Subba was a household name in Bhutan in the 1980s, and his songs were on every Bhutani lip: whether Lhotsampa or Drukpa. His lyrics and melody shed a mellow light on Bhutan's darkness.
Bandhan ko chino hara lai dina sakdina Tara timilai pote lagaideula
The words evoke the heartbeat and heartbreak of a lost motherland, they take us back to the innocence of an era, before Bhutan's name was blackened by one of the most systematic cases of ethnic cleansing in recent history?in terms of proportion of population driven out of a country.
In the late 1980s, Subba's songs were played, relayed and sung on stages, in buses, forests, farmyards and pilgrimages throughout Bhutan, Darjeeling and Sikkim. His songs were a hit on Bhutan's national radio. But then came 1990, and the state-sponsored eviction of tens of thousands Lhotsampas from Bhutan. Subba's family was driven out because of its ethnicity and background-not even his singing could save Subba.
Years later, Pratap Subba was living, unrecognised and forgotten in the refugee camp at Pathri in eastern Nepal. A popular singer whose songs celebrated Bhutani life was queuing up to collect food aid from the UN in a refugee camp in Nepal. A national icon was spending nights under a plastic roof, afraid to cough for fear of disturbing neighbours in the crowded camp. Such was the dedication of this low-key artiste, fellow refugees selected him camp secretary several times.
The cycles of seasons and months have continued for 17 years. But for Subba, there is only one month to remember:
Mangsira ko mainale, kasailai, doli chadai Naumati baja sangai ghara leuchu bhancha
His lyrics were straight from everyday life in Bhutan, they echoed the cadence and voices of the rural folk. He returned their words in song, and in doing so lives eternally in their hearts. He sang of the mountains and forests of Bhutan, the murmuring brooks and festivals. But mostly he sang of love and longing.
Govinda Rizal in Kyoto