The Picture that Changed Me (and the Pukar Bam I Came to Know)

Published On: July 2, 2021 02:33 PM NPT By: Dr Pragati Ghimire

Photo Credit: Routine of Nepal Banda

He is a phenomenon, a movement, something that gives a new kind of hope, something that inspires people to be the better version of themselves.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. This picture not only spoke to me but made me question my own existence, my privilege,  made me feel guilty about not doing enough, made me ashamed that I left Nepal for youth like Pukar to clean up the mess my generation and our previous generations created.

This is a picture that changed me when I had all but given up hope on Nepal. 

We in the diaspora often talked how the corruption, the nasty politics and power struggle, the incompetent bureaucracy all were the reasons pushing Nepal toward the current state, and that we would not be able to survive in those circumstances even if we went back.

I always hoped to go back and use my expertise in some positive way to uplift the poor of Nepal. I had even started to make plans, drawn a timeline when it would be most appropriate to make the move. During this time, I was also following Rabindra Mishra on social media, the work he had done with Help Nepal Network and when I heard that he was joining politics, I could not be happier. I, like many others in the diaspora, thought we now have hope for Nepal.

But when Rabindra Mishra lost in the heart of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, all my hopes for Nepal were lost, and so it did for many of my friends in the diaspora.  We talked to great lengths about how there is no hope for Nepal if its people keep voting the same people who are responsible for its sorry state. Even when there were a choice and people in Kathmandu could have made a little difference, we felt that they did not exercise their best judgment, including many in my family and friends circle.

The prospect of going back or doing something for Nepal had just evaporated. I and many like me could not understand how the educated class of the nation was not voting for the obvious choice, and those are the same people that are always complaining about the state of Nepal and comparing with other countries.

Then I had decided that not only was I not returning, but like many of my friends settled in the USA, would do everything in my power to make sure that all the remaining members of my family also migrated to another country for a better life, especially for better social services like education and healthcare.

Then I became so busy in my own work and life, Nepal was less and less on my mind ... until the pandemic hit.

I had started to follow the “Enough is Enough” campaign for my own selfish reasons.

As an epidemiologist, I knew that no “besar pani” (turmeric water) or no “better Nepali immunity “ was going to protect us against COVID-19. It was just a matter of time that the pandemic would take hold in Nepal and when that happened, our fragile healthcare system was in no shape to handle it. I was mostly worried for my family, especially for my brother and sister-in-law, who are medical professionals in Nepalgunj.

Like many in Nepal, those of us in the diaspora were also concerned about the Nepal government’s early pandemic response.  The youth in many parts of Nepal had started protesting and demanding a better response.

When all means of protests were not producing any meaningful results, some members of the “Enough is Enough “campaign started the  “Satyagraha” or “fast unto death”. On the one hand, I knew this was probably the only way the government would take this protest seriously; on the other hand, I was worried for the protesters’ health as time went by.

Although there were a few of them doing the Satyagraha, we had heard mostly about IIh. But when this picture of “Pukar Bam” with the caption “Pukar Bam reacts in pain on his 6th day of Satyagraha” went viral, many different emotions came over my mind and my heart. Mostly of guilt, of not doing enough, not caring what was going on in Nepal, not knowing about these youth who have been working so hard in Nepal to bring positive changes.

As someone whose whole life was devoted to research and analytics, I had to know who this Pukar was, and why he was doing it, and why his social media pages were full of love and compassion from thousands of people.

I wanted to know more about this person who was ready to die for Nepal and its people.

The Pukar I came to know …
The more I researched on him and found about him, the more I was intrigued.  Luckily for me, his Facebook profile was public, and this is a man who has been sharing his life for over a decade.

What I found about him was unbelievable. This is someone who spent all his youth fighting against injustices, from corruption to violence against women, to Nepal “bandh”.

When I researched furthermore, I found that he has been in the social work field for over a decade, now the head of department of social work at a reputed college in Kathmandu and a PhD student.  Here was a young man who had been involved in many social projects, many that he designed himself in his early 20s.

 He had been involved in humanitarian work since the pandemic started. It was a campaign that he had started with a few celebrities, social influencers, and people in social work field.

 In a very short time, this group had been able to form a network all over Nepal to provide humanitarian assistance where and when it was needed, where the government was missing.

I knew I had to know him, be part of this humanitarian mission. So, what started as just a simple partnership to temporarily connect this group with the diaspora, would very soon turn out to be a partnership of a lifetime.

Here I was someone who always had a burning desire to do something for Nepal but conflicted to make the ultimate move; I was able to talk to someone much younger, but who had already done so much for Nepal. The more I learnt about his work, his dream, his passion for Nepal, it only made sense that I join him in his journey; because of my background in public health and most specifically in social determinants of health and his social work, we could relate to so many things. As time went by, we did not even need to complete our thoughts as we both wanted the same things for Nepal, me just in my thoughts and imagination but him, already doing so much.

 Thus started our long-term partnership for Nepal; we decided that we needed to continue this great network of short-term humanitarian work to long-term development work in Nepal. And then the vision of “Institute for Nepal”, that we both co-founded, was born. When the second wave hit Nepal, we formed "Save Nepal From COVID-19" Global Alliance, a global alliance of professional and social organizations in Nepal and in the diaspora, individuals and celebrities who love Nepal and have come together in the fight against this crisis. We had popular names in Nepal like former Nepal Cricket Team captain Paras Khadka, Manisha Koirala, actor Nischal Basnet, BBC's one of the 100 most influential women Sapana Roka Magar, current and former Miss Nepals  Namrata Shrestha, Priti Sitoula Rajbanshi, Shrinkhala Khatiwada, Malina Joshi, Captain Vijay Lama etc. join the alliance. This was only possible because of Pukar and the image he had built in the social work arena in Nepal based on his qualities - his integrity, credibility, selflessness, and personal sacrifices.

Never had I met a man who would understand other people’s pain like Pukar does. Or women’s issues. There are two instances that I will never forget. One day, after coming back from a feeding program, he mentioned that he was in a lot of pain seeing so many children begging for food and water in the streets. This should have been the government’s concern, yet it is youth like Pukar who have taken it upon themselves to take care of the poor of Nepal during this pandemic.

Another instance is one that still brings chills to my spine. I had begged him many times to get the vaccine, because as a frontliner in the field every day, he was at high risk of contracting the virus. He simply would not listen, and every time would say that he is young, nothing would happen to him, and the vaccine should go to older people first. Here is a man risking his life for others. Then, when the second wave hit Nepal, and there was shortage of oxygen supply and hospital beds, he was working day and night to manage the crisis and help people. After three days of working non-stop, he became very weak needing a break, and then shortly after, he caught COVID-19. Even when he was experiencing symptoms, he was still working as much as he could so that his team could continue to function.
The life he leads is another thing to talk about - simple life, almost, that of a monk. It just boggles my mind — “How does a young person of this generation live such a simple life?” He is a vegetarian, does not drink alcohol and is an avid practitioner of yoga and meditation, something he started in his 20s. And he often donates a huge portion of his income to many causes.

Over time, I would also be connected with people who know him very closely and have worked with him; they would tell me that there is so much that I do not know about him, we do not know about him, about all his involvements in helping people, whether it is helping the poor, the disadvantaged, the people near him, or those who approach him. They would fondly say things like “they never met anyone like him”, “he is a saint”, “ he is Dr Govinda KC’s best disciple”. The words used by most, if not all people who know him to describe him are: kindness, integrity, honesty, sacrifices.

How is this even possible? At a time when most relationships are based on benefits, greed, and selfishness, this is a man who only has love and care for others, and just the spirit and passion of giving and social service. Every day his motivations are to help the most destitute sections of the Nepali society. On many instances, I have asked myself how long can he go on, does he have enough support to go on?

How one person can influence someone they never met says a lot about him and his capabilities, and his charisma. Anyone who hears him talk would be so amazed that there are youth in this generation that love the country this much.

This is also a story of perseverance:  how does one persevere so many years, when many who walk the same difficult path just leave; he just keeps on continuing what he started some 15-16 years ago.

The only persons who I can compare him with are BP Koirala and Madan Bhandari of Nepali politics.
He is someone who not only loves the country but has great visions and ideas.  

The way he functions is another of his amazing abilities.

In my entire life, of living and working in different countries, I have never met a person who works this hard and is only motivated by the dreams he has for a better country and a better life for his countrymen.

I have never seen or heard of anyone in Nepal with his work ethic, his speed, and his integrity. Even in the USA, where people are known to work very hard, I have not seen anyone with his passion. Often, I joke with him that if he were in the USA, with his genius, his work ethic, and his personality, he would be successful at anything he did, and could probably become a millionaire or a billionaire if he wanted to. Every time his answer would be:  “This is where I want to be; no amount of money could give me the happiness that I get from working for the poorest people of Nepal. “

Pukar is not just a kind, selfless human being with integrity and charisma.

He is a phenomenon, a movement, something that gives a new kind of hope, something that inspires people to be the better version of themselves.

It’s a fluke that there is someone like him in Nepal, and that I get to work with him, I have no problem saying I work for him ... it is an honor to know someone like Pukar so closely, be able to talk to him about work for him and with him on his mission to build a better Nepal where everyone will have equal opportunities.
This is our Pukar’s dream, my dream, and the dream of many who have joined us from all over the world.
Pukar is the best son Mother Nepal could have in a long time and he is my brother like he is a brother to so many others who adore him.

The name for our organization “Institute for Nepal” was chosen by him, because, at the end of the day we are working for Nepal, for the poorest of the poor, for the needy, the destitute.
It has been only a year today that I have heard his name. I have yet to meet Pukar in person and am anxiously waiting for that day. Never have I imagined in a million years that we would come so far in such a short time. I guess it can happen when two people with the same vision and passion come together, and that one of them is someone like Pukar Bam.

I 4 Nepal

We 4 Nepal

(Dr Pragati Ghimire is a Subject Matter Expert in Epidemiology/Health Policy and Co-founder, Institute for Nepal.)