Students can go to amazing imaginative limits to create nicknames for teachers. They are sometimes arbitrary but sometimes quite logical. The word soera means gift in Dzongkha. Twelve years ago, I first heard the nickname Soera. I was a student then. It was a nickname for Lopen Gembo Tshering. Over the years his nickname has changed to shakam (dried meat) because of his lean physical stature. I am not sure whether the students today still know him as Lopen Soera but when I was a student many only knew him as Lopen Soera and not his real name.
Like anyone with a nickname story, Lopen Soera also had his. Every time his students misbehaved in his class, he would smile and tell them to come and receive their soera. His old face would conjure a tired smile as he flexed the bamboo stick.
His other soeras were also unique and became quite popular with the other teachers. During study hours if he caught you polishing your shoes or combing your hair and not studying, you had to repeat whatever you were doing during the interval and the lunch break, at the assembly courtyard, later in the day or the next day. Hoards of students would laugh and pass by the boys who did everything but study during the study hour.
Frog jumps were another of his favorite soeras. He would make you jump like frogs around the school building. The number of the rounds depended on the severity of the offence. At the time of the jumping it would always be smiles and laughter but the effects of the soera only took its toll after few hours or a day when you had to use the squat toilet or climb the 165 steps to the hostel.
As a student I was once absent from my evening study. The next day Lopen Soera called me during the interval and told me to make five rounds of frog jumps the school building. I explained and muscled all my convincing power to plead and beg because my girlfriend was watching me from the second floor. He must have been in a good mood or I must have been really convincing because he let me go with a warning.
But this writing is not about Lopen Soera’s famous soeras, it is about his selfless dedication and unwavering love for the children and the teaching profession.
In 1980, three years before I was born, Lopen Soera joined a remote school in Tsenkhar, in Tashiyangtshe. He came to Punakha HSS in 1994 and resigned this year (15th May, 2013). During his thirty-three years of teaching career, he has touched many lives through his humility and exemplary work ethic. All respected him, not because he was the senior most teacher but because he was thoughtful in all the various aspects of his job responsibilities. His classroom stretched beyond the four walls and he educated his students and colleagues alike in values that are humane and integral to us as human beings and also as members of our society and as citizens of our great nation. He served the school, the government and the country with the utmost dedication down to the last day as if it was the first day when he joined the noble profession thirty-three years ago.
All in the school cherish Lopen Soera’s legacies. He is credited with many initiatives and they give us joy in the same humble ways he did when he was with us. The Gembo Meto is one prominent symbol of Lopen Soera’s love. The school relentlessly tried to grow a purple flower vine over a trellis. For two years the flower refused to extend its tentacles and creep up the iron-gate until Lopen Soera poured his love and time and it blossomed with radiance and pride.
The rock garden behind the school is a proud display of creative enthusiasm by the students that became possible because of Lopen Soera. He gave them the necessary reason and the scaffold to turn the waste area into a place of beauty.
Lopen Soera loved working with students and the students in turn looked up to him like the grandfather he reminded them of at home or, for a few, the grandfather they never knew. Whether he was the TOD (Teacher on Duty) or not he would come early every morning and do the SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) with his students. I like to think that he found purpose and meaning in letting students learn from his actions more than his words. He would show them rather than tell them. The school nature park developed further with his energy. Today the park is a place away from the noise and busy school happenings, though it is right below the national highway. Students study in the serene ambience of the many canopies that are in the park. I hope Lopen Soera receives the merit for every peaceful feeling or happiness that the students, teachers and tourist feel when they are at the park.
Within the class, Lopen Soera’s wisdom and knowledge made his subject, Dzongkha, a joy for his students. He had the most vital quality that every teacher should have: patience. I believe he has mastered this virtue almost to its perfection. In his classes he shared stories from life and with his patience he would make learning easy and fun. Within thirty-three years he had taught classes from preprimary to class twelve. His students who sat for the board exams always produced 100% pass results and he would smile humbly while mentioning his students’ success.
Though Lopen Soera is no longer in the school, his presence is still strong because we feel him in the flowers he planted, we see him in the driftwood he artistically selected and placed in the park, and we hear him in the prayer flags that flutter in the cool afternoon breeze. He is still with us for now, though time will fade memories of him, his spirit will endure in the legacies that he has left behind.