Traversing the beautiful landscapes of North Sikkim, after a long and arduous journey from Gangtok, we reached Chungthang, a sub-divisional town in North Sikkim District. Government Senior Secondary School in Chungthang is aptly named Tasa Tengay Senior Secondary School in reverence of one of the proudest son of that locality. Wandering Souls of Sikkim had travelled to Chungthang to talk with this revered individual.
Like most of his times he had a negligible formal education and learnt to work at farm and home very early into his childhood. What’s unlike most is that he grew up to be a man of a splendid character, maintained good social relations, went on an all India tour, discussed important issues with the then King of Sikkim and got elected to the first Legislative Assembly of Sikkim.
Shri Tasa Tengay Lepcha is 81 years old now and he stays in his humble residence near Chungthang in North Sikkim. He have had very little formal education and when asked about it, he says in a more dreamy than regretful tone “I would have been at a different status had I studied more. Maybe it is fate.” But he wasn’t a dull student. After all, the king had offered him a scholarship for further studies when he was in class 4. The problem was that he was very young and was the only son of his parents who were reluctant to send him away from home. However this kind of problem was not faced by his younger generation as it was solved with the improvement of school infrastructure and addition of higher classes during his tenure as the MLA of the constituency.
Since he couldn’t get higher education, he followed in his father’s footsteps and learned to work in home and farm. For a living, he would rear animals and plant crops like elaichi. It was one of these days when he was drying out his elaichi harvest that his friends who were politicians came to him and asked him to sign on the application for his election candidature. He did it and then went out on a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya after selling the elaichi harvest. A man of spiritual interest, he never used abusive language or got aggressive while contesting the elections. It must be because of this nature that he had good social relations and gained a majority from about 200 voters of the region, as their representative in the State Legislative Assembly.
Not that he was unknown to politics. He had been politically active and the career had also provided him a tour of India alongside other leading politicians of Sikkim, to look at how things were with their neighbours after they had become a republic country. They had observed the country and when inquired by the king about the experience, he had replied simply “There is no king there.” He remembers that it was 1961 when his contacts like Harka Bahadur Basnett had asked him to join politics and he had shown interest for the same.
He was then actively involved in politics when after their tour to India, they had discussed with the King about the possibility of making Sikkim a Republic. He remembers that the King had mentioned that ‘a republic was fine but someone from the Nepali, Bhutia or Lepcha community of the state should hold the position of the Prime Minister’. The king had advised them not to merge with India. This was the wish of the people too, he says. He proudly declares that he didn’t betray the people by signing on the merger agreement; who he had told that Sikkim would be a republic country. However his fellow politicians did sign the agreement. The proud tone is altered to say that they had been bribed to sign the agreement.
Sikkim had made a successful transition in 1975 from a monarchy to a democracy and could be ruled by the citizens. This was when Shri Tengay was elected as a member of legislative assembly. He had remained honest and sincere in his duty as a people’s representative. One of the many times when he could have looked for personal gains he remembers was when a minister offered him to take about 12 lakhs, from a government funded scheme, which he rejected. “It’s worthless to pray to god or go to pilgrimage if you fraud people. It is good to become rich but you shouldn’t make others poor for your greed”, he advises in the tone of a spiritually enlightened person.
At the time his salary was Rs 400 and he was satisfied with what he got for his work. This quality was possibly collected when he was growing up and had little to spare. A modest background also made him aware of the problems that people faced. In the assembly he highlighted issues like the pathetic condition of transportation and agriculture in the area. Proper drinking water supply were also to be provided and he did raise the issue. As mentioned earlier education was a chief concern and the schools existent those days wouldn’t suffice the requirements, therefore they were provided with better infrastructure and higher classes were added during his tenure. Before such developments came into place, life was desperately difficult in the area. There was acute shortage of food and clothing. People resorted to hunting and gathering method for food. Poaching was done to make medicines that were then sold for money. Even the clothes at the time were made of leaves and the better ones of Tibetan wool.
Born and brought up in a village, he has a deep love for it. His hobbies included gardening, planting and spending time with his animals and reading books, mostly spiritual. One of his greater interests is pilgrimage; he has visited many religious sites in Nepal and India more than one time. A man of spiritual interest he have had meetings with HH The Dalai Lama and HH The Karmapa. He has been to monasteries churches and temples alike.
When asked about his views on dharma, he says that if you do not hurt others then you are doing an act of dharma and if one hurts others then it is useless to follow a religion. He advises that religion is to be learnt from religious texts and even at this age he is very active at acquiring knowledge from spiritual texts. When asked what plans are due for the future we are answered in a relaxed tone-“ I will stay at home and read my books.”
(Story by WSOS Bureau based on an exclusive interview with Shri Tasa Tengay.)