Astrology to custody
Jyotisi Nepal, now 84, is what the community knows more about his name for being the fortune teller of his time. An old time astrologer, he was born in Chanautay village in Chirang in 1985 BS (1928 AD) as the eleventh son of family. Prajapati Nepal is his real name. At the time when infant and child mortality was commonplace, the ill-fortune that befell upon the family made his grandma to seek advice of a fortune teller, who forecasted the birth of him after two years.
I was the eleventh child of my parents, born after two of the elder brothers died each at the age of two, as per the fortune told to my grandma by a known astrologer of Baral family.
My father had twenty two acres of cultivable land in Chanautay village but my elder brothers were not helping in the farm. I was sent to study in Sanskrit Pathsala in Lamidanda at the age of seven. I studied various subjects of Sanskrit language and grammar until I turned sixteen. Narad Khatiwoda, Devicharan Baral and Dhanapati Adhikari were some great teachers of the pathsala. A temporary residence (hostel) was constructed by Padmalal Baral with local help to accommodate the students. I stayed in the hostel and did all my personal duties like cooking, washing, collecting firewood from the forest besides keeping the study.
Drinking water was not available nearby and it was one of the chores we did very early in the morning. Lighting was a problem for us; we used “diyalo” the raw pine branches to light and study. Kerosene was not available then. I used kerosene lamp for the first time when I was twelve years.
Our family migrated to Goshi village of Dagana in 1998 BS having bought seven acres of land at the rate of Rs.375 per acre. This move terminated my study of Sanskrit. But I was firm and determined to keep growing my knowledge and that I was inspired more by the wandering fortune tellers who went to Bhutan from the eastern hill districts of Nepal. At the age of nineteen, I started to learn the astrology from a local resident of Dagana, Ram Chandra Chamlagain. It was only after the dark, I could manage to learn the ABCs of astrology at Ram Chandra Guru’s residence. It took about three years for me to be able to write the paper (cheena) for fortune telling. I learned some mathematics used for the calculation of the position of stars, planets and sun. I was then 22 years when I first designed the fortune paper.
Yes, I became a fortune teller or an astrologer. Later, it turned out to be the source of additional income for me. I used hand-made paper bought from Nepal to write the fortune facts. I traveled to various places of Bhutan with the knowledge of astrology. Many government officials in Thimphu used to invite me for writing and describing the effect of celestial bodies on their life. I used to write with a pen made out of bamboo or a kind of fern. Ink was made from the solution of soot in water.
Education in Dagana was both traditional and modern. A Sanskrit (pathsala) school was initiated by the then village head, Nandu Gurung with active participation of Bishnukanta Khatiwoda and Laxmikanta Kkatiwoda. It was not recognized by the government then, but later included in the education system of Bhutan. I taught Veda in the pathsala. I also taught the astrology privately to some individuals who came to me. I taught to some amateur astrologers even I camp.
Girl children were not sent to school at the time. I was among the first to send my second daughter to school. I had to escort her to Phuntsholing for her class five common exam, along with three other girls.
At the age of sixty one, I was arrested by the army alleging me of provoking the villagers, but the security forces could not provide enough evidence. In fact, it was Chanchu, a retired major who was my immediate neighbor to bring me to custody. He took control of the situation in Dagana during the mass protest of 1990, for he knew the wealthy and influential people of Dagana district. It was simply on the basis of my astrological errands and priesthood that Chanchu suspected me of provoking the villagers. Though I was not handcuffed while in Goshi School, statement was taken by the security forces to prove me of any wrongdoing. I was assured to be released after four months, it did not happen.
I was taken to Damphu and kept there for three months. Statements to prove us guilty used to be taken everyday. Beating with raw wooden rods, was a common form of torture the security forces used to make the inmates accept the guilt even if it was not their fault. I was beaten with the wooden rod once in Damphu.
After three months of incarceration, I along with other people from Dagana, was transferred to Chemgang central jail. I was handcuffed as well as shackled, but no physical beating. Altogether I spent 13 months in Bhutanese prison and custody and finally released. I came back to village and was not in a mood to leave the country but the village head-man routinely came to harass the women while the male members were taken to custody. So the government was tactically organized to make us leave the country using all possible means. I left the country in 1992 with a family of eight members.
(Nepal, who currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his son and grandsons, narrated the story to Buddha Mani Dhakal of the Bhutan News Service)