Vomiting whatever I studied just like any other students, I gave sighed relief for short respite I would get from mental torture I went through for last three months. I didn’t have to worry about liberal gifts of whips from my dzongkha lopon, painful pinch from my math teacher, torturous memorization of essay that my English teacher wrote and not even had to endure consistent bullying of various captains. I could breathe air away from intellectual dictation as I didn’t have to shove fodder of rote learning down my throat. I was on two- week summer vacation. I didn’t give a dime about my performance in classroom because I didn’t want to.
After two weeks, I would have to listen to bickering and gossips, showing off and lamentation, happiness and sorrows that my friends would tell for weeks. Some would tell me about how his cattle died while he was on guard. Some would tell me a I reached Thimphu only in my geography book. Some of share about adventure of night-haunting and how many innocent girls they trapped with promise of marriage back in the village. They would ask me what I had done in those two weeks break. ‘You might have been busy with book.’ ‘I think for you getting top position in class is religion.’ ‘Come on dude, sometimes tell me you played.’ They would tease me painting the image of bibliophile. And I would accept all their conjecture with smile as if I were really studying.
For me, every vacation is ordeal like any other time. With respite from mental burden, I had to undergo physical burden all for sake of education and belly I loathed to carry. That summer too, I was on look out for temporary job like breaking pebbles, leveling construction ground, carrying sands and any other odd jobs that would fetch me Nu. 500 to buy naughty boy shoe. That was the time, my teenage hand couldn’t dig five feet tall pit, my teenage palms couldn’t handle five kilogram crowbar and my back couldn’t carry electricity poles for rural electrification. I was in class seven then.
By providence of chance, I got an opportunity to work for a man and his sister from my village who had immigrated to pemagatshel just like my siblings did. Only difference was they had elder brother in France who had proclaimed himself as lama. The Chigyel Lama had bought an acre of land and built three-storied fortress -like house for younger sister who had four fatherless kids who were at my age. That summer too, they received certain amount of dollar to build huge kitchen. The man who worked as school cook in one remote school was there to help her sister built kitchen away from home for they didn’t want to sully house with soot and smoke.
He had hired around six young boys for cheap menial service. Two sturdy men were also hired to extract slabs of stones from the swathe at fringes of field. From there we had to carry for distance of two hundred meters to where the foundation for kitchen was laid. He was an average built man with curved legs who was hyperactive. Even when we rested, his hand would be busy clearing verges that obstruct footpath; his legs would level the pebbles on the way. He was ever restless that led to calling him Uncle flea-trader by his nephews. He would carry stones with us, help us chose the slabs that we could carry. On the way, he would tell us the stories. We would have happy. Only later I realized that he was supervising and monitoring our works. ‘If you reach these many loads of stone, I will call it day.’ Excited we would do in lunch time. Next day, he would increase the numbers. One day, a guy in desperation, threw perfect slabs of stones into bushes of nettles. We were given nice gentle rebuke on how stones are gold grown on land which mines of gold. He told us, we wouldn’t understand its value unless we were confronted with reality later.
I was cynical because he left his wife and small kids back home in village to fend for themselves. Why did he do that if he was so confident about stone and land being mines of gold? He should have struck his gun there like a man he preached to be. Why was he being a mean husband that villagers back home called him? It was said he would hardly set himself into fields; he was rarely seen handling spades and hoes. He wouldn’t know how to hold plough. He would be there talking and talking like a parrot in sunny days. Because he didn’t like to work, he left village leaving behind kids who couldn’t eke out living from themselves. His daughter married in her early teens to lessen burden on ever stressed mother.
Here 10 years later, I am in Thimphu working under a company earning a salary which isn’t even enough to lead moderate life of lower middle class I dream to be. I am a victim of spiraling rent that my landlord levied on me with smug on his doma-ridden face. I am a spectator to trees of houses that propped in the capital. I am listener to tales of my colleague who boasts of how much his acre of parental land is worth. I am a dust-breather and smoke inhalers of Mercedes and BMW the elites in town drive. I am admirer of Tucson and i20 that interns in my office drive. I am often a mute and victimized audience in vagaries of urban life.
However, that made me realize why that flea trader told us that ‘stone is gold and land is mines of gold.’ I found out that he realized that too late. His wife and children disowned him when he went back home fed up with vagaries of urban life. He was legally no more head of family with whom he wanted to rejoin. His younger brother foreign lama stopped wiring money for leaving family behind. With all doors closed, he had applied to be a cook in remote schools. The support he rendered to younger sister was his little shred of redemption.