One sunny Saturday morning I was enjoying breakfast on the patio. Unexpectedly, I heard an emotional conversation from inside the house that drew me inside. I saw my father having a conversation with his close acquaintance back in Bhutan, almost 8000 miles away as the crow flies.
My mother was listening fondly, whilst their friend was sharing his news and grieving about their separation. Thanks to the Facebook Messenger, they were finally reunited, virtually, after 25 years.
Without hesitation, I sat close to them. As I listened, I felt nostalgic at times while also muttering to myself: what a fate! They were talking about: their separated families, forbidden land, properties and cattle; their village; the roads, the school and almost the entire infrastructure that they and their forefathers had toiled very hard to construct.
I was astonished by their vivid recall of so much of the past, even though they are all in their late sixties.
As I was listening to this conversation very closely, I felt like my dad’s friend, Uncle Keshav* was speaking from the very core of his heart. Mitjyu, zindagi na dukha cha, na sukha cha, challirako cha tara maan ma aasanti nai chha – sabai chineka aafanta jaan cheuu maa chainan translated as: my dear friend, life is neither worrisome nor filled with happiness; life goes on but I don’t have a peaceful mind- all of my known relatives are not here with me.
Undoubtedly, family separation is not something that anyone wishes for. Growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal, I heard countless agonizing stories mostly related to the horrific expulsions from Bhutan during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Everyone had their own individual anecdotes about how and why they fled from the country, unwillingly leaving friends and families behind. Many of the stories I heard myself during my stay in the refugee camps in Nepal were full of resentment towards the ruler and the allies of the hermit kingdom. They were cruel; responsible for many inhuman acts, such as murder, rape, violent night attacks, kidnapping, and the vandalizing and burning of property.
I researched some of the history and came across a book written by Balaram Poudel “Bhutan Hijo ra aaja”. This book provided more insight about how dreadful Lhotshampas (Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese) were treated by the regime, through its systemic policies of ethnic cleansing and family separation.
Returning to the original conversation, my mom was talking with Aunt Januka*, the wife of my dad’s friend. I saw tears rolling down my mom’s cheeks. My mom inquired about Aunt Januka’s children and their current life. She has fond memories of their childhood days: times spent roaming the hills and the tropical jungles, fetching cattle fodder and other farming chores, and of festive occasions.
Aunt Januka* briefly described the transformation of places, with the addition of roads, electricity, and other improvements in the infrastructure. She was distressed when she mentioned that the army had demolished our house and looted everything.
“It’s now unoccupied land,” she added during the conversation. My mom was speechless.
Even though there were some cheery moments in almost three hours of conversation, my parents seemed disconsolate as they listened. While I was listening, I was imagining myself making arrangements to reunite them in person one day.
Needless to say, it is not possible, as resettled people are still restricted from flying back to Bhutan. Unfortunately, there is nothing in place for separated family members to be able to reunite in person.
So, my parents are uncertain whether there will ever be a reunion; they aren’t alone in this. More than 100,000 Bhutanese living outside Bhutan, whether resettled or currently stationed in the refugee camps in Nepal are waiting for a possible reunion with friends, families and the land of their birth.
Is reunion actually feasible?
This is a question that haunts me every now and then. Quite often, I discuss this issue with family and close friends so that we don’t forget our origins and we can work towards a reunion with the separated families inside Bhutan.
Undeniably, it will be the achievement of a lifetime to see my birth place and enjoy the experience I have always dreamt of.
Meanwhile, after a brief pause and mixed feelings, my parents concluded the conversation; hoping for a reunion in future and wishing them all the best in their lives. From the other side of the world, Uncle Keshav and Aunt Januka also bid their goodbyes in a wistful tone, promising to talk again soon, repeating the phrase; hamro bhagya mai khot rahecha (we have flaws in our fate). This sentence still reverberates now.
As much as I hope to find treasures of history buried and lost back in my birth land one day, I doubt whether my wishes will come true.
*Some names have been changed in the piece.
The author who had volunteered as a correspondent for BNS for almost 8 years holds BBA in Computer Information System from the Eastern Kentucky University.