The Gurkhas and Lahore
LAHORE-When Nepalis fought the East India Company in the war of 1814-16 the British were impressed by the gallantry of the defenders. So, after the Sugauli Treaty they started recruiting Nepali soldiers in the British Army.
In the 20th century, Nepali soldiers went wherever the British Empire was fighting to expand or defend territory. After India’s independence, Nepalis continued to be recruited not just in the British Army but also the Indian Army, the Singapore Contingent and the Brunei Reserve.
Nearly 45,000 Nepali soldiers were killed in the two world wars, falling in Flanders Field, Gallipoli, the attack on Monte Cassino and the jungles of Burma. But this didn’t stop young Nepali boys from dreaming of serving in the army. Till today, they apply by the tens of thousands at recruitment centres.
Ever since the British Afghan Campaign of 1848 when the new recruits were sent to the cantonment in Lahore for training, those who left to enlist in the British Army have been called ‘Lahures’ back home.
They left their families and friends behind, working in a foreign land and fighting and dying for foreign powers. The experience of travelling, living by themselves, fighting numerous battles changed the young men. For those left behind in the villages, Lahures were the symbol of modernity, the glamour of valour and the money they brought home gave them a special status. In many parts of Nepal, Gurkha veterans became the main agents of development.
The Lahure legend has gone down into Nepali folklore and songs. The lyrics are all about love and longing and the short time they spend at home. While Lahure has a mostly positive connotation in Nepali language, the word has also transported to anything foreign, like imported buffalo breed of ‘Lahure Bhaisi’. In fact, the Agriculture Development Bank gives loans only to farmers who want to buy a ‘Lahure Bhaisi’, and not local ones.
More recently, the word Lahure is losing its exclusive military connotation and includes all Nepalis who leave their homeland to work abroad.
The Maoist minister for general administration, Pampha Bhusal, said at a public function last month that all professionals including doctors and engineers who go in search of opportunities and ‘greener pastures’ are neo-Lahures. In a similar category are Nepali consultant Lahures, who are often invited to research and present papers at international conferences.
But here in Lahore from which the term Lahure is derived, the city still opens its arms to visitors, foreigners and refugees. Walking in a city burgeoning and bustling with people, and the impressive Mughal architecture of Shalimar Gardens and Badshahi Mosque, one can’t help but wonder what our young Lahures thought of this city on arriving after their long train journey across northern India.
Lahoris do not know who the Lahures are, and don’t even remember that Gurkha soldiers used to be brought here in the last century to fight in Afghanistan. (The British Gurkhas are still there in Helmand.)
The old Lahures fought bravely in foreign armies and helped establish a name for Nepal. Our resilient boys who work hard as migrant labourers and send money home are doing the same thing, so are the intellectual Lahures who sell their skills internationally.
In Pakistan people from Lahore, who are mostly Punjabis, are thought to be people with big hearts, affectionate, fiercely protective of their culture, their tradition and loyal to their country and city. One Lahori says that to be a Lahori is to be resilient. Nepali Lahures are exactly that.