Dr. Nawa Raj Subba
Background of the Village
Hangpang village in Taplejung district has now transformed into Hangpang ward under Atharai Triveni Gaupalika of federal Nepal. This village has become the headquarters of neighboring Change, Phulbari, and Nighuradin villages. Saraswati Higher Secondary School locates in the center of Atharai Triveni Gaupalika and is spreading the light of education. To know the educational background here, we need to read the school’s history.
Taplejung’s Atharai Hangpang Village, before 2032 VS, was under a remote village in the Tehrathum district. Although this village was distant, the people there were aware. After the beginning of the 21st century, there was a tradition of gathering students in clusters and appointing a teacher to teach them. It prepared human resources who knew how to do accounting for that time.
The light of the social consciousness of the 2007 revolution of Nepal has reached here. Then, people felt that informal education alone could not meet the demands and needs of the time. As a result, people started building community schools in different centers of the village. They arranged a system based on public participation to pay teachers. The society agreed to pay the teachers by collecting the grain or money donated by everyone. In this way, the campaign to open and operate the school proceeded. As a result, in 2018, the Hangpang people established the Saraswati D.S.B. middle school in the village.
There was no middle schools in the area taught classes up to seven grades. Some schools opened in Atharai Sakranti and Chuhandada. It takes a day to get there. There were very few educated people in the village. When looking for teachers, it wasn’t easy to find people. The government did not pay teachers as they are now. There was no system of government grants for schools. The people had to collect donations to pay teachers and build and repair the school’s physical infrastructure. The school paid teachers in cash or land as a salary.
Leaking water in the classroom was the major problem among the students. A thatched roof would last four-five years. It wasn’t easy to complete the work by raising donations during the roofing year. There was no way to run the school, put zinc sheets on the roof, or add rooms without increasing contributions. Therefore, the officials and teachers of the management committee worked hard and sacrificed to keep the school running or upgrade it. When the donations raised did not reach the village, they would sometimes go down to Madhesh to collect donations; sometimes, they would go as far as Assam in India. With the donations raised in this way, they operated the school, applied zinc sheets to the roof of the building, and added rooms.
The officials of the management committee and the teachers used to sit and gossip from time to time at the rest spot. They used to talk about the joys and sorrows experienced while collecting donations. Some people gave many contributions, whereas others called but did not give, etc. In the village, an annual meeting was called, and they levied a donation amount to the people. It was the undeclared educational tax imposed by the school and society in the name of donation. When evaluating now, the contribution made by the people was great to work.
Saraswati Secondary School is a social heritage cultivated by the local people’s blood, sweat, and tears. Witnesses on the ground are still confirming it, while it has buried some occurrences. The people of Hangpang and the neighboring areas can now enjoy its delectable fruit. Saraswati Madhyamik Vidyalaya has become a Saraswati temple in the imaginations of many pupils, including myself.
The arrival of Ganesh Bahadur Rai
English graduate Ganesh Bahadur Rai came to Athrai Hangpang from Darjeeling in 1961, i.e., 2018 VS, at the request of education-loving villagers. As a result, Saraswati DSB Middle School Hangpang got an educated person as the headteacher. The school received some financial support from the Indian Army Board’s fund. The fund that oversees the unclaimed property of great Gurkhas who died in World Wars has taken the Gurkha village Hangpang as a recipient. Therefore, the school added DSB to the name of the school. Over time, the school became a high school. After receiving government subsidies, the word DSB also disappeared.
Currently, this school has become a government-owned higher secondary school. Ganesh Bahadur Rai is the one who brought the school to this state. Students called him by the name Head Sir. I am sketching Ganesh Bahadur Rai, headteacher of the then Saraswati DSB Middle School.
The year Ganesh Bahadur Rai became the headteacher at Hangpang, and the year I was born occurred coincidentally. So I have seen him in the village since childhood. He seemed to me to be a native person to Hangpang. Then, as I grew older, I realized that the elders of Hangpang brought him from Darjeeling as a teacher.
Rai’s father was an officer working in the District Soldiers’ Board, an organization of Indian soldiers in Tehrathum, Myanglung. Elders say that he sent his son Ganesh Bahadur Rai to the board-aided school. Though this school got support to some extent from the Soldier Board, public donations ran it. The school was suffering from a shortage of resources to run the school. Therefore, teachers had to wait six months or a year to get their salary. Teachers used to earn money or land as a salary. It is not only surprising that a father serving on the soldier board would send his promising son to Hangpang in such a risky situation, but it also seems like a game of our fate.
If the 1961 graduate had joined the government job, he would have retired as a secretary today. There were many opportunities for him to try. However, he brought the light of education to the uneducated people like us living in remote places. He entered a hamlet shrouded in the darkness of ignorance and illuminated the community and the area. Although the people respected the teaching profession in the district, it was very challenging. To sum up the essence of his life, he burned like a candle and illuminated the areas, but he fell into the dark shadow of the bottom of the lamp.
After Ganesh Bahadur Rai came to the school from a disciplined family and educational background, the school gradually flourished and developed under his skillful leadership. The image of the school spread around. Many students from everywhere came to study here. I, a student among its witnesses, can still say about it. I am also a neighbor of Ganesh Sir, with whom I spent my entire childhood. I finished high school under his umbrella. So I know him closely. Therefore, I am turning the pages of the fuzzy feelings scattered on the pages of my memory.
In our village, no people wore glasses at that time. Pandits used to wear Gandhi glasses while reading books. Some people used to wear black sunglasses occasionally. There was only one Ganesh sir in the village who always wore glasses. As children, we used to think that glasses were an ornament worn by the head teacher. Because there was no one else in the village who wore glasses like him, at that time, we did not know that glasses were worn by the visually impaired. It used to be that glasses were worn by those who read a lot. Or something to look well-educated. However, in the minds of us students, glasses were the sign of an educated person.
Another thing, at that time, there were not many people who wore pants and shirts in our village. So Ganesh sir, who wore the said dress, was alone in the village. However, army people used to wear pants and shirts for a few days when they came on vacation. But after a few days, they also used to sew a traditional Nepali dress Daura Suruwal instead of pants and shirts. So we believe that we cannot work after wearing pants and shirts. Because we never saw Ganesh sir wearing pants and shirts working in the fields like others. So what we thought was the dress worn by people who sit on chairs and tables do wear pants and shirts.
Ganesh sir was a simple and decent person. He used to speak very little. We have never seen him laugh with a noise like others. Students were afraid to come near Ganesha Sir, who was always in a serious pose. Seeing him, the students ran from afar. Students used to talk to each other privately; he was a strict teacher. It was rumoured that if he found out one had made a mistake, he would call him to the office and beat him on the hand with a stick. However, if a student did not tell the answer when he asked for a lesson in the class or if a student did an undisciplined act, he would slap his hands or beat him with a stick as a punishment.
Discipline in the school
In school, students and teachers all had to follow strict discipline. No one was allowed to smoke cigarettes or tobacco on the school premises. At that time, there was no custom of eating khaini like it is now. Students coming late to school had to take a separate line. They were allowed to enter the classroom only after being punished. A couple of times, I saw students who were late to school lined up and beaten up. The boys did not cry out of shame when beaten, but the girls would cover their faces with their cloth and cry. If someone laughed at him while he was teaching or speaking, he would rebuke him, saying, “Why you are showing your nettle chewing teeth, Nathe.”
He used to scold the students with the word ‘Nathe’ when teaching in a classroom. We students used to talk to each other about what that ‘Nathe’ meant. Later I found out that it implies hair inside the nose. It seemed as if it was not such a bad insult. At one time, they used to call ‘donkey’ and ‘bull’. As we did not see the donkey towards the mountain, we were not touched by the image of that abuse. Bull words felt us a little, but when he reprimanded, his facial expression and voice shook more than his words, and the students trembled like that.
Ganesh sir taught the students of Hangpang and surrounding areas the lesson of discipline. There are more uneducated people than educated people in the village. The proverb ‘No read, no write, rather plough in fields and eat food’ was common at the time. Parents did not like to send their children to school because if they studied, they would not plough the land and would not work at home. Likewise, if they taught their daughters, they would write love letters and go to marry undesired people. At that time, the students entering the school were mostly younger ones. In other words, students studying in class 5/7 were also older than 15/20 years. Now in 15/16 years, S.L.C./S.E.E. They passed; at that time, they gave the S.L.C. exam only when they were around 25/30.
Teaching an aged student with strength in his body was difficult. Training them with discipline was challenging for a student. For example, it was customary to play football. Student players or village players used to bump each other’s legs interfered with each other, and the game often ended in a fight—the students. The latter played together before, separated by throwing stones at each other. Ganesh sir taught such young students to discipline through games. When he was there, the school organised the annual competition of drills, running, and athletics. As a result, students were accustomed to and disciplined in sports. In addition to studies, the sports taught in school, running, jumping, etc., used to be a lot of work for those who went to the army after finishing school or dropping out in the middle. They used to send letters from the platoon saying that the sports and discipline taught by the head teacher were useful.
Students were encouraged to write essays, poems, and plays about discipline in school. It was a tradition to announce the name of one student from each class with good character every year. If the teacher ever wrote a bad word on each student’s report card, that student would be classified as bad. The school would expel the student from the school if the teacher wrote a citation for the student’s discipline. Therefore every year, Saraswati Madhyamik School’s S.L.C. exam results are good. The name of the school and Ganesh sir has spread all around.
Ganesh sir was the role model of our village. The custom of making toilets in the village was not common. People used to go to defecate in the jungle and bushes. At that time, he introduced the sample of an organized toilet in the village. He used to go to the toilet in the morning with a water bottle. Sometimes we kids would follow him and enjoy sneaking into the scene of him going out, opening the key, going inside, and leaving. At that time, that action seemed strange to us. People did not have to know the need and importance of the toilet at that time. After a long time, we saw other teachers making toilets nearby home. When I think back now, it seems like how rude we have been.
Not smoking was another good habit of his. In the school, teachers and students were prohibited from smoking on the school premises. If any student was found smoking in the school, there was a severe punishment. Even teachers used to go outside to smoke tobacco or cigarettes secretly.
Ganesh sir was proficient in English language conversation. I don’t remember the exact year, but it must have been around 2025/26 VS. I was studying in three grade. In school, an American PieceCorp volunteer Mr. Peter, came to our school as an English teacher. He was the teacher who taught us the English language in the class. At that time, the wave of communist ideas was spreading among the teachers and students of the Atharai Hangpang area. We used to understand things only a little bit. Students surrounded Peter when he would return to residence after school hours. The students used to tell him that you are an American citizen from an imperialist country. Since you are spying here, you are not allowed to live here; you should return to your country. The students used to tease and discourage Peter. He may have informed his embassy about it.
We children were worried about what would happen next. One day the American ambassador to Nepal, Carol C. Les, came to Hangpang by helicopter. The school had made a helicopter landing near our school, but it did not land there. The aircraft landed on another playground of Kalika Primary school, a little above the village. Maybe our Headteacher Ganesh got angry at this. The ambassador came to the school by 7 pm. Ganesh sir did not welcome the guest who came at night. He slept with the door closed. We knew that Ganesh Rai was angry because the ship did not land on the helipad prepared on the school grounds. So he did not welcome the ambassador as soon as he arrived. Other teachers respected the ambassador. We all stood in line, accepted the chocolate from Ambassador Carol C. Lace, and expressed our gratitude. Sir taught us to express gratitude by saying Thank you. One of the students even added very much; we laughed out loud.
Only the next morning, Ganesh sir met with that distinguished American citizen. We were shocked to see him speak English fluently. When I think about it now, I feel a little sad. Perhaps for security reasons, the helicopter did not land at the school in Hangpang and went to the neighbouring school. Ganesh sir would not have been upset if he had kept that much discretion. He was also the undeclared representative of the village at that time. At least the guests who came to the village in the evening would have been welcomed.
I was more attracted by the helicopter she came in than the ambassador. It seemed to fly in the sky; I was very happy and excited when I saw that object close at that time. After that, I started seeing only helicopters in my dreams. I started drawing pictures of helicopters everywhere, even on writing paper. I felt that one day I would also become a pilot. Day and night, I began to imagine what it would be like to fly in a helicopter or an airplane.
I heard that Ganesh sir was a good football player. Our school did not have a big football field. So he was not seen playing football in the school playground. Only students used to play football in it. Because the playing field was small, the referee did not have to run. Ganesh sir used to sit on the school’s veranda and work as a referee. We used to think football referees also sit or stand in the same place as volleyball referees.
A grand Madan Mela was held every year on Atharai Sankranti. Trimohan Madyamik Vidyalaya had a bigger football field than ours, where football matches did organize yearly. At Madan Mela, athletes from Taplejung, Tehrathum, Phidim, Khamlalung, Samdu, Sangapu, and Phedap gathered and competed in competitive competitions.
Football, volleyball, badminton, carom board, and other competitions were held in Madan Mela. We used to talk about how Ganesh sir played a good football game in that Madan Mela. At that time, another player was Rasaili sir towards Atharai Sakranti. He had long hair with a comb, but his football game was good. We got to know that he is a player on the Sunsari Dharan football team. Once, he became the referee in a football match in the playground of Hangpang Chugwa. We were surprised to see him running with the players. The playing fields on the mountainside were small, so we only saw the referee blowing the whistle in the middle of the area. At that time, we students were amused to see Rasaili sir running. We have heard a rumour that our Ganesh sir’s team won the Madan Mela against Rasaili sir’s team.
The important thing I learned from Ganesh sir is sportsmanship. He often used to say that players should be disciplined in the game and perform artistic games regularly. It would help if you had discipline, a good match, and full victory. If you lose, don’t be sad, congratulate the winner, and establish a friendship. Don’t hold grudges if you lose the game. Playing games means increasing companies. He taught us that sports are not only played to win but also to perform excellent games, and keeping records is the essence of sports. He used to stress students about discipline, whether in sports or school.
As a Musician
Ganesh sir was also a composer who was interested in song music. I used to hear him playing music from my house in the morning and evening. The sound of the harmonium he played created a musical feeling in me. The sweet tune and melody played by the harmonium attracted me. As a result, my love for music grew. That scene awakened a desire to play or learn the harmonium in me.
He used to compose songs himself in school cultural programs. He also wrote some modern pieces and composed the music. As his voice was thin, he used to make Benu Sir or other students sing. Then, students dance to the song. Boys had to dance as girls. Some girls used to be boys and dance duets with other girls. At that time, we also listened to the original songs by Ganesh sir.
While he was not singing, Benu Chudal sir started playing the harmonium in cultural programs. After the harmonium was in Benu sir’s hand, I also touched the harmonium and played it. Thus the planting of musical consciousness in my heart was enhanced by the proximity of Ganesh sir, Benu, sir.
I can’t forget Ganesh sir’s wedding celebration. When I was still young, he married Vidya Pradhan, a teacher from Taplejung Phungling. On the wedding day, we students were very happy. We went to Khuwagaon and waited to see Guruma, the bride. I still remember waiting on the road. The bride was brought from Taplejung Phungling to Phulbari, Chintang, by crossing the Khadkude Bridge instead of Maiwa Dobhan. It was nearly evening when the bride arrived at Hangpang.
We heard a rumour that Communist leader Nand Kumar Prasai, a resident of Hangpang, and a Khokling School teacher, tied the bride and groom together. The current village building was called Panchayat Ghar at that time. The bride was brought in where Ganesh sir resided. After a few months, Vidya madam invited Sarala and me to her residence and taught us how to make paper bags for packing the goods in the shop. In Hangpang, Headsar’s two children, Ashok and Alok, were born.
Ganesh sir was also politically conscious. I don’t remember the exact year. If it is calculated by decade, it should be something like thirty decades. Once, he also stood in the election of the Pradhan Pancha of Hangpang. The election was then referred to as a vote. The vote took place in a small field where the current health post was located, which was then called the dispensary. At the polling place, boxes of different colours for the two candidates were placed. The voting box was white and red. When asking for a vote, it was said to cast a vote in a red or white box. There were arrangements to vote by secret ballot in the polling station. After the voting was over, the one who got the most votes would win. The election ended after 5 pm, and the results were announced in the evening. The election results went in favour of Narendra Limbu. In other words, Ganesh sir was defeated. We kids knew that Tallagaule i.e. Lower Section had lost the race.
I was very young. What happens if the vote is won or lost? I kept my mother curious.My mother told me that if Head Sir wins the election, he will come to the house dressed in a garland and colours. If he fails, he backs, hiding on the road in shame from the crowd.
Narendra Limbu was carried with a bouquet to the upper village after the election results were announced. After strolling along the path, our Ganesh sir and a few teachers returned to their homes. As my mother had said, I remembered how Ganesh Sir hid on the way. He returned with some teachers without concealment. Now that I think about it, I chuckle.
Hangpang village was also politically sensitive. Hangpang village was geographically divided into lower villages and upper villages. Khare Ghar and Bahra Bhaiya families living in the lower village used to visit Ganesh sir. Captain Khagendra Limbu used to lead the upper village community unannounced. His followers were Yakso families and households nearby Kalika primary school. Thus, the village was also divided into Communists and Congress. Panchayat supporters were out in the open while others remained dormant.
The villages were also affected by the district’s political polarization. For a long time, the village was divided into Vishnu Maden and Vijayaprakash Thebe groups. Captain Khagendrasingh supported the Maden. On the other hand, most teachers at the schools were from the Thebe side. As a result, our village was divided ideologically and competitively between the lower and upper villages.
Once Ganeshsar was arrested on charges of being a communist when he was in Biratnagar. We heard a rumour that those who had come down to Biratnagar from Hangang had slandered him before zonal commissioner. The political influence of the village transferred from Hangpang to those who moved to Biratnagar. He was the victim. He was imprisoned in Biratnagar for a few days and released.
An incident in the village took a strange form. One day, the students of Change, Nesum, and Dhungesangu, Sangu raised their voices that the bridge of Sobuwa River was broken and should be repaired. Students put the demand before the school management, but the school management committee could not properly address the needs of the students. School oppressed the students on the pretext that politics mixed into it. Small things created tension in the school. Teachers and students who did not like the administration of the Headteacher got an opportunity to organize. This way, a little episode gradually took a violent form in the village. The student movement intensified in the school.
Tension increased when students demanded that a bridge be repaired, which gained local political support. Ganesh Rai also became agitated and was unable to act appropriately. To reduce the tension in the school, the then-assistant district education officer Lakshmi Prasai travelled to Hangpang from the district education office in Taplejung. He was a Hangpang resident. Naturally, he had the village’s best interests in mind. Ganesh Rai, the Headteacher, and Vidya madam were persuaded to stay on. Lakshmi Prasai repeatedly reminded Ganesh Sir not to lose his cool and not to resign. But Ganesh Sir persisted, so he submitted his resignation. He abruptly departed Hangpang.
How nice it would have been if flowers had been able to bid his farewell the way Hangpang brought him from Darjeeling. Destiny did not allow that to happen. Political selfishness got a chance to play on his weakness. Ganesh Bahadur Rai, who was self-respecting, refused to compromise with the group that rose against him. He was as firm as a rock in his stance. In this way, Ganesh Sir, who came to Hangpang in 2018, served Hangpang for almost two decades and gave up his place. He did not address students, teachers, or villagers about the situation. There was no farewell program for him.
He opened a boarding school in Phungling Taplejung headquarters. Later we heard that he also ran a boarding school in Kathmandu. Later we also learned that Ganesh Sir reached Hong Kong as a teacher. I don’t know much about his educational journey after leaving Hangpang. However, his condition and behaviour showed that the subsequent educational journey was not as he expected.
However, Hangpang was saddened to lose Ganesh Bahadur Rai unexpectedly after two decades. Rai also regretted being deprived of his pension when he left school in a hurry. In the long interval, even though Hangpang won the game of education, it lost human justice. A purple spot suddenly appeared on Hangpang’s forehead. Rather, it is not only one party’s fault. Everyone is responsible for this.
In the year 2073, after many years, I went to meet Ganesh sir at his residence in Bhaktapur. I saw the body of an eighty-year-old man who had paralysis. Even if he tried to speak, his voice was unclear. However, the expression on his face and the tears in his eyes communicated a lot. Vidya madam helped in the conversation and said – when a student comes, he becomes happy and emotional, cries like this.
Ganesh sir was a good and qualified teacher, proficient in the subject matter. The behaviour was simple and polite. Honest value recognition was his nature and specialty. He was self-respecting. He did not flatter anyone. However, there were human deficiencies and weaknesses in him. Before his merits and contributions, those shortcomings were insignificant; it is my opinion. Ganesh Bahadur Rai, who has given up this material world, dedicated the fertile period of his life to the village and the villagers. His contribution to the educational upgradation of Atharai Hangpang, Taplejung, is outstanding.