Going by her tired eyes and wrinkled face you’d guess she was at least 60 years old but Ram Maya Gurung, who runs a small shop that serves tea and snacks on the way to Gorkha Durbar, is just 35. She knows she looks decades older than she actually is and becomes more acutely aware of the fact when women with neatly combed hair, bindis glistening on their foreheads, and sometimes even hints of makeup, visit her tea shack that also houses a small souvenir and flower shop.
And when Ram Maya starts narrating her story, you can’t help but feel for her. This 35 year old lady has been through a lot and every time she recalls her past, though her voice remains steady, her eyes well up. Her childhood was cut short when, as an 11 year old, her father got her married off.
“I was playing with my friends when we saw a marriage procession heading towards my house,” she says explaining how her father called out to her and ordered her to wear the new set of clothes kept aside for the ‘bride’. Though she had rebelled and refused to do as he said, Ram Maya couldn’t escape her ‘surprise’ and forced marriage.
At the time Ram Maya got married, she had recently been admitted in grade one at a school in her village in Kashi. Post marriage, she did not get a chance to continue her studies and all that remained of her wish to go to school was a deep sense of longing. She recalls how her parents used to send her to the fields to rear cattle and she used to run away to try and attend classes at a primary school. “I would not dare to enter the class and would peep through the window,” says Ram Maya further explaining that finally being enrolled in class one had brought her immense joy. She just did not know the happiness would be so short lived.
“Some of my friends are teachers and some have become nurses. I, too, might have fared well, had my father not insisted on marrying me off so early and depriving me of education,” she says. And her marriage to Shar Singh Gurung of Keramja was a difficult one – not only because she was only a child, but also because her parents had adopted a baby boy they later named Shuka Lal, who Ram Maya insisted on taking with her to her new home.
“My mother-in-law was angry with me because I entered her house with a child. She even went to the extent of saying that the kid I called my brother was actually my own,” she says adding that this allegation at a time when she had not even had her first period was hurtful and insulting.
Ram Maya’s parents had adopted Shuka Lal upon her insistence. Following a bout of Typhoid, Ram Maya had been admitted at a hospital in Bharatpur when a pregnant woman was brought in the same ward. The mother died soon after giving birth and there was no one to care for the newly born. Seeing this, Ram Maya had wanted her parents to take the baby home and her father had given in to her wish.
Despite family issues after marriage, Ram Maya gave birth to a baby boy at the age of 14. Her family migrated to Gorkha Bazaar for a better life and started selling flowers and souvenirs to tourists who visited the Gorakhnath Temple within the premise of the Gorkha Durbar. To bring up the children, her husband, now 41 years old, also started working as a laborer at a construction site.
Over the years, though Ram Maya had difficulty raising her own kid, she adopted two more – the kids had been left near the hospital in the district headquarters of Gorkha. She later gave birth to two more kids – Kumar, who is now 21, and Purnima who is 11. Ram Maya currently shares a single room with her two daughters and her husband while her sons have moved away with their wives and have a daughter each.
“My sons have started earning and my adopted daughter, Sarita, is 14 and currently studying in seventh grade. The children bring a sense of achievement and make my life meaningful,” she says before adding that though she takes great delight in the way her children have turned out, at times she can’t help but lament over her own lost childhood. This sense of loss is something, Ram Maya confesses, she might never really get over.