of weird man).
Later on Haku became a regular helper in helping kichen work, cleansning house, utensils and fetching water etc. Haku often had to face the ire of our orthodox relatives who would often ask uncomfortable questions like who fetched this water? Who washed this utensil ? Some of them would look at her with disdain taste and often humiliated her by re-washing the utensils she washed. But she would laugh at them because my parents treated her as one of us.
They started to live together when they became adult in a room given to Machama on the ground floor. Allowing the two unmarried helpers one Maharjan and one Pode (Dalit) to live together without nuptal tie was indeed unusual. Not only that we the six daughters were never made to feel that one day we would be married and leave the big mansion house. We were not initiated to any ‘Ehee’ marriage or bel marriage during our pre-adolescent ages. Similarly we were never intiated to ‘gufa’ whereby pre-menstrural daughter is kept in dark room before getting her married to sun on the 12 day of entering ‘gufa’. Nor our only brother underwent ‘Ketapuja’ initiation ceremony before a boy enters adulthood. In fact they never allowed us to be under the spell of god. I remember when I as a child I offered alm to the stone god on the way to Swayambhu uhill watching others do so, my father scolded me not to do. He said I rather give the money to beggar who will make better use than the money given to the god. My parents were indeed unique they were much ahead of their time. They were both the product of Anti Rana Movement in which many times they had been arrested.
My father would boast that he would get his daughters married to four different directions to different castes and communities. Almost the same happened as my eldest sister a medical doctor married a Hindu high caste Newar Rajbahndari ( we belonged to Tuladhar, a Buddhist and a business caste). Similarly my second eldest sister Timila Yami, an electronic engineer married to Magar Thapa hailing from Kaski district in Western Nepal. Similarly my immediate sister Dr. Kayo Yami, a Phd in microbiology married a Brahmin hailing from Biratnagar the Eastern Nepal. And myself an architect married Brahmin belonging to Gorkha, the western Nepal. The other two sisters who became campus chief of Padma Kanya campus and Thapathali Engineering campus got arranged marriage within our caste.
Ambedkar when he came to stay in our house in 1956, must have noticed that he was being served by 26 years of Machama Maharjan considered of inferior caste by high caste Newars and by 18 years of Haku Pode a Dalit of lower rank within Dalits! Similarly Rahul Sanskrityayan who visited our house several times in route to Tibet must have been impressed by the working relations between the two helpers who must have served him too. Rahul was in fact so impressed by our father’s life that he wrote a booklet “ Dharmaratna ‘Yami’: Aaj ke Nepalka Sipahi” published in 1954 in Hindi language. In the book “Dharmaratna Yami: Smritigranth” many Nepalese politicians that my father knew remembered Machama as a reliable mature man who was sent by my mother to deliver couliflowers, green vegetables to the needy politicians.
Today the historic house ‘yemi Chhen’ is no more in Bhurankhel as it was destroyed completely by the powerful earthquake in 2015. Since then Machama had moved in Haku’s house in Fasi keba. It was in this second ‘home’ that he quietly passed away looked after by Haku his companion and her causins. Thank you Haku and her family who looked after him without any vested interest.
We are proud to say that they were responsible for bringing us up in the manner which made us who we are now: Engineers, Doctors, Phds etc. When my brother married, one of our relatives in fact introduced Machama to the new bride as ‘sapa maduma maju’ ( a mother-in-law without a hair bun)! They inculcated in us the importance of inclusive values in our life. After loosing my mother at the age of 10 and father at the age of 16 they filled the gap of their absence in my big house and big family.
Thank you Haku once again by living with the spirit of Yemi Chen the inclusive home which is no more!