I should have written this piece while the subject of the story was still alive. Let that be a lesson to all of us to pay tribute to those we admire now. As much I regret that I did not, now I cannot help but discuss the life of Hasta Bhattarai in Diaspora Stories series this week.
Originally from Dagana, Bhutan, Bhattarai passed away suddenly on April 8, 2018 in Chicago, leaving behind his young wife and two kids, just eight and three years old. He himself was only 46. This irretrievable loss to the family also certainly spills over to the entire Bhutanese diaspora. He was such a great social worker who also generously lived for others—lending them helping hands in need.
Mr. Bhattarai’s life was indeed like a thick book carved with immense knowledge and augmented experiences—that benefited thousands of Bhutanese refugees and others over the years.
“He [Hasta sir] taught us to be respectful to everyone, and to remain dedicated towards what we do in life,” recalled Nirmala Mapchan, one of his former fifth grade students in the early 1990s.
She said Hasta, who taught her English, was one of the best teachers she could ever remember. “He was very generous and organized teacher with every quality that a teacher and a good human being should possess.”
Although Mr. Bhattarai never taught me, I first heard his name in the Beldangi-II refugee camp school in Eastern Nepal in 1992/93 when I was studying in grade one. I had heard that along with his generosity and impressive teaching skills he also carried with him the ‘strict’ nature—as like many other teachers back in the days. According to a family source, Mr. Bhattarai taught in the refugee camp school for close to a decade.
I had the honor to know him better after the Spring of 2005 when he moved to Kathmandu, Nepal for further studies and to carry on his teaching profession. We met fairly on a regular basis not only to engage in casual conversation, but also to discuss on broader topics such as the literature, journalism, social service, repatriation, among others.
I was a big admirer of his persuasive English writing skills. His flawless and immaculate writings—usually filled with literature and philosophy—always inspired me. We often used to hang out in a nearby park, where he read to me his literature pieces, mostly poems. Whenever I visited him at his apartment, located less than a minute walk from mine, I always found him with a book in his hand. He was not only a regular reader, but he was equally filled with virtuous analytical skills to easily understand multifaceted literature books. He was a simple man with a wide-smile on his face, and he never boasted to know everything.
Initially as I struggled to take in the role of one of the editors of The Bhutan Reporter Monthly, Mr. Bhattarai gave me a moral boost, including his second set of eyes to comb through my writings to make it readable. Although I’ve appreciated his assistance privately so many times, I wish I had said this publicly when he was still with us physically.
Following his resettlement in Chicago, Illinois he quickly started volunteering to assist other fellow Bhutanese refugees for their successful local integration. In 2010, Mr. Bhattarai along with others from the community formed the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois (BCAI), and he actively worked for it until it was dissolved in 2016.
“Hasta was the one who welcomed Bhutanese refugees arriving in Chicago at the airport and rendered all other necessary services to them,” said Dilli Acharya, the founding President of BCAI. “He was a great leader, very honest, hardworking and family-oriented.”
Whether to provide post-resettlement services to community members, to engage them with gardening works and/or to organize an entertainment event, it was almost impossible without Mr. Bhattarai’s direct involvement, said Acharya.
Now that he is no longer with us, as a community we can live by his example—by helping others in need. When I visit his family possibly in the first week of May, I plan to trace any remains of his literature writings from which we’ll likely learn more about him.
Rest in Peace, Hasta sir!
Editor’s Note: Have a diaspora story you’d like to see us tell? Know of someone in the community who is doing formidable work? We’d love to hear about them. We are in particular seeking stories about women and elders and how they’re integrating into their new communities.