It was like any ordinary day in Sambhawana English Boarding School in Battisputali, Kathmandu. Binod sir had just left the class after his Social Studies class and everyone was rushing to eat lunch They had not eaten for six whole periods — the two additional remedial morning classes for the board exams felt like time went on till forever. But the lunch break was finally here and the half-open Our Nepali Society Book was a testimony of the rush that everyone was in to fill their stomachs and talk to their buddies.
Sarita Kharel, Sundar Bhattarai, Prakriti Karki, Mohan G.C., Mohammad Nasir Hamid, Aagantuk Mainali, and Manisha Shrestha sat around a desk, half up them facing the other half, as they opened their lunch box. It was a common practice to share food among each other and usually this would result in a greater bond in their friendship but sometimes, when someone brought a real delicacy, say momos, then the person who brought it would make every possible attempt to hide it for as long as possible and have the greatest part of the share.
But today was not one of those days. Today seemed to be a ‘regular lunch day’ for everyone. Chiura-bhujiya, bhuteko bhaat, pakako chauchau, and Parle-G biscuits surrounded the table.
“It was a fun class wasn’t it?” Sarita started the conversation. “So fun to learn about Prithvi Narayan Shah. Nepal really is about unity in diversity. It’s so true when he said that Nepal chaar jaat and chattis barna ko sajha fulbaari ho.”
“Only you like the social studies class Sarita,” Prakriti said as she munched on some chauchau.
“No, no. I usually don’t like it but don’t you think Nepal’s diversity is so amazing. Like think of how diverse we are! Plus, today’s class did not go into much depth either. We did not talk about things like gotras at all!”
“Gotra? What is it?” asked Aagantuk.
“You don’t know what a gotra is being a Bahun? Shame on you!” said Mohan.
“No but really, I don’t know about it too. I have heard the word in my house but I never knew what it meant,” Prakriti sided with Aagantuk.
Sarita started speaking, “I don’t know about it in depth but gotras are like a Hindu thing and if you cannot marry the other person if they are in the same gotra as you.”
“Wow that sounds insane. You can’t marry certain people just because they belong to certain group by birth?” Aagantuk asked.
“Yeah that’s crazy,” Nasir added. Manisha nodded in support.
“Yes, for example Sundar and Sarita cannot marry each other because they both belong to the Bashistha gotra,” Mohan teased his friends. Everyone giggled for a few seconds.
“Yeah yeah, but Sarita can marry Nasir. But don’t be heartbroken Sundar. There’s someone else waiting for you,” Manisha said. It was a well known fact among the friend group that Sarita had a huge crush on Sundar. Everyone giggled while the duo blushed.
“I am glad that mom and dad converted into Christianity and I don’t have to worry about this crap,” Mohan said. His parents had both converted into Christianity because his dad’s side of the family, a Chettri family, refused to accept his Rai mother. His friends did not know this history and he did not want to tell them either for it would bring up further caste and religion based politics that he thought was unnecessary.
That evening, Sarita went up to her grandmother- her source of knowledge on myriad of things including the complexities of Hinduism. They were close to each other and, often times, Sarita would share the most intimate parts of her life with her grandmother.
Today, her grandmother had made besar paani for her naatini to cure her mild cough.
“Aama, today I was telling my friends about gotras and I realized that even I did not know a lot about it!” Sarita exclaimed. She loved sharing her day with her beloved grandmother, and to listen to her daughter speak about her day was a part of aama‘s daily routine.
Aama smiled at her naatini. She was really happy that her only naatini was interested in Hinduism and its history.
“Yes chhori, it is indeed a very complicated thing. Sometimes even I do not know about it that much. I barely know how to read. Your granddad never sent me to school but he tells me all about the caste system. He is a very learned man, you know. He knows Nepali, English, and Sanskrit!”
Sarita scowled, “yes, yes but he is also arrogant. All he does is eats and sleeps and makes mom suffer in the kitchen.”
Aama ignored her natini‘s comment and moved on. “So what did you talk about in school?” aama went back to the role of a listener of her granddaughter’s story.
“On nothing much. We were just talking about how Nepal is diverse and there is diversity in gotras too. At the end of the conversation, Mohan said that his parents converted into Christianity but I don’t know why they left such a historically rich religion.”
Aama said nothing.
Sarita carried on, “Also my friends are so annoying. They teased me by saying that I cannot marry Sundar because he is a Bhattarai and is a Bashistha. But the most annoying among them is Manisha! She told everyone that I could marry Nasir. How could she blurt out our secret!”
“Who is this Nasir?” aama teased Sarita.
“Oh Mohammad Nasir Hamid. He’s just this boy who is really smart. Always comes first in class,” Sarita blushed as she started to describe Nasir in a way that would make aama like him too.
Aama remained silent. Her blood started boiling. She wanted to confront her granddaughter but how would she do it?
She did not have to. Grandfather did her job for her, “Stay away from that Nasir.”