In this short article I reflect on the times when there was no electricity and television in Bongo village. Those were the days in Bongo when we have never dreamt that electricity will reach our village. 6 o’clock evening, and everyone, except the young boys and girls, would retreat into their homes which are lit with kerosene ‘lamps’. Hope you can get a picture of how a a traditional Bhutanese ‘lamp’ looks like. A glass bottle with a piece of cloth inserted to suck up kerosene. If kerosene volume is low, we mix kerosne and water to fill the bottle so that suction pull by the piece of cloth is stronger, the result being a better light. Kersone floating on water – the first lesson in physics I might have learnt at home as a rural boy. Some houses even use diesel to light up.
People would eat their dinner as early as 4:00 pm but never past 6. The village would remain in complete darkness but only for the full moon and clear sky nights when it is lit and some can afford to walk without assitance of any external light source. However, the homes would be warm, and dimly lit by the burning firewood in the oven. Families used to sit on the hearth, around the fire chit-chatting, perspiring out the tiredness from day’s work into rapture of love and bond. Neighbours took time out to visit each other’s home, sip a poto (container) of ‘tongpa’ (locally brewed alcohol), chew beetle nut and talk out plans for the next day before everyone puts off their worries and fatigues to peaceful sleep.
Today, as you visit Bongo, those beautiful moments are but stories. Instead of people sitting around the hearth, we see our people eagerly waiting for the BBS news channel to start its broadcast. Longingness for those moments when grandfathers used to share their adventure to Rangamati ferrying oranges and shopping with 3 Anas still lingers in my mind. Their recollection of the days of participating in constructing first national highway, About doing woola for reconstruction of Tashichodzong, and their narration on the Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji’s tragic death fed me with piecemeal history of Bhutan. These factual accounts, although incomplete and often with distortion, and many folklores they told, have introduced me to the nation’s belief, culture and history. With the passing away of many of our elders, these narrations have faded away too.
In addition, television has invaded the private dome of many houses, swallowing up people’s emotional warmth of togetherness. Television has taken a centre position in many homes and those who do not posses it have to walk every evening to a neighbour’s house to watch. Everyone finds solace and refuge from day’s hardship in television and not in conversation with their near ones. Hardly do we see any hour as such to be called family time. To add on this, many houses have only the old parents shuffling their frail legs around the hearth their children played and made them laugh over the filial innocence. They silently scour or search the hearth for the same laughter and life, but in vain for many of their children haven’t made back home for long since they left the oven that warmed their soft childhood hands. The houses have grown colder, so has the village.
Change though is inevitable. Social and emotional tie in and among the families for communal unity should sustain only if younger ones find time to visit villages and atleast reflect on how our village must have been just a few years ago when there was no electricity and when this modern invention called ‘television’ wasn’t there at our villages. Can we even think about how our homes were lit when there was no electricty? How did electricty reach our village? How are people’s lives chaning? So many questions to linger on and finding answers might make us prepare better for the unknown future, although we are slowly losing a beautiful past.