"Khegpa" The Head Hunter (Edited Version-repost)


Ever since my friend Mr. Yeshi Dorji, a final year B Ed. (teacher trainee) at Samtse College of Education, under Royal University of Bhutan offered me to publish this story in his upcoming Book (seen at the right), I guess it has undergone a few times of editorial touches. So firstly I want to thank Mr. Yeshi for being kind enough in offering me a space in his book. Secondly, I would like to thank all reviewers for sparing their precious time and making my article readable and especially to the chief editor Mr. K. C. Jose, a lecturer of Samtse College for his valuable feedbacks and necessary changes.**
Bhutanese Traditional Kitchen: 'Arsang'- the pot for
making Ara resembles the one at the left.
Photo credit: The Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan has come a long way in terms of infrastructural development, and it has seen the state-of-the-art buildings mushrooming for the last few decades. It has, with no doubt, raised the living standard of the generally primitive people of the nation long been isolated high up in the Himalayas. Flipping through the pages of Bhutanese history, one will come to realize that Bhutan has indeed seen the institution of decentralized government, introduction of modern education, and linking with the outside world with the first ever motorable road built from border town of Phuntsholing to the capital city Thimphu. Accordingly, the ancient fortresses or dzongs were renovated and some newly built to the state-of-the-art buildings at the various strategic locations, and the modern high-tech bridges-the lifeline of the citizens living in the scattered villages were beneficially constructed much to their relief; thereby not requiring them to cross the deep gorges and rivers which were commuted with the help of ropes risking their lives for ages.

However, its citizens were highly apprehensive of the development activities taking place in the nation, despite knowing the great benefit it would bring in the long run to the nation as well as to their livelihoods. Not that they wanted to live in that poor condition for ever, nor for their love to remain as the human museum for the outside fast-developing world either. But they were actually heavily tormented by the fear of losing their heads to the mysterious head hunter called ‘Khegpa’. While the leaders of the family had to leave in order to execute of those development process elsewhere based on government directives, leaving behind their family members at home, sometimes under the care of their immediate neighbors. Those family members at home remained under constant threat of encountering that mysterious ‘khegpa’ at any time.

According to some die-hard believers of that mysterious ‘khegpa’, the ‘khegpa’ is believed to be a designated person, adorned with a black attire, equipped with a sharp knife and leather sack to stuff in with the decapitated of the victims, and wore gum-boots with its sole resembling to that of army-shoes. The families were always at the losing end because the ‘khegpas’ were considered to be ‘Licensed’ by the government, meaning they couldn’t sue even if they ever succeed in catching some ‘stupid’ khegpas. It was popularly believed that those mysterious hunters roam around the villages, and whoever falls into their trap would be beheaded. That head would be taken to the construction sites, where it will be buried under the foundation as a gesture of pleasing those deities believed to be residing at that location; thereby promising a smooth progress without any disruptions.

It is very surprising that even to these present days, such ‘legendary terror’ are widely spread, which is worse is that it is even ‘believed’ by the so called modernized citizens of the twenty first century Bhutan. As a matter of fact, very recently it even caught the attention of the social media, and stories of various versions hit the newsstands across the nation, prompting an intervention from the concerned authority. The media which had previously popularized the story of mysterious ‘khegpa’ nationwide, again at the later dates published a rather harsh announcement from the government ‘warning’ the general public to not openly talk about ‘khegpa’ and that whoever caught talking would be hand-cuffed and put behind the bar! I would say the government intervention was timely, and necessary as people were getting overly tortured by that ‘rumors’ and the students of the far flung villages who had to travel to their schools taking hours of time were the worst hit by that mysterious force of ‘khegpa’ rumors . Moreover, the announcement made the highly tensed citizens who had been told by their ancestors about the existent of ‘khegpa’ for generations, to ‘forcefully’ accept that such ‘khegpa’ never existed in reality.

But such powerful attempt by government to ‘demystify’ the notion of ‘khegpa’ just seemed to play a role of a radio-controller trying to lower the volume, as it was still widely conversed among a wide section of people who have believed for generations and couldn’t forget the nuisance caused by ‘khegpa’. The only difference this time was that it was talked rather ‘cautiously’ and ‘silently’ fearing the repercussions from the government. Now actually to the common village folks, it was just an added worry as the policemen played yet another form of ‘khegpa’, should I say ‘formal khegpa?’ This time, they are in hunt for those who wildfires the rumors, and again this time they will not just take the ‘head’ to be buried under the foundation, but the as whole to be put behind bars!
Every time I called my parents back at home, they sounded totally terrified by the khegpa story, and would caution me ‘not to travel by myself alone.” My attempts to demystify and deny the whole concept about ‘khegpa’ would fall in to their deaf ears. Then, seeing no hope of influencing, I gave in and assured them that I was always mindful of the ‘US khegpas’ and they should not be worried about me at all.

So now due to modernization, it is only reasonable to 'wrongly' convince the believers of ‘khegpa’ that while the notion of ‘khegpa’ cannot be eradicated from their memories. It will be only for their benefit that they be mindful of the khegpa’s modus operandi which might have become so sophisticated with the invention of mobile phones, motor roads, and fastest guns. Unless someone succeeds in providing us with a convincing reason behind such rumors, we can only speculate over this mysterious issue.

Such was the scenario over some six decades or so long ago when Memey Khandu Tshewang was a jolly little boy living in a village covered by thick forest. I even doubt if the electricity was ever invented then. So people, unlike now, had to heavily depend on fire from the oven to light the rooms and cook food. While parents collected firewood from the nearby jungle, little Khandu like any other children would be taking charge of younger ones, and do some basic household chores. Since people during those times were mostly sustained through working on their farmlands which were very labor intensive job. So in order to make them forget the body and joint pains, and to get a sound sleep, they would be consuming the locally brewed alcohol-‘Ara’ in huge quantity. It was (is still in some remote villages) their routine job for older members of the family to go in group to fetch the firewood everyday leaving behind those small kids at home.

It was during such routine job that little Khandu had to take care of his ‘head’ as well as the house all alone. Once his mother had mounted the complete three-layer set of pots (a cylindrical bigger outer one, an inner most small pot for collecting condensing droplets of ‘Ara’, Another a bowl placed on top to hold water which needs to be replaced once water becomes hot to regulate the temperature and give the cooling effect to alcoholic vapor. Thus turning it to droplets of Ara!), on the oven. She instructed her som to fuel it with constant ‘flow’ of fire (heat), and replace the water on time. The process has to be repeated thrice normally, and even more depending on the taste and strength of the alcohol that one prefers. Although he needed no further instructions from his mother for he was already good at handling the art of making ‘Ara’, his mother made it sure everything went well, and off she went to the jungle with then neighbors.

He didn’t worry much about handling the assigned task, but the moment his parents left for the jungle, he was haunted by the thought of the mysterious ‘khegpa’. Thus he made every effort to seal off his house’s windows, and doors securely from inside, and stationed himself in front of the oven lit with a big flame and a well-sharpened knife dangling from his waist-ever readied to strike the ‘khegpa’ if they ever appeared. Despite the fact that he was ‘well’ equipped to confront any danger, the fear of ‘khegpa’ never disappeared from his immature mind, and as he became more reminded of the possibility of appearing ‘khegpa’ from the wide-opened ceiling, he cautiously dragged himself closer and closer to the fire-the only companion left with him at that moment!

The combined effect of the heat from the fire, and endless thoughts of ‘khegpa’ drew out streams of sweats all over his tiny body. In the midst of such tiring moments triggered by the torturous thoughts, he dozed off heavily into a deep slumber lying along the oven. For some unknown period of time, little Khandu was in a paradise of his dream, totally free of ‘khegpas’. As the troubled mind would always do, his sleep was constantly being disrupted by mysterious day dreams, yet his tired body wouldn’t be able to respond well and easily surrender to the forceful sleep. That was until he suddenly saw a huge black figure standing right in front of him. He tried to clear his blurred vision in quest of figuring who it was. To his dreadful surprise, it was that mysterious ‘khegpa’ making a quiet yet well calculated move and seemingly trying to aim the knife at his neck! A horrified Khandu then kicked him forcefully as the ‘helpless’ khegpa collapsed with a loud ‘hissing’ noise. He felt down drenched into a pool of warm blood oozed out of the dead khegpa, and noticed the fire being extinguished! The over dramatic smoke which engulfed the entire room drove away his sleep, and as he tried regaining his sense from the ‘epic’ brawl with the khegpa, he jumped up and down victoriously!

He couldn’t imagine he had ‘actually’ brought down the supposedly ‘strong and well built’ khegpas, and he felt really excited to share with his parent during the dinner time when everybody settled down for a chat over heavy dosage of ‘Ara’. The very moment he thought about the drinks, he remembered about his ‘Ara’ that he was made an in-charge of by his mother. By then, he came to see the previously systematically mounted containers of his mom scattered all over the places, the entire house powdered by the ashes, and the fire extinguished by ‘Ara’. On careful examination, he found the cylindrical ‘khegpa’ container lying in a senseless mode wearing a deformed shape!

**This story was already published in this blog last month, but after having been offered to include in Mr. Yeshi's Book, I have submitted for proofreading, and editing several times, and this is the latest and final version.

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