During our student days, the Colombo Plan was the financial passport to higher studies. The Colombo Plan provided an escape from poverty for many. Those days there was no viable alternative to a good education for a career.
So many poor students pinned their hope on it, but few succeeded as you required excellent results in SLC as well as Intermediate. In hindsight, the plan was discriminatory as it gave preference to comparatively prosperous but less meritorious students from outside the Kathmandu Valley.
So, it was no surprise that an affluent college mate, a Sherpa, from Khumbu received a scholarship under the Colombo Plan to study MBBS. He was also smart as he hummed Cliff Richard’s ‘Lemon Tree’ all the time. To our surprise, he spoke English a lot. He had studied and completed his A-Level from a school run by Sir Edmund Hillary for the Sherpa children.
Years later, he recounted the downside of the Colombo Plan that had turned him into a gynaecologist against his will. He was too embarrassed to introduce himself as a doctor as, he added with great humour, the ladies in labour would faint at the sight of him. So he opted to man the emergency of a national hospital in Kathmandu. His line of speciality had no use in the ‘backward’ society then.
Earlier, another classmate, in SLC, pinned his hope on the Colombo plan to become a doctor. After the result, he despaired as he barely squeezed through the iron gate.
Many years later, I ran into him under the pipal tree at New Road. He looked prosperous and spoke with a crassness, almost crude, that people acquired after stumbling upon riches accidentally. In less than 15 minutes he recounted his success story, thanking providence for giving him third division in SLC.
He went to Pulchowk campus to train as an overseer on a monthly stipend. After completion, the government hired
him to work in a section of the East-West Highway project. It turned his life around as he received a windfall.
When we met years later, he told me he could no longer keep count of his staff and vehicles. At that time, he looked more like a dalal bereft of a class than a classy businessman. I remembered the days when he would evade his landlady for days, unable to pay the Rs 5 rent in arrears. I remember my parents telling me money cannot buy class. That is why proper education is so important. The Colombo Plan offered both.
A version of this article appears in print on December 31, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.