Twice he broke his right arm. And then he fell in the bathroom one early morning and broke his leg. Crippled, yet he continued drinking, even more heavily than he used to. All these, not so very long ago.

Monday, July 29, 10.00 am: A group of elderly and respectable-looking men wait at the Tee Dee Automobile Workshop in Olakha, Thimphu. The guest of honour hasn’t arrived yet. The summer sun is fierce, very harsh.

And then, after what feels like forever in the scorching heat, comes the man, lumbering about, feet scarcely touching the ground he could very well be gliding in the air. There is applause, handshakes and whispered jokes. At the canteen above the workshop, suja and shamdre programme is being meticulously prepared. After years of bumming around and drinking his life away, Pema Drukpa is starting his new job as the workshop’s supervisor.

Exactly 30 years ago today, a group of young boys graduated from the Royal Technical Institute in Phuentsholing in 1989. Bhutan had then begun building human resource capacity and young Bhutanese engineers were filling the gap. Pema Drukpa joined the erstwhile Ministry of Trade and Industry as quality control inspector. After about six years, he joined State Trading Corporation Limited as a manager.

Dark days come to everybody. A die heart aficionado of Bhutanese archery, Pema Drukpa even became the secretary of archery association. And he took to drinking. For the careless and the weak-minded, Bhutanese archery can be a disaster. He separated with his wife. Realising that his living style must change, he resigned and started a business. It did not succeed and his drinking habit got worse.

Four months ago, Pema Drukpa’s classmate, Karma Nima, created a WeChat group—Lucky 89. “I created the group because I wanted to find out where my friends are and what they are doing. Some of us haven’t met since graduation.”

It was then that the members of Lucky 89 learnt that Pema Drukpa, who had by then earned the name Purana Mandir from the 1984 Hindi horror film by Ramsay Brothers, was struggling with alcoholism. The group has 64 members; 16 showed up at the Tee Dee for the celebration of the solemn occasion.

The leader of the group, Phuntsho Wangdi, who works with Road Safety and Transport Authority, believes that the support of friends has more power to change a person’s life than the advice and support of family members. Pema Drukpa agrees.

“Our friend here has been clean for sometime now and we expect him to not go back to drinking,” he says. “ We can do a lot together. It is such a pain to not see good support system in the society.”

Pema Drukpa stands, suja and shamdre programme now done, to speak a few words. “I can never thank my friends enough. I have come a long  way and will never go back to dark days again. My friends all, some are dead and some are living; I owe it to them all for all the love and care. I am born anew and this is a new beginning.”

Friends tell Pema Drukpa that all ultimately depends on his mind but that they expect him to new life without alcohol. Rin Dorji with Bhutan Insurance Limited is a sage among the group. With a salt-and-pepper head, he doesn’t talk much. But once he begins, there is no stopping him.

“We have all come a long way,” he says. “Hereon, we want to see our dear friend move ahead. We will always be around. It is such an auspicious day to begin a new journey.”

Tshering Dorji, the owner of Tee Dee, is happy that Pema Drukpa, a man he has known through ages, is now poised to lead his team. “I want to prove to this team that in six months’ time Pema is settled and well ahead of all of us. My only dream is that he is able to keep away from alcohol and lead a happy life.”

Pema Drukpa nods, looking vacant and almost meditative. There is a group photo session in front of the workshop and everybody is in a celebratory mood. There is applause, handshakes and whispered jokes again.

“You have all been very kind and caring. Please drop by. We can have a chat in between work,” says Pema Drukpa.

A new life has begun.

Jigme Wangchuk