Saga of a Layman Turned Teacherman

By Eak Prasad Duwadi

Hello folks! I will narrate a story of a layman turned teacherman today. He came from a farmer’s family. They had enrolled three kids in a local primary school before, but since none was retained for with this or that reason, they stopped going to the school in a couple of years. Therefore, they did not believe that the fourth kid would enjoy school fully. They were completely determined to involve the kids in farming since they had enough land to till.

There were no stacks of books. Nor was a hardbound Shriswasthani Bratakatha[1] found in a closet, unlike in many Brahmin houses. The sources of information were only tall tales shared by his sister and mother. Occasionally, a pundit used to chant Puranas and Shrimadbhagbhat[2] stories while performing some rituals every year.  Though it was written in Sanskrit, the performer would translate it into Nepali. This is the reason why the boy with curiosity would walk a kilometer to hear the Shriswasthani Bratakatha stories every night from January to February each year, because those stories were supposed to be told only during that period.

Like other Hindu myths, the sagas are about the gods and goddesses. However, the larger portion of the book contains a story of an unlucky girl (Goma) who happens to marry with a seventy years old poor man at the age of seven, and gives birth to a boy (Nawaraj) when the man migrates elsewhere in search of better jobs. He doesn’t return although their son grows up and gets married. One fine afternoon his folk ask, “Who is your father?” The question triggers Nawaraj to go to find him, despite of his mother’s displeasure. Even after finding that his father is dead, Nawaraj does not return home immediately. He instead seeks employment in a rich person’s home.

In his absence, his wife Chandrawati returns to her father’s house. His mother is forced to do hard labor each day. Having seen her sufferings, goddess Parvati coaxes lord Mahadev to rescue her. Parvati sends a few sages to Goma’s hut to instruct her about the procedures of Shriswasthani Puja that Goma does for a month with full dedication. Consequently the son, Nawaraj comes back home safe. After some time, while watching a festival, Nawaraj is garlanded by the elephant, and he becomes the king of the country. Then, they begin to live happily.

This rags to riches story was galvanized in the boy’s mind in such a way that it reoccured more than often. When he came to Kathmandu after completing class five, in his landlord’s home, he started watching the Mahabharata and The Ramayana on TV with immense eagerness. The signal was very poor, so being the smallest, he had to spin the antenna frequently. The lesson was usually that truth wins. Besides listing to music on a cassette player, he also watched a few Kollywood (from Kathmandu) and Bollywood movies. Later, he got a chance to watch Hollywood movies too in addition to listening to music by Michael Jackson and Wham (George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley).

Authors who left long lasting effects on him were Bhanubhakta Acharya, Lekhnath Paudyal, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Madhab Prasad Ghimire, and B P Koirala. These authors asked for freedom and human rights during the rule of the Rana oligarchy [3], which is considered as the dark period in the history of Nepal.

Former president APJ Abdul Kalam, Mahatma Gandhi, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Chanakya, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Prof. Dr. Anand Patil, Swami Vivekananda, Premchand, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chetan Bhagat, R. K. Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Ajeet Caur, Amartya Sen, and VS Naipul were his favorite Indian authors whose confrontation with time and culture has created new avenues and solid contributions to their country.

Talking about western authors, Siddhartha, a novel by Hermann Hesse was his all-time favorite. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), Mark Twain, Conan Doyle, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vladimir Nabokov, JM Coetzee, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Edward Wadie Said, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Hans Christian Andersen, L. P. Hartley and Albert Guy de Maupassant have greatly influenced him. Therefore, readers can find some reflection of these authors in his writing too. Had he not been exposed to diverse cultures of literatures of different eras, he would not have been such an eclectic thinker.

Talking about his creativity, he would draw pictures when he was in class one and two. He started composing poems from lower secondary level. By the time he became fourteen years old, he wrote essays. The most striking one was when he won first prize in the Vidhya Puraskar [4] Inter-School Essay Competition. The Gulf War as the Third World War was the topic chosen by a lucky draw. That is regarded as a prestigious award given to a writer every year.

However, he dreamt of being a teacher, but was unsure about the subject. It was because the local teacher was everything to that village and its inhabitants. He met hundreds of teachers in life, but Mr Gambhir Man Maskay became his role model. Though he used to give lectures, the boy didn’t get chance to be in those sections. Later on, his Nepali Language and Literature teacher introduced him to extracurricular activities, and the boy won a few medals in them. With the exception of the English language paper, school papers were easy for him. For the first time, the boy found a person with similar thinking and morals.

He was in fact very humane and happy, and a favorite teacher of many learners. Not only did he teach the boy grammar and creative writing in remedial classes at his home, but also inspired him to read English Literature and visit the British Council Library. He started gifting the boy some books along with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, with beautiful inscriptions. He himself was a poet and a short story writer. His “Reflection on the Mirror” is a very interesting story. He was a great thinker and a pioneer educator, and for the boy a counselor and a friend who was there to listen to the woes and frustrations that perhaps rage in most of teenagers’ lives. He hardly wasted any time as he would go to British Council and American Library to read new books and newspapers whenever he had free time.

When the boy finished high school level education, he got a job teaching his teacher’s grandchildren as a home tutor since he was inspired to work like the western kids do and become independent. “God, indeed, sent another father to guide me in the journey of my life” he thought. His teacher introduced the boy to academia after he finished Bachelor’s Degree. After the teacher’s retirement from the government school, he was invited to be in the pool of experts by the Principal of Siddhartha Vanasthali Institute. Four years later, he advised the boy to join also as there was a vacancy for a Lower Secondary Level English Teacher. It was a huge shift as it ennobled the boy at large. Floods of information started to flow into Nepal too with the use of the internet. He did not fail to cash in on that. He wrote some pieces and sent them to the main national dailies via the internet. In addition, his short stores also sprouted in the Nepali language.

He continued his studies in morning shifts. Though taught by many Professors in the university, he chose Professor Upadhyaya to supervise his Masters’ Level Thesis (Sex as Two-edged Sword in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace). Being a perfectionist, the Professor made the boy write it several times, providing many constructive ways forward, and academic writing skills. When he was a second Year MA student, Professor Upadhyaya asked the students to compose some poems. The boy composed two, and they appeared to be good. As a result, the professor asked the boy to go to a venue with him the following day. To his surprise, the SAARC Literature Festival was being organized, and he got a chance to recite a poem “I’m a Living Dead Man” which he wrote because he was so upset by the 10 year long insurgencies in the country. He would never forget that day in 2003. Including his supervisor’s own teacher Professor Lohani, the Professor introduced him to the top notched Professors of Nepal in various literary programs including LAN[5] and NWEN[6], who created a platform for his critical and creative thinking.

When he came to Kathmandu with his elder brother in search of a quality education, it was the first time he came out of his comfort zone. He repeated it a second time when quitting SVI[7] in spite of having secured a job. He got selected as a senior English Instructor at KUHS[8] which is a small institute 35 Km away from Kathmandu, so he started traveling daily. Though bored initially, he began reading later to use time. It was as a small school but it was making bigger impacts. He had the opportunity to work with more diverse teams including Nepalese, Indians, Bhutanese, and British Colleagues. After a month, he became leader of the English Department, and acted as Acting Principal while making strategic plans with other institutions. With the academic director, he promoted a reading culture in the school by increasing the number of volumes of the library and making reading compulsory.

In 2007 February session, he also joined M Phil in KUSOED[9] as it was made mandatory to pass this program before getting admission to his PhD studies. His M Phil thesis was on The Status of Female Teachers at Boarding Schools in Nepal, and it was completed in 2009. In the same year he successfully completed TEFL Course from Thailand in 2009, and got an opportunity to take part in a 10 day long residential STA training organized by the British Council.

In the meantime, he was volunteering for NELTA[10]. Moreover, he would attend the international conferences every year. He soon started presenting as a speaker, and networking with professors from across the world. Also had an opportunity to do an online course with Cambridge University, and in 2012, he won two scholarships with the US State Department, and a scholarship from the U.S. Embassy in India. That was followed by a Summer 2012 online teacher training course with the University of Oregon, Linguistics Department. Critical Thinking in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Curriculum was the course taught by Professor Nicole Eutice. 2013 was more special when he was selected to make a cultural tour of USA. It gave him an opportunity to measure the depth and breadth of the US.

His PhD became his top priority after entering the university as without it, no vertical promotions would be possible. For the same, he took the GRE and TOEFL tests in 2010 and in 2011. Having communicated with at least 15 Professors, few were ready to supervise him, but because of his mother’s rejection, he could not go abroad for a long time, and he joined a local university. As always he longed for empirical research, and wrote his thesis on the Rhetoric of Patient-Doctor Communication in Nepali Hospitals. His university promoted him to Assistant Professor in 2013. Having spoken at fifteen international conferences and published three books, five book chapters, a dozen research articles and hundreds of write-ups and poems, he started designing newer sustainable projects.

He had been appointed to teach nursing and general medicine students as an adjunct faculty by Kathmandu University. But when KU hired him as a lecturer to teach the intermediate and undergraduate students at Department of Languages and Media Communication in KU, his happiness reached optimum. Since then, he has taught General English, Communication Skills and Nepal Studies across different schools and departments besides supervising a half dozen students. His mind was instilled with interdisciplinary ideas after reading VS Ramachandran, TH Huxley, Richard Phillips Feynman, and many more.

While designing the lessons and delivering them, he is always guided by constructivism as a paradigm or worldview and posits that learning is an active, constructive process. He trusts that all children have natural curiosity and a desire to become competent at various learning opportunities.

Similarly, Gijubhai Badheka who helped to introduce Montessori education methods to India has been his idol. Moreover, Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, John Dewey, J. Mezirow, and Jerome Seymour Bruner have influenced his pedagogy. To be honest, they created miracles in his career, and now his learners highly prefer his classes. His success as a teacher catapulted him towards rapid professional growth.

Dr. A. Douglas Eury, Dr. Jane King, and John D. Balls suggest that the power of reflection is a stimulant to improving one’s performance. It starts with an honest critique of our own performance and a commitment to continuous improvement. It is the most basic (and perhaps the most effective) form of professional development. He does reflect and make changes if necessary.

It seems that the professional growth of the character is heading towards a peak in a decade or so, and his achievements will not be less than the triumphs of the legendary character “Nawaraj” mentioned in the beginning of this story. Then, who is the character? Well, he can be any budding teacher in a developing country. Is your story different to his?

[1] An anthology of mythical stories told and shared in Nepal for a month during January and February

[2] Collection of stories about lord Krishna’s heroism

[3] The elite family who ruled Nepal for 104 years by overshadowing the monarchy

[4] A prestigious award given to an essay writer

[5] Literary Association of Nepal

[6] Nepalese Writers in English

[7] Siddhartha Vanasthali Institute

[8] Kathmandu University High School

[9] Kathmandu University School of Education

[10] NELTA – Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association