THE DHURMUS SUNTALI FOUNDATION: THE EXEMPLARY CONTRIBUTIONS OF SITARAM KATTEL & KUNJANA GHIMIRE
During the filming of Meri Bassai, he just so happened to see her in a car putting on make-up. Perhaps cupids did fly, but the characters they were playing in the sitcom were not written out to be in a relationship. Then again, things like that don’t do well to suppress human emotions; especially when it’s love. The more they worked together, the more they got to know each other, and falling in love was inevitable for them. And in this way, when strong feelings are exchanged between two individuals, it is noticeable by those around. Hence, their characters were written to be together as they were in real life, making Dhurmus Suntali official.
Sitaram Kattel, better known as Dhurmus, hails from Solukhumbu. His childhood was spent studying, helping out his father in the fields, and performing comedy acts at school. He was always appreciated for his sketches and that must have motivated him to pursue the career of a comedian. He dreamed about it and eventually came to Kathmandu to make it a reality. For a bit, he worked as a script writer for the show Geetanjali. Then after, he worked temporarily in Jire Khursani. He moved on eventually, but this time, he worked with Kedar Ghimire and Daman Rupakheti, both distinguished script writers, actors, and comedians, to come up with Meri Bassai.
“We may be completely different people when it comes to tastes and preferences, but the want to help those in need was mutual between us. When the earthquake hit, it was amplified.”
This was back in 2006, and as any promising venture, they were looking for people to work with. Enter Kunjana Ghimire. She joined the Meri bassai team after spending a childhood not too different from that of Sitaram’s. After the pilot episode came out and made every one fumble about in fits of laughter, the duo was set to have their names marked in the history of Nepalese entertainment industry. Dhurmus Suntali was more than just a sitcom couple; they were influencers and icons.
Come April 2015; the great earthquake. The tragedy robbed 9,000 lives and injured 22,000; and to make it worse, another shake hit a month later, killing 135 more. Many of us hate to be reminded about these unfortunate events, but it’s one of those things that can’t be ignored for as much damage it did, good did come out of it.
The duo was touring the US giving live performances. They had 9 shows down with 18 more to go. That’s when the earthquake hit and sent them both into a frenzy of moral obligation. After a dispute with their organizers, they hopped on a plane and came back home to do whatever they could.
“It just so happened that we two shared the same emotion of empathy,” says the couple. “We may be completely different people when it comes to tastes and preferences, but the want to help those in need was mutual between us. When the earthquake hit, it was amplified.”
Sitaram and Kunjana initiated the Dhurmus Suntali Foundation out of their conscience to help the victims. Their initiative is about charity that seeks to fulfill the basic needs of safety, health, sanitation, shelter, and education. What started as lending a hand to pick up rubbles had evolved to rebuilding houses for the victims.
“The earthquake was a humbling time for us as it made us take a moment and reflect on ourselves. If we had been selfish, it was a call to start being selfless. It was a teacher.”
One of the areas that suffered the hardest blow was Sindhupalchowk; with limited resources prolonging the pain, the couple jumped into action to help them. After gathering donations of no more than Rs. 50 from individuals, they were able to amass millions which aided on their ambitious mission to rebuild the totaled community. Within 6 months, the foundation was able to resurrect the area by rebuilding 67 houses, all fitted with the basics, solar panels, and two tree saplings.
Following the success and being motivated by their own sense of charity, they have set their eyes to create a Nepal within a Nepal.
“We cried with the people there. The elderlies had lost their children and the children had lost their childhood. The tragedy was utterly unbearable. Then again, they helped us help them. With each push and pull, we all put in sweat. This really did motivate us and rejuvenate our morale. In turn, it lightened the mood and we began to smile with the people there.”
Many organizations and aids departed after their work was done. But the couple saw their initiative as a campaign towards development. So they continued to work. Their next project was the Musahar Basti with the aim to strengthen national unity and harmony. The integrated settlement is located at Bardibas-2 in the Mahottari district, an area that suffered a crippling flood during the monsoon of 2017, and consists of 53 houses. It was handed over to the Musahar community on the occasion of the Nepalese New Year.
Integrated settlements are a functional alternative in places where basic road infrastructures are not available. They make community planning and resource distribution easier. Thus, Pahari Namuna Basti and Giranchaur Namuna Basti were next on the line. Both have been completed and the inhabitants could not be any more thankful. Following the success and being motivated by their own sense of charity, they have set their eyes to create a Nepal within a Nepal.
Back in June of last year, the foundation announced Namuna Nepal, an inclusive-integrated settlement which will sprawl 1000 ropanis, house miniatures of major destination of Nepal, and even a metro running through it.
This project does sound ambitions (maybe a bit too extra even). However, Sitaram and Kunjana have been on this path for a long time. Before the earthquake hit, they were engaged in constructing latrines along the highways. Even their US tour was to gather funds for a smaller project. However, the road for them hasn’t been as smooth as one may imagine.
“When we proposed the idea of an integrated settlement, we were surrounded by suspicion. The locals thought we had political agendas. But you can’t blame them as they had just lost their homes and land.
“It took less than a minute to level the entire country, so time is a crucial thing. It will take us years to recover what we have lost, and more to put it behind us and move on. But when we do, we will shine more than ever. The future we have seen is promising, and that has strengthened our will power to march on and face challenges as they come.”
The past does catch up, but at times that could be a good thing. Like in this case. Dhurmus and Suntali are idolized by many in Nepal so being accepted was not an issue. “Then again, we are humans first rather than actors. We internalized all the pain that was around us and morphed it into something constructive and productive. We were out in the field working with them. We were one of them, like everyone else.”
Despite all the admirable feats it has achieved, The Dhurmus Suntali Foundation does not claim itself to be a super group. They are but an initiative from a couple of ordinary individuals who had the desire to help others. That is why they call for people who are willing to help out. If you too harbor the same emotions, be sure to chip in. Their website, dhurmussuntali.com, has all the information laid out for anyone interested to volunteer or donate.
Story by: Nirveek PPJ Shah| Photos: Gaurav Xhompate Sunuwar