|English: Saraswoti temple at Budhanilkantha School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I was not just good academically. I also won a Best Actor award in middle school. I was the school's mental arithmetic champion one year. If there was one other thing besides academics I excelled at, it was leadership. There was this guy Bishwa Limbu two years senior to me who was also top of his class year in year out, otherwise in batches before and after there was no one such person like him and me. But Limbu did not shine out on other fronts, he was missing in action on leadership, completely. I was not a star in sports but I did win a Division A pentathlon in 1989. One of my lingering regrets is I wish I had been better trained at soccer skills.
1989 stood out. I gave the best year any boarding house had ever had in that school's history. We won every single championship, academic, sports and otherwise. Everyone's grades started going up. There was this one guy Lojok a year junior to me. I took him under my personal wings for being the lowest performing student in the entire house - Kanchenjunga - and he went up something like 20 points.
I was to see this drama all over again at college many years later in Kentucky. Precisely because I was doing so very well, the people who ran the place would come after me. The Bahuns had gotten to where they were by marginalizing people of my background in the Nepali context. The only reason the British were running the show was because they had pushed India behind. And my excelling reminded them of their unfair advantages over their lifetimes. And, by God, they were going to snuff me out.
When people two and three times your age while you are not yet an adult all gang up on you, when you are one person, and they are the dozen people running the entire institution, there is a rude awakening to the social gravity. I had not yet acquired the political consciousness as a Madhesi. I had read up plenty on Gandhi and MLK and Lincoln, but I thought racism was stuff of the history books. I was living in the present day, way past all that history. I was wrong.
It all started on the soccer field. Some Nilgiri guys started a fight. That was no news. Something like that happened sometimes after soccer matches. It spilled over. Then it kind of quietened down. I moved on. But apparently it was not over. Jiwan Wagle, the Nilgiri housemaster urged his students to "do what you need to do outside the school compounds." This most sickly of figures (maranchyanse madharchod), the guy looked like he had been bullied at high school, at college, and nobody gave a shit about him now - then - suddenly gave out a mafia siren call. Who would have thought?
Under any normal circumstances the guy should have been fired from his job immediately. But that is not what happened. One of his students who got excited was Rajesh Shrestha. That guy Shrestha, and Wagle's son would sometimes organize study sessions with me only a few years back, at Wagle's apartment of all places. I should not have done that. I regret. Wagle could not stand why his son was not doing as well as I, so the father in him lashed out. It was ethnic prejudice but it was also a jealousy thing. Excellence was to be snuffed out at a self proclaimed "center of excellence."
Some Nilgiri guys sent some of their non BNKS student cousins at the city bus park a few weeks later when it was time to go home for the Dashain vacation. A Class 7 Kanchenjunga guy Suneel got humiliated. The experience was bad enough for him, he lost his mind. They chased around my Sports Captain Gyaneshwar Mahato, a Siraha guy. I was sitting in the cabin of the night bus when they came for me. One of them tapped on my shoulder, the window was open. I had my sweater stylishly resting on my shoulders. Can you step outside for a minute, he said. I did not recognize the person. I had no idea what had happened to Suneel or Gyaneshwar. Why, I asked. He repeated himself. Then he got angry. Then he pulled away my sweater. By then I sensed something was wrong. I urged the bus driver to move the bus. The bus driver looked the other way. He moved the bus five minutes later when it was time to move the bus.
These guys were cousins of Rajesh Shrestha. If it was just my personal experience, 50% of the responsibility rested with Jiwan Raj Wagle, the Nilgiri housemaster, and 50% of the responsibility rested with his student, my Nilgiri classmate Rajesh Shrestha. I regret ever having gotten to know the two. I regret being "close" to both only a few years prior. These are/were snakes.
I had no context for the incident until I came back to school weeks later. The Nilgiri guys wrote an apology letter to the school. That was them admitting they had been behind the bus park incident. Students at the school had been expelled for smaller scuffles. This was ground for expulsion. Did not happen.
I had moved on though. I was actively thinking in terms of the year end exams. I was winding down my year as House Captain. I was not affected by the sweater incident at the bus park, at all. They feared me. Or they would have showed up themselves. They did not. I was too busy mentally about what was about to happen - exams - to do things like protest, or go visit the authorities about the incident. They had been informed. The ball was in their court. I trusted them to do what was routine and right.
And then the roof collapsed. They suspended me! They suspended Gyaneshwar. In retrospect I wish NP Sharma had not shared with me the gory details of what happened at the meeting. I might have skipped the trauma.
To this day I want every motherfucker who sat on that committee to inform me as to why exactly they suspended me. What was the allegation? What had I done?
Do what? Suspend me? Why? You got reprimanded for not wearing your socks. I always wore my socks. You got suspended for smoking. The thought did not cross my mind. You could get suspended for getting into fights. I was not the fighting kind. By that time of the year all I was focused on was studying for the exams.
The second part of the double whammy happened in 1991. They nominated me for School Captain for being too obvious the choice. And then they took away the nomination. No, I did not walk away. They took it away. I had needed the emotional boost of that school captaincy, to go on the upswing again. And they took it away. I said I wanted a team of 12 school prefects. They said eight. I thought we were talking, negotiating. From being top of the class in 1989, my grades nosedived. The 1991 incident was another blow.
They gave me a warning letter in 1992, an academic warming letter, just the week before I came up with the top SAT score in class.
My projected grades for the A Levels exams were BCC. The day before the exams started, Andrew Wild - the one voice who argued against my immediate expulsion in 1989 (expel me for what? motherfuckers) - shouted at me so loud (I was just stepping out of the bathroom, it was time to run for breakfast) people asleep one stairs up woke up. I was not late, people who were still asleep were. I graduated with EEE. Thank God for the book I wrote on national politics in the year after BNKS, I got myself accepted to the University of Chicago, the top Economics department in America. Five seats and two scholarships were extended. Basanta Shrestha went. Two guys bowed out. Rabin Koirala wanted to go to India to do MBBS. So now it was one scholarship and two students, me and Manav Bhattarai, the Board First dude from the batch after mine, an all academic no nothing else guy. That Bahun had already made up his mind to go to India for a MBBS like Rabin Koirala. Instead he took a detour. He went to Chicago and then flew back to India and wasted my scholarship in the process. I was accepted "not for your numbers, but your actions and words."
I get excited about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I don't get excited about BNKS. BNKS was a Bahun-British nexus that worked to destroy a Madhesi/Indian like me. They failed, but trying was a social crime. And there are about a dozen faces I never do want to see. Brian Garton is not innocent. Sudarshan Rijal is not innocent.
Sometime in 1993 Robert Shrubsall, by then working in Bangladesh, arranged a get together for me and Wild in Thamel. I guess word had spread.
"Don't you miss it when we used to rule India?" Wild asked Shrubsall.
People like Wagle and Vaidya were very comfortable with their use of the word "madisey." That is like saying nigger.
BNKS ended for me in 1989, towards the end of that year. Berea ended for me in 1997. I saw the devil himself. I saw institutional racism. I saw racist demonization. The whole system ran on it.
I was Barack Obama's first full time volunteer in all of New York City. The richest Briton is an Indian. When Upendra Yadav landed in Los Angeles in 2007, the first thing he said was "Where is Paramendra Bhagat?" They took him to his hotel. He again asked, "Where is Paramendra Bhagat?"
When they had the Bahun Madhav Nepal under house arrest early in 2006, when he managed to come online a month later, the first person he chatted with was me.
Until 1989 my ambition was to become a medical doctor. Then I slowly realized the germs I need to see I see with my open eyes. I don't need a microscope.