When I went back to Tandi, Chitwan this summer, as always, my friends and I went to meet our 'Sarbendra sir'. He was hunched over a desk in a small dim room. He hadn't changed a bit, just gotten a little older.
Most of his old students visit Sarbendra sir often and not just because he was a fantastic teacher. We visit him because he needs to know his students are ready to take care of him in these turbulent times, that though he isn't in his own country, he has nothing to fear.
Sarbendra sir's story is not unusual, but it is instructive. He came to Nepal from India about 25 years ago to teach science. He first went to teach in a remote, inaccessible village in Dhading where most of my Chitwane friends still don't want to go. He later moved to Tandi, and has since been a much-loved fixture of the local high school. He's seen some students, like me, grow up and leave the village, and he's seen others pick up guns and kill.
After we finished school, we often wondered what would become of Sarbendra sir. He is entitled to no pension, and the thought that he might spend his old days in an unknown slum in Uttar Pradesh was appalling. Even a minor illness could prove disastrous for him-he has no money to speak of. The last thing we want is for him to regret coming to Nepal to teach people like us.
Teachers like Sarbendra sir are our responsibility, and it's a shame that the Indian embassy has to raise this issue while our leaders are bogged down by parochial concerns. The issue of Indian teachers here is a humanitarian one. When Nepalis themselves refused to go to some parts of the country to teach their compatriots, Indian teachers like Sarbendra sir travelled to schools in the remote middle hills. These teachers are getting old, and it is time we recognise their contribution.
Talk to political leaders informally, and they all agree that long-serving Indian teachers need to be taken care of. Yet not one of them has actually done anything to help, even as the government is ready to kowtow to non-tenured Nepali teachers asking for automatic tenure.
In Kathmandu and elsewhere in the country, India is perceived as an imperial bully due to historical reasons. But it would be a real pity if we hated a power more than we loved our teachers. If we cannot show gratitude where it is due, perhaps that's a backhanded victory for those people to the south who do have an imperial mindset. Sarbendra sir will be taken care of, as some of us Tandi high school alumni have decided to do so. But what about the thousands of others like him?