Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Poor Rich Man

It was early March, the season on which the temperature has risen in Thimphu, bringing the first true warm of the year. I waited for taxi near RIM, Semtokha gate after meeting one of my friends from the institute. The dusk had already fallen. Finding a taxi plying to Thimphu from Semtokha after the sunset was really hard, I presumed.

After waiting for 30 minutes an old Maruti-van taxi came. It stopped near me.

“Thimphu?” I inquired the cabbie. And he nodded. The cabbie was a pale, lean but tall man of late 30s. He wore a faded gho without lagey and few of his front teeth were missing. He has got a long chin which reminded me of malnourished-version of Phub Thinley (Bhutanese film comedian).

Mera dilbi kitna pagal hai…Bar shamuney jab tum atey ho, kuch bhi kehainey se darta hu… an old Hindi song from the rusted cassette player on the music box system tied with a plastic rope flared so loudly.

As I entered, I scanned the interiors of the van. It has only right-side rear mirror and no floor mats. Even the road was visible from the holes of the taxi. Battery and tape record’s wires were visibly naked and were clubbed together with brown cello tape. This reminded me of the 1980s-old Hindi song, lean-pale driver and condition-less van.

“You know lad, this is my favorite song,” the cabbie exclaimed as he sped his car. But as he accelerated, the van produced louder terrible sound, hopefully not the speed. Even the fully loaded trucks overtook us.

“When I was young like you this was a hit song. Its lyric is very pleasant and touching,” he added sounding very filmy.

“I don’t like modern songs. They are too noisy and nonsensical,” he justified in stark hatred as if his wife had been stolen by the modern songs.

After changing the second gear, his cell phone screeched in his pocket. It is a black and white phone as the green light blinked on the screen.

When we reached the junction to Semtokha Dzong, two young men got into the taxi. I knew later that they were ILCS trainees as they wore decent ghos and spoke in pure Dzongkha.

In a while, an old man in rag hailed the cab. As he entered, a gust of nauseating smell swept the taxi. A mix of dirt and sweats stomach-churned all other fellow passengers. The trainees covered their noses and mouths with lagey.

Betel-reddened mouth, this old man wore a ravaged brown jacket, a tainted Dhaka Sale trek pant and rubber shoes on his feet. To me, he appeared like an exploited mining labour or a dismayed vagabond in desperate search of a plate of rice.

He looked uneducated, close-minded and definitely without any ambition. All the poverty and adversity of the world were inscribed on his expression.

Apparently, my interest shifted from the comic-like cabbie to this newly arrived passenger and I watched this old man, strangely interested.

He stayed mute, not uttering a word until he called the cabbie to stop at Olakha. I was happy, most definitely, as I would be unleashed of this unbearable torture-the rotten smell.

“Meme, tiru nga
,” the cabbie demanded the taxi fare from the old man. The old man foraged his pockets, and told the cabbie he has no money.

The cabbie got angry and threatened the meme to call the police. My mind irked as these two men started fighting for Nu 5, a little amount even a two-month old baby carries these days.

I interrupted these men and told the driver, “Aw, I will pay meme’s fare.”

Then we moved away. But the cabbie stared at me rather hostilely and asked, “Why did you volunteer to pay that old man’s fare?” He grimaced at me and shook his head as if I had murdered that old man.

Uneasy and speechless, I shrunk to the van’s corner.

After a long eerie silence, the cabbie informed, “You know, that old man is not as what you see him. He has four buildings in Olakha and three passenger buses.”

I was stabbed at hearing this. Surprise, disbelief, thrill, all crushed in my mind. I just wondered in dismay that how a man in rag, discontent looks and wholly illiterate having this huge wealth.

“This is not the first time he refuse pay taxi fare. He always does this to cheat the taxi drivers,” the cabbie announced as we reached the town.

For the first time in my life I learned that a man with such a huge wealth can still be pitifully poor and discontent-poorer than poor. I just thought, amazed, that this old man was pathetic rich man, a man who thinks that his wealth remains with him forever.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drayang: To ban or not to ban?

After the public of Paro made a hullabaloo to the National Assembly about drayangs causing social problems, a few MPs suggested an outright ban on drayangs. The discussion even rose to the length where Layog Lyonpo promised to guarantee jobs for all the girls working in drayangs if the industry closes down. Following are the selected opinions I pulled out from various online forums regarding the ban of drayangs in Bhutan:
  Photo: Business Bhutan

Ban drayangs:

1. Cause of all Evils

A socially concerned writer asserted that drayang is the “major source of all our social problems”. The author declared that drayangs are the place where “sexual harassment” and “exploiting…young girls” are rampant despite “strict rules and regulations for the operation of the business.” In drayangs “customers lack the moral conduct” and sexually abuse young girls. The author affirmed that “This place is cause of all evils,” a place where many “married people get divorced.”

2. Drayangs: another form of Prostitution

Several writers online say that the drayangs are the hub for “commercial sex” affirming that “drayangs are perceived as the only business in Bhutan in which prostitution and brothel are legalized.” One of them warned, “Drayangs…is one step closer to becoming a brothel in future, therefore, it should be banned.”

3. Immoral conducts

Here is a man who visited a drayang and was stunned. He wrote, “I have visited a drayang once and was surprised see the girls dancing drunk and sitting on the thighs of [male] customers.” He also wrote, “I have seen many of my friends going there to see gals [only].”

4. Against Buddhism and GNH

There is a group of religious-minded people who felt that the establishment of drayangs in Bhutan is against our religion, Buddhism. One of them wrote, “….we all being Buddhist I feel that it’s not good to have such an entertaining place where alcohols, smoking, immoral conducts is propagated.”

5. Drayangs benefit small section of the society
Some wrote that drayang industry benefits only a small section of our society but earns humiliation for our country. “It is becoming a kind of livelihood for thickheaded people on selling somebody’s flesh….the proprietors are misusing their employees…a sinful act,” wrote one.

6. Why rules cannot stop drayang disharmony

Few believe that no operating regulations can uproot the misbehaviors of the drayangs. “No laws; however, stringent can be applied effectively on the ground that foremost motive of this organization is money,” wrote one. He added, “drayang owners who are to be directly accountable for the safety of their employees cannot guarantee 100 % safety to their employees.”

7. Prevention is better than cure

A larger chunk of the online users suggested that prevention is better than cure regarding the ban of the drayang. “Right now Bhutan doesn’t have much drayangs and it is right time to stop such thing in a country,” wrote one of them.

Don’t ban drayangs:

1. NA discussion lacked understanding of the issue

Most people are against the idea of outright closing down of drayangs as discussed in the last NA session. A writer wrote, “The discussion lacked depth, sensitivity and understanding of the issue and was driven more with… indignation rather than pragmatic logic.”

The writer further explained, “To expect Bhutan to open up to the outside world, to modernize, to increase the number of tourists, to meet the ever increasing costs of living, and still remain pure and untouched is both impractical and unrealistic.”

2. Sign of economical development

Many feel and see that drayang as a sign of economical development and have been benefiting our society. One of them wrote, “….the drayang as package of development” and “Give jobs to those jobless.” It also makes “….contribution to the economy as well helping to generate the revenue and income distribution,” wrote another.

A male writer sees drayangs as one of the platforms for young girls to “show their talents.”

3. Discouraging private sector
Some felt that the government is going against the policy of private sector development while uprooting drayang industry. “To close down drayang is that our government was discouraging private sector in the country.”

4. Closing down is more problem than solution

Majority felt that closing down of the drayangs is only a short-term solution, not the right remedy. “Closing down is more problem than solution,” one of them wrote adding, “Banning is not a solution because it will manifest on one or other form. It is an entertainment industry that comes with development so there is no way we can stop it from growing.”

Some practical measures to curb social disharmony caused by drayangs:

1. Provide jobs to unemployed out-of-school youth

A regular blogger recommended that “…the women working in drayangs already have jobs. So they don’t need his [the labour minister] bold assurances. Unemployed youth, on the other hand, would welcome his guarantees. After all, they are the ones who are desperate for work.” Then he proposed to “provide out-of-school youth gainful employment. Then they themselves would choose not to work in drayangs.”

2. Empower the employees of the drayangs

A writer suggested empowering drayang employees through “proper education, control health risks and legal protection.” All those working in drayangs should be educated and sensitized on existing rules and their rights, according to the writer. The writer also felt that closing down of drayangs will only drive the activities into the dark alleys and shady bars where drugs are a common place.

3. Ensure safe environment

An architect felt that ensuring safe environment for those working in drayangs is imperative. “These drayangs should not be in the bars, or drayangs should not sell alcohols and other stuffs. This industry should remain clean and should have bouncers and guards to avoid fights and other problems,” marked him.

4. Develop strong rules and regulation

However, many suggested the most pragmatic solution for us to safeguard our society from the defamations caused by drayangs is to ensure strict licensing and operating rules and regulations that should be strictly complied with.

One of them wrote, “If the drayangs are not functioning the way they are supposed to…and…if the girls performing. …are being mistreated by the customers and the owners, then to me this speaks of two things. One, are the current rules and regulations governing the…functioning of these drayangs are not adequate and enough. Two…the existing rules and regulations…not being enforced properly.”

Drayangs are the place of entertainment where young boys and girls work for their livelihoods. Poverty and destitution forced them into this profession. They are vulnerable to money, sex, drugs and other crimes. We have a moral obligation to protect this young group of people and empower them of their rights. Prohibition cannot put end to the social problems caused by this industry. We have to accept this drayang culture (an inevitable social development) and deal it with most learned manner.

The role of the water in the lives of Umlingpas

It’s a four-hour walk from Gelephu town. Though I’ve lived in Gelephu, I’ve never been to Umling. Growing up, I heard people say it‘s beautiful. So I thought perhaps the day’s come for me to see the place and a friend who teaches there. It was two years ago when I was working with Bhutan Observer.
The people of Umling are tanned. They wear their ghos high above their knees and carry rug sacks on their backs. As the sun started setting, I packed my things and looked for the people of Umling in Gelephu town.

It was a hot afternoon. The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds and as I was sweating, I saw a man wearing a gho way above his knees. He must be an Umlingpa, I reckoned.

I asked him, “Are you from Umling?” He nodded and said his name was Ngawang. I requested Ngawang if I could tag along with him to Umling. He agreed, but on the condition that I helped him carry a load or two. So I received a small carton while he carried a Umlingpas huge rucksack.

“Umling is a beautiful place but we have a lot of problems during the summer,” Ap Ngawang said. I announced my credentials as we started walking away from the town. “Bhutan Observer?” he jolted, as if he had been threatened.

Then he said, “Private newspaper?” He was awestricken and asked me again, “How many newspapers are there?” I said there were three. He turned away and murmured “Oh, man! Our country is developing!”

He said before we start the journey, we’ve to charge ourselves as the route is very long. We entered a bar and he ordered two bottles of beer and a plate of juma. My head swung. The weight on my back became lighter and softer as we left the crowded and dusty town behind us.

As we moved further, I found more and more tanned people wearing short ghos and carrying large sacks. Some of them were singing while others were carrying huge loads; a few were drunk and lying on the footpath.

As we walked, we passed a long paddy field. A few minutes later, I saw a big river; it was the Maokhola over which the Gelephu MP promised to build 2.5 km long motor bridge. A long bamboo bridge connects the two banks. “When the river swells during summer, this bridge will be washed away and we’ll have to use boats.Sometimes even the boats don’t work when there are strong currents,” Ap Ngawang said, as we were crossing the bridge.
                                                                         Pic: Temporary Bridge

“Every year, the river claims more than two lives.” He continued. After that, we crossed several streams. Now I know the reason why Umlingpas wear their ghos above their knees. It’s not because they do not follow Drig Lam Namzhag, it is because of the streams.

At Chuzangang, we climbed a hillock. As soon as we scaled the summit a woman cried, “Come on, we have bangchang, beer, juma, and momo!” She was underneath a small plastic sheet of a hut, displaying the beverages. Ap Ngawang put down his green bag on a huge stone and asked me to come with him. He ordered two bottles of bangchang and two plates of momo. We were reenergized. The rest of the walk was a blur.
                                                                             Pic: Place to recharge
When we reached Barthang, half way to Umling, the rains poured down furiously. I enjoyed the rainy wet walk. Several people started to join us; we looked like a band of gypsies. It was a rapturous walk. Perhaps the wine and the water did that.

“We have to carry the goods ourselves because the vehicles cannot cross the rivers in summer,” Aum Lhaden, a tall woman from Lingar, said.

Another woman, Lemo, recalled a bitter experience. “My brother had broken his leg after he fell down from a tree. We have one BHU in Umling, so he was forwarded to Gelephu hospital. But he had to wait for two days as the boat couldn’t cross the river because of the strong currents and the rains,” she said.
We crossed two long suspension bridges in the Taklaikhola River.

Another bottle of bangchang and I hardly knew how I crossed the longest suspension bridges in the country.

As the crimson sun stood in the west, we reached Umling. The entry to Umling was heralded by clean air, soft green grass, and beautiful hills with streams and brooks snaking everywhere. Long paddy and maize fields, beetle nut trees and banana plants surrounded the tin roofs and wooden walls of the houses. Cows grazed contentedly nearby.

As I stopped to admire an exceptionally beautiful place, Ap Ngawang called me to a shop, “Before going home, lad, we’ve to get charged one last time.”

It seems the reason Umlingpas wear their ghos high is not just the river, streams, brooks and rainfalls outside; it’s also the wine that flows inside.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pay Hike’s Post-Madness

Karma Dendup is a grade 8 civil servant in Thimphu. He pays monthly house rent of Nu 6,500 and another Nu 3,000 for groceries. Every month, a balance of Nu 2,000 remains in his pocket which is only enough to fill the gas in his car. Whenever the opportunity knocks he resorts to corruption because he has to live up to the lifestyle of the city.

Recently, the news on the pay hike by 20 percent made him happy. He thought he could at least earn Nu 2,000 more.

But he was shocked when his house rent has been increased to Nu 7,000 soon after the pay rise was announced. His monthly grocery expenditures also increased to Nu 4,000 as the price of the goods skyrocketed. He felt helpless. Even after his salary being raised by 20 percent, he was as helpless as before.

Paradoxically, in the last parliament session the finance minister appealed to the house owners and shopkeepers not to increase the house rent and the price of goods explaining that the pay rise was not huge. However, the house rent and price of the goods soared up frantically. Did any of the house owners and shopkeepers listen to the finance minister’s earnest appeal?

What’s wrong with the existing system?

Every time the government raises the pay scale, the house owners and shopkeepers go mad. It seems that the government raises the profit for the house owners and shopkeepers, but not pay increment for the public servants. It is for these two groups of people to pay back their loans fast and to make lump sum profit.

So, what our policymakers should realize is that they should build up some practical strategic mechanisms or regulatory bodies to curb post-madness of the pay rise.

Firstly, they should review the existing “dormant” Tenancy Act and implement it vibrantly by educating the tenants and house owners on its usefulness and clauses.

Secondly and most importantly, the MoWHS should form an agent or organization to look after the housing affairs in the country. Empowered to look into the housing matters in the country autonomously, the agent should possess efficient number of professionals and technicalities in architectures.

Every building leasing its apartments on rent should be made compulsory to register with this body. It should look and study each of the apartments of the registered building and fix the rent according to the size and amenities of the apartments, location, etc of the building. The fixed rent should be strictly followed by both the parties and is to be raised 10 percent after two years only.

Those house owners whose apartments are empty or whose buildings are under construction should also register with the agent about the date of vacating time and date of completion. So, those apartment hunters can consult the agent directly instead of knocking each door regarding the vacant apartments.

This agent can also help those who wanted to exchange an apartment at Babesa to Motithang or for those wanting to exchange an apartment at Jungshina to Changzamtog.

Many other unnecessary problems of the tenants and house owners can be solved. For example, a bachelor who is occupying a huge apartment can register with the agent in want of a small bachelor quarter or those with huge family occupying a small apartment can exchange with the bachelor. Or those wanting to share the apartment can also register with the agent, so any interested person who is interested to share the apartment can apply here. Moreover, it can help generating gainful job opportunities.

Thirdly, landowners can also lease out their houses as Paying Guest (PG) so that the new office goers need not take the burden of renting a huge apartment and paying bulky amount for the rent.

Lastly, the trade and industry office should issue as many business licenses (except bar license) to the interested business entrepreneurs to avoid monopolistic market. This can, definitely, bring greater and healthy competition in the market helping retain the price of the goods. The trade authority should also strictly regulate the MRP of each necessity goods.

Note: This is a collective work of Rekkha Monger, RIM and myself.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rs displaced Nu

Conversation 1: “What is the price of this? Rs 450?” a girl buying sandals asked the shopkeeper. “No! It is Rs 550, but you can take it @ Rs 500,” replied the shopkeeper. This is a conversation between a shopkeeper and his customer at Thimphu Market.

Conversation 2: “Aw, song request la. Please! Only Rs 100 for one song la,” a drayang girl was enticing her customer.

Conversation 3: “I want to fax Rs 8,000 to Trashigang. What is the charge?” inquired a man to an official behind the Post Office’s counter to fax his money. “Rs 420,” responded the official.

Conversation 4: “Bro, what’s the balance in your cell phone? I have an urgent call to make,” asked a lad to his buddy. “Rs 15,” retorted his friend and lent the phone.

Conversation 5: A daughter demanded her father, “Dad, give me Rs 700. I want to buy a short.”

Conversation 6: “You visit Om Bar. It’s a cool place. A bottle of Wedding Bells costs only Rs 150,” a RJ was talking to his female fan on air.

What wrong have you noticed from the above six different conversations?
There is discomfiture and foreignness in every conversation. This is what Bhutanese speak everyday, everyday committing mistakes. Rs, Rs…and Rs. We forget our own Ngultrum. We always use Rs for Ngultrum every time we have to deal with money or talk relating to money.

Last week, I attended a very important Workshop concerning the nation’s plans and policies. A handful of chilips was also attending it. A few officials of Executive Level made presentations, and it was quite embarrassing that they frequently uttered “Rs 7 lakhs”, “Rs 200 millions”.

There are also some Bhutanese manufacturing industries that don’t use our currency name on the packaged cover of the goods. For example, a local produced bread has the price marked on its cover, “Rs 15”.

Also, we frequently come across Rs in official letters like Note Sheet, Proposals, sanction order, Memo, etc.

But who is to blame for this?

Last week when I was solving Class IV mathematics problems for my nephew (student of Rinchen Kuenphen PS), I came across that the whole text book was Indian Education Curriculum based. “Mahesh has Rs 150. He gave away Rs 50 to his friend. Now, how much he has in his hand?” one of the problems from the text book reads.

Isn’t it high time for MoE to revise the school text books? The borrowed text books from India implant foreign diction in our youth which impairs our identity.

To avoid this error, all the school text books should be revised and the syllabus should be aligned with Bhutanese context.

There is also need to implement stringent laws on using Ngultrum on every official document or letter. Officials of all agencies or media organizations should be strictly directed to use Ngultrum, and anyone violating the directives should be dealt according to the rules.

Friday, November 26, 2010

He is not a man if he beats a woman

Yesterday, 25th November, was International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women. It is, indeed, a great honour for me to help eliminate domestic violence from our society. I write this article to work along with women to fight against the prejudicial harassment and unending abuse on them.
         Photo: Beng J.

Domestic violence, as Wikipedia defines is a “domestic abuse, spousal abuse or intimate partner violence”. This means a husband beating his wife is domestic violence; boyfriend hitting his girlfriend is domestic violence and father kicking his daughter is domestic violence, or vice-versa. And in our society of alcoholism and high rate of promiscuity, the incidence of domestic violence is very rampant. But who are the victims? Mostly weak, disadvantaged women and children!

Most women in relationships where domestic violence takes place have no escapism from the abuse. Factors like children, money, alienation or absence of family or friends who can provide support weigh heavily in a women’s decision to attach to it

Why men beat women?

"Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.” Quran 4:34

Don’t Bhutanese men have stereotype mentality that they are “superior” to their wives because they work outside, earn and feed their wives? Women can’t work outside and earn like a man. That they can only stay at home, cook and nurse the kids, dependent on men for wealth. My neighbor was an orthodox who always demeans his wife. “Shut up! Don’t talk and act smart being a woman and kid,” he states whenever his wife shares her views on issues concerning the family. He drains the self-esteem of his wife, a woman, comparing her to a kid.

Like Quran states, Bhutanese men have this perception that women are supposed to be inferior and “obedient” to men and if they misbehave or show a slight act of denial or revolt “beat them” ruthlessly. It is in men’s blood to beat their wives because our ancestors have been doing the same! Many men treat their wives as their sandbag. He has an affairs with another woman, he returns home. He finds a mistake that the rice his wife offered him is too hot or too cold. He bashes up her untill she faints. This is only way to chase her out of his house. But she can't leave as she has no where to go. Such ingrained practices should be removed.

Empowering women with providing education, jobs and making severe law for the wife beaters may eliminate domestic violence, but we see even some office-going women are beaten so frequently. Now let's propagate a culture that a man who beats his wife is a coward. Such men are to be proclaimed as sub-man or sub-human because they can’t find a real man to beat on.

Men’s excuse!

Men claimed that the reason they beat their wives is that women are “nagging” and talk “rubbish”. It is just a lame excuse of yours. Men, you should have the endurance to withstand the nagging. If you can’t, you should not have married her. Once you hit a woman, you have no justification left. Because they don’t have the strength to provoke violence from you, so there is no way you can claim self defense. If she raises a weapon against you, then, she is insane. And take appropriate steps.

Next time even she hits you or throws things at you, just endure. They are weaker sex, delicate. Even her ten blows is just a fall of peach on your shoulder from its tree.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Close of Autumn

That the beauty of Autumn begone!

Look into your garden, you will see flowers withering!

Look around your house or office, you will see tree leaves turned yellow, dry and falling on ground!

Monday, November 15, 2010

As lonely, as weird, as extraordinary as my name

I was a lonely and a shy lad when young, certainly companionless and lacking self-esteem. I had no pair for my name, Riku. When I was first admitted in a primary school I found scores of Tsherings, Sonams, Kumars and Lal Bahadurs. Moreover, they were plenty back in my village and often heard in movies and radio. They are very common and admirable, though. But I have never heard and met a person of my name. This singleness of my name dislocated my stand and detached me from our society. 

Furthermore, my own name had isolated me from my family. My father and all my four big brothers are Bahadurs. I felt, at times, I was an alien or adopted.
In the schools I earned all sorts of humiliations and harassments due to my ludicrous name. My teachers and classmates pronounced my name differently from the way my parent say it. My teachers always pronounced it Rudu and they laughed. I was bitterly angry to hear my name being pronounced so mindlessly, incorrectly. Again my classmates jeered at me during the breaks, “Kuri Kuri!” which in Nepali is, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Every break I was trying to avoid such nasty remarks and embarrassments.

I passed Class IV and was admitted to Class V. My new class teacher was a Dzongkha lopon, a strict disciplinarian. We again went through the same ritual of introducing ourselves. After the first row had finished, the second row started and ultimately it was my turn. I was nervous; my name is so weird and hard to understand.

Hesitantly, I introduced myself, “My name is Riku enla.” The lopon went mad instantly. He jumped at me like a ferocious tiger shouting, “You are kidding me? What’s your name lo? Tupu lo?” Oh God! He misheard my name. Tupu, he heard, meaning very dirty part of women’s body. As he ran towards me to bash, I dashed out of the classroom. Later my classmates explained him about my name. Tears springing to my eyes, I went to my parents that evening and asked why they gave me this wicked name. I told them that I hate this name and wanted a new name, a good one. But they told me that my name was given by my grandpa who died right after giving me the name and they can’t change it. But they consoled me saying that I am always Kaley (my pet name) for them.

Riku started sounding ridiculous to my ears. Like this name, like its oddness, I too felt very absurd and ostracized. I started hating writing my name at the bottom of my applications or essays or painting I made. I felt awkward to say “Hi, I am Riku”. I hate my name because it has nothing to do with who I am, that is neither Lhotsham nor Drukpa.

My name has been always a chronic pain for me. Every time I register my name while traveling or booking a lodge or visiting offices I undergo the same frustrating agitation. Whenever the officials behind the counter ask me for my name, experience had taught me to take out my CID card and show it to them right away. Because every time they ask my name, I always have to make them understand the name first, then to pronounce it correctly and spell it correctly. It requires quite energy to complete the task.

Attending job interview was also discomfiture for me. I was attending RCSC viva voce, several years back. There were four panel members led by a head. I prepared hard for the interview, was very confident. But as soon as I introduced myself to them I lost all my confidence. The panel head tried uttering my name, “Ri…tu”. He stressed on “tu”. Other panel members started giggling; however, the head of the panel suggested addressing me as Mr. Subba for the interview. Nervous, I forgot everything.

In another incident, I met a minister in Thimphu. He inquired my name. I replied him courteously, "Riku la." Angry, he responded, "I am not in a mood to joke. I didn't ask for your nickname." He gave me a sarcastic wink and left.

The bizarre of my name never stopped demeaning until 2008, the year of Coronation and Centenary celebration. I took part in Tarathon, a 30-day marathon race from Trashigang to Thimphu initiated by an English couple, lecturers at Sherubtse College, to mark the glorious celebration. At the end of the event, the Tarathoners were received by HRH Queen Mother Azhi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck at the Druk Hotel in Thimphu. After a banquet, the Queen Mother awarded the merit certificates to us. When my name was called, Queen Mother glanced at my certificate and said to me, “Your name is very extraordinary. I think you are as extraordinary as your name.”

These two majestic inspirational lines from the Queen Mother invoked by my name (which has been debasing me) brought immense gush of delight and revelry in me. For the first time in my life this infamous name made me so extraordinary and ecstatically proud.

That moment I looked up in the heaven and shouted at my grandpa, “Thank you, Grandpa!” and I exclaimed in excitement, “Is this what you mean from the extraordinary name you gave me in your deathbed?”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When VIP visit a remote school

A very important person (VIP) from the Ministry of Health and Education was visiting Tingtibi Primary School in Zhemgang. Rumors had it that this VIP was visiting all the schools in the dzongkhag. But the purpose of his visit was never known. Neither had we bothered to ask as we would be so engrossed playing marbles during the breaks and picking up oak nuts after school. I was in Class II. And it was 1994.
                                                                  Photo courtesy: Karma Tshering Samdrup 
Tingtibi Primary School was a remote school in Zhemgang. It had no proper academic blocks-only a concrete room and a toilet for the faculty. All the classrooms were bagos (walls made of raw woods and roofs with flattened bamboo). Shortage of textbooks in the school resulted in sharing of one textbook among five to six students. There were only five teachers for the eight different classes in the school. Often supporting staff like librarian and games instructor had to replace the teacher shortage.  

Frequently students suffered from the seasonal epidemic diseases like typhoid, dysentery and scabies due to shortage of drinking water. There was no electricity and motor road was inaccessible. Students had to walk for more than three hours to reach the school. 
A couple of days before the VIP’s visit, the school headmaster aka HIV to the students made an announcement in the morning assembly to clean and beautify the school. [The students called him HIV not connoting the incurable disease’s abbreviation but hair on his head was vanishing day after day, thus the name ‘Hair Is Vanishing’ (HIV)].  

It was March and the weather was still cold as the stroke of winter hadn’t left and the hot summer too far. We gathered in the assembly ground to be assigned with works. Class II students were informed to bring a sickle each to cut down the huge mass of larger-than-life bushes above the school blocks. Stronger students, especially boys from Class IV were sent with a spade and a crowbar each to maintain the farm road linking the school from the nearest road. (This narrow farm road was usually muddy and slippery inhibited by leeches and snakes). 

Another class whitewashed classrooms’ walls. And girls were allocated to broom and tidy the assembly ground, classrooms and drains. They also maintained the school flower gardens. More importantly, we were also informed to wash our uniforms and fold it cleaned. 

HIV, the headmaster had stopped the supply of drinking water in the school a week ago as the school had to keep the water tanks full for the visiting VIP. For drinking and washing plates, we were to visit a spring water near the Mangdechu River which was about two kilometers away from the school.  

Students were also forbidden from using the school toilet to keep the toilet clean and free from unpleasant smell. (There was only one school toilet for both boys and girls). Instead we were told to visit the bushes and forest over a stiff cliff beyond the school fence for defecating and urinating. And we had to defecate clinging over a branch or root of the tree to support ourselves from falling and rolling down over the cliff.   

Some students put up the welcome gate and spread multi-colored poplin clothes over the footpath fence. Other students collected pine tree needles and blanketed the ground and the footpath. 

The otherwise poor school looked strangely abundant and beautiful. The dusty school footpath was blanketed with the glittering pine needles. The stinking toilet was blocked temporally, the flower garden beautifully maintained, the farm road to school was improved and upgraded and the water tank was full. Everything was picture-perfect! 

The VIP had come, eventually. He arrived riding a handsome horse. His forehead shone against the bright strong sun when he was welcomed grandiosely by all the faculty members and student representatives. He looked fresh and happy and walked on the pine needled footpath to the school’s assembly ground. He glimpsed at the whitewashed school blocks consecutively in an uninterrupted manner. He was all smiles as he glanced at the well maintained flower gardens and the young students in sparkling uniforms. Then he gave a grand speech, 

I am very much impressed…Your school is very beautiful. The students are very healthy and smart. I don’t see any problem here…Everything is perfect here.”  

These remarks brought an instant radiance of accomplishment on HIV’s stressed face. After the speech and a few cultural items, a feast was served to the students. Then the VIP thanked and felicitated all the teachers, especially the HIV for keeping the school so perfect. 

The VIP left. After a few weeks the whitewashed walls discolored, worn out and wore the same dreadful looks as before, the drainage system re-accumulated dirt and flies, and the flowers in the gardens withered again. The bush above the school grew into a jumbo, the water tank remained empty and the water tap went dry again and the school toilet started stinking. Still five teachers for eight different classes and five to six students shared a textbook.

But after the VIP’s visit, one thing changed! We heard HIV has been transferred. He got promotion. He has been promoted as the Dzongkhag Education Officer, somewhere. But, the students gave him another nickname: Doma Eating Officer (DEO) for his doma chewing habit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Every dog has its own day

Today you were in southern Bhutan or any Hindu land and you call someone "Kukur" or you just kick a dog or chase it away, you will be brutally bashed instantly.
Because today is the kukur (dog) tihar-Tihar and Dogs (2nd Tihar Day). In sountern Bhutan and to all Hindu countries, Kukur (Dogs) are adorned with flower garland around their necks, red tika on their forehead, and are offered great meals. They are the king of the day!

On this day, people pray to the Kukur to guard their homes. Usually there are lots of Kukur running around in the streets in search of a loving home. You can find them on streets and in your backyards, but on this day, even the most unsightly Kukkur will be treated like a king, everyone has a day.

Tihar is also about breaking the boundaries only men created, "The Good", "The Bad", "The Ugly", and all but same to the mother nature! In Hinduism it is believed that Kukur guard's the underworld empire just like it guards our everyday homes!. Tihar is about loving Kukurs too!

To trust or not to trust

“Please! Please! Madam, last chance…laaas chance, madam,” a 10-year old lad was pitifully pleading the librarian. He was caught stealing five different books in my office’s library of Department of Youth and Sports. Lean and pale, the lad looked very nervous, shivering so vibrantly. The librarian even threatened him to call his school principal regarding his theft.

Each time he pleads that I discovered something… matter of concern and genuineness in this lad. I told the librarian, instantly, that I will handle the lad. I took him to my office. But he stood behind the door, frightened, and begged me, “Please! Please! Last chance, sir”. He thought that I was calling him in my office to punish him.
                                                                        Pic: The boy

I inquired about his school and the class he reads. He replied, “And…and…and….” Then he was lost into nervousness, again. Perhaps he forgot what I asked him. I told him that I would neither call his principal nor punish him, but just reassured him in a friendly tone that I wanted to know about his school and class. “And…and…” he went on but this time he could gush out next few words, “…and…I study…study?” He was not sure again, I nodded my head in assurance and he continued, “… Zilukha School…and…and…class three.”

I was also curious to ask him why he was stealing the books. But I couldn’t be so blunt and daren’t. Instead I asked him about his parents. He told me that his father is the night guard at Changlimithang Stadium and his mother is an ill woman, always bedridden. He narrated that every morning he has to wake up early, cook breakfast for his two younger brothers and prepare packed lunch before going to school.

“Your father buys you books?” I asked him. He replied me sincerely, “And…yesterday I asked my father for a picture book and a packet of crayon…and… he just kicked me…and…and…told me to shut up.” The lad told me he is enthusiastically fond of painting, so when he didn’t get the painting materials from his parents he resorts to stealing. “And…he also never buys me notebooks. I have no notebooks to write my homework. That’s why I stood second this year in my class. Last year I came first,” he informed me.

I just wanted to help this lad. I gave him a packet each of crayon, colour pencils and sketch pens with half ream of A4 papers. But I gave him homework too: to do a painting on a sheet of paper and bring it to me after one week. Certainly, I didn’t expect that he would come back to me.

I took him to a grocery shop nearby my office and bought him three notebooks and a packet of pencils to do his homework and told him to come first in his next exam.

Then a challenging moment came when this boy asked me the same book that he tried to steal from the library. We went to the library. He took me to a shelf and showed me the book. It’s a picture illustration book. He wanted to take the book home and learn painting from the book. I asked the librarian about the marked price of the book. She told me it costs pound sterling 16. It is very expensive, more than 1,200 bucks in Bhutanese currency.

The librarian recognized the lad and cried at me, “You want to issue the book to this boy? He won’t return it. He always steals books. He is a liar.” She punctured my trust on this lad. I turned back to the lad and looked at his small face; to trust or not to trust was the question, then.

However, his simplistic innocent attitude reassured and earned my full trust on him. I told the librarian to issue the book to the lad in my name. “If he didn’t return the book I will refund it,” I took the risk. Still hesitant, she warned me, “I am reminding you, don’t trust this boy.”

The book was issued to him. I told him to return the book after one week with his homework. The boy went out looking back at me again and again, and then ran away.

Next day, then, I was very busy in my office. Suddenly, a gentle knock on the door shook me from the busyness. The lad was standing behind the door; smiley and delighted. A friend of his was also behind him.

He ran towards me and proudly exclaimed that he finished his painting. He showed me, a beautifully crafted art of a majestic ship harmoniously sailing over an unfathomable sea. His picture touched my otherwise stressed heart and I felt like crying out in sheer happiness and joy. In a while he rummaged his satchel and took out the library book he took from the library yesterday and handed it over to me and expressed his gratitude, “Thank you, sir.” I just went close to him and hugged him, overjoyed, and whispered in his ears, “You made me proud, lad.”                                 
                                                           Picture: Art by the boy

But he has another request. He and his friend want to try on water colour painting. I gave them a packet of water colours and brushes, a chart paper each and told them to bring their paintings after three days. Later, I framed his painting in a wooden photo frame and proudly hung it in my office.

Again the next day he came with six other friends. It became a challenging job for me to take care of all these seven people in my office besides my busy administrative works. These guests became out of control and intolerable. It’s very difficult for me to handle all these kids every day and providing them all the painting materials.

An idea was born, then, that I should start this group of students a regular class on painting after their school time. I talked to my colleague, a JOCV volunteer about the class. She was interested and agreed to start it as soon as possible. From next day, the class began.
                                                                Picture: The art class

Today there are over 15 students learning Japanese art and craft. Besides, the students also learned eraser and sand painting, painting with color papers and old magazines and paper box painting. Also, I requested other friends of mine to teach the students basic art and color mixing.
The good news is that this group of students are participating in their school art competition very soon.