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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dolay Pangee Ashi

This was a bed time story from my father. 

After a million Tara recitals, the baby was born. She was the sweetest thing her mother laid eyes on. But shortly after giving birth the mother passed away. The father married again, for he was just a man and lacked the knowledge to bring up his daughter.

The stepmother was a shrewd woman. She loved her husband but could not make herself accept his daughter because the girl reminded her husband of his late wife. Every time the father and daughter were together, jealousy flooded her heart. The fact that her husband loved his daughter more than her was a difficult truth for her to accept. Things didn’t change for her and she felt worst when her womb remained cold even after five years of marriage. It didn’t take long for jealousy and frustration to turn into hatred.

The girl bloomed into a beautiful young woman. She had a sweet voice and sang songs while she tented her family sheep. Every morning she would take the animals to graze at the meadow above the village. There she would meet the only other herder. He was the boy who looked after all the animals belonging to the villagers. The sheep belonging to the villagers were charged to him for grazing.  At the end of each day he would receive a pitha (a small tin) of rice or powdered wheat as the fee for taking care of the animals. The stepmother didn’t agree in letting the boy take care of the family sheep because she could not stand to see the girl in the house and the father was away most of the time on business trips to Tibet.

So, every day the girl and the boy left their sheep to graze in the meadow while they sat on a dolay (big flat rock) over looking the meadow. They played, talked and shared their packed lunches. His was always wheat dough with chillies and her was rice and curry. Sometimes she would treat him with dried beef but that was only when her father was at home. After lunch they would sit on the rock and sing to each other. Her voice always tingled goose bumps in him. It was not long before they realized that they were in love. He would sing her old love songs about beautiful princesses and orphaned boys. He loved calling her Nge Dolay Pangee Ashi, My Princess of the flat rock.

But their happiness was not to last. The stepmother noticed the girl to be always in a happy mood when she came home. She heard her humming tunes and saw her smiling. This did not happen except when the father was at home.

So, one day, the stepmother went to check on the girl. Hiding behind a bush she saw everything. The next day before the girl got out of bed the stepmother locked her in her room. She then disguised herself as the girl and went to the meadow. She wore the bamboo hat close to her face and approached the boy. When she was close enough she took out the sickle and slashed him on his stomach. She hurried home but left the girl locked in her room. When the girl finally got out she rushed to the hut where the boy lived. He had become pale and lost a lot of blood. She wanted to stay with him but he knew she couldn’t. There was nothing she could do. When she refused to leave him he gave her a bowl of milk. He told her that if the milk retained its pure white colour then it means he is alive but if the milk turned into blood he is no longer alive.

She took the bowl and hid it in the animal shed. Through out the night she sneaked out to look at the milk. She held the bowl and tears trickled into it every time she looked at the milk. By mid night the colour started to slightly change. She could not hold back and rushed to him. When she looked into his eyes she knew it was his last moment. She held him and watched him drift away. She was at least content that he didn’t die alone and that he died in her arms.

She covered him with his gho, took his keray(belt) and hung herself.

After many years, a boy visits the Dolay, he feels it with his hands and his eyes glisten with tears. He sings the song “Dolay Pangee Ashi”...
Photo courtesy Google Image

Monday, November 19, 2012

Becoming Bhutanese

The Sun peeked from behind a cloud and began slanting through the windows, zeroing in on the boy who was still sleeping.

“Breakfast is ready.” It was Kinley’s father. “Get dressed, you are getting late for school”.
Kinley was in Class Nine at the local high school. He was an intelligent boy.

He got along very well with the school “sophisticates” with their funny hairstyles, which he knew was the popular Korean cut. He studied hard and came first in his class.

Soon, influenced by his stylish friends, Kinley too began copying the Korean look so he could fit in better with his friends. It started with the hairstyle but over time he became obsessed with everything Korean. Before he knew he was swept up by the new “Korean wave” that was sweeping all the young people in the country.

Photo courtesy Druk Youth Fashion
“Kinley, you are changing day by day”, his father told him.

” I am afraid that you will be like the funny looking boys I see loitering in town these days”

“Don’t worry Apa.”

“I’m warning you if you happen to become one of those, you will make me very sad’’.

“Don’t worry Apa…“

Kinley reassured his father but didn’t realise how much he was influenced. He unintentionally ignored everything Bhutanese. Korea became his dreamland. He watched Korean movies, learnt the Korean language and even sang Korean songs, though he didn’t know what he was singing about. He would dream of visiting Korea every moment that he chanced, day or night. 

One day there was announcement during the morning assembly at school that they were selecting five students to visit Korea as a part of a cultural exchange at the end of the year. Kinley’s heart leapt to his throat, his stomach felt funny and goose bumps appeared instantly all over his body. He couldn’t suppress the excitement he was feeling.
Photo courtesy Google Image

“Did I hear correctly or am I dreaming?” Kinley wondered.

The selection was to take place at the end of the year; he soon learned that since it was a cultural exchange the students selected would have to be proficient in various aspects of traditional Bhutanese culture. The skills of the successful candidates would include singing traditional songs such as boedra and  zhungdra, performing Bhutanese folk dances and the religious mask dances. But in school, only the ‘century’ (a nickname for students who were outdated or old-fashioned) students did those things. Kinley certainly didn’t want to be labeled a ‘century’ but he badly wanted to visit Korea.

Kinley consulted his friends but they all thought he would not get to visit Korea because he didn’t even know how to dance or sing any of the traditional songs, and his knowledge about Bhutanese culture was close to nil.

Later, lying on his bed he wished he too was more like a ‘century’ and less like those stylish friends he had who understood so little about their own cultural identity. He wanted to go to Korea so badly he could taste the kimchi in his mouth.

At the first light of dawn, he finally decided he would learn everything he could about Bhutanese culture.

The next morning he registered himself for the test. He would have three months before the selections. He knew that the competition would be tough as many other students dreamed of going to Korea. But Kinley thought he was special. He felt it was his calling and his one chance to fulfill his dream.

Photo taken by self
At first he thought it would be easy to learn the things he needed to but found out that it was a challenge when he actually began to practice. He needed someone to guide and teach him but his Dzongkha teacher didn’t like him and the ‘century’ classmates were even worse. He told himself that it was Korea that he was working for and that he would do what ever it took, including his Dzongkha teacher’s unforgiving taunts.

In fact when he first approached him, his Dzongkha teacher told him to forget it. But Kinley didn’t give up.  How could he? It was Korea, after all. And his father had always taught him never give up on his dreams. So, Kinley returned to the Dzongkha teacher persistently.
After the fifth time showing up at his teacher’s door, the Dzongkha teacher told him that he would teach him what he needed to know but only if he shaved his head!
Kinley grinned and agreed to do just that.

Photo courtesy Google Image
The training began but it was very tough. Kinley had vastly underestimated the scope of the work cut out for him. He worked hard and did his best but it was never good enough for his teacher. For every mistake the teacher made him do ‘frog jumps’. One day when he was at his lowest point and thinking of giving up his father quietly told him: “What you need is interest. Things become a lot easier when one is interested in doing what he is doing.”
Kinley understood what his father meant.

In the days that followed he nearly lost his temper many times, and many times he came to the verge of giving up hope, but he always tried to find some point of interest in what he was doing. Eventually he began to appreciate the deep complexities and the richness of the timeless traditions he was seeking to learn. Soon he began to see everything in a new light. He began to actually enjoy his training!

Learning the folksongs was difficult, but he kept it up by humming the tunes and singing even when he was not practicing. As expected, his old stylish friends now started labeling him a ‘century’ so he made new friends, the ‘centuries’.

Photo courtesy Google Image
He found they were much more genuine once he got to know them. He learned he had more in common with them and their outlook on the world than his stylish friends who were living in a perpetual, illusory dream.

Photo courtesy Google Image
When the day of the selections finally arrived, Kinley did his best. He sang what he was asked to sing and danced the famous Dramitshe Ngacham mask dance. He answered all his questions correctly.
Now he waited for the results impatiently.
Following the weekend, Kinley rushed to school on the first day of school, running to the notice board where the results would be pinned. He took a deep breath and scanned the list. The names of the five students stood out in bold letters but his name wasn’t among them.
Kinley looked away, devastated. The whole world was crumbling around him.
His new (‘century’) friends tried to console him. At first he was sad and then angry and helpless.

But as the days and weeks passed by he got over some of his disappointments. 
Gradually, he realised to his surprise that Korea was just a dream but that he was truly happy being Bhutanese.
Photo taken by self

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Face's Story

Once upon a moment, there was a meeting among the Nose, the Mouth, the Eyes and the Ears.  It was a long time a go when Face did not exist. They were called together to decide their preferences on what was to be the Face. God felt it was wise to consult them as they themselves knew their roles better than anyone else.

The first to arrive at the meeting were the Eyes. Like the Ears they were twins, so they came together. Gradually the others followed. The last to arrive was the Mouth because Mouth was caught in a fight. God always worried about Mouth. Mouth unlike the others was not careful and always ended up in fights. May be Mouth was not to be blamed, God thought to himself. Mouth was created in such a manner that without proper consultation with the others and most importantly with the two headquarters, the Mind and the Heart, Mouth was bound to always make mistakes. And many a times, the others misled and provoked innocent Mouth to land into predicaments he regretted. Only the Nose didn’t say anything that caused pain to Mouth.

The meeting began with a ceremonial welcome address by God. When God asked their preferences, the spot they were to hold on Face, everybody thought their thoughts loud.  For a moment there was indecisive commotion among the meters.  God held his words and gave them their time to think loud.

The first ones to speak were the Eyes. They spoke as one for they had one voice. They wanted to be at the back of the Face because they thought it would be safe there.

The Ears wanted to be in the middle and together because they felt it would be warmer there and according to them, it was the most important spot.

The Mouth didn’t know where he wanted to be and the Nose said he would be happy where ever God placed him.

Since only few were certain about their preferences, God suggested.

He said to the Eyes “You are very important, without you the Face would lose direction and wonder in eternal darkness.”
The Eyes fluttered with pride and joy.  “Since you are gifted with deeper potentials to communicate beyond what can be heard, you shall not hide at the back. You shall take the top spot and guide the others.” The Eyes were brining with happiness that God showered such praises upon them.

To the Ears, God said, “The sides are as important as the middle, may not be warm like in the middle but never the less very important. If your twin sisters, the Eyes, are the guiding lights, you stand no lesser than them. For you hold within you the blessed gift of relishing the songs that are sung by your surrounding.”

The Ears swelled with happiness.

“Since you are able to comprehend what is beyond sight, you will be the guide when darkness impairs the Eyes. Thus, you will take you spot at the sides.”

But the Ears wanted to be together. To this God said, “Though you will be physically separated, your souls will always remained twined. For what is before you, the Eyes will consider but the sides are even more important. You will be the esteemed guards who will perceive what comes from the sides. Thus it is important that you take the two sides.”

To the Mouth, God said, “You are the youngest and the one who makes me worry the most. You are to take your spot at the bottom so that your siblings can watch over you.”

The Mouth grumbled and God saw that the youngest was not happy. So, he said, “With time, you will come to realize that you are very important, the decisions you make and the doings you do will decide the survival of all. You hold the power within you to prosper the Face. But that you should do in proper consultation with the Heart and the Mind, intercepting the tellings of your siblings.”

To the Nose, God smiled and said, “You have always been the easiest to reason with. You will act as the knot to hold your siblings together, so, I shall place you in the middle.”

Thus, that was how the Face's story came to me over three hours while I was doing my invigilation duty during the Trial Examinations in my school.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Mobile Story

The sky was bright. It promised a hot day. The students gathered in the school courtyard for the morning assembly. The Morning Prayer and the National Anthem were sung. The assembly speakers were in the front and Dorji could see the fringes of their gho and kira shiver. He remembered how he was nervous before his speech. The paper he wrote his speech on was fluttering like a fragile autumn leaf in the wind when he held it in his hands.

It was a Monday. So, usually on Mondays the assembly was held by the Principal. However, on that faithful Monday, the Principal was out of station. In his place the vice-principal took the platform next to the speakers. The English speaker spoke on, “Why we (students) shouldn’t bring mobile phones to the school?” When the speakers finished their speeches, VP thanked them and stressed on “Mobile Phones in the school”.

He reminded everyone what will happen if they brought their mobile phones to the school. The mobile phone will be seized and the offender will write a statement which will go into his/her personal file. Their character certificates will then be ruined.

Dorji was giggling to himself thinking about how his English teacher made fun of the VP because he would say “B-Mobile” is not allowed in the school as if the “Tashi cell” was allowed. The VP was a Dzongkha language teacher, it seemed like he didn’t care or he didn’t know the difference between B-Mobile and mobile phone.

The Vice principal went on reminding what will happen if a student was caught with mobile phone in the school, Dorji thought about his phone. It was a gift from his mother on his 16th birthday. But he could not remember when he last held it.

All of a sudden the realization dawned on him. His phone was in his bag, in the classroom.

On Sunday Dorji had to come to school to practice a dance for the Inter House Cultural Show. The school allowed day scholars to bring their phones to play music on such occasions as the school couldn’t provide music sets for all the practicing groups. When Dorji reached home after the practice, he watched  football, had his dinner and went to sleep, forgetting to take out his phone from his bag.
Like the speakers before, it I was now Dorji who was shivering. The assembly never seemed to end. The most straining part was the breathing exercise when every one remained silent, concentrating on their breathing for 5 minutes. To make things worst, Dorji’s class was right behind the vice - principal. Any call at that movement would have been loud and clear like a siren. Dorji cursed himself, his absent-mindedness. How careless he had been. Even a message alert would have revealed his phone because it was a song. And the reason why he brought his phone the previous day was because his phone didn’t need speakers. It could play very loud music. Dorji started crackling his knuckles.  His ears felt hot. He could not hold still. Every muscle in his body wanted to run to his class.

Finally when the assembly was about to end their was another announcement from the VP, all the class 12 boys were asked to stay back as their was a briefing on role modeling for the senior boys.

Dorji didn’t know how the briefing finished as his mind pondered incessantly on his situation. After the briefing, Dorji rushed to his class but the teacher for the 1st period was already in the class. He thought he could slide his hand inside his bag and switch off his phone but then he also knew that the phone will not go off silently. He thought about sliding the phone up his gho’s sleeves and asking for permission to go to the toilet but this particular teacher was dead against students going out to the toilet during class. He didn’t know what to do? He had to ask, he had to lie to the teacher. Tell him that he was suffering from diarrhea. But just telling him would not work, Dorji know that. He would have to act, his face would have to muster all the painful expression in him to show that he was really straining to suppress the pressure he felt.

The teacher, like always seemed irritated because he was interrupted in his lesson. But may be Dorji’s acting was good, so, he told him to come back quickly.
Dorji, felt a little relief when he got outside the class, but lost no time. He ran to the toilet. Hopping three steps at a time until he reached the toilet.

When he got inside, he took out his phone. He was breathing heavily. His face felt hot. The phone, his most prized possession, he took it out. As he pressed the switch off button, he covered the speaker with his palm, just in case, any teacher or a counselor was around. But the phone didn’t make any sound. Dorji took a proper look at his phone.

He could not believe his situation. The phone was already switched off. The battery must have died in the night because of the continuous music playing in the day.

Dorji smiled to himself and sighed.