Where is Manarupa’s famous hotel?
About the Author: Binu Subedi works at EAI in Nepal. She is a producer and scriptwriter for the Samajhdari radio program, and also the voice of Manarupa in the drama.
A Project of —
Change Starts at Home
Khemraj Dallakoti told me that he had gone on a trip with his family only a month before my visit to his hometown, Bhandara VDC in Chitwan, Nepal. He told me that, in that trip, he and his family decided to make a stop in Daunne, a small settlement on the edge of the East-West highway of Nepal. While they wanted to look for a place where to rest and eat, they didn’t stop there to go to any place. They stopped in Daunne because they were particularly interested in finding Manarupa’s Hotel.
“We scanned each and every place in the rows of hotels on the highway, but Manarupa’s was nowhere to be found. We also asked around, but nobody seemed to know where that hotel was. Eventually we gave up and settled in one of the nearby hotels. We had dinner and our stomachs were finally content. But not our hearts. Where was Manarupa’s famous hotel?”, explained Khemraj to me.
Manarupa is one of the main fictional characters of the radio program Samajhdari (or Mutual Understanding in Nepali), produced by EAI in Nepal as part of the project Change Starts at Home, supported by the UK’s DFID and the South African Medical Research Council. This radio drama and discussion program, regularly broadcasted from five local radio stations across three districts of Nepal (Chitwan, Kapilvastu and Nawalparasi), aims at promoting gender equality in a country where 32% of women have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) at least once in their lives.
In the radio drama series, Manarupa, together with her husband Surya Singh, runs a hotel that is said to be situated in Daunne, exactly where Khemraj decided to make a stop during his family trip. Through their fictional domestic interactions and the stories of those who visit the hotel, the characters of Manarupa and Surya welcome listeners into their lives as they share their daily struggles and triumphs in maintaining a harmonious, peaceful and happy life as a couple.
“We didn’t have the habit of talking to each other previously, but these days we find time to talk to each other about almost everything. The radio program has been a huge part in the changes that have happened in our lives. We have gathered inspirations from the characters. We aspire to be an example just like Surya Singh and Manarupa.” – Married couple, members of the listening and discussion groups.
As one of the writers and producers of this radio drama, as well as being the voice for the character of Manarupa, I discovered Khemraj’s anecdote when I traveled to Bhandara VDC to meet with one of the 72 listener groups that get together every week to listen to our radio program and discuss the issues raised. At this meeting, to my surprise, not only I learned that Khemraj and his family thought that Manarupa’s Hotel was actually an establishment in Daunne, but also that many other regular listeners thought that their beloved and exemplary characters of Manarupa and Surya Singh existed in real life.
When I first started to talk in front of the group, in fact, I could feel an air of excitement in the room as they recognised my voice as that of Manarupa. But when I told the group my actual name and my profession, I sensed some disappointment and apprehension in the crowd. I tried then to make everyone feel at ease in the conversations about the show, and many started expressing their trust and belief in Manarupa.
“We used to have many issues between us as husband and wife and we were able to resolve it by listening to the program.” – Married couple, members of the listening and discussion groups
Many questions and feelings started surfacing. Many shared the problems they faced with their spouses, in-laws and children and they asked me, or they asked Manarupa, for advice. In some moments, I even forgot that Manarupa was a character that we created in our studios in Kathmandu. Just like our listeners, I also started feeling as if Manarupa was a real person in the room, that strong, intelligent, caring woman who could offer support in conflicts and advice for couples struggling to understand each other.
Through all the questions and comments of our regular listeners, I was fascinated to observe the power that our radio show had in engaging with couples and in changing their perceptions on gender equality in intimate and domestic settings. But I was also in awe for the trust and belief that our followers placed in me at that moment, and in characters like Manarupa in the drama.
As the meeting with Bhandara VDC’s listeners group was coming to an end, some participants, with smiles on their faces, seemed not to want to let me (or Manarupa) leave without one last question: “Who is running the hotel while you are away now?”.
“I am just a character, I write the script… I do not own a hotel in Daunne”, I replied again. Then I quickly glanced over to Khemraj and his wife and they bursted into laughter as they remembered their own search for the mythical Manarupa Hotel one month before.
I then left happy knowing that our Manarupa Hotel will always be a special place in Nepal, one of exemplary harmony, peace and happiness for married couples, just like for Khemraj and his wife.
"After listening to the radio program the husbands have also become more ‘sensible’. They help their wives at home, they no longer expect them to keep track of everything." - Puspa, Group convener