Traveling to school: a usual adventure
During those years of my early education, a student had to have at least three full years of schooling to be promoted on condition to first grade. Here I’m highlighting my school that had a rural settings, complete in itself where I was confined in its vicinity. Whether at normal or subnormal conditions I entered in that world, I had no judgmental skills but somehow I made my educational journey – a lifelong process. Actually, I was not admitted officially in that school. No one ever registered me for the school. Every day I followed my maternal uncles and aunts to the school ; while they enter the school compound I used to hide behind the fences and peep through the narrow slits of that bamboo fencing surrounding the school compound. Imposing myself out of school fence, I could only imagine as what would be inside those mighty rooms or how honored would I be if I were given at least a chance to enter that place. May be I lacked the gut to ask anyone. When the authorities later discovered my frequent presence, they permitted me to sit in a class, that I did not know which grade. My happiness or excitement reached no limit as if I conquered the universe in that fascinating homogenous biome. Thus I entered the threshold of modern education, challenging different hurdles, trying to harness it, appreciating its wholesomeness and may be playing my part. I need to be content on whatever the fate had ascribed to me during heavenly blessing. It is this education that contributed for the progress and prosperity of the world. The nations that understood the value of education invested significantly on this sector and made a leapfrog, changed its morphology and resolved problems while the nations that struggled for racial supremacy or territorial rights remained at classical era.
Whether that was a mindful luxury or economic scarcity, the mode of livelihood was a bare subsistence. Yet, interestingly, the days spent on that facility were vibrant, every moment spent was worth mentioning, lively and energetic. Going to school, I must say without exaggeration, some students of distant villages had to commute more than four hours each day. That was the only school in the whole subdivision consisting of five blocks of isolated Dagapela. The interesting correlation between the age of the student and distance one commutes could be well projected. Higher the age, longer the distance that student traveled to reach the school. So a typical grade one class comprised of students ranging from 8 to 13 years. And five years of age range in first grade itself is quite a huge gap in terms of physical growth and other cognitive development. Elder students would enjoy the better part in the non-educative dimension at the cost of younger ones. Invisibly or in disguise the elder students would dominate to certain degree. In academic context also the elder students used to grasp the matter sooner even though the age only might not be the sufficient condition for better academic performance. Physical stature was required to be a class monitor and that person would be powerful. Class monitors used to enjoy a great deal of supremacy, and domineering over most of the students that the degree of fear from them was higher than some regular teachers.
Dagapela falls in heavy monsoon region but we hardly could afford an umbrella to protect from heavy rain. Umbrella was a luxury stuff to us and it was neither handy nor convenient especially for those muddy and bushy pathways that were drenched with raindrops. The cheapest and abundant we could find to cover ourselves was the banana leaves and there was nothing to be ashamed of using the leaves. Leaves had its own limitation as we couldn’t save for further use. That was the way of life. And a few students could afford the plastic sheets but with age specific, the younger students lacked the proper maintenance of wet sheets. The students used to damage the books by putting the wet plastic alongside in their packs. During long monsoon season, the gullies, brooks, creeks and streams like Panakhola, Goshikhola, Bitleungkhola, and others would swell and flood with tremendous downstream. We had to risk our life and take the challenge to cross those monsoon-fed water bodies. There would be no elders to assist the crossing. We could not perceive how would be the life of having bridges or other temporary suspensions that would facilitate crossing. We walked some leech infested paths, particularly in wet days. We had encountered many treacherous snakes and some wild predators on gloomy days. The paths through highland or sloppy hills were very slippery and we faced all such natural hazards with bare feet.
For the students of distant villages Goshi School didn’t have boarding facility when I was at grade one but later it had some provisions. Many students from Tashidin, Namchela, Khaguchin, Emiray, Taanju, Dhappar, Chalabzee and Dorona villages had to find alternative shelters near the school premises. It was hard to find such makeshifts as people living near school rarely owned extra structures. Depending on the situation some students used to live in a group and they had to bring their own garrison, prepare their own meal and perform other routinized chores. Their parents used to collect a pile of firewood for that session in spite of their busy schedule at their smallholdings. With such impoverished arrangements, students from distant settlements normally found hard to cope up with the prevailing circumstances and preferred to drop the school. Was that their choice or obligation, a stage that would open the door of lights? Was that an appropriate mode to produce the competent manpower to meet the global demand of human resource?
The Headmaster: KG Nair
Going by the standard of English we learned, it was all Indian English, probably a reminiscence of British colonial era. And, the manpower came from India at all level of education in Bhutanese schools. We were taught by Mr. KG Nair, a man who revolutionized education in Dagapela. He was our English as well as the school head teacher. His name itself was enough for any class to quiet down or normalcy from any skews during his tenure. His voice was equally commanding to put things under control. Apart from English, he was fluent in Nepali language even-though his intonation of Nepali was a typically untrained tongue of South Indian, but clearly understandable. He was from Kerala state of Indian subcontinent. I can only assume that he had lost his connections with his family and relatives back there. In spite of all, he got well established in the newly adopted world by marrying a young lady from my village and later acquired the Bhutanese recognition. I had no such prejudice towards Mr. Nair and I claim to be one of his elite students. I always acknowledge his efforts to bring some positive changes in Dagapela. He really showed the qualities and conducts of an extraordinary person as an individual and institutional head. I have no clue as whether the government ever recognized his contributions at his death as the country’s creative class were searching the national ‘consciousness’ and promoting the righteousness or homogenizing the blue-blood. For most of us, it was he who had hold our tiny tentacles and smeared the alphabets on the slate.
The chapter : Hare and Tortoise
We were at first grade and we were curious children. Our level of inquisitiveness used to vary and try to find out the logic in many things that were quite above our capability. Even some silly things would wonder us and I specifically couldn’t digest the reason as why the slaughtered goat would die, that was being taught in other subjects. Simple finger tricks of changing the position of a mark on middle finger with a swipe of two fingers was my biggest magic. Without submerging on such emotions or entangling the mind, we were to start the new lesson, ‘Hare and Tortoise’ fable on that very day. We had mixed feelings; some were quite eager or anxious to begin new lesson while others were bit nervous for facing the headmaster.
As usual, Mr. Nair entered our classroom; we stood up to greet him customarily, and took our seats as he signaled. Before speaking anything, it was almost involuntary action of arranging his long mustache upright. So he didn’t forget his action and informed us that he would begin the new lesson. We had no idea of the precedence and remained as dummy member in the chain. Class progressed. He started the presentation. Without looking at the book he began narrating the story. The story started and he said ‘once upon a time, there was a Hare and a Tortoise’. But just after finishing that first sentence he questioned us: ‘what were there once upon a time?’ We were lost to give the answer, looked up in the blank CGI ceiling as if someone would provide us the answer. He told us to pay more attention and himself gave the answer, since it was first time. May be the language of instruction and our level of understanding also gave some sort of reluctance and courage to repose. Slowly he continued the story, created the mood to think by showing some body gestures or at times changing his voice intonation and finished the whole story. After orating it, he asked us whether the story was tough, easy or in the middle. Had he told that story in our mother language we would have understood the beauty of the fable but something didn’t match. The whole class remained frozen, just down to earth.
He then asked us to open our book on that chapter. He continued that he would be reading the story and we need to look and trace at his reading. Within no time he finished reading. Once the inspection reading was over, he told that he would read first and then we had to follow after him. That went well. We tried to imitate him and shouted sharply. When the class was almost over, he gave us a home task. He told us to read the story at home and on the next day we had to read aloud individually in the class.
To be continued….