(Bhaju Ram Takhachhen Shrestha)
Nepal is known for major high peaks in the world being Mount Everest as the ruler of those peaks. But how many of us have really seen those peaks and even known the known and unknown names of those peaks? Perhaps it is the work of researcher to find the answer.
But Nepal also has known and unknown human peaks that make and made the life of people different and better. These peaks can be contributors in the arena of international, national or local. But like the hidden mountain peaks due to the distance, weather and obscure names, many of these human peaks are hidden due to the distance of generation gap, weather of population explosion and information technology and fading away in the obscure corner of a society.
Gopal Das Shrestha of Banepa is one of those peaks that I have known for a few decades. On July 11, 2016 I took a pen and notebook to peek into some of his life that made him an outstanding personality, though due to the age, he does seems to be standing alone in his vicinity. But in his illustrious life of the past he played a major role in the field of social work and political field while remaining a low profile or not seeking any power or position just because he wants to live a long rewarding life.
Yes, Gopal Das Shrestha, the father of Kanchan Shrestha, the member of current parliament, is tall and has a robust personality even at the age of 91. Born in 1925 AD in Banepa in a prominent and influential home, and he poses a perfect example of what it means to be sound mind, sound body and sound spirit. He has a cheerful personality, and his sparkling eyes are not needed the glasses to read newspaper. It was my privilege to sit with him spend some time exploring just a little bit of his past so that he would not be forgotten present and future.
Gopal Das was in tower with BP Koirala, Ganeshman and Subarna Samsher. Accroding to him, the congress party got energy to give birth because of the intellect of BP, the zeal of Ganeshman and fuel (financial help) of Subarna. Gopal Das acted as go between those personalities whether in Calcutta or in Nepal. He was imprisoned several times for his political affiliation with the Congress Party. He was in Nakhu Jail for 11 months with the key figures of the Congress Party after the king dismantled the party system. Though he played a crucial role in helping to keep the party men together in communication, he never sought an office because if he got a post, he would earn many enemies or opponents which he wished not to have. He let other go up while he chose to remain low profile.
He proudly presents himself as a major contribution to the establishment of Seventh Day Adventist Mission Hospital in Banepa. Around 1958-59, Dr. Stanely Sturges came with his family from Portland Oregan to serve Nepali people in medical field. Originally, he wanted to work with the United Mission to Nepal but being an ugly duckling among Christians missionaries because he was the Seventh Day Adventist that has some major differences with the Christians, he was told to go to then remote village which was Dhulikhel the 30 km from the capital Kathmandu. Though the dangerous road to Dhulikhel to bring goods existed since 1934, most people walked from Kathmandu till the Arniko High Way was built by Chinese around 1967. Dr. Sturges’ presence in Dhulikhel caught the eye of the Congress henchman of Banepa, Mr. Raj Das, the older brother of Gopal Das. For a while Dr. Sturges became a soccer of Dhulikhel and Banepa leaders comprised mainly Rajendra Kharael, Sudarshan Shrestha and a few other from Dhulikhel, and Raj Das, Gopal Das and few other from Banepa. Both then village leaders agreed to give land of Dr. Sturges. Gopal Das did not want to create friction with Dhulikhel people, so he said Dr. Sturges could be in either place. But it seems due to the influence of Raj Das with BP Koirala, he succeeded to bring Dr. Sturges to Banepa the dismay of Dhulikhel community. However, Dhulikel community was compensated by installing district head quarter separate from Chautara where the district headquarter for East No. 1 was located.
Due to the untimely early death of Raj Das through the airplane accident, he could not see all the future glory of the mission hospital. The mantle to play a lead role from Raj Das to his brother Gopal Das passed on to house the mission hospital in Banepa. Gopal Das housed tall Dr. Stanely Sturges in his house having have to break the ceiling to fit Dr. Sturges. For three years, Dr. Sturges ran a clinic in a small room near Gopal Das’s home, called Laikuli. While Dr. Sturges was busy in clinic, led by Gopal Das, he and other community leaders got busy in raising the public support to have the hospital build in Banepa. He collected Rs. 8000 donation from the public and bought the land that the current hospital houses, in four persons’ name. When the hospital was legalized, the four people handed over the property to the institution. The foundation for the hospital was laid by the then first elected Prime Minister Mr. BP Koirala in 1960. Upon the demise of Mr.Scheer of US, his son contributed the large sum of money to build the hospital in his father’s name. Scheer Memorial Hospital under the hospital system of world wide Seventh Day Adventist Church is currently functioning well as a district hospital of Kavre.
Gopal Das is very happy at his success of giving health care to his people he himself being a social worker in his senior youth time and until he could work. Upon asking of the secret of his long and happy life, said, “I work in the garden for about 90 minutes every day, I do not eat any junk food. I do not eat out because the hygienic condition is not guaranteed. I am a vegetarian, so fish and meat not allowed in my home. I do not smoke and take any of the alcohol beverages (that are the internal self invited terrorists that kill every year about 30,000 people alone in Nepal), I eat fruit an hour after a meal. I make sure I eat some green vegetable every day. I eat only little in the evening around 8 and I go to bed at 11. I get up at 4 and do my morning devotion or nitya puja for an hour. Chappaties, water chop, dhindo or corn meal mush and rice are my main diet. I have no physical sickness. I keep positive outlook.”
Well, his diet sounds quite contradictory diet to present fast world that make the number of hospitals grow faster and the production of ever growing doctors cannot keep the people healthy in Nepal. However, there is no alternative to a healthy diet if one wants to live longer. Of course, a purposeless life does not care about living a longer life, but if one is driven to live for other, he would do all he can to keep himself or herself healthy. Gopal Das lived for other, now he is enjoying the rest of his life living for himself in best of his health.
Finally I asked him whether he has any advice for the readers. He said, “Do the right, go with a person who does right, and turn away unnoticing when he does wrong, (Abraham Lincoln said the same thing), compete with no one to come up at the expense of other and make no enemy. Owe no man anything and be honest.’
Religion being polluted regardless of any religion, since in the name of religion people were breaking their morality, Gopal Das did not talk about religion but he addressed the need of respects the dignity of a man that includes both self and other. He was, of course, proudly shared his spirituality as he said he spend over an hour in devotion.
Perhaps, the best commendable words of dignity for senior age are found in the Book of Psalms in the Bible, “Thou shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing to show that the Lord is upright…”Pslams 92:14,15. How many senior beauties in Nepal are hidden in the midst of glamorous but quickly fading away glory? Today’s young and old ones need to remember, seek out those pillars that are the foundation of society. To forget them means we are paying dearly.
August 7, 2016