He looked around the dark shop before taking another sip of hot, bitter tea.
“They’re stupid”, he said calmly, as if it was of no great importance. With a deep sigh, he continued, “they have been living like that since I can remember. Since my parents could remember! They never leave their hills and they never mix with other tribes. They live in their stupidity. They must be happy with in their stupidity.What can anyone do?”
I watched him quietly, listening to his rusty old voice go on. I had not encountered the Magar yet, but felt there was something deeply wrong, surely abusive, in labeling a whole ethnic group as stupid.
I too sipped my tea, my eyes wandering around the walls at artifacts from others’ lives in the past.
He shifted in his chair, the weight of stupidity disturbing his mind. “So, you are going West?”
I nodded and smiled. Yes, that was our destination – provided the roads let us through.
“You may see them. They don’t talk to strangers and they live their stupid lives in hardship…Government officials have tired bringing them out of their backwardness but they refuse to join the times today.”
He looked philosophically into his empty tea cup with the attitude of one who has seen the world and was not impressed. He then looked inquisitively at me, judging me, trying to make sense of why we were going to the far western regions. I asked him what he did, how he knew so much about the different ethnic groups – anything to diffuse the heaviness of Magar “backwardness”.
“Wheeler-dealer”, he grinned under his breathe.
I realized that it was time to go now. Exchanging words of thanks and good wishes, I seeked refuge in quietest corner of Tamel.
In the open air, among praying Buddhas, my mind turned to the mystery of the Magars. Who were these people? What made others label them as backward and stupid? Would we be able to recognize them if our paths crossed?
Mysteries require unravelling.
Nepal too, began unravelling its social complexities before my eyes. Slowly. Daily.