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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

One day in the life of a talented farmer

I had been telling him to leave his village. I had been persuading him to come to Thimphu and work here. This, I did persistently, loudly. If he’d work in Thimphu, I was thinking, he’d earn a bigger fortune. I know many others, who know Gyembo Namgyel, felt or did the same. 
Gyembo and me
I used to think, this talented man was a big waste in a remote village of Pemagatshel. For he is the most responsible and ethical Bhutanese journalist I’ve ever met. Besides, he is humble and knowledgeable person.

When we were working together at Bhutan Observer, he used to be very consistent and disciplined reporter. He would bring out pressing issues of eastern Bhutan, and through his stories, many lives were impacted (for better). Indeed, I had always aspired to write like him.

However, my telling fell on his deaf ears, my persuasion left ignored. Gyembo never left his village. Gyembo never came to Thimphu. This man was that adamant, believe it or not.
So last March, I visited him. Instead. At his home. In Pemagatshel. In fact, he was more than happy to host me.

Gyembo’s house was a beautiful one-story house with an intimate space, and a wide-open, free and fully alive surrounding. On my first looking, the place gave me so much of comfortable and peace feeling that I felt like my own.
That time it was a little before evening, and the day’s last sunrays was falling full on the house. Indeed, everything around was illuminated brightly golden.

Gyembo took me to his living room and offered tea. Surprisingly, the living room had neither television nor luxurious sofa set. It had simple wooden divans and chodrum, Bhutanese designed centre table. But I was amazed to see wooden shelves on the walls that were full of books and magazines.  
One of the book shelves
“This is my simple library. I collect books. I want to further grow this space,” he said, wearing a satisfied smile, as we sipped on tea.

His collection ranged from fictions to biographies, self-helps to romances, and classics to Bhutanese books. Astounded - to put my reaction in a word.

Gyembo wanted to show me his hard labour, so he took me behind the house. First he showed me his garden, which was growing abundant with fresh vegetables - onions, spinach, beans, green peas, coriander, etc.
Then this talented farmer showed me his main farm asset. Avocado. His face gleamed in pride and satisfaction as he showed avocado plants. There were over 33 plants and most of them were already bearing fruits. It’s a high-priced fruit with medicinal values.
Avocado fruits
“I lost most of my orange plants to pests,” said Gyembo, pointing at his dying citruses and delightfully added, “But this avocado is good replacement.”  

Gyembo also maintained a nursery of hundreds of avocado saplings. And each sapling sells at Nu 1,000.
Avocado saplings
After the exciting short farm tour, we returned to the living room. Outside, the darkness gradually wrapped itself around us and a soft wind blew, rustling the curtains. We grabbed a book each from the shelves and reading already.

Meanwhile, we talked about the books we read. We talked about our own writings. We discussed about our stories published in different newspapers, magazines and online. We conversed deep digging our intellectual curiosity, our creative endeavor. 
I was quite amazed at Gyembo. Living in the village, he could maintain a library and read so voraciously. Working at farms, he could manage to write often. I was more amazed when I found he was already writing a book.

His living is nothing extraneous, but altogether a highly refined and tasteful life. That’s why several high officials and VIPs from Thimphu visited his place, particularly to meet him. 

As the night grew deeper, we went on talking. Of course he has trodden this vale of life longer than me, so he gave me much-needed perspective. Listening to him, everything seemed right there. Seeing his orderly life, everything seemed to me simpler and wonderful.
Exactly when, I realized how wrong my life had been. We really not need to chase the illusion of having a better life in different place or position. In fact, we must make this place, this position right here “livable” and happier. It’s all in our hand.

That’s exactly what Gyembo is doing. 

Note: Some of the pictures taken by Tashi Penjor. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Magnificient Paro

This valley is mystical, very alluring. The land that is unlikely, unashamedly awe-inspiring and magnificent.  The valley of Paro. I walk this place often and I’ve watched it from the sky, sitting from its hilltop, and while on ride. OMG! It never fails to fascinate me. 

This is a paradise that gives chilips goose bumps while landing at the airport. And you can hear them screaming, looking outside the airbus window, “See! Beautiful! Wow!” Exactly when, your heart swells with both utmost love and pride.  

Well, I’ve visited a handful of the world’s highly sophisticated and developed countries. Still I want to, love to boast about my country, Bhutan. There’s no stopping to it though. That’s the strength of Bhutan.