My shrinking universe receives another bolt today. In my saddest moments, I would recall my time with Dasho Sangay Dorji and his boundless goodwill and love healed me. His passing away creates a void that will never fill.

The year was 2006. It was my good fortune to be invited to join an exclusive team of eminent experts in our national language charged to produce the first English-Dzongkha Dictionary under the auspices of the erstwhile Dzongkha Development Authority that Dasho Sangay Dorji headed.

In the course of the many months of intense work that followed, I came to know intimately Dasho Sangay Dorji the country’s pre-eminent Dzongkha scholar as well as Dasho Sangay Dorji a deeply caring, compassionate and large-hearted human being who embodied boundless goodwill towards all, radiated immense positive energy wherever he was, and endeared himself to everyone with his native good cheer and winning smile.

The project was vital, long drawn-out, deeply engaging, and often exhausting and frustrating. But Dasho’s Sangay Dorji’s unusual stamina, infinite knowledge and rare wisdom, and, above all, his sense of humour and uplifting outlook would immediately relieve the moment and energise us to keep going.

Our base document was the Oxford English Dictionary and my job was to try and check the match between the translated Dzongkha term and its meaning in original English. I was always struck not only by the promptness with which Dasho Sangay understood the often complex meaning of the words in English but by the accuracy of the terms that he effortlessly supplied in Dzongkha. He had an  instinctive understanding of the nature and character of languages regardless of their distinctiveness.

Some words had straight-forward equivalents but many terms had to be invented anew to explain the more recent additions to English vocabulary. Dasho Sangay’s natural facility with language made our work not only fun but a great learning experience. Besides, Dasho took personal care of every detail of our comfort wherever we worked till the project was completed.

I was in for a most pleasant and deeply humbling surprise two years later when I received the sacred Dakyen from His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo on my appointment to serve as the minister of education. Formal preparations for the event were totally out of my mind and I left it completely to my colleagues to do whatever they deemed fit.

Dasho Sangay was worried. He thought that my rented apartment in Motithang would be rather spartan and sparse and I would not be inclined to do it up. Dasho thought that it had to be reasonably presentable because from his experience he knew that such occasions merited at least a minimum level of preparation.

The day before the big day, Dasho came unannounced with all the necessary religious items and personally prepared the reception room and the sitting room befitting the protocol of a formal ceremony. While the external arrangements were done by my former students, particularly Tshering and Lhaba, and colleagues and other volunteers, with Aum Kuenga, again, coming unannounced with all the necessary crockery items befitting the occasion, Dasho Sangay saved me the embarrassment with his foresight and thoughtfulness.

Only later did I realise how I would have felt receiving their royal highnesses, the princes and princesses, senior officials and well-wishers in my dreary apartment if Dasho Sangay Dorji hadn’t saved me from inevitable and imminent embarrassment.

The last time I called Dasho was in April this year when I wanted to request him to contribute his reflections to the tribute-anthology Bhutan at Her Best: Sunrays through the rain that I had planned. I was pained to learn that he was not keeping well. He said he was due for an operation in the next few days.

Hospital visits were restricted so I sent a message when he got home. The response was that he was improving. I received no response to my latest query a few days ago. And, today, I was confronted with the news that leaves me shattered.

Confined, locked in, and lost, I will never be able to repay my debt to a father-figure from whom I received love without limit, goodwill beyond measure, and faith in the goodness of humanity that Dasho Sangay Dorji so abundantly embodied.

Bhutan is the poorer for the loss of this heart son of Druk Yul the likes of whom are rare and will be few and far between. Here was a veritable institution in himself, a walking encyclopaedia of culture and history, and a human being at once humble, at once noble. Here was a life dedicated to securing the soul of a nation.

Follow as you must the inevitable law of impermanence, may you join, beloved Dasho, the ranks of your virtuous ancestors in Zhingkham and achieve your noble rebirth, soon and swift…

May the Almighty watch over the bereaved family and grant you the strength to tide over this tragic loss…

With gratitude, prayers and love, always… Goodbye Dasho, for this life…


Contributed by 

Thakur S Powdyel