I had thought I had written my last newspaper column on the Gurkhas/Gorkhas with my submission to The Week last week. But here I’m at it, again. This could be my 13th story on them in as many years: I first wrote on the subject in The Himalayan Times; then I moved on to The Kathmandu Post and City Post and wrote some more; then I contributed some pieces to Newsfront and the rest have followed in this weekly magazine.
I’ve also written three fiction pieces on the Gurkhas. The first was a portrait of British Gurkha Major Dhanbir Gurung in my Nepali novel, “Pratyek Thhaun; Pratyet Manchhe” (1975) – which also has its English edition called “EveryPlace: EveryPerson.” (2004)
The second was a long short story called “Supariko Rukh” (Areca Tree) in Nepali and published in Samakalin Sahitya, the literary magazine of the (then Royal) Nepal Academy, in the early 2000s.
The third piece I’ve written is on Captain Ram Bahadur Limbu who won his Victoria Cross (VC) as Lance Corporal in the Borneo Campaign in 1962.
Thus, when I already have a book-length of materials on the Gurkhas, why this article again?
Well, a few more Gurkha/Gorkha things happened during last week, too. Two books – one a critique and written in Nepali, and the other being a collection of short stories in English – were simultaneously launched in Kathmandu.
The Leftist writer and critic Jhalak Subedi has authored “British Samrajyaka Nepali Mohara—Gorkha Bhartiko Nalibeli,” a book against the age-old “colonial” Gorkha recruitment. To boot, he has also received the Kirat Academy National Award 2012 from a Kirants Confederation for the very work. For general information, the Kirants/Kirantis are the Eastern Gurkhas/Gorkhas of Nepal, and the honor has its own intriguing speculations.
The second event of the previous week in Kathmandu was the publicizing of Prajwal Parajuly’s collection of short stories in English, entitled “A Gurkha’s Daughter.” All of his other stories are about Nepalis, and only the eponymous titleholder goes, and that too indirectly, to a Gurkha: “a Gurkha´s daughter tries to comprehend her father´s complaints,” according to the book’s blurb.
In both instances, the Gurkha/Gorkha ownership is claimed by other Nepalis who aren’t Gurkha/Gorkha. Both writers are Nepali Brahmin, one from Nepal and the other from India. All Gurkhas are Nepalis while not all Nepalis are Gorkhas: that’s the truthful irony one has difficulty living with in the pan-Nepali world. Yet the capitalization of the Gurkhas has gone to totally non-Gorkha influencers – in Nepal and outside, too.
The “Gurkha” word/name/brand is also sold profitably for other fame and fortune. One such freeholder is The Gurkha Cigar Company. Accordingly, “Gurkha is a brand of hand-rolled cigars, known for the manufacture of premium products using unique and artistically-oriented packaging. The company is known as the maker of the His Majesty´s Reserve cigar, a limited-production cigar infused with rare cognac, whose price of $15,000 per box makes it the most expensive cigar in the world.” [Wikipedia] Google can supply the details of all Gurkha Cigar assortments.
And there are Gorkha Grill, Gorkha Distillery and Gorkha Lawrie, and Khukuri Rum in Kathmandu. There was the excellent export-quality Gorkha Rum in the ’70s. There are Gurkha and Gorkha surnames for eateries and takeaways in the world. The list is endless: Gurkha masculinity, spunk, and spitfire (all sexually connoted), chivalry, bravery, steadfastness, apolitical behavior, fairness, and unprejudiced outlook and conduct in both war and peace, ad infinitum. The Gurkhas’ virtues are so many and vices almost nil.
Consequently, there’s no end to such sensationalization of and capitalization on the Gurkhas.
One such instance was a website imagination coming from someone with the grand idea of pitting the Gurkhas against the French Foreign Legion.
Well, for comparative appreciation and assessment, let’s give the Legion its dues.
There’s a comprehensive coverage entitled “The Expendables” by William Langewiesche in the December 2012 issue of Vanity Fair. It’s about “the dark romance of the French Foreign Legion: haunted men from everywhere, fighting anywhere, dying for causes not their own.”
Mr. Langewiesche adds, “Currently it employs 7,286 enlisted men…... Over just the past two decades they have been deployed to Bosnia, Cambodia, Chad, both Congos, Djibouti, French Guiana, Gabon, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Somalia. Recently they have fought in Afghanistan, as members of the French contingent. There is no other force in the world today that has known so much war for so long. A significant number of the men are fugitives from the law…..” Accordingly, the present Legionnaires come from 30 countries – Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, and Ukraine.
Did we see Nepal in the list? Yes, there’s a certain Khadga from Pokhara in the Legion. There’s also Saral Shrestha of Kathmandu in the US Army; he was voted its Soldier of the Year for 2012.
With the above information, readers can reach their own conclusion on the Gurkhas vis-à-vis the Legion. While the Gurkhas are a selectively homogenized fighting force plucked from ethnic Nepal, the Legion has riffraff rejects of heterogeneous backgrounds of the world. Yes, both are trained and tried soldierly outfits, but the Gurkhas fight for the military causes of many countries and serve in universal peacekeeping missions and are contingents to world alliances while the Legionnaires just fight for the sake of fighting. So there’s no contest whatsoever in pitting one against the other.
Meanwhile, I happen to watch a clip on YouTube. It shows the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, receiving the salute of a Gurkha contingent in a march-past somewhere in London. Is it marking an annual pomp and ceremony below the Tower of London? Or is it the last Salaami Parade of a Gurkha regiment on British soil, now being disbanded and downsized for amalgamation into another unit of the British Army? Is it the final occasion for the Patron Prince to bid adieu to his Gurkhas?
I care not to delve into the event’s aspects. What draws my true attention is the sight of the Duke wiping his nose and eyes with his handkerchief. It’s obviously a sad occasion, and he can’t remain unaffected, and displays his emotions in uniform and in public. It could well be a historic farewell march-past of the columns of Gurkhas who stoically and stolidly pass by and out of the range of the video camera.
Now the focus is on the bystanders. A smartly dressed, slim and middle-aged man turns away from the camera and hides his tear-filled eyes. Was he once a British Gurkha himself? A woman stands alone, meditatively quiet, her gazing countenance clouded by the sadness of the pomp-and-circumstance march that’ll never be repeated on the same hallowed grounds.
Tears for the Gurkhas are shed by those who know their true worth. But commoditization and commercialization of the Gurkhas as premier brands also carries on. Anti-Gurkha porn is another side of the Gurkha coin and currency note.
The writer is the copy chief at The Week and can be contacted at email@example.com