MAIN STORY: It feels strange to not know where one truly belongs. I was born and raised in Thimphu and here I have been all my life. Never have I been to my ancestral home in Zhemgang. If I did, I do not seem to remember.
But I do have some receding memory of stories my parents told me long time ago when I was a little girl. I could only try to picture how in village family members sat around the fire as darkness fell, telling stories until the embers in the hearth died and silence reigned like malignant ghost. I can still hear the imagined creatures of the night howling occasionally from afar.
My father used to tell us the same stories that he heard from his grandparents. The riddles that he made us answer we never could because clues lay hidden in things and places we’d never seen or been to.
When my mother was pregnant with me, my grandparents visited Thimphu for the first time. It was 1990. Now they are both gone I have almost forgotten their faces. How they dressed and how they talked, I cannot recall. Although to say that I have lost my root is a little inappropriate, I have lost my vital link. But am sure there are many like me who have never been to their village not because they did not want to go. Circumstances create strange world for us and we go about doing what we must, often hapless and confused.
When I was old enough, school kept me busy. Now I am working and I have never been busier. Even as I want to visit my village, I cannot. When I heard about the death of my grandparents, I felt a pang of regret. I could have known them better and loved them. I feel sad about it still and wonder how those like me must be feeling, trying to understand the loss and void that lingers. Also, I wonder if people in the rural homes still sit around the hearth telling stories.
But the truth is this tradition is dying. In some villages, it is already dead. Our close-knit family structure is fast breaking down. With development reaching the farthest village, people are leaving their homes and coming to towns. With it the whole of our social structure is changing, and changing fast.
My mother used to describe her village to me. I always imagined a traditional house in the middle of a thick jungle just like in the movies. I also remember my mother telling me about how remote her village was. Maybe this was the reason why she was never able to take her children there.
Samdrup, 34, was like me born in Thimphu. And like me he’s heard about his village from his parents. Samdrup’s father was a civil servant and there was hardly any time for his father to take him to his village. And now Samdrup doesn’t even think of going to the village that is alien to him. And time. Who has time these days?
“And it is expensive going to village. We have to take gifts for the entire village. It’s not just our grandparents and our cousins we will be meeting there,” Samdrup said.
Last year, Samdrup was in the east during a tour. Samdrup planned to visit his village in Mongar. Upon reaching Mongar, he didn’t know where to go.
“I’d heard about the road but I couldn’t recognise it. So my plan to visit my village failed,” he said. “I realised that there was no use making the effort because I hardly knew anyone in the village. Everything felt so futile.”
Even though there may be lack of attachment, I still feel that it is important for one to know their village.
“For a change, it would be interesting to wake up to the sound of cow bells, birds chirping instead of traffic and a smell of fresh hay stacked near the house,” Samdrup said. “I won’t have any regrets even if I don’t go there, but I know I would be missing a lot in life just being in the city.”
I kind of got the idea recently of just how many people like me and Samdrup are there in the country. There are community pages on Facebook where people try to remain in touch with what is happening back in the villages. People help each other and organise community initiatives online even as they cannot be in the village themselves.
Tempa from Lauri in Samdrupjongkhar is a father of two. He makes sure that he takes his children to visit his village once a year. He also makes sure that he and his relatives visit his village and take part in the annual rimdro held every November. They conduct a tsechu where everyone from the youngest to the oldest takes part in the community. Along with his cousins, Tempa performs mask dances and upholds the tradition even to this day. The annual tshechu is also conducted to appease local deities so that they will protect the people and village.
“If we don’t continue this age-old tradition and customs, no one would take care of it since our parents are old,” said Tempa. “We have to take up the responsibility and pass it on to the next generation.”
Tempa and his cousins take their children to the village to help them understand the hardships that people in the villages go through.
“It is important to know one’s root. It is identifying oneself to culture, tradition, music and songs that gave one life and security,” said Tempa.
I am sure that when I get to know my roots and visit my parent’s village, I will feel a sense of identity that connects me to my ancestors and know where I come from. That will give me strength, a comforting strength of knowing where I really belong.
By Thinley Zangmo