Arr…Alaa la………,the pain in my back do not seem to go away and the arthritic knee had to be warmed and stretched slowly before I decide to slip out of my bed. Embers from last night’s fire were still glowing red but it had given me enough warmth for the night. It was the third call of the rooster and time for me to begin my day even though the darkness still looms all over. From the crack of the mud wall, I can see the sky in the eastern horizon turn lighter than the rest, an ominous sign of the dawn.
My old body made up of the four elements may return back to those elements soon and the nagging pains are the signs of all those aggregates preparing to return back to Mother Nature. These elements together is what made up a form called body which I am so possessive about and protective even when it does not belong to me in true sense. This body did not belong to me like any other wealth before I came, nor will it ever belong to me after I am gone. This body was just a rented body for my soul to take shelter.
Today, I want to tell my life story in short. This is my reality and the reality that all of us face. It is a cause of concern and worry for the society that something of Tsunamic proportion is taking place in a slow motion. I am worried not for me because I will be long gone when its impact is felt, but for those generations that will follow me and of course yours too.
Half raised from the blanket and feeling little fuzzy, a train of thoughts engulfed me. Today, I have a trip to make to the dzongkhag headquarters. The distance is long. There is an old pickup truck in my village but, the road that was built three years back was washed away. Sadly gewog has no budget and whatever little dzongkhag had was already used. So we are going to walk again including the vehicle owner.
Today, he will not be able to take away our hard earned money and he will sweat profusely trying to keep pace with the rest of us. His massive girth was an indication of where all our money had gone in him. Today, we all walk equal like we always did some years back before the road came. The road has made him richer, while the rest of us only became poorer. He runs the only shop in our village and owns a pick-up truck too. So, all our money goes to him.
When the road first came there was excitement. We all sang songs and danced. The old and the aging and the rest walked the new road. Few children, half naked ran, their unkempt hair flying in rhythm with their gait. But, the initial excitement was short lived. It only drained whatever little resource we had. In the past we had to walk for hours to the nearest shop. We all did. Poor man like me and the rich man in the neighbourhood all walked together. Today, he bought a taxi and we ride in it paying him all the money we can muster. Most of us had gone poorer while the rich man is growing fatter with our money.
Life has become difficult for me to be living in the village at this age. Just yesterday, I went to work in a community forest to clear unwanted bushes that are hampering the growth of good trees. This is the fifth day in the last two months that we have been working. One member from every household is required for the work, failing it will result in the payment of Nu 300 as penalty. You know the whole village now looks after a huge forest converted as community forest. There aren’t many trees in that forest but, with all villages having their own forest areas, we had to take even that or risk not having any, the local leaders warned.
And when I say it is difficult. I mean it. More than half of my time is spent fulfilling various obligations in the village; the lists are endless for me to narrate. Then there are important meetings by dzongkhag officials, followed by gewog and tshokpas which also take up substantial work days.
Those of us left behind in the village have to attend to all these things. We are getting old but there are not many young people in the village. We have sent our children in school, hoping they will find a good government job and help us. I am told there are not many jobs while there are thousands looking for employment. But, they will not come back home. They are educated.
Even those in the village are migrating to towns. They say life is good there with tall buildings, shining cars and wide roads teeming with cars and people. But, my heart will never find peace in an alien place. I love my village but, my beautiful village is growing old and thin. When I say old, my village is inhabited mostly by old people and in dwindling numbers. Some empty houses have become haunted place. Just the other night, someone told of encountering a gigantic shadowy figure by an empty house when the night fell.
Back in the villages, farms are shrinking including mine. I cannot till all the land that belongs to me. I have been able to farm only half of my land. Rests are covered in Artemisia plants along with those who left never to return back. Another neighbour is planning to move out to where his son lives.
Bushes in the neighbourhood are a hiding place for wild boar during the day. And monkeys live on the fringes closely watching my maize field grow. Looks like I am share cropping for them and others like deer and even nocturnal porcupine take their share. The government is in a indefinite experimental mode, so I better forget about any wishful thinking solutions.
Well, we have sent our representative to talk and correct things in the society and find solutions to the problems facing the villages like ours. They also promised so much in talks laced with honey when they came campaigning. I am sad now; they saw our vote and mandate as an opportunity to fatten their pocket. I feel like I will not vote from now onward but, if I don’t vote, it is as good as my vote going to the undeserving person. If I vote, and good candidate lose, my vote becomes futile. This is intriguing about election to us. In between many things can also possibly happen I am told.
And now I pick up aging cane hat (call it zaapi or bello) and head out fetch firewood. Even though, it is developing loose ends at the fringes, it is much more useful than that politician who promised me a handsome cowboy hat, stetson (Jazham) which he forgot after the election is over. The loose strands on the edges are coming out but, it keeps my bald head dry in the rain and also insulates it when it shines. Honestly, I fancied wearing a handsome Jazham once but have made peace with my old bello hat, because this is the reality.
Well, I told you my story but I did not tell you who I am. I am the real face of Bhutan, the 70 percent of the population to be precise. I am Sonam Zhingpa, a farmer who lives in a remote village where life has hardly changed for better, a real farmer in fact. Are you listening???
Take care until we meet again.
August 29, 2014