Fiumicino Airport, Rome – Exactly 32 years ago, I landed here on a cold Saturday morning with a group of other Bhutanese. Sleepy and tired after a bumpy and noisy Air India overnight flight. We were on an Italian government scholarship to undergo university studies. I was 19 and spoke no word of Italian. It took us a week to reach here. Thimphu to Phuntsholing to Siliguri to Calcutta by road and then to Delhi and to Rome by air. Druk Air had only few flights per week with that small unpressurised aircraft and it happened to be monsoon when all the flights were cancelled. It was also the era when you had to collect your tickets and ‘travel permits’ from Calcutta. I really didn’t know what to expect. Or where I was going. All I had was a destination – Italy, and a dream – to make it big in my life and build for my family and my country a better place in the world.
I was poor, I was hungry (both physically – and mentally for knowledge. I still I am, for knowledge) and this wonderful country embraced me, taught me their language, fed me, clothed me and treated me like one of theirs and sent me back with an advanced university degree in engineering after 8 long years.
So, it is always an emotional return to this paese mio, although it will just be for few days. I left Italy in 1995 but it seems Italy never left me. I continue to support them in World Cups, feel passionately about what’s going on here, eat pasta, drink espresso, retain the language, and, of course, continue swearing in Italian. Porca miseria!
Italy, nonetheless, continues to reciprocate. For, every time I come back here (this is my third visit after 1995), Italy welcomes me back like my old grandmother – with love, affection and fondest of memories – not to even mention the great food and unmatched beauty. The friends I have made here are friends for life.
I will always be immensely grateful to this country and its wonderful people for playing an important part in my life.
(NB – Visiting Rome to look for some old manuscripts from Zhabdrung era (1627 circa) at the Vatican Library. The famous letters from the Jesuits, Cabral e Casela)