Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Story of my Assassins

It wasn’t on any of my must-buy lists. But I happened to buy The Story of my Assassins yesterday thinking it could be significant. A book by Tarun J Tejpal. With this, of course, my New Year’s resolution comes into sharper focus. Buying two books from my monthly salary, let me tell you, is my New Year's resolution. Another book I bought is The Power. 

I started reading The Story of my Assassins before I got home. I stopped right there on a track. On my way to home. I left unattended my calls and text messages. With great interest, I sat reading oblivious to cars and noises and pedestrians walking by. And I read. I read, and sumptuously wandered across the terrains of words, across the terrains of ideas and moments.

As I leafed through the pages, I fell in love. For the beauty of the story. For the bravery of author. For the play of words. Mesmeric! Tarun Tejpal exerts his gorgeous heart into every sentence. He brilliantly portrays the Indian rural life, nature and landscape with resilient imagination and mesmeric words. Through his brave protagonist, he despises the mess of a police case, of courts and lawyers.

Tarun, in no doubt, is a smart writer with a laconic sense of humour. He laughs at narrow-minded bureaucrats and the shallow decorativeness of rich people in India. I’d love to read out a line from this most moving, most meaningful book,
To those the gods wish to make into fools they give wealth in excess.
The book is witty, sad, heartrending and above all it’s honest. There’s menace, humour, love, hatred, excitement and happiness in each sentence. This book makes you laugh in almost every sentence.

Continuing the walk, there, again, I kept reading. And I felt smarter than I was, as if I were in a company of a wise man. I nodded, duly, in each sentence, each argument and each justification he writes. In no time at all, this book could connect me to him. Ah, there are many things we’ve in common.

Most surprisingly, Tarun knows wonderful words with which he could express complex ideas and wisdoms. His ideas and wisdoms are affirming, real and honest. And importantly, each idea and wisdom carries remedy for life’s problems. I share this below:
In any case, you must never fight a woman if you can avoid it. Bring her to your side, go over to her…Listen to her, go along with her.
And this paragraph jumped at me,
When the guru sends his disciple to empty the ocean with a mug, he is not teaching him the virtue of perseverance, but the lesson of futile action. The stupid disciple empties the ocean for the rest of his life and finds peace; the intelligent disciple finds wisdom, throws away the mug, moves in search of more. The disciple must not only perform the task, he must also contemplate the task. We have to find out truth ourselves…The guru can show you the path but you have to walk it. Truth cannot be taught, truth must be experienced. 
It’s a beautifully structured book. I assure you that it’s a book that can nourish a hungry mind for a week. And honestly, I want to kneel and press my head to the ground, saluting its splendor and colourfulness. Buy this book. Read it. And you’ll realize this is no exaggeration. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

A cursed village

It was 2008. I was, then, a Bhutan Observer (local newspaper) correspondent from Gelephu. I’ve usually reported stories on politics, business, crimes, and of course on Maokhola.

One social gathering, I met a local leader from Senge, one of the gewogs in Sarpang. He wanted me to visit his village to write story. He informed me (rather frustratingly) that Senge, barely 10 km away from the Sarpang Town had been completely ignored by the government. It had no electricity, telephone, mobile network, RNR centre, BHU, lhakhang or school. Every year at least 75 percent of the crops were damaged by wild animals. And the government hadn’t done anything other than assessing the damage, by the way.

A little over a month later-early summer-my source from Sarpang Town informed me that a herd of 33 elephants was routinely destroying crops and houses at Senge. I thought, instantaneously, this was the perfect time for me to visit the place.

The village was six-hour walk from the Sarpang Town. A lonely feeder road was its only connection with the outside world. After crossing three big rivers and a couple of dense forests (where travellers were known to encounter wild elephants and robbers), I reached Senge, a scattered village of 230 households. The village was a world apart, and it had been neglected without any basic infrastructures. Thousands of people had migrated to other parts of the country. 141 young people of ages 7-12 couldn’t go to school at all.

Only three shops dispersed about the village. Rice and maize fields stretched for acres and acres on all sides. The village was also in plentiful of areca nut and orange orchards, banana plants which were their main sources of livelihood. The village was beautiful. And undeniably fertile.

I met the gewog leader. As I explained about the purpose of my visit, he immediately went into a panic of babbling. My arrival had caused him more worries, perhaps, more than the arrival of wild elephants.

After a while, he asserted, “Dasho Dzongda ordered us, in the last meeting, not to talk to media.” I only scratched my head and breathed out, “Huh?”

He added, “Two villagers from our village were axed by the dzongda for talking to BBS.” However, the villagers were ordered to strictly follow the bureaucratic procedure: inform the dzongkhag administration for assessment of damage. Only the dzongkhag administration was answerable to media or the headquarters. Villagers talking to media meant bypassing the dzongkhag administration, and undermining their capacity, he informed me.

Can it be? Will it?

What made it worse was that all the gewog leaders and villagers were sworn to secrecy (never to speak to media). However, this only left me infuriated. The government was doing nothing for the village. The villagers were denied of basic infrastructures, not paid any compensation for the damaged crops, not provided any protection against wild animals. And again they were also deprived of their freedom of expression and freedom of press.

As the last meal of the day cooking, the villagers started preparing their daily battle with firecrackers to chase away the wild elephants. From a distant hut, a scream rapped the village, “Meme norbu opha! Meme norbu opha!” I felt that I had entered the realm of wild and uncertainty. The villagers spent entire night shouting, crying, running.

Next morning, my heart wounded when I saw the entire rice and maize fields rampaged by a herd of 33 elephants that night. A woman was crying so agonizingly and whining about all the losses, “Now, we’ve nothing left to eat. My house razed down.” I was moved to tears by her catastrophic situation.

Inside all the villagers, I saw a deep well of loss and sadness and hopelessness and uncertainty. These people lived unconnected in a perpetual misery. I knew only external interventions/aids could rescue them because their situation had become intolerable, out of their power.

There, I thought, it didn’t feel right to go back not reporting their plights. Then I visited each household (without help from gewog leaders) and assessed all the damages. About 43 acres of maize, 30 acres of rice, 7 houses and more than 160 areca nut plants were destroyed by the beasts. I reported.

Today, it has been exactly three years since I reported this story. Last week, quite surprisingly, I met the gewog leader in Thimphu.

He told me, very excitedly, “After you reported on our village, the government brought all the developments and facilities in our village. Now we’ve a primary school, BHU, RNR centre, non-formal education set-up, RBA unit, forest department and mobile networks. Destruction of crops by wild animals is solved after the arriving of electricity and electric fence. Our village is very bright, today, prospering.” 

Photo: Tempa Wangdi

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Compassionate youth

When their fellow-youth are involved in all sort of anti-social activities, a group of 19 Sherubtseans (including two students of Kanglung MSS) meaningfully spent their entire winter vacation touring the country. They have toured 13 dzongkhags creating awareness on the brutality of animals and of course advocating the Jangsa Animal Saving Trust (JAST).

They have performed cultural events for the public in the streets, towns and schools. One of the participants told me, “We’re doing all this for the love of animals, to support the Jangsa, and to engage ourselves meaningfully during the vacation.”

This group has collected Nu 230,000 through donations for JAST. 

They have donated Nu 30,000 each to Bhutan Kidney Association (BKA) and Lhaksam.

The group also rescued six yaks.

Last Tuesday, along with Lam Kunzang (founder, JAST), Lhamo Drukpa (local artist, social worker), Tshering Dorji (actor, founder of Happy Valley) and Tashi Namgay (founder, BKA), I invited this group of students and organized a cultural program for the patients living at JDWNRH. The program which started from 2 ended at 7:30 in the evening. The patients and their attendants were so happy, perhaps after so many years they’ve been treated with live cultural performance by a young and compassionate group of students and the very popular singer Lhamo Drukpa.

Almost all the patients of the hospital have sung and danced. See the smiles and cheers.

The young students also served them with groceries, tea and snacks. 

All the members of BKA applaud this group of students for their noble initiative and remarkable work and for bringing smiles and laughter in all patients.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Like a movie show

A little over a month ago, I headed for the Trowa Theatre, Changjiji, where “Sem Hingi Samtang”, a Bhutanese film I was eager to see was screening.

The movie is quirky, humorous, and very moving. As the film moved slowly, spectacularly, across the terrain of one beautiful scene to another, after sometime, I found myself so engrossed. I got so involved with the characters and with what’s happening on the screen. I became happy and sad with the hero. When the hero dances, I danced with him (with his angelic heroine). When he meets accident and hurts his limbs, I too felt his pain. When he’s heartbroken, I also underwent depression. My five senses were so attached to what’s happening on the screen. And I felt everything was real. I think this is true for all.

After the show, I broke singly from the crowd and marched towards home. And I followed a route, less noisy. As I walked, I apprehended that our life is like a movie show. This understanding overwhelmed me! Like watching a movie, we too think that the world around us is real. Actually, a world around us is created based on our interpretation of what we see, hear, and perceive through our five senses. Everything looks real though.

I agree with the eastern ideology-it’s our mind and thoughts that create the world. The world we experience and the life we live are the reflections of our thoughts. These thoughts make us expect, behave, talk and act in a certain personalized way. They shape our circumstances and relationships. But we can change our thoughts like we change the cassette to watch another movie. By changing our thoughts, we can change the illusion and experience a different reality.

At home-obviously a quieter, fewer distractions, stiller place-I could still my mind and the senses. It seemed that I could wake up completely, understood and became conscious of reality of world. There were no thoughts in my mind; my consciousness shifted into a new dimension. I became conscious of the world beyond the mind and illusions. And the world I knew and believed as real began to lose its reality.

It’s like when you’re watching a movie and suddenly you went out for the washroom. As you walk out, your attention will be withdrawn from the movie. And you get snapped out of the illusion the movie is creating and you are thrown into a different reality. However, the projecting machine keeps on projecting images on the screen. And you know that it’s the only light being projected through the film onto the screen. What is seen on the screen is not real, but yet it is there. It is same in our life, we call reality.

Even I could wake up from this illusion, it doesn’t mean I don’t see and experience the world around me. I live my life in the same manner as before, but fully awake. It’s like I’m watching the movie, but no longer interested in it. I dance no more with the hero; I cry no more with him. I’m fully disconnected, fully detached from the world around me. Rejection depresses me no more, failure hurts me no more or success delights me no more. I’m no more a slave to illusion. Now, every action in my daily life has been shaped in a better way (stronger, happier, practical and without worries).

Note: Thanks to Amrith for sharing this ideology to me; Remez.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The warmth of solstice

A handful of days ago, I set out for home early from office.  I walk office on foot, everyday. Honestly. I don’t own car, I don’t hire taxi. Winter is already here: the day turns into hateful cold, the wind adds frosty to it and the sun going down early. But I walk. And only a few Thimphuiets do walk on foot like me in this most barren time of the year.

Midway to home, my eyes feasted upon a tree, just a few yards down the road. The tree sat abandoned, eerily. I inched my way towards it. And I looked so uninterruptedly, so absorbedly. Only a flock of birds were wheeling around it. Once plentiful of leaves and colours, now it stood bare and dispirited. Its leaves and seeds have stripped down, decaying on the ground. Alas, this tree was exhausted by hardest of wintry weather.

I couldn’t help thinking about this metaphor in my life, too. I’ve loads of memories from when I was a high school boy. However, this past is mostly remorseful and something useless that only hampered me.  Like this tree shed its leaves, I also let go of my memories one by one.

But suddenly, I felt a great emptiness within me. A sense of nothingness seized me which turned out to be as scary as blackness. Worse, my mind filled with doubt and anxiety. I had trashed my past, but I didn’t know how to live without it. I didn’t know how to stand firm in my own emptiness. And I became as lonely as this tree.

Again I looked closer at this tree. Contemplated more seriously. An understanding dawned upon me, ah. Though the hardest of season had beaten it, the tree was stunningly alive and still fighting with unparalleled ferocity will to live. It let go off its leaves, yet it stood firm in its own cruel weather, emptiness. It best taught me: it shed all the leaves, standing bare all winter and it always trusts that spring will come.

This internal understanding filled me with a surprising sense of comfort. No matter how cold, how dark, how cruel, how empty it can get, winter always holds a promise-that spring is no far. It’s this hopeful light of my own belief that radiates these days in my desertedness. Here, now, I embrace the darkness, emptiness and earnestly waiting to be embraced again with comfort, warmth, laughter, love and fruition.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Devil will devour her anyway

Last Sunday evening I was at my sister’s place, Changbangdu for dinner.  Lisa, her 8-year old daughter was tellingly excited to have me visiting them. Each time I visit them, for, I always surprise her with sweets, cakes and gifts. She is alert and bright. And keenly observant.

My sister and her husband are not book smart. They are not widely read. So like any usual Bhutanese conversation, we set onto talking about our works and family.  

Dinner was over. My niece, Lisa started playing toys with her three friends from the neigbour houses in her room. Oh, her room is full of toys, fairytale books, paints, teddy bears. And the walls papered with fairytale characters, super heroes.

Light went off. Suddenly. The children shrieked in noisy jerks. And frenziedly, they busted in the living room where we were seated on the couch, still talking. Their panic was further appalled when one child yelled, “Bhoot! Bhoot!” as if she was calling out for ghost. All I could sense in their eyes was increasing fear.

But to my pleasant surprise, when her friends were trembling in horror, Lisa was standing at the door, just aloof and unafraid. Only her eyes containing curiosity. The curiosity, understandably, to know why her friends were screaming.

She marched briskly towards me. Crawled onto my lap, she whispered in my ear, “Uncle, what’s bhoot?” I watched her, strangely shocked. Well, I found that she was not remotely aware of ghost. And of course of fear, of horror. I had the answer, but I was perfectly aware that to let her know about ghost at her age may cause her damage. Scratching my head, I answered, “Umm…bhooth is something…not good.”

I quickly threw a warm hug, though. Ah, a smart way to bamboozle kids. And how sweet, she looked entirely assured, convinced. Light came. She marched back to her room and resumed playing toys. 

Lisa has been predominantly brought up in an environment where she was only taught to experience love, kindness, gratefulness, beauty, gentleness, happiness and discipline. Her parents have never taught her about ghost, fear, horror, anxiety and hatred. Creating a good environment, teaching them good manners and protecting them from the negative influences; however, we can shape our children’s life.

But as I returned home, I left worrying about with her inquiring mind, TV, friends and social media all around her how long can she be shut off from the reality. I left thinking about how she would react when she knows about ghost, fear and anxiety. I left imagining her as a beautiful fairytale princess sat sewing in her room and devil will devour her anyway.

Photo: Googlesearch

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

For the love of reading

“I got a book you surely love to read. Tell me when you want to read it,” a friend of mine text me recently. She is one of my book friends that I’ve found and kept. She being one, today we’ve formed a small community of book lovers and writers in Thimphu.

It’s one fascinating thing, as to have a bunch of friends who love books. We meet. Not so often, though. There, our conversations hardly derail from books. We enjoy talking books. And we cruise into recognizing the power of books and to value them and buying them. Reading and loving books and sharing them has brought us together. Undeniably.

We’ve another thing in common. Writing. We love to write, consistently. Share our stories to each other, encourage, inspire and throw constructive criticisms. This way we improve. This way we celebrate our writings.