MY journey to MoFA

GB Thapa

Joining government services has always been a craze in Nepal for reasons known to all. It was as much a craze in the70s, too, as it is now and will remain so for long time to come. Like now, the Finance, Foreign and the Home Ministry were the foremost of choices, then. There is no hiding the fact that, like many others, I, too, was lured by the government service and that the Foreign Ministry was always a dream close to my heart. When I revealed it to some of my close college friends in Biratnagar, they simply laughed the idea away. They regarded the Foreign Ministry was unreachable for commoners, like me.

They were correct in their assessments, in many ways. In those days, Foreign Ministry was considered as an impregnable fortress for the commoners. It literally operated in an aura of exclusivity. Little did the people know, even the Kathmandu elites, what the Foreign Ministry was all about, much less of the common people outside the capital. There were some encouraging developments   in the late 60s, though. Nepal began to enhance its diplomatic representation abroad. New embassies were opened in many countries to broaden diplomatic contacts and interactions. Still, however, the ministry remained exclusive, elitist and insular in its character and functions. The recruitment process was far from transparent. It operated at the pleasure and whim of the palace. There was no separate Foreign Service Act. The one that was enacted during the Prime minister-ship of late BP Koirala was rescinded already, so as to facilitate arbitrary appointments in the Ministry.

Whatever we heard about its activities, we did so only through the Radio Nepal, mainly when there were in-coming or outgoing high-level visits. It was said only the sons and daughters of the high and mighty of the time, with the benefit of quality education and the royal connection could get into Foreign Ministry. In the absence of credible information, we thought, rather guessed, the Ministry offered its officers unlimited opportunities for unlimited foreign trips and postings, the only place where one would think, talk and act in English, and only in English! Therefore, my friends took my dream as futile- one that was something akin to trying to build a castle in the air. But I would reassure myself, thus-a futile dream it may be, there was no harm harboring it, rather than dismiss it altogether. So, despite my friend’s sincere efforts to discourage me, I allowed the dream to be a part of my life!

I was not a bad student in English language, in my high school and college days. I completed BA with special English from the then Mahendra Morang College in Biratnagrar. I joined the Tribhuvan University, in 1971 to do MA in English. Unfortunately, I had to abandon my study, owing to the sudden passing away of my father at a mere age of 51. I had to stay close to my family to help mother and also to look after my young brothers and sisters. For nearly three years, I worked, first, as a teacher and then Head master at a High school in Chainpur Bazaar, which was not very far from my village.

For quite some time, I was completely immersed in the grief and   agony of father’s death. Family responsibilities did also preoccupy most of my time and attention. I had little time, hence, to think about, let alone pursue my dream, although I had not completely forsaken it. Gradually, as it happens, destiny began to apply its healing touch on the wound it had inflicted upon me and my family. With the wound gradually healing, came to the fore the dream of doing MA, which was hitherto lying buried under my subconscious mind. Meanwhile, a few years teaching in the high school had helped me refine my language and consolidated my resolve further. But completing MA as regular student would require me to live in Kathmandu, at least for two years and leaving the family for nearly two years in the lurch was unthinkable for me.  Yet, I was unshakable in my resolve to complete MA. In fact, it was getting intense on each passing day. I was planning to appear as a private candidate, while continuing teaching in the school. I was looking for an opportune time for that.

The time arrives

Suddenly, the time had arrived. The year was 1975. One fine morning, I came to know, on the Radio that the TU was on its way to introducing new curricula in  all its post graduate classes, along with compulsory participation in what it called the National Development Service (NDS) program of one year duration. The old courses, as well as taking MA exams in all disciplines, privately, were also going to be phased out soon. However, the TU had offered the year 1975 as  a last chance for those who were willing to appear in the MA privately, in accordance with old courses. To be eligible for that, however, they were required to fill-in the forms and   compulsorily appear in the exam, for both parts (first and second year) within that year. Only then could they continue taking exams in the old course, even if they failed, for a few years more. This would have obviated the need for them to do the NDS service. That came like a god-send opportunity for me. This was the chance I was looking for and would not let slip. I could appear in the exam for both parts. I may not be able to pass both parts in my first attempt. But, even if I may not, I could buy time and can complete it in the next few years, I thought. Without losing much time, I took a flight to Kathmandu from Tumlingtaar, which was about four hours walking from Chainpur to fill-in the forms.

When I landed in Kathmandu after nearly six years, I suddenly found myself like in the midst of a sea, alone and forlorn! I had no known friends that I could go to and seek help from. In a state of dilemma, I wandered about the city, for a day or two, not knowing how I should proceed. But, it seemed the invisible hands of destiny were there to lead me out of the woods. One evening, I happened to meet a high school friend of mine, late Arjun Paudyal , in the new road, near the famous “ Peepal tree. Arjunji and I came from the nearby villages in Dhankutta. We studied in the same high School in Dharan, He was one year my junior in the SLC. He told me he had recently passed MA in English, in the first class, and was teaching in the University. I told him about the reason I had come and asked for his help, if possible. He suggested that Surya Subedi ji of Terathum, could be of help to me. Subediji, he told, had   passed MA in English, privately, a few years ago. He was a section officer now and in charge of the Sundhara Post office, which was very close from new road. I had briefly known him also in Dharan in my high School days, almost a decade ago. Arjunji took me to his quarters in Sundhara, the next day. In his usual “purbeli  candor”, Subediji gladly offered to help me in whatever way he could.

I must say, he and late Arjunji were the main reasons I could appear in the MA exam. Most importantly, Subediji arranged a meeting for me with the one and the only, Bacchu Kailash, who was also considering to appear MA in English, privately, like me. He was constantly in touch with Subediji , in this connection. Because our interests converged, we got along instantly. BacchuKailash Dai, I found, had as much of a heart of gold as was his golden and baritone voice peerless. We filled out the forms together and became instant   combined –study-partners. He had all the books at his home, all I had to do was go there, get the needed books. Together we studied, almost every day for six to seven hours! Our objective was to appear in the exam, and buy time for the next year; we did not expect to pass both parts within such a short time! We took the exam and surprisingly many of the questions that came were from what we had guessed and concentrated our study on.

I was somewhat sanguine because I thought I had done my papers fairly well, based on the preparation I have had. When the result came, I was pleasantly surprised that I had not only passed both parts but also secured higher second division! So, my first dream of doing MA in English had finally come true, rather dramatically, without having to step-in the lofty gates of the Tribhuvan University. This was the first big and important step of my journey to the Foreign Ministry.

The next few years proved to be very lucky for me. I left the School. I then passed section officer in the year 2034. I was posted to the Cabinet Secretariat where I worked for a year plus. It was there I came to know, much to my disappointment, that joining Foreign Ministry would require one to pass special exam for foreign Ministry given by the PSC.   In 2036, Sri Suraya Bahadur Thapa became Prime Minister, after the announcement of Referendum. I knew him very well, coming as we did from the same district, Dhankuta. I approached him and asked if I could be transferred to the MoFA. A seasoned administrator that he was, he told me what I had already been told by friends in the Cabinet Secretariat. At my request, he was kind enough to have me transferred to the Finance Ministry, as he also held the portfolio of Finance Minister. I worked there till the middle of 2040.

The final opportunity

In 2039, I was posted in Janakpur Excise Office. I was already section officer for nearly six years. By now, I had almost given up chasing my dream for Foreign Ministry. Nonetheless, deep at heart, the thirst for it still remained unquenched. But, destiny had her own plan once again for me. It was a post referendum period, marked by some liberal political and administrative reforms, under the reformed Panchayat system. The Foreign Ministry also did open a little for outsiders. For the first time, 10 fresh section officers were taken through the PSC- conducted open competitive exam. For the first time, I think, in the history of Foreign Ministry, all the 10 candidates selected happened to be from outside of Kathmandu! Gyan Chandraji, Rudra Nepal ji, Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai, Hari Kumar Shrestha and others, who have all distinguished themselves as competent and successful diplomats comprised that group.

 Then again in a year’s time, another 10 section officers for the MoFA were advertised through the PSC. This time, the positions were to be filled -in through the inter-departmental competition. Only those section officers who were below 35 years of age and had already completed five years of government service were eligible to take the exam. This came as a blessing in disguise for me. I was convinced, destiny had offered this chance exclusively for me and I must seize it. But here also, a great many of my friends advised me against trying for the exam. They held that the Exam was merely a façade, which the Palace may have its own candidates to chose and pick from and that ordinary people like me stood no chance of getting through.

Some well-meaning friends wondered why I was trying to leave as attractive a Ministry as the Finance! Luckily, the Regional Office of the Public Service Commission was located in Janakpur, which was an added advantage. I needn’t have to go to Kathmandu to fill-out the forms. I filled the forms from the PSC Regional Office in Janakpur and took the exam from Kathmandu. When the result of the written exam for 10 vacant positions was out, there were only two names   in the list- that of MR. Murari Raj Sharma and mine. The other 8 positions remained unfulfilled as no candidates could get through the written exam. Perhaps that was the first and the last time that the PSC has published such a unique result, where the number of candidates passed in the written exam was far below the number of vacancy advertised! We both got through the interview. Later, the PSC re-advertised for the remaining 8 positions, in which Pradeep Khatiwadaji, Heera Bahadur Thapaji, Arun Dhitalji, Suresh Pradhanji   and others got through and joined the Ministry. This is how I arrived at the Foreign Ministry, finally  at end of 2040, partly through luck and partly by virtue of my determination to pursue my dream, through thick and thin of time. I retired at Joint secretary level in July 04 2008, having served there for nearly three decades. True, such a long spanning career in the Ministry would not have been without its ups and downs. I also had my share of the best of times and the worst of times! However, when I look back at my long career with the Foreign Ministry, I see no apparent reason for complaints or grievances.

The Ministry gave me numerous opportunities for travel around the world, with my family. My children could get the best chance for good education in the US and in Europe. I myself could enhance my knowledge, diplomatic skill and experience with the exposure I have had while working in our UN Missions in the NY, and again in Geneva. Working in the Ministry under many experienced and extremely competent seniors, like late Jai Pratap Rana, former foreign Secretaries, Mr Yadav Kanta Silwal, Narendra Bikaram Shah, Late Narayan Sumsher Thapa , Murariraj Sharma and Gyanchandraji , have proved to be very enriching, enlightening and intellectually rewarding for me. I may be pleased to share with my valued readers some of the rich and memorable moments that I have had with them in the future.

(Thapa is a former chief of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

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