Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Say it loud, say it bold


A month ago, I had travelled to Pemagatshel. It was my first visit to this place. Like most of you, this remote southeastern dzongkhag was one among few that I had never been to before. The others were Gasa and Lhuentse. 
So this particular visit made me think why a place like Pemagatshel remains absolutely secluded, backward.
The ride on the Pemagathsel road, after we diverted from the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang highway, was very bumpy, rough; to put it more accurately, scary ride. The road was too bad - very narrow, very dusty. Potholes were so common. It seemed like the road was not maintained for many years.
To the locals and travellers, this road was known as notorious for its bad condition and reckless trucks plying on the road. Incessant jumbo gypsum trucks ran along the road like it was a runway, blatantly ignoring the IMTRAT’s notice “This is highway, not runway”. 
However, the infinite forest of coniferous and broad leaf kept me amazed all the time. And quite wondrously, they consumed all the mountains. 87.65% of the total area was under forest cover. 
Being a resident of Thimphu, where I was used to looking at the thinly spread pine tree over the mountains, this forest of coniferous was a real treat to my eyes - so thick, so broad, so green and so lush.
Amidst the slopes of those deep mountains and dark forest, a few pockets of human settlements have rested forlorn, which brought a deep melancholic feeling to my heart. They appeared to me like God’s rare handiwork. 
After four hours of rough and scary ride, I could finally spot Pemagatshel valley. From the top, it has amazing views looking at scattered settlements. The shape and landscape of the valley was like a bowl, like a lotus flower. Several strings of sharp-edged slopes like lotus petals fell around into the bowl, which was dressed by blissful villages. 
Truly, quite accurately, it’s Pemagatshel, meaning “Blissful land of the lotus”.
Then suddenly, an ominous scene right in the middle of the valley, right in the middle of human settlements appeared to steal the scene. The Gypsum Mining, an area of 26.77 hectares in Khothakpa, was an eyesore. It was ripping apart the “Land of the blissful lotus” and its pristine environment.
Looking at it, I just felt a twinge of disappointment and frustration. The mining looked like a cancer digging deep into a human body and ripping apart his flesh. Entire valley echoed, trembled with the sound of the monstrous machines grinding mercilessly at the sites.
After a little while, it put me into such a miserable mood. I felt so bad I almost cried. There’s no doubt that it was a beautiful sunny day. But the villagers couldn’t feel it, as the dust in the sky was obscuring the sun like the day was under the solar eclipse.
Peach plants were blossoming everywhere, but the dust had mired them, suffocated their growth. The clothes drying up outside had collected fresh dust. Roofs and tree leaves were coated with layers of dust. The day was bitterly hot. 
Coming to Pemagatshel, I felt like I was not in Bhutan. It was as though I had just stepped in a mining-obsessed state, where the development philosophy was not GNH but greed and materialism, where they wouldn’t mind extracting wealth at the cost of destroying their pristine environment and ruining their own people’s health and life.  
How long Pemagathselpas have stopped seeing beautiful days? How long they have missed the clear view of the sun, stars, and moon? How long they were suffocated with the dust-filled air. How long they have been tolerating this unlikely heat? How many lives of the local people were affected by the mining?
Enough is enough. For, you cannot bruise and wound a place more than this. For, you cannot give more sufferings and pains to the innocent people than this. However, the most important question to ask is: How long this will go on?
The locals have been bearing the ills of these environmentally degrading venture for the past three decades. The mining brought more harms than fulfilling its objective of utilizing the reserve for economic development of the area and optimization of revenue to the Royal Government of Bhutan.
If we look at the statistics, the contribution of mining sector to the nation’s economy was very insignificant, at a mere two percent. The gypsum mining was started at Pemagatshel in 1983, and quite ironically, according the website of Dzongkhag, the Pemagatshel still has second highest level of poverty at 26.9 percent after Lhuentse.  
So what?
Mining is an undesirable economic venture, which doesn’t serve the community, local people or the interest of the nation. It benefits a handful of people. 
The wound was too deep, but not too late to fix. Pemagatshel still will be a better place, the land of the lotus flower. The current auction lease of Khotakpa will expire on December 31, 2018. The government should stop such harmful venture. But most importantly, the people of Pemagatshel should knit together and say NO to mining.
Say it loud, and say it bold. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Photographs

Today I am uploading some photographs; for the first time where I being the subject. Being myself with the camera often, hardly do I get chance to be photographed. However, these pictures say a lot - that I loved being with another photographer - especially while travelling. A few pictures are different, as my colleague who is the photographer and blogger, Tashi Penjor, tried to portray his specialized skill of shadow images. Having photographed myself here, made me a little thoughtful and contemplating about the path ahead of me.
Pemagatshel gate
Mao Khola
Mao Khola and the sunset

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The heart-son of Bhutan in India

Surprisingly, wonderfully, I met this great personality in New Delhi. He has contributed enormously in fostering the friendly relationships between Bhutan and India. Undoubtedly, he is the closest friend of Bhutan. Mr. R.N. Anil. The founder and secretary general of India-BhutanFriendship Association (IBFA).
Initiated by him, the IBFA hosted dinner for us, seven officials from my office. In addition, the dignitaries and officials from the Bhutan Embassy in India and IBFA attended it. 

With a gleeful and dignified smile, Mr. Anil welcomed us formally and all the board members of his association. And the moment he started talking about Bhutan, his voice took on a new high rhythm.

He began, “Your country is beautiful. The people are very hospitable and kind. Moreover, you have such great kings, you must be proud. Your Kings, both the Fourth and Fifth, always give me utmost warmth and hospitality whenever I visit Bhutan.”

Born in Himachal Pradesh, he called on to his Indian counterparts and insisted, “You must visit this country - the happiest country in the world. 
Everyone watched at the speaker, respectful and feeling incredibly impressed. Instantaneously, my heart swelled with a new confidence and excitement. And I felt proud - proud of being a Drukpa, proud of my Kings, proud of my country.

“I am the recipient of the Druk Thuksey award from your King on December 17, 2013 at Changlimithang,” he stated proudly to the gathering. 

Taking a brief important breath, he went on to explain, “Druk Thuksey award means the heart-son of Bhutan. I am actually the heart-son of Bhutan.”

His Majesty the King awarded this prestigious medal to Mr. Anil for his significant contributions in strengthening the friendship between the two countries through his association. 
During the medal ceremony; Pic: HM FB Page
In 1958, he happened to meet India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, after his visit to Paro. Nehru had inspired him to strengthen relations with Bhutan at the non-governmental level.

When Bhutan had opened its representation in India in early 1970’s, he grabbed the opportunity to establish his close contact with the first Chief Representative of Bhutan in India, Lyonpo Pema Wangchuk. In 1973, he established IBFA; however, only in 1978 when Bhutan opened its mission in New Delhi, he formally inaugurated it. 

The association organizes programmes and seminars between the people’s level for promoting understanding at the cultural, sentimental and economic levels. Mr. Anil has worked with the association for more than 43 years.

Often he writes articles about Bhutan and particularly about warm friendship between India and Bhutan in the leading Indian newspapers. The IBFA and Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi are planning to launch a magazine called “Bhutan Panorama” from this March. To be published quarterly, they will distribute the magazine all around the world. 

He knows so many things about our kingdom, our culture and people. In fact, he is someone with whom I would like to have a long talk. In an article published in Kuensel, Bhutan’s big leap into future, he wrote,
”Religion is visible in everyday life. Every house is having a temple of its own. On the slope of the hills one can see dzongs and fortresses, which evoke memories of Bhutan’s rich past. Also, at every bend one can see white prayer flags fluttering in the gentle breeze, confirming the faith of the people in religion.”
It sounds strange to say, but sometimes we discover more about our country when we travel outside. Sometimes we learn to appreciate more about our place and ourselves when we meet a personality like R.N. Anil.

Long live Mr. Anil! Long live IBFA! Long live India-Bhutan Friendship!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

From Calcutta to Delhi: the sky is not the limit

A couple of weeks before, I was travelling in India. To put it more aptly, I was travelling from Calcutta to Delhi through an Indian flight. The airline, IndiGo, was a sophisticated one, and quite surprisingly, punctual too. It impressed me. 

Almost all the passengers were Indians, by the looks of them; and of course, by the talk of them. For, the world knows how they look. For, the world knows how they talk. For, the world knows how they smell.

No sooner did I take my seat, some strange smell started to bother me - that of mixed smell of strong perfume and armpits. That was when I remembered Russell Peter’s joke: he smells Indians as soon as he walks off the Delhi airport. He is a hilarious comedian.

Russell sounds more hilarious when he goes on to tell a God’s practical joke,
“I am going to take this people here and put them in the hottest place in the world. And just for fun, I will cover them with hair. Hot and hairy. Men and women.”

In the plane, everything around me began to turn strangely intriguing. When we were about to take off, many passengers didn’t follow the emergency instructions. Those fair and slim stewards had to run after each passenger to fasten seatbelt, straighten seat and request him or her to switch off their phones.

Everybody - old and young, men and women - talked nonstop. They largely talked about sadhi (marriage), cricket and Bollywood. These three aspects, believe or not, are considered lifelines of Indians. 

Hearing them, I could figure out almost all the passengers were either returning from attending wedding and were going to attend it. An Indian friend of mine once told me, “Indians don’t trust strangers, at all, but they give away their daughter’s hand to a stranger.”

And he added, “We are very jealous people. Success of other people makes us more miserable than our own misery.”

Strange, isn’t it?

However, what I have observed in the plane was that everybody wanted to talk, about everything. As if they were talking machines. I could hear them saying, “Hey, you listen to me na.” Which is why, supposedly, they wouldn’t listen and follow the instructions of the airbus.

They would talk in a thin voice, sweet voice, and furious voice, but mostly in a really high-pitched voice. Only those who shout the loudest be heard in India? Seems like that. But to let you know, it was quiet in the plane. Why they had to shout? Perhaps they are used to talking like that, and they still think they are in a noisy crowded place.  

As I continued listening, I understood a different thing. They were not talking, they were whining - whining about all of the problems. They would shout to the gods, shout to the government, shout to the political parties and shout to the people. And they were venting all kinds of opinions - negative and positive, quiet and wary, happy and sad. 

In a book called The Story of my Assassins, Tarun J Tejpal rightly pointed out, “There was too much opinion in the country, too many sob stories.” In India, rather strangely, everyone wants to whine all of it, vent all of it.

Indians are Indians everywhere they are, in the plane too. Indeed, even the sky is not the limit for them. They are simply incredible, and my respect for each Hindustani for being so unique and brilliant. That's why I love India so much; this is one country I want to explore more.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Youth Engagement Programme in Chuzagang

I have initiated a humble programme called “My village, my responsibility” since 2014 at my village. Through this programme, I wanted to give back to the community that I was born and being raised. For, I believed that my village, Chuzagang had given me so much - my root, sense of belonging, identity, and education.       
My initial plan was to visit the village once a year - at least - and organize meaningful programmes for the development of community. In 2014, with the help of READ Bhutan, CAFCO and two volunteers, I organized a Children Programme, where 46 children attended it. 

This year, on February 6, 7 and 8, I have organized Youth Engagement Programme at Chuzagang READ Centre for the READ Bhutan. A total of 98 youth and children have participated in the educational programme.

The main objectives of the programme are: 1) To create awareness on importance of education by providing skills and information; 2) To encourage reading habit and creative arts; and 3) To engage the youth of Chuzagang productively during their school vacation.

I am glad to say that this year I had received more support. The READ Bhutan funded the entire programme. Ms. Yamuna Rai, the owner of Yiga Radio (who is also from Chuzagang) had supported me in planning and implementation of the programme from the beginning.

Also, Ngawang Palden, Roshni and Sejhal helped in facilitating the reading and art classes. The Book World, a bookstore in Thimphu, donated 80 library books.

As always, Kinzang Dorji, a CAFCO staff spearheaded the coordination of programme in Chuzagang by informing the participants, arranging refreshment and guests. Without his support, the programme wouldn’t have happened at all.  

As expected, the participants thoroughly enjoyed the programme and they learned many knowledge and skills besides having fun and making new friends. Some pictures of the programme here:

1. Reading Class


 

2. Art class: At the end, a art competition was conducted on the theme “The blue world, for whom?” The winners were awarded prizes contributed by Yamuna Rai. Selected entries will be sent to the 17th International Environmental Children’s Drawing Contest in Japan.


3. Writing journal: Each participant of the programme was supposed to maintain a daily journal during the programme to encourage writing habit among the participants. They wrote down all the activities of the day and lessons learned in their journals. During the closing, prizes were awarded to the best two journals.  


Closing of the programme: The Country Director of READ Bhutan graced the closing programme.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Photographs

Some pictures of ema I took in the recent years. One of my favorites, especially dried one. Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Role of women in Monu's book, his life


Almost a year ago, Monu Tamang had visited me in my office in Thimphu. That particular day, surprisingly enough, he brought a girl along with him.

“Sir, she is my girlfriend,” he introduced the girl to me, feeling uncomfortable.

It left me astounded. For, never before he had talked about girls in front of me. A shy boy, as far as I knew, this young writer was not a kind of boy who dares to take his girlfriend around and introduce to everyone. 

When he told me her name, I almost jumped out of my chair in shock. In fact, this young physiotherapy student had already shared the first draft of his book, ‘Chronicle of a Love Foretold’, with me. This girl completely resembles Namsa Lhazin of the book.

His girlfriend was fair, slim, and she got “bright smile, her sweet voice…beautiful eyes, and her long silky hair…” (Pg. 106, ‘Chronicle of a Love Foretold’). By the looks of her, a well-to-do family had brought her up. Thus, Monu had all the reasons to fall for her.

Then I asked the girl jokingly, “Oh, you’re the heroine of Monu’s new book?”

She blushed. Monu blushed.

Moreover, this young writer admitted and openly stated on BBS TV that “women” had inspired him to write this book. Initially, he had started writing the book particularly for his girlfriend, and that is the depth of his love for her.

After spending quite a lot of time with the author, I came to know many characters, incidences and events of the book are arguably real and had happened to the author. Kinga Lhendup, the protagonist of the book, largely resembles Monu himself - “cool”, “social worker”, “determined”, and “Good boy” (Pg. 69, 90, 94 and 104).

There are several other important plots in the book, which the writer must have created to spice up his story. I must say, ‘Chronicle of a Love Foretold’ is a fiction novel inspired by the author’s own story and the real people. It is a beautiful novel about love and loss and finding way back into love. The narration is graceful, the expression so genuine and every word is brutally honest.

However, the sad reality is that Monu broke up from his girlfriend soon after they made their visit to me, and it means they had split before the author could complete his project. After that, the author made a few changes to his first draft and added some elements of heartbreak, loneliness, depression and suicidal attempts (Prologue, pg. 7-9).

I still wonder how the book would turn out if the couple were still together. It might have a different storyline, or Monu would not publish it at all. There came a time when the author decided putting the book online as he did not have money to print it.

Indeed, it was the breakup and the wound in his heart that had always encouraged him to push on realizing his dream. In a blog post, the author wrote,  
Novel writing is such a tedious and long process that even your girlfriend leaves you before it is published. It is funny, yet true. But I must be strong enough to shoulder it on my own as it is almost done and I have blessings and good wishes of many. It was my promise and I will fulfill it by hook or crook.
Finally, it's not by hook or by crook, but by the love and blessing from another woman of his life - his own mother - that provided him courage and a sense of direction to accomplishment. 
His mother launched the book along with former Sherig Lyonpo Thakur S. Powdyel. The moment was simply beautiful. Monu’s mother looks exactly like the mother of Kinga: “high cheekbones…tanned and smiling cheerfully” (Pg.14). Also, the chapter 20 is entirely dedicated to his “Mother’s dream”.

The influence of the two women - girlfriend and mother - is dominantly apparent throughout the book. They were like two important currents of Kinga’s (Monu) life running side by side like soul and life respectively. 

Without soul, the book wouldn’t be born. Without life, the book wouldn’t be nurtured, published. One woman gifted him the story; another woman nurtured it. One woman broke his heart; another healed it.       
Pic: The writer with his mother
Additional note: Nawang Phuntsho, who edited the book, also played equally an important role by helping the author print and market the book. The book became an instant hit.