In memoriam of my son

Published On: October 5, 2019 02:25 AM NPT By: Sukhdev Shah

Manu, my son, was born on December 31, 1975, in Alexandria, Virginia, and died on September 9, 2019, just a couple of miles away from the place of his birth. Manu was American by birth but he loved Nepal, in an immense and immeasurable manner, and love of his parents’ land grew overtime for reasons I didn’t ask and Manu never bragged about. I was pleased of him growing up in this way carrying Nepali pride and values and, of course, I felt good about it.

Rooted to Nepa

Manu first visited Nepal with family when he was just five, in 1980, and at that very young age, he could see and wonder at the magnitude of diversity between America and Nepal, in the way people looked and facilities they had access to. After a brief time in Janakpur, I took Manu to my village some 10 miles to the East, and the first thing he noticed was the appearance of the people. He held my waist and shyly asked: ‘Dad, why do people look like naked?’ It was winter time in December but few people wore special clothing to protect themselves from cold and some of them had no clothing at all except for bare covering.

From Janakpur, I took Manu by train to Jayanagar about 20 miles away across the border in India. While returning from Jayanagar, train stopped for about an hour at Khajuri station where I let him roam around the platform. Manu looked the same as local kids but a bit different, especially the language he spoke which attracted attention of kids. Soon, many kids joined to play with him, all of them giggling at him, mainly attracted by his manners and the strange language he spoke. When the time came for the train to depart, hundreds of children lined up along the train route shouting Manu, Manu, Manu—a scene that was heavenly to behold which, almost 40 years later, has stayed on in my mind.

While in Janakpur, a British friend Mr John A Tillman had come to Nepal on a World Bank mission whom I had informed that we will be in Janakpur and if he wanted to see real Nepal, he should travel there and spend some time. John came to the village and stayed overnight. For sleeping overnight, we had nothing better to offer him other than a straw padding which he didn’t mind.

Next morning he travelled through the village and went out to see the farms where paddy harvesting was in season. After looking around the village, we were ready to leave for Janakpur when John spoke these words to me: “I wouldn’t have advised you to bring such a young child to Nepal, much less to Janakpur and to the village.” I appreciated John’s sentiments but it didn’t look right for me to hide the reality from my children regarding my roots.

The next time we visited Nepal was in the summer of 1987 when Manu was 12. We spent a week in Janakpur and then in village observing plowing in muddy fields and planting of paddy. It was hot and humid most of the days but Manu didn’t mind the discomfort. Back in Janakpur, we had a comfortable hotel room but no air-conditioning. This was also a mosquito season of which a bunch of them were visible everywhere, even during the day time. Manu rarely complained of the hardships he encountered but made a remark which I found unusual: “How did you get out of this place?”

Arriving at the airport in Kathmandu, we took taxi to the Himalayan Club Hotel in Nagarkot and after three hours of leaving Janakpur, we ended up at a very different place that puzzled Manu: mild wind racing with black clouds overhead and no dust or insects filling the environment as in Janakpur. Manu stood close to me and asked: “Dad, is this also Nepal?” It was Nepal’s diverse landscape and people that charmed Manu.     

While Manu was attending primary school in Alexandria, a thought of getting his early education in Nepal to get him to acquire more of Nepali culture and history struck me. I was advised to send him to Darjeeling that had better schools. I got Manu admitted to St Paul School in Darjeeling in the summer of 1986 but after a year of his stay in Darjeeling, I decided to bring him back to America for the safety concern because of agitation then for Gorkha Land. I also feared for his health.

Back to the US

Back in Alexandria, Manu finished Middle School and then moved to New Jersey for high school where he performed remarkably well. He scored 1,480 on his SAT exam, out of a possible score of 1,600 that made him qualified to pursue his college education at almost any of top universities in America. He applied at three of the premier universities—Harvard, MIT, Chicago—from which he chose Chicago that offered him the best scholarship.

Manu studied at Chicago for six years from 1993 until 1998, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, specializing in Economics and Finance.  While studying in Chicago, he travelled to Mongolia where I was working at IMF resident representative. As Manu had done in Nepal, he quickly formed a group who took him around Mongolia, including to the birthplace of Genghis Khan. He felt that in Mongolia he had discovered a piece of ancient civilization that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After Chicago, he was eager to enter professional life and earn lots of money. His degrees from Chicago qualified him to go for work at any of the finance firm or take up work in some related fields. He chose to work at JP Morgan Bank in New York but, some years later, he switched to Options’ Group, an executive recruitment firm in New York.
After some years in New York, Manu somehow got initiated into seeking his fortunes overseas where his Chicago education and American identity would be more appreciated than in New York. He chose to take a job in Dubai with a private equity firm where he would share profits and growth in equity in the company he would be working for. His actual remuneration wasn’t as large as he expected but the owners assured him that after some years on the job he would reap in the growth of the firm.

However, it turned that he was not accumulating any shares or equity and his basic earnings remained low for a number of years. At last, after some eight years of work in Dubai, he came to know that the promised venture had been a scam and that he had made no money beyond the meager savings he had left in his bank account.

Manu returned to New Jersey in late 2014 and explored the opportunities in New York. In the meanwhile, his mother’s health had rapidly deteriorated from asthma that proved to be incurable and she died of it some months later in January 2015. The incident threw Manu off-balance and he stopped looking for work or planning his next move. Some months later he heard of Nepal earthquake and the devastation it had caused. He suddenly decided to travel to Nepal to participate in relief work in the affected areas. He stayed in Nepal for about a year, helping in the relief work carried out by Red Cross, OXFAM, and International Crisis Group.

After a year of work in Nepal, he returned to New York in the summer of 2016 but still he hadn’t been able to turn his mind away from the loss of his mother and he sought relief from resort to alcohol and sleeping pills that, at times, knocked him out for hours. The heavy drinking habit along with anti-depressants he used finally took his life after he consumed them in overdoses.

It appears that Manu would have done more during his lifetime and I told him many times that he should get to work with the State Department where his Chicago degrees and life experiences would shine and that he could also vie for ambassador’s job to Nepal. But Manu cut short his life too early to earn such glories. Besides his grieving parents, Manu leaves behind two siblings, Minu and Rishi, and numerous relatives and friends here in America, Nepal and elsewhere.

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