“The Khukri Braves-The Illustrated History of the Gorkhas” – Jyoti Thapa Mani
Jyoti Thapa Mani, the fearless author of “The Khukri Braves-The Illustrated History of the Gorkhas” joins Adwiti Subba Haffner in the most dynamic interview as she talks about the history of the Gorkhas, her trials and tribulations while writing the book and her stance about female empowerment, which will surprise you. Read the full interview to know your history and find out about the author and her valuable gift to our community.
Adwiti : Congratulations on your very extensive and the first-ever illustrated history of the Gorkha book – “The Khukri Braves- the Illustrated History of the Gorkhas” published by Rupa Publications. Jyoti Thapa Mani you are very aware of the Gorkha community settled in different parts of India, but the fundamental challenge that we face is acquiring a level of unity amongst our Gorkha Community as a whole. Will your book create a sense of cohesiveness within our community?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: Thank you very much Adwiti. Yes, I hope the book I wrote will create a sense of unity and also give a vivid visual of our roots, since the book is filled with stunning images ! “The Khukri Braves” is meant to reach and create awareness and knowledge of our Gorkhali history and culture to unite all Gorkhas with a collective understanding of their history and principles. No real story can be told without pictures so there is a bonanza of them.
Politically the term “ Gorkha” is defined as Nepali-speaking Indians belonging to the Nepali-defined clans and castes. However some do not even know the word comes from the word Gau-rakshak, i.e. Defenders of the Cow. The cow stands for mother or motherland . As Rakshaks it is in our tradition to defend, protect and guard those who seek our help. The Gorkhas have contributed to world peace by their sacrifices to weather the two Worlds Wars, the continuous cold war going on today, to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism and UN Peacekeeping Forces in civil war zones the major highlights being written in my book. We stand for bravery, honesty, high endurance capabilities and total commitment to duty.
The book can historically and socially create a sense of identity, heritage, culture and the personal set of values and principles that we the brave Gorkhas are synonymous to and if we abide by these qualities while acknowledging each other through these very strengths and values, we can definitely integrate the perceived differences and gravitate towards solidarity and unity. Knowledge is the key to cultural and social awareness. I don’t want to promote parochialism, this book is not about that. It is about the richness of our outstanding history, heritage and culture.
Adwiti: Your book goes beyond the “word -of-mouth” history and bibliography, it illuminates a wealth of intriguing, hidden, painstakingly researched and buried facts about the Gorkhas. You said that you wanted this book to be in the hands of every Gorkha person, we would love to hear the reason why.
Jyoti Thapa Mani: The book is about the history of the world’s most popular, deadliest and bravest fighters—the Gorkhas. The book attempts to bust the myth of the complex jaati/thari structure in our society. After you read this book, rest assured that you will be able to understand your cultural heritage and the rich history that you belonged to.
I was compelled to actually visit the sites where all the historical events and battles took place. The book I wrote is different because I traced the footsteps of my forefathers, putting myself in their shoes and exploring terrains where blood was shed and battles fought, I even coincided my trips around the same months to capture the environment, the ambience and I took photographs upon photographs encapsulating history and the emotions surrounding the event. It shows.
They have been traditionally serving with the British Army and Indian Army since 200 years. The khukri is their traditional knife and unique symbol. Their motto is “Kayar Bhanda Marnu Ramro” (Better to die than live a coward). Their valour has been accounted in numerous books and video documentations.
2015 is a special year for the Gorkhas Rifles. On 24th April 1815, the very First Gorkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment) was raised as the Nusseerree Battalions on the slopes of Malaun Fort in Solan district, Himachal Pradesh India. Therefore the history of the 1st Gorkha Rifles forms the special tag of the book. Gorkhas created history but did not write it and hence documented sources were scarcely available to people. Ever since the Gorkha identity issue began I realized that the Gorkhas did not know their history in India and therefore was unable to represent themselves accurately to Public Opinionates.
Most of our Gorkha history books were written without true research or evidence, for e.g. it’s unclear whether Dharamshala was in the state of Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand. The same for Dehradun. The two towns are major landmarks in Northern India Gorkha history and how can anyone scream about all-India Gorkha identity without even knowing which different states the towns are situated.
Many Gorkha leaders spend huge amounts of time and money discussing and protesting but are lazy to do the groundwork for their claims. They were hitting the battlefield with no preparation. My book gives to you the story of Ram Singh Thakuri with all the credibility required to convince anyone and of many more remarkable people to hold your head high.
Correct and researched history is absolutely necessary to justify their aspirations to being recognized and respected as Indian Gorkhas or Gorkha Indians, either way. This is a 407 pages large-size book with 500 plus full-color photographs. The book has been authenticated and checked by very senior officers from the Indian Army and Nepalese Army, including highly respected Professor and ex-MLA Chanderverker of HP. It has been endorsed by eminent journalists Shekar Gupta of ‘Walk the Talk’ fame and Dr Sanjaya Baru, author of the best-seller book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ and Yubaraj Ghimire of Nepal. And published by Rupa Publications. So the standard of writing, presentation, etc had to be very high.
As I said, the best for the best.
Many in the community suffer from lack of self-esteem and I believe that knowledge of their glorious history will definitely make them more confident and self-assured.
This book is just a beginning to stimulate Gorkhalis to know, discover and preserve their historical heritage. You look for it you will find more of it, everywhere.
You respect yourself, the world will respect you.
Adwiti: What in your opinion is the difference between Gorkhas and Nepalis?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: Gorkhas have a martial heritage. Gorkhas were born as the Gorkha Sena and they moved like a whirlwind in the 18th century taking in its wake all the strongholds of the independent Magar, Gurung, Rai and Limbu chiefdoms and as their men joined the Gorkha army they also became Gorkhas. The wave of identity with induction into the British-Gurkhas from 1815 and Indian Gorkhas after 1947 continued making one community where one culture had also developed defining the Gorkhali community which was united in common traditions. Since the adventures of the soldiers and their families led to new settlements and habitats especially in India what was born was the Gorkha community.
Nepalese citizens are from Nepal or Nepalis or Nepali-speaking people are anywhere in the world. However, I see it as a personal choice to call oneself a Nepali or a Gorkhali. But calling oneself a Gorkhali elevates the status and prestige of an individual for reasons known to the whole world. The Indian Gorkha Rifles has six regiments for Magar-Gurungs, one regiment for Khas-Chhetris and one for the Kirati Rai-Limbus. Others like Tamangs, Newars, etc are eligible for all and tucked into all of them. So all our Gorkhas.
The uniqueness and actual progressiveness of our Gorkhali community today in India stands for an equal society with no caste-class-clan hierarchy system. They intermarry as equals and celebrate common Gorkhali festivals Dasain and Tihar, Christmas with no religious connotations. I believe, Gorkhalis ideally should not accept religious diktats which are constricting and do what we enjoy and believe in the basic message of our religion by birth. It should be a personal choice.
The difference really in my opinion is a matter of personal choice. When one says one is a Nepali, then automatically people tend to think he/she is from Nepal. Gorkhas would be a more universal term.
Adwiti: You have been an agent of change where female empowerment is concerned. The dowry system was not prevalent in the Gorkha culture but it has resisted change in India and lately I am hearing that the system is subtly snaking its way into our culture too. How can we stop this from becoming a fully fledged dowry system so we can revert back to our own tradition?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: Yes Adwiti, I believe in female equality and empowerment. I have zero tolerance towards the dowry system. “Chhori pani dina ani dahej pani? Kasto dalidar hola keta wala haru.” ( how unfair the system is that we give our daughters but then also send her with dowry).
Our culture has never propagated this custom and I know of a Gorkhali girl in Dharamshala who cancelled a marriage at the last moment as a dowry list started appearing from the boy’s side including giving a gold coin to all the baraatis which is not in our culture. The odds were high as she was 30 plus considered late for an arranged marriage. But she took her stand supported by her family. Thereafter she has joined a film-making course and society in Hamirpur and free from family and social pressures of marriage she is blooming. The Gorkha community in Dharamshala also took a pledge that nobody from Dharamshala will give their daughter to this boy. How about all other Gorkha communities all around the world do the same?
Marriage and dowries are social institutions and only society can end it or else we are sunk. We will become like the other Indian who are below poverty line and carry dowry debts for life for a one day affair? And we know economic misery makes societies anti-social.
Does money make a happy marriage? We know it does not. Greed leads to more greed. Yes we should fight for it, and not support dowry system.
Adwiti: What advice do you have for the Gorkha youths of today in terms of empowering girls/women in our community?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: Empowerment of girls/ women begins from the male members of the society, fathers, brothers and husbands. Generally, the father is the provider-head of the family so he should provide for his daughter’s education and support her development into self-reliance. Mothers provide the moral strength. I am of course talking about grass roots level development. Obviously at a different level the male-female egalitarian standards can be maintained by mutual understanding and awareness.
But, if we want girls in the villages and rural areas to be educated and we spoke to all the mothers who are dependent on their husbands, they are generally not the decision makers of the family then the information will in turn have to be promoted to their husbands, so unfortunately the education and empowerment of the little girls become contingent on the mothers’ ability to coax the husband. This is a very flimsy method. I say we educate the men. We show them how educating their girls can benefit them, how they too can provide for the family and become strong contributing members of society.
Adwiti: In your book you mention , “The community stands at the brink of breaking tags and stereo-typing to compete in civilian society” – What makes you believe so?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: I have met many young people who want to move away from the Gorkha-tag of soldiers, security personnel, and house help and make their mark as achievers in civilian professions. Many army children do not want to join the army anymore. The world is happening and they want their piece of cake too. That is great!
Soldiering was a profession when other opportunities were limited to the Gorkha community who hailed majorly from agrarian background. Now the options are wide open. We are also writers, artists, entrepreneurs and anything we want to be and the newer generation are starting to see and understand the potential of what they can become by breaking molds and exploring their intelligence and creativity. I hear accomplishments from our Gorkhali brothers and sisters, as writers, photographers, dancers, fashion designers, musicians.
It is very imperative at this point for the parents of the next generation to be open to all possibilities and not restrict them . As for myself I like being called a Gorkha soldier. What an honour!
Adwiti: What difference do you see in the Gorkhas from the Darjeeling district and the Gorkhas in the different parts of India? I know your father studied in North Point College, he must have some insights. What do you think is the future of our Gorkha community as a whole?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: The main differences I see among the Gorkhas are the different issues. Identity for some means a Gorkhaland state. Identity for some is a stop to branding as ‘Foreigners’ in their respective states. Gorkhas moving to the People in Himachal Pradesh respect the Gorkhas as fierce warriors.
Identity problem for some is the disappearing of traditions and values which identify the community amongst the majority. In Himachal we were looking for qualified Nepali teachers to introduce the language in the state’s schools but no one was willing to come and stay there.
My father late Pritam Singh Thapa fell in love with Darjeeling during his education stint in North Point. He was the President of the Students Union. He made many friends there. There seems to have been so much warmth and camaraderie in the Darjeeling youth which is unique from any other Indian Gorkhali society. The Darjeelingeys are so full of life-so much of dance and music. It’s a magical world out there.
The future of the Gorkha community is bright as there is fire in the belly to rise and be known. We must teach the newer generation to uplift each other. We just need to band together, build online and real communities, help each other, encourage each other and stay strong under our the Khukri banner!
Adwiti: Your impressive background states that you were the design head of the Economic Times, Business Today and Business World. How did you accomplish so much and then have time to write, not 1 but 2 books!!
Jyoti Thapa Mani: My grandfather late Major MS Thapa, Commandant EFR, Salua, Kharagpur used to say “cho chori lai parne man lagdaina ula graduation garayera ramro home maker banayera ramro gari biha gardina. Jo Chhori pardai ma hoshiyaar chha usla paduana parcha professional course ma best college ma ani koi biha ko pressure halne hoina.”
Graphic Design at NID in Ahmedabad was the 5 and 1/ years course. When I joined I was just 17 and half. I travelled second class sleeper each time from home to fro for 5 and 1/2 years, ate alu-bhajis from vendors on the way, and tied my baggage to my toes while sleeping. No pampering or molly-coddling from parents except full faith in me. After graduation a mal-nutritioned me returned home enjoying my mom’s cooking and became plump, till my Granny grumbled saying I was a burden on her retired son and Dad saying that I was wasting the education, so I took the first bus from Dharamshala to Delhi. It was the only way they could make me move and they knew how to do it. It is important for the supporting family members to push a little and I would definitely say that I became a wiser person with every kick in life however horrible I felt then. I would attribute all my success to my family and all goof-ups to myself.
When I first came to Delhi I found my own job, faced the vagaries of the city despite being naïve, travelled in buses and autos for a longtime, before I received a promotion and gained all the rewards of working hard and smart. Life knocked me down several times, I even made some bad decisions but then, you know what I stuck with it, I learned and never gave up. Then the book kept speaking to me even as my work demanded so much out of me. My responsibilities were endless, but I did not find excuses, I found opportunities.
It started as a thought as almost everything creative does; I held on to that idea of writing about my culture, my heritage, my forefathers – I was intrigued beyond tiredness to explore the depth of our history. There was not one book that had it all. This adventure took me to the places where my forefathers shed blood and proved again and again the adage “ Kafar hunu bhunda marnu jati” ( Better to die than be a coward). The caliber and uniqueness, not just in terms of being strategic warriors, but mostly the courage our forefathers carried in their hearts that made them the famous Gorkhas. I had to document this vital account. It was a calling almost like a mission where if I didn’t write and share our legacy then I would not be fulfilling my purpose. It was that strong. It was that passionate. It was fearless. I was a Gorkha myself in this mission.
Adwiti : It took you more than a decade to write this historical piece, a vivid account of valuable work. Share with us briefly the trials and tribulations you faced during your research. What was the most challenging aspect of this extensive project? What drove you single mindedly to write about the Gorkhas, our heritage and history?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: My late father initiated me into the Gorkha quest. It began as a mere interest and then snowballed into a passion and I became a Gorkhaphile. The more I travelled the more I discovered. Nothing was chartered or recorded beyond a point. It was like a treasure hunt as I pieced together information after information, gathered from books, conversations, people and everything took its own time to sink in and connect. I had to dig and dig and dig but loved it all. I tried to reach every place where Gorkha blood had shed and when I did it felt as if they felt good that they were not forgotten. I have a collection of stones from battle sites and forts and many wonder why I keeps stones in a glass case. I miss my dad. We used to travel together to Gorkha sites. I used to discuss my work daily with him over the telephone. He was my guide, philosopher and mentor. Today he is not here to see the book but I think he had already visualized it in his mind before he passed away in 2012.
So about 12 years of seeking and two years of fulltime work indoors on my computer to compile, write, design and complete the book. As disasters struck during the production of the book I died and was reborn many times. It is a spiritual story and was not possible without spiritual sources to charge my batteries which would run out occasionally. A Gorkha warrior-turned-saint who lived centuries ago wrote a journal which is lost. I have not seen it and I do not know where it is. So I wrote it as I believed he would have liked it to be.
In 2010, I curated a first-time exhibition on Himachal Gorkhas history and traditions at the Kangra Museum of Art in Dharamshala with Department of Language and Culture. The idea was for all community members to bring archival photographs, materials, trophies and medals from their homes and the collection was so amazing and huge that we did not have enough space to display them all. The exhibition received great response from the local media with headlines like ‘Gorkha Itihaas 200 saal Purana!’ and so on.
But all these efforts used to be very strenuous as I had to squeeze in time from my job in the media industry where we worked from morning till late night every day. It was not possible to even take leave. Balancing the high responsibilities and my growing Gorkha passion was difficult but I managed to somehow do what I wanted to do. As my brother Dr Aloke tells me now you must be feeling a vacuum now. Actually I am feeling lonely. It’s like saying goodbye to the historical characters I lived with for so long.
The journey has been very eventful and if this book does well I will shall share Jyoti on the Gorkha trail. I cannot really define the most challenging part as there were so many. But I did have a tough time climbing up hill sides to remote forts where only goats’ trails remain. The zigzag paths clinging onto shrubs and stones were very painful and many times my legs turned to jelly and then I just sat down. My poor camera also took many a tumble but remained intact despite dents. How those nimble-footed Gorkha warriors ran up and down these hillsides I cannot imagine. All in all it was a very deep and powerful experience that which changed me forever and hope the history that I have unearthed will change your life too.
Adwiti: “ Hami bir chau, tara budhu chau. Hami budhu chau rata hami bir chau” Bhupi Sherchan famously wrote this and is oft quoted. Comments?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: With due respects to Shri Bhupi Sherchan, I find the comparison incorrect. Do you know how a bir Gorkhali soldier goes through a trying selection process amongst lakhs of candidates? You cannot be brave without being smart and intelligent. Even after selection the entire career of a soldier is based on continuous training procedures before he is promoted and capable of fighting a war in the frontline. When one is facing a situation of ‘Kill or get killed’ the soldier has to have his wits around him. Even the enemy are great fighters and ready to die for their cause. How do we manage to score over them? A budhu bir soldier will not only get killed immediately without achieving anything but also put his entire platoon into danger.
If Sherchanji thinks we are Budhu, he is also right to some extent. It is because we are not academic or ambitious in academics which is not a privilege of the rich. A hunger for General knowledge is also important. If Abdul Kalam, a boatman’s son can become the President of India and known for his intellectual achievements, or Prime Minister Modi, a tea-sellers son, who is so well-read and wise in his speeches, what’s stopping us to think big. Or did Shermanji mean we are foolish or naive? The first is difficult to change (because it is an in-born IQ) and the second gets corrected with exposure. Our brains are dormant but very much there. We do not like read or invest in intellectual buying. So obviously we will be budhu when we step into the world.
Adwiti: Who is your inspiration? What advice do you have for the Youth of our community? How can they become successful in their endeavors like you have been?
Jyoti Thapa Mani: My forefathers, family and of course the Gorkhas themselves! Which Gorkha would not like to write about those are kith and kin created an internationally acknowledged global status? And which Gorkhali proud of his identity would not like to read about them. This book would not have been possible without the full support of Maj. General PCS Khati, Vr Chakra (Retd) 1 GR, Brigadier Prem Basnyat, Nepal Army, eminent Indian journalists such as Sandipan Deb, Shekar Gupta, Dr Sanjaya Baru, Nepalese journalist Yubaraj Ghimire and so many other wonderful people whom I have mentioned in my acknowledgements. The number of people (Indian Gorkhalis, Nepalese and non-Gorkhali Indians) all out to support is out of this world.
Think Big. Think Positive. Hard work, endurance, sincerity and Never say die. Face every challenge with determination like a Khukri Brave. Besides professional life make some contribution to the community anytime in your life for whatever span. We Gorkhas are closely connected with nature. Protect animals. Protect nature. Preserve trees. Plant flowers. Protect the environment. Cleanliness and hygiene should be the new mantra. Be clean, be healthy. As the I would like to see more nurses (boys and girls) in the hospitals from our rural sectors like the Kerala and North-eastern nurses who reach everywhere to work.
We are the Gorkhas!
Ho ki Hoina?
Ho! Ho! Ho !
After the impassioned and intense conversation I had with Jyoti Thapa Mani, I could see our forefathers in my mind’s eye, courage in their hearts, khukri in their hands, single minded focus in their eyes shouting out the spine chilling war cry “ Jai Maa kali, Ayo Gorkhaliiii…………..” .
The book that Jyoti Thapa mani wrote is alive because it is not just about The Gorkhas it is about YOU, it is about us and it is about what our forefathers experienced – the blood we shed , the wars we fought, the courage and ferocity we displayed ,the wars we conquered, the lives we lost and the lives we saved. This book is not merely a book, it is something that will speak to you because it is in your blood. Please give yourself this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your history accurately, passionately and fearlessly.
The term Gorkha does not have to be only in the battlefield, we can fight, we can display our fearlessness in every walk of our lives.
Available in bookstores and online:
For Overseas buyers:
Oxford Book Store Darjeeling Ph # 0354/225 4325
[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, writer, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother, wife, meditation teacher. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner and her website is www.alivewithadwiti.com]