The Life’s Battle I
I married when I was 15. I was out of my house in two months after my marriage. Dorji hailed from the snow clad high mountains from the north. Then, people from those mountains traded with the people from the lower valleys. That was barter system then. And there was no hard currency.
Money was very hard to earn. I worked day and night in the field with my sister and her husband. When she soon gave birth to a naughty baby boy, my life became even harder. And when one day, Dorji proposed after much eyeing and silent passes we had shared, I thought my prayers had been answered. Dorji had been in our locality for around a month by then. He camped along with his fellow-men in the paddy field that winter in 1920. We lost our father when I was 10. My mother and my sister disowned me after marrying Dorji. He was called ‘Bothpa.’ And my folks considered them of a lower race. This had nothing to do with me in liking him. So when they gave me a choice, I made it.
That is how I have been settled in the further south valley called Luwang Yoe. We worked so hard. I gave birth to son soon after. We were young then and it wasn’t a big struggle to have end’s meet. Dorji went to work for others and we did not have labour shortage. But age catches up with us faster than we realize. Soon we were mid 60s and our strength dwindled. Our son got married to a girl from another village and went away. So it was again just the two of us.
And five years after our son went away, Dorji died. There was no neighbor to help us. The nearest neighbor was three kilometers away. And I remember how poor we were. I still see Dorji’s left leg dangling down when his corpse was carried away. His body was cremated by the river with a simple ritual.
And my life died that day. I have no one. No one. I am alone all day. I cannot see well and I cannot work. I try to work in the small kitchen garden and that is what is giving me food. I don’t know when my end will be. If living is hell, this is. Life’s merit has long vanished. (I’m now 85 years old and it is the year 1990)
What I wrote in the part one of the story is as I heard from my mother. A bit of pieces were changed here and there since there was no detailed information. Now, I will write about their life as I saw when I was a kid.
I must have been five years old. Or six. I knew their son and his family. His daughter was my sister’s best friend. She is now married and stays in
Thimphu. Abi Lhamo’s son stayed not very far from her. The distance will come to around 45 minutes walk. They had to cross the river to go there. I don’t remember seeing their son come over often. I think he came over only very rarely in fact.
My parents organized a tshechu annually on the Descending day of Lord Buddha. During the tshechu, I was running around with other kids along the path that goes down to the other house we had an hour away. That is how we were neighbors with Abi Lhamo. The nearest neighbor that I said they had at 3 kilometer’s distance was us. My sisters stayed there with the cattle. They would be present at our tshechu every year. Yeah, the scene is nothing spectacular but I remember her resting on the raised wall of the upper side of the path. She continually chewed dried guava. She had lost all her teeth but she still chewed it. And this time, she was alone.
All the neighbors came in fact. And that was the big annual festival for all of us who dwelled in the south of Bartsham. Since the South side of this village had very good climatic conditions, we grew sugarcane, mango, guava, pineapple, oranges, and many other fruits. This was our sole income source. Abi Lhamo and Memey Dorji Khandu did not take these products to sell. By the time I was born, they were both very old. But how much money they made wasn’t what mattered. They had no problem of food insufficiency. The nearest town was Lungtenzampa. It was the shopping hub for all the Bartshampas when there was no road. But now, the bridge over Gamri Chu at Lungtenzampa was washed away by flood and the connection has been broken away. So have the dwellers migrated to other places.
Then, even a match box was very precious. I think people were glad and they felt blessed that they did not have to take tedious hours making fire out of the stones (we called these stones menchha lung). They did not borrow money. They did not borrow grains. They did not aspire to build a proper house for themselves either. They lived all their life in that house, a kind of a shackle that stood in the valley called ‘Luwang Yoe’. We had to be careful our cattle did not get into their field. We would be badly rebuked otherwise. In some ways, we feared her when we were kids.
And soon she died too. I don’t remember when though. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that she lived a lonely life. If you saw their house, you will understand what it would have been to live alone in the dark shackle of a house where you heard nothing except the birds and the stream that flowed nearby.
Four nights back, my mother and I suddenly came to be talking about them and that is how I ever knew that Abi Lhamo was actually from our village. There is not a trace left there now. Neither of their existence, nor of their children’s.
The Life’s Battle III
There is not a single household there now. We lived in a place called Menchari. Our nearest neighbor lived at Namburung Phangma. A bit further down was Pam. So we were three different small villages there. Further away was Sershing and Woongchhilu. They were nearer to Phaisingma than to Menchari where my sisters lived.
Abi Lhamo and Memey Dorji Khandu’s son
lived at Zumbi Drang. They were not Bartshampas anymore. That side of the area belonged to Bidung. His wife was from there. I don’t know why they chose to settle down there in the south near the Jekangdrang river. Kota
Many people remember my parents as a kind of a savior for them. Since they needed to travel via our village to go to Lungtenzampa, they dropped at our house and my parents lavishly offered them food and ara. But soon in 1992, the motor-road reached Bartsham and the people’s direction of shopping changed. Now the few people who came downwards were those who worked on timbers and woods for building houses. Now the village became deserted a bit but when all of us siblings stayed there, there was nothing called loneliness. Even after my brothers grew up and their studies took them further away, there was no loneliness. The place gave us too abundant a chance to grow, to live, and to be happy.
People now started migrating. Abi Lhamo’s son died. His wife and their kids moved to Lungtenzampa. They ran a small shop there. The mango trees were forgotten.
The nearest neighbor we had, Ana Towki died when I was in primary school. She was an alcoholic. Her husband was a business man. He came home only sometime and it wasn’t much of a home for him. So he took his son away and did not come back. They went to Thragom I heard. His son dropped from primary school, now got married and works as a cook at a school in Thragom.
And the other nearest neighbor we had long migrated. They left their house much before Ana Towki died. The woman there was married young and her husband was studying. She had three kids already. Later after her husband got a job, they left too and their house stood empty. It still stands there today. They now stay in Kurtoe. Their eldest daughter graduated from Sherubtse, got married and is working in Bumthang.
Lhadon and Tenzin Wangpo (Lhadon grew up with us) who stayed in Sershing decided to build a house further north in Zongthung Gonpa near the road. His parents got divorced at the old age of 60s. His father was much younger but. His mother came to stay with her daughter in
Thimphu. His younger son dropped from school and got married to a much older girl in Zongthung. He is now divorced and is in Thimphu. (It is a very recent incident.)
Then my sisters got married and both of them went away to stay with their husbands. My parents saw better prospects that way. They did not want them to struggle all their lives away from the rest of the people. So our house in Phaisingma stood empty. We went there only once in a while during the work-season.
Life changed so fast. People wanted to be near the road. Even if nothing grew in the villages near the road, they thought it would bring better prospects. I don’t know if it does, but now, their fields in the south are fallow. The fruit trees are giving away. Many things have lost life and color. Houses are ruins now.
The Life’s Battle IV
My roots lay there and I just could not help missing home. Now it was only my mother and Chungku at Pam. There were three households in Pam before. Ajang Chador and An Kezang Lhamo soon left to stay with their son in Bumthang. Ajang Wangchu died soon after he was left alone. Ajang Wangchu is Ajang Chador’s brother.
Ani Auchi died when I was in
. Her daughter Dema chose to stay with her relative in a different village. So now, it was only Azem Pentang and her daughters, Duptho and Chungku. Bidung Primary School
Chungku got married to a man from Woongchhilu after she got back from
Thimphu. They even built a house in Pam. But when they had two kids, they decided they could not finish their lives together. So they got divorced. Dumba married an elderly woman from Zongthung Gonpa. Chungku came to Thimphu and got married to her serga khotkin and she stays in Paro.
Everything changed so fast that I couldn’t believe it. I knew all this when I went back to my village after my graduation in December 2005. I heard that even Duptho who was then a very young teenager got married and got divorced. She then left to
Thimphu. She is now married to an army and stays in Lungtenphu (She is a child of 1988 and she is only now going to be 21). I can’t believe how marriage steps so fast in the lives of people in the villages.
Then, when my father died in 2006, our house in Menchari stood ruined too. I know, it is giving way and stumbling away now. There is not a single household there now and I can’t believe so much changed in just a few years.
If there was a choice, I would still go there and live my life. I would still want to run in the field in winter. I would still want to shout at the top of my voice and ring those tinker bells to shoo away the wild animals ravishing our corn fields.
It is too much of a life I had seen. Too much of breakaways. Too much of struggle. And the marriages, divorces, migration, deaths and moving-ons. I stand here today, wondering at the satirical fact of life, how it manipulates us and makes us its victim. I stand here today, wondering if we would want to live without such multi-colored faces if there was absolute power in our hand to change how we want to live. Would there be charm? Would there be question of morality? Would there be anything to debate on?
Maybe then, our mind would be absolutely a lucid pool of positive thoughts. Maybe then, we would have an absolute harmony of dwelling together on earth.
//In the first part of the story, I have tried to write in first person. I wanted to put myself in the shoes of Abi Lhamo and wanted to see how I would have felt...the pang of loneliness and the sadness that old age brings. And in this part, the story isn't really true. I don't know where Memey Dorji Khandu really is from. My mother told me that he was not from Bartsham and her family did not approve of her marriage to him. The years given there are estimated and thus can be wrong.
The other parts of the stories are true. Both the names of places and people are real.