Remembering Sushila Koirala
Memories of a younger brother
Late Sushila Koirala is the wife of the first democratically elected prime minister of Nepal, BP Koirala. Her brother Arun Dahal lays down his remembrances of her in this memoiristic essay.
There is a picture of her in front of me taken 43 years ago when I was a student in Arizona. She is beautifully radiant, contemplating and engaging with her characteristic smile. She is in a reddish-brown silk saree with flowers in white background it matches with Grand Canyon’s cascades of colors in the far horizon. As always she is captivatingly charming with her signature white hair, the color of her hair I can ever remember since my teen years. She is compassionate towards all including Biswa Bandhu Thapa, King Mahendra, Birendra, and everyone else ordinary or extraordinary folks. In the background of Grand Canyon weathered over million years she too has weathered in her fifty years or so with a few wrinkles in her face. She looks taller than Grand Canyon in the background and that is exactly how I feel about her! Tall and proud I am just thinking of her.
How could she keep on smiling with all those oddities, struggles and the losses she has endured in her life? How could she maintain such a serene composure with ongoing stresses, uncertainties and challenges she lived through her life?
On a Bhai Tika day on my first year in Bangkok some 26 years ago I decided to fly to Kathmandu for a rare day with my sisters. As much as the picture looks precious today it was quite insignificant then, years ago. I am quite surprised why I had decided to reprint the old faded original picture some 12 years ago.
After the happy rituals of Tika I had about precious 15 minutes or so with her! I cherish those moments as she talked about her family. Her life was her family that included the entire map of Nepal.
About Prakash (her son) she said, “Of course as a mother I like him to win Parliamentary election and follow his father’s ideals.” (Prakash Koirala was about to contest for election then).
About Manisha, her granddaughter proudly she said, “If any one of the family member was able to beat BP in their profession, it is Manisha.” She was at the peak in Bollywood at that time. That was a grandmother’s pride!
While the Press was so critical of GP Koirala on his inability to hold together NC and the nation this is she had to say, “No one is my closet friend as much as Girija Babu is, he will do whatever he can to unite and the lead the nation. He will give everything he has. I have so much confidence in him.”
I wonder if the final report card on GPK will be that of her best friend. But, those were the words of one of his closest allies.
As to why Ganesh Raj Sharma was critical of GPK’s administration and the state of (Nepal’s) democracy, she said, “Ganesh Raj-ji is such a fine intellectual and a true nationalist. It is his independent legal and political mind that BP always liked. We have to listen to what he has to say. He means well for us and the nation.”
On BP, she said, “He always knew what he wanted.”
“But, you suffered for him,” I interjected.
“No! It is not only me the whole nation suffered. The entire family suffered. It is such a small price to pay for what Pita-ji (BP’s father Krishna Prasad Koirala) stood for. We all owe him.”
With a pause, she said,” Why should I be an exception? I belong to the same family.”
“It gets so much easier when you think of what so many people had to go through for a cause, an ideal, what everyone believed.” After another pause, she continued.
“But, how do you sustain such a long misery? You even justify it?” That was my next question.
“You do not know the power of love, affection, and the trust people put on you. All those folks who have given the love, respect, and hope that itself gives phenomenal power. So much strength, it gives.”
On Ganesh Man-ji ( Singh) :
“He and Mangla-ji are our closest friends. You should read what BP has to say about them. Have you read BP’s books? You must.” She lectured me.
On King Birendra, she said, “We should respect him.”
“But why so? He has made you suffer so much.”
“Well, he is the Head of the State. Look at how much Thai people love their King.”
“But, there is no comparison. He is benevolent. He cares for his people. Thai people trust him. He has not betrayed him. He has served the people and country.” I protested.
“Well, the Kings (ours) were listening to wrong people. They needed better advisors. Let us remember he let us go for his (BP’s) treatment. That was a humane gesture. He could have rejected the doctor’s request. He could have let him die in jail. It could have been worse.”
How simple-minded she was, how could she look at everything including all the hazards of life in such a simple way, I always wondered.
About King Mahendra, she said, “I was rather shocked to see his action.” Just a few weeks before, on Dec 15, 1960, we (BP and herself) were their personal guests at Pokhara. “He and Queen Ratna were so nice to us. I even danced on their insistence. It was so much fun. I could never tell he was going to do what he did.”
How could she trust everyone? Why does she not show her rage for what Nepali royalty did to her family and to the people?
Bright, smiling, and strikingly beautiful in her signature smile she is powerfully present in this picture. She is so alive as if she is standing right in front of me. In the background of the Grand Canyon, the memories are etched just as millions of years of history are etched in those sedimentary layers of the legendary Canyon.
The pride of Jamohora, Kapilbastu our common home and heritage, she lives in the heart of so many people whose lives were touched by her and she never asked anything in return from anyone. I am so glad she visited me at Tempe, Arizona in my student days. She said though Arizona was hot it reminded her of Biratnagar! Open and wide just like Tarai! She asked BP if they could extend the stay at my student’s housing. BP had this big smile on his face. “It is about that “maiti” thing. He said and gave in.
Purely simple, never politically ambitious, soft, yet confident she told one of the sisters in crisis, “We as women must learn to tolerate and bear the oddities and burdens of life. There is so much resting on our shoulders. We must live the pain so that others can live with much less of it.”
Where she learned to bear the pain, to suffer but not even show a trace of it, I wondered. Where did she get that power?
She left the rough and tumble of politics for others to play. She was there for all whenever anyone needed her without making a judgment. She always understood. That was Sushila Koirala as everyone knew her.
In my mind pieces of Grand Canyon have broken today. An invisible wall of support has just crumbled. And, I do not have the power to put all the puzzles in place in one piece.
She was my oldest sister!