Are we ready?

No, we are not.

Exactly a month has passed since the first positive case of coronavirus was detected in the country. As soon as the news broke, the town went scrambling. People rushed to pharmacies in droves to buy face masks and hand sanitisers. Motorists lined up for hours to fuel up their cars (Still, I have no idea where they actually wanted to go). Shoppers cleaned up the entire stock of rice, sugar and other items from the grocery stores.

The next day the streets were empty. The Sun had stopped shining. Not even the wind was blowing. Silence had gripped Thimphu. It looked surreal and scary.

A month after, many people seem to have forgotten that we are still going through the biggest public health crisis of our time. We now have three Bhutanese, who have returned from abroad, and who tested positive – and who the doctors and nurses are working hard to send them home after recovering.

The Ministry of Health advises social distancing – or physical distancing to be precise. And the ringtone of my mobile phone tells me to wash my hands. This message seem to have sunk in well, but physical distancing? We aren’t still there – not even close. At Shop 7, on Saturday, I was waiting at a safe distance in queue when a lady, who didn’t even seem illiterate, just cut in front of me and took that ‘social’ space. She had a child with her. Both had no masks on. On Sunday hundreds of shoppers squeezed against each other in queue to grab some kilos of chilis (chilli is our national obsession after road digging). So much for all the advocacy works. I took a walk along Norzin Lam Thimphu over the weekend and while it was quite empty, there were people in the bars and restaurants or walking around without masks – without any resemblance of self-protection or safe distancing. There is someone who has jumped a quarantine in Samtse. Tobacco smugglers have been held elsewhere. Some organisations still think people are overreacting – and are not allowing work from home. It seems for many these are normal times.

But this ain’t normal time. And we are far from coming back to normal. The virus has just started creating havoc in the greatest nation on Earth – the US, because of their complacency, cynicism and media idiocy and extremism. Italy, the country where I spent my youth, is shutdown as thousands die. They are now telling the world not to make the mistake they made. When the virus was ravaging through China and South Korea, they acted normal as if nothing was happening. The ignored every warning. “It is happening out there,” they said and continued doing what they were doing.

There are more recoveries than deaths. I understand that. South Korea and Singapore did well but Japan has just declared national emergency. The only long-term solution, so that we can return to normalcy, is a vaccine for the vulnerable group. This is the only way to get the world on its feet again. Latest news reports say that there are some 19 companies trying to developing a vaccine. Most are only going on clinical trials now, which means it could take at least one year from now before they are available in the market.

Bhutan, right now, is relatively safe thanks to our selfless King and the rapid response put up by the government. And I pray that it remains that way. We don’t need to panic or live in fear. But we can’t be careless or complacent either. Because a minor error here, a small blunder there could jeopardize all the effort that has gone in – and put us all in danger. A complete lockdown has been ruled out – per various government briefings, because it is still felt unnecessary.

But how about a mock lockdown? We can do it for few days to see the public responsiveness. We can fine-tune the movement of emergency vehicles and check our food supplies. We can locate the weakest links in our system and the society. It is just another wild idea.

The government is prepared. We are told. But are the people ready? I think it is safe to think we are not.

(Photo – scene at Vegetable Market. Where is physical distancing?)

91915198_544277746243474_8876116487794851840_n

91565304_544277769576805_3937125597448241152_n

91902641_544277722910143_2188788013478182912_n

Coincidence? May be

16 March 2020 – The temple of Athang Rukha that was rebuilt less than 10 years ago needed a new roof. That’s because when it was built we couldn’t afford to do it beyond the basics. The Oleps – as the inhabitants of Rukha are known, had just come out of extreme poverty with the help of Tarayana. And I, as the sole funder, was not in a great financial position. Still, given our limited resources and circumstances back then, we did a good job and built a temple that was eventually consecrated in 2013. And compared to the shackle and the ruins that we had before, this new place was a master piece.

With time, though, we got ambitious. The villagers got ambitious. The new lama wanted to do up the place. “It is a place of worship.” he argued. “It is a place where people come seek spiritual solace. It is not a chicken house”. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Above all, the site where the temple stands is believed to be the abode of the powerful Pelden Lhamo – one of the three supreme protector deities of Bhutan. According to oral sources, Pelden Lhamo (Sri Devi in Sanskri, and an emanation of Mahakali) came to suppress an aggressive demon, who had built a phodrang (castle) in Rukha and was terrorizing the area. The ruins of the castle is still visible today – on the hill with a giant cypress tree – at the lower end of the village. Having overcome the demon, Pelden Lhamo is said to have taken residence at the nearby site of the present temple – so that the demon does no harm again. It is, thus, a powerful place. And anecdotal evidences are abound of her presence here.

So the lama took the opportunity of my presence and called a village meeting and I joined them.

Chokila, a villager elder, reported to the gathering that the funding drive was unsuccessful. He and Lethro have been working at it for over six months and they received almost nothing. He then proposed the only option. They would collect Nu. 2000 from each household (Rukha has 20) and that would be sufficient to get a new roof – the tin CGI sheets from Tata company. The meeting agreed but the lama didn’t look impressed and he repeated that we should do a better than that. I understood what he meant and so I interjected: 

“I am glad that you all have reached a consensus to contribute to the purchase of a new roof. I must congratulate you all for getting here. Let’s not forget that just 10 years back, we couldn’t have thought of anything beyond how to feed our families – and live day by day. But you all worked hard over the years and today to see you all even discussing and dreaming of big things – and to be able to come up with such an amount, I feel extremely satisfied. I am sure all others who worked for you, the people from the Tarayana Foundation, would be very proud too. So here is a small offer from my side.

We will get a better quality roofing material that has just come out in the market – the DuraRoof. It is much better but it costs double as compared to Tata. From my rough calculation it comes to around Nu. 90,000. Since you have agreed to put forward 40,000, I will offer the rest of 50,000. If it is more than that I will take care still.”

There was an instant glow on the faces of all present – especially on the Lama. Chokila, stood up again and expressed their gratitude, “We didn’t want to ask you. I told the villagers that there was no way I could ask you – after all the things you have done for us. But anyway, as always, on behalf of the community, thank you, la.”

The other villagers acknowledged. I continued:

“It’s okay. I am sure Aum Pelden Lhamo will take care of that. Even when I was totally broke, she took care of me. However, I would also like you all to call up our young salaried men and women from your respective households to contribute. I know some of them have just started their career, and most are in low-paying jobs. It is OK even if they donate Nu. 50, but I would really encourage them to donate. Not because I can’t afford what I have just promised but because I also want them to be blessed and protected by deity Pelden Lhamo. I guarantee you that if they do that, their life and their career will be stable and they will all prosper. You will all prosper. Whatever we get will be fine with me and as I said, I will cover the balance amount.

Above all, and this more important, I want you all, and them, to look at this new temple with pride. I want you all to come into this place with your head held high for the rest of your life – with the feeling that you have done your bit – your duty.”

The next day we brought down the old roof and the timber trusses and I made the final estimation of how many new sheets were required. The lama and Chokila went to Thimphu to make the purchase. They were met by his nephew, Penchay, who, together with his daughter, Phub Dem, had coordinated the donation drive among the young men and women from the village and their friends – after my appeal. I was informed that they have raised a whopping figure of Nu. 51,600 from among 27 individuals. I was surprised, but not really surprised. After all, it is deity Pelden Lhamo whom we are serving. And miracles happen.

The final bill came from the hardware stores. I had not calculated the ridging and the roofing screws (my engineering skills are getting rusty) and so it was Nu. 105,500. I paid the full mount through my mBoB – while Chokila dropped the cash collected that amounted to Nu. 88,100 at my place – after paying off the fuel charges for two Boleros.

In the following two days the new roof was up on Rukha temple. And then after two more days of fine-tuning and preparation, the lama made an appeasement ritual, Lhamo Tshoja, in honour of Pelden Lhamo. Rainbows appeared in several places, which are considered auspicious and signs shown by the deities.  During the ceremony where I had to sit with the monks, as the main jindha (sponsor), in silence I took the opportunity to thank the deity for protecting us throughout the two-week period. Not a single carpenter or worker was injured. Not even a scratch. It was a miracle in itself. That was my bigger concern through out. I also prayed for an end to the on-going coronavirus crisis.

Then that evening I got a text message from a friend in the US. He wanted me to resource a short online conference for thought leaders from across the globe – where I was asked to talk about compassionate leadership, generosity and community – in these challenging times posed by the epidemic. For my presentation and a half hour participation in the global dialogue, he offered US$ 250 as donation to the temple. He knows the place well. He has been there.

Now, Nu. 105,500 – 88,100 =  Nu. 17,400. And US$ 250 = Nu. 17,500.

Coincidence? May be. The Lama thinks Aum Pelden Lhamo reimbursed me.

 

 

(NB. I have many other such “coincidences” both good and bad that happened to me and the village in the course of rebuilding that temple. This is actually the smallest miracle)

1488993_10153629331665153_477279573_n_10153629331665153
The ruin and the reconstruction
1535061_10153629654555153_1562273975_n_10153629654555153
25 December – 2013 consecration
IMG_2821
The meeting of the village
IMG_2659
We brought down the roof

IMG_2689

IMG_2750
The new truss
IMG_2781
The new Jamthog
IMG_2885
The new roof with jamthog

 

Living through the virus scare

As the panic attack from the virus is almost over, let me share my own tips as to how to navigate through these scary times. Since the matter is now handled by the Government, I didn’t want to add to the confusion but I just came across some people who are still traumatised. One woman shared to me yesterday that after she saw the news, she felt as if she had the virus and the fever. Another said that her daughter is self-isolated in her room.

While these suggestions may help one to live one’s life as normal as possible, there is, however, no such thing as total prevention or reducing the risk to zero. The other thing is, as I had mentioned in my earlier posts, we may be less prone to the disease because of our good immune system, in general. Hence there is no need to play the drama queen.

Some anxiety, yes

Everyone gets anxious. We all do. It is normal. It is our instinct for survival generated by our limbic brain. What we need to watch out for is that our anxiety does not become fear. If it does, then you would overestimate the threat and underestimate your own capability. We would transfer that fear to those around us – to our children and to those who look up to us. We are more likely to make mistakes and irrational decisions, which sometimes can be costly. Certain level of widespread anxiety is good for, it drives preventions and good behaviours in the society.

If you are getting anxious, remind yourself of one thing: human body is strong, resilient and complex – otherwise our species wouldn’t have survived 50,000 years without a hospital. And besides, the new coronavirus is not a death sentence or Bubonic plague. It won’t pounce on us like a leopard.

Don’t be obsessed with updates

Educating yourself and others around you is a must. It was quite alarming that even educated people were joining the Howling Mob on the social media, when they could be researching and giving out good and comforting information. In this day and age where information is available on a click of a button, one can be better informed. For example, if you go through our Annual Health reports, you will find that no Bhutanese has died of common cold – unlike in other countries where thousands do. So we are better off than many other nationalities. Besides, it has been studied that this virus, like other viruses, does not survive outside a living organism for longer than few minutes to an hour.

Do not be obsessed with news and updates, though. One reason for this mass hysteria is the social media that is throwing the pictures, videos, updates, fake news right on our faces. If it wasn’t for the mobile phones and the Internet, this virus would not have gained so much notoriety. Ebola was more fatal. And when the HIV virus was announced, no one lined up at fuel depots or rushed to the pharmacies. It was because news took its own sweet time to reach us and we digested well.

While it is tempting to check the updates on the Facebook or WeChat, doing that every minute will keep you at heightened state of anxiety. A prolonged state of anxiety is harmful to health than the virus itself. It will fuel panic attacks and depressions – to say the least. 

Don’t feel silly to be safe

If you have to take precautions, take them. If you want to avoid large crowds and gathering, stay away. If you feel like washing your hands frequently, do it. If you want to do some religious rituals or invoke your Protector Deity or say your prayers, go ahead. You don’t have to feel silly to feel safe. But again, do not exaggerate and overestimate the threat. What happens when you do that is you won’t be thinking straight. Then you will be queuing up at the pharmacy and shops with hundreds of other people and run into some real risks of infections.   

Eat well, sleep well

To boost your immune system, get vitamin C from natural food, which includes orange, lemon, broccoli, garlic, turmeric, kiwi, papaya, ginger, yogurt, and chilis. Your immune system will either keep you away from the virus or fight them if you are infected. And with or without the virus your immune system needs to be in top form. My day starts with two glasses of lemon water and salt – and ends with hot milk and turmeric. Try them!

Bhutanese diet is not the best because the variety is simply not there. But what you eat not only determines your physical health it also affects your mental state. A study found that a diet rich in green vegetable, fruits, lean protein and whole grain helps reduce depressions and anxiety. And stay away from processed food because it suppresses your immune system. Amul cheese, Wai Wai, Koka, canned fish, etc are all processed food imported from as far as the US or Turkey. For those with poor digestive system because of gastritis, ulcer or acid reflux, drop these altogether. I am speaking from my own experience.

And then sleep like a baby. Sleep time is when your immune system is regenerated. It is fairly simple: If you sleep well, chances are that your system is good. If you are sleep deprived, you are down. A research experiment was done whereby live virus of common cold was splashed on a group of participants. Those who had rested well didn’t catch the virus even when they were exposed directly. Those who were not sleeping well, fell immediately ill.

Government response is everything

Countries and nations, and the world at large, will be challenged time and again. This is not the first time that we have faced this and it won’t be the last. And how the governments responds is the key to mitigating these challenges. We have the country’s most famous doctor at the helm of the government. I mean, won’t he know best? And, isn’t that even our own good fortune? Our collective moelam

And above all, we should not forget that we have our King who would do anything to keep us safe.

Keep living, sleep well and eat well, my dear countrymen.

cov_1_web_custom-9da74b09c7ba905c8ba6fa9ce8df36c4581b346f-s800-c85

cov_5_web_custom-9fb7e4760d81762be63c89fa2db1c8b153bd998e-s800-c85

Updates from Rukha

SLOWLY and steadily the two temples – one in Rukha and the other one in Lawa Lamga are getting done. It’s been ten years since I initiated the first and almost five since the second got off the ground. The reason for taking such a long time is that I am not a wealthy guy and we don’t have any big sponsors either. Besides, both the villages are not financially strong and do not have many salaried people. The whole village of Lawa Lamga, actually, doesn’t even have a single person earning a regular salary. Rukha has few young people who have started working in the government and in the private sector. And that’s it. Hence, the works there resume when I have some money to spare – and work stops when I am broke. But there is no rush, or expectations. Some day we will get them done. In Rukha, for example, the people there have initiated several minor works to take the project forward – on their own. This is great because they are not depending entirely on me. A lama has been conducting annual mani dungdrup ceremony since 2015. 

On the other hand, both the communities are already happy that, at least, now there is a place for them to gather, a place for them to seek spiritual solaces and a place they now feel complete with. Earlier, the people of Rukha had to resort to shamanistic rituals that involved animal sacrifice. Lamgaps had to conduct their religious ceremonies under tarpaulin sheets and sometimes in battering rain. At least, they have managed to put all those practices behind them. 

Community temples in rural area are not just spiritual monuments.

Community temples in rural area are not spiritual monuments. They serve as a vital social space to bring the community together. Otherwise, in trying to survive in an increasingly competitive world, people get drifted apart. That’s what happens in an urban setting where even close family members rarely meet. Coming together and being together are important social activities that will bond a society and keep the nation together. As Bhutan gets more urbanised (56% now live in three cities of Thimphu, Paro and Phuntsholing), one challenge that the country will face is individualism – and subsequently increasing jealousy, greed, conflicts, materialism and superficiality. Hence, those of us who can, and still care, should support collectivism, community, sharing and togetherness – in any manner we can. We, Bhutanese, want to serve our country. But you cannot serve your country by neglecting the community around you, the communities in front of you. Unless we build strong communities, we cannot build a strong nation.  

Do not postpone good deeds

Now, every Bhutanese wants to be useful and wants to do something for others. It is in our genes. But we also procrastinate a lot. Why should I? Will I get the credits for that? Is he not taking all the fame? Should I do it later? Well, no. You do with faith. You do selflessly. And you start now. Mind you, what you do, or don’t, are all accounted for in the Grand Registry of life called ley dang moelam (karma).

Besides, there is no point waiting. Life is uncertain. So when your time comes, there is something you can take with you – the good karma – your soenam, your gewa and your moelam. So try accumulating as much when you are healthy, alive and kicking. For those interested in getting involved (and receive a share of good Karma, because I don’t intend to hog them all), there are still some balance remaining works there.

You don’t have to be, or wait to become,  wealthy either. Because you will never become one. Being rich is a mindset. It is a matter of perspective. I know people who have everything and think they have nothing. I also know those who have little and feel they have enough and are ready to share. Our desires have no limits.

Also when I was younger, I used to wish that when I grow rich, I will help others. I never became one and, to my horror, in no time I realised that I had turned 40. Waiting. Half of life was gone. You have to start moving your fingers now. Yes, I know we are all struggling to make our ends meet. But if you think you are in a bad shape economically, just know that there are fellow humans, fellow citizens who have nothing.

Rukha Pelden Lhamo Lhakhang

Rukha Lhakhang was consecrated on 25 December 2015 by His Eminence Tsugla Lopen Rimpoche of Zhung Dratshang. It was opened not because it was complete but because the community desperately wanted to the place to be operational. The main tehns (statues) are Rigsum Goenpo (Chana Dorji, Jetsun Jamyang and Chenrizig) and Buddha Sakymuni. The remaining works are:

  • Completion of a separate altar room for Protecting Deity, Pelden Lhamo. (The site is believed to be her abode. It is a powerful place)
  • Re-roofing for Serto (golden pinnacle) installation
  • Serto – golden pinnacle – donated by someone in Phobjikha
  • Mural paintings (Coming. Granted by Gangtey Trulku)
  • Altar painting

Items required:

  • CGI sheets (16 pieces, 12 feet long)
  • Cements (10 bags maximum)
  • Painting works of the main altar (finance and despatch one painter for few days)
  • Thri and chodrom for lama
  • Offering bowls, butter lamps, drum and cymbal for the goenkang

Lamga Community Tshokhang

The community hall and temple of Lamga is little behind. It was started in 2016. And so there is lot to be done. The main statues are Tshela Namsum (Tshepamay, Namgyelmo and Jetsun Droelma) and Buddha Sakyamuni.

The following are the works remain to be executed. What I do is I provide the imported materials while the community does the manual labour. So, any in-kind donations to the project from individuals and institutions are welcome. No money will be accepted. Money corrupts. Money brings disputes and suspicions.

The minor works are:

  • Flooring of the temple (being done)
  • Traditional painting of the altar
  • Purchase of water-offering bowls, and cymbals and doong.
  • Thri-chidrom for lama
  • Gyeltshen, tehnkheb and other decorations

Some of the major works are:

  • Mural paintings
  • Purchase and installation of serto (golden pinnacle)
  • Construction materials for community kitchen and for Lama’s living quarters

However, as I mentioned earlier, as it is the community is already very happy because earlier they had nothing. Just make-shift tarpaulin tents and in monsoon the experience was far from pleasant. Besides, since the temple was up and running there has been a decrease in animal sacrifices all over the valley. This will be another story for another time.

Satisfied? Well, we are extremely proud of what we have achieved. And honestly, it didnt drain me financially that much. This just goes to show how much we can achieve if we put our hearts together.

May our Supreme Protector deity Pelden Lhamo keep us all under her wings

20200215_173926#1
Rukha village – the home of the Oleps – the original inhabitants of Bhutan
IMG_2030
Rukha temple built on the site of an earlier ruins.
IMG_2027
Chamber allocated for the deity, Aum Pelden Lhamo. Needs to be done. 
IMG_2023
Rukha temple. Main altar room. Done.
dav
The mountain behind me is sacred to the Oleps
20200220_210007
Lamgaps resettled here in 2005, from Phobjikha, and built their homes after clearing this hilltop called Cheenading. They were doing their monthly rituals under make-shift tents for years.
IMG_2107
Altar of Lamga temple
20200220_095903
We met to finalise the next course of actions and works
sdr
Heaven is a place in Lamga

Heaven can wait

Lamga village, Athang, Wangdue – The roosters sound for the second time, one after another, and jostle me up from my sleep. I then hear my host starting the fire in the kitchen. I doze back to my dreams. Another wake up call comes around 6 am, which makes me sleepishly reach for my phone to check the time and see if any WhatsApp messages have pinged in. But there is no Internet service in this valley and so I just put away the Samsung and say my little prayer – and grab a book. After reading for an hour or so, I doze off again. 

I am in remote Lawa Lamga in Athang gewog in Wangdue to document the traditional Bhutanese life – for a “participatory observational method” field-work, as we say in the academia – for, Lawa Lamga is probably the last frontier of modernisation in Bhutan. The first school was established in 2010, mobile phone service came in 2015, a Basic Health Unit was built in 2016, a farm road carved in 2017, and finally, electricity in 2018. The first generation of students are completing the high school only next year. Until 2009, not a single child attended school from this village. And except for one young woman who is in Thimphu, the entire population is living in the village, unlike in other parts of rural Bhutan that are half empty.  

Lawa Lamga is probably the last frontier of modernisation

This village, therefore, provides the last chance to document the traditional Bhutanese life and society – life before TV, technology, and electricity – and life before the great rural-urban drift. There is one TV, few people with phones and houses with electricity, though. But still, it is a universe that I had known when I was growing up. Life hasn’t really changed much. It will, sooner or later. And this is what has attracted me back to the valley to do some ethnographic research – and to write in peace. Of course, it is not my first time here. I have been associated with the communities here for over 12 years – starting out as a volunteer for Tarayana for few years and then visiting like a part of the community, thereafter.

Lawa Lamga is in Harachu valley in lower Wangdue. It is hidden among the Black Mountains. Once you are are here, you feel you have reached the end of Earth. Beyond, is just wilderness. It is an unexplored territory – but nothing less than any place in the country – both in terms of history or natural beauty. To the north is the famous Tsenden Gang (from where Bhutan got its ancient descriptive name, Lho Tsendenjong  – literally meaning The Southern Land of Cypress), and to the east is the Jawo Dungshing (the powerful tsan deity) range bordering with Trongsa. The three surrounding mountains are believed to be Rigsum Goenpo. Lamga, therefore, sits on what they call Saa Droesum Naam Droesum (Where Three Lands and Three Skies Meet) In fact, Chana Dorje, one of the three trinity of deities of Rigsum Goenpois their favourite deity. Every third person you meet in, and from, Athang gewog is called Chador. It is also believed that Guru Padmasambhava passed by this place and crossed over to Riti and Nabji Korphu on his first visit to Bumthang in the Eighth century. The Guru Uzha, which is one of the main relics of Gantey Gonpa, was discovered in the area by a cow-herder.

The valley is also mini-Bhutan for, it hosts three ethno-linguistic groups dispersed on either bank of Harachu river. The Oleps – one of the original inhabitants of Bhutan – and who have their own Olekha language, and distinct culture and traditions; the Lawa Lamgaps – who are resettled from Phobjikha and speak Adhakha – a different language altogether; and then finally the people of Samthang, who are a mix of several ethnic groups who speak Dzongkha, the national language, as the native tongue.

Sacred time? – Of family, farm and forest

Life in rural Bhutan is simple – revolving around family, farm and forest. Time is dictated by nature and not by the clock. As American sociologist Robert Levine would put it, it is “event time” out here and not clock time. You often hear someone reminding others, “Sun is almost down. Time to collect the cattle”. Or “Let’s meet after I have offered water on the altar”. Yes, time here is measured by the position of the Sun or by the daily spiritual routine such as offering and removing water from the altar bowls. It is never based on the watch. And of course, my favourite is, “I will come after I release the cows”, which could anywhere between 6 am and 10 am. Everything is flexible, everything is in slow motion and no one is in a hurry.

People work hard too. Men wake up at the first or second call of the roosters (~4am) and slip out to the jungle to collect firewood, cane or bamboo. Women make their way into the kitchen on the second or third call and start making breakfast and animal feeds. Older grandparents chant sacred mantras and fill the air with their reassuring presense. The researcher (me) is the last to be up. Around 8am. I am forgiven because I am an urban guy. “Town people don’t have to wake up that early,” I am told. I feel less guilty. Gradually, though, I also find myself adjusting to their circadian rhythm. 

They have all the time in the world. They have time for everyone.

For the day entire, life seems to roll out with a secret rhythm – saying a prayer, feeding the pigs, tiling the land, weaving baskets, building sheds, repairing a fence, collecting firewood – or simply chatting around a fire and having some tea or bangchang (a local fermented drink). People here seem to have all the time in the world. And they also seem to have time for everyone. Anyone can stray into your house unannounced and no one is turned away. A tea invite is a minimum, ara if you drink, or a meal if you crash during mealtime. No one is offended. Instead, going “empty mouth” is considered inauspicious for the host family. I had more tea in this valley in one week than I have in my entire year elsewhere.

People here live simply and sustainably. They do nothing to exploit the Mother Earth. They only take what they need. And their needs are simple. On the other hand, they are very generous. They give more than what they have. Every day there is someone who drops by with a gift of egg, a bunch of green vegetable, or a stick of tender cane – for me. As an rural-urban transformed, I am simply overwhelmed and feel reconnected to my own roots – the village.

Community before self

Rural Bhutan is about community, sharing and co-existing. Everyone puts on their social self forward and not their individual needs or greeds. Decisions of the community are taken through consensus – not through show of power, position or privileges. Disputes are settled mutually. It is like how a German sociologist, Ferdinand Tonnies, referred to as a Gesellschaft world. Helping each other, and looking out for one another are a norm – and not an exception. My host, for example, is building a house and the whole village gathers every morning to work pro-bono. Some even go beyond. They sponsor all the meals for the day. 

Heaven can wait

If time is their biggest asset, time will also be their biggest threat to the traditional and idyllic lifestyle. For, time will bring the inevitable change. In fact, change can already be seen around – in the form of a rice cooker, a power tiller, or a water boiler – or candy wrappers lying around.

Still, to lift from the title of one of my favourite Hollywood movies, Heaven Can (still) Wait.

~~~~~~

References:

– Robert Levine in A Geography of Time

– Ferdinand Tonnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Society and Community), 1887

– Heaven Can Wait (1978) with Warren Beatty

20200215_155444
Off-roading from Taksha to Lamga
IMG_20200224_161747_606
Aum Chador walked 5km to gift me this beautiful basket
sdr
My host lady is milking a cow
cof
The altar. Barely nothing but is everything
cof
My private hut 😍😍😍
20200220_123150
My favorite time: fireplace chat
20200220_120642
Nimchu fought with a bear. My hero 😻😻😻
20200217_173205
The researcher with a selfie in front of the hut-home-office
20200215_170932
What a beautiful gaur!
sdr
And they came with more gifts

It takes a village to raise a child

Phuntsholing, Bhutan. 15 January 2020

In Africa there is a saying, that “it takes a village to raise a child”. Among traditional communities in Bhutan, it is more or less the same.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, the villagers of Drung Gonpa, who are my relatives, helped raise me and my siblings. Our aunts carried us on their backs as they went about with their daily chores. Our uncles taught us how to collect firewoods – and tend to the animals. My grandpa taught me how to say the boddhicita prayers, which became my life’s purpose.

Drung Gonpa in Radhi, the place I was born, is a small community of some 20 households – all related to each other. I have vivid memories of playing in the creek, of walking barefoot, or accompanying my grandpa on rimdro trips to Radhi and Phongmey. I also remember sitting on the edge of the fields as my mother harvested the wheat or maize for others. My family was extremely poor. At times we had to take food loan – known as kuendru from the wealthier relatives. But we kept going and we survived. In many ways, I am not ashamed to say, that these people kept us alive.

I left my native village at 5 – with my father who had a job in Phuntsholing. And I rarely went back – preferring to spend the school holidays in Tashigang Pam – my father’s village. I did make few short visits though, and the last one was in 1983.

Fast forward by 30 years, between 2013 and 2014, during my short stint in Sherubtse as a professor, I visited the village several times and was overwhelmed that the genuine and unconditional affection had not eroded with time or age.  For them I was still that nice little poor kid. They still brought rice, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. – and this time as gifts and still called me by my pet name, kota (meaning younger brother) – because of my elder sister. More than that they poured out their heart, and their love to me. They cried when they saw me after 30 years, saying how I resembled so much with my grandfather and my mother. They held my hands and hugged me and spoke to me like I was a child – like someone who came back from the death.

Ever since I made it there more often. Last year I visited the village with my sister to appease our very-demanding tsan (mountain deity) and we were received with the same warmth and affection. Our visit became a local holiday. The village stopped working and hovered in the house we were staying – eating and drinking and singing the songs our late mother used to sing to them. She was a fun, I was told, and they missed her every day of their lives. They asked me to initiate the reconstruction of our house and offered free labour. This gesture made me really ponder on what I could do to match that – and also pay my gratitude for everything. So I proposed to send them all on a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya (dorjedhen) in India – where Buddha attained enlightenment – a must-visit for all Buddhists. My siblings and I would do that for the support and love they showered on us. We would do that in the memory of our late mother, who had the biggest influence in our lives. 

So, here we are. 48 of them showed up. Basically the whole village. Many have locked their houses and dropped the cows and chicken with people in another village – for, this was the trip of their lifetime. Most of them are travelling for the first time out of the village. They have have never been beyond Tashigang. When I saw them off in Phuntsholing, there was nothing but tears of joy and gratitude and excitements. They said they felt as if they have already reached the Dorjedhen (Bodhgaya). They promised that they would pray for me and my family too – for my sisters, my brother – and that they will wish to be reborn as my relatives in our next lives. This is the best compliment I ever received.

They paid homage to my late mother and to my father, who was present, for raising such wonderful kids.

Wonderful? Maybe. In any case, I think it took a village to raise these kids.

20200115_115030

IMG_20200116_094611_563

IMG-20200110-WA0003#1
Each pilgrim has a tag in case they get separated from the group. The pilgrimage is a gewa to our late mother, who not only brought us into the world but also made us human

20200114_16254620200115_105818#1

20200115_110035

20200114_160308

20200114_162525

20200114_162750

20200114_222335

20200115_112717

IMG_20200116_094611_565

15 Dec 2003 – Lest we forget

Dec 15, 2003. We all remember that Day. At least my generation does. It was the day when the Operation All Clear was launched. After living for almost a decade in a peril, this was it.

No one had a hint that it was going to happen – not even us in the media. And so, like on any normal day I had just walked into my office around 10 am (I was the GM in BBS then) in Thimphu when I was informed that it has started. I froze and it took few minutes for me to react. I immediately called up the MD and told him that as per our standard practice, we don’t do the normal programming on the radio. I then rushed to the radio studio and stopped the day’s programming. I think it was Sangay Tenzin, the host on duty and together we pulled out the tape and played the moelam. Back in those days, we always kept a tape with moelam prayers and played it when there were national disasters, emergencies or demise of a VVIP. 

For the next three days, I didn’t work. No one around me did. All I, or we, really did was to hope and pray that nothing happened to His Majesty the King – above all. He was everything to us. Rest was secondary. There was nothing much I could do other than to walk around like a zombie with a deep sense of guilt for not signing up for the militia.

The whole town of Thimphu was quiet like a graveyard. Silence had gripped everything I could see. Even the trees didn’t move. Back in office, we cuddled around rod-heaters in different rooms and shared the bits of information that trickled in from the battle front. The question on everyone’s lips was, ‘Where is zhab now?’

The question on everyone’s lips was, ‘Where is zhab now?’ 

I spent lot of time in the small garage office of my late cousin, Lam Rinzin, checking on our boys who were in the military. We had seven close family members (two from my own household) there fighting. And most of them were officers leading their troops. I never prayed or sought the divine interventions in my life more than I did in those few days. I also challenged every deity in the land that came to my mind to show up – otherwise, I told them, I would never believe they exist. They say people would do anything in desperation. I felt desperate. We all were desperate. We saw the world slipping away in front of us. The beautiful country looked so gloomy. For a moment, I thought we were never going to see our King again. I sobbed alone.

From the next day, NDTV started reporting from the Indian side of the border and it looked like we were doing well. Actually, great. Then came December 17, where HRH the Crown Prince (and now His Majesty the King) announced the great news in Changlingmithang. I cried – together with men and women who were near me – out of a sense of relief to know that our King was fine.

I became religious overnight. Something changed in me dramatically.

As we celebrate the 112th National Day, there is no need to really talk about what happened some two or three hundred years back. Those are legends at best. Let’s remember this Operation – and pledge ourselves to the greater good. For, this happened right before our own eyes – in our lifetime and with our King leading the troops – risking His own life to protect ours. Literally, our King rescued us from the jaws of a very uncertain future. We all lived through it. And it was just 16 years ago. Those who can read this were all born by then.

We, Bhutanese, have short memory. But this event is one in history that we should never forget. There have been quite a number of occasions in recent decades when Bhutanese came together as one nation – as one people.

For me, that moment was the moment I will never forget 

1610808_10206703010328297_67334198462347560_n
His Majesty the King leading in frontline – as depicted and immortalized in Druk Wangyel Temple in Dochula (built to commemorate that victory)

 

B2UOtPqCcAAW5Fc.jpg

 

79320379_2406780139574340_7827666497840349184_n
On December 14, Martshala temple was consecrated by Thuksey Rimpoche and graced by His Majesty the King. Next day the Operation All Clear was launched.

 

 

48388173_10161343344160714_373968957150855168_n
Photos of the fallen soldiers are maintained in Tenxholing Military Academy. They died because we could live. May you live forever in the minds of the Bhutanese

 

80081321_10162878687790714_1901858054639452160_n
HM the King at the frontline. His name means Fearless Lion in Dzongkha. And fearless he is. No armored jacket and no helmet. Just a modest free gho (national dress). The soldiers nicknamed the platoon with the green gho as “Green Gho Company”

 

Gold, it was

I must say having watched the football finals of the South Asian Games in Kathmandu, where Bhutan took on the defending champions, Nepal, I am extremely PROUD of the performance by our boys. I am also very HAPPY to see a nation united and rallying behind the team from all over the world. I now rest HOPEFUL for the future of football in Bhutan. Gone are the days when we were not even considered worth playing against by our opponents. Now we are a team to reckon with – at least in the region.

For all these, firstly, my respects and gratitude go to HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, HM’s Representative in Sports, for revamping and steering the new sporting movement in the country. And my recognition to our international star, Chencho Gyeltshen, for leading and inspiring his team mates to believe that it is possible to excel internationally. He has done it alone winning the Indian Hero League in 2018. It is so nice to see him lead the others. 

Of late, sadly, politics, technology and greed are tearing our society, and the world, apart. It is important that equally we create occasions, reasons and opportunities to be and to dream together and to cherish as Bhutanese – as one nation. Sport in general, and football in particular, is emerging to be a binding force of national cohesion and unity.

This moment is GOLD in itself.

Well done, Dragon boys

79346371_2281170335322217_6577935893510750208_n

78958170_540708416775782_6785118772203094016_n

 

 

Real cost of cooking gas

This is the cost of LPG non-subsidised gas in Bhutan:

– 35 minutes wait in the cold and dusty outlet – because ‘closed for lunch’
– 10 minutes more wait for just one lady in front of me to be served. She had all the required documents.
– Nu. 773 the actual cost of the cylinder
– 5 minutes more wait for the cashier to look for 1 Nu. notes he didn’t have (I kept quiet to observe the drama)
– Nu. 2 forfeited ultimately since no one, he asked around, had the change 😆😆😆
– 3 minutes wait again since the the guys were unloading a truck and were completely ignoring the lady ahead of me – and me.

Total cost = Nu. 775 + 53 minutes in cold and dust + one disorganised cashier + two stressed-out and public-hating dispensers

My condolence and prayers to all Bhutanese consumers. May you find strength to face this every month. And may this country be forever rich that it can throw away one hour every month from every citizen.

 

(NB. Let’s monetize the 1 hour and multiply that to the whole country. Assuming that average hourly wage is Nu. 200. If we multiply that for the 150,000 families in the country, we are losing Nu. 30 million every month just because the inefficiency of this one service, which is also paid and not coming free. I say nothing further)

78217269_534675094045781_4158412225322680320_o

10 Years of Blogging & Brokshi

IMG_20191203_103845_064

Semtokha Dzong – This year this day marks ten years of blogging. Yes, it is just ten years. It seems ages, right?

I write on my life and my works to simply share and inspire – and occasionally I opine on society and governance. On the latter, I am often asked why I do I write what I write? Why do I stick my neck out? Is it for publicity? Or is it for vengence? Why am I not “happy” all the time? Or am I just a sour grape?

Well, here is the answer. I write for none of the reasons above. I write because, first of all, I care for the community around me, and for my country. And now, for the world entire. By the grace of my Kings, friends and family, I am OK. But I cannot close my eyes to things, both good and bad, happening in front of me. I believe in the power of words and communication to change for better.

I know in doing so, at times, I am burning bridges, I am burning friendships and I am burning down favours. And in a small country like ours these can be very costly – and I have also paid some heavy prices too. Still, there is one price that I cannot imagine trading away. And that has to do with my conscience – my principle. So, the first reason I write is to clear my own conscience. And put it at rest.

Do my words count? Or do we, the proletariat, matter? I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t expect the world to change to my whims and wishes. I don’t expect praises and accolades. And I don’t expect bureaucrats and politicians to listen to me. But they are not my target audience either. My concern is my people – my community. I want them to think, care and act – in every small ways, no matter how small or insignificant. For, people and power will come and go. Whereas the system, nation, state and country will remain.

Simply put, I don’t want to, one day, die (in case you forgot, we’ll all die one day) thinking I didn’t do what I believed in, or didn’t stand my ground or didn’t do what was needed to be done as a citizen – as human being.

So, will keep going for now 🚶🚶🚶

My blog is http://www.dorji-wangchuk.com and http://dorjiwangchuk.blogspot.com

(On the occasion of ten years of successful blogging, I made a donation for the Gyampo Tangrap ceremony in honor of deity Yeshe Gyampo – Mahakala)