Monday, February 28, 2011

An Agent of Trouble

In early 1990s, when the Royal Government of Bhutan initiated rural accessibility of basic services, officials with basic skills on agriculture, livestock and health services were posted in the remote villages as Extension Officers. Mr. Karpo Dendup, a cool tempered official in his early thirties was one of them. He got posted in one of the remote villages of East Bhutan as Livestock Extension Officer. By then he was already married to a young women of his own village– who is also his Serga Mathang. They had a year old son.

He set off to that village along with his wife and son as soon as he got the government order. After about two hours drive and another four hours of arduous uphill climb, he and his family received a warm welcome from the village Tshogpa. They were provided with a free accommodation on the ground floor of one of the traditional duplex houses. With houses clustered, people in that village shared a good social cohesion. In the evening, village people brought in Tshogchhangs in their beautifully designed Palangs. It is customary for the people of that village to welcome every new member with home brewed Aras, drink together, chat and gain acquaintances with the new member. In a way it is also to make new members feel at home. Karpo and his family were entertained with local folk dances and songs that night although language barrier deterred much of their conversations.

In about a week, Karpo got settled in his new home. He picked up couple of friends from whom he gradually started to pick up local dialect. He was dedicated to his profession. Services he provided were greatly appreciated by villagers. His popularity as helpful and beneficial field official spread out not just in that village, but in neighboring villages too. His popularity has earned him a new name as Gonor Babu in the village. People would often say, “We are fortunate to have helpful Gonor Babu like him in our village.”
Besides his normal duty, Karpo would actively involve himself in other activities and festivals of that village. In this way, he has managed to keep himself preoccupied despite harsh realities of being in remote place. In his second year, his wife gave birth to another child. He was a good family man too. He kept his family happy. How he managed his small family had been exemplary that every man in the village would look at it as something to emulate. 

One wintery morning Karma, a village Tshogpa approached Karpo, “Tomorrow is our Losar and we are organizing an archery match amongst ourselves.” “That’s a good idea,” Karpo subscribed to it. “I came to inform you that you are playing in my team,” Tshogpa declared. Karpo like any other Bhutanese was fond of archery and agreed to Tshogpa’s proposal. 

That evening, he had an unexpected visitor escorted by one of the village boys. “Knock! Knock!” a sharp and shrill young voice followed, “Gonor…Gonor Babu.” 

As he opened his door an elderly man in his mid sixties stood there smiling with great joy, not knowing how to begin conversations. “It’s you Apa, come in,” Karpo guided his father towards sitting room as he relieved his father of heavy bedding on his back.

As conversations between them continued, Pemo holding their younger child in her arms slipped into the bedroom slamming the door behind. Her father in-law has come all the way to meet them and such unusual happenings were not expected at all. But Pemo did not even greet him. Instead she never got out from that bedroom.

Meanwhile Karpo served his father a hot Suja along with a bowl of Tengma, while conversations about rest of family members back home went on. As his father uneasily sips in hot Suja, Karpo tried to cover up unusual nature of his wife with nonstop conversations. It was a double surprise for Karpo – an unexpected visit by his father and an unusual behavior from his wife. Karpo’s wife has never shown such mood swings in the past. They lived as an exemplary couple in the village. “No. I don’t see any trouble,” Karpo couldn’t believe this and thinking “May be she’s not feeling well” got in the kitchen and embarked on dinner preparation.

Karpo’s father sat by the side of window in a deep thought. Tired from hours of uphill climb, he was often pulled back by drowsiness. He needed a good nap and relaxation, but something was worrying him.
“Here you go,” tonight Karpo has cooked Sikam for his father has come and there were a pot of red rice, dal and bowl of Azzey. He laid food items and headed towards bedroom.

“Pemo come for dinner,” as usual Karpo called his wife in a normal polite tone. But to his dismay, “Treat your old man,” came an angry reply from the bedroom. He tried to open the door but it was locked from inside. “Come on Pemo. You don’t have to act childish. Can’t you see my father has come all the way to be with us,” Karpo pleaded in vain. He waits for few seconds, but there was no reply from his loving wife. Saying, “Alright, you can have later” Karpo left to serve dinner for his tired father.

As father and son started dinner, Karpo was gradually getting furious over his wife’s behavior. He could not finish his dinner. In a second he was at the bed room door banging and shouting at her. While rest of the village folks were in festive mood, Karpo and his wife got into fierce quarrel with door in between them.
In the sitting room Karpo’s father remained his eyes transfixed over a dimly lit kerosene lamp. There was despair and guilt hovering over his mind. But this is not the first time his daughter in-law reacts to his presence. With regrets he thought, “I wouldn’t be in this situation tonight, if only I had not objected their marriage seven years ago.” He could not resist murmuring, “Here I’m tonight – an agent of trouble for my loving son’s family.”  

He slowly approached his son. Held his shoulder and whispered, “Karpo I’ll go back tomorrow. I don’t want your relation to get strained just because of me.” Hearing this, Karpo broke down into tears, hugged his father and said, “Apa, but tomorrow is Losar and you came here to celebrate it with me.” “Yes, but…” his father could not complete as emotions caught hold of his voice and they went back to sitting room holding each other, laid down over a thin plastic matt and went to sleep.

The next morning before the day break, his father was up and packing his things. It was painful to see his father leave with just an overnight stay. Karpo packed leftover dinner in his bag and said, “Apa I’m going with you till Dzongkhag headquarter.” “At least for today, forget Losar, forget archery match, I’ll spend my time with my father,” Karpo thought as they sneaked out of the house. Upon reaching the dzongkhag headquarter, Karpo handed his father ngultrum five thousand and bid farewell. Karpo then returned to that village and resumed his normal duty without any problems with his wife, but his father never dared to visit them again.

Disclaimer: The context of the story and names of characters are all fictitious and its resemblance to anyone in particular or any parties should be considered as mere coincidental.

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