Dipika and I met with the parents of 15-year old Tashi Phuntsho who was one among the seven boys tragically washed away by Mochu on 26 July at Tsimalakha.
With a strong whiff of incense burning in the Chhoesum, in a bedroom just opposite to it was Tshewang Tenzin, Deputy Executive Engineer of Chukha Dzongkhag, seated on the floor and his wife still weeping in the agony of their incalculable loss. Tashi Phuntsho was their second youngest child and the only son, with three sisters.
Tshewang Tenzin began his heart wrenching story, the story of seeing his son washed away in front of his very eyes.
“My son used to go to his friends’ places often and come back home by six in the evening. That particular day he had told me about going for a scout meet or something, but I had asked him not to go, and instead help us clean the Chhoesum (alter). He had agreed at first, but in the midst of of all that work, we didn’t even realise that he was not there at home.
“When we finally noticed his absence, we thought that he might have gone to one of his friend’s place as, but he never came back home after six. So after six in the evening, we started calling up our neighbours and his friends’ parents. To our surprise, even some of their children were missing. So I went out with my wife and five others, though it was raining, to look for our son.
“Sometime later, I met a very scared Tshering Samten, at about 8:30 pm, near the last shop of the town. He said he had swum across the river and had come to inform us that the boys were stranded on a large rock.
“I immediately informed Dasho Dzongda and that might have been around nine at night. We were already on the way to the spot so Dasho told us to carry on and after a while, he came along with a team of policemen.
“I was the first one to reach the spot with a few others between 9:30 to 10 pm. I can’t tell you the exact time, as in the midst of everything, it didn’t even strike me to look at my watch.
“The children were all holding on to each other and praying. They were slightly relieved to see their parents and other people on the spot. But even though we, the parents were there, it was not possible for us to do anything, other than keep looking at them.
“Dasho Dzongda communicated with everyone possible and even the dam was closed by the officials on Dasho’s request. The flow of the river could not be controlled despite that, because the flood waters from Toebichhu kept rushing down.
“Sangay Pem, one of the boys’ mother, Dasho Dzongda, the Officer In charge of the Tshimalakha police station, the Dzongkhag’s AFO and storekeeper, myself and another person got to reach a rock, which was about 40 feet away from the river bank when the river subsided a bit. The children were on another rock about 40 feet away from us. We were waiting for the water level to subside. The flood had caused the river to flow in three streams now.
“After a while the stone that our sons were standing on became visible because the river had subsided a bit. That was when I thought that there was hope of the children being rescued. Immediately, Dasho Dzongda contacted the dam people to control the flow at that rate only till the children were rescued and he stayed in touch with the dam officials from time to time.
“We then tried to throw the rope across to the children, but the boys couldn’t catch it. And even after they got hold of the rope, they didn’t know how to tie a knot properly. They tried to tie the knot briskly, maybe from the way they were taught in their Scouts training. We wanted to tell them how to tie the knot properly, but noise of the river drowned our voices.
“So we put Sangay Pem’s mobile phone in a polythene bag and tied it to the rope and sent it across. We then spoke to the kids over the phone. All of them were in half pants and T shirts, and my son was in just a pair of shorts. I told him not to panic and assured him that everyone will help in getting them out of there. We then sent three packets of glucose biscuits and a T shirt for my son in the same process as we had sent the phone across.
“They all sat down on the rock and munched on the biscuits. In the meantime, the river level rose again and we told them to stand up and keep the two little boys in the middle surrounded by the others. They looked totally exhausted. After a while, a gush of water that came from above turned into a huge tide and it washed away the seven boys from right in front of our eyes.
“They called for their mothers and fathers, and we pulled hard on the rope. The rope was actually not meant for rescuing them but just to hold them together on the stone. We were pulling them from this end and the force of the river was pulling them from the other side. But I guess that the force was greater and the rope snapped in between. That happened at around 3 to 3:30 in the morning.
“Sangay Pem and I fell unconscious at that very moment. But Dasho Dzongda woke us up and by that time, the stone that we were standing on was also completely submerged.
“Dasho immediately called the dam personnel and asked them to completely shut down the dam in order for us to look for the boys and also to save our own lives. The others might have been scared for their own lives at that point of time. But since I was the father of one of the boys, I didn’t even fear for my life. I didn’t mind dying myself.
“The ones who were on the bank threw the rope to us and we went over to the other side of the river one by one. Most of us were hurt while trying to cross the river. The last person to jump from the stone was the AFO and by that time, the river had reached danger level. The water was up to his neck.
“By the time we all reached a higher elevation, the stone that we were standing on and the bank that the others were standing on was completely submerged. That happened within a span of just 10 minutes. We were about 50 or 60 of us there, and all our lives too were in danger.
“No matter how much ever ropes we may have had with us, there was no possibility for our children to be saved at all. The children themselves were totally exhausted. You imagine yourself sitting on a floor for about just two hours... it is tiring and uncomfortable. So you can imagine how exhausted the children must have been when they had to sit for so many hours surrounded by water, in the rain, cold and hungry too.
“Seeing my child getting washed away by a ferocious river right in front of my eyes is a moment that I will never be able to delete from my memory. I think all of us tried our best to save the lives of the seven children but nature was simply merciless on us.
“Since I was one of the persons catching the rope that snapped, it seemed as though I just let my child’s life slip away from my own two hands.”
P.S. This is an article that I count as the greatest from all those that I have written so far. It wasn't easy bringing out the emotions of a father who lost his son but at the same time, I was emotionally drenched so much so that I had the best time bringing it out without any difficulty with words.