The vivid memories of snow-covered trees and bushes of Dolomtha, a remote community in Tashila under Wangdue Phodrang Dzongkhag still linger in my brain afresh. It was a beautiful place to live in, blest with all the beauty of nature around it.
I still remember how excited I was when we had to take a rope car from Chhuzomsa for the first time. My first journey on the Chhuzomsa-Tashila rope car was like a dream. The rope car was actually a wooden box driven on cables and it was big enough to accommodate four people at a time. My father, my half-sister, my younger brother and I were enough for one trip. As the box moved forward, the beautiful scenery of forests, paddy fields, deer and birds below us added extraordinary colour to our journey. We were soon welcomed by other workers of the same company and we gradually settled down in a small village called Dolomtha, which was not so far from Tashila. We were taken on a tractor, the only mode of transportation at the time from Tashila. I was so happy to be in such a fresh and beautiful place. I had never thought that my door to the physical world will be shut here though.
I don’t know exactly which year it was but my father used to tell me that I was 9 when I lost my sight. So calculating by my date of birth, it must be in 1989. I had been already suffering from a severe eye infection for several weeks, which actually started just like a red-eye epidemic in the neighbourhood. Many people including children of my age caught the infection but all of them could recover by simply washing their face with Lifebuoy soap. But for me, no matter what I and my father did, the condition kept getting worse day by day. However, I was still able to see the world around me although I was beginning to feel some discomforts in the eyes. My father brought in so many traditional healers and shamans in an effort to treat me but nothing seemed to work. I don’t know what was going through my father’s mind, but I guess taking to hospital was his last priority due to financial constraints. Not to blame him, but he was an alcoholic at that time and being a single parent to us, life would have been very difficult for him to cater to our needs.
What seemed to make the matter worst was my instinctive desire to consult a local shaman, who did not have good terms with my father. I know it could be just a coincidence but everybody believed that he could have taken revenge against my father by robbing me of my sight. It was a snowy day and I could somehow make my way to the shaman’s house across the snow-filled path. I had badly wanted to treat my eyes because I was already losing sight and I was beginning to feel suffocated. My father wasn’t home at the time. He hadn’t returned home since the previous day. So, I decided on my own and went to see the shaman. When I got to his house, the shaman was washing his face. I told him I had come to request him to treat my eyes. Soon, he wrapped my head with a white scarf and began performing some rituals. Of course, he told me that he cannot be held responsible if my guardian deities get infuriated by his rituals because of the difference in belief and worshipping methods. His words hit me hard but could not dare to walk out because he was already in the midst of his ritual ceremony.
I returned home with a great hope that I would get better, but my wish could never materialize. Soon after consulting the shaman, my eyeballs swelled up dangerously and even bled whenever I attempted to wash them. I cried with pain day and night for the next couple of days, not being able to either sleep or eat. My sister was the only one to take care of me at home since my father wouldn’t come home most of the time.
One morning when I woke up, the pain in the eyes had slightly subsided. But when I looked around, everything looked weird. I thought it was just early dawn but when I turned towards the hearth, I saw a black figure sitting before the fire. It was my sister. I think the sun was already up but to me, everything had turned blur and unrecognizable. I had wanted to go to toilet but when I got out of bed, the world around me seemed to rotate as if I were on a merry-go-round. I could not get a balance and asked my sister to help me. But thinking that I was pretending because I was able to do that just until the day before, she refused me to help me at first. Our dad wasn’t home. After repeated requests, she dragged me into the bush because we didn’t have a concrete toilet. When I walked out of the bush, I saw all the trees and houses moving in circle and the stumps looked just like people sitting down, wearing black shawls. My sister dragged me to my bed and I went back to sleep. When I woke up again, the world was completely dark. I still wonder whether it had really become dark or I had totally lost my sight. It was a permanent closure of my door to the outside world. Since that day, I have never seen the sun. It was very suffocating and although the pain began to subside gradually, life became more and more difficult for me. I was then finally taken to Wangdue hospital where I was kept for a month simply giving injections. Then I was referred to Thimphu National Referral Hospital but by the time I reached Thimphu, it was too late. The doctor forwarded my case to the Ministry of Education, which in turn sent me to Zangley Muenselling School for the Blind in Khaling, the present-day Muenselling Institute in 1990. So, on a positive note, I believe my loss of sight came as a blessing in disguise. Had I not lost my sight, it looks like I would never have got the opportunity to go to school. Now I feel absolutely comfortable in my own world, although life is different from that of those who can see. This is how I always console myself but whatever I do, the memory of that fateful day often flickers in my head. Sometimes I even wish if I could relive those final days now, so that I could do something not to let it happen. Whatever it may be, I have come to understand that disability is not a choice and it can come to anybody, anytime. At least I am grateful that I got the opportunity to see the world for nine years.