This banner features ripe pine corns above Tandin Ney in Thimphu. Picture taken on April 15.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The year's at the spring

Peach blossoms in Thimphu
Spring is the season of hope and rejuvenation. It’s the time of the year when winter’s chill stings no more and the myriad birds sing. They sing of profusion of blossoms, of rejuvenating nature, of blabbering brooks and the whole new world.

The spring season, I think, is nature’s lesson on impermanence and rejuvenation. It is beautiful but short-lived, it dies but comes again. 

The refreshing sights of peach blossoms around Thimphu always remind me of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s film Travellers and Magicians. As the film ends, the monk tells the dashing young civil servant, who separates from the beautiful girl he falls in loves with, that peach blossoms are beautiful but their beauty is fleeting. They are beautiful because they are fleeting. And in the same vein, they are fleeting because they are beautiful. That seems to be the truth John Keats, that fleeting beautiful soul, was referring to when he wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty…” in his Ode on a Grecian Urn. Had he lived longer, he would have written an ode to the beautiful spring season. But, being a ‘beautiful’ human being that he was, he did not live long.

I do not intend to philosophize about the spring season. I am so often moved by the beauty of the season that I try to find expression.

One night last week, I tried to recollect some of the vivid descriptions of the spring season and vaguely remembered these lines by Robert Browning.

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

To handcuff or not to handcuff

(This article first appeared in Kuensel in 2007 when chimis submitted in the National Assembly that the use of handcuff should be banned in Bhutan)

The debate is whether it is correct to use handcuffs, or, for that matter, fetter someone in irons. The concern chimis submitted to the 86th National Assembly was relevant, but half‐baked. They wanted the use of handcuffs to stop altogether. They presumably looked at handcuffing only from the humanitarian point of view, which is all but complete.

Yes, handcuffing is inhuman and degrading. But when there are justifiable grounds for use of handcuffs, it makes sense. The argument should, therefore, fall somewhere between when it should be used and how.

To fetter arrestees and detainees in irons is no exception to the Bhutanese security system. Security personnel around the world use handcuffs and manacles for various reasons. Primarily, handcuffs are used for security reasons. Desperate arrestees or detainees can be up to anything. They can pose a physical risk to security officials and people around. They can attempt escape, they can attempt suicide, or, they can even display unhealthy scenes in public. It is in the interest of both security officials and public that handcuffs are used. In some countries, hardened criminals are handcuffed even in court. There are stories of security officials being physically attacked by arrestees and detainees to make their escape. How many of us have not heard of security officials jailed for dereliction of duty just because a detainee under their watch has escaped? Therefore, handcuffs.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

From bongkharang to drugs – where are we moving?

Picture: Bhutan Observer
(I wrote this article to a newspaper in 2006)

Once upon a time, we ate bongkharang (dried wheat used as food grains) in our schools. Teachers served us every meal. Those who served us more bongkharang would become our favourite teachers, not those who taught better. The teacher’s announcement of ‘second share’ would lead to a near-stampede in the dining hall. In the mad rush, some younger pupils would get jostled to the ground. Every Saturday, we would be led to a nearby stream in a ceremonial line for ‘washing’. Every few months, our heads would be shaved clean. Everything seemed ritualistic. It was during bongkharang time.

In those days, teachers took care of children more than parents, especially in the remote areas. Now, since parents are more exposed and educated, teachers have a smaller role and government no longer has to buy shaving blades and soaps for children. While we might think that our children today are in more secure hands of their parents, the instances of children going astray are more today than in those days.

In those days, Marijuana plants grew aplenty on the campus, but we knew it only as a food for pigs. We associated nyozey (intoxicating substance) with alcohol only. Substance abuse was little known to us until we got more exposed to the outside world.

The mock election dilemma

A mock election campaign being staged in Paro College of Education 
(As the second parliamentary elections draw near, I thought we might like to look back at how Bhutan prepared for the first parliamentary elections. I wrote this article in March 2008 when mock elections were held )

The primary round of nation‐wide parliamentary mock election is over and results are declared. The two winning parties, Druk Yellow Party and Druk Red Party, will contest in the general elections in which votes will be cast for candidates, not parties. The voter turnout of close to 51% is encouraging, but not impressive. It was reported that elections went smoothly despite some hiccups in some constituencies.

The success of any mock election, though, does not rest with smooth voting and relaying of results. The important considerations should be how our people voted and how much they understood the concept of voting beyond the mechanical use of electronic voting machine. The purpose of mock elections should go beyond sensitizing our people to the use of EVM and voting procedures. The mock elections should inform our people of the basic concepts of democracy like analysis of political agendas, choice of leadership, exercise of their rights and, above all, the significance of going to the polls.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Little Buddhas under threat

Picture: Bhutan Observer
(This article was first published in Bhutan Observer in 2007)

I was in Class V when the first – and the oldest – choeten in my village lost its nangten (relics). Then, the people in my village did not know what it was. Was it vandalism? Theft? Robbery? Sacrilege? It was simply beyond their knowledge and imagination. The police were, however, immediately alerted. Two uniformed men rushed to the site, looked into the small empty hole in the choeten and left. Barely a year later, another choeten in the village was robbed of its nangten. Once again, everybody looked into the empty hole in the choeten and went back home.

Within a few years, my village became poorer by a few of its treasured choetens. Although the holes in the desecrated choetens were routinely plugged by village masons, there was nothing the villagers could do. And, indeed, there was nothing the government could do.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ta She Gha Chha: A book review

(This book review was first published in Rabsel: The CERD Educational Journal in 2005)

Long time ago, while meditating in a cave in the mountains, the great Tibetan saint Jetsun Milarepa wanted to move to another cave on a particular day. He knew that the day was inauspicious to undertake the journey. But he thought that for a yogi like him, who had moved beyond the influence of the ordinary, there was no such thing as auspicious or inauspicious. So he left his cave for the other one with his prized possession, a clay pot.

The belief could not influence Jetsun Milarepa’s decision. But he, nonetheless, believed in the inauspiciousness of the day. Likewise, we have numerous beliefs which influence and guide our behaviour and conduct, or at least our thinking. This is what Ms Karma Pedey’s 154‐page book Ta She Gha Chha: The Broken Saddle and other Popular Bhutanese Beliefs, the latest book by a Bhutanese author, is all about.

Ta She Gha Chha. The title of the book itself could be an enduring metaphor for the fundamental characteristic of popular Bhutanese beliefs – supernatural elements taking the centre stage in the human drama of trials and tribulations, sins and retribution, death and disaster. It could also be a metaphor for the established link between human world and the world beyond. In the context of popular beliefs, the moment something happens to us, we attribute the cause of it to something, and that is often supernatural and otherworldly.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sherubtse in retrospect and prospect

(This essay won the Best Essay award in a college-level essay writing competition on the theme ‘Sherubtse in retrospect and prospect’ in the year 2002) 

Sherubtse College
Sherubtse, the peak of learning, as the name suggests, is the highest institute of learning in the kingdom of Bhutan. Located away from the hustle and bustle of town, Sherubtse offers a tranquil atmosphere conducive to serious pursuit of knowledge. A symbol of the country’s dreams and aspirations, hopes and expectations, the name of the institution is synonymous with the country’s quest for a ‘place in the sun’. Home to some of the finest scholars and educators from far and near, Sherubtse lives out the best that is thought and valued in our system. Sherubtse represents the country’s intellectual evolution and march forward toward an educated and civilized society. She has indeed travelled a long journey towards realizing the best human potentials and excellence carrying forward the noble vision of her wise founding forefathers. Decades have rolled by laden with the fruits of Sherubtse’s noble deeds. Still, this ‘teeming womb’ of dreams sublime and deeds noble marks each day with a worthy thought or a deed. This small institution is great not just because it has done exceptional deeds but essentially because it has dared to dream big. It is due to her ability to dream big dreams with faith and determination that she has been able to manipulate all impediments and negotiate herself to the present position of glory.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Drukyul’s destiny

(This essay was first published in Tarayana Foundation's book of tribute Drukgyel's Destiny in 2004)

Drukyul's Destiny has been inextricably linked with deeds of noble note. Shaped by a people's faith and pride in their kingdom, forged by repeated wars, chiseled out of dire circumstances, engineered by the visionary monarchs, Drukyul's Destiny is an invaluable legacy of the past, priceless possession of the present, and peerless gift to the future.

For Bhutan, the tryst with Destiny began at the dawn of history, as early as the 8th century A.D. when Guru Padmasambhava brought the light of dharma to our land. Then, in the 13th century A.D., Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and an influx of great religious figures came and blessed the land and sowed the seed of a Pelden Drukpa.

But, the tryst with Drukyul's Destiny began almost three centuries and eighty‐eight years ago when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgay, the founder of this tiny land of ours, snatched it from the jaws of wars and disintegration. Since then, Drukyul's Destiny began to take shape.

Drukyul's Destiny. For it, wars were fought, lives sacrificed, hardships endured. For Drukyul, the sail on the solemn ocean of Destiny was not one of ease. A myriad of external threats had to be overcome. Numerous wars with Tibet in the north and British India in the south. Frequent internal strife had to be negotiated. From Paro to Mongar, Dagana to Gasa, a note of discord sounded and drowned the symphony of fraternity. But, in the nick of time, Destiny sent his own son and Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck came. And he carved and shaped the destiny of this our land.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Tracing the source of Gamri

(I wrote this article eight years ago when I first visited Sakteng)

Children of Sakteng                               Photo: Bhutan Observer
From Trashigang town to Phongmay to Joenkhar to Thragthri to Sakteng, the lamentable cry of Gamri is loud and clear. The journey from Phongmay to the plain of bamboos is long and tiring. One climbs up the mountain ranges with Gamri always flowing by one’s side – now by right, now by left. One imagines that one would reach the source of the stream long before one reaches the plain of bamboos.

After hours of walk, Gamri ceases to make its lamentable noise. One fancies that the stream has suddenly disappeared altogether. But next moment, Gamri reappears – this time in all its beauty. It quietly flows across the plain of bamboos. Sakteng is here, but the source of Gamri is lost beyond many high mountains.

This is a fairy land. With identical little houses clustered together against the vast emptiness of the glacial valley, the majestic mountains surrounding the valley still snow-capped and sparkling at the approach of summer, the gently undulating plains dotted with grazing yaks and woolly sheep, and silvery Gamri flowing across the length of the valley, it is idyllic and picturesque. This is Sakteng, the plain of bamboos.