What do people generally do when they find themselves at a crossroads in life where they have to choose between something that they find enjoyable and something that they have been doing for a long time?
Dr Minendra Rijal, former defense minister and a Nepali Congress politician would have it both ways. So he took his teaching and political career side by side.
After losing the election of General Secretary in Nepali Congress he resigned from his post of defense minister in December, 2021. After 18 months, he was nominated for the position of central member of the party.
Dr Rijal is active in both capacities–as a party member as well as a teacher. He teaches the students of MBA in Apex College every Sunday from 8-10. Actually, he has been teaching for the past several years.
He is the person who gives his all while studying and while teaching. He designs a special course by himself in order to make the students more comfortable with what they learn. “How do the students understand him? As a teacher or a former minister and politician?” We asked.
“There is neither a politician nor a former minister in me while I am in the classroom. I’m just a teacher,” said Dr Rijal. His students treat him just that way. They regard him more as a teacher than a politician, he said.
He is a dedicated teacher. On special occasions he would spend many long hours organizing a single orientation class.He even used to have lunch every day at the college canteen itself so that he could strengthen the bonding with his students.
As a teacher and as a chairman of Apex College, Dr Rijal has some interesting events to share. He would hide himself in a room to smoke. Once some students saw him and remarked ‘we saw you.’ It is, however, years since he gave up smoking but he still remembers that incident.
At 65, there are wrinkles on his face but he reminisces the days when he was young, when he was an energetic student and teacher. He taught even while he was a member of the National Planning Commission in 2002.
He had to renounce teaching at one time but not out of choice. He was a teacher of Macroeconomics for MBA students. Just then, in 2004, King Gyanendra deposed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and took absolute power in his hands. Deuba along with other political leaders were imprisoned. Dr Rijal was one of them. Then he quit teaching temporarily.
But teaching was his forte from as early as the 1990s. A brilliant student in the university, he was the university topper in MBA. Soon after he started teaching Human Resource Management in the Public Administration Campus.
He fondly recalls his first day in the class. “I was given the morning class. The subject was human resource management. It wasn’t the exact copy of what I had learned in college.However, I gave it my all every day while teaching.” But one hour of class was not enough for him. As a fresh graduate, he had this zeal to impart everything he knew to his students, the reason why his class went far too long. Then Pushkar Raj Rijal, his senior, advised him to change his method. “You can teach anyone in an easy manner, you just need to assess the need and ability of the students. You need to impart knowledge and information needed for their level,” his senior told him. “Then one hour of class would be enough.”
“I was a young man full of energy and will to do something grand and make all of my students into geniuses,” said Dr Rijal, smiling.
He was a proud teacher, who taught with passion. “I was a rebel. I was always proud of myself and confident at everything,” said Dr Rijal. “I remember that I taught my first class with confidence.”
As a teacher and as a politician, he has been a confident person all along his life. “My father passed away while I was studying in grade nine. After that I started taking care of all the decisions on the matter of the house by myself. That’s the reason why I never lacked confidence in any stage of my life,” he said.
Wherever he has taught, whether in Nepal or the US, he has taught with confidence and he has been strict in terms of timely submission of assignments–term papers and project works.
He remembers the feedback of one of the students in the US. The final grade of the first batch he taught had just come out. After the final grades, there was a practice of students evaluating their teachers. “One of the students of the first batch wrote to me, ‘You are an excellent teacher, you are likable but you are strict,” Dr Rijal recalled his days from the US.
After teaching at the Public Administration Campus, he taught at the Central Department in Kirtipur. While there in 1987, he got a Fulbright Scholarship to study in America. He studied Masters of Business Administration in the New York State University of Management where he got the highest grade.
Afterwards, he did his PhD from New York University, where he started to teach.
While doing PhD, his colleagues tended to undermine him as he was from a third world country. One of his American classmates thought lowly of him because of the country of his origin. He studied hard and secured the first position. “Then they started to look up to me. They started to come to sit together with me in the class,” he recalled those moments.
That was not all. Not only did he get the highest score in his batch but he was also appointed as a professor at the New York University.
Dr Rijal’s favorite students are those who are like himself. “Those who can question the teachers while also being respectful to the teacher,” he said. The satisfaction he derives from studying and teaching is not comparable to anything else. “I am happy and satisfied, which is why I teach,” said Dr Rijal. “The day I am not happy with teaching, it is not necessary to continue teaching.”