Jamarkattel Bhauju Arrives in Canada: A Short Story

>> Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Note: Some readers may find this story politically incorrect and out of taste. This story is intented to be a humor and written with no intention of offense to anyone. If political incorrectness offends you, please do not read further.

By Ajay Pradhan | April 14, 2009

I can’t believe it’s already Nepali New Year today. Happy New Year. It seemed like only yesterday that she arrived in Vancouver, Canada, but it had already been three months since she left Nepal. Her name was Jamuna Jamarkattel. She came from Dhading Besi, the district headquarters of Dhading District in Nepal. She was 36 years old, married with three children. Her husband's name was Ghanshyam Krishna who was 47 years old. Jamuna was Ghanshyam's second wife. Except for his close circle of friends and family, nobody knew what happened to his first wife; he would rather not tell anyone about her. Their children were Hari, 11, Sushma, 8, and Leonardo, 5. Why the little son's name was Leo was in itself an interesting little story. I'll tell you about that a little later.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention my name. I'm Rohit and when people ask me my name, I tell them with style, "I'm Bhattarai … Rohit Bhattarai." You see, just like in the Bond movies. But let's not get too much into that; this story is not about me, this story is about the Jamarkattels, especially Jamuna Jamarkattel. In Vancouver, all Nepalis called her Jamarkattel Bhauju. She didn't like it too much.

Three weeks after her arrival in Canada with three children and a henpecked husband in tow, one lazy afternoon she changed their name. Hari became Harry and Sushma got a new name, Susan. Little Leo stayed Leo. Jamuna didn't have to change the little one's name; he already had a Western name. Lucky dude. After she was done renaming their children, at least informally, she decided on her own name. She thought for quite a while but an appropriate name didn't come to her mind. She wanted to change her name Jamuna to a short and simple English name.

After thinking for about 15 minutes, she decided to call herself Jimmy. She knew Jimmy was an English name and it sounded like a nice name to her. But Harry, her older boy, quickly cautioned her, "Muwa, I think that is a boy's name. The boy from the next door that I play with, his name is Jimmy." No sooner did Harry call her Muwa, she told him, "Call me Mommy or Mom, not Muwa, OK? Here in Canada, we have to be like Canadians, right? This is not Dhading, right Chhora? Oops, I mean, son."

After thinking further for a long part of the hour and failing to come up with a nice, appropriate English name, she said to her son, "Harry, go get me a newspaper or magazine from Sally Aunty upstairs. Tell her I asked, OK?" Sally was their Punjabi landlady, whose real name was Salvinder Kaur Dhaliwal. The Jamarkattels had rented a two-bedroom basement suite in the Dhaliwal residence in Newton area of Surrey.

Sally was the one who instigated Jamarkattel Bhauju to anglicize their name. "Look Jamna Ben, if you don't get English name na, you won't get a job, right?" Sally weighed in. Of course, Sally would know; she knew everything. After all, she came to Canada from Patiala, Punjab 12 years ago. The entire Dhaliwal family had English names. Sally's husband's name was Dave, for Devinder Singh Dhaliwal. Dave and Sally had two children of their own. Their son Narinder was known by his English name, Ned. I didn't know Ned was an English name, but what do I know? I came to Canada only two years ago myself, to study at Simon Fraser University. And I'm not even a landed immigrant here, you see. I'm merely a student and as clueless as a paper doll.

Oh, sorry, I digress. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah, the Dhaliwals. OK, the Dhaliwals also had a daughter and her name was Charlene. She didn't have a Punjabi name because she was born in Canada. Now I don't understand why the Punjabis had to get an English name that's at least in some little way a derivative of their original Punjabi name, like Dave for Devinder, Ned for Narinder, Robby for Ravinder, Sally for Salvinder, and so on. It makes you feel they want to hang on to their original name and are kind of uncomfortable making a clean break from it. As a result, they come up with innovative English names like Ned. A little too innovative for my taste, to be honest. That’s none of my business, but I mean, wouldn't it just be easier to get straight English names like Michael, William, Robert, Peter, Thomas like most Chinese immigrants in Canada do? Like Michael Chang, William Cheng, Robert Chung, Peter Chow, Thomas Chiu. Anyway, let's get back to our story of the Jamarkattels.

Where were we again? Oh, yeah, Jamarkattel Bhauju had sent her son to fetch a magazine from the landlady upstairs. Two minutes after browsing the pages of a three-year old edition of the Cosmopolitan magazine Harry brought from Sally Dhaliwal upstairs, Jamarkattel Bhauju found her new name, Jenny. As soon as she settled on that name, she felt a great sense of relief with the new-found identity. She even thought about changing her surname to something more pronounceable for the local khaires, like Jenny Jamar Cotel or, even better, just Jenny Cotel or something like that. But she wasn’t too sure if that would not cause some legal problem for the family. So, she quietly decided to keep the family name.

From that day on, she would introduce herself to anyone she met, "I am Jenny Jamarkattel; what is your good name?" Whenever the Non-Resident Nepalis living in Canada called her Jamarkattel Bhauju, she never failed to remind them to call her Jenny Bhauju or better still, simply Jenny. But the moniker "Jamarkattel Bhauju" stuck to her like Velcro.

Jenny, Harry, Susan, and Leo Jamarkattel. The only one in the Jamarkattel family left to get an English name was Ghanshyam Krishna Jamarkattel, the henpecked husband of Jenny Jamarkattel. When she made rapid decision to anglicize their name, Ghanshyam Dai was not home. But she chose an English name for him anyway. He had gone out to attend a job search seminar at one of the job search agencies in Surrey, funded by the federal government department, the Human Resources Development Canada or simply HRDC.

Dave had told him a few days ago to forget about the job search seminar and just go get a security guard training. "Ghanshyam Bhai, tushi escurty guard ka teraining le lo, OK? Yeh seminar weminar se kuchh banta nai, right?" Just go get security guard training; these useless seminars won't do you any good, Dave told him. Well, now you see where Jamarkattel Bhauju got the habit of adding the words “OK” and "right" at the end of every other sentence.

Ghanshyam Jamarkattel was disheartened by Dave’s suggestion about the security guard training. In Dhading, he was a school teacher and assistant headmaster. No way was he going to become a security guard, he thought to himself, but didn’t say anything to Dave.

In the evening when Ghanshyam Dai came home from the job search seminar, Jamarkattel Bhauju quizzed her husband, “Kris, why are you late? You know we have to go to New Year’s dinner party at Chaturvedi Daju’s house tonight, right?”

Ghanshyam Dai was confused, “Haina ke bhanchhau, kollai Kris bhanya?” Who are you calling Kris?

“Timlai bhanya ni, aru kallai bhannu?” Of course, I’m calling you Kris, who else would I call that? “I changed your name. I changed Hari and Sushma’s name, too. Sally said if we don’t get English name we will never get a job here in Canada,” Jamarkattel Bhauju declared to her husband.

“But why Kris? Why not something else?” Ghanshyam Dai asked.

“It comes from your middle name Krishna, you don’t even understand that much?”

Ghanshyam Dai wasn’t too excited. He liked his own Nepali name alright, but he decided not to make an argument with his headstrong wife. He knew he would never win an argument with her.

“Look, when we go to the dinner party tonight, don’t introduce yourself to anyone as Ghanshyam Krishna. Tell them you’re Kris Jamarkattel,” Jamarkattel Bhauju pre-warned her husband.

Jamarkattel Bhauju knew the Chaturvedis had also invited me to the party. So she had already called me in the afternoon to ask for a ride for the family to the party. They hadn’t yet obtained driver’s license. “Rohit Babu, are you going to the party at Chaturbedi Daju’s house tonight?” I said sure, why not.

In the evening, when I went to the Jamarkattels’ basement suite to give them a ride to the party, I saw Jamarkattel Bhauju all ready for the party, loaded with three tons of gold jewelry on her body and one pound of make up on her face. She had doused herself with a liter of perfume that smelled like dollar store brand perfume. The smell hung heavy wherever she went.

She was beaming. She quickly greeted me with a hearty Namaste with both her hands, and made sure that I noticed her gold bangles on her forearms. She repeated that ritual with everyone at the party, just to make sure that everyone noticed her heavy gold jewelry on her neck, her ears, her arms, and even around her waist and shoulders. I don’t even know what all those jewelry are called. When anyone showed some appreciation for her jewelry, she’d quickly add with a beaming face, “Mero Buwa le disya. Ani yo kan ko jhumka chai mero hajur le mero janmadin ma kindisya.” My Dad gave them to me; and these earrings--my husband bought them for me on my birthday.

She rarely called her husband the deferential “Hajur” at home. At home, she always called him “Timi” or “Ghane” or “Ghanshyam”. She’d say “Ghane, go do this; Ghanshyam go bring me that. Ghanshyam, go clean the bathroom.” But when others were around, she made it a point to show the traditional respect, “Hajur, sunsyo na. Eh hajur, sunsya ho ki haina? Hajur, bhuja khaisyo na. Achel hajur dublara kasto sinka jasto bhaisya chha.”

Indeed, Ghanshyam Dai was a lean and thin man. Howver, Jamarkattel Bhauju was a different story altogether. She loved to eat. She loved deep fried food and had a sweet tooth. She loved jilebis and lalmohan. The four-feet-eleven Jenny Jamarkattel had a behind that was as wide as a Banyan tree trunk.

In Nepal her father was a local politician and a deputy chairman of the Dhading District Committee of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party. He owned large pieces of land and was smart enough to make money from his political connections while the RPP folks were close to the former King Gyanendra. When the Maoists came to power, things changed for her father. He immediately switched allegiance and quickly became a staunch supporter of Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai. Despite that, the Jamarkattel family had a serious brush with the Maoist vigilante groups. To some extent, that was a reason for Jamuna Jamarkattel’s decisions to call it quits in Nepal.

Jamuna Jamarkattel had made the decision to ride the wave of emigration and leave Nepal when one night about three years ago some armed hoodlums who called themselves YCL members came to her house in Dhading and demanded cash “donation” for the protection of her family and property. They made it clear that if the Jamarkattels wouldn’t give donation, their security would be at risk. She was smart enough to understand the threat, unlike her husband who at first mistakenly thought it was all an empty threat. He was convinced quickly when one of the musclemen punched him in the eye with his fist. They warned him, “next time, it’ll be a bullet, not a fist.” In three days, they gave them ten thousand rupees. Within those three days, Jamuna Jamarkattel told her husband that they were going to apply for DV Visa lottery for America. They tried for the DV Visa lottery for two straight years, but nothing happened. Then she met Ram Prakash Chaturvedi.

Chaturvedi was her distant cousin and he was from Benighat. He had applied for Canadian Permanent Resident Visa and had advised her to try for it instead of taking a chance on the US DV Visa. It is the same Chaturvedi who had invited them to the Nepali New Year’s party in Vancouver. With help from Chaturvedi, the Jamarkattels sent in their application from Kathmandu to Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. To their utter surprise they were granted PR Visa within one year. For Jamuna Jamarkattel, that was her biggest revenge on the YCLs.

Within two months after they got Canadian PR Visa, they arrived in Vancouver as the newest landed immigrants with their eyes glazed as Tim Horton’s donuts and head, well, heady with lofty dreams. Chaturvedi jee found them the basement suite in the Dhaliwal residence in Surrey. Jamarkattel Bhauju quickly came under the influence of Sally Dhaliwal. “We don’t buy cheap things. We don’t go to BalMart. Only cheap people go to BalMart. We go to downtown Vancouver for shopping.”

“What’s BalMart?” Jamarkattel Bhauju had asked Sally.

“Jyu don’t know BalMart? Everybody knows BalMart,” despite having lived in Canada for 12 years, Sally still had the thick Patiala accent.

“Oh, I see, you mean Wal-Mart?”

“Jyaaa… that’s what I mean,” Sally put emphasis on the affirmative.

Sally Dhaliwal’s point wasn’t lost on Jamarkattel Bhauju. She wasn’t from a cheap family in Dhading. Her father was a politician, after all. So, every time the topic of shopping came up in any Nepali gathering, she’d say, “we don’t shop in Wal-Mart, we go to Robson Street for all our shopping.”

One day recently, Jamarkattel Bhauju had gone to downtown Vancouver. She entered the trendy, high-end Holt Renfrew fashion store on Alberni Street. She browsed around in the store under the stern, watchful eyes of a sales lady. It was just like in that scene in the movie Pretty Woman, in which the inappropriately dressed Julia Roberts enters a high-end store and a disapproving sales lady asks her to leave.

She checked the price of a sweater and she gasped when she saw the price, $199.99. She checked out the price of a fancy lady’s leather handbag and her lips trembled when she saw the price, $149.99. She spotted a Pashmina shawl and her throat went dry when her eyes scanned the price, $249.99. She saw a black winter coat that she had always wanted for herself. Sweat broke out of her forehead when she saw the price, $399.99. She tugged on her three children and quickly got out of the store. Since then, she only shopped at Wal-Mart with cash she tucked away inside her bra in neat rolls.

You must all be wondering how I know about all this. Well, you see, I rent the one-bedroom suite on the other side of the suite rented by the Jamarkattels. Ghanshyam Dai often comes to my suite to share “dukha sukha ka kura haru.”

During one such “dukha sukha ka kura haru” session, Kris Jamarkattel, our Ghanshyam Dai, confided in me how they settled on the name of their little son Leonardo. Six years ago, when they were visiting Kathmandu from Dhading, Jaya Nepal Chitraghar cinema was re-running the movie Titanic. Jamarkattel Bhauju had heard good reviews of the movie from her friends. So, one evening off she went with her husband to see the movie. She thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even though Ghanshyam Dai slept through it.

When the movie ended, Jamuna Devi Jamarkattel was feeling mellow and rather amorous. She couldn’t wait to get to the place where they were staying for the night. She couldn’t shake off from her mind the scene from the movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio makes steamy love to Kate Winslet in a buggy in one isolated room on the ship, Titanic. When the Jamarkattels reached home, Jamuna was hungry, if you know what I mean, and pulled her husband into the bedroom rather quickly.

Two weeks later, when Jamuna Jamarkattel found out she was pregnant, she cooed into her husband’s ear, “Hajur, sunsyo na, if it is a girl, we’ll call her Kate and if it’s a boy we'll name him Leonardo.” That was one of the rare occasions when Jamuna Jamarkattel called Ghanshyam Krishna Jamarkattel “Hajur” even when others were not around. Ghanshyam had other names in mind, but decided not to argue.

Disclaimer: This story is a product of imagination. It is completely fictional. Any resemblance of any character and name in the story with anyone is purely coincidental.


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