In Grade 8, for the first time in my life, I joined school right on time for the academic year. In earlier grades, I always used to be one or two months late. A lot of talented and competitive students joined in Grade 8. We had only one section in Grade 7 but two more sections were added in Grade 8. I was in Section A.
My life had not changed much. I used to visit my village almost every other weekend and study was sort of a priority but not of the highest priority.
Though I was interested in my studies, I had lots of distraction, mainly due to problems in my family. In the village, I lived in a joint family and my uncle wanted to separate. My grandfather was nervous about the whole idea and I was afraid that I would be asked to discontinue my studies in Kathmandu and called back to the village. My eldest brother and grandfather, time and again, assured me that nothing would hinder my education but the fear was there in me nonetheless. And, on top of that, the lack of father in my life haunted me day and night.
Then, there was the pain I had to go through of having to hear my aunt make cutting remarks against my mother. My aunt never liked my mother much and I had a difficult time staying with her. On many occasions, I walked towards the bus station with the intention of leaving Kathmandu and going back to the village for good. The only thing that held me back was my desire to be educated in Kathmandu.
I am glad now that despite having to go through all that, I managed to check my sentiments and not do anything rash that would have me regretting today. Otherwise, you would not find me writing on this blog. I would have been a farmer in Naubise. Probably, a very successful farmer, but who knows?
At school, my academic performance was diminishing, especially in Math. I scored 60 out of 100 in Math and the teacher, Mr Naresh Gopal Shrestha, announced my score in front of the whole class and told me that I should be quitting the subject and be choosing Village Economics instead. His statement was like “Babu, timile math gari khaandainau; math gaarho hunchha!” (Son, you won’t be able to make a living out of Math. Math is tough!)
His statement, however, did not discourage me. Instead, it fueled the fire inside me and I knew that I could get 100 out of 100 if only I could devote myself to studies as much as my classmates did. Surely, I would not be quitting Math just because my teacher thought that I was not cut out for that subject.
I completed Grade 8 exams and went to my village for winter vacation. I was feeling rather bad about having not performed well in the exams but I felt great to be back in village. I loved the fresh air, the cheerful and welcoming people, and the opportunity to catch up with my grandfather and mother.
My family did not have a lot of riches but we were from a pretty moderate family. My grandfather was very close to me and he shared almost everything with me. I believe it is his openness that crafted me into an open and outgoing person. He had an interesting theory about being open: “Open people have fewer enemies and more friends, but few close friends.” Now, this theory holds true for me: I have a lot of friends but very few close friends.
While at village, I spent my days either working in the farm or hanging around the neighborhood. One day, my eldest brother came to me and remarked that I was not the ‘First’ anymore. The Grade 8 results were out and I had stood third in the class. The fact that I had failed to stand first did not bother me much since I was already contented by the fact that I was at least going to school in the first place. Most members of my family had thought that I would cry after hearing the Grade 8 results but, instead, I surprised them with my ‘no worries’ attitude.
Sharad Pokharel, who currently is my colleague in D2, had stood first and Chandan Banerjee had stood second. Chandan is currently an ophthalmologist and practices in Birgunj, Nepal. They deserved their positions because they had worked harder than me and both of them were better performers at the exams. While I was prone to making silly mistakes in the ‘three-hour-window’ exams, they were able to perform superbly. Hats off to them! However, I feel that we should not measure somebody’s caliber based on just the ‘three-hour-window’ performance. Unfortunately, Nepal’s education system is crafted that way and it has killed, and has been killing, many talents every year.
I started Grade 9 with a lot of gusto since the ‘Iron Gate’ loomed ahead of us. School Leaving Certificate, Grade 10, is considered as a very important bridge in one’s academic life in Nepal and most students dread it.
I was happy that some teachers loved me for my ‘speaking up’ attitude and they encouraged me frequently. Particularly, Ms Ishwari Khadka, who taught History and Education, was very pleasant and used to appreciate and encourage every student in her class.
Other great teachers were Mr Upendra Premi and Mr Narendra Aryal. Mr Upendra Premi always made Nepali class like an advanced philosophy class. He was very thorough and thoughtful. I enjoyed his classes very much but he never liked me as much. He appreciated writers rather than talkers and I happened to be one of the latter.
Then, there was Mr Naresh Gopal Shrestha again who was actually surprised that I had scored much better in Math than he ever imagined. Instead of appreciating my performance, he remarked “Watch, Rudra, Grade 9 and 10 are much more difficult. You still have time to quit Math.”. I was like “No, thank you, sir!”
Vishnu Kshettri, who currently is my colleague in D2, was one of my very good friends from the Education vocational group and I am thankful to him for his friendship.
Thus, life at school went as usual, without much excitement. However, during the winter vacation after Grade 9 exams, I participated in an intra-valley speech competition. The topic for the competition was “Prithvi Narayan Shah and Greater Nepal.” And, guess what? I beat all the competitors and won the first prize. The competition was covered by the national newspapers, The Rising Nepal and Gorkhapatra, and my picture was published as well. That made me instantly popular in the school and amongst my relatives. Everyone in the school started knowing me by my name and I loved the attention I was getting. Winning was very rewarding and I was jubilant.
Then the Grade 9 results were out and I think I stood fourth or fifth but I did not care. The win of the gold medal in the intra-valley speech competition was a bigger win for me than securing positions in class. Nevertheless, I felt that I was indeed getting weaker in my studies and I was distracting myself too much to stuffs other than academics. My elder brother pointed that out to me as well and my response was “I am fine, do not worry!” I was able to give that response because I knew how competent my classmates were as compared to me. They were, in fact, not any better than me; the only difference between them and me was that they were with books all the time and I was not.
When I went back to school for Grade 10, my friends wanted to know about my speech competition more than anything else. Almost everyone thought that I was the one who stood first in the Grade 9 exams, whereas it was, in fact, Sharad or somebody else. I was the center of talk in the school. My win in the speech competition definitely outweighed my failure to secure the top position in my class.
I feel that all of us must be allowed to play with our strengths. Each of us must be given opportunities to win somewhere/somehow so that winning does not become confined to a few people. We all need to feel good about what we can do and we should appreciate others for what they can do. We certainly cannot be good in everything but nobody is bad in everything either.
Despite being an average guardian, even my aunt was good at something; she was indeed very good at being proud of me in front of guests and at citing my achievements with great pleasure.