A former teacher, T Nagarajan, who taught for over five years in Bhutan talks to Kuensel reporter Phurpa Lhamo on his second homecoming
How was your first visit to Bhutan?
My wife J Poonkuzhali and I came to Bhutan in May 1996. We got telegrams from the education ministry that we got selected as teachers and were asked to report to Chummey Primary School in Bumthang.
We entered Bhutan via Phuentsholing. We wanted to travel to our designated place on the same day, so we enquired about the public transport to Bumthang. First shock – after noon there were no vehicles from Phuentsholing to any part of Bhutan. Second – who ever we met in Phuentsholing advised us not to go to Bumthang as our first daughter was just two and half years old at that time.
There were two more teachers travelling with us and both advised us to request change in our posting place, which would be suitable for our child and us. I was reluctant to travel up to Thimphu thinking that they may not accept our request. But with all the push and pull, we made our entry permit and stayed in a bus stand hotel, where we stored our luggage, but could not use the bed. We ended up sitting in the bus stand all night with our child.
Next morning, we started our journey at 7am by bus. We had our minimum required luggage on the top of the bus with dead pigs. We never had such a bus experience before. The bus stopped somewhere near Tshimalakha for lunch. The place looked shady, so we didn’t eat. We reached Thimphu around 5 or 6 pm and got into a local hotel just opposite the Clock Tower. Those days, the bus station was at the clock tower area.
Next morning around 9am we arrived at MoE’s personnel officer’s table. We explained our situation, but he refused to change our posting place.
However, the people were convinced later and looked out for vacant places. Then, Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School (YHSS) needed a computer and a math teacher. I was then a qualified computer teacher and my wife was willing to take mathematics and later physics at YHSS. We immediately got our appointment letter and reported to YHSS. We got our school quarters the same day. It all happened just like that within a day. That was the first and last place of our posting in Bhutan.
Did you know anything about Bhutan before coming to the country?
Except for Royal Bhutan Lottery at that time, which was very popular in Tamil Nadu and South India, we were totally unaware of Bhutan. Bhutan offered a job and the salary at that time was better in Bhutan than in India for a schoolteacher. I came through the job vacancy from education ministry. I was 27 and my wife was 26 years old when we first came to Bhutan.
When did you leave Bhutan and why?
In Bhutan, as we worked in YHSS, we had to find private schools for our children, right from the age of two to socialise and be in safe custody during working hours. Even now, I did not find any day care centres in Thimphu to look after working mothers’ babies.
I left Bhutan in July 2002 to Jakarta, Indonesia. My wife and family left Bhutan in December 2002 to join me.
What kind of changes do you see today from the time you first visited Bhutan?
There are a lot of changes. We hardly see any scooters on the roads in Thimphu and we see the transport system has boomed. We can reach Punakha in 1.5 hours, half the time of those days. I am impressed that Bhutan is maintaining its forest reserve and would like to remain green forever. But as a reflection from my travel worldwide, Thimphu and Paro need to check all leaking pipes from houses dripping water on the pedestrians. Both cities need proper drainage, pedestrian path and cities should filter, clean water before letting it into the rivers. And lastly ban plastics.
How was your stay in Bhutan?
Our stay in YHSS and Thimphu was a memorable and a lifetime opportunity to serve in YHSS. We had an opportunity to teach His Majesty The King and other Princes and Princesses of Royal family right from the first year of teaching.
What are your memories of your stay in Bhutan?
We are now well settled, and our first daughter is a Doctor and working in UK. Our second daughter is studying MBBS in China. We both are healthy, travelling the world, continue teaching adolescent students, and are helping new institutions set up or helping in improving the existing ones. We continue our professional development. We are about to complete our PhD theses in our respective fields.
All of these began from Bhutan. We consider Bhutan our second home. Our second daughter was born and brought up here. For her Bhutan is the first home. Our second daughter accompanied us for this year’s event and witnessed our pride and honour. She is very fortunate to witness and to have a chance to meet Their Majesties.
How was your visit to Bhutan during the teacher’s day celebration held in Thimphu?
It was a pleasant surprise to see the education ministry requesting old teachers from India to register with them. As soon as we came to know the dates and the event, we immediately booked the tickets and stay from Hong Kong to Paro without giving any thoughts on if we are invited and to further visit the dream destination, Bumthang.
Whatever happened within this week was not a surprise, the real surprise was when Their Majesties entered Changlimithang ground on May 2 and met us on the dais. Within three or four days, we met Their Majesties three times. The whole trip is a life’s memorable event for us.