Monday, August 29, 2016

The school full of quotations

Gaselo Central School in Wangduephodrang has left me fascinated, inadvertently though. During my visit to the school last week to teach the students on media literacy, I found it different, distinct.
It’s nothing to do with the school’s facilities and students, but by the way they keep their school. Beautiful quotations and inspiring proverbs were written all over the campus – on the walls, footpaths, footsteps, trees, notice boards and gardens. Everywhere. If there’s any literature paradise on earth, this is it.

Many students who graduated from here remember the school by the quotes. And me too. I still remember, vividly, some of the quotes and inspire me a lot. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Learn from Chuzagang

Every year, when the monsoon hits, Chuzagang is remained cut off from rest of the world. The rains, outrageous in nature and size, always soak and wash away temporary bridges that the villagers build over the infamous Mao River. Subsequent floods destroy the lone feeder road that connects the village with Gelephu town.

Every summer, Chuzagang, a plain gewog under Sarpang dzongkhag, faces a dreadful problem of power blackout - sometimes up to two weeks. Either downpours, or floods, or lightning, or wild elephants destroy the power supply.
A bridge at Mao River built in 2015; washed away by the recent flood
Every rainy season, soil erosion causes a huge loss of fertile farmlands. Excessive rains, sometimes, delay transplantation of rice; thereby, affecting the rice yields. And worse, wild elephants, in a large number, rampage crops and plants.

Well, this year’s monsoon is no different. Like many other places in southern Bhutan, the supposedly one of the worst flood disasters also hit hard Chuzagang. Over 485 households of the gewog staggered and suffered a huge damage, loss.
For days, again it has been cut off after the bridges and feeder road were damaged. The power was affected, farmland damaged, and rice transplantation delayed.

Surprisingly yet, Chuzagang, an understandable worry and frailty aside, has remained absolutely composed and resolute. The villagers didn’t succumb to alarm and cry out for external help. But why? This is exactly what I want to share it here today. 
Chuzagang is the place where I was born and grown up. Since the time I remember about my village, the monsoon rains and Mao River have been a constant problem for us, affecting our agricultural and economic activities and even taking away many human lives.

However, after years of difficulties, losses and sufferings, and living in a constant worry and uncertainty, the villagers have learnt to ensure their own well-being. Most importantly, they have developed a culture of preparedness and resilience.   
Firewood shed
The farmers still collect and store firewood for summer consumption even there’s electricity supply. Before every summer, they buy and store kerosene, petrol and diesel for summer consumption for vehicles and machines (tractors, power tillers and rice mills). Still they store grains (rice, wheat and millet), refined oil, salt, pickles and other necessities.
A household storing rice and other grains that can last for a year
Many households or chiwogs still own and maintain water well or spring water nearby. It ensures clean drinking water when tap water supply is affected or muddied.

Come winter, with renewed hope and optimism, the industrious villagers again build wooden bridges over Moa River and repair and maintain the feeder road. That’s the spirit of the people of Chuzagang. That’s the endurance of my village.
Special note: I am so enormously grateful to our beloved King, Prime Minister and Ministers who have visited the affected sites of flood disasters in Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Samtse and consoled the worried and unsettled people. In fact, the country has suffered hugest of losses; however, at the same time, we’ve seen the greatest of inspiration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Losing in song, losing in memory

Somewhere at the start of April 2016, I met my college friends, Sonam and Tshering, in a place by the name of Hauz Khaz Village. In South Delhi, India. And it came as a big surprise to me – firstly by the strange name of the place, and secondly by my unexpected acquaintance.   
This small urban village, right in the middle of South Delhi, was aloof and in a stark contrast from its stormy and noisy neighbors. Its enclosed street was adorned with lights and streamers. All along, it held a plethora of restaurants, jewelry and accessory stores, pubs and cafes.

Unlike other parts of Delhi, this street had no rickshaws and tempos, but mostly Mercedes Benz, Audis, Range Rovers and BMWs were parked in front of its entrance. The people were rich, smartly dressed. So I realized it’s one of the most affluent spots in South Delhi.

However, what fascinated me the most was by its mid-city sense of seclusion, where I could feel both the rural and urban appeal. This small urban development has been enclosed by ancient park, ruins, lake, art gallery, and monuments.

It behooves me to tell you - rather more jubilantly – that the inhabitants were largely musicians, designers, travelers, foodies, book lovers and social activists. Isn’t it fascinating?

They have built their homes and business here. And indeed, it’s a throbbing hub by the artistic people for the creative people.
Cafe out of the box
Three of us walked down the village, enjoying pleasant scene and feeling deeply delighted and rejuvenated. After a while, we chose a café right in the middle of alleyway. Café Out of the Box, its name is.

Situated on the third floor of a building, it’s a cozy café with a dim, intimate space. Its interior was nothing extraneous, but has highly refined and tasteful looks. It had a laid-back atmosphere, altogether, with an attentive urban-rural aesthetic.

A young DJ was playing his music. The Coldplay’s “Hymn for the weekend”, which had exotified India, rocked the hall. A group of strikingly attractive young girls and men danced on the floor. Sure enough, the DJ was terrific, and I like most when he mixed western songs with Indian disco beats.

We took a table and ordered some chilled Heineken beers, cocktails and Italian pepperoni pizza. As we drank our beer, we jived to music and talked about Delhi and particularly this village.

“This place is called Hauz Khaz Village,” Sonam, who was studying in Delhi, informed me. The name sounded strange to me, if I say so.

In the meantime, we went to the café’s terrace. Sonam pointed at the Deer Park and the Reservoir (lake) right below the terrace. I cried in a pleasant surprise, as it’s all unexpected to find a manmade lake amidst a city; the scene was like a beautiful allegorical painting.
Allauddin Khilji (1296–1316), the second ruler of the Khilji dynasty, first built it to supply water to the inhabitants of Siri Fort. In fact, the name is derived from this large Reservoir. In Urdu language, 'Hauz’ means “water tank” (or lake), and ‘Khas’ means “royal” - meaning “Royal tank”.

Gradually, the DJ went onto play Latino Salsa and then he started mixing the beats of some 1990s and early 2000s western melodies. We sat, still drinking our beer, and automatically whistling into nostalgia.

Our time together in college arrested us suddenly. The time when we were young, naïve and passionate. The time when we used to be carefree, funky. The time when we used to sing loud and dance to this particular song of Bonjovi’s In these arms. All those memories unleashed like monsoon rain.
Sonam and I: Time together (Photographed by Tshering)
Instantaneously, we jumped to the dance floor, holding our beer bottle and cocktails. We danced wild and we sang loud, closing our eyes and losing ourselves in the song, losing in the memory.

I'd hold you
I'd need you
I'd get down on my knees for you
And make everything alright
If you were in these arms

Picture courtesy: OTB FB Page and google

Thursday, June 30, 2016

One day in the life of a talented farmer

I had been telling him to leave his village. I had been persuading him to come to Thimphu and work here. This, I did persistently, loudly. If he’d work in Thimphu, I was thinking, he’d earn a bigger fortune. I know many others, who know Gyembo Namgyel, felt or did the same. 
Gyembo and me
I used to think, this talented man was a big waste in a remote village of Pemagatshel. For he is the most responsible and ethical Bhutanese journalist I’ve ever met. Besides, he is humble and knowledgeable person.

When we were working together at Bhutan Observer, he used to be very consistent and disciplined reporter. He would bring out pressing issues of eastern Bhutan, and through his stories, many lives were impacted (for better). Indeed, I had always aspired to write like him.

However, my telling fell on his deaf ears, my persuasion left ignored. Gyembo never left his village. Gyembo never came to Thimphu. This man was that adamant, believe it or not.
So last March, I visited him. Instead. At his home. In Pemagatshel. In fact, he was more than happy to host me.

Gyembo’s house was a beautiful one-story house with an intimate space, and a wide-open, free and fully alive surrounding. On my first looking, the place gave me so much of comfortable and peace feeling that I felt like my own.
That time it was a little before evening, and the day’s last sunrays was falling full on the house. Indeed, everything around was illuminated brightly golden.

Gyembo took me to his living room and offered tea. Surprisingly, the living room had neither television nor luxurious sofa set. It had simple wooden divans and chodrum, Bhutanese designed centre table. But I was amazed to see wooden shelves on the walls that were full of books and magazines.  
One of the book shelves
“This is my simple library. I collect books. I want to further grow this space,” he said, wearing a satisfied smile, as we sipped on tea.

His collection ranged from fictions to biographies, self-helps to romances, and classics to Bhutanese books. Astounded - to put my reaction in a word.

Gyembo wanted to show me his hard labour, so he took me behind the house. First he showed me his garden, which was growing abundant with fresh vegetables - onions, spinach, beans, green peas, coriander, etc.
Then this talented farmer showed me his main farm asset. Avocado. His face gleamed in pride and satisfaction as he showed avocado plants. There were over 33 plants and most of them were already bearing fruits. It’s a high-priced fruit with medicinal values.
Avocado fruits
“I lost most of my orange plants to pests,” said Gyembo, pointing at his dying citruses and delightfully added, “But this avocado is good replacement.”  

Gyembo also maintained a nursery of hundreds of avocado saplings. And each sapling sells at Nu 1,000.
Avocado saplings
After the exciting short farm tour, we returned to the living room. Outside, the darkness gradually wrapped itself around us and a soft wind blew, rustling the curtains. We grabbed a book each from the shelves and reading already.

Meanwhile, we talked about the books we read. We talked about our own writings. We discussed about our stories published in different newspapers, magazines and online. We conversed deep digging our intellectual curiosity, our creative endeavor. 
I was quite amazed at Gyembo. Living in the village, he could maintain a library and read so voraciously. Working at farms, he could manage to write often. I was more amazed when I found he was already writing a book.

His living is nothing extraneous, but altogether a highly refined and tasteful life. That’s why several high officials and VIPs from Thimphu visited his place, particularly to meet him. 

As the night grew deeper, we went on talking. Of course he has trodden this vale of life longer than me, so he gave me much-needed perspective. Listening to him, everything seemed right there. Seeing his orderly life, everything seemed to me simpler and wonderful.
Exactly when, I realized how wrong my life had been. We really not need to chase the illusion of having a better life in different place or position. In fact, we must make this place, this position right here “livable” and happier. It’s all in our hand.

That’s exactly what Gyembo is doing. 

Note: Some of the pictures taken by Tashi Penjor. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Magnificient Paro

This valley is mystical, very alluring. The land that is unlikely, unashamedly awe-inspiring and magnificent.  The valley of Paro. I walk this place often and I’ve watched it from the sky, sitting from its hilltop, and while on ride. OMG! It never fails to fascinate me. 

This is a paradise that gives chilips goose bumps while landing at the airport. And you can hear them screaming, looking outside the airbus window, “See! Beautiful! Wow!” Exactly when, your heart swells with both utmost love and pride.  

Well, I’ve visited a handful of the world’s highly sophisticated and developed countries. Still I want to, love to boast about my country, Bhutan. There’s no stopping to it though. That’s the strength of Bhutan.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dear Pemagatshelpas,

I’ve thought long where to begin this letter. For it’s very difficult to put my thoughts into words here. Still though, I ought to write this chit to you... coz I think I ought to, coz it’s so very urgent.

To tell you, a couple of months ago I’d visited your dzongkhag, fondly known as Pemagatshel, “Blissful land of the Lotus”. There was something about your place that forced me to think hard, something that is too unsavory, something too cruel. And something that unlikely forced me to write to you today.

So I bring to you this message from your homeland, i.e. your dear dzongkhag is sick. In fact, the place of your heart, your home has been suffering silently, feebly for the past three decades.

A cancer called mining has afflicted her, wounding and bruising most parts of her body. It’s gobbling her flesh, ruthlessly ripping the body apart. Her flesh and blood was being sucked out, far away in those jumbo trucks. Her entire body was undergoing very intense pain, trembling.

When I first saw her, I couldn’t believe it. For, I’d never laid my eyes at such painful scenes before. Instantaneously, a deep chill ran down my throat and I almost burst into tears.

Arriving at Pemagatshel, I felt like I’d landed not in Bhutan, at all. I felt I’d entered somewhere else, where the development policy was not GNH but greed and materialism - where the government ventures into evil mining projects even at the cost of ruining environment and its citizens’ health.

The monstrous machines would work at the wounded sites, producing eerie and frightening sound. Even the ride to Pemagatshel was very unpleasant, as the road was in a wretched condition, apparently injured by gypsum trucks.

During my stay there, she was trying to convey many things to me; in fact, she was trying hard to convince me to convey her grief-stricken message to you.

Hey Pemagatshelpas, how could you despise her when she was in such a miserable state? How could you settle in other parts of the world when your dzongkhag is sick and crying out for immediate treatment? How could you migrate to somewhere with an excuse to escape the hostile and aggressive environment?

When I heard there are so many of you - highly qualified, powerful and rich persons in the civil service, corporations, NGOs, INGOs and private sector - it started to bother me in a strange new way. And I became angry. This time not angry at the cancer called mining, but at you. Huh!

What’s the use of your education, high positions and wealth if you don’t bother to help and treat your own rightful birthplace and fellow-villagers? Can you really serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum when you do not heed to protecting your birthplace?

I know that you work dutifully for yourself and your family. But you know what? Our responsibility is more than that, and that’s called natural responsibility, as has been always reiterated by our beloved Kings.

Or, are you scared of speaking up against those big mining companies? Why should you be? Coz Pemagatshel is your birthplace, and you should love your birthplace unashamedly. Come what may, it’s birthright to protect it.

Or, are you trying to avoid it? But how could you avoid the tears of someone, something very close to you? How could you avoid the place where most of your upbringing was spent? How could you avoid the place that gave you your sense of belonging and identity?

By avoiding and remaining silent, you’re only supporting the cruelty and injustice. The truth is that the Blissful Land of the Lotus is suffering not coz of the mining, but from cruel deafness (from you).

I must explain to you, the mining has brought more harms than serving it purpose of utilizing the reserve for economic development of your dzongkhag and optimization of revenue to the government. The mining’s incessant noise, dust, running trucks and uproarious machines have mired the health and living condition of innocent local peasants, your own fellow-villagers.

Their only source of livelihood, crops and vegetables, was affected. Suffocated by the dust and loud noise, everyday they experience unlikely prickly bitter hot weather. The lush green environment was degrading, irreparably.

Well, statistics don’t lie! The mining sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy is at a mere two percent. Pemagatshel received mining activity since 1983, but quite ironically, your dzongkhag still has second highest level of poverty. Only a handful of individuals have been benefited.

Your dzongkhag longs for your embrace and hug. She needs immediate nursing and treatment from you. After all, only you can nurse her, protect her.

Dear Pemagatshelpas, there’s no task too difficult, no distance too far. It’s only matter of priority and how much you care for your root. If you want to be real happy and proud, you have to go back, to be feeling, to be facing.

You should unite together and raise your voice against the mining or ask the government to end such cancerous mining operation in your dzongkhag. Break the silence and make all the appropriate noises - loud and with conviction. The Blissful Land of the Lotus will still be a better place.

Yours charo
Riku Dhan Subba

P.S. You cannot serve the country if you cannot be loyal to your root.

Khotakpa Gypsum Mining; Picture by Tashi Penjor
A mining in Pemagatshel

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sharing his life through arts

How do you imagine your life without art? How do you imagine this world without art? I started asking these questions after I had attended a Solo Art Exhibition at Nehru-Wangchuk Centre in Thimphu very recently.
Artist and me
Of course, how barren and shallow our existence would be without creative arts and expressions, isn’t it?

With the support from the Department of Information and Media, MoIC, Artist Dorji Gyeltshen put up an exhibition of his arts for 10 days (April 25-May 5). In fact, it’s one of the best non-existing contemporary art exhibitions I had ever attended.
Very vibrant and colourful, the arts were so deeply rich and enthralling. Dorji’s acrylic and watercolour paintings are diverse and connect very well into the concepts of Buddhism, our landscapes and nature, and time.

The more I stayed at the exhibition hall, the more engrossed I was. The more I looked at the arts, the deeper meaning I could derive. The more I admired the arts, the more I could connect to the arts and artist. And I became happier, contend.
That was the power of Dorji’s arts. That was the power of this art exhibition.

Arts can not only bring aesthetic pleasure to our life and enrich our cultural heritage, but they contribute to the quality of life and wellbeing. That’s what I learned from Dorji’s arts.
Dorji Gyeltshen, 32, is one of the founding members of VAST Bhutan in 1998. Asha Karma, Founder of VAST Bhutan, has tutored him. He had also conducted Solo Art Exhibition in Singapore and Sherubtse College in the past.

On the art exhibition booklet, the artist wrote, “My artistic expression is a way for me to share my life and my vulnerabilities with others.”
Tiger's Nest painting
“I live through joy and sorrow, courage and fear, strength and weakness, love, pain, life and death. These are fundamental values that characterize all human existence, and….these human experiences are the subject I like to share with the world,” he stated.