Imagine a speeding bus on the highway. Now imagine someone opening fire on it. You only see it in the movies. And when it happens in real life, right in front of your eyes many are too shocked to react. In case the conflict is resolved, future generations will look back at incidents like these. But if it doesn't there will surely be many more incidents like what happened to us on 20 February at Charaundi. Around 45 to 50 of us were in the Machhapuchhre Yatayat bus bound for Pokhara from Kathmandu. The bus was in a long line of vehicles and along the way it felt like we were traversing a war zone. Army patrols everywhere, vehicles on fire by the roadside.
The journey was depressing and we were filled with fear and foreboding. We used to feel safe in the towns but when we reached Charaundi Bajar a gunman in combat fatigues opened fire at the driver of the bus. I can't describe in words the feeling that ran through me. Four days earlier I had travelled this same road and my bus had met with an accident between Dumre and Damauli. I had been physically and psychologically scarred by the accident and was desperate to get home to Pokhara and be reunited with my parents, wife and children. But here I was in a bus whose driver had been shot and was speeding along the highway at 50 kmph. There were people along the side of the road and ahead of us was a stream, river and a bridge. We all got down under our seats and prayed, convinced this was the last day of our lives. However agnostic you may be, when death stares at you, you remember God. But the bus did not collide with anything, it sped on along the highway. Slowly, we peeked at the driver's seat and saw someone driving the bus. There was someone listening to our prayers after all, God had sent a messenger to rescue us.
He was Shyam Thapa of Pokhara's Ratna Chok returning home after a holiday in Kathmandu. He replaced the wounded driver, took control and drove us safely to Pokhara. In return, we could offer him little more than thanks for having given us a new life. Two other elderly passengers in the bus had also suffered bullet wounds and their blood filled the bus till we reached Mugling. From there, the army took the three to Kathmandu in a helicopter. We joined six other buses to be escorted into Pokhara which we reached by 8PM. On behalf of all the passengers, let me thank Shyam Thapa for saving our lives. If we do not respect the fundamental right to life of every Nepali citizen, there is no doubt this conflict will turn into a bloodbath. We wish to ask all sides to stop these irrational, inhuman acts and resolve the conflict peacefully through negotiations.
Indra Bahadur Bhujel,
Kantipur, 23 February
Thanks to Indra Bhujel for sharing his harrowing tale of survival and bravery with the readers. In today's Nepal, facts are more dramatic than fiction and this is but one example. Reading the heartfelt letter, I was overcome with emotion and felt like I had experienced it myself. I have nothing but admiration for Shyam Thapa who took over the runaway bus from the wounded driver and saved the lives of everyone on board.
Indra Bahadur Bhujel's letter describes an event that is the country's conflict in a microcosm. Those who were responsible for opening fire on the bus should read the letter and think about what they have done by targeting unarmed innocent bus passengers. The true hero is Shyam Thapa who saved the lives of dozens of frightened passengers. A hero is someone who gives the gift of life to others, who shows uncommon valour in times of crisis and demands nothing in return. Shyam Thapa is one such hero. Thanks also to Bhujel for writing to tell us what happened since details of the event didn't make it to the news. Let's hope the perpetrators realise that this conflict can only be won by discretion and rationality. Just like Shyam Thapa saved everyone with his bravery, the warring sides must also give up violence and strive for morality, ethics and idealism to win the hearts and minds of the people.