Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A beggar's prayer

2006 was the year. And summer. I was taking a journey from Samdrup Jongkhar to Gelephu-all the way from Assam, a northeastern state of India. And you know that it’s pretty weird being in India in summer. The weather, all the more tellingly, beastly hot and close and humid. Dusty, too. And you struggle even to breathe the sticky air, thick heat.
The bus that I had boarded from Mangla Bazaar, the bordering town of India in Samdrup Jongkhar was a huge, monster in size. Apparently very old one. A huge number of people, huh, more than the carrying capacity of bus, barged into the bus. It became increasingly chaotic. 
I felt as if I were jammed in an alien mess, becoming nervous, lost. And the bus odour of sweat, dust, incense sticks, smoke, pickles, alcohol, piss and vomit was everywhere. Eh, I caught a feeling of slight nausea.

And in the bus, there were all kinds of noises all the time. The sound of the bus engine was deafening like firing a loud fart. And the driver had to horn after every 10m as much for cows and goats as for pedestrians and rickshaws. And ringtones from black and white mobiles rang frantically, incessantly.
As we moved out of the station, we were embraced by the green plain of rice fields, rivers, tea plants and farmlands which stretch clear for acres and acres on all sides. Assam, its population at 22,414,322, is very rich in vegetation, forests and wildlife. Agriculture is the main occupation of the people as rice is the staple diet of the people. And tea gardens of Assam are known to produce the best quality of tea leafs in the world.  
Settlements of wretched mud-and-dung washed huts (bamboo walls and thatch roof) scattered all over. The natives were mostly in stick limbs and burnt skins and are poor. Bicycle was used for multi purposes. Carrying loads, fetching water, and all. Every year, high rainfall and deforestation result in floods that cause widespread loss of life, livelihood and property. Assam is also an earthquake prone region. Of late, the political instability due to emergence of insurgencies has been hampering economic development in the state.  
As the bus racketed on and on through crumbling dirt roads of Assam, I could spot one village doing rice plantation, whereas, another village harvesting rice. One household celebrating a marriage party, another household in another place would be conducting funeral. In one place, people working tirelessly and at the same time others would be resting, sleeping. I could see equal number of beautiful people to ugly ones as rich people to poor.  
There, I understood that the world is what it is, uneven, alternating, to be squarely dealt with. Of life and death. Of laughter and tears. Of favour and disgrace. Of prosperity and adversity. And it is all stringed together, intertwined: the end of one era, the beginning of another, the wordlessness.  
The afternoon was nearing its end when the bus stopped at Shantipur Bazaar for lunch. It’s such an intense, larger-than-life market. Chock full of activities, cramped and disorganized. As we set out from the bus, gosh, we were surrounded by a group of beggars.

A young boy who was escorting a blind girl marched towards me and begged for money. This earned me a fresh outburst as my mood was one of frustration due to the long and arduous journey. But you know what? Convictions grow while you’re surrounded by people whose circumstances are far worse than one’s own. So I placed Nu 5 note in his hand.

To my pleasant surprise, the blind beggar started praying for me, earnestly, “Let you never become blind and suffer like me. Not even in your next life!” Oh, I heard the prayer, blessing. And it brought a glow, which is to say, to my heart. In her prayer, I found a deep sense of comfort and ease and faith. As if the Holy Spirit had embraced me, wholly, redeemed me. I can’t explain it precisely. Not for now. But at least, I had felt like that, I promise.  

As she took a deep bow in gratitude and left, all I could do was to blink back tears. And I begged myself to stop my tears bursting out. I tried to raise my head, with the hope that I could stop the tears flowing down my cheeks. Stop. But it didn’t. Stop. I kept on saying it over and over again as I watched her leaving. Meanwhile, I realized that I was just feeling and expressing what I had felt. This crying. And it’s ok to just feel what you feel, na? But even this good crying, bursting out tears was so freeing and redeeming.     
After the lunch, we resumed our journey. As we reached near to Gelephu, the air became lighter bringing it with a touch of coolness. The setting sun in the west was glancing off the golden rice in a marmalade glow. My eyes stretched for miles, and from afar, ah, paddy birds were flying up in the blue sky like my mind.  Freed. Ever flying.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Me and my Afro

The post below is written by Karma Palden, a freelance writer and it was published in the K2. I knew Karma since college. I have been very much amused with his hair since then. And this article has all explanations. Read it below:
It was a winter.  I was travelling to Phuentsholing in a bus.  While stopping over at Gedu for a break, an elderly man, who was hard of hearing, asked me with such sincerity in his tone if I could tell him where I bought my wig.

“I’m planning to get one,” he said.

This wasn’t my first encounter of this kind.  People usually presume it’s a wig I am wearing, and I can’t blame them either.  My hair is big, with tight curls, resembling an Afro.  It’s a mass shaped like a halo, a dark one, around my head.

“It’s not a wig; it’s real hair,” I said.

But he didn’t hear, I suppose, for he kept asking how much it cost and other things.  So when the bus started I was glad.

My hair has always been curly.  But it was in college I started experimenting.  It sat so well with ‘back to basics’ and ‘nature culture’ I was so fond of, that I started keeping it.

And often people took it for a wig.  Whenever I said it was real, they’d touch it and sometimes yank in disbelief.
I do steal a lot of amusing and disapproving stares from toddlers to elderly people, which I dually return with a fitting glance.  But it can be nauseating at times when you are low and down in spirits.  Some youngsters think it is cool, while some break into sudden laughter.

On occasion, some people take me for a wayward person and justifiably, since our society has their granted say on outlandish ways and behaviour.

There are even instances when people keep stakes and of course I have won many bets.  There are others, who inquire the technique to get this big unscrupulous hair.  Well, I have no answer to that, since it is natural and a gene(uine) case with me.

In dark alleys, I’ve often spooked others, not intentionally.  I just happened to be passing by.

My friends usually have chunks of such jokes to heap on me.
It’s been seven years now, and it has become part of who I am.  To me, it means no style statement or whatsoever; it is just that I am comfortable and confident.  It helps in being me; to be precise, it could be perfectly surmised in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

I am trying …

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I sat by the window of a bus at the Phuentsholing Bus Station. I stared out the window the rain falling on the ground with a light pitter-patter sound. The sound of rain, oh! I adored rain and always had, mostly for their sound. And I sat there, in my own imagination, watching and hearing it, reverent.

A woman, presumably in her 50s, arrived with eight sacks of litchi. She looked humble, apparently illiterate. This woman started loading her litchi in a bus all by herself, under the rain. Let me help her, I thought. Subsequently, I dashed out and helped her in dragging and pushing the sack after sack of litchi on the bus top. It took almost a dozen of minutes. And I sweated, the downpour soaked me too.

I sprinted back to the bus, in my seat. The droplets of rain kept splattering against the glass. Bus passengers arrived one after another, and once again I sat watching the rain pouring down, hearing its sound. But this time, also wondering about my journey. You know all this…summer means not just hot weather and rain, but also erosion, flashfloods, roadblocks and road accidents. And I was praying, indeed earnestly, let there be no road blocks.

In a while the driver arrived. He prayed, rather ritualistically, and then started the engine. We had to halt several times and wait for hours at box-cutting (check spelling yourself, he-he) and road clearing areas. However, non-stop Bhutanese rigsar songs made this traveling not boring. Ugyen Pandey’s songs were much played. They were about our Kings, country, friendship, love and the melancholy mysteries of life. I loved and lived by many of his songs. I bought his albums. I know the lyrics.

The sun had already disappeared when we reached Thimphu. At the Lungtenzampa Bus Station crowd, I started looking for a cab after collecting my luggage.

“Kota! Kota!” I heard a voice of woman. I stared back. There, quite unexpectedly, was the woman whom I helped loading her litchi. She ran towards me and took out a bunch of litchi for me. I was not sure how to react. I denied. Once. Twice. Thrice. But she, her smile beautiful, insisted on to take it. She pushed that litchi in my bag and left.

A volume of happiness erupted in me, so automatically. It made my heart melt with love and admiration for her gorgeous heart. She was a peasant, uneducated and apparently without ambition. But I felt sheer smallness of my life in front of her. Even little thing like a bunch of litchi can bring you a joy so vast. And she taught me this. I burst in tears. I didn’t know precisely why-perhaps my happiness was expressed in the form of tears.

I caught a cab and left for home so, so grateful for this caring and thoughtful woman. I left wishing her about the best that life has to offer her.