Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Boy in Red Turtle-neck Sweater

I missed my parents more than ever after I last saw them some two months ago though we frequently meet over the phone. This time I thought that I will visit them on Palm Sunday; I boarded the usual bus to Lobesa from Semtokha.

I occupied quietly a single seat and became a sincere spectator to the hustle and bustle of the activities inside the crammed bus. I felt like I have been leased inside a match box; too hard to breathe. Amidst the strangers I became a quiet watchdog.
The beautiful pink peach flowers, the green meadows and the green lofty mountains signaled the appearance of bountiful spring in the air as the bus passed by. Despite the chaos I found myself enjoying the air outside through the long glass panes of the bus. 

The bus like a huge monster was at its high momentum and the tress seemed to move much faster than its tempo. Since Lobesa is just a two and a half hour drive from the capital, I travel often and the other times I traveled I didn't give much importance to the environment around me as most of the time I would be either sleeping with ear phones plugged in or busy chit-chatting with fellow-travelers.

Unlike the previous journeys I enjoyed myself this time. There was a reason to enjoy as I was amused by some incident or should I say I was pleasantly surprised by that encounter?

In the many journeys that I have traveled between Lobesa and Thimphu, the bus in which I used to travel didn't have the handy boy to assist the driver who seemed to have tough time to check the passengers' tickets and do the porter business himself. Sensing this problem he must have hired a hand to help him out. This time there was a young lad of 14, I presumed as the new handy boy. Since my seat was near the door of the bus he was the only entertainer for me and I had no choice but to watch him.

Dressed in a red turtle-neck sweater, unlike a man's color, a pair of faded blue jeans and flip-flops, he was tanned and looked weather beaten with a fresh hair-cut as if he has just emerged from a salon. Maybe his master - the driver must have  given him a fresh haircut  in preparation for his trade. I liked his air of confidence when he handed the tickets to the passengers and charged the fare to those who got in mid way. But I couldn't stop wondering what drove him to this profession at this age when he was supposed to be in school, learning the magic of numbers and the wonders of language like so many of others.

The driver made a poor joke that after 10 days the boy will be a professional driver and the boy couldn't help but agree to him. What does the boy know about the world outside? He is as innocent as a baby just out from the mother's womb and I wondered how he will cope up with this damn world where lies, betrayals, guilt, damnation are everyday's ways of life, where we have been webbed as the actors. I wished to be a guardian deity to him to protect him from all these and show him the righteous path towards life. 


Again it's a wonder that men do not need that space as a woman. Had a girl child been at his place, she would be going through the most difficult part of life at this age, having to adapt to changes after attaining teens which is considered as the foremost important stage in a woman's life and it would have been difficult for her but not for this lad. 

His valor was to be appreciated and how long will it take him to mature as a professional? These thoughts invaded my mind and when I was shaken out of my reverie, I had reached my destination. 

He stopped the bus for me like a professional and gave me a sweet smile before the bus came to life again with the red turtle-neck sweater boy standing at the door. I wonder when I will see him again as a professional driver and not as that red turtle-necked sweater handy boy.


  1. Wow!!! that's where fate plays the bigger role, or I would rather say "PARENTING". It has become, sort of, frequent scene to see young teens trying their hands in variety of jobs only to regret in later part of their life. You will be surprised to hear that, our high altitude dwellers have purposely prevented their children from going to school on the pretext of needing helper to look after their yaks for cordyceps collection. When i was one month with them last June, I tried hard to convince the importance of education. It was none of my job but felt the need to do it for the betterment of their young and innocent kids. I also tried to convince their concern of un-employment by saying, education is not about getting jobs and working as civil servant, rather education is all about changing to look at world differently.
    However I tried, it was hard for me and i had or did not have any success.
    May god bless those children.

  2. "Fate" i would say is the driver here for this little chap oblivious of his parenting.

    I am not surprised but i agree with you on how our highlanders refuse to send their kids to school. I was a on a field study on the socio-economic lives of Brokpas to Merak & Sakteng during my sophomore year in college and the thought of sendind their kids to school was really hard for them as they needed extra hand in helping them at home as you say it.

    Education is a social pill yet it is so hard for a handful of our community like our highlanders to understand this.Its so nice that you tried your hand in convincing them to some extent!!


  3. It is glad to know that you were in Merak and Sakteng on your field study.
    I will be leaving to Merak and Sakteng by mid-Aug (2011) for my research on understanding transhumance and change in nomad's mind-set after development. It will be contribution from your end if you could share any data or reports that you have on the study you conducted during your college days.
    I am just curious to know.

  4. When i look back now i am glad that i made it to Merak & Sakteng though i complained alot for the climb uphill that time. Sakteng esp. is a real feast to the eyes. And trust me you will love it!!

    Your reseach seems interesting!! I do have data n reports on the field tour,and of course its my prized possession, but it is in hard copies only. so I am not sure how i can provide you if you really want it.

    For more insights into the lives of the Brokpas, you can also read Brokpas,The Highlanders of Bhutan by Raghubir Chand.

  5. Rekha,
    Thank you for the assurance. I would definitely love to go through the report of your studies and explore the ways of acquiring it from you once I reach Bhutan before proceeding to the field.
    I will read the book by Raghubir Chand. I tried to get my hands on it last month but didn't succeed.


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