In Search of Wisdom: The Utility of Inheritance

Published in: INSN.org | NepalNews.com | PrabasiNepali.com | NepalDalitInfo.net | Nepalipress.com

My mother’s death came so early and suddenly that I had neither time nor the capacity for contemplating about life seriously. However, this event made me contextually old enough to understand my father’s ailments and to sense the fright of his inevitable and impending death. I remember dwelling on the “when” and “how” of my life as a farmer in the land that I would consequently inherit. I was, however, hopeful of completing my high school and supplementing the farm income with some job. But my life took an unexpected turn and I pursued other dreams. I became an urbanite and my brothers who lived in the village subsequently sold our house, with my acceptance. Although done with benevolent motives, my brothers made a different judgment call than I in the affairs of selling the property inherited from our parents. The day after signing off the paper for selling the house and the land surrounding it, which my father had apparently registered in my name, I had said to my brother that I was distressed. And, my brother was equally bothered by my lack of understanding about his predicaments. Our wounds were healed years ago but the images and scars are well and alive today to be re-read. The positive side of this is that I came to understand the institution of inheritance better than I could ever learn by chasing great libraries of the world.

What happened to me must have happened to numerous others because I saw so many people in the village migrate to the plains as I was growing up. After an untimely death of my oldest brother, my Bhauju (sister-in-law) got along with her brothers and migrated to the plains in search of a better future, which was not to come true as more misfortunes followed and they are living in a slum today. When I remember those days as she was doing her final preparation for migration, it breaks my heart even today. Her three young children were lined up besides her the morning she left her house for good. She cried loudly and profusely as she was leaving. Even a young boy like me can sense and remember her cries. As a grown up person, when I recall those mental imprints and think, they make me distraught, although what happened was so distant from today. Bhauju knew that she was leaving behind almost everything she created, was going to be stranger in her own land, and will not be able to make a come back. This scene reminds me of the power of connections that we feel to our heritage.

When I think of the suffering of my oldest brother’s children and grandchildren, I blame much of it on the over-production of children. Why three, four, or nine? If there were only two children in the family, they would have had enough land to inherit and be happy campers. Having more than two children has caused havoc in the families as the land is being divided on and on to the last Surko (a little strip of terraced land). Today, I wish there was a system of giving incentive to make two children and inflicting disincentives when people make more. Then I would not be there as the ninth child to claim my right over my parent’s land and the family’s cumulative sufferings would have been lesser. There would be more abundance and less hurt. Today, when we total the pains and gains of all in our family, with me the lone well to do and those numerous suffering, we are much behind our parents. Not only that, by overpopulating ourselves, we have displaced other species of lives from the land. With less of us roaming around, more number of rabbits, birds, fish, snakes, frogs, trees, shrubs and other lives would have been spared for the future generations to enjoy. What a tremendous tragedy we inherit when we overpopulate!

When we sold our fertile Khola Khet to buy a piece of land in the plains, the act of selling had caused only a mild distress in me. I thought that there will be manifold production of rice in the new land as compared to the old one. Even today, I have a little bit of inherited land left in the village but it is not emotionally associated with me as strongly as some other things. Stronger are the feelings evoked by Dhaireni, Raniban and Theule Kholo that did not belong to anyone. Even stronger are the feelings for the home. A home is a home and its value can never be replaced by money or material. Home is about memories and all those known and unknown interactions that we did with people and nature that looked so enormous and awe inspiring for our little minds. It reminds me of our parents, brothers, sisters, and so much more that no human can ever describe. All the imprints that ever get written in our brain and shape us as who we are today come from there. My mother was the most loving of all and the most beautiful of all for me. When I was distraught, no woman in the world could tame me other than my mother. The traits I inherited from my parents and a great deal of other natural probabilities play role in making me unlike any other in the world. Therefore, I am largely what I inherited. To be able to hold onto some of my past and what I inherited is a matter of overwhelming pride to me.

As much as inheritance is a matter of pride, it is also a matter of pain as well. “Born Brahmin”, I was led to believe that I was superior to a Chhetri, Magar or Sarki in the social strata. And my parents were led to believe the same. Using all the mental tools passed down to me, I also planted a sense of inferiority on others but the extent of damage I might have caused cannot be truly known to me. Today I carry a sense of guilt because of all the ignorance I inherited. I empathize when the children of Dalit say, “Compensate us for all the damages your ancestors caused to our ancestors and us.” I wish if there was no system of inheriting the land, caste, wealth, and all other things. In the absence of inheritance, I would be free of burden that came along with it. But I have this responsibility on my shoulder to atone for the damage caused not only by me but also by my ancestors on other fellow humans who are no less than me. I am writing these words from a comfortable sofa in Canada but am guilty that those Dalits, Magars, Chhetris and Bahuns of my village who are still deprived of fundamental tools of empowerment. Their families are torn apart as men are roaming the streets of India and Arab for sending home meager money for their families’ bodily survival. I am troubled by the suffering of those people.

And, I am not living in peace in Canada either! I worry how I could do something for those marginalized people of Nepal left out in those mountains and valleys even though most of my relatives and family members have drifted away from the place. Only people left in my village among our nine siblings and their families are one brother and his wife both in their fifties. Despite all this, even a simple contemplation and some rudimentary gestures of help sometimes get associated with the issue of integrity. However, when I look underneath all of this, I see inheritance in the working. I see a world where “me” and “mine” are battling with “not-me” and “not-mine”. We humans are quick to discover that “he” is “not-me” and “his” are “not-mine”. So how far away in the world I may run, my inheritance is chasing me like a ghost! I cannot even atone for my sin of inheritance in peace!

I notice that I am proud Nepali despite living in Canada for two decades and being a proud Canadian. Almost everything I materially possess is here but it bothers me when “they” do not issue me a visa for more than a month when I go to Nepal. It feels as if “they” are trying to protect “their” country from me. It repeatedly brings my Thakali classmate Purna Jwarchan of Begnas, Kaski in my imagination. I feel as if he is being stopped at the checkpoint of Mustang and given a time limit to visit his ancestral place and get out of there quickly. It makes me restless and forces me to question, “Why do I feel like a Nepali?” Is it because Koshi and Karnali flow or Mount Everest smiles in Nepal? Is it because Prithvi Narayan gave “birth” to that country? No! I conclude that it is because some abstract entity called Nepal is the “owner” of my birthplace. If Galkote Raja, China, or India had “owned” it, I would be Galkote, Chinese, or Indian purely because of how the political map of the world gets drawn. In reality, I am like a tree whose roots are in the village of Madi but in a far away place called Canada that it is producing flowers and fruits; and what you are reading now is some of that. Not only the seed and seedling named “me” started growing from Madi but also the bulk of nourishment for my mind comes from there to this date. My physical head is breathing Canadian air, without which I would be dead right now, but my primary root is firmly attached in Madi. Most of the ingredients that made me the way I am today come from there. I am just the condiment made from a mixture of those ingredients.

Did we choose to be born where we did? Did we have any option to be born somewhere else? Still we the intelligent people do not stop finding differences amongst us. Our primal instinct subconsciously distinguishes who is ours and who is not. This is again the work of the subconscious world of inheritance. To inherit is our nature in which there are both triumphs and tribulations. We inherit the genes of our parents and we inherit their manners. Alas, we also inherit the social, cultural, and religious conditioning passed on to us by our childhood environment, which may even consider another human as an untouchable kind! For unknown number of generations, Dalits were prohibited from entering schools, and education remained under the entitlement of Brahmins through this practice of inheriting social status! Despite following the same religion and believing in the same God, Dalits were not, and are still not, permitted to enter temples. What a religion we have inherited! While being bothered by all these practices that embarrass me today, I am not here to recommend that we renounce our inheritance completely. Compare it to an intense love that a person living in an abject poverty and humiliation may render to his destitute mother. More accurately speaking, there are some aspects of inheritance that I cannot get rid of even if I wanted to. However, I want to renounce those parts of inheritance that are contradictory to the values that I possess today.

Although, I do neither use it nor do I extract any material gain out of the leftover of the inherited land, I could not gather enough strength to sell it and receive whatever sum of money it may fetch. My brother who uses this land is making a subsistence living there and has a direct value of this land. Yet, I am neither renouncing it nor using it myself. It bothers me time to time. When I go to Nepal, I do not even bother to go and see this piece of land. However, I am fixated on the already sold house and the land around it. I am bothered by the fact that the cement plaster has replaced the cracks where the wild millet used to grow. I miss the orange and lime trees which are dead and gone. But I am happy to see the still alive cherry tree. I love to recall how profusely that tree blooms in the spring. I become bothered when I see the things I valued in disrepair like the dilapidated state of barns, crumbled stone fences, and the disappeared fruit trees. Although the owners are extremely courteous to me, the same pleasant ambience that I was used to is not there to greet me. I scavenge for fig in the already sold land but I do not step on the land 15 minutes walking distance away that I still “own”.

I sometimes wonder, “Is that land really mine?” Is it supposed to belong to only me, my children, then their children, and so on, but no one else? Is earth our private property? Did my parents or grandparents made that land? Do we have the ownership of earth? If we do, why so many people are born landless? Is that fate or the making of our society?

I believe that we brought along a practice of feudal ownership of land. Few people owned and inherited the land and others worked as servants, laborers, and slaves. In the end, everyone made the living but some did extremely well. Over time we tried to rid feudalism and be more equal and freer humans. But those of us who had had either tiny privileges of inheriting a little piece of land, or big privilege of inheriting 100s of Bighas, massive buildings, jewelries, and money, or even bigger privilege of inheriting “high caste”, are slow to accept the fact that we are only temporary dwellers of the earth and not its true owners.

Still I am fixated with this notion called inheritance like a glue. I conclude that a low dose of inheritance of ancestral property, small amount of land or treasures serve useful purpose of connecting us with our past. However, it is not the quantity of inheritance but the emotional value of the inherited entity that matters. Actually, the market value of my house was paid in full by the new owner but the money carried little significance to me. The ravine of Pyarikhalta is still on my ownership but my strongest childhood memories are not associated with it. Therefore, if someone asks me what I would like to inherit, I would say, “my home” or even our ancestral Madus (wooden-chest). Inheriting the ancestral house and the land immediate to it helps me connect to my childhood and my roots.

On the other hand, inheriting anything and everything will make us lethargic, lazy, and unproductive. I see lesser utility of inherited million Rupees or of land in 100s of Bighas. When my youngest sister had just finished Grade 8, a wealthy gentleman from nearby village came to my father proposing a marriage between his son and my sister. My father agreed. I used to be at awe seeing their status and wealth. Some years later, they migrated to the plains and had about 10 Bighas of land and a beautiful house near the highway. The gentleman died in a bus accident after some years and his grown up sons inherited a comfortable amount of property. However, today my sister is near destitute because all the wealth was blown away by those pampered sons of the gentleman. Their inherited status and wealth did not inspire them to work hard. I believe that they would have emerged as hard working and prosperous people if they knew that they would not be able to inherit all that wealth. I have seen simply too many spoiled children of wealthy people. To them, the inheritance is a slow poison and not the elixir as one would hope for.

Despite compared by me with the evil, the inheritance in a western economy, however, works differently than in Nepal. In the west, inheritance is a privilege and not an inherent right. A person is not required to pass wealth to his or her children. Consequently, we see young people being prepared to stand on their own two feet. And most do prosper and so does the overall economy. When children get to inherit the wealth, it is heavily taxed. But at the same time, these societies are welfare societies. If I die today in an accident, my children will be looked after by the society well into their adulthood. These societies deserve the right to tax the inheritance because they provide social security to all citizens in times of difficulties. However, in Nepal, if the bread earner of a home dies, the rest of the family turns beggar if there was no inherited wealth to depend on. Therefore, inheritance is the only form of social security available in Nepal.

The wisdom to be drawn from this is that social security is a prerequisite when curing the injustices perpetrated by inheritance. Being able to remove the primal fear of destitution from a human is very important in the endeavor of freeing humans from all forms of bondage. Social security is one of those tools for removing that terrible fear that kills our adventurous and innovative spirits. However, I am not a blind admirer of western system of social justice either. Their approach is heading in the wrong direction. The achievement made by the “rule of law” has blinded them so much so that every time there is a new problem in the society, they go to the book of law and write an extra line to cure it. Over time they have made the rules so complex and obfuscated that no ordinary human can interpret them. Even as simple as an income tax rule is so complicated in North America that an ordinary mortal does not dare fill tax form on his own. As they add more complexities, they create even more numerous loopholes. Clever people abuse the loopholes while the innocents get punished and frustrated. They are so over dependent on accountants and lawyers for the country to function that it is beyond a matter of laugh. The wisdom to be drawn from the experiences of the west is that we must make the rules as simple as possible if we have to make a society where people actually enjoy life as opposed to enjoying the consumption of material while living frustrated and unhappy. When new problems emerge, we should look at the heart of the issue and the law in general rather than doing a patchwork!

In summary, inheritance is the most dominant factor in making us the way we are. The feudal practice of inheritance is also a tool for passing the poverty, wealth, dejection, and dignity from one generation to another. However, in a society where an individual has to fend for him or herself, it serves a purpose of a social security and its positive role cannot be dismissed. Therefore, retaining ethical virtues of inheritance and getting rid of qualities that give rise to stratification of society is paramount to building an equitable and just society of the 21st century. The object of inheritance should be to optimize the gain for the society in general. I would love to see that the societies of the future permit inheritance at such a low dose that a person can gain a head start a notch better than an average citizen in terms of wealth if they used the inheritance properly. If the gain to the inheritor is greater than the loss to society in terms of equity, justice, and collective prosperity, then such inheritance should be considered as worth retaining. A mild dose of inheritance should not be taxed and all excess inheritance should be heavily taxed. But if a society has an ambition to be innovative and smartly working, it must have provision for social security and welfare to ensure that innovative people can dare to take a chance on something novel. Society must ensure that the undertakings of new ventures and risks can not only be possible to the children of the wealthy but also to anyone with the ideas and the fortitude.

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