Twice blessed

Nepal’s most-famous comedian duo MaHa (Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya) don’t just make us laugh at ourselves, they have also been known to bring empathy and healing to those in despair.

During a three-month long journey across North America in late 2014 they performed more than 30 standup acts in venues in the US and Canada. The Nepali diaspora were rolling in the aisles with laughter when they performed their hilarious satire on ethnic stereotypes called ‘Bahun Bahadur, Newar Bahadur’. However, there were poignant reminders of the hardships at home that drove Nepalis so far away.

Just after the arrival of the first Lhotshampa in eastern Nepal in 1990 after they were chased out by the Bhutan regime, MaHa wanted to raise not just awareness about the refugees but also funds to take care of them.

One of their first satire programs was Bigyapan, which raised Rs 100,000 to buy basic foodstuff for refugee families in Jhapa and Morang. Some of those refugees have now been resettled in the US, Canada and Australia under an international refugee program.

One such refugee now living in Canada approached Madan Krishna and Hari Bansha after their show in Toronto and donated $500 to a charity of their choice back home in Nepal.

“He didn’t want publicity, he just told us he was returning the money for the support we provided them more than 20 years ago in the refugee camps,” Shrestha recalled this week on return from the tour. Last year MaHa was greeted warmly by Bhutanese refugees settled in Australia as well.

“What was interesting was that they had never forgotten who had helped them in the past,” Shrestha says.

Wherever the MaHa duo go, whether it is in Nepal or abroad, they are welcomed wildly. Their skits and drama programs appeal to the Nepali trait of laughing at ourselves. The Brahmin-married-to-Newar and Newar-married-to-Brahmin comedian duo have a unique perspective on Nepal’s ethnic relations, which has become especially important at a time when the debate on federalism is heating up.

Their charity shows these days tackle the issues of tolerance and inclusion head-on, and the two can get away with much more than others because of their own backgrounds. Some have taken their apprehension about ethnic turmoil to mean that they are against federalism. During their North America tour, there was a campaign launched by some diaspora Nepalis in New York to boycott their programs. It backfired and the two performed to packed halls.

Their own personal difficulties (Madan Krishna is battling Parkinsons and Hari Bansha lost his wife) have encouraged the two to devote even more of the proceeds of their shows these days to charity.

The two have had a philanthropic streak from the very start of their career during the Panchayat period. When firebrand journalist Padam Thakurathi was shot in 1986, the two were attending a protest rally in which various speakers were belting out platitudes. MaHa got up and announced that they would donate Rs 10,000 immediately for Thakurathi’s treatment.

“The crowd broke into spontaneous applause,” Madan Krishna remembers. But much more than applause, such announcements are followed by a surprising response from the people.

uring the People’s Movement of 2006, they created a fund to help treat those wounded in the state’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and soon many started donating.

In May 2010, MaHa used its pull power to attend a peaceful rally against a Maoist-led 10-day strike to oust Prime Minsiter Madhav Kumar Nepal. The program was hugely successful, galvanising public opinion against the strike and forcing the Maoists to call it off. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal never forgave MaHa for behaving like a class enemy, and retaliated by calling the anti-strike protests as one organised by Kathmandu’s “sukila-mukila” (prim and proper).

MaHa is also supporting the Samata School which provides education for under-privileged children for Rs 100 a month. Whenever people in the diaspora wants to give money for a social cause, MaHa mostly hands it over to Uttam Sanjel of Samata, where the $500 donated by the unnamed Bhutanese benefactor and former refugee in Canada went.

Nepali Times, 9-15 January 2015



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