Beyond the Gurkhas
Gurkhas have served with British forces in every major conflict, most notably in the two World Wars where they suffered over 40,000 casualties, gaining renown for their courage and loyalty. Nepali Gurkha soldiers have accumulated 13 Victoria Crosses for their acts of supreme valour. In 2008, they won their right to stay in the UK.
The year 2015 marked the bicentenary of loyal Gurkha service to the British Crown.
2015 was also the year we collected the first set of British oral histories of Nepalese who were not necessarily Gurkhas, entitled Beyond the Gurkhas.
The interviews are freely available online and they reveal the fascinating stories of a community beyond the Gurkhas.
Dibya Magar is a beautician from Kathmandu who moved to the UK from Hong Kong 5 years ago and now resides with her two children in Grays. She formerly owned a parlour in Hong Kong and is looking forward to starting something here in future. She continues her profession as a beautician here by giving services to women at her own home.
“I am actively participating in most of the events relating to women and women’s issues. We have a women’s association here in Grays where we have a big get together once a year. We collect donations for those who are in need or the ones whose husbands are fallen or dead, or even near relatives. We are trying at least to support them mentally or in anyway we can help.”
“There is neither caste division nor discrimination in the women’s association. We are from all castes and backgrounsd, Rai, Limbu, Gurung, Magar and so on. So in that sense we have set up a good example.”
Cham Bahadur Garbuja Pun, son of ex-Gurkha is also an ex-Gurkha, actor and social worker now residing in Gurkha Home in Colchester. Despite his father’s recommendations, he joined the British army.
“The hat should be shining with soap and water, sometimes wax too. The shoes should be shining in a way that we could comb our hair looking at it. In the evening there used to be never-ending lecture by our commander and we barely get time after that to polish our shoes. We used to polish in torch light after 1 am. Then that was not the end. Ee had to wake up at 5 in the morning and get barely 2-3 hours sleep everyday. We had to iron in a way that the crease should be like a knife sharp.“
Dhundiraj Rai is an ex-Gurkha who came to the UK in year 2013 with his wife and only daughter. He joined British Army Boys in the year 1964.
“Gurkhas are the special recruitment of the government of the UK. It is a prestigious job and we get to be Gurkhas firstly because our country Nepal and Britain has a treaty of Sugauli. We just celebrate G200 this year as 200th years of anniversary of Gurkha in the British army – that is from 1815 to 2015, which is not easy to achieve. It shows our significance in the British Soldier history. We are a part of their body. As that part we have saved and fought in different colonies throughout the world.”
“To all our younger generations, I have to say that we are Nepali, we are Gurkhas and may I add, we are indigenous race of Nepal and we have to stand proud of it. We are also honest, loyal and always support the truth. So it is very important to use this opportunity to give our preceding generation better education and better wisdom. Education for me is most important and with better education I am sure our younger generations will have a better future than us.”
Gopi Sapkota is a 42 year old playwright and poet who came to UK in 2008. He started writing at very early age and has published 8 books. For his upcoming project, he is working on a travelogue related to the diaspora.
“Nepalese literature is growing now in terms of quality and quantity, but now is the time we need to bring Nepalese writing to international level so that people of the world they can read us. Within Nepal there are some great books written which need recognition outside Nepal as well. “
“I used to do journalism back in Nepal before coming here and it was difficult to earn the bread doing journalism. Then I moved to Kathmandu. I was more into theatre and it was difficult to earn money in the sense of sustaining ourselves and now I am the UK and it is difficult here as well to make your living being a writer or poet. So sometimes I think wherever I go, whether Gaidakot or Kathmandu or even UK, I am living in similar sort of situation.”
“As our next generation are all educated in English medium and are struggling to read and write in Nepalese, the great challenge for us is to either translate books in English so that they can understand Nepalese stories or teach them Nepalese language in parallel.”
“Old generations are usually traditional and conventional whereas new generations are always innovative, integrative and open, that’s the generation trend of generations. We can neither blame any of them, but for me I think we should act according to time, to be able to integrate with UK community, otherwise we will be isolated.”
Kumar Rai is a former Gurkha who was made redundant whilst in Hong Kong. He is currently living in Grays, Essex with his family and came to UK in 2006. He is now chairman of Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha Community (TNGC).
“Nepalese were always misjudged as Chinese by the local people and was looked upon in other way, which we did not like. That’s why we found Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha Community. It was a necessity to start some kind of association to give us an identity as Gurkhas and to establish public relation with the locals.”
“The other purpose of Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha community is to teach or remind our next generation about our culture, tradition and heritage. It is important to have your own identity and not to forget our roots.”
“I don’t think Gurkhas’ children should follow the footsteps of Gurkhas and be Gurkhas. When you are ina developed country like this, we shouldn’t focus ourselves in sustaining ourselves or earning money. We should broaden our horizon in terms of social service and doing something useful towards community. My daughter is doing radiology and this is my suggestion for her to finish her Masters and go some place like Nepal or other countries and serve the local community. If she does that I will be more than happy but it’s up to her.”
Laxmi Rai is Nepalese entrepreneur, social worker and writer living and studying in the UK. Based in Romford, she is originally from Morang district, Nepal, and completed intermediate level in commerce from Kathmandu where she married and moved to Hong Kong where she worked as secretary in the construction of the International airport in Hong Kong for five years. She started a small business as owner of a clothing brand in Hong Kong and later also got involved in restaurant business. Recently, she founded Junkiri Initiatives, which is focused on Women rights and issues. She is a strong believer that if you have determination and passion then nothing can stop you pursuing your dream.
“When I first came to UK, it was hard for me in terms of language even though I worked for UNHCR as a translator in Hong Kong, I struggle to understand local accent here. But slowly I adapt myself in the environment and I am the kind of person who can adapt in any situation. I started going to libraries, mingling with local women groups.”
“I have many friends who already gave up on their dreams because of their family etc. I don’t believe in that, I believe if you have a strong will power and desire to do something on our own you can be a mother, a wife and still pursue your dreams. My friends uses to laugh at me when I said that but now they are appreciating me for what I have done and I am happy.”
“All my writings reflects my strong desire to give something back to our community back home. We are here not only to earn money or children’ education. We are here beyond those ”
“It’s not too late study, it’s not too late to start, you shouldn’t wait your right time, you have to make your own right time and value yourself.”
Lex Limbu is a twenty-three year old celebrity blogger who was born in Dharan, move to Brunei at the age of two and then to the UK during his father’s job. He is also one of the founders of ‘Tracing Nepal’, an ongoing movement in young Nepalese adults who are brought up in the UK by going Nepal to experience typical Nepalese life on their own. He is the youngest in the family and has two sisters.
“Initially I started the blog in 2008 as a bored teenager and during that time YouTube and blog trends were really rising. I thought why not so I started putting information about celebrities, events, stuff that youngsters want to read in my blog but now as I understand that this platform can be used to put a more stronger message and someway make people to understand one another so yes the blog is going some change.”
“I feel very strong towards Tracing Nepal because growing up outside Nepal you get easily detached from Nepal and when our parents brought us home they only take us to relatives so we don’t really get the whole picture of how Nepal is; what our parents went through to bring us to where we are at the moment. So Tracing Nepal’s whole idea is to young Nepalese adults to reconnect with Nepal. It’s an ongoing movement.”
“10-15 years from now, I think there’s going to be a lot more Nepalese young people doing different things, choosing non-traditional paths, aiming new ways for themselves but they will be known as British of Nepalese decent because we are always moving forward and in this case we are moving away from Nepal. So in that sense Tracing Nepal is a bridge to fill that gap.”
“It’s very important for our community right now to really put ourselves out there, talk as much as possible about where we are, what’s happening and change that is happening around us and within us because only then we will be able to highlight the good and let that continue to flourish in days to come.”
Man Bahadur Rai is an ex-Gurkha who served for 15 years and before retiring in 2000. He was born in Bhojpur in the eastern part of Nepal, and has resided in Grays with his wife and three children for ten years. He is now working as community advisor bridging the Nepalese and British communites. He is also a founding member of Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha Community.
“If you take something with difficult approach then you feel different but I feel ok while in army and even as civilian. Of course I found it difficult when I came here first because we have to start and learn ourselves – everything.”
“There was certain discrimination against us from local community before because they didn’t know who we are. They use to call us chink, they use to tease us, show bad behavior in the parks etc. but now the situation has gone much better. They know now we are Gurkhas and our history and things are good. ”
“Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha Community is not only limited to bringing Nepalese together but also bringing Nepalese culture to wider audience. We are always integrating between different communities.”
Natasha Limbu was born in Dharan, She is an emerging fashion stylist who just completed her Foundation Course as a personal fashion stylist. She came to the UK at the age of 16 years ago with her parents and siblings, and currently lives in Essex. In the future she would like to work with kids with mental/leaning disabilities because education for her plays important in life.
“Since I came to UK at the age of sixteen most of my childhood memories are imprinted from Nepal. Though I have adapt the culture of UK my heart stills belongs to Nepal and that’s why I think I really love to have a joint family in future because to me family always come first.”
“The next generation of my generation are quite detached to our own culture but it’s not their fault because they are born and brought up here. They only know British culture so it’s our responsibility to let them know about our culture. It can disappear if you don’t.”
“I am a big believer of positivity. It can lead you to so many good ways.”
“Styling is not just putting clothes together, it’s about what do you want to tell, say who you are, your personality comes out. In Nepalese culture if you look at fabrics and prints they have lovely patterns, which I am really into. I use lots of patterns and different colors, even in my future I would like to continue using my culture as a stylist.”
Prabhanrani Rai is a dental nurse from Dharan and grew up in Arunanchal. She came in the UK in May 2008 with her husband and two children and has lived in Grays since then. She is an active social worker as well. She takes part in community-based programs organizing Nepalese culture through dance and drama. She also influences the younger generation to take part in community based programs in Grays.
“Grays Nepalese community is very good in terms of representing and integrating different culture within Nepalese community. They are active in sports specially tennis both men and women.”
“Grays is a very lucky place in the sense that nobody here is jobless. Young Nepalese are also in good profession and studying well.”
“If you are determined and want to do something from your heart nothing is impossible here. Take me for example, I didn’t have any certificate but I went to college and request them to give me a chance and with the help of them and my wonderful husband now I am a dental nurse. Neither age nor looks matter when you want to do something in your life.”
Thum Maya Pun came to the UK two years ago with her ex-Gurkha husband and now residing in Gurkha Home in Colchester. Her children are now in Hong Kong.
“Before it was really difficult to cope with the cold weather but since we moved to Gurkha Home, things are getting better because of the facilities here. I use most of my day knitting sweaters and hats with rest of the residence, also gardening. Last year I knitted a lots of hats, brought them to Nepal and distribute them to my relatives.”
“I go to English class here three days a week but because of the old age I forgot quite early. It’s just about useful to know the prices and read some important signs.”
“I don’t know many skills in sewing and knitting though I won some awards before, if someone approaches me to do something in it a progressive way I am happy to assist them in whatever I know.”
Rukmaya Rana is from Rupandehi , Nepal and came here in the UK in 2013 with her husband whee she has lived in Gurkha Home in Colchester since. She has been awarded for the best gardening ability in Gurkha Home and has got another award for keeping the surroundings clean.
“Language is the main problem here due to which we cannot go out alone or do works like in Nepal or India but we utilize our time by gardening.”
“There are total 26 families here in Gurkha Home, among which three of them are widows and two of them are widower.”
“There is always problem financially even we have pension because we have to take care of relatives back home, festival here, extra expenditure like my husband’s drink etc. Therefore it would be good if we will get some part time in whatever we can do with our ability.”
“My only request to UK government is that let all our children come to UK who are below 30, where their ancestors have sacrificed blood for this country.”
Ril Bahadur Pun also known as King of the curry is ex-Gurkha Chef before retirement and now again working as a chef in a Nepalese restaurant. He came to the UK in 2009 with his wife and his son. He also had opportunity to cook for Queen Elizabeth back in 1966. He is also the winner of Tiffin Cup 2014 in the festival of curry at the House of Commons.
“I always wish my son to be in the UK, now he is here and work as my assistant.”
“When I first came to the UK, Language was the main barrier but then I was never spent a year as jobless. Before I became chef here I worked as a cleaner in a restaurant as well as in Chicken factory for a year. I once approached canteen in chicken factory that I want to work as Chef and told them about my history and background. That time they were short of cook so I got an opportunity there as a cook. That was my first job as a cook in UK and work there for 15 months.”
“I am very happy now with my job. I too think that I can run restaurant like this but am old now. I am trying to retire in next two years.”
Udal Bahadur Gurung MBE, a retired Major, served in British army for thirty-one years and retired in 2000. He currently works as a civil servant in the Ministry of Defense in Colchester. He is living with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and a grandson. Together with other Nepalese he founded the Colchester Nepalese society in January 2006 and became chairman of Colchester Nepalese society for 8 years.
“It is difficult for older Nepalese people to integrate with British society because of the language barrier. But people like other or myself who can speak in English; we have a lot of English friends around work etc. So we are trying to teach the older generations English to be able to interact with other people in the society and not to be limited in close group.”
“I live with mainstream British society and I haven’t come across any kind of discrimination until now being Nepalese. ”
“Colchester Nepalese Society includes every Nepalese, whether Baahun, Chhetri, Kaami, Damaai, Gurung, Magar, Rai or Limbu. That’s why we call it Colchester Nepalese society though sometimes it is difficult to bring all together once but we are meant to do it. The reason we didn’t put Gurkha is that is wrong because many non-Gorkhas also live here, it is very important to include them as well. It is unwise to include Gurkhas in every association but I don’t want to force anybody to change the name because of that. It is their choice but not mine. ”
Umesh Kumar Pun MVO is an ex-Gurkha serviceman who joined the British army in 1979. He lives in Colchester after retiring from thirty-one years of regular service as captain. He is still in the reserved force of 71 London Signals. He is founder of the Gurkha Home project and also the Gurkha Stories project. He is owner of a unique restaurant in Colchester called Britannia Gurkha Restaurant where half of the space is a pub and the other is a Nepalese Gurkha restaurant. He is keen on sports and lives with his wife Rupmaya and three children in Colchester.
“We are trying to help old veterans by securing safe place to live which is where Gurkha Home project started. We are trying to expand our project throughout the UK where there are old Gurkha soldiers and good news is we are now in the last stage of starting Gurkha Home in Swindon.”
“My mother has very hard time growing up three sons on her own up in the village in Nepal but now all my siblings are in good positions. I myself retired as a captain, my elder brother is ex-Indian army and my younger brother is also ex-Gurkha soldier here in UK and now doing business with me in the restaurant.”
“Colchester Nepalese society is a very active and vibrant community which has different events during Nepalese festivals and British seasons. We also take part in various local events to integrate with British society here in Colchester.”
“My motto is if you can make someone happy then I am happy so I am constantly doing my best to help Nepalese people either here in UK or back home Nepal. I like to keep myself busy.”
“Nepalese Oral History project is very important for us as it documents who we are and how we come to UK. It can help our future generation understand their identity.”
Kalpana Rai is vice chairman of the National Rai Organization and is also secretary of the International Kirant Rai Association. She is advisor of the Nepalese Women Committee here in the UK. She previously came to UK on a temporary basis but now resides in Grays with her family.
“Thurrock Nepalese Gurkha Association is always trying to integrate with local British people by organizing different cultural events.”
“In terms of getting opportunities in UK, it really depends upon what kind of person you are. This is not a place who has close mind, do not speak English, or is not ready to adapt with new environment. If you are friendly, outspoken, educated then this is the land of opportunity.”
“I like the weather of UK specially winter. Also I like the cleanliness and non-polluted environment of the UK.”
“As my children are grown up, I think this is my time to work in my passion which is social work.”
“It is very important to preserve your own identity even if you are abroad because that is everyone’s prestige. Language, culture, tradition and heritage are something we should pass to our younger generation because without it we are nothing.”
Sushma Limbu is a senior occupational health practitioner in central London and is currently residing in Romford with her parents and sister Sashi Limbu who is a registered dentist here in UK. Sushma Limbu moved to the UK in 2007 as a part of the Neaplese settlement process.
“Things are changing as we are growing up. There are certain norms, which can’t be denied about our tradition but there are other things, which need change. My marriage was a love marriage and that was a personal choice it has nothing to do with culture or tradition.”
“Along the way I always have great support from my family, friends and colleagues. UK is the very good country to live in; if you want to explore and do things you can achieve it here. There are always good people and bad people everywhere it’s up to you how to utilize the situation and get the best out of it. If you need help don’t hesitate to ask around and if you are fortunate enough to have all access then don’t hesitate to give support for the needed. Help each other and be kind to each other.”
Sashi Limbu followed in the footsteps of her sister and moved to the UK in 2009 for higher studies. After finishing her university degree, she now works as a dentist.
“In a way I am very lucky because when I came here all my family were already settled here and know the system. They introduce me to the new environment and guide me through it. So I did less struggle than my sister.”
“Happiness if basically matter of choice, if you push yourself to believe in yourself things will get better from there. Believe in yourself and keep on pushing your limit.”
The collection has been deposited at the Essex Record Office, Wharf Rd, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 6YT