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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dzongkha Class

Our Dzongkha lopen walked into the class and we stood up to wish him. We were doing revision and each student had to memorize stanzas of the poem-like text, write it on the board, read it and explain it to the class.

He nodded and we took it for permission to sit down. Though the day was bright and pleasant, it contrasted his mood. We could tell he wore his wrathful face that day. I was nervous and bit scared, as it was my turn to write and explain certain stanzas.

He sat on his chair and called my name after running through the name list. I walked up towards the blackboard and received the chalk in my cupped hands from him. He gave me a mocking chuckle that, to me said, “Here comes the stupid no-nothing tsagay (fool)”. I had not memorized my stanzas, though I had some idea about what they meant after consulting with a friend who was good in dzongkha.

 I did what I had to do.

When I finished my task, the first look on his face was sheer bewilderment. He must have thought, “What was that?” He read and reread what I wrote on the board and looked at me standing before him. I stood with my back bent like a bow. When he was certain that there was not a single mistake he told me to go back to my seat.

Then the unexpected happened. For the first time in two years lopen praised me. He told the class he was proud to see me improve and work hard, that everyone should take me as an example.  
I said nothing but I could feel the blood rushing into my face. Few of my friends knew how I managed to complete my task error free.

The ingenious idea came to me as I pondered the impossible task. It was impossible for me given my interest and knowledge of dzongkha. The previous day I was memorizing and writing the stanzas on the board. I couldn't even get through the first line without making substantial spelling mistakes. I knew I would finish badly if that repeated the next day. I wrote and rewrote but I failed and I didn't have much time. I finally gave up and sat on my chair very mentally spent from my endeavor.

I sat at my desk, cupped my chin in my hands and decided to call in sick the next day. But how long could I be sick for? Because when I do come to school lopen would make me complete my task. He never forgets and failing to recite the text was a serious offence and he would take no excuses. Sitting there, I looked at the blank board, which metaphorically was like my mind. I stared at it for a long time and then the lines came to me. I could faintly see the letters I had written. I jumped up and closed up on the board and I could see the letters more vividly if I strained my eyes. I had pressed the chalk hard on the board while I was practicing. I went to the teacher’s chair, where lopen usually sits and looked at the board, I couldn't see anything even if I squinted my eyes for clarity.  I wrote a line, cleaned the board and again went to the teacher’s chair to confirm my discovery. I asked a friend if he could see anything written on the board. He looked up from his books and said he couldn't see any thing and told me not to disturb him. I was totally thrilled.

So the next day, lucky for me, dzongkha period was after the recess. During recess I wrote my stanzas and lightly cleaned the board.   

It was a good plan and I did well. But I did well only to cheat myself. I did not cheat my teacher, I realized later.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A bedtime story?

My son loves ghost stories. I try my best with the few ghost stories that I know and when I run out I have to create them. Most of the time before I finish a story he falls off to sleep but there was one story that we were able to finish.

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Dangphu  dingphu… there lived a demon. He had ten heads. The demon, Doe as we Bhutanese know it, was very strong and intelligent and it was all because he had ten heads. He could think ten times faster than an average demon and all his senses were ten times stronger and clearer than other demons. He had long hair on all his heads. He had fangs in all his ten mouths. He had ten pairs of bulging bloody eyes and ten pairs of huge sharp ears.

Strong and powerful as he was yet these powers came with unbearable itches that his heads underwent every moment of his life. He did the best he could to get rid of the problem but every remedy failed to redeem him from his troubles.

Taking care of his heads took most of his time. Every day he had to oil his heads with warm oil, soap them, wash them, dry them, and comb them. These tasks would have been easy for a person or the easiest for a demon but this demon had ten heads and only one pair of hands.

One stormy night when the demon was about to go to bed, he heard someone banging on his door.  The loud bang echoed through the halls of his castle and into his bedroom. He thought of not answering the door as he was tired from his daily ordeal of taking care of his heads but the bang seemed desperate and persistent. As he opened his door he saw a girl drenched by the rain. She was cold and shivering.
She could not see him clearly as he stood in the dark behind his half-opened door.

The girl pleaded and begged for a night’s lodging. He said he didn't have any empty rooms and was about to shut her out when she said she could work for him the next day, just one day’s work for the night’s lodging. He thought about what she could do. There was no work around the castle but he could ask her to wash his heads. So, he asked if she knew how to wash heads. The girl seemed confused but she said she knew. He told her to close the door behind her and to sleep on the floor by the thab (oven). The girl closed the door and expected to see her host but there was no one. She was in a dark hall, all by herself. Everything was dark except for the faint glow of light from the dying embers in the thab.

As she laid her head on the wooden floor she thought about the lost cow she had come looking for. But she was too tired to continue worrying about the cow and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning when the girl opened her eyes she was terrified to see the demon before her. But the demon assured her that she will not be harmed if she kept her promise, rather she would be rewarded with riches if she was successful in what she was to do. Yet every muscle in her wanted to fling herself at the door and run as fast and as far as her little legs could carry her. But the demon said he knew what she was thinking and that it was useless. He then told her that her work was to wash his hair on all his heads. The girl felt relived to know what she was to do. But she was wrong to think it was a simple job. Through out the day she labored; heating water, oiling his heads, soaping his hair and by the end of the day she was only able to complete washing two of his heads. And when she wanted to leave she was told that she would not be allowed to go, as she did not finish her job. So, she continued the next day and the day after and then the day after but her work never seemed to finish. It was as if she forgot how to count and felt everyday like she was starting all over again and again.  

Finally one day the girl came up with a plan to completely free herself. She heated pig’s fat instead of water and told the demon to take his usual nap in the sun, which he usually took when she washed his heads. And he usually went into a deep slumber never waking up until she finished her job for the day. She took out the knife which she had been sharpening every night. The steel glowed in the midday sun.

The demon was startled when he opened his eyes. A strange yet familiar face stared at him. For the first time he was scared in his life. It looked like him but was different. It took some time for him to realize he was looking at himself in the huge mirror that was placed before him. The only difference was that he now had no hair on his heads. He was bald. As he screamed the girl’s name, she appeared slowly from behind a tree where she had been hiding. He rushed to choke the life out of her when she commanded him to stop and told him that she had completely gotten rid of his problem. She explained that with his hair he had also lost the irritation. She shaved his heads and oiled them with the pig’s fat so that the hair would never grow back. His hair was the price he had to pay never to suffer from the problem again.

He could feel the cool air on his heads. He felt his heads with his hands and the feeling was prickly and strange, something he had never known before and there was not the slightest itchiness to bother him. 

The girl left the bald but happy demon with all the gold she could carry. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Spoon Thieves

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The first spoons were of gold, forged in the heavenly blue fires of the Gods (Lha). Men were brute then and dinning manners unknown. Happy as the Gods were beholding man, it deeply troubled them to watch a man feed. Thus, the Gods counseled among themselves to resolve this brutish eating manner and gifted the first of their spoons to the first kings of men.
Beings from all the realms witnessed and glorified the Gods for their noble deed. But not everyone was with the same mind and heart. Some disapproved of man's worthiness and claimed the civil hand for themselves secretly fearing the Gods' wrath if they openly laid their claim. The desire lurked like the long dark shadows of the deep woods and drew darker and stronger lines with the light from the godly moon.
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The  Lhamoens (Lesser Gods) were the feistiest and fiercely nurtured their desire to lay their hands on the spoons. It was they who defied the Gods and announced the gift unfit for the brutes like men. But in the "Great Wars of the Gilded Spoons" the Gods silenced the rebellion and sealed peace with promises of the immortal blood of the  Lhamoens. The Gods rested in peace, rest assured that man will enjoy the spoon gift. Divine as they may be, they lacked the shrewdness to trust the Lesser Gods. What the Gods failed to foresee in the bloody promise, the Lesser Gods read with malicious intent and growing desire and vengeance, once again. The promised words spelled, "The Lesser Gods shall not lay claim to man's spoons for all eternity" but it did not tell of any other being who could become their hand in taking away the precious spoon gifts. 
Thus, the Lesser Gods summoned the Michums (Little People)  from the forgotten realm and struck a bargain with them to steal the spoons. The Michums would be rewarded with the key to the hidden door that led to the world of men and find their way into the stories for children. They will be remembered and thus not fade away into time.
So, even today the Michums find their way into the houses of men and take away the spoons when it is the darkest of nights. 
If you don't remember your spoons they disappear from your kitchen closet and if you ever wonder why; the Michums took them.