It Started in Kathmandu
As told by Bishnu and Tara Chitrakar
“TARA, I want you to come and meet a man who we think will make a good husband for you!” That was how my father broke the news to me in a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was 28 years old and working there as a doctor. With the approval of our respective parents, four weeks later we were married!
The man’s name was Bishnu Chitrakar. He was 34 years old and had majored in agricultural engineering technology. Over the years, I had occasionally seen him on the streets of Kathmandu, but I had never personally met him before. This may sound strange to Western ears, but marriages arranged by parents have been the custom for centuries in my native Nepal—and the divorce rate is very low. Maybe I should explain a little more.
When a woman in Nepal marries, she moves in with her husband’s parents. If the son moves out, this is looked down upon. He is expected to stay at home and continue to support the family arrangements. Thus, a future daughter-in-law is scrutinized carefully as to how she will harmonize with their son and with them. In this way years of experience are brought to bear in the choosing of a wife and a husband.
Anyway, there I was, a qualified doctor, trained at the Moscow Medical Institute in the Soviet Union, and married to a man who was going to take me to the United States. But I will explain that later. First, let Bishnu fill in his side of the story.
From Engineering to Psychology
Bishnu: Back in the early 1960’s, when I was working with the United States Agency for International Development in my native Nepal, I was not in the least concerned about whether there was a God or which could be the true religion. I had a mixed Hindu-Buddhist background where regular visits to the temples were all that mattered. As a result of working with Americans, I dreamed of getting to the United States to further my education. That dream was realized when an agricultural engineer friend from Kansas sponsored me to come to the United States in 1965.
From 1965 to 1969, I studied agricultural engineering at the University of Hawaii and then at Oregon State University. While there, I was selected to be a student counselor for a dormitory. This gave me the opportunity to work with people and their problems. Then it was that I came to realize that I was more interested in people than in canals and agricultural machinery. So after having studied for about five years, I quit engineering and changed to psychology. In time I received my master’s degree in clinical psychology at Wichita State University.
In 1971 I went home to Nepal for a brief visit. Imagine my surprise when my mother told me that she knew of a nice girl from a good family. Would I be interested in marrying her? I thought, ‘Well, yes, when I have finished my studies in the United States in about a year’s time.’ As it turned out, we were married within four weeks. We had a traditional Nepalese wedding that lasted two days. Since we are both from the Chitrakar caste, many of our relatives were present.
Now you may wonder how we could expect to have a successful marriage built on our parents’ choice and with such a flimsy knowledge of each other? The answer is that we trusted their judgment—and time has proved them right. So rather than follow the Western approach of dating and courting, we followed our traditional method of having our parents match our qualities, values, and character.
After our marriage Tara continued to work as a doctor at a local Nepal hospital. However, she was not happy spiritually. She was raised a Hindu and had an active religious conscience. She had many questions about religion. But she can tell us about that.
Studying in the Soviet Union
Tara: First, let me explain how I got to the Soviet Union. I was granted a Soviet government scholarship to study medicine in Moscow. Then came the first problem. I had to learn Russian. Normally, students were sent to Russia for a year of language study. However, because of an administrative delay, I arrived in Moscow six months late. That left me only six months in which to learn Russian! Then I went straight into medical school for six years of training.
I am often asked what I thought of the Soviet Union. Of course, everything in life is relative, and my point of reference then was Nepal, still a developing country. Therefore, I was very impressed by the clean cities and the excellent transport system, especially in Moscow. As for the people, I found that they had the same basic needs as people everywhere—adequate food, clothing, and work so that they could care for their children. They had suffered so much in World War II that they were conscious of the need for peace.
As a medical student, I found that the doctors and professors loved their work, even though they were not highly paid. In fact, as a scholarship student, I received far more money (90 rubles a month) than my Russian fellow students. Many of the doctors and surgeons, as well as some of the departmental chiefs at the hospital, were women.
Hindu and Methodist Worship
After completing my studies in Moscow, I returned to Nepal and, as you now know, got married. A few months later, I joined Bishnu in the United States. I began to miss some aspects of my life in Nepal. As a Hindu, I had been used to visiting the temples in Kathmandu. Although my religion paid little or no attention to doctrine, I missed the outward manifestations of spirituality. I needed a “temple.”
Just across the road from the post office in Winfield, Kansas, where we picked up our mail each day, there was a Methodist church. So one day Bishnu struck up a conversation with the pastor, and from then on we started to attend that church.
The pastor and his substitute knew that I was a Hindu and that I had my idols in the house; yet, they had no objection to that. I must say that my four years there failed to satisfy me spiritually. We were very ignorant regarding the Bible.
Plagued by Questions
As a doctor, I had seen a lot of suffering. For example, on one occasion in Kathmandu, I saw a woman go into shock because of being given a mismatched blood transfusion. The laboratory work was not always conscientious, and fatal accidents did occur.
I was plagued by questions that neither Hinduism nor Methodism could answer. For example, Why do we have to die? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Who is responsible for human suffering? ‘How am I going to get an answer,’ I wondered.
One day Jehovah’s Witnesses called on us. I told them that we attended the Methodist church. But when the Witness asked if we would like to understand the Bible, Bishnu liked the idea, and I went along with it. Soon my questions were being answered Biblically and in a logical manner. Now the Bible was the book I wanted to understand more than any other. I came to realize that a God of love could not be responsible for all the suffering in the world. From the Bible, I saw that it is really a combination of satanic influence and man’s own waywardness that leads to suffering and death.—Deuteronomy 32:4, 5; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9-12.
I also came to realize that if the names of Hindu gods were important to distinguish them from one another, how much more important is the name of the true God, Jehovah, to distinguish him from all the false gods that exist in the world. (Psalm 83:18) I was delighted with the prospect of a new world of peace and harmony. (Revelation 21:3, 4) But while I was getting spiritually satisfied, Bishnu was not accepting the answers easily.
Skepticism and Then Conviction
Bishnu: While Tara was accepting Bible truth, I was resisting the idea that there could be only one body of truth. So I studied the Bible with the Witnesses, but in order to find fault. Yet, the Witness patiently came up with all the answers for me from the Bible. Slowly I became convinced.
Eventually, we moved to Arlington, Virginia, and in December 1979 we were baptized as dedicated Witnesses. We now decided that we should use our lives more to Jehovah’s praise. So we determined that at any one time, only one of us would have a full-time job while the other would spend more time preaching and teaching the truth. For a while I worked full-time in a psychiatric treatment center for Vietnamese refugees.
From Psychologist to Bus Driver!
In November 1980 we moved to Winchester, Virginia, where Tara got a job as a clinician for the Public Health Department. Now I had to find a job. For about nine months, I was unable to find employment in my profession. Thus, Tara was working, but I was not. All I wanted was a part-time job, so that I could do more in the ministry.
That was a time of test for me. I was getting discouraged and began to think that I would have to settle for full-time work. But I was not tempted beyond what I could bear. I was eventually offered a part-time job in a drug rehabilitation center, counseling persons with drug and alcohol problems. It was ideal for me—I could choose my own schedule. Then the situation changed. I was given the choice—full-time work or no job at all. So once again I was out of work, and this time I was drawing unemployment benefits. That was a blow to my pride, but then a surprising challenge faced us.
The Awake! magazine of July 22, 1984, published an article on unemployment and offered suggestions. As we looked down the list of job possibilities outside the home, Tara pointed out one that appealed to me—school-bus driver! This was a most suitable job as far as the schedule was concerned.
From psychologist to bus driver was quite a change. Yet, I liked driving. Even though it meant swallowing my pride, I presented myself to the school authorities. They offered me the post—and then gave me one of the toughest routes with some of the most rebellious kids. That is where my knowledge of psychology was really useful.
In one bus load, there was a small group of rowdy kids who would not quiet down. I stopped the bus and explained to them that it was for their safety that there should be no distractions while I was driving. If there were, I would pull over and stop the bus until there was order. After stopping a couple of times, the majority soon made sure that the rebels kept quiet.
Yet, my most valuable experiences were in the ministry. I was preaching on a more regular basis and receiving training from Lansing Anderson, an excellent pioneer minister and elder in the Winchester West Congregation. Then in 1985 Tara had some experiences that changed our lives again.
A New Challenge in New York
Tara: In 1984 and 1985, I had the opportunity to serve on three occasions as a visiting physician at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. It is a community of some 2,700 Witnesses from all over the world. They eat, sleep, and work there—with no salary, just a small reimbursement for expenses! All of them are volunteer ministers, dedicated to getting the “good news” of God’s Kingdom government preached in all the world. (Mark 13:10) Many of them work at the extensive printing establishment to produce Bibles and Bible literature in many languages. Others are involved in office work, administration, and home operation. So this little “town” in Brooklyn Heights requires its own medical staff.
I was thrilled at these opportunities of working in such a Christian community. It was so satisfying to be working among people who are clean in body and mind and who share my beliefs. Then the big surprise came. The Watchtower Society invited us to come to serve full-time at the world headquarters. So now I am one of four doctors, two male and two female, who care for the needs of this community. Our patients range from small children (for example, one of our doctors has four children) all the way to elderly Witnesses who are over 90—and still working! And what does Bishnu do?
Happier With Less
Bishnu: I am now serving as a home overseer in this community, supervising some of the domestic operations. Here, I do not deal with alcoholism or drug addiction. Everyone lives by and applies Bible principles, and it is interesting to see that such principles are often what today is called applied psychology.
True, we no longer have a house nor a good salary. But we have learned to be happier with less. We have found the knowledge of the true God and Sovereign Lord of the universe, Jehovah. And we came all the way from Kathmandu, Nepal, to find it!
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Kathmandu city and valley, Nepal, where we were born
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Soon after our marriage in Nepal
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Tara studied medicine in the Soviet Union
USSR Mission to the UN
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Tara (left) helping to prepare a meal in her mother-in-law’s kitchen