Print Edition - 2013-06-29  |  On Saturday

Obituary : Promises cut short

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Obituary : Promises cut short

Jun 28, 2013-

Not too many in Nepal will know about Bhaskar Thapa, although they will certainly have heard of his family. Most would know him as the son of Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, a man who’s held just about every important government position, including that of foreign minister, finance minister, as well as the ambassador to India and the US. Others would recognise him as the brother of author Manjushree Thapa. What they wouldn’t know is that Bhaskar was on his own path to great success in the field of engineering—tunnel engineering to be precise.

When Bhaskar returned to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents last year, he had talked to friends and families about the possibilities of using his engineering expertise in Nepal. He told his father, “I have learned everything I could in the US. Now, I want to use my talent in the country I care about.”

Bhaskar was working as the in-charge of the four-and-half-million dollar Caldecott Highway Tunnel project in California. The Caldecott tunnel would pass through the Berkeley Hills, connecting the Californian cities of Oakland and Orinda, and had been included by President Barack Obama in the list of ongoing ventures that were part of an effort to “rebuild America’s economy by rebuilding America.” “Once I’m done with the project, I will come back,” Bhaskar’s father remembers him saying.

His mother, Rita, a retired former public health specialist with the WHO and a medical doctor, was happy to hear of her son’s plans. Bhaskar had already spent the last 27 years in the US, studying and working, away from his family. “I was waiting for the time when he would pursue his dreams closer to us,” says Rita.

It was in 1980 that Bhaskar had left Nepal for the US, accompanying his father on his first diplomatic assignment. He then completed his BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and received a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He eventually came to be ranked one of the top-10 tunnel engineers in the US.

While in Nepal in 2012, Bhaskar had given a presentation on tunnel technology at the Ministry of Physical Planning. Birendra Bahadur Deuja, engineer and head of the high-level committee responsible for studying the status of implementation of the Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Physical Planning, recalls Thapa’s keenness to work in Nepal. “That desire was there even at the time we worked together at ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) decades ago.”

But, however keen Bhaskar was to work in Nepal, he was advised to wait a few years. “I suggested that he wait at least two more years. ‘Let the constitution be written, let there be some semblance of political stability, then come back.’ That way I reckoned he could work unhindered,” says Anil Shah, CEO of Mega Bank and one of Bhaskar’s close friends. Bhaskar had taken heed of the advice.

This September, the Caldecott Highway tunnel will be inaugurated. September is also when Bhaskar would have turned 50. Everyone in his family was planning to convene in San Francisco to commemorate these two historic moments: his sisters—Brussels-based Tejshree, and Manjushree, who shuttles between Toronto and Kathmandu—and his parents, who live in Nepal.

Everyone who knew Bhaskar and who expected to see him show his skills in his own country bemoans the loss. “We were fortunate to have someone with such expertise and position in the US wishing to work in Nepal,” rues Deuja.

While Shah says, “He was one of the most focused, dedicated, and disciplined workers I’ve ever met. I wish I had never suggested that he wait to return.” The world will never know how far this remarkable man could’ve gone.

Published: 29-06-2013 09:18

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