Sunday, December 29, 2013

A born painter

More than 410 youth have been attending Winter Youth Program in Thimphu. And this kid, presumably 3 years old, is the youngest member of the program. Deliciously cute, he attends the Painting Class everyday.

Yesterday I walked in the Painting Class to observe it, and surprisingly I spotted this kid in the painting room.

I inquired the painting teacher. “He is a member, and attends the class regularly,” the teacher replied me, adding, “Everyday he sneaks into the Painting Class with his elder siblings.”

Little annoyed, I asked the teacher to send him back home. Because we take in the program only those youth and children between ages of 10 to 24 and this kid is too young.

As soon as this kid heard me, he furiously ran towards a corner of the room. And he started scribbling on a shit of paper with his pencil, doing his paintings. I went close to him; he ignored me and kept himself absolutely occupied in his paintings.
With his mates
I continued watching at him. And this time, at his paintings, more curiously. The way he moves his little brush, the way he concentrates, the way he curls his mouth, and the way he dresses the white paper with paints ran me all speechless.

It’s quite inspiring to know that, even without proper schooling and master, he has been gripped by the painting passion. And the way he ignored me and occupied himself with the images of objects in front of him is truly his calling to be a great painter.

As I looked at his paintings, more closer, he was not only painting what he has in front of him, but was also expressing what he sees inside himself, his thoughts, his calling. He is a born painter!  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Singing “Norwegian Wood” in Tokyo

I visited Japan last summer, for the first time, and I considered myself lucky. We’ve all heard much about this country - the land of the rising sun - famous and hallowed and grand.
Long before, this incredible nation stole my heart. That time I read a gorgeous novel. “Memoirs of a Geisha”. By Arthur Golden. This book largely talks the magical art of a geisha and her struggling, but I chose to adore the sensual description of beautiful landscapes of Kyoto and Tyoko and their social values and integrity.

More importantly, I’ve learnt so many other things about Japan (especially Tokyo, Kyoto and Kobe) from Haruki Murakami, the creator of about a dozen of masterpiece books like that of my favorites, “Norwegian Wood” and “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”. I fell in love with Haruki and his beautiful country, Japan. And ever since I wanted visit this country, embrace it, experience wonderful moments.

So in Japan, last summer, I travelled around and stayed in Chiba, Yokohama, Tokyo and Asakusa. I was absolutely fascinated by the edgy, stylish and high-street conformity of these cities, which is to tell you, the ultimate shopping mecca. The people very gorgeous, the streets perfectly organized and clean, and the technology unbelievably advanced.    
I walked many roads, ran across a sea, passed through parks, met many people and dined in several ethnic restaurants. Noticing everywhere, and feeling everything.

All this reminded me something, deep inside, remotely familiar. And I nervously felt that I’ve walked those roads, felt the touch of the wind, the smell of summer, heard the sound of the sea, and tasted those foods. Already.  

I had realized, then, that how much a book can impact readers. Because all this that I read in the books, wonderful books by Haruki and Arthur. Reading a good book is amazing, and travelling to that place is truly the second visit. Believe me. 

One fine morning, I sat in a park near the Sky Tree in Tokyo drinking pepsi that I bought from the vending machine. The Sky Tree, the park, the summer air, and the people walking by instantaneously reminded some lines from Haruki’s masterpiece, “Norwegian Wood”.

“I sat here for a long time, watching…people passing… This was an early summer day. The people we passed carried their jumpers or jackets over their shoulders or in the arms. Everyone looked happy in the warm Sunday afternoon sun.”
It buoyed me so much to do and experience exactly what this wonderful writer wrote in his book. And immediately, I asked a passerby about Haruki and his address. I couldn’t meet him, but I knew where he stays in Tokyo. 
It rained on my last night out there, not so heavy though. I ordered a cocktail in my hotel room. As I sipped on it, I watched the endless rain beyond the window pouring down over the city lights. It looked mesmerizing. The cocktail and the summer rain intoxicated me, and urged me to sing a song, the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”,

                                   I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
                                   She showed me her room, isn't it good, norwegian wood?
                                   She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,
                                   So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.
                                   ..……

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Norzin Lam Street

This is a very recent, and of course, strange development taking place in Thimphu. You simply have to walk down the Norzin Lam Street, opposite Etho Metho Plaza. 9 pm onwards. There, you can see an unusual crowd of about a hundred people. Men and women. Young and old. All. And you would just scratch your head, get yourself into a wondering. 
“What’s going on here at this hour? It’s already midnight,” that’s my reaction when I first saw it.   

So you go closer. Now you can see them drinking, munching, gobbling. Laughing too. At the lane’s side, about 30 people line up. Around them, they have thermo flasks, containers and pots. Yes, they sell hot drinks and snacks. Tea. Porridge. Puri. Momo…lots other.  

Let me explain to you that it’s mostly the partygoers who herd here, at the Norzin Lam Street. It’s quite strange that even after guzzling oodles of whisky and cocktails in the nightclubs, they still have to graze here for cup of hot tea and porridge. 

The office goers too flock here, after working late in their offices. Now this place has become so hugely popular amongst the partygoers and late night office goers. 

To add one more thing, this place is perfectly peaceful, very well-organized. You can even see the night patrolling and traffic policemen sipping tea and porridge here in perfect harmony - perhaps as sheyra for them. And quite wondrously, you don’t hear residents nearby complaining about it.

At the lane, in the crowd, you can also come across a small boy selling thukpa and tea. And he timidly shouts at you, “Lopoen, thukpa, thukpa! Hot suja also!” 
He is a class three student of Zilukha LSS in Thimphu, that’s what he told me. At 9 pm, every weekend and Wednesday, he comes here to do his business. 

“My parents prepare for me this porridge and tea,” he answered me as he poured porridge in a plastic cup for me. 

He charged me Nu 20 for it. He told me that he usually stays until 3 am in the morning and his earning ranges from Nu 300 to Nu 500 a night. It’s, definitely, unsafe for a young boy to work in such an environment, at odd hours. 

As you walk back home, you would hope that the Department of Trade, Thimphu Thromde and all other relevant agencies come up with a strategic plan for this group of hawkers and minor. You would wish that they be not booted out, like what had happened in the past, but consulted properly and provided adequate support to make them resourceful entrepreneurs.   

Monday, December 2, 2013

On my King’s birthday

This is one blog post that I’ve been writing, and also artfully avoiding. I’ve shoved it aside for too long, for so many years. The truth is, my dear reader, this is hard to freely write because I can never quite shake the guilt that’s coming when I write it. Every time, I hesitated. However, for the better or worse, today I dare to write this story, for you only. I hope that you would find pleasure reading it. So, I go here.
The year was 2001. In Bumthang. I was, then, a class nine student of Jakar HSS. And this incident happened in this particular year, in that very place. More aptly, it’s November 11, the day when our beloved fourth King was born. It was the hugest occasion in Bhutan, where the entire nation would splendidly celebrate the His Majesty’s birthday.

In Bumthang too, on that day, we were marking the 46th birth anniversary of our beloved King. All the students and teachers of Jakar HSS gathered in a football ground of Chamkhar. Also, thousands of the civil servants, farmers and business community of Bumthang joined us in celebrating the day.
It was a brilliant and beautiful morning, I still remember. In every one of us, there was a huge excitement and festive feeling. In the ground, we spread in four different houses, in neat sethra uniforms. Each house had two lines (one each for boys and girls). The captains, holding banners upright, stood in front of their own house. As usual, I stood at the back, end of the line.

We were waiting for our Chief Guest, a high official from Thimphu, to grace the occasion. Our hands and ears turned as cold as ice as the winter in Jakar was extremely cold, bone chilling. After almost one hour, the Chief Guest arrived. Everyone was alerted.

The event began, one hour late, with the marching ceremony. At the backside, we were concocting plan to guzzle the chang, fermented wheat, after the event.        

Then, our Chief Guest, an old man, began his speech. No apology for late his arrival, though. Another hour had just passed, and for the record, there was no sign of his speech’s end. A few girls fainted cold, and were taken back to the hostel.
We all cursed that old man for his never-ending insignificant speech; more curse on his late arrival. In a while, our stomach started to grumble due to insufficient breakfast. We went on cursing, this time, on our school principal. For, he didn’t treat us with milk tea and boiled eggs in the breakfast. For, he didn’t arrange any meat curries for the lunch that day.

I got very frustrated, aggravated and snappy. I yelled, “What the hell with all this today? This damn Chief Guest. Fucking principal. Stale black tea. Kewa curry. Does it mean that our King is not going to live long?”

Actually I had no idea what I was really even saying, and I couldn’t believe my own ears. I didn’t mean to say it exactly. In fact, my choice of words is to blame. But this is one thing that I should never be saying, by any means, anyhow.

Before I could take back my words, a tall boy abruptly broke his line and started to charge on me. He was known to us by his nickname, Fucking Asshole. Even the teachers called him by this name. For he always used it everywhere, for everything.    

Mad and furious, he attacked me, “You fucking asshole, how dare you say that? ‘Our King is not going to live long’? I will break your arse, fucking asshole!”   

A loud sound began to erupt as we engaged in a heated argument. The Chief Guest was still blabbering, and in the ground there and back, we entered into a dreadful fist fight. Everyone turned their eyes towards two of us, the old man’s speech completely ignored.

We kept on fighting, exchanging incessant blows and kicks. But I don’t remember now for how long. When we stopped, the speech had ended, and the program already over. After that, we returned to our hostels; we had our lunch, the same kharang and kewa curry. 

Late night that day, when I was about to sleep in the hostel, Fucking Asshole busted in my room. He was drunk. Perhaps he should be. There was menace in his eyes; fury radiating from his body. He slumped towards me, pulled off my blankets, and confronted me again.  
I was thoroughly headhunted. And in the dead of night, we involved in another fracas, this time more brutal, loud. My room stirred up with terror; the roommates nervous. 

As we fought, he stammered and choked on his words, “You…fucking ass…hole, nooow I’m surely going to kill you.”

Eventually, I realized my mistake and admitted it. I gave up fighting back with him, and let the shower of punches and kicks fall on me. I got mercilessly beaten up and pain inflicted. As Fucking Asshole left the room, I stood in my room like a hunted animal, bursting into terrified tears.

Today, after a decade, I still carry this incident with me, and the guilt clinging. But as I am about to complete writing this story, right now, tears flooded my eyes yet again. This time what brought me to tears is Fucking Asshole’s exceedingly patriotic soul, his bravery, protection and love for our King. As I cry here, as I drop this tear, as I finally completed writing this story for you, I’ve realized one thing: my heart lighter, my guilt cleansed. 

Photo courtesy: googlesearch

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A piece of heaven

Somehow, someway, it was a lovely moment. A bunch of caring and thoughtful lads made my afternoon all so wonderful today. And that’s what got me writing this blog post now. 
They were seven, out in an open ground, playing together. They merrily tussled and tangled, making spontaneous laughter, like little chipmunks. And I could see smoke coming out from their mouths. That’s how cold it’s in Thimphu.

I sat in one corner and watched them. The way they play, tangle and converse reminded me of what was my childhood. I wanted to relive it, my childhood. Instantaneously, I joined them.

In no time at all, we became good friends. As the deep chill breeze stirred the bushes nearby, we kept on playing different games. Rope Swing in the beginning. Later on, seesaw. And finally a soccer game.
While playing the games, with these lads, sometimes I too acted like a kid. I became defiant. Fighting. And when we turned a little sour, we disagreed, becoming slightly bitter. However, these lads taught me that even if you become an adult (30s in my case), there’s still child-like nature in you. 

After our playtime, we talked intently, huddled together. I asked them about their dreams and ambitions. And it’s simply wonderful to enjoy the joy of sharing jokes and laughter with our future teacher, dasho, engineer and footballer. No one wanted to become writer, by the way.    

I bought them some snacks. “Thank you, Acho!” they expressed gratitude to me, grateful smile on their faces. In actuality, what I gave them was so little, yet for them, it meant lots.

Finally, we took a photo together. I kneeled down, hugged them. And quite shockingly, I felt their arms clasped my neck and back and they pulled me tight. It buoyed me. That is a piece of heaven for me.
I departed from them; however, I promised them that I will return next weekend. And as I walked back home I found myself hoping, Let their wishes be fulfilled.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Going nuts

I couldn’t write anything for the last ten days. Even to do serious thinking and write for a minute would give me a strong headache. The reason was that I caught fever. On top of that, headache added on. However, guys, I am alright now. And I start here blogging again with the pictures of nuts, fruits, grains (I don’t know) that I took this autumn. They are lovely, aren’t they? 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Photographs

This afternoon, I just broke into a restricted VIP area in Thimphu. The reason was simple – to take pictures inside that area. Coz I couldn’t stop myself from taking the pictures of those beautiful roads, apple orchards and maples in it.

So I jumped over the gate, run-rounded and took countless shots. Eh, I was scared of dogs, so I remained all vigilant. If dogs come, I would climb on this tree, I prepared myself, looking at a low tree.

But it was the policeman, oh god. He summoned me and interrogated why I got in the area. I gave him my statement and showed him the pictures I took in my camera.

“From next time, lopoen, don’t enter this area. It is restricted place,” the policeman cautioned me. I came out of there, saying, “Laso la, laso la.”

However, I was lucky that he didn’t ask me to delete the pictures. So here I offer you the pictures. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A gift of time, a gift of hope

He offered me a wooden stool next to his bed. I dragged it gently, and sat on it. As usual, Jigme Pelden was lying down on his bed in his room.

“I just finished my prayer,” he started the conversation, with a bright smile. Meanwhile, he folded his prayer beads and pushed it under his pillow.

The room was warm, heated with electric heaters. Four other elderly patients also shared the room. And in this room of the Patients Guest House of JDWNR Hospital, Jigme Pelden has been staying for the past two years. Always lying on the bed, and taking medications.  

On the window, adjacent to his bed, was his small space for praying – a few kupar (religious portraits) affixed and incense sticks burning. Right below it, on a cardboard box, there was a stack of notebooks and a few Dzongkha novels.
“Have you completed writing your book?” I asked him, rather curiously. By the way, Jigme Pelden was writing a book. And I visited him, this time, particularly to know about his book.   

“Yes, I completed it. Finally,” he replied me. A gleeful smile instantly surfaced on his face. “The book is all about my life. An autobiography,” Jigme continued, his smile ever growing.

“There are only few people who have lived and are enduring the kind of life that I live. I hope that this book of mine would help other people understand our lives and support us,” he explained to me.

In 2010, when Jigme Pelden was only 34, he met with a dreadful accident in Phuentsholing which has completely changed the course of his life. That time, as a craftsman, he was painting a building when he suddenly fell down. Half of his body (below abdomen) remained paralyzed, and he never lived a normal life.
Jigme's daily chore, weaving rachu
Worst of all, after this fateful incident, he was divorced from his wife and he had to look after his two children even in such condition.   

“Sometimes, everything was just not fair. God is unfair. Life is unfair. But yet, we learn to accept of what simply is,” Jigme shared his opinion, as I stared at him, marveling at the way he was speaking. He speaks with a great passion. And he is, undeniably, a wise person.    

Then, we stood in silence. Even though I wanted to continue our conversation, I have no idea what to say or how to say it, so I just gazed outside, beyond the window. Out in the open - everyone looked happy. They were walking, running and laughing. Free.

It pained to see Jigme lying in the room, chained to his bed. For how long, I don’t know. And my inquiring mind frequently wanted me to ask him how it feels to see other normal people outside or what it’s like being a paralyzed person. But I realized it’s a terrible thing to ask, and I shut it up in my mind.

In a while, Jigme took out a pair of notebooks in which he wrote his book. He has never attended any schools; however, he learned Dzongkha at home. The book is written in Dzongkha, and one of his supporters has been helping him translate it into English.   

The gentle afternoon sunlight flooded the room. Jigme began reading out for me a small paragraph from his book,
“Sometimes I feel that the only cure to my suffering is writing on. Because for a person like me, writing is transformative, healing. And I write this book to tell you exactly.”
As he reads out, he smiled and fumed at the melody of the words. I was amazed by the way he has built the words and crafted sentences in his book. They are just gorgeous, overwhelming.

More exciting, the book contains many beautiful poems and heartbreaking lyrics that he had composed when he was young man back in his village, Khoma, Kurtoe. And he has woven all that together beautifully in the book.

Oh, how wonderful it’s to sit next to a brilliant writer and listening to his book all afternoon. Like this. 

“You know what? It takes commitment to write a book. All cannot do it. Only those people who have discovered purpose in their life can write,” this aspiring young writer told me. I agreed with him, genuinely impressed.    
The sundown was approaching, and the daylight has already grown weak. Outside, it started to rain. It was a typical Fall day. Intermittent rains. Cold.

I stood up, leaned over and gave him a hug, a little tighter than usual. “Please visit again,” he whispered. I nodded. He offered me an umbrella. I took it.

On my way out of his room, he shouted at me, “And thank you for the books and pens.” 

I waved at him, becoming teary. And I walked out of his room; I walked way back my home. The rain was pouring down. And deep down, my heart glowed, hugely inspired and awed. I assured, reassured to myself, again and again, “I will be the first person to buy, read and review your book, Jigme Pelden.” 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Everything that autumn brings

Fall surrendered quickly in Thimphu. And what seemed like minutes, the trees were already turning yellow, slowly stripping off their leaves. By the way, it’s still October. Oh, a long winter lay ahead of us. But I loved it.

Yes, I loved an increased blueness and depth to the sky that autumn brings. Strangely, it got cold so quick this fall. But I loved the feeling of chill air and putting on my warm clothes.

The way smoke comes from my mouth, I loved it too. That’s exactly what I’m doing, right now, right here.

And going through your blog, reading it non-stop. One more thing, this writing my blog post in this year’s autumn’s chill was simply overwhelming.

To put it precisely, you would love everything about the fall. 

Photo courtesy: Kinzang Tshering, MoHCA

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A simple life

Everything was brighter after the rain, once more. Here in Thimphu. Even the dark clouds were simply pulled away on mountain-tops, then way beyond. All so happened in a small wedge of time; as if commanded by the almighty above. It seemed to me like a military troop taking back their force after a daylong war.

And suddenly, quite wondrously, the day has become all clear, beautiful. The sun appeared once again and started sparkling tantalizingly over the valley.
It seemed a perfect proposition to Sonam, my friend, to go to Khasadrapchu, to pluck apples in his orchard there. I and Tshering accompanied him to Khasadrapchu, south of Thimphu. It took us about 30 minutes by car.

Perched on a giant piece of land on the valley of Khasadrapchu, Sonam’s apple orchard was all enclosed by rice fields and pine trees. A dozen of households scattered all over the valley. Everything was so serene and beautiful here.  

“Riku, I always want to come here, again and again. Here, I feel as if I have come closer to myself,” Sonam started the conversation, as we plucked apples, red and ripe. Then he burst into whistling.
 
So excited, we went onto our day’s chore of plucking apples. It’s a simple task though.

Once done, we walked down a footpath becoming intoxicated by the fragrance of apples and the fresh smell of cow dung. This footpath ultimately left the fence of the orchard and came out to a huge rice field.  

On a giant rock, at the top of the field, we just sat and continued our conversation.

“It’s a lovely place,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, it is. After my retirement, I will live here,” Sonam responded, his voice genuine and crisp.

He mused for a small moment and added, “I don’t have any outrageous dreams, but only to live a humble life. I will build a small cottage and spend all of my remaining years here after the retirement.” 

It really surprised me, honestly. Because all other people in Thimphu wanted to go overseas and earn, then construct tall buildings in Thimphu and buy big cars. But this young man, a friend of mine, is very different. I stared at him for a moment, strangely impressed. And how I wish I could describe his feeling.

I didn’t know what to say, at all, so I stood in silence. More tellingly, I was awed by his outlook of life, his simplicity, and his understanding of the life’s essence.

As Sonam rolled his hands, searching for words, my eyes stretched for miles all over the valley. The Wangchu River flows gently, right in the middle, dividing the valley into two. Far away on the other side, over this river, I caught sight of a few households. A chorten sat nearby, adorning and protecting these households for eternity. And a herd of cows were grazing around the chorten, graciously.

Now I came to realize Sonam’s words that as we come closer to the nature and serenity of this quality, we become so close to ourselves and understand ourselves better. For we dread inside of us and become more aware of our own perceptions, feelings and motivations. So we understand our purpose of life better. I hope it so.

On the way back to the orchard, we were invited by a farmer for cup of suja in her house. We declined, but she insisted on. She took us in her house, served us with suja and snacks. We shared a small talk as we sipped on hot suja.

Outside the house, we came across a group of children playing and making spontaneous laughter. As soon as they saw us, they smiled and giggled.

“We all go to schools la,” the kids responded to us, choosing their words with care, with apparent shyness.

We packed apples in our baskets and walked down a farm road that leads us to the highway. For the next bit of few minutes, I stopped and gazed at the most capturing valley for the last time. Oh, the setting sun was incredibly beautiful here.
The simplicity of life of this village dazzled me; their innocence gasped me. More importantly, they taught me that ordinary things are often the greatest strengths of all. A serene smile. A cup of tea. A small talk. A sincere thank you. A small compliment.

All this make you to open your heart and feel better, a little happier. And this is precisely what my friend, Sonam, wished for. A simple life!     

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serving tea

It’s stark midnight. Out on Thimphu Street was frost-cold and bone chilling. Drayangs, karaoke and discotheques - all nightlife entertainments – sprang into life. On the street, you can see rebellious teenagers picking up fights with policemen. Others were simply drunk and run-rounding the street, no different from those stray dogs, barking, foul.

Amidst all this, you can find a group of young people here, on Thimphu Street, walking around. Go closer to them. Watch carefully. You can see some of them carrying hot flasks and snacks. All night, they walk around the street and serve hot tea and snacks to the late night Police Patrolling Party. And you can see the brightest smile and happiness on faces of policemen as they sip on hot tea.
You don’t know how thrilled I was when I first learnt about this youth initiative. My heart swelled with both pride and amazement at these youth, exceedingly generous souls, who make so much for our police and our community.

According to the group, this initiative is called "HANDS OF TRUST" and is being coordinated by the Bhutan Youth Foundation (BYF). Mr. Bharat Rana, the founder of BYF, wrote,

“This small Project is a partnership project to support and respect the Royal Bhutan Police for…protecting our community from all kinds of Danger. They make lots of sacrifices to safeguard our community. We launched this Project…Distributing Hot Tea and Snacks to the late night Police Patrolling Party.”
In actuality, what they give was so little. Just a cup of tea. But it’s one way how we can show some grace and appreciation to our police force, the guardians of peace.

Because of them we are protected, we sleep peacefully, we walk free from dangers. This initiative is not only about distributing hot tea to our police at night, but trying to show them support and respect. I believe that this would certainly make our policemen a little happier, their work a little easier, and make their day better.  
BYF conducting a seminar for Bhutanese students in India
The Bhutan Youth Foundation was first founded in October 2008 in Bangalore, India to promote brotherhood and community values when Bhutanese youth were away from home. The BYF conducted several activities like seminars and workshops on drug awareness, leadership, character cultivation, live in relationships for Bhutanese students studying in India.

I can’t wait to tell you BYF’s other initiatives here:  
Support for senior citizens 

Providing lunch for Draktsho special children
Tutorials for Changjiji youth
Feeding program at Begana lhakhang
Reading program for kids in Kanglung
Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/150891038411419/