“There is sacredness in tears. They are not mark of weakness.”
She is quietly gone, on the wee hours of Saturday 17, September, 2022. Where to, I’ll never know, yet she lives forever in the hearts and minds of so many people whose life she touched as an architect and head mistress of the FIRST ever all girls primary school Yasodhara in Taulihawa, my hometown some six decades ago.
Thinking of her today, “Tears fall in my heart like in the rain on the town.” (Paul Verlaine) It’s raining here now and I’m thinking of her and preparing myself for the outlet of flood gate of emotions spilling over. I like to let it loose and flow as rivers; Badganga, Ganga itself, Bagmati, Mississippi along with all the falls I have preserved in my memories. No interruption! No control! The dense trees in Shankh Park are drenched with torrents of rain. I’m watching the rain beating the trees from a window in my room nearby. And, my heart is fluttering!
Barely in late teens with an IA (Intermediate certificate) our family and community trusted her to educate the daughters to primary schooling and, then at 22 she was charged at Dharan to provide leadership, mentorship, vision, education and carve the future of girls there, as a Head Mistress of the town’s only Girl’s school. That was some five and half decades back. In the brief history of the only girl’s school in Dharan, she was the second Head Mistress after the very first one Durga Didi resigned for family reasons. By that time, she has already earned B.A, B.Ed. degrees. Community entrusted her to motivate them to join college and become professionals or achieve whatever they chose to do in their lives. I had just joined an engineering college in India. Our eldest sister Sushila Koirala was bestowed the role to walk together as a wife of a prominent young revolutionary leader BP Koirala and then as a wife of Home Minister after the end of Rana oligarchy and also the first elected Prime Minister in 1959 in election in this country of ours. The new government only lasted for 18 months as then ambitious King Mahendra dissolved the FIRST EVER elected Parliament and government and threw the elected PM and his opponents in jail. My family and my sisters had already experienced FIRST hand that LIFE can be unpredictable and you MUST deal with it as it comes. Those were the very first lesson of life for them and all of us families and friends alike. In American lingo it is called “Grab the bull of LIFE by the horns.” The life gave no other choices to my sisters then but deal with it as it comes. All this had happened by the time my sister Sushila Koirala was in mid 30’s and she had already met world leaders as Chao En Lai, Chairman Mao, Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Jay Prakash, Lohia and many others. But this story is not about Sushila Koirala it about our sister Nirmala Sharma. While she was the popular Head Mistress “Nirmala Didi” well-liked by the locals she could not continue in that role for very long as her life took another turn. She was mid 20s and young man named Ganesh Raj Sharma came as a college professor in Dharan with degree in Economics from BHU. In a small town Dharan, Nirmala Didi and the young professor got acquainted and their professional relationship blossomed as friends, eventually mutual liking turned into a marriage between two social elites of Dharan some five plus decades ago. After the marriage she decided to become housewife in her new home Kalaiya and eventually mother of two children; a daughter and a son. She quit teaching and never went back to explore career outside of home. She was fully committed as a wife, head of household and a mother. And, she never complained about the role life gave her with only ONE exception: She wanted to become a doctor but because of family’s financial reasons she could not. “That is the only regret I have if any.” (Instead, her daughter Mridu became a medical doctor, she was always very proud of that.) Often, she said, “I’m fully content as a mother and wife and building my children to become best citizens is an honorable responsibility. How can anything else be more important than being a loving mother?” She replied every time there was an offer to go back to work in an office or as an educator. I know for sure she and Sushila Koirala could have become any thing they wished, in politics or in government I had no doubts. But she was happy playing the best role life gave her on a platter. “Do the best you can in whatever you decide to do in life, pursue the cherished goal in your life she told all who sought wisdom, advice and support. She encouraged education and equality to everyone who sought her two cents on life. She never waived, or waffled on the course of life as she moved with confidence and determination in every task in life. With her iron will and determination she always stood tall and strong as an Eifel tower in my heart! The circle of her new family was quite large: her husband’s kin, maiti’s sisters and all of us, people of Kapilvastu and Dharan where she ran the FIRST all-girls schools. Enhancing lives of ALL daughters became her passionate responsibility in work and life and she delivered that with intensity, zeal and resolve. “There is no substitute for self-confidence and self- respect.” She preached, advocated and practiced that all her life. “That is what I need to make them realize along with tools to deal with life. That is where it all begins.” She clearly emphasized to all young women in school and her own home.
At Banaras as a child, she could crisscross Ganga River from one shore to the other competing with our Dajus (elder brothers) and in lighter moments she used to brag about that, “A competition must be healthy.” Even as a young child she was known to express her views boldly, strongly and quite emphatically. She always stood strong all her life with love, respect, compassion and always understood the challenges of an under-dog, dis-advantaged, the meek and timid. It was no wonder when she left the girl’s school for her own education at Kapilvastu the flood of tears from her little tiny students should and their mothers was an overwhelming, powerful torrents of human emotion to see them all crying. I knew some how the tears are always therapeutic and as Diane Warwick said, “Crying is cleansing.” There is reason for crying.” I learned firsthand as a child; let humans pour their soul through the rivers of tears. Without shame I’m admitting as I write these lines my eyes are swelled with emotions; and through these “tears of heaven” and my finger’s stroke on the key board I am cracking the huge iceberg of my own pain inside. All the pain stored like a dam on my mother’s loss within a year of my departure to the USA, at the young age of my mother was only in mid 50’s and her letter to me hand written in her tiny well-crafted small beautiful calligraphic letters: a mother remembers her first son she loves dearly, adores him proudly with shining eyes and she expresses her maternal emotion, “I miss you so much and fear I won’t see ever see you, when are you coming to see me?” Every time I think of that letter, I remember her unconditional love, as she gave me just as all mothers do to their children. There is absolutely NO LOVE that can match a mother’s love. And, this love is all about giving everything she has with no expectation of any return on all her investments. The purity of love is: giving everything to your child including your life without any question what so ever. I learned that lesson when I saw my mother gazing at me with a hot glass of milk in her hand, her eyes beaming with pride, love, admiration and compassion to some one who is part of her as she, carried me inside her womb for 300 days. Every time I came back home from Banaras where I went to school, I witnessed her sparkling radiant eyes with happiness just to see me: her prize, her love. I regret all my life I could not give anything in return for the one who gave her everything she had. I learned no one can take the role of a mother. There is NO substitute for a mother. Some may come close second but can’t be the very FIRST! But this story is not about my mother it is about Nirmala-Di as we always called her with love, trust and admiration. With this word I’m sharing what ALL the living sisters have expressed their emotion.
Taulihawa, Dharan days as a head mistress and teacher she trained young girls by providing them language, math (she was very good in math) along with reinforcing the values of self-worth, self-esteem, confidence and, with dreams to fly free as a bird in a wide-open sky and seek a career as one wishes. In the era of gender-based disparity and discriminations, she emphasized awareness, education, learning skills, working, earning, being vocal on social issues and doing what you like to do by your choice but nobody else’s. Being a woman are about managing your home, helping your partner and above all giving life’s foundation of love and support, nutritious food and let them grow and become independent, equal and FLY like a bird, yet be rooted to your nest. How can that be wrong for a female whether in America, Nepal or India? She will put that as a question. The answer? It’s right there in the question. We all know: Life is no bed of roses and is so unpredictable. It can be so much full of pain and sufferings yet; we MUST live and surmount all challenges it throws upon us: her wisdom and the life as she professed practiced and lived.
Her husband Ganesh Raj Sharma grew to become one of the eminent l lawyers in Nepal, helped BP in his legal fight on treason charges (with death penalty) against the king. He helped publish BP’s literary and autobiographical writings. Many do-not know how much Ganesh Raj Sharma’s role is in BP’s “reconciliation” message with the regime for the sake of Nepal’s survival, democratic struggles and on the issue of nationalism. The force behind bringing BP back to the soils of Nepal and fight/struggle from within the map of Nepal. Those were GRSharma’s words of wisdom and BP seriously listened, contemplated and FINALLY acted upon regardless how severe the consequences would be including death. The famous JFK’s lines are, “You must do it what you MUST in spite of the consequences…” BP listened and came back regardless what could happen to him. Nation and the duty were paramount then at the moment.
Both the sisters faced huge boulders in their lives. One of the most coveted nationalist democrat GRS began showing signs of dementia and eventually was paralyzed for over a decade. He lost memory, would hardly recognize any one including members of his family was bed ridden for prolonged time. I have witnessed myself his own and family’s insurmountable struggles. I also witnessed last gulping breath of GR Sharma in November 2015 and the blank emotional impact that shook and jolted every one around. In between those even all of us here at Kathmandu experienced the worst tragic disaster I have the massive earthquake on April 15, 2015. Totally unexpected and out of a blue her only son Akshya a smart, sensitive always smiling son passed away without much warnings just a few months prior to GR Sharma’s end. There were other numerous tragedies in the family: my youngest elder sister’s accidental death on a road trip. There is so much to write and remember much more than any one has the patience to read. My father, BP and GR were NOT believer in God but my mother was devoutly religious who worshipped for hours. My sisters Sushila, Urmila (her husband Basudev Sharma, a Bar at Law was justice in Supreme court in King’s Mahendra’s and Birendra’s times) and Nirmala Di were somewhat religious as I recall but why their/our God never came to rescue on human/personal tragedies I leave that as profound question.
Husband in one bed at home her son on another bed at Ganga Lal hospital Nirmala-Di went to see her son within 15 minutes of his death in hospital. The mother touched her son’s hair ruffled it, moved a few times and roved her fingers repeatedly on his face all around several times as if she didn’t want to let him go, alas he was already gone and kissed her only son on both cheeks and moved her finger, one ore last kook then she said, “Let us go home. Bua (GRSharma) is there by himself.” I noticed her face, the eyes were red, blood red mind you but I didn’t see flowing tears. My sisters did not show tears. I wished they did. I remember Sushila Koirala’s words, “We must cry on our own. Wipe them and come out.” May be smilingly (I said to myself)! Lat word I heard from Nirmala Di in her son was gone were, “In his short life he had done everything he wanted to do. He lived well.” The last words! We witnessed Akshaya’s burning body she was home tending her husband and partner for life.” How she handled the pain I wish I knew. Within few months her husband too was gone!
On wee hours of Saturday morning, she took her last breath. I had seen her skeleton like living, breathing body just a few days before.
How do I handle the void and the pain of Nirmala Di’s loss you’ll have to GUESS! And, my FINAL thought is: Does LIFE mimics art as I am also a story writer. But this is my sister Nirmala-Di’s story!
साहित्यपोस्ट पढ्नुभएकोमा धन्यवाद
यसलाई जीवित राख्नकोलागि तपाइँको आर्थिक सहयोग महत्वपूर्ण हुन्छ ।