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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cold and Teaching

Now that winter has come, I like the cold weather while teaching. The cold weather is my ally in the classroom. The cold keeps my students awake and active and it in turn keeps me energized. I tell my students that we draw our enthusiasm for the lesson from each other. Though teachers and students volley the lesson's mood and progress, the teacher has the maximum strike. If they look dead it sucks the energy out of me but if I am dead then there is no other ignition to light up the fire in the classroom. If I see my students cold and shivering but very alive, it gets me going.That is why the cold is good in the classroom because it eases my effort. It a oxymoronic idea to have the students feel cold and fire at the same time.

So, the Cold creeps into my classroom and I welcome it. It sits on a chair and is with us. Some of the boys wrap their kabneys around their bare knees as the Cold comes and caresses them. The caressing is kind in a strange way. It doesn't have the warmth that a kind touch should have but its kindness is realized when one clearly understands the happenings in the classroom.

The Cold is an effervescent co-teacher in my classroom. It helps me get my job done.
School Girls, Art by Botho [my sister]


Thursday, October 17, 2013

A teacher named 'Gift'


Students can go to amazing imaginative limits to create nicknames for teachers. They are sometimes arbitrary but sometimes quite logical. The word soera means gift in Dzongkha. Twelve years ago, I first heard the nickname Soera. I was a student then. It was a nickname for Lopen Gembo Tshering. Over the years his nickname has changed to shakam (dried meat) because of his lean physical stature. I am not sure whether the students today still know him as Lopen Soera but when I was a student many only knew him as Lopen Soera and not his real name.


Like anyone with a nickname story, Lopen Soera also had his. Every time his students misbehaved in his class, he would smile and tell them to come and receive their soera. His old face would conjure a tired smile as he flexed the bamboo stick.

His other soeras were also unique and became quite popular with the other teachers. During study hours if he caught you polishing your shoes or combing your hair and not studying, you had to repeat whatever you were doing during the interval and the lunch break, at the assembly courtyard, later in the day or the next day. Hoards of students would laugh and pass by the boys who did everything but study during the study hour.

Frog jumps were another of his favorite soeras. He would make you jump like frogs around the school building. The number of the rounds depended on the severity of the offence. At the time of the jumping it would always be smiles and laughter but the effects of the soera only took its toll after few hours or a day when you had to use the squat toilet or climb the 165 steps to the hostel.

As a student I was once absent from my evening study. The next day Lopen Soera called me during the interval and told me to make five rounds of frog jumps the school building. I explained and muscled all my convincing power to plead and beg because my girlfriend was watching me from the second floor. He must have been in a good mood or I must have been really convincing because he let me go with a warning.

But this writing is not about Lopen Soera’s famous soeras, it is about his selfless dedication and unwavering love for the children and the teaching profession.

In 1980, three years before I was born, Lopen Soera joined a remote school in Tsenkhar, in Tashiyangtshe. He came to Punakha HSS in 1994 and resigned this year (15th May, 2013). During his thirty-three years of teaching career, he has touched many lives through his humility and exemplary work ethic. All respected him, not because he was the senior most teacher but because he was thoughtful in all the various aspects of his job responsibilities. His classroom stretched beyond the four walls and he educated his students and colleagues alike in values that are humane and integral to us as human beings and also as members of our society and as citizens of our great nation. He served the school, the government and the country with the utmost dedication down to the last day as if it was the first day when he joined the noble profession thirty-three years ago.    

All in the school cherish Lopen Soera’s legacies. He is credited with many initiatives and they give us joy in the same humble ways he did when he was with us. The Gembo Meto is one prominent symbol of Lopen Soera’s love. The school relentlessly tried to grow a purple flower vine over a trellis. For two years the flower refused to extend its tentacles and creep up the iron-gate until Lopen Soera poured his love and time and it blossomed with radiance and pride.

The rock garden behind the school is a proud display of creative enthusiasm by the students that became possible because of Lopen Soera. He gave them the necessary reason and the scaffold to turn the waste area into a place of beauty.

Lopen Soera loved working with students and the students in turn looked up to him like the grandfather he reminded them of at home or, for a few, the grandfather they never knew. Whether he was the TOD (Teacher on Duty) or not he would come early every morning and do the SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) with his students. I like to think that he found purpose and meaning in letting students learn from his actions more than his words. He would show them rather than tell them. The school nature park developed further with his energy. Today the park is a place away from the noise and busy school happenings, though it is right below the national highway. Students study in the serene ambience of the many canopies that are in the park. I hope Lopen Soera receives the merit for every peaceful feeling or happiness that the students, teachers and tourist feel when they are at the park.

Within the class, Lopen Soera’s wisdom and knowledge made his subject, Dzongkha, a joy for his students. He had the most vital quality that every teacher should have: patience. I believe he has mastered this virtue almost to its perfection. In his classes he shared stories from life and with his patience he would make learning easy and fun. Within thirty-three years he had taught classes from preprimary to class twelve. His students who sat for the board exams always produced 100% pass results and he would smile humbly while mentioning his students’ success.   

Though Lopen Soera is no longer in the school, his presence is still strong because we feel him in the flowers he planted, we see him in the driftwood he artistically selected and placed in the park, and we hear him in the prayer flags that flutter in the cool afternoon breeze. He is still with us for now, though time will fade memories of him, his spirit will endure in the legacies that he has left behind.  



Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Tapori Legacy


My annual school concert kickstarted yesterday and the hi-light of the show, for me, was the tapori dance. It was absolutely entertaining and the crowd loved it. 

This morning I wondered about it and looked it up on Wiki. And this is what I found; 

Tapori literally translates into vagabond or rowdy in Hindi. Street thugs in Mumbai were perhaps the most notable taporis. Their unique style of speaking Hindi was called tapori language. They also had a unique style of dressing, which they called as tapori style. Tapori culture though resented by many is widely imitated by many as humorous or comical. It has found acceptance inBollywood films including "Rangeela", "Gol Mal", and "Chasme Buddoor".[1] They are the equivalent of gangstas in Hollywood films.

The tapori dance is very fast and it has a Tollywood (South Indian) flair to it. 

The taporis spice up the annual concert at my school and it looks as though they are going to stay for a long time. Two years ago a boy named Palden came to study in class eleven. He was a joy on the stage and he would dance as if he was the most handsome boy in the hall. Every muscle in his body exhibited passion as they swayed and flexed with the tempo of the music. In a dance your face has to equally do the job your other body parts are doing and Pelden knew that very well. The gleeful mischievous facial expressions on his face were...(as somebody put) mind-blowing. The hall would come alive with his rowdy group and it was hard not to tap your feet. 






Before he left, Palden passed on the tapori torch to another boy called Nono Jimmy, who is presently in class eleven. From what I gathered, it sounded bit exaggerated and dramatic too but I was very much moved by what I heard. I felt it like a tragic powerful scene from a movie, where the father before dying tells his son to carry on his legacy. He had said that the faith of tapori lies in Nono's hands. He had clenched his fist and told Nono that he should keep tapori alive and kicking for all times to come at Punakha HSS. 

Nono and his new recruits performed last night and it was again...MIND-BLOWING. 


Picture courtesy: boxofficecaupsule.com 
A video would have been good but my internet sped doesn't allow it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

World Tourism Day

Until the last month I didn't even know there was a "World Tourism Day". But tourism day had been there for a long time. It was first observed in 1997. I came to know about it because my students had to debate on the topic, "Water Sustainability and Tourism" to celebrate World Tourism Day on the 27th of september. I was ignorant and now am glad that by participating in the celebration I have become more aware of tourism and its various aspects.

It is overwhelming to know that tourism is a 3.5 trillion dollar business world wide. It generates 10% of the total employment world wide and though it has social, economic and environmental impacts many tourism agencies and their governments have in many ways worked towards making tourism sustainable. Coming to tourism and water, there were some significant facts that moved me. An average hotel room in a high tourist destination like the Mediterranean and costal areas use 500 liters of water per day while a village in a developing country uses somewhat the same amount in a month. A single hotel in Dubai in the UAE, uses 10 million liters of water in a year and Dubai receives only 100 ml of rain annually. Most of the coral reefs around the world are dying in popular tourist hot spots. The river Jordan is shrinking on its way to the Dead sea as the water is used before it reaches the sea and the same is happening to the Dead sea, which is biblically significant to certain religion and its people. Swimming pools, golf courses, showers, spas and many hospitality services in the tourism business drains our water. The water table in many countries are receding and water stress is a daily struggle.

There is no argument that climate change tops the list of the factors that affect our water. But tourism has substantial impact if we do not educate the tour operators and the common people. It is their "bread and butter".

But our country is an exemplary model for governments and tourism agencies across the world, or at at least, we should be because of the policies that are in place. Tourism in Bhutan is controlled and it has helped. In many aspects, our late economic development, has worked in our favor and even in tourism we have the edge over other countries with regard to the policies and laws we enact. We have a "high value low impact" approach to tourism and it has so far kept our country exclusive to the outside world. But tourism generates a huge chunk of the incoming dollar, that we are in dire need of. Last year over 100,000 tourist came into the country and the government is going to double the number by the end of the 11th five year plan.

As we prepare to bring in more tourist, I hope our leaders will consider tourism's sustainability to our environment, culture, social values and everything that is dear to us as bhutanese people.