A Life Ordinary: Story of a Nepali Chowkidar in Delhi

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

[This article originally appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Kathmandu Post today. See it here as it appeared in the paper. Extended version of this story was published in Nepali in today’s Kantipur Koseli. See it here as it appeared in Koseli. Plus, here is my take on India’s Valentines culture in today’s Op-Ed of Kantipur.]

Bishnu Prasad Nepal does not work in one of those Indian call centres in Gurgaon that serve American customers, but every evening as the clock hits eight he gets ready for his duty for the next 12 hours. It’s been years since he drew the conclusion that he was born to guard a residential complex in south Delhi with two weapons: a cane and a whistle. As he patrols tapping his cane and blowing his whistle at midnight Bishnu occasionally thinks about the dream that he sees during the daytime. “I wish to make a small home,” said Bishnu who was on duty in a recent chilly night. “That’s it.”

Born in Palpa 45 years ago, Bishnu migrated to Nawalparasi at the age of 10 when his father decided to go to the plains for better life. The proud identity of being Bishnu Prasad Nepal, the great grandson of Bamdev Nepal, grandson of Mansudhan Nepal and son of Ghanashyam Nepal, however, is limited to his small village of Kumarbasti in Nawalparasi where his wife and two kids live. No one knows him by that name in block B of Jangpura Extension. Everyone calls him “Bahadur” spoken in a way that sounds like “badur” or even “badar”, which means monkey in Nepali. So the original word meaning “brave”, uttered by Indians who are brazenly insensitive to other people’s self-respect and identity, becomes synonymous with insult and humiliation.

But Bishnu didn’t come here by choice to take up the job that doesn’t pay him even a fourth of what his service deserves. For millions of Nepalis suffocated by unemployment in their homeland, India is a quicksand where they are engaged for years by harsh and lowly jobs for which they get meagre cash. In addition to the jobs of porterage, construction work and cooking/dishwashing in roadside dhabas/restaurants, chowkdari (the job of Bishnu) is preferred among those who have enough strength in their muscles. There are around 20 thousand Nepali chowkidars in Delhi alone, according to one estimate. Most of them are from the far western district of Bajura. On a recent Sunday in a south Delhi park I met several youths from Bajura who said they were all from the same ward of Barabish village. “I have seven members of my family here,” said 28-year-old Bhim Bahadur Sarki who, like Bishnu, is a nighttime chowkidar in Greater Kailash.

The main job of a chowkidar is to guard the residential complex that is called block or colony. The homeowners form a committee and raise money to hire a chowkidar. Besides the 12-hour duty, a nighttime chowkidar generally washes cars inside the colony for which he gets paid (about Rs. 150, and Rs. 100 for bikes). A youth from Bajura guards the Bishnu Prasad Nepal’s block during daytime. Both are accountable to the block’s secretary H.R. Mehra.

“Security of the block is number one,” Mehra explained the reasons for hiring guards. “No one should steal things from here. No one should be allowed to come to the parks and engage in nefarious activities like drinking and bringing girls. The residents should get a sound sleep.”

Blowing a whistle and tapping a cane, the chowkidar goes on several rounds of patrolling in a night to provide the “sound sleep”. Those who hear the sound for the first time might conclude the eruption of an emergency situation outside. Apart from keeping possible thieves at bay, the ‘sound’ serves as the “attendance of chowkidar” according to Mehra. The sound, Mehra added, also assures residents that “nothing can happen to us or our properties because chowkidar is on duty.” For Bishnu, I felt, that’s like belling the cat. “When I didn’t tap the cane they used scold me alleging that I was asleep,” Bishnu recalled old days. “I used to break the floor of the courtyard of the complainer’s house at night. He wouldn’t say a word from the next day.”

Forty-five oldies have died in the block since Bishnu started chowkidari 17 years ago. Some of them were good while others were not so good, says Bishnu. One old man who used to give him tea and clothes took Bishnu’s shoes and cane one night when he was asleep. Next day the old man thrashed him showing shoes: “You bastard, sleeping during duty? Here’s the proof.”

Now, he said, the residents don’t complain much.

“Why?”

“I won their hearts by good service,” he said.

Once, while patrolling, Bishnu found Rs. seven lakhs in a car that belonged to a guest of B-7. Instead of running away with money, he notified the owners and was rewarded Rs. three thousand. “It takes me ages to earn that much money,” he said. “But I didn’t sell my honesty. I have won their trust.”

Winning others’ trust and realizing your own dream are two different things. Chowkidari earns him Rs. 2800 per month. Since he also works as a household help in a Block B home where he lives Bishnu manages to save around Rs. 3000 a month. “It will take around five years to have enough money to build a house,” he calculates. Apart from food that he buys from a nearby dhaba, four cigarettes costing a rupee each a day and a Hindi daily newspaper, the only money (Rs. 30 per month) Bishnu spends for entertainment is for a call back tune on his cell phone. Dial his numbers and you will be treated to a Nepali dohori: samjhana le bhairachu tolaune/ paapini lai ke bhani bolaune/damauli ma pool/pirati launa le sarai bhayo bhool. Everything he saves is for his dream and his family back home. His five-year-old son goes to an English medium school while the 14-year-old daughter studies in a government school.

Bishnu becomes sentimental and full of remorse when he is reminded of his childhood. His father was a priest. Bishnu broke his leg when he was 10 and his father decided migrate to Nawalparasi thinking his son wouldn’t break his leg in the plains. His father sent him to a school but Bishnu never paid attention to his books. “I was a brat,” he said. “Didn’t study, always played. Now I am facing all these hardships in life because of that.”

Bishnu had an argument with his father when he was 12. He decided to leave home. He worked in a roadside hotel in a nearby town of Narayangadh. After a few years he went to Punjab, India. There he stayed for five years and returned home only when his younger brother, second among three, came to see him (The youngest died at young age). Both brothers came back to Delhi, worked for two years and returned home. But they did not stay there for long. Bishnu came back to Delhi again and took up the chowkidari job in block B of Jangpura Extension. Seventeen long years have passed but there is no certainty of future. Every year he takes a month long unpaid vacation during the Dashain festival to go see his family. “If this were a government job, it’s about time I got pension,” he said. “But it’s not. Tap the cane as long as you have strength in your body. When you are depleted, quietly go back to where you came from.”

(The writer is the New Delhi bureau chief of The Kathmandu Post.)

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33 thoughts on “A Life Ordinary: Story of a Nepali Chowkidar in Delhi”

  1. Its was heart rendering to read about Bishnu Prasad Nepali’s story. So many Nepalis have to do this to make a living. It is really unfortunate that many of us have to leave home and do jobs like chowkidari that doesn’t pay much or have any long term prospects.

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  2. regarding by elections:
    this time, again, if maoist behave like last election, the election should be postponed. ……………………….

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  3. I feel really saddened to hear about Bishnu. I say it is a life simply wasted. Can you imagine spending every night of your day for seventeen years blowing whistle and tapping the cane. It is inhumane.

    Yet, it is only feasible because someone can afford to get labor at such cheap price. And I don’t even blame the Indian colony owner who is hiring Bishnu. At least he gave him the job that paid better than any other job Bishnu could find in New Delhi. I blame the policy makers and leaders in Nepal who have made life so difficult and so without any opportunities for people in Nepal that people are seeking refuge in these lowly jobs in India. This story shows one man’s plight and his means of getting by, but on a larger scale it is the portrayal of the state of the entire nation.

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  4. It is the pathetic situation of Nepalis like Bishnu that have earned the whole Nepali populace the ungrateful and hated nicknames like ‘Kancha’ and ‘Bahadur’.

    We are getting stereotyped due to such incidents and the government should make it a top priority to provide employment oppurtunities to mistreated Nepalis in other nations.

    Shane

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  5. It is the pathetic situation of Nepalis like Bishnu that have earned the whole Nepali populace the ungrateful and hated nicknames like ‘Kancha’ and ‘Bahadur’.

    We are getting stereotyped due to such incidents and the government should make it a top priority to provide employment opportunities to mistreated Nepalis in other nations.

    Shane

    Like

  6. …..original word meaning “brave”, uttered by Indians who are brazenly insensitive to other people’s self-respect and identity, becomes synonymous with insult and humiliation.
    This is the most touching sentence to every Nepalese citizen.
    And of course our government had left no choice to such people.
    First of all , Nepalese should really start appreciating and respecting Nepalese first. Indians had no fault coz they are doing so… Nepalese must see “RANG DE BASANTI” such a blood vibrating movie …

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  7. didnt like the bit about insensitive Indians and other stuff if the Nepalese dont like the treatment they get they r free to leave the job. this aint forced labour u know i am sure any other indian would eagerly accept this bahadur’s job happily.

    If the author of this article could also cover stories of elderly people murdered in their sleep by their trusted Bahadurs it would sorta bring out a clearer picture 2 the readers. Maybe the article could focus on “serve the cruel Indian master right for trusting loyal Nepalese Bahadurs”.

    Besides the anti Indian feeling many nepalese have should be good enough to keep people in their own country and not come to this hell hole called India.

    By the way I am a Nepali/ Indian Gorkha or whatever the politically correct title is and an Indian National.I do not see why people who have not taken trouble to study and work hard should complain about their lot in life.

    The same attitude is causing trouble in Bengal.

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  8. So much for the bad Indian. What has the guy who wrote this tear jearker done for the watch man??? Just taken photos and his interview of the man to fill up space in his daily.

    The job with all its drawbacks puts food on the table for the man and his family.

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  9. Mr.Sandra..!!
    Ur philosophy sounds quite unrealistic..
    What on earth have u done so far for the well being of people like Bishnu?? ..though u may encounter many such poverty-stricken shrunken faces, daily ??

    The journalist at least brought to the light the plights of the poors left ignorant and maltreated….It is quite unrealistic for the journalist to be Laxmi Pd Devkota in today’s materialised world-handing over the coat he worn!!!!

    Think positive, be optimistic….Actions Speak Louder Than Words….THINK ABOUT IT

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  10. agreed with Djdaju,

    ya Indians call their servant Bahadur more in the spirit of good than
    bad. But we Nepali call Indian Dhoti. This is what we are up to.
    Common Indian have good feeling about Nepal which just opposite
    to common Nepali.
    We are superman. We have all sorts of hatred words for foreigners as well
    as for fellow Nepali, like
    Dhoti,…………………
    Kuire…………………..
    Khaire……………………………………..
    Jyapu………………………………………………
    Marsia…………………………………………………..
    Pakhe………………………………………………………….
    Kathe……………………………………………………………………..
    Deshi……………………………………………………………………………..
    Bhun…………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    Nyar……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
    Bhote……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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  11. Dear Mr. Wagle,
    I am amused that you call yourself a journalist. Surely, journalism has some codes of conduct that you are clearly unaware of. Let me point out some for you:

    1. Drawing out meaning where none exist::

    So the original word meaning “brave”, uttered by Indians who are brazenly insensitive to other people’s self-respect and identity, becomes synonymous with insult and humiliation.

    Is this really so? How you conclude that this has been done by Indians to insult and humiliate Nepalis? How does calling someone “brave” become synonymous with insult? Has Mr. Wagle, a Nepali journalist living in India been called a Bahadur on a regular basis by Indians? If he had been, it would have been understandable. We have a lot of guards who belong to Bihar. They are also called Bahadur. Presumably, this is becuse they are also guards.
    Has Mr. Wagle heard of a word called “dhoti” or another called “kaire”? This I presume should be a sign that all Nepalis are “brazenly insensitive to other people’s self respect and identity. Mr. Wagle, any thoughts on that??

    2. Stating facts in a manner that gives an incorrect impression: I quote

    But Bishnu didn’t come here by choice to take up the job that doesn’t pay him even a fourth of what his service deserves. For millions of Nepalis suffocated by unemployment in their homeland, India is a quicksand where they are engaged for years by harsh and lowly jobs for which they get meagre cash.

    The question that arises is if Bishnu did not come here by choice was he forced by some nasty Indian to come here? Was their an Indian agent lurking in his village who abducted poor Bishnu? Do the millions of Nepalis who come here to India, a quicksand no less for them, do so because they have been subjugated? Are they serfs forced to take up jobs in India? Were they herded here? The answer is no.

    They are here because their economic situation in Nepal is even worse. The security situation is terrible. They cannot put food into their mouth. They have nowhere to go to. They have no money. They cannot survive in Nepal. Their children cannot go to school.

    Faced with such adversity, which the likes of Mr. Wagle cannot acknowledge nor understand, they migrate to India to seek a living, meagre, harsh, lowly paid, but a living.

    They get money and by Mr. Wagle’s own writing this money is used well “His five-year-old son goes to an English medium school while the 14-year-old daughter studies in a government school.”

    So what do the likes of Mr. Wagle do in the garb of journalism?
    1. Spread hate through their writing.
    2. Betray an utter lack of understanding of people’s economic needs.
    3. Misrepresent facts
    4. GIve a terrible name to Nepali journalism which usually is free frank and fair.

    Like

  12. When Indians call the Nepalese “Bahadur” ,it really sounds annoying. Call us “Nepalese” if you are the real Indians.

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  13. yep..damn rite..m doin my studies in india and the moment i say i’m from nepali..at least one guy will ask where am i working as a bahadur…a**holes!!

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  14. I agree with “A cynic” who has analysed the matter sensibly but I feel that we as people of south asia irrespective of our country,religion,cast,creed in general have deep rooted feelings of social hierarchy and (unfortunately though) a terrible habit of patronizing ppl who are economically or at times socially not in commensurate with us.

    I have been staying in India for a few years now and i feel that this sense of arrogance is there in people here as it is in Nepali people as well.So, I think people are treated badly in the name of bahadur,dhoti and what not.

    As far as wagle ji is concerned most of the time his articles have a propensity towards one side/party .So, this is no exception again.

    But I feel sorry for the millions of Nepalese who r leading a pathetic life of poverty and indignity in India like Bishnu ji for which I blame the Government of Nepal of the past and the present and no one else

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  15. In response to above jay nepal :…first and foremost indians never shows friendly gesture to normal nepali people,their hatred towards us is more than from our side…this is the truth!!!!!….haven’t you read and watch their funny irrational humilating comments about nepalese in movies and newspapers????

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  16. its all the fault of the past and present crown holder and cap holder kings to make our brothers to be in a humilated situation in India.

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  17. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment
    is added I get three emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?

    Many thanks!

    Like

  18. these nepali males are very bad.They will insult madhesi.
    These nepali male people insult and call madhise.
    though i am also nepali but i also respect indians.I like madhesi and bihari of india

    Like

  19. madheshi people of our country is not getting rights.because of we people.ram ashish thakur,who is barber was killed during the bandhs in gaur. he is the honest martyrs(sahid) of madhesi people.pahadi people should be punished and killed

    Like

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