Thursday, April 15, 2010

Those naughty boys

(I just visited my old college after 25 years and couldn't help reproducing an article I had published some time back)

As a student in Deothang Polytechnic in the early eighties, I was the eternal third in class. One professor 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 going around with those naughty boys.” But I couldn’t care less no matter how much he insisted. And at the end of every semester, when the exam results were announced and the third place was to be given out, a chorus would precede the announcer, “Dorji Wangchuk!” And everyone would have guessed it right.

We may have been naughty, no doubt, but we were never vicious, violent or crooks or criminals. We were only adding colors and spices to the otherwise monochromatic life of Deothang – that consisted of daily lessons, practical workshops and an unpredictable weather. In doing so, we kept everyone happy in our vicinity. Even back then, we were practicing GNH and we were implementing wholesome education by organizing class picnics, archery matches 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 Penjore 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 could come and issue another last warning at midnight.

And like all boys of our time, we were martial art enthusiasts and fans of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. We took to Karate from an Indian master with, of course, pathetic results. But it helped boost our self-confidence, especially with the opposite sex, and no one dared mess around with us. And once, pursued by an angry villager, after a routine raid on his orange trees, 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. Dorji was also a good footballer and with Tshering, Deepak and I, we were probably the best defense the college football team had ever seen. 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 for every decision he made. Dawa was the top basket ball player and never missed a lay-up.

Of course we did attend classes - to meet the minimum requirement though. 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 - learning by rote each and every lesson (at times without understanding the meaning or its practical application in the field). Those “good students” would never argue with teachers and would be submissive at all times. We couldn't that 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 “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 because in the West a questioning mind signified urge for knowledge and intellectual growth. What a culture shock I had to overcome! In Bhutan our system of learning is answer-oriented where “questions” remain the prerogative of teachers and lecturers.

When preaching got boring, Namgay, who was a gifted artist, would sketch the lecturer - instead of taking notes. 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 notes that after a while I used to make two: one for him and one for me.

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 and even hitchhiked all the way to Shillong. 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 of our lives. Those “good students” remained what they were – good students, while we became managers and leaders. Two decades and half later, most of those “good” students haven’t made anything much with their careers. Those “naughty” boys instead have faired much better. That may be because we were ready to “experiment” and focus our energy on what we were good at. The naughty boys even became happily married men and proud fathers.
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 is now the managing director of STCB and has turned 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. The most important is that the naughty boys are happy and content.

As for me, I am the one who made more experiments with my career - from engineering to documentaries to films to journalism and finally landing up in the direct service of His Majesty the King. Doing what I love doing and loving every bit of what I do.
If I could rewind my life, would I do everything all over again? You bet!


  1. Wa! Kya baat kahi! Mai hairaan ho gayi, aur bohot khush bhi. Kya baat kya baat kya baat...

  2. now I don't feel bad for being naughty....

  3. nice reading your article even though you mentioned only the positive sides of your stories and that of your friends. i don't blame anyway, because it is human nature that no one would like to portray the bad things one had done in his or her life.

    all the best


  4. Dear Anonymous, good and bad are often relative to time and space. What is good becomes bad from one day to another. For example, until the Tobacco Act, smoking was not bad. Now it is illegal. Likewise, what we did were bad, those days. Not following rules, taking the wardens for a ride, skipping classes but when we look back they were all part of our growing up.