Let’s go back Home: An episode from my educational journey
Back in the rural villages (of Bhutan), the onset of spring would for parents mean two things: the commencement of cultivation (sowing) season- sustenance and survival at the moment; and preparation for children to be sent to schools (academic year during the beginning of the current millennium would commence from 10 March) – nurturing the future. Preparation for sending children to schools transferred in long distance schools would require mental adaptation as much as financial stability.
I studied my primary education from class PP to VI at Bumpazor Primary School (BPS) (Drepung Gewog, Mongar Dzongkhag). After completing class VI, students would be transferred either to Gyalpozhing Higher Secondary School, Mongar Higher Secondary School (I stay corrected) or Drametse Lower Secondary School. Some would seek admission as a day scholar at Kurichu Lower Secondary School. The placement would be announced, reached to individual student and their parents through a Gewog messenger (Chipon) some time towards the end of February.
In the beginning of spring 2002, I was informed that the class VI students of 2001 of Bumpazor have been transferred to Drametse Lower Secondary School. I had heard the name and some trends about the school; an older relative and a neighbor of mine had been to the school who would come to our place and share his educational (schooling) experience with my parents during the vacations.
I felt excited as well as encumbered. I would get to travel beyond my village and its vicinity for the first time. Having to travel by a vehicle made me excited, more, for it would be my first time experience. On the other hand, exception to infrequent travel to Gyelpozhing to help mother (Ama) sell vegetables and the sight of expatriate workers (Indians working then under construction Kurichu Hydro Electric Project) thereof, I had not had the grasp of the world beyond my village.
Although under one Gewog with walking distance of not more than an hour, we would not know who is doing what until the very last moment. Some of my classmates had already secured their admission at Gyelpozhing HSS. And, my parents did try to get my admission. Father (Apa) with an aid from older village man was supposed to request for my seat as a day scholar at Kurichu LSS where I would put up at maternal aunt’s place who was working at Kurichu Hydro Electric Project. As it became evident, I was anxious about having to walk alone from school to home among strangers. Particularly, rumors about head hunters (Khekpa) were doing the rounds.
Apa and I went to Gyalpozhing. However, we could not establish contact with an elderly village man who was supposed to liaise between us and the principal. Apa bought a bottle of beer as a gift (phyag mjal). Principal turned down our request; the beer was not accepted either which Apa (a teetotaller) drank on our way back. We bought a mattress and a blanket from Gyalpozhing for Drametse awaited me. It did serve my thinking – to get an opportunity to travel by a vehicle for the first time; and also to not be all alone in the school. But events that ensued were not plain sailing.
A couple of days later, I was to leave for Drametse along with other students. Most of us would be accompanied by our parents, fathers in most of the cases. Apa had gone with other students and their parents to Mongar to reserve a DCM truck which would not only carry our beddings but also us – students and guardians in our parents. Ama and I waited for the vehicle to arrive at Kidheykhar (Kilikhar), some two hours walk from my village, Drepung.
Towards the late morning, the vehicle came. Apa would go with me. Having to depart from each other at comparatively young age, it was tough for both Ama and me to embrace the reality – presented before us. Ama broke into tears as the wheels of the blue DCM truck rolled- towards Drametse. I could not resist either but helplessly wipe tears running over my face as the distance between Ama and me widened, gradually. I was twelve then.
The first ride on a vehicle…not even had five minutes passed (we had not reached Tongseng as I later came to realize during my travel to the Sherubtse College) when nausea overpowered me. I started to vomit, continuously. I would hear (faint voice…), Chompa, Korila, Ngatshang, Yadi…as if others were inaudible…As nausea and vomiting took toll, headache and chest pain would inflict heavy pain in me – to the extent similar to the intestines being rubbed against a hard substance. I could not resist anymore. I told Apa, “let’s go back home [phai ga lok nyi de khai]…” Having spent more than an hour on his lap in open deck of the DCM and hearing me express such emotions undergoing that painful travel, he broke into tears too…It was at Zalaphangma, some more than 3 kilometers drive from Yadi eastwards to Trashigang, Drametse in our case. The Zalaphangma stretch has some 12 turnings which might have made me nauseate, more. We would have another 33 or so turnings from Thungdari (Zero Point) to Drametse. We did not return to home; rather continued our onward journey to Drametse.
We reached Drametse – a spot without enemy, towards the evening after five to six hours drive. Everything – starting the direction sun would rise and set, I felt and saw, different. As Apa and other parents left for home (Drepung), I would be put under the guardianship of my older friends from the village, not for days and months but for two years. We would travel either by a DCM or a truck for next two years. Catching a local bus (Lokor Bus among general population) of Mongar to Trashigang would mean reasonably cheap fare but under an obligation to look for another vehicle for remaining 19.5 kilometers uphill climb from Thungdari to Drametse. At times, one would have to walk all the way to Drametse (there was a short way though).
At Drametse, we had to put out lights (run by a diesel generator) at around 2100hrs ( 9 PM). As night unfolded and in dark, on the other side of the peak/spot (equivalent elevation), we would see lights alight. It was the Sherubtse College. During one of the nights in 2003 when I was in Class VIII, my cousin who was also my guardian, Jambay, referring to the lights on the other side of the peak, told me, “…You will get there [nan gi leng nyong pe…]…” He, I suppose, based his prediction on my retention capacity – ability to hold intact what I have learnt in the classes. It was a prophetic comment! I did study at Sherubtse…