Saturday, June 23, 2012

Over and out there

The house above? Oh, it’s my country house, tucked in a beautiful plain in Chuzargang village, Gelephu. For you or any other person, this house is like any other rural house. But to me, it’s so special; it’s engraved in my heart, mind. Because I had spent almost entire life of my childhood there. Like its oldness, uniqueness and its persistent grace, many of my jolly memories of being a kid are tied up in this place. 

A couple of weeks before, I was there. I went around the house and looked so uninterruptedly, so obsessively at everything, even at the smallest things. Images of as a childhood flooded into my mind. Instantaneously. After a very long time, I was home again, staying in my own house, on the soil of my own.

I rested on the wooden bench, outside the courtyard of my house. Lying down on this same bench, some 20 years back, I used to dream of things I can’t remember. Teacher. Engineer. Journalist. Rich man. Superhero. Ah, even marrying a beautiful girl, settling down. And guess what? I had madly loved my neighbour’s beautiful daughter. Oh, my heart! I wanted to marry her. My first love? Infatuation? I don’t know.
The plain, unkempt and shy little children I met here only reminded the way I was before. Since very young, just 6, I started looking after cows. My cloth rain-dampened, in summer, along with my big brothers and sisters, I would be chasing after my cows, about 30 in number. And my stomach would swell and become hard like a drum due to rain and after eating wild mango.
Sitting here, I remembered the way my granny and elder sisters used to narrate the devil stories. After listening to the stories, so frightened at night, I’d always squeeze in between my brothers in the bed. Even I wouldn’t go to toilet outside. And often, I’d bed wet.
And I looked way down over the field, so plain, so soft, vast and shimmered with green grass so fresh, so dazzling rich. I strolled down and sat there on the terrace of field. At the field where I used to run, zigzagging in all directions, along with my big brothers and sisters and dogs. And I used to stumble all along the terraces, behind them. At times, crying; other times, joyously. 

The grass and bush have continued to grow. The bush sheltered birds, rabbits, bees, insects of any kind, butterflies. I was walking in the field, witnessing, and caught up in my own thoughts. We’d sneak beneath the bush, shooting at those birds, slingshot in my hands. Sometimes, we’d chase those wild rabbits, dragonflies too.
And I marched towards the irrigational canals and rivers nearby where we used to swim-frolicking, hungry, fighting the current, soaking up. I can’t explain it but all this felt different-this walking, this witnessing and this nostalgia. All this made me most zesty. You might think I jumped at that point. I did! Ah, because all the old instincts came rushing again. 

I had my camera with me. I took many shots. Then, I raced back home. Smell of fried rice and emdatshi flooded my senses. Yes, my mother was cooking supper for me. I had to blink back tears as I watched her cook. Oh, it took me back in those days where she used to ready the supper when I return from the school and run-rounding, hungry. Whereas, my father would be tuning to his radio. In some occasions, I used to get arra soaked egg from the bottom of his arra glass.

Everything about the end of day excited me. The setting sun was feverishly beautiful here. I sat on the grass, in my courtyard. The sky. At night. The same sky. I’d always try to count the stars and wondered about the moon.
Gracious, it was like I kept turning pages of the book of my childhood. I had surrendered, and I was letting myself feel that deep swirl of my memory, people, animals, place, of time. But I realized something as I watched and reminisced about all this. The tears has found me. They were there, in my eyes. It surprised me. I was not sure why.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blossoming garden

I didn't expect. Wow! Today, my office flower gardens turned lush with blossoming flowers and its aroma. Remember? Just a couple of months ago, along with colleagues, I did voluntary work maintaining these gardens (loosening soil, adding manure, planting new flowers and making wooden fence). And now, oh,  I've a reason to become happy! See the gardens below:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Going back, embracing

“I am very busy,” I used to say to my Mom, to my Dad when they asked me to visit them. My parents, farmers, live in a village called Chuzargang. Chuzargang, consisting over 1,600 households, is about two-hour walk from Gelephu.

But the truth was that I was hesitant to visit my parents. For Gelephu becomes beastly hot in summer. A lot of expenses incurs during travels. And I’ve to walk solid two hours over the most infamous river in Bhutan, the Maokhola, from Gelephu town to reach my village.
So until last week, it had been almost a year, 12 months of excuses and ignoring, I decided to visit my parents. As you would imagine, Gelephu was boiling, then, in almost 36 Degree Celsius. And I had to walk across the 1.8 km long Maokhola, under the hot sun.

After the lunch, I readied my journey from Gelephu town. But I couldn’t walk, go home alone. I needed people going to Chuzargang to tag along. I’ll tell you why. A lonely rough road was its only connection with Gelephu. But the course of this road was always altered by monsoon flashfloods. Moreover, this road was infected with youth, high on drugs or alcohol, attacking travelers. It was wild elephants, poisonous snakes and leeches infected. Also, the Moakhola River was known for claiming lives of people, at least two every summer.
So, I looked for people of my village in Gelephu town. But how do we recognize them? The people of Chuzargang are tanned. They wear their ghos high above their knees and carry green rug sacks on their backs. They are peasants, illiterate or semi-literate and are very tough and strong in physicality. They’re uncommonly humble. And remember, they always wear slippers.

It was a late hot afternoon. As I was sweating profusely, I saw two men in burnt skins, wearing half pants. They wore sleepers. They must be from my village, I reckoned.

I asked them, “Are you from Chuzargang?” one of them nodded. I requested them if I could tag along with them to my village. They agreed. I was lucky that they had a farm tractor returning to Chuzargang, as one of them was the tractor driver. This tractor was donated by READ Bhutan to the people of Chuzargang to promote farm mechanization. Remarkably, Chuzargang is among the highest producers of rice, maize, areca nuts, fruits (banana, lemon, litchi, pineapple, coconuts, jack fruit, mango, pomegranate) and vegetables in our country.

They said before we start the journey, we’ve to charge ourselves as the route is very long and tiring. We entered a bar and ordered three containers of tongpa and a plate of djuma. My head swung; additional tips by the sun heat, ha-ha.
We drove. It was a bumpy ride over the course of the rough road. After a dozen of minutes, we came over the Maokhola. A long bamboo bridge connects the two banks. When the river swells during summer, this temporary bridge will be washed away and the villagers have to use boats.
Oh, over this river, during the last election campaign, the DPT government had promised constructing 1.8 km long motorable bridge. With sheer confidence and ease though. This mega promise was even reflected in their party manifesto. 
Now, it has been exactly four years that the people here have been anticipating the bridge, desperately, disgruntling. And, the interesting part? People have named the river, rather sarcastically, Prem Khola against the name of the Gelephu MP. And Prem Bridge, for the promised motorable bridge.
There are several other small streams to cross. Bicycle is one of the modes of transportation here. Now you would know the reason why people of this region wear their ghos above their knees and only wear sleepers. Yes, it’s because of the streams. 
After that we climbed a hillock. As soon as we scaled the summit a woman cried, “Come lopons, we’ve bangchang, beer, djuma, and momo!” She was underneath a small plastic sheet of a hut, displaying the beverages and snacks. My companions stopped the tractor engine and asked me to come with them. He ordered two bottles of bangchang and two plates of momo.
As the sun stood in the west, we reached Chuzargang. It’s a large village where fertile rice and maize fields, fed by water canals, stretch for acres and acres all sides. Areca nut and banana plants surrounded each typical house, mud-and-dung washed walls and courtyard. Green vegetables and fruits were grown abundantly, and cattle grazing contentedly nearby.
Men and women were tilling the fields or weeding gardens. Children ran from one corner of the fields to the other, jumping joyously like a bunch of colourful dragonflies. A group of young men were enjoying an early dinner with bangchang (local wine). They recognized me, I recognized them. I sat, talked with them over the course of bangchang. I sat there, with them, nostalgic as I drank the local wine.
                 Typical house in Chuzargang (mud-and-dung washed walls and kitchen separate)

Oh jeez, I was in my village, home. I was real happy and felt good. It felt good to be back, to be meeting my parents, to be feeling home, comfortable. And more importantly, it felt good to be not avoiding, making excuses. I was happy not to be complaining of travel expenses, sun heat, the infamous Maokhola, snakes and leeches.    

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For being there, and for caring

I struggle. Everyday. I struggle to rise from my bed.  I struggle walking under the monsoon’s scorching sun. I struggle to manage my salary and clear monthly bills. I struggle to keep my promises to my beloved ones. I struggle even meeting deadlines of my official works. Also, I struggle to forget my dreadful past.  

But sometimes I struggle entirely for no precise reasons. And this time, I struggle with an overwhelming sense of confusion. This confusion results from as my mind locks into irregular flow of varying emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Sad. Weariness. Ambiguity.  

To some extent, the naïve philosopher in me delivers to me that we live in a continuous stream of confusion, exploitation, uncertainty and struggling. Or perhaps living also meant struggling, confused and uncertain. I don’t know. But I can tell you how easily we, humans, are knocked off by the swirling rapids of time, reality. And we give into alarm, exploitation, to suffering and loss, accept it as a fact of life. 

And almost everyday I ask myself these questions: why am I here on earth? What exactly God trying to teach me? What’s good? What’s bad? Why we fear? Am I really living my life? Am I a good human being? Is there a next life? What’s the purpose of life? 

Pondering over these questions would crunch core emotions inside of me. And it leaves me excessively vulnerable; I sink into the feeling of being unsafe. I feel fragile and quiet, bruised and wary, sensitive and sad.

Last month, I was bedridden. I was suffering from toothache, in an unrelenting pain. After a few days, I caught high fever. I shivered, sweated a lot. My cheek was swollen. Oh, it was exquisitely painful! I started groaning, crying.

My little sister heard me crying in pain. She entered my room, came to me. She leaned towards, grasping my hands, and said, “Brother, don’t cry. I’ll take care of you and take you for hospital. You’ll be all right!” 

I held her hands tight, crying fresh tears and trying to control it brimming in my eyes. Her attentions, kind words, holding me up not only did fix my pain, but also helps me understand. The little sister of mine helps me understand that there’s turmoil everyday, in one form or another. But there’s also loved ones in our lives who stand with us willing to hold our hands and support us. Each time there’s a stumble, there’s someone willing to hold your hands to ensure you’re not in misery.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

From Gelephu with love

I had just arrived Gelephu for a fortnight-long official tour. Warm air gushed forth in a bus I was travelling from Thimphu. The air was humid, thick. It, uh, suffocated me. And even to catch my breath for me had become, so unexpectedly, difficult.


I was seated in the bus, doing nothing, my arms and legs akimbo. But my body got heated automatically. In a while, my body started streaming with sweat and it drenched my shirt completely bringing a touch of nauseous. Yuck, I felt as if I were bathing in sweat.

Even at 6 pm, the sun in Gelephu would be bright, beastly hot. Temperature, eh? It’d be, rather roughly, about 36 Degree Celsius. And you know what? Gelephu has got one of the hateful winds. It remains stagnant, sun heated.
What made my trip worse was that Gelephu hardly saw rain in the last two weeks. Often, it had been sunny, hard, brutal heat. Now I understood why people of this region are burnt skins. Men, generally, wear half vest and half pants. Women wear cotton lungi, a garment hanging from waist till toe, and thin blouse. And all wear slippers.

At almost all meeting places and markets, tall notification boards read,

You are now in the malaria endemic area, beware of malaria and dengue!

And it says that malaria and dengue leads to “complication and death”.
Scary, na? I had some anti-malarial creams and always used bed net at night. Still then, it’s frightening to stay here in summer. You know all threats: humid air, hot sun and heat, malaria and dengue. What else? Hoo-ha, poisonous snakes and leeches too.

When home, I read a little, not a lot, but sweat streamed down relentlessly. Electric fan only blows a warmer current of air. I dozed off. In two weeks, for god’s sake, I could complete, with much difficult, only the first chapter of a novel. I wanted to write, but I suffered from a block. It’s due to humid air suffocating me, blocking my creative thinking. And the worst thing? Even thinking was exhausting. It made me sweat and weary.

Give me a break!

Did I say about my sleepless nights? Well, I spent all nights tossing and turning in my bed. Sleepless. Because the mosquito netting had further suffocated me. And even inside your net, this blood sucking creature would bite you. Jedha. Yes, even after you had applied anti-malarial creams on your body.
In a day, my skin burnt. Gosh, this burn was an intense pain! I brought sun block creams all the way from Thimphu. But sweat would wash it away from your body. And you’re exposed to that dangerous sunlight called UV, unprotected.

Oh, I forgot to tell you one more thing. It’s about my duty (official) in Gelephu. Under the burning sun, I set off to work at 10 am. In my workplace, I’d just put on fan, stay idle, robotic and dull, gazing up at ceiling. And lost, rather ominously. Psst! I attempted to work on my PC. Oh, it’s just another vain attempt. Then, I’d lie down on a divan, almost entire day snoring, exceedingly tired. I was, yeah, exhausted by the hardest of summer sun. Forget about meeting my friends or even date, I couldn’t even walk out of my house.

I wouldn’t whine anymore, he-he!
However, as the days rolled into weeks, well, I had started taking pleasure in things and people in Gelephu. I had, so automatically, ultimately adjusted here. I always used to believe that in time things change and we, humans, have supreme capacity within to adjust to any places. I was not sure precisely how, but with perseverance, I discovered now, would everything be perfect in the end. There’s something good, and kind, and gentle for everyone everywhere. Now, I feel, I’ve become a part of Gelephu. I’m burnt skins, suntanned. I wear half vest, half pants. And sleepers on my feet. I sweat, yet I can walk and work. Without grumbling.