Jul 29, 2009

Courage Coward Conflict

You are walking alone through the streets of Thimphu on a perfect summer evening. It is drizzling and cool breeze embalms your face. Listening to Don Williams strum his guitar, your feet take you far when suddenly out of nowhere you encounter a group of young men wanting to punch you and hit your head with beer bottles. Some carry glasses and others daggers and a few bicycle chains. As they come closer, stench of alcohol sends a bad signal down your lungs. And with no rhyme or reason, they want to beat you up. What will you do? Will you flee or fight back?

I was in a similar situation three years ago at a college. I was on my way to the dormitory from a classmate’s birthday when a group of gone-astray-students blocked my way. Now it wasn’t that late. One amongst the group was truly aggressive. He wants to hit me on the head with a Hit bottle while he on the other hand can hardly stand without his friends supporting him. I always thought the college campus was the safest place in the locality. Why was I arguing with a bunch of drunkards? Do I flee or fight back?

I fought against both the options and decided to stay. Running away seemed too coward an act, but fighting with people who could keep their bodies erect seemed even more foolish. But if they hit me, then there would be so many ‘unforeseen’ consequences. And if I chose to fight, I might only magnify the problem. Much against my male ego, I asked him not to hit me. But now the boy who wanted to bash my head dropped on the ground. His friends could no longer hold him.

And later when I narrated the harrowing incident to my friends, they all laughed as if thousand fingers were tickling their armpits. I knew they were hinting at my cowardice. But for me it took more courage. For once I said I will be brave and say no. And I did. If I did it otherwise, consequence would be severe. In the worst scenario, these boys would be terminated from the college or given the twentieth last warning.

I was glad that I at least extended their stay in the college by three days. These people who were about to see blood oozing out my head, three were terminated caught in a separate incident and the rest were awarded the last warning for the 21st time.

Sometimes to be a coward takes a lot of courage, but it is easier for courage to turn into cowardice at other times.

Jul 28, 2009

For God's Sake Leave sex alone

Of late I am really reading the Chinese Birth Chart, which a colleague of mine has given to me, not simply because I am planning to have a child, but I am purely fascinated its sheer accuracy. Basically, the chart determines the sex of children if the age of the mother is known and the month on which the baby is conceived. I thought that was a marvelous piece of device to have a set of balanced number of sons and daughters in a family. And how do you determine its correctness? If you know the age of the mother when the child is born, you have the answer.

And if you want to re-determine your sex, you go back nine months from the month you were born in, keeping in mind your mother’s age when you were born. That’s the month when you were conceived according to the chart. There, it would be marked either M or F. That definitely sounds spooky and correct too. I wish our parents have consulted that sheet as well when they were planning to conceive us in the first place.

The idea of knowing the sex of your children even before it’s been conceived sounds scary, well to me at least. And that doesn’t sound exciting. When one is ready to have a baby, it is a big thing. It means so much to the parents. It means that the couple’s love is finally come to fruition. It means they trust each other enough that they are ready to take care of their children both in good and bad times.

Forgive me, but some are really born otherwise. Well, most of us are born without meaning to be born – in that split second when people are clouded by their lust and greed. It is a sheer mistake of the two people who are never meant to be together yet they are thrown together by a wavering fate to lustily gratify their needs and derive a momentary pleasure.

To be born is a sacred and a one-time-opportunity, says the mighty Buddhist saint. But then if we determine what we want to create, then we are trying to act like gods. As you know, Christianity believes human life is sacred because it is bestowed by the God. Now consult that birth chart and procreate according to our wish, then, talking Christianity, we are trying to act God.

One thing that is peculiar about this chart is that it only concerns about the age of the mother and that of the father’s is overlooked. Now, talking science, fathers are more likely to determine the sex of the children owing to their nature of chromosomes. I am not of a biologist, but I am told that usually fathers are more blameworthy when it comes to their children’s sex.

And if you say “I want a boy,” then there is a boy and “I want a girl,” and then there you have a girl, can you relate this to the Bible: ‘God said “Let there be light…”’?

In life, curiosity is important. When I already know the EPL scores, I hardly feel like watching the game the next day. And likewise if we know the questions well in advance in an interview, there isn’t any charm in appearing it, well for me at least. But there are people who love receiving answered questions, which would appear in their interviews. We are losing our ethics here and how come we are reduced to such a state? Are we not degrading the core human values? Where are our consciences?

I believe there is a heavy competition in the job market, but what about fighting it out with dignity?They are things that we earn!


If Revenge is Sweeter than Honey

Once upon a time, in a big forest there lived a happy hen, happy because she laid an unusually big egg that spring. She was busy preparing a nest for her baby. She was really excited and whistling familiar tunes, she would look for twigs and old pieces of clothes human beings had carelessly thrown in the jungle. She really loved the jungle and its cleanliness but at times felt sad for Mother Nature.

One day while she was on her way home from her normal work, she ran onto a fierce looking fox.

“Hey you little chicken,” said the fox. “I am starving here.”

“Please don’t kill me,” pleaded the hapless hen. “I have to take care of my egg.”

“Egg or no egg, I am going to have you now.”

“Even if you kill me, kill me once my child is big to be able to find food on his own.”

But the greedy fox landed a heavy blow on her innocent chest. The pain was too much for her to stomach and it only increased as her enemy continued hitting her with no stint of mercy. Thus, the hen ceased to live.

But now the egg was really angry when it came to know what the fox devoured his mother. He wanted to avenge his mother’s death.

“If a son does not avenge his mother’s death, then, who would?” the egg shouted, gritting his angry teeth.

So, the quest for the enemy began. The egg went rolling and rolling, up to the fox’s den.

“Where are you rolling Mr. Egg?” questioned a honeybee on the way.

“If the son does not avenge his mother’s death, then, who would?” said the egg. “I am going to kill the fox.”

“Can I join you on the mission,” asked the bee, offering his help.

“Two is better than one. You are welcome.”

The egg and the bee continued their mission. On the way, they met a nail and cow dung who wanted to join the mission. So, the egg, the honeybee, the nail and the cow dung continued their quest.

“Where are you headed my friends?” asked an iron hammer on the way.

“If the son does not avenge his mother’s death, then, who would?” said the egg. “We are all going to kill the fox.”

The big iron hammer was interested to join the mission, so, he was permitted.

“Five is always better than four. You are welcome,” they chorused.

They walked and walked and in the afternoon, the avengers reached the fox’s den. The empty house suggested the fox was out hunting. The conspirators entered the house and carefully hid themselves in appropriated places designated by the egg. They waited in patience, which human beings are unable to do.

Then there was a lightening followed a thunder. Immediately, there was a heavy downpour. Apparently, even the foxes don’t like to wet their coats. So, the fox came rushing home. He was terribly cold.

He entered his house and was about to sit by the hearthside as the nail pricked his bottom.

“Arrgggghh!” the fox wailed in pain.

But he wanted to start the fire. And as he bent down, the bee gave him a nice sting on his forehead, which sent him reeling. Still the fox was undeterred from starting the fire. And as he blew into the hot embers, the egg exploded and threw the hot embers in the air. This time, he stood up and jumped in the air quite contrary to a peacock trying to attract the peahen.

Still trying to readjust his sight from thick cinders, the fox went out. But as he crossed the doorstep, he slipped off the cow dung and banged his head on the floor. The fox was nearly unconscious when the heavy hammer, which was hidden above the door, fell on his dying body with a great force.

That was the end of the quest and of the evil.

Let good reign supreme.

Jul 27, 2009

Gold Coated Bhutanese Chilies

If you happen to visit Phuentsholing, remember to buy a kilogram of local chilies that are either from Sha or Wang. What is so special about that? The answer is so simple because they are coated with gold! And now how do we know they are gold-coated? The answer is simple because it is expensive. It is very interesting to note that after all ema datsi could actually outweigh the much coveted Bhutanese dish of sikam pa or norsha kam. May be this Bhutanese dish shall reign supreme in Bhutan. But unless we are promised nirvana, we could not afford to spend on green chilies today.

I have just had my lunch now. And of all the people in the hotel, I happen to be the only veggie in the room. Unlike the last week or the week before that, today’s menu is short of one item. And that means today something is less for me today in the buffet. I go to the proprietor and ask about the absence of ema datsi from the menu.

“I am sorry,” she tells me. “But you see, price of chilies has skyrocketed in the market. Today, a kg of chilies costs Nu 120, thirty less from the day before. Moreover, chilies are of inferior quality today.”

Even a kg of beef in Phuentsholing is priced at Nu 120. And Indian chilies are sold at much cheaper rate in Jaigaon, but something (I don’t know what) seems to be lacking in those that are available in the Jaigaon supermarket. That’s why Bhutanese people buy even if our shopkeepers and vendors charge them Nu 150 per kg. Lack of chilies means a serious threat to us veggies, but also what is beef or chicken or pork without chilies?

Something is wrong somewhere. If authorities must interfere, will it help? That is the law of economics some people say; higher the demand higher price. That makes sense. Now how do we lower the demand to lower the price? Now that does not make sense. Sometimes Bhutanese people are unreasonable. It is purely illogical and daylight robbery, they call it.

And I am concerned about so many other people who happen to be thrown in Phuentsholing to survive. What about a laborer or a lineman, a sweeper or caretaker, who merely make Nu 100 per day? Unless the price subsides, it is going to be difficult to buy the gold-coated Bhutanese chilies here. So, resist the temptation and give ema dasti some break, at least during the monsoons.

Good vs Evil

Once upon a time, there lived two friends in a big forest, a hen and a kirwa. A kirwa is a small animal that resembles a cat. The wild cat and the hen were the best friends, best in that part of the jungle.

The hen and the wild cat lived a small house built out of bamboo and wood. It was a big house by any animal standard. They worked together and collected food together.


And one day as the sun was about to set and darkness was yet to fall on in the forest, the wild cat asked the hen, "hey hen, where do you sleep today?"

The voice sounded as if it came from a pair of jalings being blown by the monks to welcome the dawn.

"Today I will sleep near the hearth," she lied and when the world was silent and shining stars were out, the hen was awoken suddenly by a loud crashing sound that landed near the hearth.

"Hey cat, what are doing there?" asked the hen from the windowsill.


"Byar rey mimang rama rema, gun ni mimang saka lung," the wild cat replied. (summer's dream is unclear and winter night's dream is terrible?)

The wild cat went to sleep feeling a little embarrassed about his nightmare.

The next day, again the wild cat asked in a voice that resembled jaling from the monastery," hey friend, where do you plan to sleep tonight?"


"O tonight I am planning to sleep on the windowsill," she responded him. Satisfied, the cat went to his place and waited for the darkness to grow thicker.

And when every voice subsided to the sounds of screeching crickets and owls, something landed on the windowsill- thud! And the hen who was awoken by the noise, asked the cat, "hey kirwa, what is wrong with you?"

"O sorry, this usual stuff, summer night's dream is unclear and winter's is terrible," he replied and went back.

And likewise every night the wild cat hunted for the hen but the hen slept in different place in the house every night. Thus, days piled onto days.

One day, the hen was really sad thinking about her friend's evil plot. And she thought if that was what he wanted, let him kill me. That evening, when the wild cat asked her the same question, she no more lied about her roosting place.


As the darkness deepened, a loud sound landed again by the side of the hearth, where the hen was sleeping peacefully. The sharp claws had pierced her stomach and the sheer weight of her friend broke her wings into pieces.

And before the hen breathed her last, the wild cat started pulling her furs and feathers.

Jul 24, 2009

Read or Relieve?

There used to be a pile of carefully selected books and magazines in my cousin’s bathroom, but I took some time to find out why he was spending a long time in the toilet. A few claim that they have acquired their reading habits from the toilet while doing the needful. And for me it is a totally intriguing realization that most of the voracious readers are born in the toilets, if the claim holds any water. I would love to have such dexterity in my genes too.

But for me relieving and reading seem to be the tasks of two completely different departments. There are joy and excitement attached to both. I can do them equally with certain flexibility but at different times and places. It is like people selling garments or setting up stalls during local tshechus. I am unprepared to sacrifice the joy of one with the other. In both the activities, one has to watch and concentrate and enjoy every phase of it. Reading requires concentration because when we read, we focus and pay attention to every word and fit them together to give us a certain meaning and understanding.

I can’t imagine myself, sitting on the pot, with so much pain in my tummy, a wild diarrhea shooting eighty kilometers per hour and at the same time attempting to read a few lines from Milton. When your stomach is upset, you lose your ‘paradise’ and even the chanting of mantras won’t have the power to restore it, but the real act of relieving itself.

During the preparation for the exams, I discovered that if I study in odd places, I remembered the concepts at the critical hours. Because we associate the concepts and theories with the places, our memory department retains the record for a longer duration. This is just lone man’s defenseless hypothesis and please don’t try this at home. But even if this carries a fraction of truth, it is still different. Here we are talking about just one activity – studying in odd places like the toilet (not the stinking ones though or else you would end up not writing your exams).

Still I would like to think that one’s attention is divided while attempting to read as you try to dislodge unabsorbed or undigested portion of the food. But I definitely respect the extraordinary skills of those who can comfortably read and relieve at the same time.

Read, focus, relieve and concentrate.

Jul 22, 2009

The Rate of Growth and Fall

In a lifetime, one can have only two sets of teeth and nine sets of nails. And our hair is wonderful example of how someone can have so much in life while others can only dream. It knows no castes, creed or religion or region. Just like the material wealth, it can only generate on its own, but any act nurturing has no effect.

When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me stories of dead people’s growing hair. When people die on inauspicious days, cremation is withheld. And especially during summer, dead body is either buried temporarily underground or put in the water until it is time for the cremation.

But our teeth are allowed only two lives. One set is already gone when we are children and basically, we are left with only one set. If your appetite is for meaty meals, then better take care of your teeth, people. For veggies, no such worry. I can chew cabbages and tomatoes even at 95. But these days with science and technologies, you could even replace your teeth and become 15 again.

Hair fall is a serious concern for everyone. People in ancient times may not have minded so much as us today. And especially all these TV commercials in a move to sell their products make people worry unnecessarily. But again, in life the baldness is a serious threat to men’s happiness.

My scientific mother thinks if a hair falls today, two would grow in its place tomorrow. And going by her proposition, if a person loses 100 pieces of hair in a week, he would have 200 more growing. Actually, we have already lost 100, right? So, the resultant growth is 100. That’s quite reliving when people are scared as hells of their heads gradually growing bald.

My colleague Udyog has no sign of baldness, but he thinks he is losing so much hair every day just like me. And all those TV ads are only aggravating his worries. He is getting married before the year ends.

“Don’t worry man, if a hair falls, two would grow,” I tell him, with pride of a hair specialist.

He looks at me and scratches his head. Then he nods and shakes his head before he looks me in the face.

“But you see,” he tells me. “If the rate of hair fall is slower than the rate of growth…”

Definitely, there are reasons to be alarmed if the fall exceeds the growth. But today technology can do wonders. One can even replace your original hair or teeth; however, I would not love to have artificial teeth in my mouth or wigs on my head because sense of belonging is important.

I am undeterred with the rate at which my hair falls because I believe it can sustain for another 100 years.

Jul 15, 2009

A War of Non-Violence

Ants are wonderful animals. When I was kid, I used to watch them carry load much bigger than their bodies and disappear into the ant holes. They work as a team and help each other. Asides from bees, ants have amazing humanlike instincts. Today Phuentsholing is next to Sahara in terms of heat. And ants are invading our kitchens, living-rooms, bathrooms and even the bedrooms. An ant first appeared and slowly more and more joined the mission. Initially, they respected my bed and chose to march a few meters away from my bed instead. But now their tactics have changed.

Last night the leader of the ants must have called a meeting and decided to invade even my bed and the mattress. The war zone is increased. And this morning, I wake up to the sight of so many tiny ant soldiers. The war is on. I don’t know what to do and I am worried I might lose the war just as the mighty elephant lost long, long ago.

They are so tiny, I cannot even handhold them and lead them away from my house non-violently. When Gandhiji employed his strategy of non-violence, you see British were a big and powerful force, but my enemies on the other side are tiny, yet equally powerful. I tried every means to drive them away without hurting them, but none prevailed so far.

Some friends mocked saying if I keep my room clean, theses ants won’t find entrance in the first place. I don’t know about that. My house is not dirty for that matter. Now I am worried some of them would lose their lives much against my wishes. But for now, I stand on guard to preserve my privacy.

And time is ready to fight back. But I am helpless. I don’t want to hurt them by any means. I like them, but I feel uneasy having them in my house. I only wish and pray that the leader of the ants does not decree his soldiers to invade my clothes and especially undergarments. I am afraid to imagine ant nests all over my house, in every household utensil, toiletries and culinary items.

Jul 14, 2009

This Dream Made me Weep

I am given an opportunity to go abroad on a study tour. An uncle of mine is to escort me. Everything is ready and I am thoroughly excited. But one of my friends told me I needed a suit on this long tour. That’s crazy, but if it is important than I need to have one, I think. I don’t have one.

I ask my friends whether they have any. None! Finally, a friend takes me to his friend’s friend who has clothing. I ask him if I could borrow it. A crazy idea by any means, but shit happens in dreams.

“My suit is quite new…” the boy avoids looking me in the eye. And walking away from us, he apologizes “Sorry, I cannot borrow it to you.”

My sky-like hope comes crashing down.

And this morning, I wake up sad and embarrassed. I tell her about my dream. I can no longer hide my tears. She hugs me and consoles me saying it was just a dream. That was of some comfort, for me it was more than a dream; it was a life unknown. I was already wounded by the look of hatred and refusal on the boy’s face. Why would not my uncle buy me the outfit?

If you have nothing, people would never come to help you while in need. That suit I direly wanted in my dream stands as a metaphor for me and my life.

Coming to the office this morning, I was thinking of a Bhutanese proverb: If you live in happiness, even the birds in the sky will flock around you, and if you live in suffering, even your dear son will desert you.

Indeed!

Sometimes dreams can make us weep. But even if I don’t want the trousers, I am going to buy it soon. I know how it feels to be turned down.

Jul 11, 2009

A Song with Purpose

When I was a little boy I would be fascinated when adults came together during the losar and tshechu. They would sing and dance. Some would sing it from their hearts and silence the audience, often making them break into tears. Particularly I loved a song called Shar ley sharwai thri dhung. It wasn’t because I understood what each stanza was trying to tell me, but because it was sung in such a captivating tune, haunting melody. And listening to that song more closely today, I understand my reason for fascination to that song was well founded.


Sun that Rises in the East
--- a Bhutanese folksong

Chorus:

Sung yang sung yang sung yang,
Sung dang le mo drik song
Sung yang omo mani
Sung dang le mo drik song

The sun that rises in the east,
How happy would I be if it does not rise!
Once it rises it is someone else’s sun
How sad and depressing that is!
Chorus

The river that runs down the mountain,
How happy would I be if it does not run down!
Once it flows down, it is someone else’s river
How sad and depressing that is!
Chorus

The dear son of a dear mother,
How happy would I be if I am never born!
Once I am born I am a servant to someone
How sad and depressing that is!
Chorus

The Trail to My Heart


The trail to my heart,
cold and frozen.
Bidden with flakes of despair,
parched and crest fallen.
The scissor of fate passes by,
darkness and anguish.
The search for the remaining imprints,
spring and revival.
A new trail starts,
warm and radiant.
Bidden with flakes of hope,
Triumph and trumpetings...

Jul 10, 2009

Detaching from Materialism

I don't believe in excess wealth. However, in order for a man to be happy, he has to be in a position to provide for his family. If a man fulfills that role, what can a wife ask for? Happiness is a state of mind they say. And there is happiness in the state of wealth, they say.

Wealth is not my domain. But sometimes, I wonder how it would feel to be a millionaire to be able to give to the poor and offer to the Lhakhangs and Goendheys.

And sometimes I question myself, if I have great wealth at my disposal, would I still think ofthe poor and the needy? Would I care about the people who spend their days in mountains and caves or in the gutters? Would I still know how it feels to be poor and suffer for the want of a few ngultrums to make ends meet? Would I still feel responsible for the poorest sections of the society? I wonder. I may and I may not.

I am quite happy with what I have. And I am glad that I have nothing to worry about. And my head has no enemy like the Serpent King's. I have no worry of being caught either at the check-posts or at the airports.


But seriously, if I am the proud owner of all those dzi-stones, would I be too greedy and proud? Would I see people under my feet?

Jul 9, 2009

Small Things Big Things

There is a major road block at Taktikoti as always. So, the policemen won’t allow us to drive any inch farther than Tsimasham. It is a good experience, but soon I grow impatient. However, I am glad that I could meet two wonderful teachers from Nagaland who are visiting Bhutan for the first time.


Aside from 24-hour wait at the road block site when they first went up to Thimphu, (they are waiting again today while coming down) the two teachers are all praises for Bhutan. They say that from their earlier road block experience, Bhutanese are generally patient and complain less.
Soon, a small crowd of drivers gathers near the policeman. They nearly break into a fight, frustrated and impatient drivers on one side and the angry constable on the other, fingers pointing at each other.

The two teachers are impressed when I tell them that people in the villages drink a lot of alcohol and yet alcoholism is not so much of a problem in the villages. Our people consume ara, but they also work hard in the fields. That neutralizes the effect, I tell them. Anyways, I appreciate villagers’ intake capacities.

As we exit a hotel, our eyes are cast on a man lying down flat, his legs stretched on the narrow pavement. The light rain has no effect on him. Now and then dogs crowd the site for the food that has no place in the drunkard’s stomach. With so much uneasiness I look at the two Indian teachers, but they avoid looking directly on my face.

Three of my co-passengers are Indians.

“What are you going to do with that?” one of them asks, while I put the empty biscuit covers in my pocket as we are about to leave Tsimasham the next day.

“In Bhutan, we always dump garbage in proper places,” I lecture him, with a sense of pride.

“We India throw them carelessly,” he admits, almost lamenting.

And as we near a town, a lady empties her bucketful of waste in the drain!