Our reporter Jigme Wangchuk visits drayangs to find out the other side of proverbial drayangf stories
COVER STORY: Streetlights throw soft and flimsy glow of sad yellow in the rain. Cars splash the flooded sewerage running through the thoroughfare’s main arterial route. Kids holler away almost with glee. Bitter curses fly from angry pedestrians. Girls with lavish bare skins and gayish boys with pants halfway down their sincerely ungainly rumps and strange bed heads choke the road. This is a mid-summer night in Thimphu.
A powerful gust of stale air hits my nose as I enter a dingy room in the heart of the capital city. Pink lights hurt my eyes. The music there is a long, earsplitting racket. Three little girls are on the stage, playing with the music systems. It’s time for entertainment, some serious good time indeed.
Drayangs have got only the bad press so far. Exploitations and molestations, these are the pictures of drayangs. But there are also good and redeeming things about drayangs. Only the society could not muster the courage to talk about nice things about these entertainment hubs.
Kalapingka Drayang in the heart of Thimphu is a beautiful place where people come to discuss things after office, things at the end of the day. There is no pressure from girls to sponsor songs. Just have some lively time with friends and get things done.
Meanwhile, little girls put up a show. There is a dance. Drinks flow. The place gets packed and the heat is intolerable.
Yangchen, a 19-year-old girl comes straight down from the stage and sits next to me. “Wow, you are a very handsome man indeed,” she says. I look at her. She is quite comfortably settled and mewing almost. “You are beautiful. Nice to meet you,” I tell her.
Yangchen is from Trashigang. She left her home and came to Thimphu to help her family with some cash.
“People say things about the drayangs. I know that all too well. But I also know how drayangs save lives and help people like us build homes,” says Yangchen. All of a sudden she assume a matured look. “It’s not much that we can make in a month, but we are able to send some money home to our parents.”
I say goodbye to Yangchen and head out to a new place. It is Lungta Gongphel Drayang. It is packed. There is no space at all. I squeeze in and look around. A girl called Tandin comes straight up to me.
“Welcome, sir,” says Tandin. “I hope you like the place. Tonight is a busy time. There are people more than we usually get.”
Tandin is from Chukha. She has a son and relatives to take care of. Her husband left her a long time ago.
“Drayangs is a place, the only place where we can work and help ourselves. I work the nights, dancing and singing until I am thoroughly tired. My son is in school and I am a proudly independent woman,” says Tandin.
I look at her. “I know what you are thinking,” says Tandin. “You have the liberty to do so.”
The MC calls the girls up onto the stage. It is too cramped. They all move around, gracefully indeed. They do best what they know they must. It’s all very sincere. Here, though, girls come for request. This is a system where draying girls come and tell you to sponsor a song.
“We must make our own pay from requests,” says Tandin. I hit the door, turn back and slip Nu 350 into her hand with thanks.
And then it is Gyelwang Drayang at Zangthopelri complex. Here, it is cool and easy, not many people. But the light is very difficult. I get out and go back again. The music here is too loud.
The owner of the draying is a middle-aged man. He doesn’t want to talk to me. I ask him some questions. He turns away. “Look, you people just don’t get it. You have no idea how much trouble we have to go through in a day. But we are all happy here. We help each other in times of need. Certain things that you hear about draying may be true. It is different here. These girls are all my daughters.”
Khandu Wangmo, a girl from Merak in Trashigang is dancing to the tune of a song that is midway between traditional and modern. It is not even rigsar. I have never heard that song before.
“I came as a babysitter for my sister here. I live with her still. But living becomes difficult even with one’s one’s people. I do not want to be a dependent. I try to help my sister,” says Khandu Wangmo. “If there were no drayangs, I can’t imagine where people like me could have ended.”
Youth unemployment is rising in the country and plans and policies to involve young people gainfully do not reach many sector of our population. Private sector is too small to create job opportunities. Rural Bhutan is no more rural. Change has come overnight, so to speak.
“Farming life back home could have had some charm and purpose. But this is a new beginning. Things have changed. We are forced to seek employment elsewhere,” says Yangchen. “It is a sad thing, I know. But for people like me, drayang is the best. I can at least help myself and my family.”
Kelzang Phuntsho, the owner of Kalapingka Drayang, says that he wants to make things better for his girls.
“I started a PF system for them, but it doesn’t work. There are funny rules. But I have girls who have been with me for more than five years. That should say something. I treat them well and take care of them as if they are my own daughters.”
There are more than 17 drayangs in Thimphu. Each is different from the other, however.
“I have girls who work here and attend continuing education classes. Many have succeeded and left. I feel proud about that,” says Kelzang Phuntsho. “I give my girls a basic pay of Nu 4,500 and bonus from the request they collect daily. It’s a good pay in the end.” Girls at collect request amount of more than Nu 15,000 a month.
Some drayang have no basic pay system. What girls get from request is their pay. Actually, they get only half of what they collect as request.
Drayangs have become an issue even in National Assembly. But what it does to scores of jobless youth, the august house knows not. There are dreams of overseas employment, but not all can avail of that opportunity.
For many youth, drayangs have given them some hope, some reason to live with pride.
The rain hasn’t stopped yet. But there are fewer people on the road. It is almost 11.30pm. The light is still yellow and sad. It’s a different kind of life outside.
By Jigme Wangchuk