The group at KD in Changzamtog, Thimphu

The significance of December 17

As the nation prepares for the 111th national day in Samtse, excitement is growing among the people because of the day’s specialness this year. Kuensel’s Jigme Wangchuk finds out.

Day the first

Changzamtog, Thimphu. Upon a dark winter evening – a massive wood stove burning. In all but a dozen, a group of young individuals are basking by the fire, talking. About on the floor, spilt whisky and empty beer cans galore. As more beers come through a crevice, a window of a sort that can still be seen at the ticket counters of some movie theatres, the crowd grows louder. Carpenters, mechanics, hoteliers, taxi drivers, financial advisors, teachers, IT experts…these are men of different trades – fast friends bound together by their sincere love of fun and deep respect for camaraderie.

December 17, the national day, is the subject of the talk.

From Darla, Chukha, Maddan Subba is a finance officer with a private company. Tall and handsome, he does not talk much. But that is only until he has not had a shot or two of the Highland whisky. He is already on the seventh.

“The national day this year is very special, you know,” he says. But his words have landed on deaf ears. Visibly irritated, he repeats: “Listen, guys, 17th of December this year has special significance to the nation and the people. The day will be celebrated in Samtse and it is going to be unlike anything you have ever seen.”

Silence.

“We should all go to Samtse to witness the events that could begin as early as December 10 and partake of joy and celebrations with the people from all walks of life. What say you?” Heard and listened to this time, the man retires to a corner, well away from the heat of the raging woodstove.

More beers flow.

Finance officer of Hotel Druk, Birendra Rai, from Setipakha in Samtse, has known Maddan Subba since school days. As young jobseekers in Thimphu some twenty years ago, they roamed the length and breadth of the city and rubbed shoulders with the high and the low. They were also the absolute thugs of the time, picking fights every now and then.

“Of course this year’s national day is very special. It is the 111th national day, which represents the elder, the present, and the future King of the Wangchuck Dynasty,” says Biren, as to his friends Birendra Rai is known. “What better day to pay our deepest respects to our beloved monarchs who shaped the face of the nation?”

Gathering at this place in Changzamtog, opposite two KD sawmills where once government workshops used to be, happens every day. It is but a hangout for like-minded and responsible people. If anything untoward happens to a person here, all come to help. Everybody’s birthday is celebrated. You walk in with a pair of new shoes and everybody here will drink on you. Losar, Dassain, Christmas…every occasion is celebrated here with genuine fervour, even Eid.

Woodstove now dead and cold, short of fuelwood, men call out for the final shot of drink. From the small crevice come the whisky and beers.

 

Day the second 

A dark winter evening again. A massive woodstove burning and all the dozen-something men basking by the fire, talking. This day too, all about on the floor, spilt whisky and empty beer cans. Beers come one after another through the little crevice and the crowd grows louder.

Then arrives the news – Maddan Suddba’s wife has given birth to baby boy at the hospital.

Narayan Acharya, 56, recently superannuated. He worked as a finance officer at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. From Bokhrey in Tsirang, Narayan Acharya is known affectionately in the group as Thul Dai (Big Brother).

The subject of the talk this day too is 111th national day in Samtse.

“A baby boy has come to the family of one of our friends here. How very auspicious that the little one came to us today as we prepare to celebrate the most significant day in the life of our nation!” These Thul Dai’s words bring cheers on the floor. “Long live our Kings, long live our nation, long live our friendship!”

The group’s infamous Casanova Kamal Tiwari speaks.

“I am excited, the whole nation is excited. December 17 this year is a rare opportunity for us to pay our respects to our Kings who gave us so much. We must go to Samtse,” proclaims Kamal with certain authority it shocks his friends. “I hear even helicopters would be used to throw aromatic flowers from the sky. Such a thing has never happened.”

A load of fuelwood lands near the fire. And there is a loud cheer.

Kulraj Rai, a hotelier, walks in. He is from Tashicholing in Samtse and has been Birendra Rai’s friend since childhood. The most successful man in the group, all listen to this man who can sometimes be a foul-mouthed individual of the rarest kind.

“Here is the plan,” he tells the group. “We must all go to Samtse and participate in the joy and happiness of the nation. Let us pray for the nation and our beloved monarch who have given us so much. Such an opportunity may not come to us again.”

It is almost midnight. Woodstove burning low, the men call out for the final shot of drink. From the small crevice come the whisky and beers.

 

And so it is settled

“A bus will be hired and we go to Samtse on the 15th of this month together with all our family members,” says Kulraj.

A loud cheer.

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