Narmaya: a life lost in time and space


Narmaya’s marriage to Dahal’s family has always been a heavenly gift. She was treated as the daughter with immense love and affection with no pinch of indifference shown customarily to daughter in-laws of those time. Narmaya didn’t face the age-old practice of giving unwanted troubles and extra loads of work to daughter-in-laws.

The Dahal family was relatively literate and well cultured family. Her father in-law, the great mason was very holy, kind and humorous man. He built lots of local structures like water spouts, Chautras – the resting places, planting trees (बर पिपल), stone pillars, temporary bridges for public welfare. Within a span of twenty-five years Narmaya became the mother of eleven children – nine sons and two daughters.

In that age of typical patriarchal society, the couple shared even the simplest matter of interest, the practice very rare in other families. As a result, they had bought about 10 acres of land at subtropical Homakhola and planted mandarins. They had also opened a general store at Goshi bazar on early 70s in their private house. It was a herculean task to run a store at Goshi, that was not connected by roads. Every merchandise had to be commuted from Kalikhola on animal or human back.

After opening of Goshi School , education to children became a priority for Dahal family. By 1980s two of their sons were serving the Royal Government of Bhutan at different capacities and the youngest son was attending National Institute of Education (NIE) at Samchi. And for other sons, the couple had given the fair shares of their property and all had settled self-sufficient at different locations of Dagapela.

Turmoil and torture

As can be surmised for a preemptive situation of a political turmoil, Narmaya’s youngest son did not remain untouched by the pro-democratic movement of 1990 in the country. For many youths, year before the movement had become the ‘enlightened’ period especially in the higher educational centers of the country. While he was a trainee at National Institute of Education in Samchi, he got engulfed by the idea of democracy for Bhutanese people. The degree of social injustice targeted to minority group by the rulers had touched his heart. The Dahal family remained uninformed about the fleeing of their son, drifted by the movement.

But her son was soon captured by the Royal Bhutan Army personnel in India and imprisoned at Chemgang central jail in Thimphu. When the parents got this news from Maj. Chachu Drukpa who was the acting commander in makeshift detention center at Goshi Junior High School, they were dumbfound as if all the sky was falling on their head. The parents never understood the reason as why their son joined the movement. They cried a lot and began knocking the doors of almost all the offices requesting for the release of their son.

The same Major called the family and told them that if they want their son to be released from the prison they have to leave the country. What a justice system of this Buddhist country? An individual of 24 years committed a crime according to its traditional law, but the whole family to face the consequence?

Sometimes the emotional decisions rule out the logical ones for love of parents towards their children. And without consulting other eight sons, the parents signed their willingness in a voluntary migration paper. The conditional agreement- the government would release their son from the prison only if they (whole Dahal family) agreed to leave the country immediately. Very cunningly, the government ployed the idea to evict such families. The Dahal family was asked to leave the country within a week, but their son was released after four years, understandably serving all the punishments for his wrong doing. Intriguing is the unfair means used to cover other family members under eviction drama. The question seeking justice – why other sons who used to make a separate living from the parents have to surrender their citizenry? Nearly fifty people from Dahal family had to bear the unpleasant punishment of Lord of Treason.

Life in lost azimuth

When the third country resettlement package was opened, Kharga and Narmaya were against the idea. They had a firm belief to return to Bhutan and live there with respect and dignity. But things didn’t happen as they thought and most of the trusted people in the community had already left the camp. Even though it was not their choice, they decided to sacrifice their life for the happiness of coming generations. In 2010, the family showed their intent to resettle in USA but as their case was forwarded for the process, Kharga Dahal (husband of Narmaya) passed away. The very incident created scars of deep sorrows for Narmaya and other hardships to overcome. Nevertheless, she was resettled  in Virginia with a grandson and later migrated to Akron, Ohio in 2014.

It was hard to digest the larger picture of celestial movement, the concept of day and night across the hemisphere. Narmaya never understood as why there is day here at USA and at the same time night at Bhutan. She gets confused as there is snow fall on the plains of Akron, Ohio. She conceptualizes that for the snow, it has to be mountain- a higher altitude.

During Teej of 2016, I was driving her from Akron to Cleveland, Ohio. On the 45 minutes driving she made many inquiries and asked few questions. Among many the most striking was that she was confused as where she heading. Meaning she thought that she was going from Goshi to Powang or Lalidhapper as her bother was at Powang. She reminded to me to stop at Deurali so that she could pick some leaves and flowers to the goddesses of Deurali and offer them. I was so touched when she told that. Literally I couldn’t reply her instantly. I reminded her that we were not in Bhutan. She didn’t believe me. She also asked me to stop at Samakhola so that she could wash her feet and drink the fresh running water. All her inner soul (Aatma) was roaming over that place and nothing could ever replace that. How much she felt humiliated, defeated, entrapped or destroyed she couldn’t frame it properly but I saw all in totality. I don’t know whether the feelings of such soul will ever hurt those wrong doers. If so, the perpetrator should have suffered on every inhale of breath. But a belief is spiritual aspect of human society and may not affect the reality of substance.

Nar Maya shared her story when she first saw a radio at 40 years of age in Bhutan. Her sister-in-law’s husband (Tiwari) bought the radio from Kalimpong and all her relatives used to gather to listen to the music from Radio Nepal.

Our community especially the senior citizen lived a very simple and common life in the thick and thin of those Himalayan foothills. But the complexity of life in the megalopolis region is eventually killing us. And at the descending phase of her life, without doubt this should be her most stressful time. She isn’t happy and satisfied with the mode of life. She doesn’t see her neighbor walking and talking to her. She never made a single friend here. And she doesn’t understand why people keep the pet animals and care them so much. Whenever she sees a stranger she assumes the caste of that particular person. She’s unaware of other religion and caste-less community.

With a single case, the sample size may be too small to generalize the conclusion of integration versus assimilation for our elderly population but this may open the door for further discussion. The integration process is very tough. The worldwide spread of family members and inadequate accessibility of the frequent visit to them is adding further bitterness. The elderly citizen cannot meet their community folks frequently for interactions due to highly sparse pattern of settlement of our population in the city.

Narmaya have no sense of place, time or  her daily life interactions of immediate past, but possesses an engraved memory of life in Dagana. She is naturalized to US citizen in 2016.  She has three cataract surgery to clear her vision, but do not recognize her visitors unless they relate some piece of connection to her. She can hear well to this age.

Her eldest, Gopilal Dahal is resettled in Australia, two daughters left behind in Bhutan and rest taking roots in the US.