I met Prakash Amatya for the first time in 2017 for a news interview at a public school in Teku of Kathmandu. Amatya was busy conducting workshops for the school kids about menstrual hygiene and rainwater harvesting. His thoughts felt refreshing to me.
While these topics are quite familiar to many people today, they were just some fancy terms people used to use to show they were “environment-friendly” and “inclusive” then. But, Prakash Amatya was the first person I had encountered who was interested to impart this knowledge to school-level students, who I bet were not interested in whatever that meant in their lives.
The menstrual hygiene sessions meant more to me as it was a man leading them. From the sidelines, I could see how he was a mentor for the young ladies and how much he was respected for his encouragement.
He also took the team to the slum areas of Teku, along the riverside, where people were living under poor hygienic conditions and constant water crises. He took the team and delegates present that day to see the living conditions and then teach them how to combat the crises with the harvested rainwater. Though my interaction with him was brief and just around the topics, he left quite an impression on me for being a man who was doing things, out of the ordinary. All his ideas were practical and encouraging.
After that, I happened to meet or talk with him occasionally. But, it was in 2021 that I had the chance to see the same man for a deeper and more detailed conversation. Since then, he was my mentor for all the stories about a range of issues from culture to environment.
When I heard on Saturday morning that Prakash Amatya is no more in this world, there was no word for me to speak. While it was an irreparable personal loss to me, I also remembered what he lived for, and his contributions to Nepal, or Kathmandu at least, in several sectors, for which thousands like me will remember him forever.
For dignity, against discrimination
When I reconnected with Prakash Amatya, it was in Swayambhu where he had set up a smart public toilet, another out-of-the-ordinary idea that I am still in awe of.
He gave me a tour and introduced me to his idea of the smart toilet, toilet tourism and how it was all connected. For every query I had, he patiently walked me through the process and explained how in every step his focus was to solve the water crisis of Kathmandu and Nepal as well as promote the marginalised Pode community of the city.
It all made sense, making me wonder why it took us that long to understand the concept and implement such a unique concept at a community level. Why was only this man working on it? And, why were his ideas not getting a space in mainstream media?
That day, which happened to be International Women’s Day, Prakash Amatya gifted a pair of shoes to all the female staff who had to stand all day working. His thoughtful action, defining “give respect to get respect”, left an even bigger impression on me that day.
Looking from the sidelines again, I could see the same person I saw a couple of years ago only better. There again I saw the same man who was respected by his subordinates. I saw how he made great efforts to redefine the meaning and impression of the Pode community, which was primarily known for cleaning the streets and toilets. He gave them uniforms, identity cards, training and most of all, introduced them to the dignity of labour. I saw the way he talked to the operators, and their families and how he encouraged them every step of the way.
Prakash Amatya was still the same advocate of women empowerment, in action, that he was in 2017. The same respectful person he was.
Promoting public toilets in Kathmandu
From that day onwards, Prakash Amatya not only became a key source for me professionally but he also became my indirect mentor. He was a regular reader of my stories, and he would always send encouraging words. Even when I felt like I did not do justice to the articles, he always had only words of encouragement for me. He always championed the role of media in his works too.
Every time I would talk with him, he would always passionately talk about his projects and vision. One vision was to see his project of smart toilets grow but bigger than that was his vision to see and correct user behaviour. He wanted to see toilets become a priority someday, see toilets make the headlines and wanted to make toilets “a meeting and dating point”.
With time, I saw him set up smart toilets in Patan Dhoka, Tripureshwor, Bishnumati, and Bhimsenthan and how his #TalkToilet campaign reached new heights and crossed international borders. And, in that period, I have not known a single person or had any encounter where the people had anything bad or wrong to say about him.
Actually, anyone I met through Prakash Amatya or around him shared how they felt safe, encouraged and inspired by him and all his work around toilets. His social media profile was as interesting as him too, and his observation and photographic timings were also as interesting to me.
A hope lost
Among many conversations I had with him, the only time I remember him saying anything remotely discouraging was a few months ago. After giving many years to toilet and activism around it, he had one question: Who would take over this project after me?
For the first time, Prakash Amatya shared how people did question him about his interest in toilets, the basic but most neglected part of human life. And, how he was grateful for what he had achieved so far, but then how he finds himself stuck on the same question: What next?
The lack of support from the government and the public bothered him too. But I saw him bounce back right into working with the same passion.
His wish of seeing toilets making headlines also came true, even though it was because of the new Kathmandu mayor. Regardless, he was thankful for the new leadership and so hopeful of seeing the discussion around safe and hygienic public toilets that were sustainable in nature, in every aspect.
Prakash Amatya was also planning for the International Toilet Summit and how to make Nepal the next tourist destination with toilet tourism.
But, on Saturday, waking up to the news of his untimely demise on Friday night left me with mixed emotions. And, all I could think about was how he had asked me to meet tomorrow [on Sunday] and how that tomorrow would now never come through. His question, “what next?” or “if I would not be here one day, what would happen?” bothered me all day.
His loss will be heavily realised always, by anyone and everyone he met and the lives he changed, everyone he encouraged and anyone he mentored.