Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Like I said, speaking another language makes you less intelligent. I sit in the teacher's lounge straining to understand the discussions around me. When I speak, my words are simple parodies of my thoughts, and when people start to get passionate and excited they talk too quickly for me to understand.

My school is in Bistagaon, a traditionally high-caste Chhettri village. The majority of the teachers are high-caste, but the majority of the students are traditionally low-caste Tamangs who trudge all the way up from the valley to get to the school. Students from Bistagaon generally do not go to the Bistagaon school. Their parents send them away to Chapagaon because they do not like our school. In my limited grasp of the situation it seemed like there might be some class tension stuff going on. Maybe just school politics; it's hard for me to get a feeling for these things. I was asking why there are mostly Tamang students, and one of the teachers told me something that sounded like,

"Ganesha mudukum kwapa kadati"

and everyone laughed but would not tell me what this means. Then just this week I was asking about education reform and I posed a sort of tongue-in-cheek hypothetical question: "Would it be good for education if every private school was forcibly closed and only public schools existed in Nepal, so that the rich would be forced to improve the public education system?" The same teacher yelled out "Thik chhaina!" ('No good!') and when I asked why he said the same thing:

"Ganesha mudukum kwapa kadati"

And everyone laughed. "I can never understand your Nepali," I said. They laughed again; they told me he was actually speaking Sanskrit. It was a Sanskrit expression. Sanskrit in South Asia is a lot like Latin in Europe and the United States: it is the ancestor of many of the languages, it is used for technical and scientific terms, and it is the language of the dominant religion.

The elephant-headed god Ganesh is fond of eating laddoo, the ball-shaped sweet that I was told is known as mudukum in Sanskrit. Kwapa is the only Nepali word in the expression, an adverb of Sanskrit kadati (to eat), which they told me means 'with both hands,' so:

"Ganesha gobbles up ladoo"

In this depiction, it is his mouse/ride that is gobbling up the ladoo.

Okay, so I've got the literal meaning, but nobody will help me out with the figurative one. What does Ganesha represent? The school? "No, Ganesh lives at the school!" So what is the ladoo? The fees? The public school students? Can anybody help me out here?

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