The schools in Bhutan start in February. In our time, it was in March. We used to get 3 months winter vacation after writing the final examination – and that was the time we most looked forward to. Our time was different – in that, the schools were few and far away. So children as young as six years stayed in the hostel. Day care centers were unheard of. There was no need for one either. So, living far from home at a young age, we missed our parents and we always looked forward to the long winter holiday.
But now, the winter vacation is shortened. Schools are many. Some children in school still have to walk for more than 2 hours every day to reach their school, but that isn’t a common case. And though, they have to walk that far, they get to stay with their parents at home, unlike our time. Times have changed. Curriculum has changed too. The contents of the curriculum seem very light for the pre-primary. But that is understandable too. Children now go to school at a tender age of 6. During our time, though it was decided that children aged 6 and above could go to school, many were older than 6 years. And I think, because they were more matured, it was easier for them to be disciplined, as well as catch the lessons faster.
It was April 2010. I went back to my village. I camped near the school where I studied – with 24 other friends. I studied there two decades back but everything was familiar; the school building hasn’t changed a bit. The small rough football ground still stood the same. The house with a red roof where our headmaster used to stay still stood in its place. But the school head no longer stayed in that house.
But of course, in 20 years time, change has caught the school in my village too. As I walked up to my brother’s house above Jalikharsho Chorten, I thought of my time. I studied there for four years. For four years, I walked that path. This time, there was no beautiful meadow where I used to sit with my friends and narrate folktales; it was there that we also used to impersonate being a mother cooking for her children. The chorten is surrounded with new buildings. The thick forest through which we used to take the short cut – the place that stunk of ghosts – the place where it was believed that the dead were buried is no longer traceable. The trees are cut down. A new road is paved up the hill. And at night, a line of street lamps brighten the place as if it is a beautiful developed city. The hostels and the higher classes (classes 7, 8, 9 and 10) stand in place of trees. The nearest village which is called Majawoong is only a few steps away from becoming a small peripheral town. One or two of the people there have already started renting their houses to teachers. This could mean economic boon to the farmers. But as I looked at new buildings, the street lamps and roads, I felt sad thinking of the past. There was nothing much. And yet, we seemed so much happier. When the school first started in my village, there was no school building as such. We used the ground floors of the building – Naktsang – a temple where our local deity dwelled – as the classrooms. Class PP and 1 were in the same room, separated by just one thin pillar. I’m sure we could not have helped hearing the lessons from the other class but we seem to have done fine with it.
Maybe luxury is not really a good thing. As I looked at the cars parked by the football ground, the teachers walk up and down, the youngsters cramped around the carom board, I felt, in many ways, it didn’t seem like I was in the same place. And yet, I was back to my school. Familiarity swelled in my heart but I felt my heart twisted with sadness.