Damber Nirola

Briefly about me   

I was born on 4 January 1961 to Dip Bahadur Nirola and Kaushila Bhandari as their eldest child in a small village called Nainatal, under Dalim ‘geog’[i] (block) in Samdrup Jongkhar, Eastern Bhutan. I have one younger brother and four younger sisters.  Prior to their marriage our parents had actually lived at Surey in Gelephu.  Our father was a widower with a daughter and our mother was a widow with one son.  They had fallen in love, and against all odds, got married.  Because of this unique marriage we have one half-brother and a half-sister. (Family tree)

My early education started in 1968 in a small primary school at our village.  In fact this was the school which our father started in 1950s after he got elected as the ‘gup[ii]’ (village headman).  He had ardent desire to educate all the children of our village.  He probably regretted his own inadequacy in education due to lack of opportunity. However, in spite of his ability to just read and write Nepali language without formal training in grammar, he was very popular person during his time.  He is still fondly remembered by many people of our village as a dynamic gup. 

The school was initially situated near our house but because our father wanted it to be accessible to many more children, got it shifted to almost an hour’s walk away, at Dalim. This is actually the centre of the whole block.  Due to this I had problem walking the distance, which got solved later when I was made to stay with one of the teachers, Mr. A. T. Sill, an Assamese. So by the age of 9 or 10 I had started living independently and this acted as some sort of survival training for me to cope up with harder life I was to lead later.

In 1972 my father started showing some signs and symptoms of a chronic lung disease.  I had observed him making visits to some health centre in Assam and I had also noticed that he was taking lots of medicines.  Occasionally he would bring out blood streaks in his sputum.  I just wondered rather than worry for I was too small to gauge the gravity of the problem. Day by day his health deteriorated and the blood in sputum became more copious.  When I look back I realize that he had a serious illness, probably Pulmonary Tuberculosis or lung cancer!  He could not get the treatment he required due to lack of health facilities in those days. Finally he succumbed to the disease sometimes in June or July that year.  We were left with our pregnant mother who was expecting another child over and above the existing seven; this was not to last long! 

Whether it was our fate or our parents’ love for each other, our mother joined our father in the heavenly abode within a gap of about three months.  She could not survive the heavy post partum haemorrhage following retention of placenta after the birth to our youngest sister.  I remember many people trying to help her; some to the extent as  to try manual removal of placenta without any modern day aseptic precaution! Nothing helped though and after three days of delivery she was no more!  The complication could have possibly resulted due to too many parity, age and severe lack of maternal and child health services in those days.  This sad picture would always guide me to be more compassionate and extra cautious towards women in labour later in my career as a doctor.   

Following the death of our mother we landed up in great trouble.  We had become orphans without any guardian!  All the well wishers got together and convened a meeting immediately after the funeral of our mother. We were to choose a guardian from among many uncles and our half brother, Ghana Shyam Thapa, who was by then living with his wife and a child in a separate house.  Our father had one brother, and six half brothers from mother’s side; his brother being Karna Bahadur Nirola. After a lot of deliberation our half sister, 2 years senior to me, the eldest in the group, made the decision to choose Karna Bahadur uncle (we call him father now) as our guardian.  He never had a very cordial relationship with our father because of his (uncle’s) short temper.  However, he had no option but to accept a bunch of tiny orphans, eight in number, as young as three days to fourteen years old.  He already had four of his own kids, oldest being fourteen and youngest just a year and a half.  His wife was expecting another child very soon!  There were a total of 12 children to take care of.  Now I awe at his ability to have kept his mental frame intact in spite of the enormous task of taking care of twelve helpless souls! 

In the mean time I continued my study and completed the fourth standard, the highest level of education available at our village during those days.  Our father’s last wish before he expired was that I should be allowed to complete ‘matric’ (matriculation[iii]).  He knew I was an intelligent boy and probably could manage to study up to that level.  Arthaman Rai was the idol from our village in those days.  He had completed matriculation and had joined government job.  All of us aspired to become something like him and do government service.

In order to pursue further studies I was to go to another school, some 200 kilometres away from home, at Tashigang in East Bhutan. I was sent to Tashigang along with Shanti Ram Nepal.  Tashigang had a Central School with classes up to eleven.  Two students from Dalim were already studying there, Suk Bahadur Subba and Shanti Ram Rizal (late).  The principal, Mr. K. P. Nair, was a very strict person and he readily doubted quality of education in the smaller primary schools.  Thus without any regard to our transfer certificate or any interview, two of us were admitted in class four again.  Life in hostel was not so attractive, but having had the experience of living away from home and being an orphan now, I didn’t feel lonely or home sick any time.  Suk Bahadur Subba acted as my mentor during that period and also later in life.  He helped me cut firewood, made me do my home work, woke me when I needed to be awake and disciplined me when I tended to become mischievous. Now I realize that he was the person who shaped me as a teenager and put me in the right path.  I could achieve this much all because of his guidance and inspiration!  He remains the most adored person in my life.  A year later I was fortunate to get the company of my closest friend, Rabilal Pokhrel (uncle by relation) who joined me in class 5.  We spent those troubled teenage years together arm in arm, competing healthily in classes and scoring the highest in examinations.  Two of us have cried together, worked together to earn pocket money, and spent most formative years of our lives together. We worked hard and passed class 8 Common examinations in 1977.  We continued to be classmates until we went to two different professions after completing ISC-12[iv].  He is now an Electrical and Electronic engineer heading the Area 1 of Bhutan telecom as Area manager.

Within two years of our admission some crises happened at our school (I have not been able to comprehend even today) and it suddenly got downgraded to a Junior high school.  All the students from class 9 and above got transferred to Paro and Monger; Suk Bahadur Subba, thus, left too.  Mr. O. P. Arora from India came as our new principal.  He was a nice and friendly person unlike Mr. Nair who was very fond of wielding a stick!

In the mean time back home things were not so good.  Our aunt, who was pregnant when I left for Tashigang, delivered a baby boy and due to some post-natal complication she too had expired.  This gave our uncle a lot of mental stress.  He became irritable and abusive due to which my brothers and sisters had to face immense amount of wrath.  They suffered a lot!  Now I realize that it must have been the most difficult time in my uncle’s life.  Inability to take care of two infants, our youngest sister was given to our ‘thuli-ama[v]’. Thuli-ama readily adopted her as her own daughter and gave all the love and affection she lacked so far. Of course, she lived a very short but happy and healthy life.  She expired at the age of 16 while she was studying at Pemagatshel in class 8 due to Typhoid fever. Paradoxically, the year was 1989, the same year that I qualified as an MBBS doctor.  Unfortunately my medical knowledge was of no use to her for I got the news of her death and not the illness!  

In that stressful period of our uncle’s life, some people claimed that our father had taken loan from them.  In order to clear the debts our herd of about 30 water buffalos and our famous ‘Gopal’ horse had to be sold.  At that very moment the government objected for the amount of land we had and a substantial portion was confiscated; the remaining was shared between my brother and me.

In an attempt to find solace our uncle married to a lady from Chirang. They subsequently had three children out of the new wedlock.  Our uncle’s life seemed to change thereafter.  He built a new house, he started living more luxurious life than before and people attributed this to the wealth he acquired from his late brother along his children.  He dismantled our old family house and we saw the materials being utilized to make the new house.  He, however, always insisted that our parents left nothing except some land and eight of us; we had to believe that.  I escaped the harder lives my sibling had to lead at our uncle’s house not out of choice but because I was away at ‘not-so-comfortable, hostel in Tashigang.  It may seem a little mean on my part for not being able to give up my studies for farming to support my brothers and sisters but I had my father’s words to keep.  I had to pass ‘matric’!

After completing our class 8 examination we were supposed to go to Sarbang Central School but Rabilal and I requested Father Mackey for seats at Sherubtse College in Kanglung (22 Km south of Tashigang).  Sherubtse (‘the peak of knowledge’) was the highest seat of learning at that time and to get a seat there was a great privilege.  Since two of us had topped the class, Father Mackey readily accepted us.  We became ‘Sherubtsian’ in February 1978; the same year Father left Kanglung to start a new High school at Khaling (another 20 km south of Kanglung).

In 1979 I finally fulfilled my father’s dream by completing ICSE[vi]-equivalent to older matriculation.  However, by then I was determined to continue my studies as long as I could; I wanted to be a professional- an engineer or a doctor. With sheer hard work and some luck (actually I am more of a lucky person than hard working when it comes to studies!) I passed the ISC-12[vii] with good percentage.  I stood second, after Dr. Duptho Wangmo, in the science group.  Dr. Duptho is a Gynaecologist at JDWNRH[viii] at Thimphu. I qualified for a seat for MBBS at Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) in Pune, India. I joined AFMC in September 1982 and became a proud U-batcher of the Institute.  With one extra year due to poor performance in my final year, I completed my MBBS in November 1987.  Thereafter, I completed my one-year internship from Command Hospital (Eastern Command), Calcutta on the 28th of February 1989.  It was during the internship at Calcutta that I made another good friend, Dr. Kashinath Sharma.  We not only made our internship days enjoyable but also made our stay at Calcutta a memorable moment in our lives.  Dr. Hari Prasad Chhetri and Dr. Sonam Dorji were with us too.

I joined the civil service of Royal Government of Bhutan in March 1989.  My career began at Thimphu General Hospital where I spent very little time before I got transferred to Kalikhola. By late 1989, the political disturbance in the south was surfacing and this prompted the government to raise a militia force.  In the processes all the graduates and class 12 pass-outs were to be given militia training.  Since I belonged to the graduates of 1989, I also had to undergo that training of three weeks’ duration.  I enjoyed the training very much because of very good company we had during that period.

In the mean time I fell in love with Paizeen, whom I knew for almost 4 years, she being the sister-in-law of a close friend and accomplice, Mr. Suk Bahadur Subba (the same person who shaped me during the teenage years).   I got married to her on 14th February 1990, incidentally the Valentine's Day. She was working as a draftsperson in the Department of Public Works in Thimphu.  In the same year that we got married she was transferred to Engineering Cell of Central Zone at Gelephu. This impelled me to request for a transfer to Gelephu hospital, which I got without any problem. The problem in the south got further impetus and by late 1990 there were demonstrations in the all the southern ‘dzongkhags[ix]’.  Many southern Bhutanese thus got involved in the pro-democracy agitations.  However, I felt that the time was not right for such a drastic act; even the method that was used to motivate the people for the agitation was mostly threats of death.  Many innocent people reluctantly took part in the demonstration and later suffered a lot.  Government took a very stern action towards the agitators in particulars and to all the sympathisers in general.  Numerous arrests were made, people were imprisoned and tortured.  Many innocent people got scared and left the country.  Now there are about 100,000 refugees in the Eastern Nepal owing to that agitation. 

Because of the political problem the Zonal Office got closed and my wife too got transferred to Thimphu once again.  She was pregnant that time with our first child.  We got separated for sometime when we needed each other’s company the most.  During that period she started showing symptoms of pre-ecclemptic toxaemia, a pregnancy related condition.  I wanted to be with her but I was refused transfer to Thimphu.  Fearing a disastrous consequence, we decided that she resigned from the job.  A few months before the delivery of our daughter she bid farewell to the job he had held for the last 9 ½ years to become a homemaker! Our daughter, Preeti had to be delivered by a caesarean section on 29th of August 1991.  Dr. B. M. Pradhan was kind enough to perform the caesarean duly assisted by myself at Gelephu Hospital

By November 1991 the government had decided to transfer all the loyal southern Bhutanese civil servants to the northern dzongkhags. This way I landed up in Punakha in November 1991 to work as the District Medical Officer.  The health centre where I initially worked was just a 10-bedded Basic Health Unit grade 1.  Ultimately it got upgraded to a new 20-bedded hospital, which was constructed under funding from German Bhutan Hospital Foundation- a non-governmental organization, and inaugurated in 1996.

I was fortunate to have taken part in the planning stage of the new hospital in the capacity of the DMO.  I was also fortunate to work in there as the first DMO along with Dr. Schmidt, a German doctor. After a long stay of around 5 ½ years at Punakha Basic Health Unit and just a few months of privilege of working in the new setup, I got transferred to another very old hospital at Trongsa in Feb 1997.  Trongsa hospital up- gradation was also underway that time, so I got involved in site selection and planning of a new district hospital with modern amenities funded by the DANIDA. By 1998 we completed the planning process and in 2000 the construction works began.  The hospital got completed in December 2003 and was inaugurated on 17th December, coinciding with our national day.  Dr. Man Bir Ghising, who later died in a road accident, was the first doctor to work in the new hospital as DMO.

While in Trongsa went to have our second child after 8 years of long gap since Preeti was born.  We opted for an elective caesarean section and took help of Dr. (Mrs) Norbu in Thimphu.  We had a bouncy boy, Adeep on 25th of June 1999.  Incidentally, this was the year which marked the starting of cable TV and internet services in Bhutan.

In 2001 my post graduate studies got approved due to which I was sent to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu to work in the Psychiatry department until my confirmation came through. I worked under the guidance of Dr. Chencho Dorji, the only Psychiatrist in Bhutan, for one and a half years in the Psychiatry department.  I got exposure to all sorts of psychiatry illnesses in Bhutan and this amplified my interest in the field of psychiatry.  While working there I also got a chance to take part in the first ever Mental Health survey conducted in Bhutan.  Besides, I was also involved the analysis of data.

After a long wait of 1 ½ years, finally in September 2003, I got the confirmation about my seat for PG in Psychiatry at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka, (former IPGMR[x]Bangladesh. I joined the university on 9th September 2003.  Getting back to study after a long gap of 14 years was almost a nightmare!  Again, to stay alone, away from family was equally traumatic.  However, by December 2003 my family joined me in Dhaka and gave me company throughout my post-graduation.  Our daughter sacrificed our company and stayed at Phuentsholing to continue her studies.  Of course she did enjoy the holidays with us every six months.  Except for a supplementation in part 1 examination, I managed to pass all my examinations in time and finally graduated in Aril 2006 as Psychiatrist with Master of Philosophy degree. I have climbed another rung in the career ladder of my life!

From May 2012 was undergoing a training program conducted by the Colombo Plan Asian Centre for Certification and Education for Addiction Professionals and completed the basic level course in November 2013.  I sat for a certification examination and qualified as International Certified Addiction Counsellor. I am also one of the regional trainers for the same course.

Over the period I have been able to gain trust in my profession and I am currently holding various positions in the government of organizations. Beginning of 2014 left me alone to handle psychiatry department at JDWNRH after Dr. Chencho Dorji left for Australia on a long leave.I am currently heading the department of Psychiatry. With the establishment of University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, I am gearing towards becoming a teaching faculty of the University.

 My brother, Om Prakash Nirola, graduated from Shree Ram College of Commerce, Delhi in 1990 with Honours in Economics. He passed the Royal Civil Service Commission examination for graduates and joined the Civil service in 1991.  He recently completed his MBA from the Netherlands.  He is married to Tek Kumari Kharel and has two sons.  The first child was a daughter, who had cerebral palsy due to kernicterus during infancy. She lived to be four year old when she finally left us all for the heavenly abode.  Om resigned from the Civil service to join one on the renowned organizations in Bhutan, Druk Holding and Investments [http://www.dhi.bt/] in Thimphu.    He completed his MBA from the Netherlands.

Out of five sisters, three could not get education.  They were married off and sent to their in-laws. As mentioned earlier, the youngest one expired in 1989. The second youngest, Hema Devi, graduated with diploma in Agriculture from Natural Resources Training Institute (NRTI) at Lobeysa.  She is working as Research Assistant at Agriculture Research Centre in Yusipang, Thimphu. She is married to Kharga Basnet, an Agriculture graduate, from the Philippines, currently a private consultant. They are blessed with one son and a daughter. They are currently living in Thimphu.   Her email address: hemanirola@yahoo.com. Hema has graduated in 2013 with BSc degree Agriculture in College of Natural Resources (the erstwhile NRTI)

Our foster father, Karna Bahadur Nirola suddenly fell ill in April 2009 and his health continued to deteriorate further.  He had multi-organ failure and succumbed to the illness and left for the heavenly abode on 20th November 2009 at 8:30 a.m. in the ICU of JDWNR Hospital.  He was +78 years old by then.  His body was taken to his home at Bhangtar where he was cremated on 22nd November 2009.

My daughter has graduated from Pailan School of International Studies in Kolkatta with Bachelor degree in Media Science. She is currently employed with Bhutan Media Services where she works as designer for a newspaper named "The Journalist". My son is in class 11 in Yangchenphu Higher Secondary school.







Life is full of twists and turn; it is up to you to negotiate or take a shortcut!


[i] Geog= A smallest administrative unit, also referred as block consisting of a number of villages under one headman or ‘Gup’.

[ii] Gup= Block head

[iii] Matric= Short for matriculation, an educational qualification equivalent to Secondary School Certificate (Class X).

[iv] ISC-12= Indian School Certificate (Class 12)

[v] Thuli-ama= mother’s elder sister

[vi] ICSE= Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (Class 10)

[vii] ISC-12= Indian School Certificate (Class 12)

[viii] JDWNRH=Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital

[ix] Dzongkhag=District

[x] IPGMR=Institute of Postgraduate medicine and research