First four years of my Kathmandu stay was in my aunt’s (Phupu’s) house in Dilli Bazar. During the final days of grade five, my aunt’s husband passed away and it was difficult time for all of us. As per brahmin tradition we were not supposed to see her until after a year of her husband’s death. I hated the practice for two reasons. First, I did not know where to stay during the sixth grade. Second, I wanted to be with my aunt when she was really alone and she needed us the most. Anyway, nothing I could do against the several generations long practice.
I was not sure which school I would go to in the sixth grade until a month after the start of the school season. Finally, my eldest brother rented an apartment at Kalimati, Kathmandu and I got admission into Jana Prabhat School in Tahachal, Kathmandu. As expected, sixth grade became a rather difficult start – a lot of household work (cooking, laundry, dish washing and cleaning) and very little time for studies. I was eldest of four kids (one of my younger brother and other two younger cousins) in the room – of course leaving aside my eldest brother. I missed my father when I had to do all those work. I am sure he would not have done those work for me, but he could probably have provided better support in one way or the other. Sometimes I just felt like getting out of that crowded one bedroom apartment and never return. In modern healthcare terms I would have been probably diagnosed as suffering from “depression.” I would often feel like quitting studies completely and going back to the village. When I compare my sixth grade with my daughter’s sixth grade now, I feel like she has been missing the real action. She would never get to learn all those things what I learnt as a six grader. I learned a lot by hustling and juggling between different responsibilities. I now feel privileged to have the opportunity of cooking, dish washing, laundry and cleaning. Those hard works helped me grow as a better person and I can appreciate many kids in Nepal who are wearing multiple hats. What I had to go through was not easier than junior medical training. Lucky me!
It was difficult to be in the new School once again – new kids, some very violent and bossy, and new teachers. They would straight come to me and my cousin (who was in the same grade with me) and start beating us saying “pakhe.” Even though we had no courage to fight back we would not hesitate to go to teachers with complaints. I had one teacher who would love me like his own son. His name was Harischandra and he used to teach us Social Studies. After a couple of months into the school year, Harischandra sir left for USA for higher study. Going to USA was very rear those days. I remember school giving him a big time farewell. I felt pretty bad since he used to like me but he seemed very happy to leave. Now I know the reason behind. The day he left the school was one of the saddest moments in the sixth grade. I wonder where Mr. Harischanda would be these days. It would be nice to meet him and remind him of those good old days. I am sure he does not remember me. Kinds of impressions teacher leave on us when we are young is really amazing. They can really make or break us. The most powerful thing I feel is to empower kids with positive and balanced message. Not many kids in my grade got teachers’ attention as much as some of us (so called “good students”) got. All of them had right to be recognized and rewarded. That never happened. I remember teacher scolding and beating some of my good friends who could not do well in study. Beating and scolding never helped. Many of them got demoralized and I hated each of those incidents and those ‘student beaters’.
Sixth grade was memorable for one more reason. That was the first time I felt that I could read any english passage. Of course, I did not know the meaning of difficult words, but I could at least pronounce them in my own ‘gorkhali’ style. I felt awesome and was no longer scared of english books. I really struggled in English till fifth grade even if I got very good score in exams. Something happened in the sixth grade and I felt like an Englishman. You can imagine how bad my english would be then when you hear me talking and see my writings. Lack of reading during early grades heavily impacted my comprehensive writing skill because I was more of a talker from the beginning, not a reader and writer. However, school could craft those skills on me if they had tried. Education systems in eastern countries continue to force kids in subjects like math, grammar and science. All of these are dry subjects and they do not help us grow as a thinker. Fiction reading is what it takes for kids’ brain to grow and prosper. I hardly remember reading fiction books other than couple of stories here and there in Mahendra Mala (the Nepali text book).
Well, the sixth grade was over before I knew. I still feel like Kalimati area is my own town (this is one of the reason that I stay in Soaltee when I come to Nepal in business trip these days). I had few good friends. I still remember their names and I am in contact with them. I went back to Village after final exams. Two months was over and came back to Kathmandu and it was good to be back in Dilli Bazar area and good to be with the aunt again. Like in some of the earlier grades, we did not pay the tuition balance after I came to know that I stood second in the final exam. I had to find a new school for the seventh grade. New school again! I tried Bijay Memorial in Dilli Bazar and did not like the school. I thought I would try Padmodaya School. In one of the afternoons, I visited the school and met a very friendly admission teacher named Kumar took an instant test. All he did was opened The Rising Nepal and asked me to read a paragraph. I read and got admitted into the seventh grade without any transcript from the prior school, I had narrated whole of my sixth grade story to him by then. Along with me was also my cousin Pushkar Pandey. We had been sharing books from the first grade. Pushkar was not as good in reading as I was and the admitting teacher had some concern about him. I told the teacher that Pushkar would be fine as I would be helping him.
I was really excited to get into Padmodaya – the school with a lot of good old stories. Teaching standard in Padmodaya was far better than any school that I had attended in the past. I stayed in Padmodaya till my S.L.C and this school did really help me several ways. First and the foremost, the school had diversified students pool. I could find friends from the pool of fellow students who were raised in villages and had come to Kathmandu for better schooling and many parents from villages and suburbs who could not afford private school would send their kids to school like Padmodaya. I would no more be bullied of city kids as “pakhe” because the school had “pakhe“ majority. For the first time, I saw students lot better than me and moreover they all had a felling of competitiveness when it came to studies. One of the best students was Chandan Banarjee (Bengali Nepali) – he was math wizard. Chandan currently is an ophthalmologist and practices in Birgunj area in Nepal. Chandan still is one of my best friends. I can share things with him. But Chandan joined Padmodaya in the seventh grade too. Incumbent first position holder was Dhruba Bhatta. We could sense his nervousness.
One of the most disappointing moments of seventh grade was inter-valley spelling contest. We had a team from Padmodaya, team of four – myself, Dhruba, Chandan and Rajendra Poudel. We were winning and Dhruba was the best in spelling. In one of the competitions, Dhruba did not show up. The excuse he had was that his brother was coming from USA and he wanted to go to the airport to receive him. Teacher was really mad with Dhruba. Without Dhruba in the competition we were like birds with wings clipped. We lost – we were crushed as Dhruba was replaced by an alternative fellow seventh grader. This incident made me realize how importance of working in a team. Until then I had never realized how valuable Dhruba was. In any team, value of a team member is usually realized after he/she quits the team. In good team play, therefore there is a need of reminding every team member that everyone is equally important. It is team that wins or loses. In the prior competitions, everyone was good and never thought Dhruba was the one pulling the team together. Next day after the loss, going school was very difficult. The teacher hated us. He scolded us. We were known as losers throughout the school. I felt like I could not do anything in the life.
And finally some good news! There came a moment in seventh grade when I eventually got my inner-talent identified. Here is what happened. School had a debate competition called “Dhan (wealth) or Mann (wisdom /will)?” I was sort of intrigued by the debate subject. But, I could not even think of standing and speaking in front of hundreds of students and dozens of teachers in the school auditorium. I however made commitment to myself that I would at least try. I decided to debate for Dhan. I did a lot of practice in front of mirror at home. The debate day came and I was waiting for my turn, much frightened that I was literally sweating. Then came the announcement “Rudra Raj Pandey from the seventh grade is invited to come to the stage and debate for Dhan.” I climbed up the stage in the midst of clapping. I forgot all fears and started to deliver speech in loud voice. With my loud words, audience came to pin-drop silence. I forgot where I was and delivered great five minutes long argument for Dhan in loud and powerful voice. My arguments were full of examples and jokes. People in audience were bursting into laughter. I suddenly found myself ruling the crowd – I could make them laugh and I could make them quiet. What a power. I had never felt that powerful ever before. Those five minutes changed the way that I thought of myself. I finished my turn and got out of the stage amidst the noise of loud clappings and whistlings. The speaker after me had difficult time controlling crowd after what they had heard from me. Ten minutes after the competition, judge panel had the result and master of the ceremony (Kumar Sir), announced the result “As expected Rudra Raj Pandey wins the debate and proves to all of you that Dhan is bigger than Mann!” That was the happiest day of the seventh grade. Who does not like to win? I was instant hero in the school. Every teacher and every student would recognize me and would know my name. The win in the debate competition help me realize what I was good at. I realized that I could deliver message in simple and forceful manner. I do not know what made me select Dhan but I would have done the same thing even today if had to participate another debate like that. After having been deprived of all kinds of amenities that wealthy could afford from early childhood, there was no way I would want to select Mann. I knew Dhan controlled the world. I was debating for something I believed in. It is natural people can speak better if they do not have to make it up.
I went home after the debate win. No one cared. My aunt had no interest on those stuffs and there was nobody else even to recognize my win. I felt like as if I was making big deal of the win just to my own-self. Now I realize how important family support and recognition is when there are ups and down while we growing up. Few weeks after when I had already forgotten about the debate, I went to village and shared the story with my grandfather and eldest brother. They both loved the story and told everyone in the village. I felt honored and that encouraged me to do even better next time. The lesson that I learned after the win of debate competition is something I use even today. I try to recognize people of their achievement (no matter how small it may be). Recognitions and rewards help us grow at every stage of our life. We move towards excellence when we get recognized and appreciated, not when we constantly get negatively criticized.
Seventh grade result came and I stood first. Chandan was second and the incumbent class topper Dhruba did not even made it to top three. It was happy moment for me as I always had a lot of respect for the school and teacher. Everyone in the family could not stop saying how proud they were of me. I felt like I deserved the win as I had worked very hard in the seventh grade.