Nepali Times
Arughat remembers Dahalsir


BLAST FROM THE PAST: Pushpa Kamal Dahal (left), with former colleague Ganesh Kumar Shrestha (right) and an unidentified friend.

In 1976, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal picked up his suitcase to leave Arughat, the villagers came out to see him off. At the bus stop, a crowd stood round him, many weeping.

Two years earlier when he arrived in this village in Gorkha, Dahal was a fresh graduate from the Rampur Campus in Chitwan, and came to teach agriculture at Arughat's Bhimodaya High School.

"A talented teacher," recalls Satrughan Shrestha, an ex-student, "he never had to refer to the textbooks and would tell us interesting stories to keep our attention on the subject."

"He gave us a lot of homework," recalls another student, Krishna Kumar Shrestha, "and after dinner he went door to door to make sure we were doing it."

No one ever saw him lose his temper or raise his voice. He chose patience over punishment. During the two years, Dahal taught at the school, it achieved an unprecedented 100 percent pass rate in agriculture.

Students say they respected him, but he also maintained friendly relations outside school hours. "When he caught us peeking at him swimming in the river, instead of reprimanding, he would call for us to join him," recalls Shurendra Prasad, now a retired grandfather.

It has been 32 years since Dahal left Arughat to lead the Maoist movement and became Comrade Prachanda. Dahal was a strong believer in education, locals remember, and he taught illiterate adults in the evening, four days a week.
During his free time, he would go down to the fields to demonstrate modern farming techniques to improve harvests. He was also the first to teach villagers how to build outhouses and chimneys. Honest, helpful and responsible, that is how most people here remember the man.

But more difficult to believe may be that the Maoist chairman was an avid dancer, and choreographed performances that won the village first place in two local dance competitions. Ganesh Kumar Shrestha, a colleague, admitted that Dahal wasn't the best dancer in the world. "But he was very creative," he hastened to add.

Just about everyone in the neighbourhood knew that Dahal detested the monarchy. "He was against the caste system, and used to stress the importance of equality," said Bhuban Pasad Shrestha, Dahal's former landlord in Arughat.

When cleaning Prachanda's room, Bhuban once chanced upon a stack of communist books, including Das Kapital and others by Mao and Lenin, which he had been hiding under his bed. It being the Panchayat era, political parties and communist literature were banned.

But villagers remember that Dahal was quite open about his beliefs. Sukbahadur Nepali, who attended Prachanda's night classes, said that the literacy lessons were sometimes more like communist sermons. Another man, who had joined the dance competition, realised later that the tune, Najau Bides, chosen by Prachanda, was actually a communist song.

Dahal doesn't seem to have tried to foist his ideology on the young minds at school. None of the former students interviewed was aware their teacher was a communist. But a passing comment he once made to a colleague perhaps hinted at his political aspirations. "If I want to be a minister of the country, I can easily achieve that," he had said.

With elections around the corner, no one is predicting which way the vote will go in Arughat which suffered from the brutality of the war years. But if Dahal was a candidate here, he may have a good chance of winning.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)