Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Night at Remote Posting

My best friend has been posted to a remote school under Zhemgang dzongkhag as a teacher. After a fortnight of his placement was announced, I accompanied him to his school. It was in 2009. 

His school is six hours walking from the nearest road. About 30 households scattered all around the school. The whole settlement is covered with corn fields at zenith, a stream flows serenely. There’s no electricity, no mobile network, and no BHU.

It was early evening when we reached the school, exhaustingly tired. Senior teachers of the school flocked to greet the new lopen. Other members of the locality also came with packaged gifts of local dairy products and arra. To be a teacher in a remote place earns an insurmountable respect, I knew then. 

Nearby the school, a CGI roofed and bamboo wall hut perched. It’s a shop that serves all the purposes to its locality. “Everything is available here. This is a one-stop shop,” informed us one of teachers who took us there.

I looked inside the shop with an insane curiosity. A corner, right side of the shop, serves a grocery. Vegetables were displayed on the floor. Just above it unarranged garments were hung. In the left corner were a few bunches of umbrellas and satchels. Fungid cookies and sweets were displayed in the counter table.

Senior teachers showed us a room inside the shop. As we entered the room, a woman in her mid 30s stood in a corner.

“Sirs, which brand of beverages you prefer? HIT? Eagle? Druk 11,000? Or other hard drinks?” another senior teacher asked us adding that, “But here we always drink Druk 11,000.”

Now I knew that this room serves as a bar to this locality and illegal one too. “This is the only entertainment we have here. Every evening we come here and drink,” he said. He confessed that he never touched alcohol before but after being transferred here he became an alcoholic.
The woman from the corner said that she has a good stock of bangchang (locally fermented wine from millet). I felt that I should try it. From a huge container, she put about two kilos of bangchang in a pot and stirred it.

Ah! The bangchang is so tasty and strong. Senior teachers told me that it has about 20 percent of alcohol. The woman sat cross-legged in front of us. In a typical Kheng tradition, she poured the bangchang in my cup as I took each sip.

I felt that I had enough as I could remember that I had 10 cups of bangchang. But the maid was still there to pour another ladle full of bangchang in my cup and each time she poured, she says, “Shays sir, shays la.”

I realized, finally, that I can't take anymore. I denied. But I always lost to her enticing insistence and again left with another task to finish a cup of bangchang. “You don’t fit to become our son-in-law if you can’t take another cup of bangchang,” she mused at me rather hypnotically.
I didn’t know how many cups of bangchang I had that night. My other friends were so engrossed in their conversation and their drinking. Their talk ranged from the political parties and GNH to women and sex.

As time went on, I could only distinguish their talk from their laughter and in due course everything sounded like humming bees and blurring. I didn’t know anything that happened to me after that.

When I opened my eyes it was morning and I was sleeping in a strange place. The hangover was so severe that I couldn’t wake up from the bed right away. I felt so weak and sick suffering from giddiness. Slowly I could walk from the room to the toilet, but only to vomit again and again. I felt that I was nearing death. 
That noon, a group of villagers were going to the town and they agreed to accompany me. Instantly I informed my friend that I was going back home.  But other school staff insisted me to stay back, “Stay back, friend. We have volleyball match this evening. And the bet is one case of Druk 11,000.” Oops! Secretly I packed things in my bag and sneaked out of the place, unnoticed.

Photo courtesy: Tempa Wangdi