As I watched through the window, the willow tree adjacent to my house was in full bloom. Several bees hovered over it, their buzzing sounds collectively generating music of Dhungchhen blown at a distant place.
A blossom of willow is an alarm for school reopening like rooster is for the day break. It’s time for school children to leave behind their loved ones and head to schools to pursue learning. It was March 1981. In the kitchen Ai Boa (grandma with goiter) was busy cooking food. She was the main cook of the Drongmey family consisting of large joint family of four grandmas and their two generations of offspring. Ai Boa was tall and sturdy. At home she would hardly stay idle. Right after breakfast she would go and fetch firewood from nearby forests, and then water which used to be around half a kilometer away from our house. By the time other members of the family return home she would sit by the side of the oven chanting Mani with her dinner ready to be served. She had a sizable goiter on her neck due to which she earned her name as Ai Boa. We used to be very fond of her. Her presence would mean warmth and happiness in the house.
As always her cooking fascinates every one of us. With one hole of an oven constantly occupied by an Arzang, she placed a pot on the other with a ball of freshly processed butter in it. She fried minced garlic and eggs, filling the rooms with pleasant appetizing smells. In the store room, my mother and grandmother were busy packing clothes, tengma (roasted and bitten corn similar to corn flakes), pack lunch and lamchhang (Ara) in the basket. My Acho and other cousins were out to take a shower before they finally get dressed in their new ghos. At that point I was feeling excited as I was going to school too. In the alter room Aku Tshering was making an offering to Ap Gogphella for our safe journey to school.
Meanwhile, Ai Boa announced, ‘Joenchhang is ready to be served, Jau go and call all.’ Without saying a word I rushed to the window and shouted, ‘Acho, Acho Karma and everyone Joenchhang is ready come in.’ By then some of our neighbour’s children have already moved out from their house. I could see Acho Lhendupla of Umling and Acho Zhenphela of Samtenling in their best attires conversing with Acho Karma. Few other school goers of my age stood beside them in a playful mood although their new dresses rendered them a bit of uneasiness.
The sun has already made its half way through the day. My grandma and Ai Boa remained waving from the window as we marched down the Kakani. It was a large group with caravan of horses, elderly people and children descending our way to Monggar. In the forefront was Ang Lengkong leading our family horse Tsheringjau loaded with our beddings and rations.
After about an hour long gradual uphill climb from Phegang Chhu, the group reached Tabsi Nak which stood facing Banjar – my village. From there, I could see my house located at the base of the village, beautifully facing us in the glimmers of setting sun. The glimpse of my house brought in vivid pictures of my grandma and Ai Boa waving from the kitchen window. Tears welled up my eyes for I’ll be missing their love and care when I’m away.
With my sharp voice I shout “A-oo…A-oo” signaling that we have reached that place. And the series of shouts followed from rest of the group members, almost resembling howls of jackals. To the North, I see Ap Gogphella overlooking us, with his consort and son on either side. Facing North, I folded my hands and murmured, “Ap Gogphella Chab ze chi”. Ang Lengkong took out a bottle of Lamchang, first offered to Ap Gogphella and served a cup each to all. While still a minor, I would hardly miss such rounds as it helped gain strengths particularly when on a long journey such as this.
By the time we reach Braktse, it was already getting dark. The group opened their packed foods for dinner along with few bottles of Ara and settled for the night in an open air. We haven’t covered even half our journey then.
The night was calm. Ang Lengkong and Aku Tshering chose to lie down near the hearth. Rest of us settled around a tree, the branches which spread over to give us a feel of a huge natural tent. It was a wonderful night in an open air with beams of full moon night piercing through the branches of the tree.(To be continued)