Memoirs of Timila Yami Thapa
My story in IIT-Kanpur is linked to my parental background, their constant involvement in the freedom struggle against the tyrannical Ranas, the Nepalese social taboos against the higher education of women and my father’s wish for me to get involved in the upliftment of the Nepalese people. The only beacon I had was my mother’s dying wish that we should be highly educated before getting involved in any Nepalese politics. It was the year of 1970 A.D. Two elder siblings of my parents were studying away in India for Medical and Engineering degrees while my four little younger sisters and I were staying with my critically ill mother whose failing health condition left me no choice but to assume the role of taking care of my younger siblings as part of my Buddha-Dharma.
My mother was a true example of "a strong mother, a dedicated wife and a role model for the society." She single-handedly raised seven children in all, participated with her husband in his political struggle and looked after a spouse who spent huge amount of energy to mobilize the citizens of Nepal for the relevant cause of political and social transformations.
During the democratic movement of the A. D. 1940s in Nepal, a large number of freedom fighters were kept without due process in jails, and many were tortured. Four of the bravest among them became martyrs: Ganga Lal, Dasha Rath Chand, Dharma Bhakta Mathema and Shukra Raj Shastri were executed publicly in 1997 BS (1941 AD ). My father Dharma Ratna Yami with three others were imprisoned for eighteen years jail sentence with their properties were impounded.
My father devoted his life for the social upliftment of Nepalese society and continued with his earnest passion in writing books. He was a lot more than a deputy Forest Minister for a period of nine months. My father was always busy travelling abroad to India and Nepal, fostering Buddhism, political and social transformation by delivering powerful public speeches and fighting against the autocratic Ranas. He had little time left for family, and spent more time languishing in the Rana’s dreaded prisons, and planning with his political colleagues. He used to be known as a powerful speaker in regional countries and Nepal. Our house called "Yami Chhen" was known in the town as a house with famous visitors including famous personalities of India like Dr. Ambedkar, the famous writer Mr. Dharamvir Bharati, Maha Pandit Rahul Sanskrityayan, the well-known Indian freedom fighter and artist Upendra Maharathi from Patna.
My mother stayed brave through her last days. However, leaving behind seven children at a young age was heart breaking for her. As she became critically ill and realized that her days were numbered, she started worrying a lot because my father had no experience of caring about his family. During the last three years of her life, she shared all her worries with me. My mother perished in 1970, the year I joined IIT-Kanpur, at the young age of forty-eight from cardiac valve problems and chronic asthma. After she passed away, the family and the finance were in disarray, and we seven children were literally orphaned including my father.
Parental Disagreements & Social Taboos
My father wanted me to take up training in news report writing and reading so that I could become a news announcer in Radio Nepal. He was aggravated by the news of my enrollment at IIT-Kanpur for an engineering degree. We children were not of the age during those days to understand my father’s political devotions and aspirations. My mother had different views about our future. She advised us to focus on building a good technical career that would be meaningful for the nation’s future, and then serve the nation by entering into politics in the later part of life. However, she was also of the strong opinion that all her children should diligently participate in the political main stream as well.
The cultural mindset in Nepal was very different at that time. The Rana-British autocracy ended in 1951. Under the Rana-British rule, between 1846 and 1951, access to education was confined to the higher castes and wealthier economic few stratum of the population; the Ranas were opposed to giving education to the masses. General public used to be frightened to express their wish for getting educated even after 1951. Rana’s ban on education had set in a harsh social norm stagnating women’s growth, and degraded their status in the society. Early childhood marriage had become a norm.
We come from a Newari (Newah) community (traders) settled in Kathmandu Valley. From my own maternal side, my aunts had no schooling all their lives. One of my mother's first cousins got married when she was just six years old and another at the age of nine. I was surrounded by relatives telling me not to leave the country at a young and vulnerable age. Some insisted on my marriage prior to attending IIT-Kanpur. None of them had traveled out of Kathmandu Valley. Almost all of them didn't have any formal education. There was no formal academic institution for medical and engineering education in Nepal. Hence, they were unaware of what I was going to study. They confused me a lot. However, I continued with my firm resolution. I faithfully followed my mother’s resolve as a beacon.
My father’s grandfather, Ratna Das Tuladhar, was one of the rich category of traders with flourishing business in Kathmandu valley and in Tibet. It used to be the trend in those days of people being looted by rulers (Ranas ) the wealth of people who had flourishing business. His wealth was looted by the ruler Chandra Shamsher Junga Bahadur Rana. The four sons and three daughter of Ratna Das had to struggle hard to recover the wealth. Two respectable ladies from my father’s side had higher degrees before us. However, due to higher education then socially accepted norms, they remained unmarried until they decided to take the nuptial affairs in their hands.
My father’s first cousin Champa Tuladhar , daughter of 4th son Harkha Das of Ratna Das, continued studying in India for higher education in spite of familial and social pressures to get married. She completed her Ph. D. degree from the United Kingdom, a sheer rarity in those times. She married a Scotish national because her parents objected to her getting married outside the cast within the Nepalese community. The youngest son of Harkha Das is Dr. Madan Das who is the first person to do Ph. D in Pharmacology from United Kingdom. One of my father's cousin’s daughters ( Ratna Das’s elder daughter’s daughter ), Keshari Laxmi Tuladhar , earned her Ph. D. degree from the United Kingdom in 1962, the first lady to Ph. D in the history of Nepal. She got married to a boy who came from the outside our caste (Manadhar family). The popular literary figure in Nepal Bhasa – my father’s first cousin Mr. Chittadhar Hridaya had raised Keshari because his sister passed away leaving behind one year old Keshari daughter. Even such a literary personality refused to accept the boy from Manadhar family for a longer period of time. Inter-caste marriage used to be a sensitive issue then. It was my father who went ahead welcoming this marriage despite objections from our community members. All the conservative relatives tried discouraging my father advising him not to allow her to enter our house because they explained to my father that she would pollute the minds of growing six daughters of my father and would be encouraging the trend breaking the strict norms of society against inter-cast marriage.
The marriages of two highly educated ladies in our family sent out shock-waves among our conservative Newari community. Wedding outside our cast used to be a big shame during those days; nobody was permitted to tie the nuptial knots with a groom or a bride belonging to a different caste. This norm had to be observed by all the citizens.The rest of our cousins were forced to marry young, mostly after high school, because of these norm-breaking marriages.
Ratna Das’s eledest daughter (Beti Laxmi )’s second daughter Moti Laxmi Upashikha, younger sister of Chttadhar Hridaya , popular literary figure, was a first woman writer on Nepal in Newah community. She, a well known writer, was the one who persuaded me to get married before joining IIT K because she was so worried that I would face similar fate like Chapa and Keshari.
Lots of Irritating New Things in India
I was so amazed to take a ride in the train and the plane for the first time in my life during my first journey to IIT-Kanpur. Postal delays and lack of telephonic connections from sweet home used to frustrate me a lot. I came from an air-conditioned city, and had never used a fan. I used to find it very irritating to sleep under a noisy ceiling fan in the hostel dormitory.
Early Years in IIT-Kanpur, My Grief and My Burden
I joined IIT-Kanpur in 1970, literally orphaned without much parental support, full of resolve to fulfill my mother’s dying wish to get an engineering degree. I was the first female student to go for Electronic Engineering degree to India in the history of Nepal. I consider it lucky that I was selected to be in the top ranked Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT K) – an autonomous prestigious engineering and technology-oriented institute of higher education established and declared as Institute of National Importance by the Parliament of India, and educated with the best students of India.
During the first semester at IIT Kanpur, the shock of my mother's death and the plight of my younger sisters haunted me. I was always preoccupied with the memory of my dear mother and her desire to part good higher education to her daughters. I used to receive melancholic letters from my younger sisters, and used to spend my time writing letters to each of them during my heavy academic schedules of IIT-Kanpur. I continuously grieved about the loss of my mother and worried about my four younger sisters. I silently wept in the hostel at night, and grieved inside the classrooms. Every time I read a letter written by one of my younger sisters stating their misery, I thought about leaving IIT-Kanpur.
My Batch mates and I
My batch had 410 boys and only two girls: Vini and I. I was very shy and apprehensive of the boys due to my cultural upbringing. They tried to communicate with me, but in vain. They soon realized that I was not approachable until very late. Some of my batch mates still introduce me to their spouses as the girl who never talked to them. I was in grief, had to handle my younger sisters' problems, and had to be doing good in academics at the same time competing with the best in India. My class had a large number of regional toppers of India. It was a very rough time for me.
I never shared my problems with my other batchmates. Vini was the only batchmate I communicated during the first year. However, she used to be in a different study-section. She would often find me grieving about the loss of my mother and worrying about my younger sisters. She felt very bad to see my misery and pain. On few occasions, she even advised me to go back home than cry bitterly. Savita Gupta, a Ph. D student, advised me to bring Hisila for enrolling in Central school so that I would have lesser tension.
Instead of studying hard for my courses, I used to spend most of my time teaching Hisila, my youngest baby-sister who I managed to get admitted in the IITK Central School, so that she could catch up in her class. I also used to spend lot of time communicating with the remaining younger sisters at home through postal letters.
It was towards the end of the program, that I learned to trust my batchmates. I started repenting for not having shared my problems with my batchmates who surely would have helped me with my ongoing stress, coping with the tough academic environment, and managing the responsibility of bringing up my younger sisters.
Girls Hostel and Social Norms
The interesting thing I observed in the girls’ hostel was that the warden Mrs. Nanda got very worried about the safety of the girls when the boys entered the visitors’ room. She introduced rules restricting the boys hanging around the hostel-compound. I hardly understood her restrictions knowing that girls worked in the research laboratories and spent late hours in the library. Besides, we had All India Cultural Programs organized by the Student Gymkhana in which large numbers of colleges from India participated. It is my conjecture that these restrictions were not to protect the girls but to satisfy the anxious Indian parents who allowed the girls away to be studying with the boys for the first time in their lives. Like Nepal, Indian society also had misgivings about pre-marital association of girls and boys. I recall that many parents were outraged after a couple of media coverage regarding the boys being allowed to hang around in the girls’ hostel premises; many conservative mothers got very scared of this news.
Another problem IIT-Kanpur girls faced was their general acceptance in the traditional society. One girl student who completed her M. Tech. told me that her parents had tough time looking for a boy for her marriage, and the boy's family asked her parents for a larger dowry because she was over qualified and had limited choices. Those days, industries also used to discourage recruiting of girls in an engineering field.
Competing with the Nation’s Best
I was enrolled in the Electrical Engineering (specializing in Electronic Engineering) Program of IIT-Kanpur that was considered to be the top engineering program of the nation, and attracted the best students and top rank holders of the All India Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). They were like "little kings" of little princely states (toppers of schools). I often used to see some of the proud parents occupying the guest house and taking a tour of the campus.
I faced a very difficult situation continuously managing the double burden at such a tender age. However, I had no other choice, but to carry this inevitable burden. I was also very apprehensive then. Had I messed up in my responsibilities, I would have landed nowhere, and nobody could have saved me. Had I fetched help from my youthful batchmates, my life probably would have been less stressful.
Each of my batchmates, being toppers in their respective schools, lived in a magical world of their own. Some of them got the shock of their lives after getting test-scores lower than their peer group at IIT-Kanpur. The burden to prove oneself was very heavy and not without peril. Many good students lost confidence in a tough competitive environment. I used to witness daily some students losing hope and interest in life at such a youthful age. It is still painful to remember some of the brilliant students losing interest in life too. I witnessed five Suicides during my stay in that campus. I also saw large numbers of students who got transformed because of the blend of highly competitive academic environment and extra-curricular activities.
The faculty members of a top institute of the nation had very high expectations from the students, and grading was very harsh; relative grading among the top students of the nation made life even more difficult. However, most of the faculty members, although very strict in the academic matter, were very helpful and nurtured students to unleash the maximum latent potential in every student in the campus. This was a place where students and teachers were equally enthusiastic to share a happy moment together outside the class.
The best part of IIT-Kanpur was to be with its professors who always ensured that the potential of each and every individual student was well unleashed. They all used to be with the students in the playgrounds and various students' clubs after class-hours. The students were very focused in studies, yet, excelled in the extra-curricular activities. This creative environment not only transformed my life but also helped my sister Hisila in an all-round development.
Looking After My Younger Sisters at IIT-Kanpur
After completing the first semester at IIT-Kanpur, I came home to spend my vacation. My elder sister Dharma Devi (medical student) and my brother Vidhan Ratna (engineering student) were also studying in India. However, the condition of my younger sisters was pathetic. I decided to take my youngest sister Hisila (Hisila Yami) to Kanpur. She had just completed grade six from a girls’ school in Kathmandu. My relatives back in Nepal were very critical of my decision. With a lot of difficulty, I managed to admit her in grade seven at Central School in IIT-Kanpur. I am so thankful to late Professor Narsimha Rao (Chemistry department at IIT-Kanpur) for his special effort to allow Hisila to study at Central School. He was on the Board of Members of that school, and was able to influence the board to help us at the time of sheer need.
The principal of Central School initially refused to admit Hisila in a section instructing in English medium; Hisila was enrolled in a section with Hindi medium of instruction. This situation put me into lot of stress with sleepless nights. I was not sure that I would be able to keep her in that school, and Hindi medium of instruction would make her life complicated if she had to go back to her old school in Nepal. I begged the school administration to allow her to sit in the English medium section. However, the school-principal refused to change the section. Hisila realized the extent of the problem, and worked very hard to pick up English. I used to write the required few dialogues in English. Hisila used to learn them by heart and speak them out in class without any fear. She would boldly request the teachers to repeat everything that was taught in Hindi, once again in English. She gave an impression to the teachers that she had good knowledge of English, and lacked the knowledge of Hindi. Her teachers finally complained to the principal, and requested him to shift Hisila into the English medium section. The principal finally yielded. Still, Hisila had to take one compulsory course of Hindi subject which made the situation worse.
It was indeed a very challenging period for her. She made it though. The transition from instructions in Nepali language in a local school in Kathmandu to instructions in English was really tough for Hisila. With some encouragement and effort, however, Hisila flourished and excelled in academics, sports and cultural activities. She was a quick learner and used every opportunity she got. She used to be selected as one of the best athletes in her school, and she was successful in bringing sports awards in all India Junior Sports Competitions held in different states of India. Hisila’s hard work, boldness and excellent all-round performance really saved me from packing my bags for good.
The warden of IIT-Kanpur girls’ hostel refused to provide a room for Hisila because children were not allowed in the adults’ hostel. I never knew that I would run into so many serious problems which disturbed my studies a lot. After a lot of persuasion, I managed to get permission for Hisila to stay in that hostel. It was indeed a miracle. Luckily, there were plenty of empty rooms available during those days in our hostel. She soon became the darling of the girls’ hostel and learnt everything the girls had to teach her. It was a real turning point for our lives.
Hisila was good in sports and travelled to every All India Junior Student Tournaments. She brought many shields and awards for the school. I was horrified, and used to protest in front of the school administration, begging them not to take my sister on sports-trips out of town telling them that "MY SISTER WILL BE STOLEN." She also received games scholarship in that school.
I am very grateful to the girls at IITK for loving and caring for Hisila. They called her their "darling little sweet bubbly girl." Some of the girls were very good in sports, music and other extra-curricular activities, and participated in Inter-IIT sports competitions. Hisila enjoyed playing with them. Those girls enjoyed developing Hisila in extra-curricular activities of their interests. She literally grew up dancing, singing and playing musical instruments in that seminary.
Vasundhara Choudhary, enjoyed teaching her Sitar (an oriental musical instrument). Other girls taught her Bharat Natyam and Kathak dances. Some taught her Hindi songs. Sandhya Deo taught her table tennis. Kalpana Mehta used to take Hisila to the boys’ hostel for watching various sports competitions. Professional coaches of IIT-Kanpur enjoyed teaching Hisila many sports, and appreciated the knack she had in picking up sports and excelling in them.
Some of the girls of my hostel used to invite Hisila and I to spend time with their families during short holidays when it was not feasible to go back to Kathmandu. During those visits, I used to observe the aged grandmothers of my friends, some of them in the mid-eighties, reading the “Times of India” and other magazines. I used to get shocked to see the level of education of grandmas in India during those days. Suddenly, the educational gap in Nepal created by Rana’s regime became so apparent to me. During my holiday back home I began exploring the the education back ground of grand aunts and and other senior citizens of the capital of Nepal. Instead of telling me about their academic back ground they told me horror story of moving out of the house wearing good clothes. An enlightened patriotism was punished by the ruling Ranas as they felt threatened by it. As the Ranas were holding absolute power over the country and exploiting the resources mainly for their own benefit, the people they could trust were those who were exclusively loyal to them alone. Anyone with a concern for the society at large and to the future of the country had to be the enemy of the Ranas, so they singled out, punished, jailed and executed anyone who fought for people’s welfare on the pretext that it was high treason.
During my later years, my other two younger sisters, Kayo and Nhuchhe Shova spent three months each at the Girl’s Hostel preparing for their examinations. Nhuchhe Shova had tough time preparing for B.Sc. examination because her in-laws wanted her to discontinue studying. She was five months pregnant too. Kayo came to prepare for All India Entrance Examination for a Ph.D. program in IARI, New Delhi.
Despite my effort to help my younger sisters, I felt very sorry to see two of my younger sisters married off in conservative families early without even completing proper studies. It was an antithesis to my mother’s life long work and her desire to get proper academic qualifications before getting married. This happened while I was still at IIT-Kanpur.
People still wonder how I could manage to raise my little sister at IIT-Kanpur and especially in the girls’ hostel with stringent regulations, strict wardens and an unfavorable director like Dr.Muthana. However, I believe, it was a miracle and silent support of some professors that I could manage such a difficult situation.
Financial Burden and Hardships
After my mother’s saddening demise, the family went through very difficult financial times. Despite my scholarship, I was always short of cash. We bought clothes from shops selling inexpensive materials. My mother had instilled in us to stay simple. We six daughters carried on with that mentoring even after her death. Thus, “simple living, high thinking” is still in our thoughts.
My worst days at IIT-Kanpur were when the hostel warden abused me in front of some of my classmates in the campus corridor when I couldn’t pay the mess-bill for four months (partial payments) in a row. Had I to go through this financial crisis while managing heavy educational load, competing with the nation’s best, and the burden of raising my younger sisters!
My mother had brilliantly planned well before her death regarding possible financial crisis in the family. She had extended more rooms in the building for renting more flats in order to have more income to sustain the family so that my father remained free from financial burden after her death. However, he was not hard wired that way. Any financial deals and complexities he would ask others to handle and dissociated with money matter. This is the part we could not understand about my father those days - may be first stage of Buddhism. This is the typical case I suppose how wives and children suffer in the hands of such intellect personalities specially who also have passion of rebuilding nation. For example Yeshodha begged Buddha to understand the feelings of her son when he refused to allow his son to enter in the "SANGH" directly and told him to come through the decision of the "SANGH". During those moment how Rahul would have thought about the father?. It may be similar feeling we children carried. Why didn't my father focus more on seven children after mother's death those days?. Was it right ? May be he was caught up between a choice of reforming the society, reconstructing the nation or choosing the taking charge of a role of mother for seven children. Understanding the ideology between my mother and father I, at that young age, got influenced more by my mother as per typical culture of Nepalese society. I was always mother's daughter than father's daughter. My mother's role model influenced me more in my life all the time. Instead of focusing on family responsibilities he devoted all his energy to give vision to the society. We were too young to understand all these details during those early days of our lives.
I am grateful to IIT-Kanpur for allowing me to work part time in the IIT-Kanpur library when I had acute shortage of money. I am also very grateful to Professor T. R. Vishwanathan for offering me a reliable job after graduating from B. Tech. program from the Electrical Engineering Department for a tenure of three years in a research project sponsored by the Department of Electronics (DOE) under the Government of India at IIT-Kanpur. This became a continuous source of income that helped me sponsor Hisila’s architecture program at the Delhi School of Planning & Architecture (SPA), and my two other sisters Kayo and Nhuchhe Shova for their brief stay at IIT-Kanpur. I continued to provide financial support to my younger sisters Kayo (Ph. D. at IARA, Delhi) and Hisila (B. Arch. at SPA, Delhi ) for additional two years after my graduation until they managed to get scholarships of their own. After I became free from any financial burden, I left IIT-Kanpur for good.
Inspiring Persons during IIT-Kanpur Stay
I came to know many faculty families through Hisila's friends. This included Meera Parasnis, wife of Professor Arawind Parasnis of the Physics Department. Her son was Hisila's classmate. I had gone to borrow children's books in English at her flat so that Hisila could pick up English. I was overwhelmed with her compassion. Her nature resembled my mother’s. Knowing and being with her was like finding my own mother once again in my life. Meera Parasnis was indeed a motherly figure though in a different nation.
I appreciated the role of Counseling Services of IIT-Kanpur. My student counselor Professor Raghubir Sharan and his wife Raka Sharan used to give us lovely food while mentoring the students. My student guide Neeru Mohan , a final year student, helped me in minimizing the gaps of English standard of Nepal and IIT-Kanpur.
One of my father's aunts, Maya Nini Aji, had dedicated all her life to Buddhism. She was living at Saranath, Kushinagar. She used to be very worried about my personal safety in Kanpur. Once, she sent a Buddhist monk (Mr. Chandra Mani ) from Kushinagar to check our where abouts and safety measures at IIT Kanpur. A Buddhist monk from Kanpur used to come all the way to our hostel to invite me for different programs.
Environment and My Personal Growth
My batchmates excelled both in studies and in extra-curricular activities. The teachers and learning methods were really good. The faculty members gave an environment for the students to excel in the flying club, the electronics club, the dramatic club, the music club, the sports club and the photography club etc.
This was a place where students organized the national-level students’ festivals spanning technology, arts and sports, primarily on their own (with the help from administration of course), inviting participants and popular personalities from all over India and abroad. This was the place which gave the students opportunities through experiential learning, taught us the responsibility that came together with freedom, and made us learn this by experiencing the consequences of our actions. I still cherish its outcome even after such a long time.
One of the lessons I learnt from my IIT-Kanpur days is, that in one's life, any disaster can happen, and we should learn to go through without fear in mind. The more responsibility one takes, more the person grows with diverse perspectives, and learns to respect different view-points. One should never complain about being constrained due to limited resources. I had so many limitations compared to my batchmates. I could have easily given up. However, everything worked out well. I emerged mature and full of resolve after this challenge. This was how my mother used to mentor us. Mothers indeed are the great motivators for their children.
The Memorable Day – My Father’s Visit to IIT-Kanpur
The most memorable days were when my father visited me in the year 1975 at IIT-Kanpur, after I had repeated relapse of Typhoid. I took him to one of the lecture-halls "L-7”. Inside the classroom, he told me "Why do you attend classes? I never went to any classroom to study, and I authored more than twenty popular books. You are supposed to do self-learning and not depend on any teacher." He never appreciated my engineering program. He felt sad that I didn't take up the journalism course. I was not fully aware then that my father was well known for his passion for self-learning, his reputation as a renowned scholar and a popular writer. I was not of the age then to understand this dimension of my father when my mind was so focused with highly technically intensive knowledge program of IITK. He asked me if I could call the students and faculty members so that he could deliver a lecture in that big lecture-hall. I worried if the audience with different background would appreciate my father's lecture and I didn't inform any one. I was unaware of the procedures of such lecture-events of different sector specially from political background of my father. I wish that I had communicated this to my batchmates who would have provided the right advice on arranging this guest lecture. Had I been able to manage this arrangement, my father would have surely delivered a five hours long lecture on the importance of self-studies, social transformation, political transformation, and Buddhism to shake-up the top technical brains of IIT-Kanpur.
My Greatest Sorrow
My greatest sorrow was not being able to understand my father at that age. I was not of the age to understand and appreciate the magnitude of his contributions to the society. I often used to wonder during those days why my father was not quitting all his activities and concentrating on solving family problems when seven growing children needed him most. Three years before my mother's death, I was busy looking after my ailing mother when she was battling for her life. During that period, trying to take care of my mother was my top priority rather than understanding the lofty ideals and social dedication of my father. I used to feel very bitter about his negligence in looking after my ailing mother before her death.
The worst day was receiving a disastrous telex about my father's death two months after he visited me in the year 1975 A. D. The news arrived just before the end-semester examination. My father was only sixty years old. Hisila and I had never heard of my father having any health problem. we both couldn't believe the passing away of my father. My mind refused to function. I wept bitterly and was totally heart broken. I decided to forget about the final examination, and was ready to leave for Nepal to attend his funeral.
Meera Parasnis, my dearest aunt, took immediate control of the situation and convinced me to carry on with my academic program. She begged me not to go to Nepal damaging the end-semester examinations. Had she not been there, I would have vanished with the funeral of my father in Nepal. For me, IIT-Kanpur was not only for academics, it was also finding people like Meera Parasnis who saved me from such a drastic emotional action. Her loving memories haunts me throughout my life indeed.
We had a very hard time getting out of the shock of losing my dear father so abruptly. Hearing from close friends of parents discussing the pathetic situation of my father after my mother’s death, I felt really sad. Those days I could hardly understand and analyze the situation my father must have been facing in the sheer absence of my mother. I realized this only after my father's untimely demise.
In the reading-room of the girls' hostel, there was a magazine with an article on the sudden death of my father written by Mr. Brahmanand Mishra, editor of “Dharma Yug”, “Times of India”. The article described how my father used to be invited as a chief guest in several programs of Dr. Ambedkar in India. This article woke me up to the social contributions and the impact of my father’s work.
Every time I traveled to IIT-Kanpur from Patna, my father's dearest friend late Upendra Maharathijee and his daughter Gopa used to drop Hisila and I at the Patna Railway Station - a major junction in Bihar, India. At his residence, I used to meet many freedom fighters of India. They used to praise my father, and would always mention that my father was a powerful speaker (Hindi) who could speak non-stop for three to four hours in front of a huge audience with pin-drop silence during different programs in India. My father had delivered powerful speeches in Buddhism, literature, and his vision on social and political transformation both in Nepal and India. Upendra Maharathijee told me that Jay Prakash Narayan was remembering my father a few days before his death.
IIT-Kanpur student life made me focus totally into the technical area under highly competitive environment and gave less time to think and understand about my father's activities. During the holiday period, I hardly had a chance to be with my father to understand what he was engaged in. He used to be always pre-occupied with the routine schedules and surrounded by the press people, politicians and sufferers of the freedom struggle, writers and social workers whenever I went home during the summer vacation. All those engagements gave him little time for his own beloved children. Hence, during our learning period at Kanpur, Hisila and I were literally cut off from my father. This sudden death gave us a colossal shock indeed.
My Greatest Lament
Today, after 47 years, my greatest lamentation is my inability to respect the friendly gestures of my batchmates during my IIT-Kanpur stay. I feel embarrassed to recall my aloofness and silence. It was indeed a real tough life for me at such a tender age. Overall, this tough life made me mature faster to handle the future.
A batchmate called Pulin Kinkhabwala, settled in Chicago, USA, introduced me to his son while he visited Kathmandu in the year 2017 saying "This is Timila and I am speaking to her for the first time in my life" as if I was "anuntouchable or an alien from some other planet" during the IIT-Kanpur days of my life. This showed how cut off I was from the batchmates during the student-life at IIT-Kanpur. This used to be a similar scenario when some of my batchmates introduced me to their spouses during the batch-reunion. However, I am so happy that the social media has brought all of us together once again. It was a mood of reconciliation.
My Greatest Satisfaction
I feel satisfied to see that my mother’s wish about the future of seven children is finally fulfilled. During the three years of illness of my mother, she had poured all her worries about the future of her seven children into my head. Finally, all of us managed to get excellent education and have contributed in our own way to the social cause of Nepalese society. From a family of freedom fighters, we also became a family of well-educated professionals who have contributed to the social cause as my mother would profess.
I was in Philips of Holland for a year where researchers were aware of the potential of IIT-Kanpur. I used to tell them that there are other good things too along with academics of IIT-Kanpur. At my rigorous research-intensive master’s degree program at De Montfort University, Leicestershire, United Kingdom, I missed the crowd of IIT-Kanpur in that environment.
Hisila completed M. Arch. degree in Architecture from Newcastle University, UK after completing B. Arch. from SPA (School of Planning and Architecture), New Delhi. Hisila often tells us that most of whatever she is, it came from IIT-Kanpur. Nhuchhe Shova (retired from faculty of Mathematics, Engineering Institute under Tribhuvan Universality from the post of Associate Professor), Dr. Kayo (retired from the post of Chair person, Public Service Commission of Nepal) and Hisila (ex-minister and also a wife of Dr. Baburam Bhattrai. Ex-Prime Minister of Nepal enjoys talking about the good old days at IIT-Kanpur. One of my younger sisters, Chirika Shova, is a professor. She also served as the Dean of Science in Tribhuvan University. She visited IIT K with her batchmates from her class in 1974. My elder sister, Dharma, is a medical doctor specializing in Cancer and is settled in the U.S.A. She and her husband spent few days at IIT K guest gouse after their marriage in 1971. My elder brother Vidhan got retired from post of S. Engineer from the Ministry of Physical Planning & Works. He too visited IIT K three times during his holidays. He passed away three years ago.
Among my sisters, my elder sister Dharma, Kayo and Hisila had inter-caste marriage despite social resistance. The maximum resistance came in Hisila’s marriage who chose to marry Dr. Babu Ram Bhattrai – a boy from rural peasant family. I married (intercast marriage) last after all the sisters got married and settled down in their life.
I wish my mother had lived longer to witness how her nurturing helped in shaping the lives of her dear children. I can never forget the last days of her life with so much of tears pouring down her eyes, praying hard for her seven children. Those tears also used to haunt me in the class rooms of IIT-Kanpur. Sometimes I used to feel like screaming recalling tears of my dearest mother saying " mother ! mother ! don't worry ! Some of your children are growing up under strict academic environment of IIT Kanpur which is also best equipped to make us realize the importance of Freedom, Independence, Autonomy, and Responsibility". Before her death, she would tell us "study hard...no one will be able to steal your educational qualifications. People may steal wealth and jewelries, but not knowledge."
My Contributions to Nepalese Society
After getting trained in competing with 410 boys at IIT-Kanpur, I entered the male dominated society of Nepal. With my training at IITK and to fulfill my mother’s desire, I contributed for social causes, women upliftment, child-education, technical education and policy decision making at the national level. True to IIT colors, I also became an entrepreneur, and started an IT company “Designco Nepal”.
Working in Male Dominated Society
I was alone as a female most of the time while serving in the various important positions. Handling these responsible roles dominated by the male members was not easy for me. I used to find it very irritating to observe most of the male members having late evening sessions to influence the decisions of the meetings of the subsequent day.
Negotiating around the male dominated work-places in Nepal also taught me pretty good lessons. I felt the strict need of advocating for the policy of inclusion of women in the top decision-making places in order to impose an influence in the performance of areas especially in the public sectors where the vulnerabilities are handled better by women.
Contribution in National Education
IIT-Kanpur certainly inspired me in bringing sharp changes in Nepal, especially in improving the technical education. I had the opportunities to contribute in the ministry, government organizations and private sectors in Nepal. However, I chose to join engineering faculty of Tribhuvan University.
Tribhuvan University, Engineering facaulty, established in 1972, offered only a three-year technical overseer degree when I joined in the year 1979. The first Dean of Engineering institute , Pulchok Mr. Kul Ratna Tuladhar, told ( 1979) me that there were top level international academic institutions in the world who wanted to create world standard Engineering institute like IITs in India in Nepal in order to generate world standard technical man power in the region. That offer was rejected by Royal palace ( in 1960s) saying " if the citizens of Nepal get access to such high standard education the life of Royal regime will be reduced within short span of time". What a shocking news I had to hear after coming back from IIT K? Ranas banned education for the "general public" for a hundred and four years ( from 1846 A.D. until 1951 A.D ) and this news about attitude of Royal palace on quality education really boiled my blood.
In contrast, British established Thomson College of Civil Engineering in India in the year 1847 A.D. which is now known as Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee. I felt very bitter about Nepal being neglected by British and Rana’s in education sector. With a lot of pressure and persuasion, the first engineering program in Civil Engineering was started in Tribhuvan University in the year 1992, and several other programs, in other disciplines of engineering, followed in Tribhuvan University and other universities in the later phases.
I feel proud that I too played a key role in initiating engineering education in Nepal and influenced in initiating master’s and Ph.D.programs at the Institute ofEngineering (IOE) under Tribhuvan University in cooperation with the resource sharing and faculty upgrade program of IIT-Kanpur. I made special effort in initiating Computer Engineering program for the first time in the history of Nepal at IOE Pulchowk in the year 1998. In that department, I was the only professor with IT degree then, and struggled hard with lot of resources constraints to support the human resource back up for the IT industry in Nepal. I have also worked as a member of IT council under the prime minister of Nepal.
I served Tribhuvan University, Nepal in various roles: as a Professor in Electronics & Computer Engineering Department; and later as an assistant Dean when I managed four state-owned and ten affiliated engineering colleges. I have also contributed significantly to the curriculum development of Pokhara University where I have also served as a past senate member. I have a unique combination of being an educator and an administrator at Tribhuvan University, national level research policy planner as a member of Research Council, University Grant Commission (UGC).
During my tenure at Tribhuvan University, I saw gender gap first hand in engineering. I really used to feel the absence of female candidates in my classes. I used to go around conversing with families to encourage their daughters to get into the technical stream.
Contribution in Technology Policies
I played the influencing role while serving as a governing board member of Nepal Engineering Council, Nepal. I served for five years as a board member of a water supply company KUKL (Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited) where I also served as a Chairperson. The company employed 1400 personnel. I have also served as a member in the advisory board of Rural Telecommunication Fund Board under Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA), and I have also served as an executive member of Computer Association of Nepal (CAN) where I played key role in initiating IT industry in Nepal.
Contribution in the Social Causes
I have also served as The Executive Member of “National Heritage Conservation Committee", Senior Citizen Society, Bhurunghkhel and WARN (only women members), a Member of Nagarik Samaj and life member of National Human Right Concern Centre (NHRCC, Nepal ) .
Standing with the People - Following the Tradition of My Parents
My Mother – A Brave Role Model
My mother, Heera Devi , was the first woman in the history of Nepal who delivered public speeches to a big audience which had only men during the political revolution to overthrow the Rana Regime. She was the first woman in the history of Nepal who led a procession and was arrested with a one-month old child in her lap in 1947 A. D. This news was published in several newspapers in India. She bravely managed looking after all the freedom fighters in the hideouts. Among the revolutionary men’s groups, she used to be the only woman during all the riskiest times of the people’s movement. She was the first woman who started teaching children, collecting children in the hideouts facing all the risks of getting arrested in the interior core areas of Kathmandu Valley during the 1940s A.D. She also used to be a single lady in the crowd of men who braved against the aristocratic rule of the Rana Regime to fight for the rights of citizens including education system for the general public. She did it when women were not allowed even to peep out from the window for fear of being whisked away by the merciless rulers.
Keeping the Torch Burning
To commemorate the memory of my beloved parents who sacrificed their lives to establish democracy in Nepal and to continue the torch burning, we six sisters started “Dharma Heera Memorial Academy” (DHMA) – a social organization with a goal of women upliftment, child-education, minority empowerment programs specially women and youth skill development. DHMA has been very active in the 2015 earth-quake relief handling and emergency response services. I have also provided relief services to the earth-quake victims through "Nepal Mandal Relief Committee”.
Women and the Society
A gender-mixed board at the key decision-making places certainly has a better understanding of the consumer preferences of households, particularly in sectors where the women make many of the spending decisions and in the public-sector service institutions which affects women the most. Academic research has demonstrated that having women on a board improves the performance on corporate and social governance metrics for companies with a weak governance. Women have been shown to be generally more risk-aversive than men. There are many possible reasons why the full participation of women on boards could contribute to a stronger performance.
Men are respected as decision-makers more than women, especially in the work-places, largely because of the prevalent cultural belief that women are incapable of making smart choices at work. During the earthquake disaster period, one of the learning lessons was that women can make better decisions during the riskiest disaster times. Women are at the frontline of disaster impact and response due to their nurturing role in looking after children, elders and community members. Yet they are often excluded from decision-making in the immediate and long-term recovery efforts during earthquake and landslides. Women need to be at the front and center in any decision-making and action. I felt so much about their need while I was involved in the 2015 earthquake rescue operation and relief services. Women should come forward, and learn to lead, especially at times of crisis. Earthquake was a more difficult moment for us; but in difficulties, women have always proven things turn out better when they take the lead.
Resilience, perseverance and tenacity - what all these words have in common is that they gave me a sense of deep inner-strength. It gives us power to: deal with difficult situations; give their all to an idea or a goal; and dedicate everything they have in taking care of their family. It is this strength that gives us courage to fight injustice. It is this perceived strength one must have to overcome life’s challenges.
2015 Earthquake brought IITK Family Back to Me
After the earthquake of Nepal 2015, I am very grateful to the IIT-Kanpur batchmates, the past faculty members like Prof. Viswanathan, Prof. R Sharan and the IIT-Kanpur community to have taken aserious concern about my safety. I do recall some of the key people from Pan-IIT also communicated with me during the great disaster. I would like to thank all of them for their concern during such a critical period of the mega-quake that shook Nepal, and grazed Kathmandu Valley.
I was amazed to observe, during and after 2015 Nepal earthquake, on how both my parents were still alive in the hearts of the citizens of Nepal. We came across large crowd of elderly people during this earthquake disaster who told us how my both parents helped in strengthening individuals and communities in the wake of a natural disaster, political freedom movements. They told us about their contributions during crisis period of people's lives which included working with the most vulnerable members of a community while strengthening the community as a whole. I used social media to reach the vulnerable groups during earthquake, however, I discovered that my parents were deeply connected in hearts with people far more during their times than other politicians and social workers of those days although they had so much of resources constraints.
In the rubles of the damaged house after earthquake we discovered collection of letters of my father who had written to my elder sister while she was still in the medical college in India in 1975 after my mother’s death. Reading those letters we siblings broke down and went speechless for many days. In one of the letters he described " you seven children became motherless, I lost the best companion, a very supportive wife and a best mother". I had always repented leaving behind letters including my father's which I had nicely preserved in my hostel room of IIT K GH. Some articles written by my father's friends in Smriiti Grantha book too had described the pathetic condition of my father after the loss of my mother.
This earthquake disaster also helped me in re-establishing old connections including IIT K community. Face book, Group mails and other social media brought us back together, helping us to reflect our past student days. Reunions like the SilverJubilee, the 40th Reunion, etc. are certainly helping us in connecting with our past and helping us share experiences of natural disasters like the earthquake, landslides including our professional experiences etc.
Role of IIT-Kanpur Alumni Association and Pan-IIT India
These two associations together could unite all the female alumni members to promote such agendas in areas where women have proven to stand together with men. I wish to request all Pan- IIT members to promote such a cause for the ultimate development of the society. Pan IIT- Alumni India (Pan-IIT) is an umbrella organization, representing the alumni of all Indian Institutes ofTechnology (IITs). It is the Indian legal entity of the global Pan-IIT Alumni movement. I wish that other Pan-IIT female members will also share their stories which will illuminate the global societies of the world.
For example the the natuure of problens in water sector is similar in both the countries. Women could participate in regulatory instruments include appropriate management structures and procedures and share experiences. These procedures and criteria to be adopted include applications for and granting of permits, a clearly defined water right system, appropriate standards and guidelines that control water abstractions from water bodies, controls on specific technologies aimed at reducing water use or waste loads, control of discharge of waste products into water sources (in terms of quantity, quality, timing and location of discharges), and standards for water provided for specific uses or for goods or materials which are potentially polluting. Women would pay key role in sensitization, community education, consultations and discussions.
Modern technology, especially when coupled with AI, can make a significant contribution to disaster management. Aided further with technologies like drones, sensors and geospatial mapping, which can collect valuable real-time data, machine learning algorithms can help us with the optimal deployment of limited rescue resources. The post-disaster reconnaissance, identification and prioritization of affected areas, real-time tracking of individuals, etc. can all be feasible. Nepal needs to share the strengths of Pan-IIT to explore and implement such ventures together. I wish to interface for such a cause to share experiences and help both the countries.
My Heartfelt Thanks to IIT-Kanpur Days
I am very grateful to the administration of IIT-Kanpur to have given permission to offer space for five years in the girls’ hostel for Hisila despite having the IIT-Kanpur regulation of not allowing children to stay in that hostel. I was so lucky to be in an environment at IIT-Kanpur where IITs of India gave the best to the cream students of the nation. The best part that happened to me, as I perceive, is to have the visionary political leaders in India who thought about establishing such elite institutes, and the sacrifices, the highly paid professors made. Many left foreign universities and lucrative jobs to build elite institutes which produced the next generation of national and international leaders.
I must say the best period of my life was the time I spent at IIT-Kanpur. Those years were very difficult, tough and trying because of a highly competitive academic environment. However, that environment transformed me completely. The peer group was very superb. Hisila always says "IIT-Kanpur days were the golden period of my life." I too have a very special place in my heart for IIT-Kanpur. Since rest of my sisters had been to IIT K also, we all continue to enjoy talking about memorable moments of the campus environment during our get togethers. My days were life shaping. I learnt the art of analysis nd assimilation of knowledge. That was a place where some teachers could be real mentors whom you could confide in, even your deepest insecurities. We had so much freedom in our campus without having the fear of being judged, curbs, restrictions and rules. I firmly believe that the deep relationships I have with my IIT-Kanpur friends, especially the Girls’ Hostel friends and the faculty members are because we had no urban affairs to be influenced by in order to distract us from being together in the campus. For the students of IIT-Kanpur, this had created a sheer difference compared to the other elite academic Institutions of India which had closer access to the city centers.
The reunions gave me this opportunity to be back and socialize more helping me discover what I missed during the IIT-Kanpur student days, especially I missed the fun part. I do recall Prof. Usha Kumar asking the boys in the class "Why is there so little interaction between the boys and the girls in IIT-Kanpur?". I suppose because of the typical Indian and Nepalese culture that has a taboo against the association of boys and girls and the way the girls were brought up in the societies during those days and the segregation that starts in the childhood. This probably was the similar case with the other IIT-Kanpur girls of those days.