Neten Dorji | Trashigang

Lekila, 63, beams with hope whenever there is traditional archery tournament below Trashigang town. Making bows and arrows has lately become the chief source of his income. He does this during free time, when he is not doing his caretaker job at Trashigang Middle Secondary School. Often he can be seen scrambling for plastic vanes, scissors and cellophane tapes in his hut below municipal office.

“Never did it occur to me that I would one day be making good money out of all these,” says Lekila, eyeballing down the shaft and running deft fingers on the vanes. Something like compassion is involved in perfecting this art. He makes about 15 bows and 20 arrows in a month. Numbers vary depending on orders.

Lekila gets bamboo and shaft materials from Pemagatshel, Tsirang, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and Chamgang in Thimphu. Those from Chamgang make the best arrows. They are slimmer and lighter. Depending on shaft quality, a pair of arrows go for anywhere between Nu 80-100. “Making traditional bows takes time. Making an arrow is easy, but needs to concentrate a lot.”

He is flooded with orders as festive occasions such as Losar and Thruebab approach. When the business is good, Lekila makes about Nu 1,40,000. Even otherwise, Nu 40,000 is the least he makes every month from the sale of bows and arrows.

Lekila began his making bows and arrows early on. In his younger days he was a good archer himself. But his mother took an aversion to his wasting time on such things would often hide the gears. “Sometimes, when she was particularly ruffled, she would destroy all his arrows,” he says, who began as a cook in the school. When WFP was discontinued in the school, he became the school’s caretaker.

A pragmatic man, Lekila is not given much to reminiscing. He has a business in adept hands. His mother might have hated it but his skills with bows and arrows have stood him in good stead. He a bought a plot of land in Melphai, a rapidly growing community just above the school and paid off all his loans.

“More important, I have been able to give education to all my five children,” says Lekila.