(On the eve of the Teachers’ Day, I repost an article I wrote long time back to celebrate my life as a student, which brings back memories of my school, college and teachers who shaped me to who I am today.)
As a student in Dewathang Polytechnic in the early eighties, I was the eternal third in my class. One Indian lecturer who was very fond of me would keep repeating, “If only you gave up your sports and other distractions and be more regular with your attendance, you will come first! And you have to stop being naughty and stop going around with those naughty boys.”
We may have been mischievous or naughty, no doubt, but we were never vicious, violent or crooks or criminals. We had fun – so much fun. It was part of growing up. But we never hurt others or ourselves – physically or emotionally. We were only adding colors and spices to the otherwise monochromatic life of Dewathang – that consisted of long and boring lessons of endless calculus and calculations, not-so-bad practical workshops (I liked them better) and an unpredictable weather (I hated this the most). In doing so, we kept everyone happy in our vicinity. We induced wholesome education on ourselves by organizing class picnics, archery matches, sports meets, chicken hunting, eating competitions, film nights and trekking expeditions. During annual concerts, we would entertain the whole town. Namgay Retty would be at the drums, Sonam Wangchuk was good with his guitar and Dorji Namgay and Phuntsho Wangdi (Kado) would croak some Beatles numbers and I always thought I was better than Kishore Kumar and Elvis put together. As we often rumbled the hostel room, Tshering Nidup, Deepak Kulung and Dawa Penjor would be our only audience clapping and joining in occasionally for the chorus. Then one by one the whole hostel would be in our room until the warden would come and issue another “last” warning at midnight. Our captain, Rinzin Namgay, would get reprimanded for not stopping us. We would appease him by promising to talk good things to a girl he was courting and who later became his wife. They are still married.
We were all broke most of the time although we received a pocket money of Nu. 20 per month from the government. With that we would make the best use. Our night-outs would sometimes be walking 22 kilometres to Samdrup Jongkhar and then walking back after watching the night show. We felt a misplaced sense of achievement to be able the sneak out and sneak back unnoticed. You can never cage the youth. Their energy far outstrips any rules or regulations. It is biological – not about being illegal.
Being fit more than a fish
And like all boys of our time, we were martial art enthusiasts and fans of Bruce Lee. We took to Karate from an Indian master with, of course, pathetic results – except for Dorji Wangdi, whom we still call Bolo (from the character in Enter the Dragon). He was good. But our Karate lessons got us out of our bed early. It helped boost our physique and self-confidence, especially with the opposite sex, and no one dared mess around with us. And me, once, pursued by an angry villager, after a routine raid on his orange orchard, I discovered that I could even run fast. So when the annual sports day came, I went on to set few short distance records to the amazement of the college cook who became my fan and served me with bigger portion of food. I was always starving back then.
Dorji Namgay was the undisputed table-tennis and badminton champ and together with Sonam they made up the doubles team. He was also a good footballer and with Tshering, Deepak and I, we were probably the best defense the college football team had ever seen. Even teams from Assam feared us. Namgay was always in the first six of the volleyball squad and also played the spare goalie and did all the fights with the referee. Dawa was the top basket ball player – and never missed a lay-up – and a marathon champ.
We studied too
Of course we did attend classes too – to meet the attendance requirement. But we were more interested in things that would be more useful for us as practitioners in our professional life. And if there was something we really hated was what those so-called “good” students were good at – rote learning every lesson (at times without understanding the meaning). Those “good students” would never argue with teachers and would be submissive at all times. We couldn’t take that either. But our system, however, was on their side. Because they could reproduce ad verbatim what was being taught, they scored higher marks and were commended. They were often referred to as “tip top” students. Whereas we were classified as “the naughty boys”, because we often asked too many questions or pointed out too many calculation mistakes made by the lecturers on the blackboard. Later as a university student in Italy we were mandated to ask questions. In the West a questioning mind signified urge for knowledge and intellectual growth. It was a culture shock that I had to overcome – and I did.
When lessons got boring, Namgay, who was a gifted artist, would sketch the lecturer – instead of taking notes. He would pass around the khaini supply for the day. Dorji and I would blow up test tubes and create explosions in the chemistry lab to the point that one lab assistant was specifically deputed to keep an eye on us. But weren’t we told to “experiment” or to try out new things? And Deepak would always copy my test results that after a while I starting making two sets of lab notes: one for him and one for me.
When the day ended, Kado, Kumba, Kharka and Mukti often came to my room to revise the lessons. I would have understood what the lecturers taught. And in making them understand too, I realised much later, that it was better than studying alone. Those days I was only trying to help my fellow classmates. Good begets good. And not everyone learns at the same pace. As a return favour, they would support me by bunking the class en masse, when the teacher was not on time – even by a minute. The good students would sometimes try staying back but we would bully them out somehow.
Breaking the norms and conventions
While the good guys followed every norm, we questioned, gave suggestions and deviated from all conventional wisdoms. In fact when we made to the senior class we made sure to mingle with our juniors and to party together. We often skipped classes to go swimming and fishing by the river. We visited all the houses and temples in the college vicinity, trekked to far off villages like Orong and even hitch-hiked all the way to Shillong in India. We ventured into new territories and we made new friends (but not babies). Such experiences as students made us less cynical of other people as we grew older. Human management and public relations became our second nature. Our mental horizon was always open to accommodate more options, seek more opportunities and explore all possibilities. Finally when we got employed, we opted for jobs and careers that best suited our aptitudes and our strengths rather than yield to peer pressures. We were always ready to experiments – but without causing explosions this time.
Life, I guess, is like a video game. As years roll on, you move to the next level. As students we had our time. Then we moved on to the next phase. Those “good students” remained what they were – as good students. More than two decades and half later, most of those “good” students haven’t made anything much with their careers. The “naughty” boys instead faired little better. The world changes so fast these days. Existing conventions and solutions do not address emerging problems. You need to grow out of them – not try constricted inside.
Dorji Namgay went on to become one of Bhutan’s first hydropower engineers – leading and successfully building the Basochu Project phase II in a record time. He worked as the managing director of STCB and managed to turn around a company that was given for dead. Namgay went on to do masters in architecture in Australia and after completing his obligation with the government he has now become a “tip top” filmmaker, animator and consultant architect. He has received four national film awards including two times for the best director. Tshering is the district engineer in Monggar and Phuntsho a divisional manager in the BPC. Sonam made a name for himself by building Thimphu’s only sewage line. And Dawa Penjore became a successful businessman in Trongsa after a short stint in the government. We lost Deepak but I am sure wherever he is he would humming some Cliff Richard number.
Rolling stone gather more moss
As for me, I am the one who made more experiments with my career – as compared to others – from engineering to documentaries to journalism and to managing the media relations for His Majesty the King – and finally entering the world of teaching and research.
They say ‘a rolling stone gather no moss’. But I say that a rolling stone gather more moss. Be that stone.
If I could relive my life, would I do all these again? You betcha!
The original article was published in Bhutan Times and was later posted on my previous blog in 2010 http://dorjiwangchuk.blogspot.com/2010/04/those-naughty-boys.html