I have continuously asked students to email me questions and tried to answer most of them when there is time. The questions are supposed to be wise and probing no matter whether they are very personal or academic. And most of them are really wise and probing to me. Here are some questions and my answers.
What age do you feel right now and why?
I feel exactly the age I am because I feel I have lived half of my life. I call it my midlife expecting to be able to live till 90. I have already published a book titled Midlife Montage, documenting my perceptions on life so far. I feel this age to be very important because now is the time I began to reflect upon the days ahead, especially how I would live with what I have learned.
What does a perfect day look like to you?
A perfect day to me is one when I am able to reach home thinking ‘tomorrow’s tasks will be planned tomorrow itself.’ I mean the day I go home without leaving a pending task on the office table. Also, a perfect day is one when I have been able to complete an article, a poem or a story that I have long planned to write, or given a presentation that people have commented as unique and interesting. And a perfect day is when I have been able to answer students’ questions — the way I have done here, with yours.
What is life in your point of view?
I don’t have an absolute definition of life, neither an absolute point of view about it. Much has been said to define it. For example, ‘Life is a journey’, ‘Life is a struggle’, ‘Life is a mystery’. There are dozens of songs and poems that define life. I like this: ‘जिन्दगी प्यारका गीत है, उसे हर दिलको गाना पडेगा; जिन्दगी गमका सागर भी है, कटके उस पार जाना पडेगा” or “जिन्दगी और कुछ भी नहीँ, तेरी मेरी कहानी है”. Even more interesting is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Having heard numerous definitions reflecting different aspects of human experiences, I feel I don’t need to try a new definition. A combination of all of the above types is what defines life to me, and I have experienced all and other aspects at different phases so far. Maybe I will be able to find my own version after living a few more years.
I can at least say this now, which will answer another question: What is your principle regarding life: “Life is a responsibility and you should perform it as much as you can.” To complement this principle, I stick to this belief: “It does not matter if I am not useful to other people. But I will never make myself harmful to anybody.”
What is the most important thing in life?
Depends. And it is very difficult to single out one thing that is ‘most important’. What things that we pursue with passion are not important? In growing up, we begin to sense the futility of a number of things we craved for earlier, but the number is always small. The things that we value are always many.
In my opinion, now that I cross my midlife, the ‘most important’ thing in life is your capacity to identify your own strengths and weaknesses. This also involves the ability to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses, and inclination to be useful to others no matter how small your contribution may be. I don’t believe in being immune from weaknesses. Weaknesses are like less attractive ornaments that add value to the more graceful ones. Have them if you cannot eliminate them, but do not let them overshadow your strengths.
Can we have happiness without sadness?
I doubt we can. Like dozens of other elements in the human world that lose value without their counterparts/binaries, happiness and sadness do not exist isolated from each other. One is there to counter, maximize or minimize the other.
What is good without bad?
What is white without black?
What is taste without tastelessness?
What is beauty without ugliness?
What is fragrance without odor?
What is friendship without enmity?
What is fulfillment without hunger/thirst?
What is gain without loss?
What is laughter without tears?
The list goes on. Happiness fills the void created by sadness. There are more things than we know that try to make us sad. There are more people than we know who try to make us happy. And agents of both emotions are there fighting virtually without our knowing their fights.
How do you handle hard situation? Do you panic solving problems?
I have perhaps lived fortunate so far, not having to face really really hard situations that posed a real challenge. In any difficult if not hard situation, which may not be called hard to myself now (nor to others then), I have maintained utmost calm, consulted all types of close people (senior or junior), initiated communication, pushed forward but not hidden or backed away. I have not panicked so far. I think I have got enough experience to handle my life, and those of my loved/close ones. But, maybe, the worst is yet to come. I am prepared for it.
How do you find teaching in KU? What do you think of us as your students?
Teaching in KU is a very rewarding experience. First, I am free to design the syllabus I want to teach in view of the student needs. Second, the system keeps me disciplined. Third, I can equally mentor teachers, staffs, and even students whom I may not teach in class.
I look at you kids with a lot of empathy, which means I most often try to wear your parents’ and your shoes, walk your paths and see the world through your eyes. I have been through the phase of life you are now. More importantly, I have taught thousands of kids like you. I know you as a mix of multiple emotions, multiple strengths and weaknesses, multiple wisdom and foolishness. You are just like my kids growing to become — very sensible/insensible, rigid/gullible, careful/careless, serious/carefree and what not. You are like me struggling to become — serious and responsible. I sometimes hope, perhaps vainly, some of you carry the traces of my character unto your future because I think of you as the vehicle of wisdom and knowledge I impart.
How was your experience when you first taught the students in Kathmandu University?
I was not very confident at the beginning, in August 2000, to start in the ISc program. The classes were really large (about 65 students), and the students a mixed group of low, moderate and high competence youngsters. And very demanding — both the students and the administration. I had come directly from high school classes to the university. Though the courses were not very challenging, I had to work hard to meet the standards of Kathmandu University. Back then, I Sc was taken really seriously because it was the foundational program of KU. The Undergraduate classes, which I began teaching only six months after I joined, were much more comfortable because they were half the ISc classes in size and the syllabuses were more student-centered.
However, the Department of English was a group of professionally committed faculties who mentored one another. I gained maximum confidence by the end of the first year. The University promoted me in the second year which, I thought, was because I was doing fine and had shown the potentials to be refined.
Communication is very vast as well as challenging subject. What inspired you to choose this subject and excel in it?
I agree communication is a vast area. My background is (English) literature which, I believe, is the finest form of communication. Formally, I decided to specialize in communication by a practical necessity. I was one of the initiators and promoters of the Media Studies program under the Department of Languages and Mass Communication, School of Arts, till August 2013. I took up communication with an aim to become a pillar to both the department and the program. Even though both were shifted to Hattiban and I had to remain in Dhulikhel, my specialization has come to use in many ways. And I also chose communication simply because it was a professional necessity for teaching technical communication skills to the students of science and technology.
Every time you sing do you feel you could actually contribute in music field if you were not a university professor?
I feel I could contribute. Many say the same, and also admonish me for ignoring the prospect. The reason is I have melodious voice with a high potential for playback singing after disciplined training. I have flair for instruments. I write lyrics. I can compose music.
But I have never regretted. It is my passion and I have fulfilled it in my own private world. The truth is that my being a university teacher has not prevented me from doing music. It is only the matter of priority. I never planned to make singing a profession. When I was much younger, I thought: I will some day earn some money, take rigorous training, do a little bit of hard work, sing or compose professionally and make a mark in the field. That day never came. I stopped planning, without regrets, because my priorities varied and life diverged in building a family and a career meaningful teaching.
If you feel like knowing more about my flair for music, here is a read: https://rhecourse.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/a-pursuit-never-seriously-tried/
If given a chance to witness any event (anywhere in the world) from past, present or future which event would you choose?
This is an interesting question. But, among hundreds of things that I would like to witness, which would rather be from the past, such as the Mahabharata war, or draining of the water of Kathmandu valley by Manjushree (supposing it is true), or the wedding ceremony of my parents (he-he-he), I would choose the moment the human being discovered and produced fire and took the first pleasure of eating a cooked food or taking warmth or having light from it. Does it sound crazy?
What is success and what does being successful mean?
To me success is not a single, ultimate reality. It is rather a part of an infinitive journey. I mean, success is not an end, but a pause in the process, a comma or maybe a semicolon, but not a full-stop.
Success comes in different categories corresponding to your multiple identities and roles. The society tries to see you for what you have done and achieved as a daughter, as a parent, as the member of a community, as a professional and overall as an individual. While you may have done a lot in one role, you may have done little or nothing in another. Your realization of gains remains in continuum. When you gain something, you will only feel a momentary sense of achievement and be immediately aware that there is more to do in life.
And I see success simply as the absence of failure. If your actions have not led to damages, or visible gains, you can take it for the success of maintaining the minimum order in the process. You may not do wonders or construct ivory towers to symbolize your grandeur. You may simply perform the duties assigned, and ensure that your actions do not harm others. This still means success, at least to me.
Success is being able to achieve a few new steps, a few more meaningful smiles, and a few more memorable acquaintances. This is similar to saying that success is about not causing pain and tears, and not losing old connections for the sake of new. I consider myself successful for not causing pain to people. I have not been a burden to anyone, but been a part of a community that ever grows with new knowledge, new dreams, new aspirations and optimisms. This is my success.