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Friday, July 2, 2010


I have fond memories associated with Bumthang and this is not only because it is a place at once pristinely beautiful and vibrant. Some of the happiest memories I have are associated with it, my most idyllic childhood days being spent there.

I still remember those days- as fresh as the chilly nip in the air, the whistling of the wind through the pine jungles and the sparkling icicles on the roof eaves melting in the warm winter sun.

I never realized the enormity then of their words when elders said that childhood was the best phase in a person’s life. I was too busy in my carefree, make-believe world. Even as a growing teenager I wasn’t convinced because I was entering an exciting phase in life and could not wait to grow up. As I neared adulthood, I was too busy preparing for the life of an adult.

But now I have crossed these phases. I am 25 (mid-life crisis?) and fairly well settled. I am an independent working woman, I love my job, I have a car (though I still have to master the art of reversing without getting the tyre into a ditch somewhere) and I have a loving family always forthcoming with their support but then they have faded into the back ground now, as it so happens when you grow up and get on with a life which you call your own (sadly).

And now that I am fairly mature and can settle down into moments of quiet introspection without getting carried away by extreme emotional tides (except occasionally) unlike those painful, teary and fiery withdrawals into yourself common during raging hormonal teenage years, I can look back at life and even manage a smile.

A wry smile. An amused smile. A wistful smile. A sad smile. A fond smile. Many a times a sunny smile.

And when childhood memories beckon me, when the sights, sounds and smells of yore pervade my being, my senses, I am transported once again to the world I once belonged -the world of nicked fingers and bruised knees but a mom ever ready with first aid, a world of Tinkle comics and Cadbury, a world of rosy cheeks- the result of playing in the sun and running in the autumn breeze chasing falling leaves, a world where handing a toffee was an easy way to reconcile after a tiff.

I remember we used to live in a beautiful, spacious house in Lama Goenpa. A double storied structure- partly wood and partly concrete, it stood at the base of the rolling wooded hills yet offering a satisfactory view of what was going on below up to quite a distance.

We had a chicken coop and a kitchen garden with a green house. There was a compound to play in and lots of neighbourhood kids. What more could we ask for?

Very soon, I had joined the other kids on “skating sprees” in the woods. “Skating” simply meant riding down the slope made slippery with dry brown pine needles on wood planks with polished bases to aid the skate down hill. Often we toppled down peeling the skin on our knee caps or knuckles but it was fun alright.

Then playing “hide and seek,” “Am I right,” “rubber band,” or skipping rope and in more adventurous moods, “super heroes(iones)” and “ninjas” (too many cartoons and action movies, I daresay).

Then, one fine day I had a bright idea. I was inspired to form a “secret club” after reading Enid Blyton’s “Secret Seven Society.” Producing my colour pens, scissors and paper, I set to work and soon I had made membership badges for my would-be “secret club members” of which of course and most obviously I would be the leader!

I remember going for picnics too. Once we had cooked “wai-wai” but which could not exactly be termed palatable because the egg we had stirred in was still raw! Another picnic had us eating almost uncooked rice because of our premature culinary skills (or the lack of it).

But as a child I was very interested in cooking. I remember trying to prepare a sweet dish from a “Milk-Maid” recipe-book I had managed to salvage from somewhere and if I remember correctly, the household devoured it! (Should I then say that I was a natural in the kitchen? Ahem! Ha, ha…To be honest, my elders helped me with it. They could not trust me, not at that age!)

Then there was school. Dressing up for school was not an ordeal for me. It was though for my dad who used to help me with my “kira.” Once my grandma fixed my “kira’s” open end the wrong way so my friends in school undid the error. Mom gave up on it. In fact her kira used to be fixed by dad.

Going to school was an experience in itself. If all the neighbourhood kids- a noisy, restless bunch at that, could not huddle into the rickety, green jeep which dropt us every morning, we would be strolling through the secluded woods, breaking off whole branches of wild red berry shrubs, munching all the way to school. The process was repeated on the way back.

In school, lunches meant shared tiffins or oily “puris,” hot “aloo-dum,” thin white tea, cheap biscuits or raw “wai-wai” brought from the nearby canteen.

Then there were the senior girls or “big-sisters” making a fuss and babying the little ones.

And oh! Wasn’t I an avid dancer! Our school cultural programs had me prancing about excitedly. I remember playing the part of “Sleeping Beauty” in a nursery rhyme skit once! Ha, ha! I am one even now. I can’t claim to be a beauty (not blatantly) but sleepy, I always am! (As for dancing, lately I have developed two left feet so I can’t qualify for the title of a competent dancer).

It is strange but even at that age you do have an inkling of the inexplicable chemistry that exists between the opposite sexes, so you imagine that even you are part of it. I remember childishly “liking” a few little boys and snubbing a few others if they evinced an unsolicited interest in me. Ha, ha….those were the days…

As I looked at through the bus window during my most recent journey via Chumey, I could not help wishing I was living in that magical little valley. I stared at the tranquil forests, clear brooks with smooth round pebbles winking beneath the silvery little ripples and the schools. Yes, the schools….that will always remain an integral part of my childhood.

I could see some lanky adolescents taking a leisurely stroll on the lonely cold road, another group engaged in playing basketball and yet another group comprising mostly girls sunning themselves by the school gate. “Growing children,” I mused.

As the bus moved on, winding through the flat valley punctuated by gentle slopes, I smelt again Bumthang- the smell of my childhood: the smell of pine needles, saw-dust, burning fire-wood- a subtle fragrance.

Chumey undoubtedly is another wonderful thing about Bumthang. The goods which adorn the front of the handicraft shop are a visual treat for any passerby. Then come the farm houses- traditional two-storied structures with stretches of tilled land before them. Some of them are spread with fine earth while others have big clouts with the faintest trace of frost on the surface so that they look like big frozen chunks of ice cream. Prayer flags flutter spasmodically to sudden gusts of chilly wind. Little huts made of matted bamboo are scattered among the houses. Picture perfect. I drink in the beauty.

There are numerous pine trees along the road. Pine trees hold a special place in my heart- I remember them for their sharp sweet smell, their hard brown cones strewn across little traversed paths, and little brown pine nuts which we used to pick up gingerly and crack in between our teeth.

My heart soars as I catch a glimpse of Chamkhar stretched out below me- the large serene plain, the river running through it, the familiar structures… It is getting dark now but as I observe the Chamkhar chu , flowing swiftly past the road, deceptively shallow at some stretches and dangerously deep at others, as I look at the mini-islands with the shrubs laden with sour, yellow berries, feeling their tangy taste on my tongue, I again drift back to a childhood fantasy.

Maybe some readers will be surprised at this but as a child when I read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I could not get rid of my burning desire to be in Tom’s shoes! Agreed he was a boy, a naughty little boy at that, but I guess at that age, gender matters little as long as you can have fun, so there I was- longing to run away from home and stay at one of the islands on Chamkhar chu much like Tom did. His living the life of a little Robinson Crusoe (only his isolation was self imposed), fishing, fending for himself, fooling around with friends was a dream adventure for me. I loved every bit of it.

Finally, we entered the town and the bus came to a halt at the bus stop. I was back- back from my childhood Bumthang to the present one. But as the sights and sounds again surrounded and seeped into me, I knew Bumthang was the same- it would always remain so for me because it grew up with me.

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