Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Must-visit Place in Damphu

The footpath along the highway between Damphu town and Damphu High School is a must-visit place in Tsirang. It’s serene, surreal, and hypnotizing for me.

A few weeks ago, when I was traveling back from Gelephu to Thimphu, I took a walk on the footpath, which meanders into deep woods and shimmers with sunlight—forgetting that I still had a half-a-day more to travel back to Thimphu. Quite wondrously, it gave me an ecstatic feeling mixed with an ounce of eerie, gothic elements as if like I was going to meet some sorcerers or dinosaurs. 

Damphu footpath and highway

Unfortunately, I didn't come across any of those beings; it was in my head only. But the feeling was just great. In a way, it's a lot magical, and I felt like staying there a little longer, appreciating everything about it, listening to chirping birds and writing some poems.
People walking on the Damphu footpath

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Memory Corner, Miza Books

I was at the Memory Corner, Miza Books—the first person to sit here and take a snapshot of the memory of my visit to this beautiful bookstore today. Not an invited guest, but it's by coincidence. 

It's great meeting Chador Wangmo, one of the most celebrated writers of Bhutan and the owner of the bookstore, and her hubby and talking nonstop about books, reading, writing, book business, pursuing one's passion, our families, Bhutanese value system, the purpose of life, and the list goes on. 

"We writers are wired differently," that's what we have concluded at the end of our conversation. That's why we do what we do. And we are what we are.

I first met Chador Wangmo in 2012, if I remember the year correctly, and she is one person who encouraged me to write and publish books then. That time she had already published several children's books and I was not ready to publish a book. 

I am glad that people like Chador Wangmo exists; she makes me feel that there's one more people like me who is wired differently and that I am not alone in this world. And I missed Ngawang Phuntsho, PaSsu, Monu Tamang, Kinzang Tshering, and Ugyen Gyeltshen in our conversation. 

Over a cup of coffee, it's simply amazing to hear her beautiful struggles, her literary endeavors, her imaginations, her aspirations, her exciting new projects, and her undying love for words. I am so excited every time when I come across any individuals who pursue their passion so passionately. They appear to be courageous and genuine, simply doing what makes them happy and empowered everyday. 

We walked around bookshelves, browsing each classification, picking up the books that we read and familiar with, and talking about the books on the shelves. Both of us have read many of the authors on the shelves. I am impressed by the new arrival of books at the bookshop, and I must say that Miza Books has got the best collection of books in town now. 

I have bought two books: 'A Man Called Ove' and 'From Little Tokyo, With Love'. I wish I could buy more, but that's what I could afford now. 

Thank you for your time and tea la, madam Chador and Ghalley sir. 

Best wishes, Miza Books!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Remembering the First Teacher of My Life

Madam Krishna M Tiwari is the first teacher of my life. 

It was in 1993 when I was enrolled at Tingtibi Primary School, a remote school located along the Gelephu-Trongsa highway in Zhemgang district. Madam Krishna, then, was a young lady, at the peak of her beauty, tall, slim, and fair, and just married to her husband. 

I was nine years old then, too big, old to be admitted in class PP. Our family had just moved to Tingtibi after the upsurge of protests in southern Bhutan posed risks to us and our home in Gelephu was demolished. However, due to good fortune, my father got a caretaker’s job at an orange orchard in Tingtibi, and there we built a small hut and called it our ‘new home’. 

That year, with the support from Madam Krishna, my elder sister and I got admission to the school, which has changed my life forever (for the better). Madam Krishna taught me English in class PP. She was a brilliant teacher, with a great passion for impacting her students with knowledge and values. She would look stern but was always taking care of her students. 

More specifically, those days Madam Krishna gave me special attention and care. Maybe because I was an older student, or just maybe she discovered different qualities in me. Soon after, I was offered a double promotion by the school, which means I was promoted to class II directly. 

Soon afterward poverty ensnared our family, as my father’s income was not enough to feed us. Unfortunately, my sister had to drop out of school to work on the farm and support the family. However, my parents continued to send me to school. During those trying times, Madam Krishna was very supportive of me and my family. 

It was in 2013, after 19 years, that I met Madam Krishna in Thimphu. Thanks to a journalist friend of mine who brought us together. I was working as a program officer at the Department of Youth and Sports after graduating from Sherubtse College and Madam Krishna was teaching at Etho Metho Primary School. In the beginning, I didn’t recognize her and she didn't either. One evening, after work, we were walking to our homes, talking about our work, hometowns, families, and education. 

“I studied at Tingtibi School,” I said after she told me that she had taught there. 

“What’s your name?” she asked curiously. 

“Riku Dhan Subba,” I replied. 

“Goodness, you, idiot,” she cried and punched me in the ribs with great force. 

That punch shook off my balance on walking. I felt that I deserved more than that, for not recognizing my teacher. I felt ashamed. After that, she took me to her home. And I was more surprised to discover that she lived in a building just 20 meters away from my apartment. 

Today I am a proud citizen of Bhutan, contributing to my society with my best abilities and knowledge. But without a teacher like Madam Krishna, I would not be where I am now. So there is no other better way to show my gratitude and appreciation to the first teacher of my life—someone who had shown me the better direction of life—than to wish for her today. 

A Happy Teachers’ Day, Madam Krishna. Thank you for being such a great teacher and thank you for everything! 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

'Gift of God'

Today is her birthday. My daughter is three. She has celebrated her day, the first half day in the hospital and the other half at home.

Last weekend was all about her, we went to town for her shopping. She has got all the things she wanted and desired: a white satin dress with pink floral spots, a polka dotted hairband, pink princess shoes, and colorful balloons.

She was excited about her big day, often watching YouTube videos of birthday celebrations and clapping her hands, uttering joyously, “Yay!” 

We had planned to celebrate her birthday this time in Gelephu with her grandparents. She has not seen them for more than two years now due to the pandemic. Moreover, after the lifting of the mandatory quarantine, we felt it was a good time for us to visit village and meet her grandparents as well.

So to speak, my daughter came late into our lives. When she came, we got so happy and the feeling of being a parent was simply out of this world. We felt blessed. That’s why I named my daughter Prisa, which means 'Gift of God' and 'Beloved' in Sanskrit. She has been a healthy, intelligent, super active child, who loves her dad more than anyone else. She always looks forward to me returning home after office—I have to spend an hour with her playing, and only after that she lets me do other chores at home. 


So, everything was arranged for Prisa’s birthday. But unfortunately, she fell sick last Monday evening. We had to rush her to the emergency department of JDWNRH, my wife and I panicking, fretting, and sweating. At 12:30 a.m. she was admitted to the hospital. 

Regrets started engulfing me. Relentlessly. Undeniably. Brutally.

Didn’t we as parents do enough for her? Didn’t we give her adequate love and attention? Have we failed in parenting? Why does she have to feel sick so suddenly? Why God was unfair to us? One question after another ran into my head.

When the nurse started performing the intravenous therapy, my daughter cried in great pain. I just looked outside the window, staring at nothing, and I could feel warm tears flowing down my cheeks and my throat burning, choking. It was as if I was going through the pain.

That’s the time I told myself: My Princess, I will protect you from all circumstances, and you will never have to go through such pain ever again. This could be a father’s natural protective instinct.

Thankfully, after five days of treatment at the hospital, Prisa got better. She regained her health, she started playing, she started laughing, and she started eating again. We were so happy. She was discharged from the hospital with advice from the doctor and some medications to undergo at home.

No sooner did we reach home from the hospital this evening than we arranged a birthday celebration in a small way. Just three of us. She appeared excited wearing her new dress and sitting in front of her cake, candles, and colorful balloons. She touched her new dress repeatedly, looked at the cake and candles for a long moment, smiled, and then she blew out the candles clapping as we sang the birthday song for her.

And folding my hands, that moment, I wished her:

Wish you many many happy returns of the day to the loveliest girl in the entire world! Hugs and sweet kisses. May you live a long, blessed life. And keep brightening our every day with your sweet smile. We feel blessed just because of you. Love you so much!

Thank you, God!

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: Book Review

Beyond the Sky and the Earth

I first read Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan in 2008 soon after I had graduated from Sherubtse College. I faintly remember some fascinating moments of the book: Jamie riding on the ‘Vomit Comet’, Jamie teaching English in a remote school in Pema Gatshel, night hunting experience in Kanglung, and how Tshewang forgets his underwear in a bush where they have just made love. 


I read the book again, this time particularly to know how a foreigner sees and understands Bhutan and the way of life here and what made her write this beautiful memoir. Moreover, just sometimes back, I met Mr Tshewang, the lover of Jamie, at the automobile workshop in Thimphu where I had a quick conversation with him. 


Tshewang appears to me exactly what the author has described in the book: “He has a handsome face: high cheekbones, a luscious mouth” (pg. 244), “worldly and extremely well-read” (pg. 245), and “has a quicksilver smile and very mischievous eyes” (Pg. 245). The only difference, even after thirty years, is that he now has long grey hair and a wrinkled face. 


“I came here to fix my alto car,” he told me in a jovial tone. “Tomorrow I will be traveling to eastern Bhutan to drop off a lama.” 


Then we talked about his works and my writings. It’s quite a strange feeling to talk to someone that I read a great part of his life in a book. 


Jamie Zeppa came to Bhutan in 1989 to teach through the World University Service of Canada, where she spent three and half years teaching English at Pema Gatshel Middle Secondary School and Sherubtse College. After that, she married Tshewang, with whom they have a son, Pema Dorji, and lived in Thimphu until 1998. 


Jamie initially perceives Bhutan as a “remote”, secluded, “small Tantric Buddhist Kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas”, and mountainous with too difficult terrain. When she arrives in Bhutan, at the age of twenty-four, she seems lonely, certainly unhappy, regretful of her decision, and thoroughly tired and bitter. She has to go through endless difficulties living alone within an alien culture far from the security of her so-called ‘home’ in Canada (which she later starts calling Bhutan ‘home’ too).


However, this feeling gradually evaporates as she delves deeper into Bhutanese society, exploring the overwhelming beauty of Bhutan’s landscape, interacting with innocent crude people, knowing the warmth of Bhutanese culture, embracing faith and falling in love. 


When Jamie reaches Sherubtse College, she has already fallen in love with Bhutan. She tells: “I have fallen into this world the way you fall into sleep, tumbling through layers of darkness into full dream. The way you fall in love.” 


Over time, she finds solace and deep refuge in Buddhism, and she eventually converts to Buddhism and feels “Blessed to be here.”


She states that love with Tshewang is ‘a big reason’ why she has extended her stay in Bhutan. Had there been no entry of Tshewang into her life, this book would not be this exciting and enthralling. 

This memoir is more than a usual travel book; it’s a love story. And her romance with Tshewang, which is supposed to be forbidden, is told in a brutally honest manner. 


“He is a warm and ardent lover, completely uninhabited. It is as if we have been lovers for years…I am safe here, with him; in the middle of the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life, I am safe,” she says happily.


The book also provides astute assessments of outdated methods of teaching in schools, gender mainstreaming, the political situation of Bhutan, and the Bhutanese nature of just following directives and not being critical and vocal. But she says all this in an honest and humorous tone, which makes her observations very interesting and sensible. 


Her book also takes me to many beautiful places in Bhutan that I have not been to yet: Jomolhari, a holy lake above Khaling, and Yurung in Pema Gatshel. I must say—among the books written on Bhutan that I read—Beyond the Sky and the Earth is the best. But I am a little disappointed with Jamie Zeppa because she has written only two books. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Forgotten Essay

I found this essay in my email inbox today while cleaning up my Gmail account. I wrote it in 2015 for an essay competition titled, “Complementarities between Buddhism and Hinduism practised in Bhutan”. And I didn't win it, not even the consolation prizes. This is what every aspiring writer goes through, I knew it then. 

But still, this particular story gives me some meaning of life and it portrays my belief, my journey, my inner voice, and my identity. So to say, I feel a lot of pain just to discard it forever and this piece of my heart will remain here, on my blog. Here it is:

                        His Majesty The King grants Dashain Tika. PC Kuensel

I was born Hindu in Southern Bhutan. Ever since my birth, I was brought up as a typical Hindu child worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses, practising the rites and rituals, and ardently following Hindu customs. In fact, I have practised and enjoyed my faith independently and freely.  

Bhutan, however, is deeply a Buddhist kingdom where the majority of the people practise the Drukpa Kagyudpa tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. Since my school days, I was often introduced to the teachings of Buddha and Buddhist spiritual practices. I have visited and prayed in many Buddhist monasteries and also actively attended the rituals and ceremonies. 

Surprisingly, my parents and the Hindu community never objected to me from doing so; neither did it affect my faith. Moreover, I didn’t feel any indications of discrimination or imposition of Drukpa Kagyudpa beliefs on me. Instead, it provided me an opportunity to enhance my worldview and knowledge on spirituality and respect for religion. Similarly, my Buddhist friends attended my family rituals and ceremonies and they always enjoyed and appreciated being involved. 

In our society, the way these two religions are practised uniquely complements each other by sharing a sacred relationship and respect. They show a great deal of kindness and respect to each other’s faith and culture by exhibiting religious tolerance and a non-judgmental attitude. 

This is attributed to numerous complementarities between these two Dharmic traditions are practised in Bhutan. Firstly, it’s the ideologies and religious practices of the two religions; secondly, our country’s policies and development; thirdly, our beloved Fourth and Fifth Druk Gyalpo’s unwavering support; and lastly, the social harmony and respect. 

From a very early age, Buddhist and Hindu traditions peacefully co-existed for each other sharing parallel beliefs and ideologies and Bhutan is one particular nation where these two Dharmas have continued to flourish complementing and extending favors to one another. In their teachings, both religions retain the centrality of dharma and it forms a basis for beliefs and practices. Also, both emphasize righteousness and compassion to all sentient beings and it is the virtue on which the religions are based upon. 

Furthermore, they share several common practices of rites such as the purification, consecration and baby showering rites, and prayers for ancestors and deceased. Interestingly, in Bhutan, it is common to see Buddhist monks performing some of these rites in Hindu families and vice versa. 

Both Buddhists and Hindus living in Bhutan believe in astrology. On a regular basis, they follow the practice of calculating auspicious dates for important events like marriages, starting a new business, agricultural activities, etc. Being Hindu myself, I have referred to Buddhist Zakar on several occasions and it helped me a lot. I have seen many Buddhists seeking help from Hindu astrologers too.  

The practitioners of these two religions see karma as the main causative factor behind rebirth in the world and they share similar views on Samsara and reincarnation. Therefore, we see the Buddhist and Hindu practitioners undergoing the spiritual practices of mediation, yoga, and concentration to attain enlightenment.  

A series of government policies aiming at systematic harmonization of the religions and cultural cohesion are being enacted and enforced in Bhutan. The Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan (HDSB) legally represents the Bhutanese Hindus, which constitute a quarter of Bhutan’s population and is registered with the Chhoedey Lhentshog (as provisioned in Religious Organizations Act of Bhutan 2007). Moreover, the Commission is represented by an eminent Hindu Pundit.  

This clearly indicates the policies and law enforcement of our government are not only designed toward freedom and protection of religious identity for Hindus in Bhutan, but the Royal Government of Bhutan is already recognizing the complementarities between these two religions and the importance of Hinduism and its religious practices for the growth of spiritual heritage of Bhutan. 

Even in the democratic setting of our government, at least two elected Hindu representatives have been appointed every time as the Ministers who represent Lhotshams in the cabinet. This particular practice truly demonstrates that the followers of Buddhism and Hinduism can work together even in the country’s highest political setting without disapproval and discredit. 

Several worshipping establishments were developed for the Hindus. In Thimphu, a permanent Hindu Temple was constructed recently. The consecration of the temple was conducted in the presence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan, and both Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies were held. 

Instead of feeling threatened by the existence of Hinduism in Bhutan, the Buddhists have extended many favors to the development of Hinduism and one can understand it when the Je Khenpo consecrated the Hindu Temple. Also, the Sivalaya Mandir in Samtse was constructed under the command of His Majesty the King.  

The Hindus celebrate different festivals and most importantly, Dashain has been declared a national holiday in Bhutan since 1980. Every year, His Majesty the King of Bhutan, the Buddhist King, celebrates the Dashain with the Hindu community by receiving Tikka from Hindu Pundit. 

In 2011, the Druk Gyalpo and Gyaltsuen came to the Durga Mandir in Thimphu after the marriage proceedings in Punakha and the royal couple underwent the Hindu marriage ceremony. This shows that there is a great level of complementary between Buddhism and Hinduism practices and the Druk Gyalpo himself continues to revere Hinduism by being the real patron of religious tolerance. 

Lastly, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan states, “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan…” However, a book titled, ‘The Constitution of Bhutan-Principles and philosophies’ by Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye explains that, “It doesn’t compel people of other faith towards conversion to a monolith faith…Rather, our spiritual heritage is simply based on our history, traditions and beliefs.” Truly said, in Bhutan, Hinduism shares many significant complementarities with Buddhism and it only supplements our cultural diversity, enhances the growth of social harmony among the people, and enriches our spiritual heritage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Of My Longingness

There's a deep longingness in me. 

Oh, sometimes I feel it aloud in my heart, reverberating like I just felt it now. 

That I should leave behind everything and go with my family to a faraway place. 

There, I would own a small house and lead a simple, quiet life. 

There, I would raise cattle and grow my own foods. 

There, I would read a lot of books and write my own stories. 

There, my wife and I would nurture my daughter well, so that she would become a good human. 

There, I would volunteer in a community school and impart my knowledge to the village children. 

This is my longingness, and ah, it's so simple!