Monday, July 19, 2010

The search for the Toebi Poenlop

My article on the last surviving Poenlop had taken me on a trip to Phuentsholing. The whole trip had me going back in time, thinking about the real warrior days and the might of swords, my one true fascination. And how can one not think about Jaigaon if one is headed for Phuentsholing. So the whole trip was part fun and part work.

I was finally going abroad, at least to Jaigaon, the shopping paradise for a middle class guy like me and where one’s bargaining prowess is tested to the highest level. I had prepared myself with the shopping line “Kitne ka hain? Sow! Pachas Doong ga, Thikhain, nah mera nah tera, Sattar then. It’s a deal” We made a good deal we think, only to reach back home and be told by our wives and sisters that the shopkeepers got the better off us once again. Oh! TP, when do you ever learn it echoes in your head, like in a Bourneville chocolate ad?

This time around I was kind of prepared, mentally, for the fight of wits with the seasoned Marwaris. “I would try and get a good deal this time around.” In addition, I was well equipped with the best shopping tool, my wife and my sister in law. Jaigaon here I come but what had me little worried was the interview. Poenlop was Ninety Five years old. So my excitement on the interview with the oldest surviving Poenlop was mixed with uncertainty on what to expect.

Meeting him in person was a totally new experience on its own. Due to his old age he couldn’t hear properly even with a hearing aid. So I had to use a recorder. Another reason was his pure dzongkha dialect he used. I had to shout the questions at him. Shouting at him after every word he said wasn’t a good option. So I just asked him to tell me about his life and just listened. Having the recorder on, was a relief as I couldn’t understand most of what he said and had to say. The recording lasted for almost two hours. He was choking because of the strain in his throat as he was talking non stop for the two hours. I made him stop. He said that he had just gotten started. I said it was all I needed.

It was a lie. 95 years could not be captured in just few sittings. I needed all the information I could get but at that time his health was far superior priority than a good complete story. I still listen to the interview at times. Now, I understand more of what he had to say; a summary of his life. The whole story was nothing I initially expected of. Swords were never talked of but I did have a story. I had the opportunity of being a spectator of oral history at its best. The 95 years of Toebi Penlop were filled with interesting experiences. He had been part of the changing times, witnessing a transition of 4 generations.

His daughter told me that he had a collection of stories he had written about his experiences and he wanted it to be published someday. From what I learnt of what he had to say to me, there sure was more to be told about him. A two paged article would never do justice to it. I do hope that it does get published someday, a more in depth of a story.