The life of an expatriate teacher in Bhutan in the 60s

History: Life was simple. The 1960s was a time when Bhutan was gradually shifting its economic system from a pastoral form to a planned economy.

This was the time when several new and important events in history took place in shaping the country into what it is today. While this crucial social reform was taking place in the country, a teacher from Kalimpong, Moti Hang Subba was teaching in a remote school in the eastern part of the country.

His story of Bhutan, during his time here from 1960 to 1988, was narrated by his son, Professor TB Subba, at a talk at the Royal Thimphu College yesterday.

As a headmaster of Dogar Primary School in Zhemgang, Moti Hang Subba had to manage just a handful of students. In the early 1960s when he first started teaching at the school, there were only 10 students, which increased to about 200 by the time he resigned in 1988.

Most of the students at his primary school were already aged 20 and above. Most of them were absent for a good number of days to work in the agricultural fields. The numbers went down further during the peak agricultural seasons.

Apart from teaching subjects like Dzongkha, English, Mathematics, Geography and History, Moti Hang Subba used to share news from around the world that he heard on his Philips radio.

“I never really found enough time to ask him about his life in Bhutan,” said Professor TB Subba, who is the vice chancellor of the Sikkim University. “The opportunity of knowing Bhutan was drawn primarily from his scattered references and stories that I heard during my growing-up years.”

There was virtually no cost of living except for the rice his father had to buy once in a while, said Professor Subba. Students cooked the food for teachers and collected firewood and vegetables from the villages.

“There was no market around but there was no need for one either,” said Professor Subba. Moti Hang Subba used to carry his stock of batteries for his treasured transistor and torch, blades for shaving, tobacco leaves and lime for the whole year.

Working in Bhutan was a far better deal for his father than working as a porter on the roadside, said Professor Subba. During vacations, when Moti Hang Subba returned to his family in Kalimpong, he used to just relax and handle only a couple of petty household chores while his son and wife did all the major labour.

“To my sister and me, he looked like someone on a well-earned vacation, which indeed he was,” said Professor Subba. “Little did I know that his story would soon create a colourful and living image of our neighbouring country, Bhutan, in my young mind.”

Fascinated by his father’s ability to speak Sharshop and Kheng, Professor Subba once asked his father how he learned those languages. “He explained that it was very similar with the Limbu language which he fluently spoke.”

However, Professor Subba never got an opportunity to learn Limbu nor Sharshop from his father since he was never around long enough at home.

Often his father used to take gifts for the villagers in Bhutan. The gifts included blades, scissors and bamboo combs. “Although Drukpa women kept their hair short, the bamboo combs were precious articles for them.”

Younten Tshedup 

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