My Father the Pioneer
As we celebrate Father’s Day in the US, I wanted to talk about Nepali fathers, especially my own Father Kedar Nath Acharya. While Nepali people celebrate Father’s Day on a different day, called Kushe Aausi or Pitritarpani Aausi, our family celebrates it both days, just like Nepali Mother’s Day, which is nice for us parents. Whether US or Nepal, fathers enjoy the company of their family and children, more than the gifts they get. Every good father dreams for a happy and successful life for his children. They wish for their children much more than they had in their own lives. My father was one of those who dreamed a dream that most men at that time in Nepal did not even imagine. He dreamed of an independent, educated daughter. While this is nothing strange now, especially in the US, this was almost crazy to think about back in early 1950s Nepal.
During that time, education was a privilege for the ruling class and the wealthy. My father got his basic education in Nepali and Sanskrit through his father, my grandfather. When a school was opened for the general public, my father became the first person to go to school from our village. After graduating, he became a teacher and continued his education through self study with some friends, and successfully completed Intermediate degree. After he received his degree he was employed at the civil service of the Government of Nepal and remained there until his retirement.
My father sitting in front of our old home
When my father became a teacher, education was just in its infancy in Nepal. Primary schools were slowly emerging in certain areas in Kathmandu. The school where my father taught was about four miles away from home. He had to walk across villages to reach there. Because getting an education was difficult and expensive, it limited the number and type of people that could get it. However, even in the villages, people started to see the benefits of education when they saw people like my father who was able to get, what was considered at that time, a prestigious job with the civil service. Families that could afford it, started sending their children to school. By children, I mean their sons.
Unfortunately for daughters, we were thought of as an expense to the family because they were eventually going to live with some other family. While sons would look after parents in old age, daughters will “belong” to some other family. Thus, many families practiced giving away their daughters in marriage at a very young age. Unfortunately, this did not, and does not, work out well for these young brides. My father told me of an incident he saw one day on his walk through the villages. He saw a young man in the village verbally abusing and physically intimidating his wife in front of his family. My father saw this happening while walking to school and realized that this poor wife had no voice to defend herself and because she “belonged” to this new family had to put up with it. He was determined not to let this happen to his daughter. He wanted me to have a voice. He first started to teach me at home. Gradually I was learning English from my father and basic math as well: adding, subtracting, multiplication and dividing etc.
Daughters were thought of as an expense to the family
My father’s influence as a teacher was growing in the village. Some other boys came to learn English from my father in our home. He taught us all together in our house. Many of these boys eventually started to go to a formal school in Kathmandu, over five miles away from the village. My father made a bold move and decided to send me to school with them. While this was very exciting for me, this school was nearly 5 miles away from my village of Mudkhu to Lainchaur. The only means of transportation at that time was walking and I had to walk these five miles each way to school and back with the boys from the village. I did not understand what the big deal was, but other people in the village were talking about our family and me for going to school with other boys. Some neighbors openly discouraged it, but thankfully my father was stubborn and even my grandparents supported it. My mother was thrilled to let me go to school instead of just learning to cook and clean for my future husband and family. My family realized the power of education very early on, and imagined a different, brighter future for me.
other people in the village were talking about our family and me for going to school with other boys. Some neighbors openly discouraged it, but thankfully my father was stubborn
Once our family was able to get past these societal hurdles, the 5 miles to school did not seem that bad. I was 10 years old when I started school in the 8th grade. Yes, the 8th grade. To this day, when I think about that, I am not sure what my father was thinking. Even though I am not sure why I was enrolled in the 8th grade to formally start school, I like to believe it was because he wanted me to graduate early. As formal education was just in its infancy, the school was okay with a 10 year old girls starting in 8th grade. As you would expect, I did not pass that first year. However, I was able to study another year and I did pass the following year.
Thanks to my father and the hard work of my siblings, Niharika Shishu Kunja High School has been going strong for many years now
My early years in school were challenging, but I continued to do pretty well. I was not only the first girl to attend school from my village, but also the first to graduate from high school and the first one to achieve a Masters Degree from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. I was so proud to be able to live my father’s dream when I was employed by Nepal Electricity Corporation, one of the largest Corporations in Nepal at that time as an administrative officer. After working there for a decade, I was offered a chance at a training program in the United States.
Graduating from TU. My family, especially my father, was very proud of me.
Having a chance to go to America to further my education was beyond my father’s dream. However, going to a foreign land alone as a woman was still a revolutionary idea for most families at that time. Just like when I was starting school, there were many voices telling me and my family that this was a bad idea. Again, I had support from my family, especially my husband’s grandmother, Rukmini. She was the matriarch of my husband’s family, and although she was a child-bride and did not have any education, she understood the value of education more than most scholars. As a widow, she raised her son with the idea that if he was educated, nobody would be able to take that away from him. When there were so many people telling me to stay in Nepal and be a good wife and mother, my grandmother-in-law was telling me that I should explore and continue to learn.
there were many voices telling me and my family that this was a bad idea. Again, I had support from my family, especially my husband’s grandmother, Rukmini.
I have now lived in America for over two decades. My husband and I have raised four sons, mostly here. They have all gone on to use their education to do something they believe in. In fact, our sons have used the inspiration of their great grandmother Rukmini to start a foundation that aims to empower girls through education. It has given me great satisfaction to be able to help with that. In my new home of Pittsburgh, there is also a growing Bhutanese refugee community, and I have been volunteering as an adult ESL tutor. Seeing these ESL students makes me go back to the days when I was first trying to learn English. I want to help these families by teaching the adults English so that they can adjust to their new homeland. When I see them, they ask me about how I came to this country. They feel comfortable to open up with me because I share many of the same cultural and social experiences. I feel like I am honoring my father as well as Rukmini every time I can help somebody.
It has been a great pleasure for me to be able to give back to a new generation of girls through the foundation.
I feel so proud and fulfilled being able to help not only the girls in Nepal, but also members of the Bhutanese community in Pittsburgh. Sadly, my struggles for education is not completely ancient history. There are still many girls who don’t get the chances I did. I will do what I can to help change that in the honor of a daring father who dreamed of a different life for his daughter. My father would so enjoy it if I were able to tell all this sitting next to him. I imagine him smiling at me from above. For him and all great fathers who support their sons and daughters, I would like to wish you a very Happy Father’s Day.