Don't Tell Mother, Please
It was in the summer of 1992, in the month of June, when 14-year-old Tirtha Raj Wagle, a student of Grade 8, set off to the woods, with his friends to gather wild fruits near the Royal Chitwan National Park. His home is Gopalnagar village, which is under Kalyanpur VDC, Madi, 15 kms away from Kasara, a tourist resort in Chitwan.
Enjoying their holidays after a hard terminal exams, Tirtha and his friends, Deepak, Yam Prasad, and Jagat decided to go in search of "khania", a wild fruit, that usually grows from the trunk of the tree. Tirtha ran ahead, to reach the destined place, before the others.
This is what Tirtha recollects: "Suddenly I saw something black sleeping on the ground. Frightened and shocked I started sprinting in full speed. With all my force I jumped to the other side and then stopped to see what it was. But it was too late. A sloth bear had been sleeping with her cubs and I had disturbed them. The angry mother bear seemed determined to hurt the intruder. Before I could think of escaping, she grabbed my left hand. Then another sharp claw cut my face into shreds. My nose was scratched out mercilessly (as you can see in the above picture). My left eye was gorged out of its socket and half my face was hanging, like a page of a book.
After some time, I found myself lying on the ground. My body was bleeding profusely and my friends rushed towards me. I heard one shouting to the rest about my condition. You can imagine how I felt at that moment…
Soon I began to feel very hot. On my insistence, my three friends took me to the nearest brook to cool me and to reduce the pain. They tried to wash the blood. I had this burning sensation all over my body. I was thirsty. My friends tried to put some water in my mouth it would spill through the nose that was hanging under the chin.
I was in the water for about five minutes, suprisingly, I felt no pain on my face but my left hand was paralysed. Very soon the rest of the villagers came to know about the accident. Some of my friends had gone ahead to inform the villagers, and a village meeting that was in progress at Chhatra Bahadur's house was abruptly adjourned when they heard the news. The village folk muttered loudly, seeing the ghastly sight that lay before them. When I heard them, I spoke up. I requested them not to take me to my parents for I know that the news would be unbearable.
At first the weather was very clear, but later that day, on our way to Kasara, to get a vehicle, it began to rain. Kasara, the nearest place to get a vehicle, is 15 kms away. We were faced by a storm and I had to be protected by an umbrella. And I thank all those brave and kind men for helping me. Some of those I know and remember now are Purna KC, Ganesh KC, Ganesh Ghimire, Hari Timilsina, Tamang Mailo, Tamang Sailo, Chhatra. Their names will remain in my heart forever.
After carrying me for about 15 kms, they brought me to an army camp in Kasara. My face was covered, when the major was told of the unfortunate incident. "Why do children go to the jungle to play?" he said indignantly. One man pulled down the towel that covered my face, to show the major how serious the situation was. Seeing my face, the major fainted. When he regained consciousness, he quickly ordered a tourist taxi to take me to the hospital.
My eldest brother, Jagat, who lives in Narayanghat, near the hospital, was informed. Immediately he came to see me with his friends. At first my brother was hesitant to spend money on my treatment thinking I would not live long but later he agreed. He spent all the money he had working in his cycle repairing shop. My sister-in-law Goda, looked after me, day and night, in the hospital. My nephew Ananta, took turns. The first three days and nights I was unconscious.
Fanindra Neupane, a young man from my village studying in Birendra Campus, in those days, and Ajit, helped raise funds for my treatment. Then there was Dr. Christina Hozman, a volunteer doctor from Frankfurt, Germany, who spent years with me at Bir Hospital. I'm supposed to be the the first person in Nepal, to undergo a micro-surgery. My operation was telecast on NTV. The doctor who took care of me at Bharatpur hospital was Dr. Prakash Jung Rayamajhi and the head doctor at Kathmandu was, the surgery expert, Keshav Das Joshi.
20 complex operations were performed on me. I spent five years in the hospital. Out of these, three years were spent alternately at home and the hospital. I suffered but I learned many things about life. I managed to continue my studies. In a way, I have been more blessed than many of my village friends because due to my frequent visits and regular treatment from foreign doctors, my English improved tremendously. And this helped, in the pursuit my career.
While in campus, I was an active student. I frequently participated in discussions, sharing my opinions. One day, while I was heading home after class, my class mate Sushila approached me and asked me many questions about my life, that few bothered to know. She was not tethered by the sight of my face. I told her I was attacked by a bear while I was studying in Grade 8, that it was a beautiful summer day…"
Recently Tirtha attended the International English Teachers Conference hosted by NELTA. He was one of the representatives from Chitwan. In some Teachers' Training organized in the district, he speaks on behalf of the trainees. Soon he'll be completing his B.Ed from Sapta Gandaki Multiple Campus.
Undaunted by all these episodes and experiences in his life, Tirtha still loves nature and wildlife and prefers to be far from the madding crowd. He feels more at home in a natural surrounding. You will often find Tirtha whistling some tune in a quiet place. "Nayan bhari ko asu ma pani, luke ko hunccha mayalu tasbir".