K. T Bhutia receiving the National Award to Teachers 2010 from President of India, New Delhi, September 2011
Mr. Kesang Tenzing Bhutia -- educationist, teacher, family man, and role model -- passed away last week in Kalimpong, West Bengal.
Born on May 5, 1955 in Sakya, Tibet, Kesang joined Dr. Graham's Homes (DGH) in Kalimpong as a student, where he earned the nickname 'Bull' for his fearlessness. After completing his schooling from DGH in 1972, Kesang studied History (B.A. and M.A.) in St. Stephen's College, Delhi, following which he completed his B.Ed. from Punjab University in Chandigarh.
Kesang began his illustrious academic career in Tashi Namgyal Academy (TNA), Gangtok, Sikkim in 1980. However, as an OGB -- an acronym popularly used for the alumni of DGH -- he promptly agreed to move to Kalimpong to teach at DGH in 1984 on the behest of the school, despite having to take a significant cut in compensation. In 1992, he was selected to be the Principal with the Central Tibetan Schools Administration (CTSA), and served in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal, Mundgod in Karnataka, and Mussorie in Uttarkhand. At the time of his passing, he was serving as the Principal of the Central School for Tibetans at Kalimpong.
At all the schools he served, Kesang inspired countless students with his humaneness, dedication, and wisdom, brought history alive in the classrooms, shaped the lives of innumerous youngsters, and gained the trust and respect of his colleagues with his humility and astute knowledge on a variety of issues.
"He was an incredible teacher but more importantly a great human being -- a man who always smiled and always had a kind word for everyone. I was very close to him; he was a friend -- and this is something you will hear from many students, I am sure, because he made everyone feel special," said Anirban Bhattacharya, a former student of DGH.
Like Bhattacharya, thousands of other students remember him for his wisdom, good humor, and guidance, both inside and outside the classroom.
"Since hearing of his passing... I simply don't have the words to express the depth of my sadness or my appreciation for this amazing person who helped shape my life and thousands of other students. While I was in DGH, he never taught me a class but was the first person I would go to seek advice and guidance," writes Jigme Ugen, an alumnus of DGH, who is the first Tibetan to be elected as a labor leader in North America.
In recognition of Kesang's tireless dedication and outstanding contribution towards the education of children, he was honored with the prestigious National Award to Teachers by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil, in New Delhi in 2011.
"He was the greatest history teacher I have ever been taught by. He inspired me to become a teacher but I never had the opportunity to tell him so. Still, Sir's legacy will live on in each one of his students and he will never be forgotten," said Gavin William Game, a former student, who is now a teacher.
Even in his day-to-day life, Kesang was a man of great discipline, waking up every morning at dawn to recite his Buddhist prayers, make the daily altar offerings, and read the morning paper. He always arrived an hour or so early to his office and had a great sense of work ethic.
Despite his status as the Principal, Kesang would be seen spending many a Sunday morning with the boarders at the school, either mending their shoes, stitching their torn uniforms, or cutting their hair. Many a times, he would quietly call the needy children in his school and provide them pocket money so they would not feel left out when they were amidst their more affluent friends. He combined humility and generosity in everything he did, doing many a good deed for the love of it and never for the glory.
An avid reader, Kesang thought highly of Atticus Finch, the main character in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". Like Atticus Finch, Kesang was a man of principles, always seeking to do the right thing, at whatever cost. Throughout his life, he was renowned for being a man of high moral standards, humility, good humor, and stability. In so many ways, Kesang -- who breathed his last on Monday, 13 January 2014 -- lived a life akin to Atticus Finch's -- one that was a courageous defense of his principles, and in doing so, inspired countless others to do the same.
"My father's favorite quote," said Kesang's son, Mr. Jigme Dorjee, "was one by Atticus Finch -- Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do -- I take pride in knowing that in his lifetime, Pala was among the very few who always won."
Kesang is survived by his wife, Mrs. Chungla Bhutia; children, Mr. Jigme Dorjee, Ms. Tenzing Zompa, and Dr. Sonam Gyatso; and grandchild, Ms. Tara Kesang.