Being known as Sangay Lheundup in my childhood days, I have covered miles to reach where my feet stands now. I am a Lawyer by profession, yet, my journey is incomplete, and human desire does not end with single achievement. I need to move on, read, learn and unlearn, and advance my career till I breathe. This piece of writing is reminiscence of how I have struggled in my early days. I intend to narrate my entire account of life, however, being come from innocent family, I have not maintained any personal diary or record. It is difficult and remains too remote to recollect my entire childhood activities; please pardon my memory.
In 1985, my mother must have labored so hard to bring me onto this planet. She say I was born on 05/12/1985 of the Buddhist calendar, which remains a complete different date as per the Gregorian calendar. Not to blame my parents, every rural people were ignorant of the Christian calendar to record the child’s date of birth. Ultimately, my date of birth, as it is reflected on my citizenship identity card, is 05/12/1985. In fact, I must be younger than one month or two if it was recorded as per the Gregorian calendar because Buddhist calendar runs one or two months ahead. Who else on this earth will be least happy to hear “you are one month younger than me?”
It was in 1991 when I first enrolled to Thongsa Community School which was situated four or five (or even more) kilometers away from my small village called Regi under Khar Gewog, Pemagatshel. Built of a small hut to accommodate 20-30 students (approximately), the school was first of its kind in my community. Being located very far, my mother would wake me up at 4:30AM, and she would dress me, feed me, and with a bag containing pack lunch, we group of small kids would not fear to cross big forest in the midst of summer rain, torrential landslides, and terrible leaches on our feet. We would reach the school before Morning Assembly commence. However, sometimes we would be late for Morning Assembly by few minutes, and as we would fear to face the strict Head Teacher, we have had no option but to return home. Today, as I would like to become a child protection advocate, I commend the Government’s initiative to ban the corporal punishment in the schools. Had corporal punishment was not existed then, we would have not missed the classes.
Ever since I was with my mother, I have seen no pleasure but a pain in her eyes. Life for my mother was always a concerned, distressed, worried and anxious about the next meal. I have seen her going to Pemagatshel town in search of “weaving job”. She would desperately go from door-to-door looking for someone who was willing to provide a work to weave gho/kira for a very meager sum of money. However, finding job was difficult and she would return home mostly with the same anxiety.
I graduated my third standard (Class III) from Thongsa Community School in 1994. It took me five years to complete my third standard, and I curse myself for time waste. I was too little stubborn to obey my mother’s instructions, and I would not go to school regularly. I should have been obedient to my mother as Casablanca was obedient to his father’s instructions during navy war. I should also curse the geographical location of the school. Perhaps, it may be unvirtuous deed to curse my father for his less caring for his children. He is a jolly person who like to wander throughout day and night. When I was at class one, he spent more than six months in Thimphu. He was working in Thimphu with all good intention to support the family. During the period of his absence, I did not obey my mother and endured absent from school for more than two months. It was only when my father’s returning home that he forced me to get back to the school. I still remember how I cried asking not to force me to study. Had I obey my mother, I should have been one year senior to my friends in the office. Had my father stayed home with us, I should have cleared my class one papers. Nevertheless, I was detained in class one not because of my inferior academic performance but because of my inadequate class-attendance. However, there is always a positive note attached to it, that without my father’s coercion, I must be somewhere working in the maize field, collecting mushrooms, cultivating food-grains, and slavery of landlord. I sincerely thank him for making my life comfortable.
In March 1995, it was in boarding school. Yurung Junior High School (now upgraded to High School) was established in 1958 and it is one of the oldest schools in Bhutan. It is situated in remote, a far flung places, and I have to travel miles (almost a complete day) to reach the learning destination. I visit home during weekends, to meet my parents, sisters, and see how they work tirelessly to send me to the school. It was really heartening as they labour to transport rations far away from Pemagatshel Dzong. How I wish to pay them back, but it is extremely difficult; and everyone know why.
My days at Junior High School was ups and downs; and there are many stories to be unfold and revealed to my parents, sisters, brothers, and those of you who knows me since my childhood. I never attended the school regularly. My mind will be only pure and satisfied if I bunk my classes at least for ten days in a year. This has so much of associated reason – that I will stay back at hostel to thief others’ pen, pencil, washing soap, and other necessary items. Since I come from very economically disadvantaged parents, my mother would not have had even a single Ngultrum to expense my education, and my father, as I have said already, was always absent from us. My father’s action was more than a desertion! With no money for disposal, I would have no pen and pencil for my classes and exams, no soap to keep myself tidy, and no brush to clean my teeth, and therefore, there was no alternative than to become a criminal or to ashamed myself in front of other students.
Going to school was very difficult. My younger sister and I were studying in same schools. She almost left her schooling several times due to not being able to procure school uniform on time. I shall not write more about her trouble here, instead focus should be on mine.
It was in class 6 when I met one friend who was few years older than me, perhaps, more than 5 years. He was a previous drop out student and was addicted to every kind of drugs. He was also a musician, singer, and a lyricist. He would compose a song, play a guitar and sing along with me. I must confess that singing was much eccentric with a dose of drugs. Near marijuana plants with chewing gum covers, we keep singing until we are death. This gave me great inner feelings where I don’t have to panic of my economic disposal, and other problems. I knew I was doing wrong and that I will be punish for my wrongful acts. I also knew that intoxication is not legal and infringe the Buddhist teachings. However, there was nothing I could do, because doing what was not right gave me right emotional feelings and states.
I graduated my eighth standard in 1999. Starting the year 2000 I was studying in Nangkor Higher Secondary School. I have completely abandoned to collect the weeds but sniffing dendrites was my daily routine and life. Dendrites is a contact adhesive and rubber cement brand marketed in India and South Asia, mainly in Eastern India, Bangladesh and Bhutan. However, it is also used as a means of addiction. My experience suggest that dendrite was used as a deadly drugs which last for five to ten minutes of intoxication. This addiction however was not hazardous for my studies. I was never caught by my teachers or friends or family, rather I was measured as one of the good students because of my academic achievement. I would never fail my duty to study. I was a person who lit a mid-night candle during the time of exams, and my last minute preparation will fetch me good mark to appreciate my teachers. Sometimes, I will also stand in good position which ultimately limit the doubt of drug abuse. This however, does not mean to flatter myself, rather I regret for not studying very hard. Had I studied so hard, I must have been threat to those competing students of Bhutan.
With 78.8% in class ten, I went to Jigme Sherubling Higher Secondary School, commonly known as Jigsher. The school was an abode of intellectual students and teachers; and with a given reputation in terms of education and academic achievements, every student would adulate to study at Jigme Sherubling Higher Secondary School. How lucky was I to be the member of Jigsher family! Jigsher had reformed my entire negative behaviors. I was never into drugs, and at the same time, I was not so into studies. Being far away from parents (where they left for resettlement in Tsirang), it was difficult not to see them for long. How I wished if my parents are educated so that we can write to each other and share information. Unfortunately, it was a mere wished that will never materialize in this entire life.
Being away from home, everything was challenging. School life at times was demanding. Situation demanded money to buy pen, soap, shoes, and to buy other necessary items required in the school. Whom would have I asked for? This situation troubled my mind which is opposed to the proven fact that uninterrupted mind is indispensable weapon for studying.
Nevertheless, I heartedly thank my Brother In-Law Ugyen Guru who sometimes would visit me, share his hard-earned money, and of course, who on the earth will ever ignore and forget the piece of classic advice – “please study hard”? Oh, justice cannot be done if I don’t mention of my brother in-law Dechen Namgyel who would sent me “Money Order – MO” whenever I asked for. This was a symbol of unity and support towards my education.
I am fortunate to be a younger brother to Ms. Ugyen Selden. As her academic result indicate, she was a bright student, but spent her entire student life with a near related grand father and mother, paying her entire servitude, or else, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to stand where she is now. After completion of her 12 grade, she couldn’t think to study further owing to the economic problem. She then joined teaching. When she was a temporary teacher at one of the schools in Pemagatshel, she would write me every week and month, and share her trivial earned money knowing that money is must in the school.
I often heard people around me saying “why do you need money at school? You need nothing to procure, everything is being provided by the school”? Yes, they are right. But, they failed to step into the shoes of students. Jigsher had a strict discipline. We had just four hours “outing time” in a week which falls on Sunday where students can go out of the campus, buy the necessary items, and are required to come back on time. However, as rich people would do it, poor students ought to follow them. Whether we have money or not, it was not an issue, we were ought to go for outing. If we don’t go, students would despise us, look down, and laugh at us.
‘Outing’ was also a starving period for poor students. Students with big purse will eat food at hotel, and later, decide not eat at school. On the other hand, there will be only few unprivileged students who must have eaten nothing in the hotel, and by logic, they are required not to fast the dinner at school. Unfortunately, this does not happen, as most were ashamed to lose their economic status – that one who takes dinner at school were considered to be poor student. This shame game was purely because the school rule mandated students to be seated compulsorily during the time of dinner whether you are hungry or not, and if there are one or two students taking meal, others to be remain seated until finished eating. This ultimately says that “you should eat something outside or die starving” because you would be ashamed to eat in the school dining hall. So money was must and it is!
Commerce and Accounting, Economics and Business Math were interesting academic discipline and worth studying under the dynamic teachers and mentors. I obtained honestly good marks which I knew only three days prior to the application deadline for the scholarship.
2005 February 28, I received a message to come to Thimphu sooner. By then, I was busy constructing a wall with my brother in-law. There was no telephone, no mobile, and no internet to contact further; but hurriedly, I started to travel towards Thimphu on March 1. With Nu. 2,000, I started my journey. Reached Samdrup jongkhar, and that was a time where I requested the owner of internet café to see my result, being myself too alien with the computer. Evening, I bought a pair of formal shoe for I didn’t had one, and that exhausted Nu. 800. Calculating further, I was left with Nu. 1, 000 for my disposal, after paying off Nu. 200 for truck fare and meals.
I also met few class mates of mine who were on their way to Thimphu and I was informed that March 3 is the scholarship deadline. So, you see how I will have to rush to make present to put up the scholarship application.
Next day, I caught another truck towards Phuntsholing and paid another 200 ngultrum and with expenditure towards lunch and few other things, I was left with Nu. 600. It was already March 2, and March 3 was a deadline to submit the application for scholarship. I was running a short of time and made a quick decision – a decision to reserve a cap – but how? Nu.600 is not enough for a taxi, however, I decided to firm with my decision to hire a taxi. I paid Nu. 600 as advance money. As requested, early morning at around 3 AM, I started to travel towards Thimphu. I was asked by taxi driver to sleep, but how can I sleep with thousand kgs of anxiety inside me – the anxiety to pay rest of the money towards taxi fare. I owe Nu. 800 more! I decided to beg from my uncle (my mother’s elder brother) who was running a shop at Babesa then. Stopped the taxi there and asked for Nu.800, and reluctantly, he gave me Nu. 590. That was a moment where I thought I will see him in future. Now that he has failed in his life, deteriorated, and his shop is nowhere to be seen, and he is burden with lots of litigation against him. Well, I pity him. However, as luck would favour, fortunately, my sister was carrying 200 ngultrum and with that I cleared the taxi fare.
Reached Thimphu exactly at 1230PM, had lunch and started documenting for my application. I had to take passport size photograph, photocopy the mark sheet, and need to travel towards Department of Adult and Higher Education to put my application – and these cost my purse. Fortunately, a good friend of mine – Mr. Tendel Gyaltshen – was waiting for me to put the application together. He paid all the expenses, and the work completed exactly at 5PM.
I was shortlisted for the interview, and I decided to study Law. No one persuaded me or convinced me to study the legal profession, however, there was no other scholarship that interest me more. How fortunate that I got selected to study law.
I was running through a mixture of emotional feelings then – of happy and of sad – happy because I am going to pursue a complete new discipline – a legal study; sad because going to India was not so easy. I sometimes contemplate if such emotional feelings can be ever matched with any of the situations that may encounter in future. Such emotional feelings were bound to enter my mortal soul owing to my family economic background.
After selection process, I went home. However, I didn’t have enough time to work to earn for my educational expense. But, my brother in-law was working tirelessly, day and night to support his family. He gave me Nu.4, 000 when I was coming back to Thimphu. “Brother and sister”, said I, “I can’t take any money that you have earned working day and night tirelessly”. Receiving such money was very hard and my mind said “you can’t take that money”. Eventually, I have to take it.
Back to Thimphu, and hardly had I two weeks left to go for study. I was suddenly called by my father from Tsirang. He promised to give few thousands ngultrum. He tried, but who on the earth will give away the money freely? I returned back to Thimphu without a penny, however, just exhausted the money that my brother in-law and sister gave me.
By then, my younger sister was studying in Damphu Higher Secondary School in 12 grade. She wanted me to stop the bus to bid adieu. With her words of safe journey, she gave me a beautifully written letter, in which, it was expressed her feelings towards me as her brother. She has written the following lines:
“I know you must be feeling emotionally distressed for not having money. I know it is very difficult. I wish I can help lessening your anxiety. However, I am helpless.
“Over the weekends in the school, I have woven a gho/kira and earned few bucks. I am giving you Nu. 150. This may be too little, but I know this will help you in small ways….”
How happy it was to read the letter of affection and love of sister towards her brother. Really, it was! But I was also sadden that she was weaving in the schools to earn instead of studying. Such was a situation.
National Academic for Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law, Hyderabad is a very reputed college and I was fortunate to study in Number One Law School of India. I shall write more on my first year law school experience in next few days. For now, let me adjourn this writing for a week, for I got to write other important piece. I am left with many empty pages unwritten to unfold my adult memoire.