I recently completed Om Dhungel’s “Bhutan to Blacktown,” which deeply resonated with me as it vividly described various locations in Bhutan, particularly Guru Bau’s village, Chengmari, where I was born. That even took me to be among the hundreds of the village crowd to witness his marriage janti at Guru Bau’s house, which is mentioned somewhere in the book, saying villagers were in large numbers attending his marriage at Chengmari, and that connected me with the book intimately. I had known very little before reading this book, but now I deeply realised and felt proud that my village was associated with most of the powerhouses of Thimphu. However, the most respected figure in our village, whom we used to call Guru Bau, the author, mentioned him as Guru Babu.
I am thrilled that the author’s profile was heightened overnight in the concise span of his early career, even to the extent of getting easy access to one of the most inaccessible Royal Palace of Bhutan. Getting rewarded with expensive rewards from the queen just for denying her offer of a cup of tea is fascinating.
While perusing pages 86-78, I was reminded of the thrilling incident that took place with my friends and me at the Shikhar Hotel in Birtamode on that particular day. The book recounted the arrival of five prominent Bhutanese civil servants in Nepal in May 1991, a time when approximately 91 vulnerable Bhutanese refugees were grappling with life-and-death situations at Maidhar. Meanwhile, Gauri Shankar Nirola, Bhim Khapangi, and I were working in a war footing manner to find food for their survival.
One fine morning, we were invited to Kakarivitta’s baundagi to collect some food items by the local leaders there. As I and four other friends reached Birtamode, we saw five cars with Bhutan number plates parked together on the right side of the highway. We decided to leave our bus and find out who travelled in those cars. As we reached the parked empty vehicles, we were confronted by a strong-bodied man with a bandaged left hand. When we requested him to allow us to meet with those visitors, he escorted us towards Shikhar Hotel and introduced us to five men sitting at a large table a bit deeper in the darker part of the hotel’s restaurant. One of them, later introduced as Rakesh Chhetri, was too agitated with me and became aggressive, asking me who I was and why I was following them and other questions.
Feeling threatened, I returned to call other friends standing below the stairs waiting for me. As we entered, one of us, Rom Bista, recognised one of those five men as Mandhoj Tamang and immediately greeted him Namaskar. We were introduced to each other via him, and the environment became calm. We were offered some cold drinks, and we returned to our day’s work after inviting them to Maidhar to meet our people there, which they did after two or three days and later, they departed for Kathmandu.
The author has written in 86-87 pages of his book about the escape of those high officials to Nepal from the clutches of Bhutan security agencies pursuing them at their temporary location in Kalimpong’s Guru Ama’s house. Reading this book now, I realise how insecure and threatened they felt then, and it is logical for them to treat a stranger follower like me aggressively. We were on the verge of human catastrophe in Maidhar, and on top of that, seeing Bhutan’s number of cars in our close location made us panic, remembering the earlier incident of Tek Nath Rizal and his friends’s abduction from the same town and extradition to Bhutan.
This book is worth reading for everyone, irrespective of former Bhutanese refugees or anyone else. It inspires people not to lose hope when they lose everything but to continue struggling, and success is bound to return in another form and atmosphere.
As a member of an elite bureaucracy in Thimphu, the author has a privileged background; his story is elitist and cannot be compared with the stories of ordinary Bhutanese refugees. Still, this memoir of Om Dhungel, “Bhutan to Blacktown”, serves as a strong testimony of Bhutan’s suppression of the minorities and the victims of Bhutan Ethnic Cleansing, their non-violent means of struggle for Human Rights in Bhutan from exile, their hard-working capacity, sincerity, commitment to work for the general welfare of not only their community but also the overall development of the humanity wherever they live.
Moreover, this memoir helps to encourage not only every former Bhutanese but also everyone with similar background to write their stories, which ultimately enlightens the host communities and brings positive changes in their opinions towards the refugees and the immigrants.