Gajendra Budhathoki, who has been involved in Nepali media for almost three decades, says journalism is an addiction. The winner of the National Journalism Award is wheelchair-bound but that hasn’t stopped him from writing some of the best news articles and investigative pieces. And he is still striving to do more in Nepali journalism. “My disability doesn’t have to be an inability,” he says.
The 47-year-old started his journey as a reporter from Udayapur in Province 1 where he was born and raised. He was just 18 years old back then. He was associated with the town’s local newspaper, which was basically articles written by him and a few of his colleagues, he says. But, for him, education was also one of the priorities. At that time, not every district offered a bachelor’s degree. Udayapur didn’t have a bachelor’s program either. Fortunately, he was offered a job in Kathmandu at Nepal Samacharpatra. Additionally, the city also had a great bachelor’s program in communication.
Budhathoki loves reporting and his write ups are evidence of his extensive travels. He was a part of many field trips organized by various NGOs, and that helped him bring out stories from the rural parts of Nepal. Although his trips were funded by different organizations, he says he always did his best to write without bias and tell the truth. He wasn’t trying to curry any favors from the NGOs or be on their good books. “Eventually, they stopped inviting me since I wasn’t writing what they wanted me to,” he says.
He was making quite the mark as a strong-willed journalist when, in 2008, he got into a road accident. His bike collided with a four-wheeler. There had been heavy downpour and almost zero visibility. “There was no external injury as I was driving slowly. But my back hit the concrete and I injured my spine,” he says.
The time after the accident was tough on him and his family. He was given a 10 percent chance to survive the surgery he would have to undergo. His wife decided to risk it and Budhathoki is grateful for the decision she made. He has undergone many surgeries after the initial one but he is alive today and that’s what matters, he says.
Budhathoki spent seven months at the Alka Hospital in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur. He says there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion as to what to do next. He was worried about whether he could continue his work. The doctor, however, pushed him to get back to writing, which, he says, was a reason enough for him to jump start his career again. Four days after the surgery, the doctor had him sit up and handed him a laptop. He then told Budhathoki that he shouldn’t be sleeping all day and should use the time to write instead.
Budhathoki confesses things were difficult but what would have been worse was if someone were to claim he was taking advantage of his disability. As soon as he was discharged from the hospital, he went to the office, like any other day before the accident. “My wife would accompany me to work. It would also have been impossible to maintain that routine if my colleagues hadn’t been supportive,” he says.
Budhathoki feared he wouldn’t be able to do investigative reporting, being bound to his desk. But he realized that with access to the telephone and internet, he could still make things work. Today, he travels around when necessary but he is able to accomplish quite a lot from behind a computer too.
Out of all the investigative stories he has worked on so far, he says he is particularly proud of the one that exposed the Coca-Cola company and their tax fraud in the series of articles published in Taksar Magazine, an economic magazine where he is the editor-in-chief. It took Budhathoki 14 months to complete the story. “I worked on it mostly from behind the desk making phone calls and writing emails. It’s not difficult to get things done if you are determined,” he says.
Budhathoki received a lot of threats after the articles were published. Once some goons came to his house with the intention to finish him off, he says. Thankfully, his neighbor, who was a retired army officer, chased them away. But these kinds of horrifying incidents, and there have been a few, haven’t deterred Budhathoki from doing what he does best—reporting on issues that matter.
Despite his love for journalism, he says it isn’t enough to provide his family the life he feels they deserve. So he has taken up a teaching position besides research work. But that is just so he has the liberty to continue his work in journalism without letting his financial situation get in the way. Several political parties have also approached him to get involved in politics. But that’s not what he wants to get into, at least not right now. He feels he has yet to make a mark in journalism and that is where his heart lies.