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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 But in school, only the ‘century’ (a nickname for students who were outdated or old-fashioned) students did those things.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.