Politicians, policy makers and social workers around the world have found reasons to celebrate women on the 8th of March every year. I believe someone as special as a mother, sister, niece, girlfriend and wife need to be celebrated more frequently. Nevertheless, I take the opportunity of this year’s women’s day to pay tribute to the beautiful women in my life. As I do so, I wish that these same women happen to me in my next life. I know Buddhistically, it calls for good karma.
My mother died of complications from postnatal placenta retention when I was barely five years old. Seven months earlier she had lost her husband – my father. My youngest sister, who was the product of that fatal delivery died fifteen years later. As my maternal aunt raised her, we grew up as cousins rather than as full blood siblings.
After the demise of my parents, my paternal uncle took care of my siblings and me. However, tragedy was to continue in our family. Barely a year later uncle lost his wife in another post-childbirth complication. The male baby survived and today he is a confident young man taking good care of his family. He bears a bit brownish façade and has light resemblance to Barack Obama.
My eldest sister was given away on marriage to a man who had long stayed in our family as a longterm member. His ToR included tilling of land with the help of a pair of bullocks. He was a moody, yet genial man. My paternal uncle had decided that he was the best groom for her. Everyone in the family kept a dignified silence on the decision. My elder brother and I, who were expected to resist and challenge uncle’s matrimonial decision, were too young to do so. My sister and brother-in-law started their independent lives under a tree. House there was none and the two struggled for about a year at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Two of my elder sisters are in the USA, said to be the land of opportunity. However, they didn’t go there on their own as Mexicans and other illegal immigrants would do; destiny took them there. The detour from remote Neoly to Rhode Island and Virginia was long. The stopover on the way was two decades long as political victims and refugees are wont. One of them is making her living tossing towels into a laundry machine and bending her back ironing and folding the products. The other is busy taking care of her lovely doll of a granddaughter.
Together, my three elder sisters (and particularly the eldest), tried their best to fill the vacuum left by the early demise of my parents. They provided me with near maternal love and care. I still remember the many times that I ran away from my uncle’s house to my eldest sister’s place. In between my uncle’s and sister’s house was a narrow gorge and semi-forest and a perennial stream ran through it. I would stay late pretending to study and just when everyone settled into their rooms for the night, I would snatch my school bag and run away. The little runaway boy took about fifteen minutes to run through the gorge. The narrow path was either pitch dark or frighteningly bright depending on the lunar phase. I did not care as there was plenty of love waiting for me beyond the gorge and the narrow uphill climb. Although there was no mobile call, short message or a Facebook post to inform my sister, she was always waiting for me!
To this day, one of my younger sisters struggles to meet her ends. Hardly two years separating the two of us, we grew up together. I took care of her and she took care of me. Our relationship was highly symbiotic – I scratched her back and she scratched mine. Eventually, one major thing separated the two of us – school and education. While uncle sent me to school, Kaili (Nepali for fourth daughter) was kept back at home. She cooked, tended to the cattle and ran numerous household chores. When she was barely 18 years uncle gave her away to a much older man in faraway Daifam. She begot three boys; it was highly common and acceptable to have four, five, six, up to dozen children at that time. She is now beginning to see some light at the end of her sons’ education and some hope for old age support. The other younger sister of mine has had a relatively smooth sailing so far. After school she became an agriculturist. As a good civil servant in Bhutan, she continues to wrench her way through.
Beyond my mother, six sisters and numerous cousins, the second set of women I came across was my school and college mates. During primary school, girls were just students as were the boys. I was too young to understand the gender difference. As a small built boy I was considered unsuitable to be part of the boys football team. I always teamed up with the girls. By higher secondary girls meant more than just students. They provided physical attraction. The more robust and adventurous of my friends started finding girlfriends. By the time I reached Sherubtse College in Kanglung, I found that girls were more studious and scored good marks – often with the help of ogling young Canadian teachers. I was teased into becoming competitive in studies. I remember a time when my boyfriends confronted me once and said, ‘Om, you are our only hope. You must study hard and beat these girls.’ I was not sure. I comforted my mates by saying that I would beat them in the board exam. I was buying time. A compact was signed.
When I joined the Ministry of Economic Affairs after my first degree, there were very few female employees in the Ministry. In fact, at the Department of Industry, where I started my civil service career, Aum Lhamo, a rotund elderly lady, who doubled up as a steno and typist, was the only female employee. As a young officer, I had to run after Aum Lhamo for all my secretarial needs. Those were pre-computer days and the good old typewriter ruled the roost. Lhamo not only could dissect the strokes from the boss’ dictation, but was also an experienced typist. She helped me settle on my job as I worked hard to support my seniors prepare the Ministry’s Seventh Five Year Plan.
At work, I rose through the ranks and fifteen years later I found myself heading the Entrepreneurship Development Programme of the Ministry. I learned training and teaching and understood the nuances of small business management. I was part of a small and dedicated team that supported business startups and entrepreneurs. One day, in the year of the female sheep, the same year that my wife begot our third child and second boy, two young women joined my office as probationary employees. They had completed their Bachelor Degree about a year ago. They reported to me wide-eyed and soft voiced typical of novices at work. There was excitement in the office. What would it be like working with women colleagues, most of us wondered. The girls settled down quickly. Soon one of them got married and before long her impending motherhood was apparent. When she became a mother, female idiosyncrasies began to surface at work. It was an opportunity for me to exhibit my softer side. As an early orphan, as someone who was surrounded by numerous sisters and cousins and more relatedly as someone who had lost a daughter two years earlier, I was not expected to be tough. I didn’t want to be tough. The young mother reaped my softer side; I allowed her longer and more flexible maternity leave and working conditions. I feel good to this day. My women colleagues still respect me for that.
My first baby was a daughter, a very cute and loveable thing. Everyone said that she looked like me. Until she was born, I didn’t know anything about jaundice, bilirubin or hyperbilirubinemia. When she was a year old, doctors told us that our daughter had Kernicterus. We gradually came to terms that we had a special daughter. We began to love her more as she remained on our laps most of the time. She visited us for five years and left us in the spring of 2001. My wife and I still miss her and the absence of a daughter in the family has left a vacuum. However, I have two lovely boys and numerous nieces – my wife’s sisters’ daughters, brother’s daughters, sisters’ daughters and cousin’s daughters. Some of my nieces are very close to me and regard me as their own father. They also play good proxy sister to my two boys. Our boys do not miss a female sibling as much as we miss a girl child, thanks to their closeness with their cousins. Relationships are not defined by blood alone. Relationships are in our mind, our hearts and in our day-to-day deeds and behaviour towards each other.
My wife is someone’s daughter; she has three sisters and a half-sister. I met her in the summer of 1990. We fell in love in the spring of 1993 and got married that summer. Besides being my partner, she has been an excellent mother to our sons. Professionally, homemaker doesn’t sound very upmarket; housewife, the terminology used in our part of the world is even more derogatory. However, for my boys and me Tika has not only been a wife and mother, but a nurse, a doctor, a chef (she cooks damn well), a strategist and a boss. Using the Facebook language, I am tempted to say that she is the world’s best wife. Today’s generation knows how to show their adulation for their parents and partners. You are the best husband in the world, is a common Facebook salutation. I know it is literally wrong – for best is a superlative and compares between various subjects and objects of discussion. Technically, one has to experience more than one husband/wife to say that a particular one is ‘the best husband/wife in the world’. Let me buy the joke, Tika is the best wife in the world. Let others play second fiddle to her.
(The author is an Associate Director at Druk Holding & Investments, and this write-up was adopted with a due permission from his Linkedin page)