Walking The Path Less Trodden: Dayananda Bajracharya

Features Issue 68 Jul, 2010
Text by Utsav Shakya

Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya was involved with the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology from its heydays, and was one of the first fifteen academicians to be associated with the academy.

Prof. Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya has recently developed an aptitude for literature. But he certainly is not new to writing. The popularity and rapid sales of his autobiography “Baigyanik Goretoma” surpassed even the very high expectations he had of himself. No one else doubted the success of his book though. For the people who do not know him, it would not be too far from the truth to say that for the rest of the world, the down to earth, very talented and outspoken Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya represents the face of science in Nepal. This man’s journey in his preferred world of pure science has been as exhausting as it is incredible. And to think that it all started with a little boy’s rather curious interest in plants.

An Early Start

Dayananda Bajracharya was born in Maru Tole in Kathmandu to Jwala Devi and Vedananda Bajracharya. Science is very evidently in his blood for Bajracharya’s grandfather was the first man in Nepal to open an allopathic medical store called Guheshwari Medical Hall, which also sold ayurvedic medicine. An illiterate woman herself, Jwala Devi however, was very particular when it came to her children’s education. Dr. Bajracharya owes his mother the lion’s share of the credit to the fact that she made sure all of her children were well educated. His father was more of a flamboyant personality who had an avid interest in the finer things in life such as clothes, horse riding and even hiking. He was also an excellent story teller, who would surround himself with his children in bed and tell them the most amazing stories; an ability that is clearly in Dr. Bajracharya too. The gift of the gab aside, education was top priority in the Bajracharya household.

Home schooled till the age of ten, when his father finally decided to enroll him in Shanti Kunj School in the fifth or sixth grade, Dayananada  proved to be smart enough to be fit for grade nine. Finishing his SLC exams at the tender age of twelve, Bajracharya then initially enrolled himself into an Arts College for a short while. However, he soon changed tracks and enrolled himself at the Public Science Campus. After completing his Intermediate in Science (I.Sc.) with high marks, he applied to study medicine. But he failed to convince the authorities that he could tackle the intricacies of medial science at such a young age and had to join Tri Chandra College for his Bachelors of Science (B.Sc.).

While doing his Bachelors, Bajracharya found himself drawn to plants. But unlike other youngsters who are usually interested in the beauty of plants or in the fragrance of flowers, it was always about the why and the how concerning plants that drew him to this world. The young Dayananda would spend hours to quench his youthful curiosity trying to understand why some plants grew on to be trees and some did not, or why some plants had flowers while others bore fruits.

Unable to find the answers, this mystery only fuelled his fire, and soon after, when faced with a choice to either study medicine or M.Sc., Bajracharya opted for the latter. “All of my family members and friends scolded me and told me I had to be stupid to let go of an opportunity to become a doctor. In those days, doctors commanded utmost respect and were considered to be at the crest of society,” says Dr. Bajracharya reminiscing upon a choice that he most certainly does not regret. So it was that Dayananda joined Gorakhpur University by winning a scholarship from the Ministry of Education for a Masters in Botany and came First Class First in 1966. Dr. Bajracharya emphasizes the fact that although he was initially reluctant to  go to University in a considerably smaller town in India, he soon discovered that Gorakhpur University had the best professors to whom he says, he owes his good performance. “This made me realize what a huge role teachers play in a person’s education. I sincerely believe now that having excellent teachers is far more important than just going to a top-rated college,” says Dr. Bajracharya.

It was during his time at Gorakhpur University that his interest in Plant Physiology started growing as he began to discover the answers to questions he had been asking from the time  he was a kid. It was perhaps this drive that made him perform well enough to break all previous academic records in Gorakhpur University. Twenty years of age, Bajracharya returned to Kathmandu and started his illustrious career by teaching M.Sc students straightaway. Half of his students were his friends from his B.Sc. days and he also became the youngest Lecturer at Tribhuvan University (T.U) to teach a Master’s level class.

By being the only eligible applicant to an advertisement for a Scholarship to Germany for which the minimum requirement was a first division in M.Sc., Bajracharya got into Freiburg University by default. He pursued one more Masters in Plant Physiology before his PhD and finished up in 1975. He is the first person from Nepal to obtain a PhD from Germany. “During this time, as I delved deeper and deeper into the study of plants, I felt like I was being rewarded for not choosing the medical field by finally getting the answers to all of my childhood questions regarding plants,” says Dr. Bajracharya.

Scientist, Academician and Author

His time in Freiburg University proved to be most fruitful as well as memorable. Dayananda had the opportunity to work with Nobel Laureates on a day-to-day basis in world class facilities. He also traveled extensively all around the world. Till date, Dr. Bajracharya estimates he has traveled to more than forty countries, and he says he has worked and met with 31 Nobel Laureates.

Throughout his career, Bajracharya has continued to set academic and professional records, always raising the bar higher for future generations. At the age of 31, he went on to become the youngest Professor at T.U and the youngest Rector at 41. He is also the longest serving Professor of T.U, working there for thirty long years. He also went on to become the longest serving Vice Chancellor for the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (RONAST, now NAST). While in office, not one to stay idle, Dr. Bajracharya managed to find time to pen down four books. He is recently working on a book to commemorate twenty-five years of the establishment of NAST. But even after such a fruitful life, Dr. Bajracharya says he does have regrets. “After completing my PhD, I had an opportunity to pursue research work in America. I did not go to America, but opted to come back home and start my teaching career. I did become the Head of the Botany Department, then the Dean, the Acting Registrar, the Rector and finally Acting Vice Chancellor of T.U. At this stage in my life, I strongly believe that had I gone to America, I could have contributed more in the field of science,” says Dr. Bajracharya, apparently not content with leading such a colorful life in Nepal.

It is perhaps this regret he has in mind when he casually mentions his favorite quote by Albert Einstein; “Politics is for a moment, but an equation is for eternity”. It is his search for these ‘equations’ that have brought Dr. Bajracharya much deserved recognition. He continues to be perhaps the most active and visible face of science in Nepal. His choice to come back to Nepal did allow him to meet several Heads of State, to work closely with many popular political figures and with the Royal family. However, on his scale research work weighs in much heavier than anything else.

Even in his free time, Dayananda can be found either reading or writing something. He has had over 40 original research articles published in the field of Plant Biology, 7 books and several popular articles on science and technology. He has also penned several controversial articles for national dailies from time to time. His research articles have been published in Nepal, India, France, Israel, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, UK and the USA. The findings in research have been widely cited in Annual Reviews, Encyclopedias and textbooks published in Europe and USA.

Besides this, Dr. Bajracharya has supervised more than 25 dissertations and is also an examiner for Ph.D. theses and Post-Doctoral Research Fellows from Germany. He also evaluates research proposals and project reports. His list of past positions held in various organizations is staggering to say the least. He was the Chairperson for the Tribhuvan University Journal, the Editor of the Journal of Institute of Science and Technology and the Journal of Natural History Museum. He is the Founder Patron of the Botanica Orientalis (a student journal of Botany). He also presided over the Nepal Botanical Society and the Nepal-German Academic Association. He was the Chairman of the Botany Subject Committee for Tribhuvan University as well as the Research Committee, Science Faculty Board and the Research Coordination Council, all within T.U.

A list of all the Honors and Medals bestowed upon him is equally overwhelming. He was awarded the Mahendra Vidyabhusan Gold Medal, Class II (1967), the Mahendra Vidyabhusan Gold Medal, Class I (1976) and the Prasiddha Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu in 1999, a High Level National Award for his outstanding contributions in the field of science and technology and also higher education.

The NAST Connection

Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya was involved with the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology from its heydays. He was one of the first fifteen academicians to be associated with the academy. Having worked under many other Vice Chancellors who were appointed by the King or the then Prime Ministers, Dr. Bajracharya always realized both the immense potential of such an institute and the severe handicaps it had that would have to be taken care of for running the academy efficiently. After much speculation, Dr. Bajracharya was appointed the Vice Chancellor for RONAST in 1997.

A few days after entering office, the RONAST staff who were awaiting orders for starting work under his authority, confronted him. They had not received orders to start any kind of work.  “I am of the opinion that a man of science should be a free individual, both in thought and in practice. I have never been the type of man who likes either to give or to take orders from anyone. My fellow scientists at the academy were obviously used to taking orders,” muses Dr. Bajracharya rather philosophically. “I asked those gathered around me to think of me as a colleague and to bring forth ideas which I would work on with them.” During his tenure as VC, he always promoted this idea in his work. Another problem that was gnawing at the academy and was preventing smooth operations was internal problems regarding the permanency of appointments in RONAST. The problem found a solution under his able leadership and something that had held up the academy for 16 years was done away with within 3 months.

But even with able leadership, the rented condition of the buildings in which the then RONAST building was housed in Baneshwor and Anamnagar was a serious problem. “I just could not see the academy flourishing in such an environment,” says Dr. Bajracharya. Out of the 120 ropanis of land that had been initially allocated for the academy, 111 ropanis were given to the Rastriya Bank by the government. Dr. Bajracharya had to address a roomful of ministers as they ate, to finally get his request taken seriously. He got back 80 ropanis of land for the academy and then made news again by proposing to build a new building for NAST that would require a budget of Rs. 30 million. The present NAST building is the one Dr. Bajracharya fought for and had built during his tenure as VC. This project however, got the lion’s share of hurtful and false accusations of corruption.  The building was inaugurated by late King Birendra.

Dr. Bajracharya improved foreign relations that would help the academy immensely and initiated many new science and technology programs. He also managed to send 28 plant scientists abroad for manpower training and established the Science Learning Center. He retired from his post as VC after serving for 8 fruitful years.

Coming Down the Mountain
Even after retiring from NAST and at the age of 61, Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya is still a far cry from the image of the typical retired man. He holds several positions at various institutions. He is a Professor of Botany at the Central Department of Botany at Tribhuvan University, the Editor of Nepal Journal of Science and Technology, the Chief Editor of Nepal Journal of Plant Sciences, Academician in NAST, Co-chair of Flora of Nepal Project and also the Coordinator for the Biological Committee at NAST.

Dr. Bajracharya has plans to establish an institution with the help of like-minded people which will be independent of the government and which will work towards the progress of science in Nepal. He is also busy with a newfound interest in writing and promises to keep his popular articles in national dailies as regular as possible. One of the topics that he feels strongly about is the need for people to realize other career choices for the youth than just commerce, medicine and engineering.

“I am retired only in the sense that I have tried to give up my strong ambition for always achieving more. My life has been a constant struggle ever since I started school. In school, college and university, it was the struggle to come first. While teaching, it was always the struggle to become the Head of the Department, the Dean, the Rector or the VC. In my research work, I would always work towards doing things my way to stand out in a crowd. But this kind of struggle, hard work and eventual success does not come without a price,” opines Dr. Bajracharya.

“I always looked at life as if it were a mountain and I strived to reach the top of the mountain before anyone else did and that too in the most spectacular fashion. The only real vacation I can remember taking after working for 41 years is during the 19 days of civil uprising before the royal handover. I have never enjoyed being so free and staying at home as immensely as I did in those days. However, in my race towards reaching the top, I did not look sideways once. In a way, life sped right past me. But now, on my way back from the top, I am certainly not going to run. I want to attend to every little matter that might have escaped my busy mind,” says Dr. Bajracharya with a smile that hints that he is indeed going to enjoy his new found free time. With a lovely wife, Kokila Bajracharya by his side along with two grown children Sahaj and Sardu, he certainly deserves the free time to stop and smell the roses at this point in his life. Here’s hoping Dr. Dayananda Bajracharya enjoys every minute of his leisurely stroll down the mountain of his life.