“My parents got divorced when I was a kid. And you know, the best thing is that both of them love me so much. I have two sets of parents now. I am so lucky.”
“My father is a clerk in some big office in Thimphu. He wants me to come there, but my grandfather wouldn’t hear of it. He wants me to be near him.”
These were some of the answers he gave to friends and teachers about the identity and the whereabouts of his father. But none of them were true. In fact he did not know who his father was. He still doesn’t. The truth is that from the time he remembered, he was with his grandparents. His childhood memories mostly revolve round cows, cowsheds and moving around with them in search of lush green pastures.
As a child he still remembers his neighbours and their children, supposedly at the insistence of their parents, treating him with scorn and ridicule. “Who is your father and where is he?” they would ask and then burst into peals of laughter. On one such occasion an elder, known for his sarcasm, called him to a side and whispered in his ears that he is a son of golapo (a rooster or a cock). Actually it is used to refer to children born out of wedlock. The “night hunters” (as in night hunting) would leave the house of the girl at the first crow of the cock of the day. Children born out of these encounters were (and they still are) thus called as children whose father left at the call of the cock or simply children of golapo.
One day a lady, who always reeked of alcohol whatever time of the day, called him little kokti. He did not understand what it meant then. Later that night in bed, he asked his mother what that meant, but she did not reply. Instead he saw tears welling up in her eyes. He did not dare to ask again.
When he attained the age of fourteen, some officials from the census department came to the village and started taking photographs. Later they were handed a small red booklet with their photographs in it. It was the first time Bhutanese were handed their copy of the Citizenship Identity Cards. For this, a lot of questions were asked, especially about ones parentage and family tree. When the boy’s turn came his maternal uncle called him aside and told him to give the name of another uncle and aunt as his parents. “This is to avoid further complications” he added. Then on they became his parents, officially.
In school he proved to be quite a good student. Life was hard. Other children never seemed to tire of making fun of him. Yet, in spite of all the hardships, he persevered and persisted. These hardships made his resolution stronger and he started working even harder. His hard works were rewarded in his topping the class. Then on there was no looking back.
But, sadly enough, he learned that his doing well in school became the cause of misery for the elders back in the village. He sensed that people hated him with more vigour now. He heard one of them say, “Of course he has to do well, otherwise it’s going to be a tough world for the little bastard!” “Tough” was an understatement. They did not even attempt to say it out of his earshot, any more. But by then he has become immune to such nasty and malicious remarks. He did not dare to tell his mother or his grandparents either, lest they felt offended.
He went on with his daily chores; helping his grandparents with the cows and mending the fence of their kitchen garden and opening his books every time an opportunity presented itself. He wanted to become someone and not remain the unwanted progeny of the unwed mother forever.
Of course his mother and grandparents knew what was going on behind their backs. The humiliation they felt were beyond words, but they could not counter and argue with those gossipmongers. They did that once and were silenced by the perpetually drunk lady who said that, with a kokti in the household they did not have the right to raise their voices.
It was believed that a fatherless child was a bad omen and a jinx. People said that it would bring drought, famine and diseases to the villagers. They once even planned to send the pregnant girl on exile, but somehow it did not materialise. It was the village tsip (astrologer) who came to the rescue of the poor girl. He convinced the people that it was not necessary as the supposedly looming doom of the village could be averted by a rimdro (ritual). So the village conducted one, on a grand scale. It was presided over by the holier- than-thou tsip, for which he was paid handsomely. The village people were relieved to know that nothing evil will happen to the village.
But, what they did not know was that the tsip was the father of the child in question and thus he was the father of all the problems. What they did not know did not hurt them and thus life went on as usual in this little sleepy village. But the poor girl continued to live a life of humiliation, degradation and despair.
It was rumoured that the tsip possessed immense magical prowess, of the black magic type. People feared him and they were at his bidding, willy-nilly. No one dared to defy him, even if it was a sexual favour he asked. The child was the result of one such incident. The girl did inform him, albeit discreetly, about the fruit of their adventure, when she missed a period.
“I am sure you will not want to embarrass me. It will not be good for all of us, especially you and your family. I presume you understand what I mean,” said the monster in red robes. The threat was too obvious. The girl swore not to tell anyone and thus remained silent.
Meanwhile, the boy graduated the village school and went on to study in a high school in another Dzongkhag (district). At the new school he became a new person with a brand new identity. The stigma attached to him as the lovechild was gone. No one teased him anymore. With his amiable personality he made a lot of friends, which he badly wanted hitherto, but never really had any. He also earned a lot of respect from both friends and teachers for his hard works and he continued to do well.
His most happy moments were the times when he would be explaining math and physics problems to his classmates. He had an uncanny aptitude for numbers. His friends sometimes lovingly called him the wonder boy. Having learnt the ways of life very early on, he was indifferent to both praises and criticisms alike. He was friendly to all and sundry, nevertheless.
The boy grew into a fine human being. He graduated from college summa cum laude. Needless to say, he landed a well paying job with ease. Hard work became his second nature, which got him accolades after accolades. The fine human being he is, he is humbled by such experiences and he continues to work hard. Today he heads the department he is with.
He makes it a point to go home once a year. Back in the village people call him “our boy” and they are all praises for him. The drunkard lady is no more, but he wonders what she would have said if she was still alive today. What irony! When he was a no one, no one wanted anything to do with him and today he has carved a niche for himself everyone wants to be a part of him. But he knows that it is life. He is least affected by their change of behavior towards him.
On his annual visits to the village, people throng his house, a sparkling newly built and the largest one there, to “meet” him, with all sorts of gifts – from eggs to bottles of ara (locally brewed wine) to whole carcass of pigs, slaughtered just for him – as is the custom in the village. The act is repeated when he departs from the village. A prominent personality robed in red is always seen amongst the group when they call in on him, but only his mother and the tsip are privy to the secret. And his mother is not going to be the one to enlighten him. At least not now!