After my second grade exams, I went back to my village. Back then we used to do sugarcane farming. Sugarcane harvesting would start sometime in December and would continue till February/March. For those two or three months, we used to stay overnight in the farm. We slept in the farm house (a temporary cottage, of course). It was just like a long camping. I used to love staying in the farm overnight. It was hard work – go to bed early in the evening and wakeup early in the morning (sometimes as early as 3 a.m.). Processing sugarcane is a complicated process: we had to squeeze the raw sugarcane, boil the liquid until it became very thick, and then we poured the liquid into a hole dug on earth. The thick liquid would become solid raw sugar (call sakhar in Nepali) after letting it cool off. Even in the tranquil of the farm house though, memories of Kathmandu would scare me. I would vividly remember the awful days I spent there. I was not ready to go back to Kathmandu. But I had to go.
That year, I came back to Kathmandu in March (Nepali month of Chaitra) and school had been running already for more than a month. My elder brother did not want me to attend third grade. We looked around for a school and found one in Tangal area (I do not remember the name of the school now, but the school is still there). Those days it used to be a lower secondary school but now it has become a high school. The school is on the left side of the street when we walk from Tangal square to Hadigaon’s Gahana Khojne Pokhari. Without any mark sheet for 3rd grade, the school admitted me in the 4th. I was very happy to know that for the first time at least someone in Kathmandu thought I was capable. I started to attend the school from the very next day. I continued to live with my aunt at Dilli Bazar. It was a 30 minutes walk from Dilli Bazar to the school. I used to skip school a lot because I had to go to my village every month – sometimes to bring rice and sometimes vegetables. Walking from my village to Thankot with about 30 lbs of weight was not easy, but the load did not bother me as much as the thought of returning to Kathmandu.
The good part about this phase of my life is that I remember in grade four that some of the teachers started to recognize me and motivate me to do better. Recognition meant a lot to me. I enjoyed recognition and reward. It encouraged me to try harder, to do better. It helped me get closer to school. I was ranked 3rd in the first biannual exam. I was really happy. I took the final exams but since I never paid tuition balance, I didn’t get to check the results. I still do not know where I stood in the final. Who cares about that now? I believe position and scores that we are awarded in school are not something that defines our future course of life. It has some influence shaping us – but very little. I feel sorry for those kids whose parents pressure them every minute to get top scores in class and talk about study all the time. I am so glad that I never had family pressure to perform well in the school. I was on my own.
I left for my village after grade four final exams and came back to Kathmandu after three months. I joined a different school, again being admitted without showing any mark sheet or transcript. This time I joined Sanskrit School, which still exists in the ground floor of the famous Durbar High School in front of Rani Pokhari. The Sanskrit school had regular courses like any other English medium school but also offered additional Sanskrit courses. I enjoyed it because I always wanted to learn more Sanskrit words other than those I had learnt casually from my grandfather. I used to walk to school daily from Dilli Bazar to Rani Pokhari and it was interesting – always something new to find and learn on the way. Those days, the streets of Bagbazar and Dilli Bazar used to be much quieter compared to what we see today. A bunch of girls from Padma Kanya school (in green Ghangar Suruwal) and college (in grey sarees) almost occupied the side roads. I think the number of students in both of these institutions has gone up, but you may not notice their presence any more as the streets are more crowded.
The school itself required no homework to be submitted and had no class exams except the one at end of the year. All year, I hardly studied at home. My routine was to go school and listen to what the teacher had to say and come back home. I hardly remember having any dream. In contrast to my situation then, I see kids these days having to study so hard and requiring to respond to their parents’ daily questions about their ambitions or boasting about their performances at school.
I became more accustomed to the Kathmandu crowd and culture and started to speak in the school. My confidence gradually increased as my teachers started appreciating my openness and outgoing attitude. Raising hands in the class to answer question the teacher asked started to become the fun part of going to school. I started looking forward to every opportunity to respond to the teacher’s queries everyday. I needed reason to go to school everyday and I found one. I wish that for every kid in the world.
Nine months passed and I took the final exams. The results came and it was a pleasant surprise. I stood first. This was unexpected because I did not study hard enough in grade five. But still I did not feel that I deserved it since I had not worked hard enough. Some of my relatives and friends commented – “Sure, that is a Sanskrit school – that’s why you were first. If you compare yourself with kids from St. Xaviers or Budhanilkantha, etc. you are nowhere near.” I felt bad, but I had nothing to say because I had never met those kids. One thing that I would like to stress here is that we should never minimize someone’s achievement or success on the basis of where he/she belonged. For example, getting the best achievement award at D2 is as valuable as getting it at Microsoft. It was better to be number one at that Sanskrit school rather than not even coming close to the top rank at top rated school.
Back home things were as usual. My grandfather continued working hard and my mother worried all the time about us (myself and two other elder brothers) being away form her. Every time I went back home during those years, she insisted that I not return to Kathmandu. The story I used to tell about my days at Kathmandu really hurt her and she thought I would do fine even if I became a farmer. It was my grandfather who insisted I not to give up. He used to tell me how his childhood days were much more troubling than mine. His struggles were unthinkable. He taught me to compare myself to other deprived children whenever I felt sad and unlucky. There were kids in the village who were much worse off than I was. There were kids who were staying at somebody else’s house as a day laborer or as a full time servant. Putting perspective to my sorrow and grievances was a great lesson. Even today, whenever I feel bad for something, I remember his advice and try to find something to compare with.
My grandfather was very happy to know that I could read Sanskrit books after a year of Sanskrit school. I could not translate difficult words, but reading Sanskrit shlokas was not any problem at all. By the time I completed grade five, I learned what education meant and why I needed to go to school and how different I was compared to my friends in village who never saw any school. I liked what I learned at school and being able to read was very rewarding. After the fifth grade, learning became my primary goal and I started dreaming about passing S.L.C and going to college one day.
Read the first part of the article.