This unexpected gathering of classmates from 1961 for me was an overwhelming experience. It may have been just another meeting for them but for me they represent the past, the beginning and naturally, having a weak heart I felt a certain joy and sadness touch me in the deepest parts.
My last writing (if you can call it that) mentioned a few of the first students and two of them are in the picture. Starting from extreme right, former member of the cabinet as a Royal advisory councilor, Zeko Dorji after having worked in the food corporation of Bhutan for nearly 30 years was elected to the National Assembly in 2004 and retired in 2007. He was also part of the founding members of the original Bhutan Peoples United party (BPUP) and after formation of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) stayed on as a party advisor.
Next is lopen Gembo a.k.a “gangto” continues to teach English at the Bjizhong middle secondary school in Damji; lower Gasa. He was in the 3rd batch of the early national teachers in Bhutan. He’s the only other still in service and told me that students from Gasa were vulnerable because the environment did not encourage them to develop good comprehensive ability in English which rendered them less competitive.
Passang Dorji or “tsongba theumi” as he is the representative from the business community to the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) is serving his second consecutive term. After completing his 4th grade he briefly joined the monk body before turning to business.
Damchoe has been a farmer for all his life after a brief enrolment at the school. He remembers a few things from his school days and expresses regrets for not having been able to continue his studies. His elder daughter however today is a Non Formal Education (NFE) instructor and her 10 students include her mother who was also among the first school goers. This he says gives him satisfaction to have been able to send his children to school.
Damchoe Mani after studying there went on to join the military and returned home a few years ago to help his family at home. A few years earlier he had a close call when a bear attacked him while he was collecting firewood. He is thankful for what life has offered him and is actively participates in community activities.
Zeko Dem, the only woman in the picture but by no means the only one in the first group has been a farmer after leaving school. She remembers she had spent a year at school and how her relatives had requested the administration to release her from school. I have often heard of stories where parents and relatives would approach officials at school with gifts and requests for releasing their children from school and a good number of stories in Gasa too.
I hope I can meet enough of the first school goers of Gasa and add them to my collection of memoirs of the Gasa Government School in 1961.
Update: I apologize to everyone for getting the year wrong. After tracing down many of the first students and having spoken to them, I have found the correct year to 1961 and have changed it in my mentions.
I also learnt that in the 1961 the school opened around October and therefore, the students enrolled that year were taught inside the Dzong for about two months without any grades. 1962 actually saw them begin their studies in “infant classes” broken into two years and then class 1. I remember my early school days starting “LKG” and “UKG” (Lower Kinder-Garden & Upper Kinder-Garden) and then the last change was to “PP”