Atul Koirala is a bundle of delightful contradictions. As a child he wanted to become a pilot and spread his wings in the azure skies. Destiny, however, had other plans and he could not pursue his dream. But he didn’t give up and today, he is instrumental in helping numerous youngsters chase their dreams, his imagination taking flight in their eyes, in their achievements! A delightful contradiction, because of his ability to turn adversity on his head, to cede a battle to win the war.
As a child he went through turbulent times, partly because of the socio-political upheavals that Nepal was witnessing those days and partly because his family was in the thick of things – endlessly persecuted, often forced into exiles and politically hounded. His growing up days were thus, far from ordinary, traumatic even. Imagine being in a constant state of flux, denied the tender loving care and attention of the parents, the usual banters of innocence. Such difficult were the days that Atul had to change schools often and it is to his credit that he continued his tryst with academia, hurdles, often seemingly insurmountable, notwithstanding. He had to go to India to finish schooling. His search for higher education took him to Russia from where he earned for himself a degree in Computer Engineering at a time when many of his contemporaries were busy sowing wild oats.
What Atul realises today, is that the troubles that he faced as a child were defining – for they helped shape the man that he is today. Today, no problem, however big, sways him, as he prods along, unwavering towards his destination. His philosophy in life, that the turbulence has helped shape is simple, stark and stoic – “what needs to be done, has to be done”, that too with a smile and without complaint. To call Atul Koirala a “remarkable achiever, a fighter” will thus be to put things mildly – he is a cancer survivor to boot.
Imagine being in your teens and unable to pursue higher studies, which had forced Atul to take up a job in the hospitality industry. Did it cower him down? Break his resolve to achieve his true potential? No way. He gave it his best and turned the so-called adversity to his advantage with sheer dedication and hard work. So much so that the management, recognising his potential, elevated him within the organisational ranks and sent him on a prestigious foreign posting to Sri Lanka. It was a different thing that extraneous circumstances in Sri Lanka forced him to return home when all foreigners were asked to leave the country.
Hospitality’s loss was education’s gain as Atul Koirala next moved into the world of teaching. Here too, the marks he has left are tell-tale, having almost single-handed created the curriculum, state of the art teaching aids and introducing many modern concepts that are still in use.
But the single most important contribution of Atul Koirala was the work he did as the private Secretary of the Prime Minister of Nepal Sushil Koirala. After going through tumultuous times, the young democracy was struggling to give itself its constitution and Atul Koirala’s role – in bringing the diverse and disparate political and academic forces on the common high ground will always be remembered in the right circles. Atul himself, ever the soft-spoken gentleman who shuns the limelight, reserves his comments on this important episode of his life but history will certainly remember. It is not always that one gets that chance of getting a ringside view as stalwarts, most with agendas of their own, work towards creating a Nation. Atul Koirala did, but wishes to remain silent, in the same way that despite his obviously strong family connections and his access to the powers that be, he has never, ever, sought to enrich himself or has taken favours that were, inappropriate. A delightful contradiction, some say an aberration, especially in the self-serving political milieu of the day.
Atul Koirala also had a long stint as a banker in one of Nepal’s leading financial entities where he managed a portfolio of functions that not only turned him into an invaluable resource to the management, but provided him with a rare insight into the business environment of the country and the economic ground realities. Here too, his contribution, especially in the technical side of banking, far outweighed his pecuniary take-home and when Koirala left, refusing to budge on a point of principle, the loss to the organisation was obvious. Atul Koirala is tight lipped about this particular saga in his life as well, and one does not want to poke him, for by now, a trait in the man his crystal clear. The word “compromise” simply does not exist in his dictionary. As always, he prefers to look at the time spent in the banking sector as a learning experience – opportunity to understand the finer nuances of another facet of the country he loves and has made it his mission to serve, till his last breath.
The travails of politics come with attending trappings and the ideologically driven Atul was fast losing his breath with disillusionment slowly corroding his resolve to see an economically resurgent, socially balanced, just and equitable Nepal. It was around this time that the Sushil Koirala Memorial Foundation (SKMF) was conceived of and legally established – with Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as its chief patron and Congress General Secretary Prof Dr Shashank Koirala as its President. Apolitical to a fault, SKMF is a think tank which harbours no parti pris and aims at facilitating the addressing of issues through dialogue and consensus. Towards this end, experts from different parts of the world – primarily from the rooster of Atul Koirala’s contacts developed painstakingly over the years – are being contacted and their collective wisdom tapped.
The SKMF has immediately identified areas like Children’s education; Sports for the overall mental and physical development of youth; promotion of women’s rights and public health. Atul Koirala, with his professionalism, corporate training, exposure to foreign cultures and education, not to mention the experience gathered by serving the highest office of the land, is today completely devoted to the work of the SKMF, of which he is the founder secretary. There couldn’t have been a better incumbent to fill the hot seat, as none were either as privy to the deepest thoughts of the leader as Atul Koirala was, or had the awareness about his working. It will not be out of place to mention here that in the last couple of years the SKMF has organised some of the most thought-provoking discourses in related fields apart from actively encouraging a slew of activities that have achieved their stated goals. However, what is in the cards is even more exciting and the SKMF is poised to be the change it wishes to see.
“I once dreamt to flying in the sky as a pilot. I still dream of flying today” says Atul Koirala, “only I now dream of flying high only to look down, to see a happy and a prosperous Nepal, a people proudly holding their heads high”.
May your dreams come true!
For More information about the SKMF: sushilkoiralamemorialfoundation.org