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I learned more than what I taught…

An expatriate teacher recalls his first day in Bhutan 

With acute pain of swollen knee (arthritis), I have been lying in my bed, thinking about my past: why did I come to Bhutan leaving a fairly good job at home? Why did I stay here for 26 years…?

I remember my first day in Bhutan. I was posted to Tongsa School. In 1962, Tongsa was 10 days from Geylegphug. With my horseman and his loaded ponies, I walked all the way. By the time I reached Tongsa, I picked up a few Dzongkha words from him. He was my first Guru in Bhutan.

He dumped my luggage in a classroom of the dilapidated old school building, collected his fare and went away driving his horses. I stood looking at the disappearing horses and mule tracks that connected me to the external world. There was not a single human being around.

I went inside my room. The floor was covered with dust an inch deep. I spread my bedding on the dust and stretched my body thinking of the ways and means to escape from the forlorn at the earliest, if possible, the next day. My aching body did not allow me to stay awake for long.

I woke up hearing somebody knocking at the door. I couldn’t believe somebody would come to see me at the night. All around, it was pitch dark. Was I dreaming? I pinched my body to check whether I was dreaming or not. No, I was not dreaming.

The knock was still continuing, now followed by giggles. Collecting all my courage I got up and opened the door. It was neither ghosts nor dacoits. A small boy and a girl with a kettle full of suja and bangchu full of red rice and ema datchi stood there.

I accepted the ‘manna’ with gratitude. I tried to thank them. They continued their giggles. They said something. I did not understand the language, but I understood the meaning. “Sir, as long as we are here, you have nothing to worry about.” Language cannot create a barrier between love and affection.

Leaving the kettle and bangchu with me, the children left with their bamboo torch. I had to fight back my tears of happiness. I changed my mind. I will work for these children. I will give whatever I have to make them better persons.

I came into my room, lighted my candle and ate the food. I never had, before or after, such a wholesome meal in my life.

What those children did was the real culture of Bhutan. Since then I have had innumerable experiences of this nature. These experiences enriched my life, changed my life and made me what I am today. I learned more than what I taught…

The story was first published in The Call, Stories of Yesteryears, a Centre for Educational Research and Development publication in 2002. It was titled First Day in Tongsa. The author, Mr G B Kurup is no more. 

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