“Children are more than the object of their parents’ attention and love; they are also a biological and social necessity. The human species perpetuates itself through children; cultural, religious and national groups transmit their values and traditions through children; families maintain their lineage through children; and individuals pass on their genetic and social heritage through children. The ultimate value of children is the continuity of humanity.” (Arnold et al. 1975, 1.)
Part I: The Untold Unhappy Urban Stories
Personal Story- Fall, 2010
It is a cold January afternoon. The winter sun is weak and the cold breeze can cut your skin if you leave the window panes open. I am travelling towards Phuntsholing to collect my elder daughter who has gone to her granny’s home in the village to spend her winter break. I don’t drive long distance so I am travelling in Dhug transport. The 28 seater coaster is a comfortable bus and I am enjoying the ride. We cross Chuzom. As we are about to reach Chapcha, we come across a group of Indian and Nepalese laborers who are in the process of maintaining the highway. Dusts engulf the road and the workers are covered with dust from head to toe. Somewhere at the back of my mind I get an eerie feeling. They look like some unfinished surreal work of a cruel artist…
On one side of the road there is a huge fire and the tar is being boiled in a huge drum. Men and women equally toil in constructing the dusty, unfinished road. What is disturbing is the fact that children as young as less than a year are kept nearby the working area with no proper shelter, care or protection. One little baby has a torn umbrella over it. Another one has an old shawl made into a temporary tent. These little ones are also covered with dust sleeping on the dusty corner nearby the parents who have no time to even look at them except for occasional feeding. While the parents are working, their two-three years older siblings try to take care of them. These children present to the travelers neither a happy present nor a concrete future, made to spend the most blissful, beautiful and innocent phase of life pushed to dirt, danger and maybe destruction.
Well, it is a common sight along the road. The people in the bus look at them as just another group of disadvantaged people doing their daily work. The driver’s favorite song plays in the bus’s music player…the speed increases, and oblivious of the cruel sight, we zoom past them raising more dust as we drive the winding curb.
On the crowded busy lane of Hongkong market in Thimphu stands a private firm owned by some ambitious businessman. The firm starts 8.30 in the morning and goes till five in the evening in winter and till six in summer. It employs around eight to ten workers most of whom are women… Middle school pass-outs who are better than men because they are less troublesome and assertive, and who will do more favour than they are paid. Business is important and so everyone needs to work sincerely and continuously.
A young lady works busily on her old computer in the dusty corner of the office space that is filled with files and papers- works that have piled up during her one and half month maternity leave. It is her first day in the office after the leave, and today, for the first time, she has left her one and half month old boy at home. She tries hard to concentrate on her work but her breasts are swelling. She can feel the sharp odd pain as her breasts start developing hard globules. Then in seconds, milk start oozing out wetting her tego. She looks at her small wrist watch and knows it is feeding time. Her intuition tells her that the baby is hungry and wants milk but the office is far from home and the workers get only one hour lunch break. There is no break in between and everyone has to adhere to strict timing. So she can’t go home to feed. That morning before leaving for office, to pacify the worried and nervous daughter, her mother had given her some advice -that it is not necessary for the baby to drink mother’s milk after one and half months, and that she will make up for the milk with some substitutes like Cerelac or Horlicks. Hoping that the advice worked and that her boy has taken the substitute and is sleeping peacefully, she calls her mother during the lunch break who says the baby is fine. But she can hear him cry in the background… her heart jumps a beat…agitation, frustration, helplessness fill her. Well, what can she do? So she sits down staring blankly at her tiffin of boiled rice and kewa tshoem.
Lunch time is over and its working time … The work pressure and nervousness make her shiver, but she has to finish the day’s work by six…
Catching a Taxi, she rushes home by seven in the evening, only to find the little one suffering from diarrhea and fever. Placing the baby on her lap, she tries to pacify him by giving him milk which the baby tries to drink amid cries of indigestion pain the baby now suffers… she sits in a daze. With tears in her eyes and amidst the noise that surrounds her and the cries of her sick baby, she starts framing a plan as to how she can request for leave from her boss tomorrow to take the baby to the hospital…
A Semi-Urban Middle Secondary School, Paro, 2012
Ms. Yangdon teaches in a middle secondary school. Mr. Kinley, her Principal believes that a good teacher is a role model. Punctuality is therefore, one of the most important indicators of a “good” teacher. Teachers should try to make GNH graduates of their students, and without being one how can you create another? He has two favorite lines “First be a GNH teacher, then teach GNH” and, “Good is not good enough, we must do better”.
Not many, except her few close friends know that she also has two children; one studies in class four and the other is nine months old. While she was on maternity, her husband was found having an affair with some girl working in Bhutan Power Corporation. It was the hardest blow of her life. She gave him an option to either finish the affair or risk their marriage. He wanted both the affair and the marriage. There was no option left for her emotionally torn heart and physically torn body but to ask for separation, so they separated ‘lawfully’ on an understanding that the husband will give her financial support of Nu. 1500 per month to each of the children.
Life had to go on. So she now needs to look for a babysitter. That’s when Denkar came into her life. A quiet girl from Kangpara, who after a lot of request and cajoling to the mother was allowed to stay with Yangden on the condition that the ten year old should be admitted to the school by Yangdon. One could say, these days villagers are the most loyal, unbiased and powerful consumers of media. Every little thing advertised or said in BBS becomes the baza guru of the village folks, and they become topics of talk and discussion while grazing the cows in the meadows, planting paddy or cutting grass for the goats and sheep. “Educating Every Child” was the recent news that had caught public interest. The only reason the mother sent Denkar with Yangdon was because it would take at least a year for the new school to be constructed nearby.
The thirty five year old teacher’s daily routine now was to take all the three kids including the little one to the school. The Principal, though reluctant, was GNH enough to allow her to use a corner of the old store room to keep her baby and stuffs. Denkar and Yangdon would do shifts to take care of the baby. But this arrangement did not last long. With thirty six periods of fifty minutes in a week, including the extra-curricular activities, Yangdon was always kept busy by the routine which resulted in Denkar havingto take leave most of the time from her classes to be with the baby. This was reported to Denkar’s mother by some nosy cousin who had made a recent visit to Yangdon’s house a couple of days ago. So one fine afternoon, the angry mother came threatening that she will go to the police and took Denkar away, leaving Yangdon heartbroken and helpless. She had no option but to take extra ordinary leave (EOL) of one year. Everyone was shocked that she had applied for EOL. When she finally got the approval, she could hear some of her colleagues talk with one another in the staff room;
The middle aged English teacher, “It’s a pity she is wasting her time and money for such a small matter…”
The Indian chemistry teacher, “Children are children after all and those little rascals will grow up if the mighty gods want them on this earth.”
The young HPE teacher, “It is not even for going to Australia to study and earn….such a waste…”
By Amina Gurung
The writer is Lecturer of Paro College of Education,2013