Chandra Bahadur Wakhley
I am one of the seven siblings born to my parents in Lapsibotay, Chirang district in 1932. Of the four brothers, three are living: the eldest one, now 91 years, is resettled in Virginia. I was born and brought up in a farmland, simply doing the chores required to keep the family farm attended. My parents arranged by marriage at the age of seven years, and I became the boss of my wife.
I was not sent to school, and there was none at the time. A Sanskrit pathsala established in Lamidara, by the community effort was imparting the traditional learning of religious books in Sanskrit.
English was then considered alien language to learn; branded as the language of ‘beef-eaters’. Later, a community school was opened in Damphu where I was sent for few months at the age of 14.
One day when I was just walking down the path from Damphu, I caught up with some government people, I guess, looking for youths like me to recruit to the police and armed force of Bhutan.
Without offering me any chance to inform my family, they took me to Sarbhangtaar. There was the training center and I was now a recruit to the army. During the training, I had to take the food making the edge of my kameez the plate and mug.
I got my supply of clothes and utensils only after a month. By then, my top-knot (tuppi) was gone,and I was considered downgraded from my caste. The small piece of loincloth (dhoti/lagauti) that I used to have did not serve well to cover the private parts.
After six months of simple training, our group of cadres was sent to road construction in Surey-Samkhara. The place was also called Hattikhola, then.
The sacred thread, Janai, that I offered at Shivalaya, the temple, could be worn again only by performing the consecration ritual upon returning from the army. The purpose was to regain the original sanctity of a family life I am supposed to live.
I had once worked as an assistant to the headman (Mandal). It was the time of many development works taking place in Bhutan–road construction, schools, bridges, government offices and irrigation channels etc. The official command came as and when required. So, we the local officers in villages had to run even at night to look for people who should go to the work force, without considering their own ability to contribute.
Chirangdara school was built with such voluntary labor contribution by village people, carrying the construction materials uphill from Damphu. But it was the development people wanted; all of us wanted to send our children to schools nearby. School in Damphu had been started; that it was not initially taken up by the government. It began as small mud house constructed around 1940 in Damphu bazar. People who sent their children to the school had to register the names with a donation of one maana (around half kilogram) of rice and one Rupee. Lingden sir from Kaleboong ( Kalimpong) came to teach Nepali and English and he took charge of expanding the school. He was acting headmaster of the school running from nursery to grade five.
Life was primitive in those days and it was a living in paucity. There were few things to buy and sell, only essential commodities like salt, kerosene, clothes, soap, sugar and spices. Chanchey Bazar was the only weekly market where we used to buy goods. Few merchants like Setu Basnet sold clothes, no not ready made ones. Even school uniforms were tailored with hands. For getting the supplies in larger quantity as reserve for the rainy seasons, or get more valuable household items, we had to come down to Sarbhang. Everything of the shopping bounty carried on horse back, few kilograms shared by men too. The currency used was 0.50 denomination silver coins, usually called Peta. Indian currency was very much common in the border markets but not in the interior.
Land for settlement was aplenty. You could easily acquire virgin land with simple registration procedure at the local office of Sub-divisional head or even with the village head (the Mandal). A few kilograms of butter or chilli or may be milk and cheese could make the official happy enough to register land in a person’s name. Such land was called Chaardamey.
Tax was levied on all kinds of property owned. I payed land tax of 18 rupees equivalent of Indian currency, while for a cow was 1.25 rupees, and that for a buffalo 2.50 rupees. Difference in land tax for wetland and dry land came in force with enforcement of land act.
The prime minister Jigme Palden Dorji (aka Kumar Sahib) used to come to Damphu and encourage us to show patriotism, to be loyal to the king and country. He often sang a patriotic song in Nepali and encouraged everyone to sing. I guess, if he was not assassinated, we would not have met this fate. He was very kind and caring to all southern population.
Wakhleytar in Wangdi-Chirang road is still the name secured after my second brother’s prosperous establishment. The only hotel he owned served repast for all passengers who commute along that road, connecting Chirang with Thimphu. The bridge over Sunkosh was often named as Wakhleypool.
One interesting occasion I lived through was an accidental meeting with the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. I had been to Wangdi to sell tobacco where we had chance to see him in the dzong. Upon returning, we ran out of food supply we carried. There was no way to buy food at the time; we could only get few kilograms of rice or some potatoes. I went out to a village (the drukpa village) where I acted as a magical saint to seek alms with chanting of esoteric hymns that I learned by heart. I was offered plenty: rice, chillies, butter, cheese and potatoes. The supply lasted for the journey on foot back home to Chirang.
I usually dream about my life in Bhutan. There was no such intention to leave the country, but circumstances forced my family. My second eldest son, who still lives in Bhutan, wanted to defer our form/application to move out of the country. Being a senior civil servant in department of power, he ran from one office to another, using his bureaucratic influence to stop the voluntary migration form we filled out. All was in vain. He was taken under an undeclared confinement, limiting his movement, until we were compelled to leave the home. He was later coerced, restricting him for promotion or even work in his duty, but simply giving him some allowance at home.
Resettlement in the US has offered us a better physical living, but not spiritually satisfying. Life in the camps was not at all productive, nothing good to remember about.
Here I am, learning English at the elderly day care center, learning the history of US so as to pass the citizenship test. But, effort to learn a new language at this age is a herculean task. Whatever I learn in the day care is too volatile; it goes off as I reach home.
(As narrated to Buddha Mani Dhakal of BNS at Wagle’s residence, a house owned by his youngest son, Bal Bahadur Wakhley, in Louisville, Kentucky)