Bullets Shatter Dream of Immigrant Family


Matshyendra and Mathura Singh led a life of comfort and some position in their native Nepal. Surrounded by family and friends, the couple lived on the pension that Matshyendra earned after 28 years as an accountant for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Singhs said they never would have considered leaving their home in the capital city of Katmandu, in the shadow of the Himalayas, were it not for their son Majendra.

The teen-ager, the youngest of three children, was bright and outgoing. His parents wanted him to have an American college education so he could become an architect or engineer. So, 21 months ago, the family moved halfway around the world to settle near relatives in Inglewood.

Matshyendra remembers that decision with sorrow. "I thought, 'I will see him established here, then I will go home,' " he said.

But last week the aspirations of the family--and much of the tightknit Nepalese community in Los Angeles--were shattered when Majendra Singh, a son of Nepal who strived for an American future, was shot to death in his new hometown.

Majendra, 19, was counting the night's receipts at the Pizza Hut on Manchester Avenue when he was confronted by two men. They shot him and took the money.

Majendra was cremated in the Hindu tradition Saturday at Forest Lawn Mortuary in Covina Hills. The teen-ager's body was covered with white cloth and sprinkled with flower petals and holy water from the Ganges River. Four duck eggs, a delicacy in Nepal, and a handful of coins were left with the body to pay any unknown debts and to nourish the soul.

Last week, in the middle of a 10-day mourning period, the father sat cross-legged on the floor of the family's apartment. His voice was barely audible over the roar of jets from nearby Los Angeles International Airport. Matshyendra explained that the ceremony would free his son's spirit so that it could ascend to heaven.

But the weight of the tragedy remains with the living.

Matshyendra, 50, said he once planned to remain here until his children were established.

"But now my son is gone forever and I feel my purpose is completely lost," he said.

The death of Matshyendra's son has traumatized Southern California's Nepalese community. The 300-member American Nepal Society was to meet next Saturday to celebrate Dashin, the holiest festival on the Hindu calendar. Instead, the gathering will be used to remember and pray for Majendra, said Naren Suwal, a member of the society and a relative of the Singh family.

The Singhs have rejected the help of grief counselors and victim assistance programs.

"We have a different way," said Suwal, who calls Matshyendra a "brother-cousin"--their grandfathers were brothers.

A stream of friends and relatives came to the family's home on Crenshaw Boulevard throughout the week, bringing food and prayers. The American Nepal Society has established a memorial fund.

Majendra's older brother--King Lal, 25--arrived Thursday from Nepal with Majendra's jata , the astrological chart that is drawn at birth for Hindus. It must be burned with them when they die.

On Majendra's last birthday in Katmandu, his mother had gone to an astrologer with her son's jata. "The woman said 'The stars are not very cooperative,' " his father recalled, "but she said: 'There is nothing major to fear.' "

From the time the family arrived in Inglewood, however, their stars seemed crossed. They came to live near Suwal, who had a budding career in hotel management after immigrating several years earlier.

Matshyendra's $200 monthly pension had supported the family in Nepal, one of the world's poorest nations. But it was paltry by American standards. Half of the $3,500 he brought from his homeland had to be spent for a deposit on an apartment.

Matshyendra wanted to start working immediately, so he could send his son to college. But for months he could not find a job. Some employers told him he did not know computers. Others said he was overqualified. He took a job recently as a stock clerk at a Torrance liquor store and, with the extra income, his son felt free to enroll at El Camino College in Torrance.

Majendra and his sister Sunayana, now 21, were forced to find jobs to support the family. Their educations had to wait. Sunayana worked part-time at McDonald's. Their mother, Mathura, cared for the children of other Nepalese families.

A few weeks after they arrived in January, 1988, Majendra took a job at a Pizza Hut about a mile north of his home. He earned only the minimum wage, but he could work long hours--up to 60 hours a week--and was promoted quickly from dishwasher to cook, then to night crew chief. His pay went up to $5 an hour.

"I used to ask him, 'Are you tired, Majendra? Are you tired?' "recalled Juana Flores, the youth's co-worker and friend. "And he said, 'No, you can't get tired in this kind of job.' "

Friends explained that for Hindus, work is a form of worship.

His father waited up late every night until his son came home. He urged Majendra to work fewer hours and to start classes at a community college. At first, Majendra demurred, saying his family came before his education. But when his father found work, Majendra enrolled in two classes at El Camino College. Next semester, he hoped to enroll full time.

Majendra continued to work long hours. A recent pay stub showed that he logged 112 hours in two weeks. Often, he closed the pizza parlor and counted the receipts.

Suwal, 34, who had been robbed while managing a hotel in Covina, warned Majendra that if bandits came, he should give up the money.

After another long Friday night, Majendra closed the restaurant at 1 a.m. last Saturday. It was just before 2 a.m. when he was confronted by two young armed robbers, according to police.

None of the three other employees who were cleaning up that night know how the thieves got in, police said. Majendra, who apparently did not resist, was shot dead, according to a woman who worked behind the counter.

Matshyendra Singh can almost understand the robbery, but not why his son had to die. The father now talks of returning to Katmandu. He will let his daughter and eldest son stay if they want to.

But there is no reason for him to remain, Matshyendra said.

"As a man, I did this for my children. I didn't come here for any other purpose."

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