Thursday, May 1, 2014

Story of How I got Educated in Bhutan

Sometime in 1985, a boy was born to a single mother while she was weeding in the rugged maize field.  A 34 years old woman squatted on the ground as she was seized with labor pain. Hidden among waist-length maize plant shoots waving lazily in the wind, she pushed hard. A baby fell on the ground. It rolled down the slope before she could regain strength. Luckily, it was struck on group of sturdy maize plant. She used her Tego to wrap her child as she had no other means.
Tired, thirsty and hungry, she stayed there not knowing whether to throw child or take her home. She was afraid of her parents because she already had two children without father as father had left them. The father of child in her hand was husband of her younger sister who gave birth a few months ago. The man had double crossed her. She almost made her mind to hide  baby boy in nearby forest but soft cry emanated  from innocent face made her think otherwise. When she took the boy home, her parents weren’t angry but sad for their eldest daughter who was destined to be cheated and suffered.
After one week, a villager astrologer was invited. Astrologer not very learned one wrote Keytse forecasting child’s future and possible future obstacles to the child partially through his guesses and partially referring to a astrology book. He was also named. The village was remote and poor called JurmeGewog under Mongar district.
The boy grew up like any other people under the care of his grandfather. When he was four years old, her mother married a guy fromDungsam. He lived with his mother and step-father for a year. After that he and his mother returned home and never went back. One evening when he was around five years of age, he remembered his mother asking him to wait for grandfather while she was talking to man who was carrying boy of his age. He did as was told. Her mother never came back. Later through angry grandfather, he found out that mother has absconded with a widower to another village leaving him, elder sister and elder brother to be cared by grandfather and their aunt.
His grandfather passed away when he was eight years old. He remembered him as a loving man and respected village Gomchen. His brother was already ordained as a monk in Pemagatshel Dratshang. Only after demise of grandfather, he remembered knowing location of where his mother lived.  After grandfather’s death, his fourteen years old sister became whole bread earner. She also agreed to admit him to the school. He was nine years old then.
He described his first school as memorable and fulfilling but difficult. His sister had hard time paying less than Nu. 16 as a school fee. Unlike other people, his lunch would consist of plain boiled maize grain most of the time. In community school, he also remembered stealing around five ngultrum from a well-off friend to buy some biscuit crumbs from a friend. He was caught and DzongkhagLopen gave a resounding beating.  At the same time, headmaster was also another challenge for students and villagers. He would terrorize parents and beat students even when he was bored. Many students left the school. From more than 100 students in his school, he believed around thirty students might have passed from the school.
He was an over-average student performing in academics above 90 percent of other students in the village. When he was in class three, his sister decided to shift to Pemagatshel with brother-in-law in search of a job. Asthirteen years old boy, he tried to manage staying himself. In the village, 12 years old people were considered mature. However, he couldn’t and decided to stay with mother and step-father. He believed it was here he took difficult decision of his life. He would be sent to school when school long duration bell ring for the assembly. He would run to school without washing face and reached school when assembly was over. He was expected to rush home right after class was over. However, he loved to play marbles and football games and participated dances despite beatings and scolding at home. One day his mother bowed to him three times as if he was deity for refusing to come home early. As a boy in early teen, he decided to give up dances and games for rest his life which he regrets now. It was also here he decide to make income to buy necessities for school through doing woola for other household for less than Nu. 10 per day.
His brother-on-law got job as cook in Pemagatsheldratshang where his brother has now become monk-teacher. After one and half year, he was called to study at Pemagatshel by his sister. He felt relieved for two reasons. He didn’t have to live in a house where he was not welcomed. He was also spared from almost daily ritualistic beating from headmaster of the village. But life was no better at Pemagatshel. Although, he consistently came among top three academically, he didn’t reconsider his decision to participate in co-curricular activities anymore. On other hand, it was difficult to survive in Pemagatshel which was a sleepy town compared to his village. His village was three days walk away from road. He remembered living in a makeshift hut where it leaked and earth worms crawled in summer. Till high school, he lived with his sister.
During this time, he also started working as unskilled construction workers on weekend and in winter vacation. He also worked as road worker. By late nineties, he was paid Nu. 50 per day for hard labour. He would wake up at 3 am and walked to stone breaking site and reached there at 7:30am. Supervisor would let them break for evening at 5 pm. He would reach home at 9 pm. By 2000, he started working in rural electrification programme carrying poles and diggings holes. By this time he was adult and beating and scolding was what he loathed. He had picked up habit of hitting back either verbally or physically. When a teacher mistakenly believed he bunk evening social works and hit him, he hit back. As a result, he was expelled from the school. He was in class eight and of seventeen years then. Today, he regretted that action very much.He believed that injustice he underwent as a child made him so short-tempered and arrogant.
In 2003, he was transferred to Mongar School as he refused to be dropped-out despite lukewarm support from two siblings. Though he had difficulty enduring scolding and beating, he promised to himself that he wouldn’t get into trouble anymore. Despite minor problems in school, he graduated class twelve in 2006. He was also selected to study undergraduate course in Cinema through government scholarship. The award was first step towards independence for him. But he regretted accepting the award as college was not what was believed to be by government. Three of us who got into same college decided to discourage scholarship division from sending other students in future. It might be coincidence but no students on scholarship were sent to that same college anymore. It was also in the college, he believed, it spoilt himself academically. It was also during that time, he learned about corruption in the system in both India and Bhutan. For instance, a college accountant was asked to help them creating account in Indian Banks as we didn’t speak Hindi. Accountant told us he couldn’t get us open accounts despite three days of scouting different banks. However, after a year, we picked up some Hindi. We found out we didn’t have problem creating accounts in Indian Bank. Later, I realized that he had expected bribe.We were too innocent to realize at that time. He also found out three other undergraduate scholarships students from one of the government organizations. They were neither poor nor have required marks for getting such award. Two were the daughter of a prominent printing press owner in Bhutan and one liked to call her father ex-Dasho.  But they didn’t explain what criteria for their scholarship were at that time. They even confessed that one master scholarship was cancelled to make room for them as there were only two initial slots. How true was their claims, he has never investigated.
Health wise, he also got greatest shock of his life in college when he found that he was paralyzed in the sleep.  After years of vigorous physical exercise, he has improved now. After college, he wanted to compete in Royal Civil Service Examinations but he found out that he had no means and place to stay in Thimphu without burdening his distant relatives who had found their own survival difficult. So he decided to look for other employment to save enough money before sitting for RCSC examinations. After two months in private firm, he was selected as Associate Producer in Public Broadcasting Company. It was here an unplanned relationship made him a father. After two years, he half-heatedly sat in his dream examination to see if he was still worth called a graduate. He got selected to be trained as trainee officer. It was also here that he tasted his first actual failure as he failed in a subject. Now, he had clear that back paper and is placed as an officer in one of the districts. Today he said, ‘I don’t have any plans for future. If I ever plan, I will plan for my daughter. But I will live my life on my term.’ 


  1. A nice retrospective write-up. Thoroughly enjoyed reading. At least you were able to understand some hindi words. I was totally blank ans even now i am not better than those days.

  2. Evocative well written words.

    I was born in 1985 too but compared to the what I just read about here I've lead a sheltered life. I've traveled to many countries and seen a lot of things, had my share of injustice and heartbreak but the hardships I've faced are infinitesimal in comparison.