Saturday, December 31, 2016

Embracing them back

I have been sitting here since early this evening. Actually, I want to do something. Right here. Now. To write down my heart’s content on this blank page, instantaneously. But I don’t know where to begin. 
The window of room is open, and the cold breeze is gently rushing in, wafting the hem of light brown lace curtains. Well, it’s the day when Thimphu is in its cruelest. Bare tree branches tremble nervously. Withered grass sticks collect icing blades that slowly melt as the day marches on.

In fact, the entire valley has turned starkly barren, and fighting against the perishing cold. At one point, I gaze up at the perfectclear blue sky. And, there’s an abyss of blueness within the enigmatic blue space.

So to say, there’s this strong yearning, somewhere deep inside my heart that I cannot locate, to scribble those words that want to come out; or to put it a little more accurately, those feelings that I am wanting to transform into words. They are as deep as the blueness of the blue sky. Will I be able to apprehend and transform them into words here?

Well, today is the last day of the year, 2016. This particular longing in me is making my heart heavy. Unbeknown to me, I walk in the kitchen. I briskly placed kettle on the stove. Pouring a cup full of hot water in the container, I put on the gaslight. A little after, I added a tiny lump of Brookbond tea and then sugar and milk together. I carefully stirred it with a spoon.

Little of it spilled out when I pour it in my mug. I carry it to my veranda.Once outside, sitting on the floor, I wrapped the tea mug with my both hands. Closer, I caught a whiff of the freshly brewed tea. I tooka gulp of my steamy tea and many more until I empty the mug. I feel a lot better, as the tea let pleasant warmth wash over me.

Before this good-feeling sensation leaves me, I run back to the room, in front of my computer. As always, I fall back on applying my own trick, a witty method of wooing myself with a little ounce of force to stand firm and write.

This time, I am able to write. I am writing. And as I do it, as I pour down everything from my heart I feel my heart is comforted wonderfully. The weariness slowly disappears, and the heaviness in my heart evaporates.
I look up at the sky again. And there amidst the so naked blue sky, to my great pleasure and wonder, I spot a clump of white clouds floating like the careful strokes of a good brush. I feast my eyes there for a moment.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve been missing serious writing for quite a long time. I’ve been missing the habit of writing in my room. I’ve been missing my own tea. And all along, I’ve been craving for all this. But no wonder, I can embrace them back, like a clump of white clouds in the vast blue sky I just spotted.

Happy New Year, dear readers! I wish you a great year ahead.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

When you are stranded in Samdrupjongkhar

The tall notice (order) came. And the gate of Samdrupjongkhar was closed, sturdily. Not a single Bhutanese vehicle was allowed to go outside the gate. Not a single Bhutanese soul was allowed to walk out. 

The notice stated the highway of Assam would be affected, as there would be a strike in the neighboring Indian State. So, the Bhutanese commuters were restricted to travel through the State.

Thus, I returned to my hotel room. It was frustrating to stay in a place one more day, or more, where I didn’t know a soul and of the place I was not familiar.

It’s a thing of Samdrupjongkhar, a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants at the southeastern part of Bhutan that borders the Indian State of Assam. It is often used as an entry and exit point by the merchants and commuters travelling to eastern Bhutan. In fact, it is a one-night halt town. But due to unending insurgency issues and protests in Assam that affect the highway, travellers are often stranded in this town, sometimes up to three days. 

So instead of staying of staying in my room grumbling about the situation, I decided to walk around and explore the town more. To kill my time. And to escape from boredom. Surprisingly, I found the town fascinating and it has so much to offer, in its own little ways though. Some of my findings and recommendations that you can do in case you are stranded in this town in the future are: 

Mani dungkar
Right in the middle of town is a small park with a beautiful dungkar of Bhutanese architectural design and intricate paintings. It has some open space, where green trees and flowers provide you shade. You can either sit on the concrete benches and relax or just lie down on green meadows and enjoy children playing around or just watch the dungkar glitters at night, as the lights fall on it.   

The Gate
One thing I loved doing in Samdrupjonkhar to pass my time is going to the border gate, and just sit, watch. So many Indians, over a thousand, mostly day laborers enter the gate in the morning. They come riding bicycles. But before entering, they keep their cycles locked outside the gate in a long line. They religiously go for security check, register their names at the immigration counter and march towards their respective works.
In the evening, 5 pm onward, the laborers return. Though muddied with dust and sweats, their face glimmer with smile and joy. Some bursting into laughter and others engage in a loud happy talk; for they could earn their day’s wages and are happy to feed their families. They pick up their cycles and ride off home. This particularly sight brings me such a beautiful feeling - of simplicity and naivety, of hard work and rewards, and of reverence and beauty of life. 

The Town
Strolling around the town helps you spend your time. But do it slowly, because the town is very small. A bustling and clean town, Samdrupjongkhar is the main economic centre of the eastern Bhutan. It holds the distinct honour of being the oldest town in Bhutan, and is believed to be developed as a result of construction of the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang national highway in the 1960s.

As you walk around it, you get to see a diverse mixture of small shops, hotels, bars and restaurants. Not only the locals, but also people from as far as Trashigang, Lhuentse and Yangtse are seen in the town trading. It’s intriguing to see them carrying loads of goods on their back staggering and bargaining and buying more.
However, what I liked most about the town is to read funny names of the shops. Some are very hilarious.
Pholang Katang Hotel & Bar
Accommodation and foods
Today, there are a handful of well-maintained hotels with good logistics. They even serve you a good mix of Bhutanese, continental and Indian cuisines. Hotel Menjong, Hotel Friends and Hotel Park are a few to name.
Hotel Friends
But the Hotel Friends is very popular among the locals and even tourists from India for its foods, whiskeys and beers. Kuenzung Pizza and Restaurant, a newest hangout place in the town, is also popular among the locals that serves pizzas, cakes and noodles.

I was told that Samdrupjongkhar used to house the oldest cinema theatre in the country, which was popular even among the Assamese. However, today, it seems defunct.
But other forms of entertainment have emerged in the town, such as drayang and karaoke. They are located in the Lower Market and always gather huge crowds at night.

Suspension bridge

Right next to the Lower Market, there’s a tall and long suspension bridge over a river that connects a housing colony to the town. When I visited it, I spotted many young people and Indian tourists taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful sight and pleasant breeze.

Youth Centre
Two minutes walk towards north of the town, in front of the Bus Station, you can spot a Youth Center. It’s a cozy place that provides services like Internet, carom and small library. 
If you have kids with you, then it is the right place to visit and avail the services, as you would kill the time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Delicious autumn

Perhaps it’s said by one of my favorite classic novelists, George Eliot, this has become my delicious quote of autumn this year:

 “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

And some pictures of the this year’s fall here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thailand in grief

A few days ago, I was in Thailand, a land fondly known to its people as “The Land of Smile”. But quite surprisingly, this country of smile and joy was undergoing the feeling of great loss, pain and collective numbness.
For their “Great Father”, their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away on 13th October 2016. Otherwise often associated with the bright colors and busy life; however, on October 14 and 15 Thais were seen predominantly dressed in black and they were mourning.

The people stood in front of shopping centers watching up at the big digital screens that broadcasted the LIVE event of the King’s body being taken from Siriraj Hospital in a motorcade to the Grand Palace. I could spot many people openly weeping and wailing.
Workers and salespersons in the malls put on TV and were seen wiping their tears with handkerchief.  On the streets, some people were bowing down in front of the portraits of the revered King; as they offered prayers lighting incense sticks they cried.

The Thais mourned the loss as if like they had lost their own father. That’s the love of the people of Thailand for their King. That’s the reverence and submission to their “Great Father” despite the political division that occurred in the past few decades of his reign. 
“The news of his death cut deep into my heart like a knife. I am heartbroken. I feel lost,” a man was quoted in a local English newspaper.

Indeed, all this touched me, deep inside my heart. And I couldn’t stop myself from crying too. So I offered my prayers and good wishes whenever I spotted the King’s portraits in Thailand.

For Thais, his was a life of sacrifice. He devoted himself to the development of the country and hardly had any fun-filled life during his reign of 70 years. Preaching perseverance and tolerance, he had no luxurious home entertainment where he had lived.

Believed to be the leader with very high moral authority and wise leadership, he had visited the remotest villages and brought them much-need helps by constructing anti-flood schemes, agricultural projects, water reservoirs and modern development.

In the past, many people had challenged the King’s ideologies and institution. In the early morning of October 14, 1976, the King allowed pro-democracy students fleeing a violent army crackdown to refuge in his palace and made a call for them.
The most popular picture of the King among the Thais
But mostly importantly, he was known for his outstanding ability of unifying the people of Thailand. That’s why he was called as “Father of the nation” and the unifying figure. There have been a few great leaders in the world throughout the history but His Majesty King Bhumibol of Thailand ranks among the highest.

A professor of Thailand, Rapee Sagarik wrote a heart-wrenching elegy on a newspaper,

Bow to thee, my dearest king
Now my heart is not with me
For thee, I would do anything
Thinking of the past
I cry blood, not tears
It cuts deep inside
Unexpected loss, oh y dear king
Missing you, all musical
instruments are bleeding
The memory of thee will
Never be forgotten

The sudden death of the King brought a great feeling of loss and pain to his citizens. Thailand has planned to observe 100 days of official ceremonies and religious rites. The government declared one year of official mourning and asked Thais to wear black and avoid festivities for 30 days. Access to entertainment, including restaurants, bars, nightlife and shopping areas will be restricted.

The business centers, industries and individual households were mourning the loss by displaying their messages on big billboards and banners. Huge grieving crowds gathered at the Siriraj Hospital holding yellow flags the King’s portraits to bid a final farewell to their King as the King’s body was taken to the Grand Palace.
Thai social media have been at their busiest ever. People freely shared their feelings and memories and video clips, songs and pictures related to the King’s life. A lot of thais shared Facebook posts of our Druk Gyalpo the Fifth King who led his people in prayers for the late King.

Some distributed free foods and water to all those who came for the procession during the day. Some people walked from long distances (more than 10 hours) to reach the hospital. They did all this to demonstrate their respect and tribute to the King.

The editorial of “The Nation”, a national newspaper wrote,

“His Majesty’s life-long wish to see his nation prosper in the proper, sustainable way and united in a non-harming, non-aggressive and non-violent way must be pursued. The monarch always carried this great hope for this land, and, on Thursday, he passed the torch to all of us.”

May Your Majesty’s Soul rest in peace!

Note: Anyone visiting Thailand, I request you all to be respectful of Thais’ feelings and sensitivity and if you care please wear black dress.  Always be cautious and look for public order laws.

Courtesy: Many and pictures information extracted from The Nation.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Mermen: The Compassionate Warriors

When you get hold of a good book to read, you feel happy. But when you could grab a book written by your own friend, it simply thrills you, out of this world. 

Exactly why, this is what has happened to me!

Recently, very recently, my friend Sangay Wangchuk who is the Lecturer at Samtse College of Education has published a book, “Mermen: The Compassionate Warriors”. It’s such a great pleasure and beautiful feeling to go through a book written someone close to me.

This 122-page fictitious novella is set in a fantastical world and it’s a story about the evolution of humankind and mer-people. The story unfolds once upon a time, when ancestors of humankind and mer-people coexisted in harmony as one distinct species, apes. “During that time there were no rules and laws - those were redundant, rather, for deception, distrust and greed were alien on earth” (Page 1).

However, as civilization grows, the blood of ancestral apes becomes grimier. The greedier ones rule, retain and claim the forest. They pursue their territorial expansion, chasing their insatiable greed through the land, mountains and forests. The humbler ones, who choose not to fight, are forced into the seas. 

Then real dramatic scenes are revealed one after another, keeping you hooked to the book flipping through pages. It was like watching a motion picture with a lot of actions, imageries, dialogues and suspensions.

Much of this book tells you what happen to those apes that were forced into the seas, how they evolve in the oceanic world. It tells you over a million of years how they become a part of the sea, known as mer-people-the mermen and mermaids.

The mer-people are generally described as “compassionate hearts”, “deep softness”, prosperous and happy under the rule of King Khesar. There are semblance the way the author described the mer-people and King Khesar with our own country Bhutan and kind and benevolent Dharma Kings.The aquatic world is seen as kingdom selfless protecting its aquatic nature and its pristine source of life.

However, the actual climax of the story develops when the greed-infected humans of a nation called Valican again intervenes the world of mer-people. They dump illegal toxic and unlawfully forcefully wage warsto exterminate the marine creatures.

The author justifies that this story is written as a movie, not as a novel with action and sequence befitting an animated movie. The writer aims to introduce the Buddhist values of compassion and co-existence to the outside world through this beautiful story. Salute to the author for this ability!

The book is very well written. I’m not saying this, as the author is my friend. The language is superb. The description and character development is equally good. What amazed me the most is the knowledge and terminologies the author expressed in the book about the sea, underwater species, and war and weapons.

Whether you are home or travelling or on a vacation, the “Mermen: The Compassionate Warriors” is a book to pick up for a real reading pleasure.

Congratulations Sangay! Waiting for more to read from you.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The school full of quotations

Gaselo Central School in Wangduephodrang has left me fascinated, inadvertently though. During my visit to the school last week to teach the students on media literacy, I found it different, distinct.
It’s nothing to do with the school’s facilities and students, but by the way they keep their school. Beautiful quotations and inspiring proverbs were written all over the campus – on the walls, footpaths, footsteps, trees, notice boards and gardens. Everywhere. If there’s any literature paradise on earth, this is it.

Many students who graduated from here remember the school by the quotes. And me too. I still remember, vividly, some of the quotes and inspire me a lot. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Learn from Chuzagang

Every year, when the monsoon hits, Chuzagang is remained cut off from rest of the world. The rains, outrageous in nature and size, always soak and wash away temporary bridges that the villagers build over the infamous Mao River. Subsequent floods destroy the lone feeder road that connects the village with Gelephu town.

Every summer, Chuzagang, a plain gewog under Sarpang dzongkhag, faces a dreadful problem of power blackout - sometimes up to two weeks. Either downpours, or floods, or lightning, or wild elephants destroy the power supply.
A bridge at Mao River built in 2015; washed away by the recent flood
Every rainy season, soil erosion causes a huge loss of fertile farmlands. Excessive rains, sometimes, delay transplantation of rice; thereby, affecting the rice yields. And worse, wild elephants, in a large number, rampage crops and plants.

Well, this year’s monsoon is no different. Like many other places in southern Bhutan, the supposedly one of the worst flood disasters also hit hard Chuzagang. Over 485 households of the gewog staggered and suffered a huge damage, loss.
For days, again it has been cut off after the bridges and feeder road were damaged. The power was affected, farmland damaged, and rice transplantation delayed.

Surprisingly yet, Chuzagang, an understandable worry and frailty aside, has remained absolutely composed and resolute. The villagers didn’t succumb to alarm and cry out for external help. But why? This is exactly what I want to share it here today. 
Chuzagang is the place where I was born and grown up. Since the time I remember about my village, the monsoon rains and Mao River have been a constant problem for us, affecting our agricultural and economic activities and even taking away many human lives.

However, after years of difficulties, losses and sufferings, and living in a constant worry and uncertainty, the villagers have learnt to ensure their own well-being. Most importantly, they have developed a culture of preparedness and resilience.   
Firewood shed
The farmers still collect and store firewood for summer consumption even there’s electricity supply. Before every summer, they buy and store kerosene, petrol and diesel for summer consumption for vehicles and machines (tractors, power tillers and rice mills). Still they store grains (rice, wheat and millet), refined oil, salt, pickles and other necessities.
A household storing rice and other grains that can last for a year
Many households or chiwogs still own and maintain water well or spring water nearby. It ensures clean drinking water when tap water supply is affected or muddied.

Come winter, with renewed hope and optimism, the industrious villagers again build wooden bridges over Moa River and repair and maintain the feeder road. That’s the spirit of the people of Chuzagang. That’s the endurance of my village.
Special note: I am so enormously grateful to our beloved King, Prime Minister and Ministers who have visited the affected sites of flood disasters in Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Samtse and consoled the worried and unsettled people. In fact, the country has suffered hugest of losses; however, at the same time, we’ve seen the greatest of inspiration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Losing in song, losing in memory

Somewhere at the start of April 2016, I met my college friends, Sonam and Tshering, in a place by the name of Hauz Khaz Village. In South Delhi, India. And it came as a big surprise to me – firstly by the strange name of the place, and secondly by my unexpected acquaintance.   
This small urban village, right in the middle of South Delhi, was aloof and in a stark contrast from its stormy and noisy neighbors. Its enclosed street was adorned with lights and streamers. All along, it held a plethora of restaurants, jewelry and accessory stores, pubs and cafes.

Unlike other parts of Delhi, this street had no rickshaws and tempos, but mostly Mercedes Benz, Audis, Range Rovers and BMWs were parked in front of its entrance. The people were rich, smartly dressed. So I realized it’s one of the most affluent spots in South Delhi.

However, what fascinated me the most was by its mid-city sense of seclusion, where I could feel both the rural and urban appeal. This small urban development has been enclosed by ancient park, ruins, lake, art gallery, and monuments.

It behooves me to tell you - rather more jubilantly – that the inhabitants were largely musicians, designers, travelers, foodies, book lovers and social activists. Isn’t it fascinating?

They have built their homes and business here. And indeed, it’s a throbbing hub by the artistic people for the creative people.
Cafe out of the box
Three of us walked down the village, enjoying pleasant scene and feeling deeply delighted and rejuvenated. After a while, we chose a café right in the middle of alleyway. Café Out of the Box, its name is.

Situated on the third floor of a building, it’s a cozy café with a dim, intimate space. Its interior was nothing extraneous, but has highly refined and tasteful looks. It had a laid-back atmosphere, altogether, with an attentive urban-rural aesthetic.

A young DJ was playing his music. The Coldplay’s “Hymn for the weekend”, which had exotified India, rocked the hall. A group of strikingly attractive young girls and men danced on the floor. Sure enough, the DJ was terrific, and I like most when he mixed western songs with Indian disco beats.

We took a table and ordered some chilled Heineken beers, cocktails and Italian pepperoni pizza. As we drank our beer, we jived to music and talked about Delhi and particularly this village.

“This place is called Hauz Khaz Village,” Sonam, who was studying in Delhi, informed me. The name sounded strange to me, if I say so.

In the meantime, we went to the café’s terrace. Sonam pointed at the Deer Park and the Reservoir (lake) right below the terrace. I cried in a pleasant surprise, as it’s all unexpected to find a manmade lake amidst a city; the scene was like a beautiful allegorical painting.
Allauddin Khilji (1296–1316), the second ruler of the Khilji dynasty, first built it to supply water to the inhabitants of Siri Fort. In fact, the name is derived from this large Reservoir. In Urdu language, 'Hauz’ means “water tank” (or lake), and ‘Khas’ means “royal” - meaning “Royal tank”.

Gradually, the DJ went onto play Latino Salsa and then he started mixing the beats of some 1990s and early 2000s western melodies. We sat, still drinking our beer, and automatically whistling into nostalgia.

Our time together in college arrested us suddenly. The time when we were young, naïve and passionate. The time when we used to be carefree, funky. The time when we used to sing loud and dance to this particular song of Bonjovi’s In these arms. All those memories unleashed like monsoon rain.
Sonam and I: Time together (Photographed by Tshering)
Instantaneously, we jumped to the dance floor, holding our beer bottle and cocktails. We danced wild and we sang loud, closing our eyes and losing ourselves in the song, losing in the memory.

I'd hold you
I'd need you
I'd get down on my knees for you
And make everything alright
If you were in these arms

Picture courtesy: OTB FB Page and google