When I was in high school (grades 8, 9 and 10), one of the things that I did that many students of my level did not do was delivering political speeches for large crowds in colleges and schools. I used to lead groups of students during political uprisings and deliver intense anti-Panchayat (one party royal system) speeches. Those were the best experiences I had and they gave me a lot of confidence as well as assurance that a crowd can be moved in the right direction when they are led well. Three major venues where I tried to convince crowds to join the student strike and that I still remember are R.R. Campus, P.K. Campus and P.K. School. At P.K. School Dilli Bazar several of my friends were captured by cops yet somehow, I wasn’t. After several days of strike, I was called by the then Head Master of the school, Mr, Krishna Bahadur Manandhar and was advised strongly to refrain from attending those events. Late Mr. Manandhar was a great teacher and role model for many of us and I was very close to him for several reasons. I could not go against his advice. I probably did the right thing. Who knows?
Well, the long waited S.L.C. result came out and we started to look for colleges. I wanted to study science because that was trend back then – everyone with good grades would join pre-medical or pre-engineering courses called Intermediate in Science (I.Sc.) I did not have a high enough score to make it into the Amrit Science College (ASCOL) which was everyone’s number one choice back then. I made to the second best choice which was Tri-Chandra (TC) College. I did not care much.
I joined TC in February, 1981. I went to college with a lot of excitement, but the first day of college was very odd and unpleasant. I found myself among boys and girls from different parts of the country and I was in a dilemma about which group to join. There were students from remote towns of Nepal, from a lot of schools in the valley, and also from schools like St. Xavier’s and Budhanilakantha. Some students seemed way ahead of me – they were very open, they could speak English fluently and they also had significant exposure to college level science courses through their senor or junior level (I do not know which one) Cambridge classes. I attended my first Physics class and it was mostly in English medium. The Advanced Level Physics book by Nelcon and Parker was overwhelming. For someone who barely passed one English subject in S.L.C., a Physics book written by a British writer was really very difficult to digest. That scared the hell out of me. What a depressing day!
A few weeks passed by and I was struggling. A few students were very smart and they could answer the teacher’s questions and solve physics and chemistry problems ahead of schedule. This really made me question my own ability. I thought – why not me? But every time I opened the physics book, I got discouraged. Two challenges – first to understand the English and second, to understand the subject matter. I had sort of given up hope of doing well. I was limping along when some kind of general strike started sometime around May of 1981 and lasted for about four months. That general strike was initiated by students of anti-Panchayat political affiliation, mostly by ANNSU (the student group affiliated to the communist party of Nepal, Marxist and Leninist (ML)). During the first two months of college, while I was struggling with my studies, I was contacted by ANNSU student leaders. They had nominated me to their college internal committee. I said “yes” because I needed something to get away from boring Physics and Chemistry. Oh my god, that was the worst “yes” of my life. Those leaders started to entrench into my daily routines asking me attend dozens of meeting every week, sometimes in one leader’s apartment and sometimes in another’s and sometimes at the Kirtipur campus and sometimes at the Pulchowk campus. A couple of guys would come to my place early in the morning and would ask me to go meetings. After doing that for a couple of months, I felt something was wrong and my elder brother Madhav Pandey told me that I was on wrong track and the track was one-way. He reminded me of all that hard work I did to complete my schooling and join the science college. His question was, “how would you answer to our grandfather that you spend most of your days hanging around with these loafers?” He suggested that I quit studying and go to the village. I spent several sleepless nights because going to the communist meetings was like an addiction – those heart touching slogans and ideal objectives – work for all and food for all and everyone deserves to work and earn equally. Finally, I made up my mind and informed a couple of them that I was not interested in any politics that they were spearheading. I told them that I had to study as it was not fair to me and my hard working family. They would not give up and would insist and even threaten me. My aunt started lying to them that I was not home. Having been unable to meet me for several days, they gave up and I am sure they labeled me as an anti-people, anti-revolutionary government agent. Oh my god, what a relief was that. That was my re-incarnation. Those two months with those communists changed my life. I learned more about communalism in two months than many who spend years with that useless philosophy.
After quitting the ANNSU platform, I was sort of empty inside. I was pondering what to do. Should I join NSU (student group affiliated to Nepal Congress) or just forget about all of them. I decided – no politics for a while. Colleges were not open yet. Students were on strike. I put myself behind a self-declared bar and started to read physics and math chapters. I kept on reading and reading the same chapter for days. It started making sense. I started visiting the Indian Library next to the Nepal Airlines Corporation building and spend hours studying books written about Gandhi. That really helped me to enhance my English comprehensive skills and I also learned from Gandhi books that sticking to the right cause was the best thing to do. I decided to stick to studying rather than tangentially flickering to communist politics. Things started to get better after a month of spending 16 hours days studying. I was able to solve complex physics problems. Within the next month or so I finished solving half of the problems that I was required to do in the first year of college. My confidence level really went up and I felt like I possessed different brain.
School re-opened in late August. I was way ahead of the regular teaching schedule. Physics classes were like a piece of cake for me. The confidence I had gained in physics helped me everywhere else. That’s why I like the theory that “get better in one area and start expanding from there.” I started doing math courses way ahead of professor’s schedule and same with Chemistry. A bunch of friends would come to my home on evenings and weekends and I was discussing real stuff – not any more empty communist slogans. Within the next two months of school, I solved every problem in the Nelcon and Parker physics and some of the problems took a whole week. But, I would not give up. My notebook became like complete guide to the Physics book for the first year course.
Studying 16 hours a day was continuous. I would wake-up every morning at 3 AM and study until 10 AM because college would start at 11 AM. Mid-morning, I would be really hungry and would just drink a cup of tea or a glass of water. The first food of the day would be around 10 AM. No one would serve me breakfast. I know there millions of students in Nepal who do not even get lunch. I was more fortunate than many of those. The final exam for the first year was announced and students prepared for one month. All the exams went fine – I could never perform too well in any exam. However, a very odd thing happened in one of the exams that I can never forgive myself for. It was during the Chemistry exam. I was doing fine and 70% of questions were completed when something happened to me. I scratched one of the answer pages and everything looked blurry to me and I felt like the answers to all the previous questions were incomplete too. I scratched the whole answer book and walked out of the exam hall. Then I realized what I had done. I dropped the chemistry exam. That incident was merely a result of coming to the exam with no sleep.
All exams were over. The Chemistry incident continued to bother me until the results day. Results came out three to four months after the exam and I had the highest percentage in the campus, of course excluding Chemistry for which I got a zero mark. I was glad to know that I still had the best average percentage on the subjects that I attended the exams. Studying too hard and going to exam hall sleep deprived was the worst move. We should never think that working at last minute too hard produces better results. I try to use that lesson everyday. So I had a couple of screw-ups – hanging around with communists and dropping the Chemistry exam (of course after sort of getting sick in the exam hall) – in the first year of my pre-engineering college. I learned a lot from both mistakes. I am better-off today because I made those mistakes early in my life.
The second year was pretty easy. I had a lot of good friends. Particularly, I was very close with Purushottam Pandey, Surendra Adhikary, Rajendra Pant and Bharat Marasini. Rajendra currently is settled in Australia, Bharat is the Chief Accountant in Pashupati Development Trust and Surendra and Purush are currently my colleagues at D2. We used to call it the gang-of-five. These guys became very close friends of mine a few months after I started college. Later Dinesh Pant, Ram Adhikary and Sushil Pandey joined the team. I started to pay very little attention to classes as I had finished the major part of my math and physics courses before starting the regular second year classes. I had the most beautiful time of my student life during my second year at TC. I was well-known in college because I was one of the most out-going students and equally capable in study. To be liked by all in spite being good in study is rare. Many students were good at studies, but they were very introverted and they would not hang around with the masses and would not skip any classes and would love to be seen as nerds.
The second year passed by very quickly. The exam came and I took it easily and did not study all night during exam days so as not to repeat the chemistry exam story of my first year. The result for I.SC. was announced around January of 1984 and my ranking was #1 in the college. That was quite a change – from someone who could not read a physics book to the #1 position. Coming to top was lots of instant fun, but it did not mean anything after a few days. My takeaway was that if one works hard and consistently one could do a lot of good things in life. The two and half years in TC were the golden years of my life. The hard work I did during the TC years is still paying off. I did not studied harder in any college year after TC. The foundation I built on math and comprehension helped me in engineering and helped me during my PhD. That was only the reason I was able to complete a PhD while going to school part-time. That’s why I tell my daughter all the time, there is sometimes in life when you have to work very hard to clear your brain of clogs. A few years of hard work can change the course of life. It is just like the way a baby works so hard to walk a first step.