Friday, July 21, 2017

Balloon and a Politician

Recently, we’ve read some politicians getting unnecessarily in a sweat, losing sleep with the thought of Ministry of Education spending some amount on balloons to train our teachers. We appreciate for such a rare (and childlike) concern that we’re receiving for the first time from our lawmakers. Perhaps, this might be from the wisdom of hindsight – expertise, education and experience.

As a teacher, at English for Effective Communication Training, we’ve never realized that we’re bursting nation’s Ngultrum 5, which could be otherwise used to build a bridge over Moa River, increase pay and allowances for our esteemed politicians who agonize even on a single balloon, fund third country tour for benevolent ministers or expend to increase the width or breadth of blacktopping of our feeble Geog Center roads.

As a teacher, we never calculate things in terms of balloons and toys. We look at the end benefit. For instance, if using a balloon provides the shot in the arm in teaching-learning process, we purchase several balloons per lesson.  We use it in the class. We never take it back home or broadcast in social media. At home, our children blow plastics and kick cans instead of balloons and balls. Indeed, there are many teachers who run their home more frugally than their classroom. 

Respected politicians, did you ever notice that some of our teachers pay top dollar for preparing teaching-learning-materials? Have you ever heard of a teacher, grief-stricken with ever sophisticated laptop loan (arranged by the ministry?), done all, but for our students? Sacrificing so called paid leave (which made us ineligible for yearly leave encasement) in receiving Professional Development Programmes, or numerous other summer and winter programmes?

For us, it is really shocking and shameful even to stare at such a blunt post by honorable personals in social media. I think there are many better topics than a balloon to consider upon. For instance, our towns are overflowing with jobless youths; seasoned teachers are voluntarily leaving this noble profession; youth related issues are escalating; suicide case is greater than ever. I think, simply wasting time on agonizing on a single balloon cannot address any of these issues.


Nevertheless, nothing nastiest or most horrible comments will wipe out our sincere dedication and commitment. We are inspired nor by the sweet-coated words used in political pledge, neither by the reaches of this world. It is the innocent faces, looking at us each day, that keep us motivated to move further. Happy Teaching!    

Sunday, April 23, 2017

THE BUDDHA’S MIND BUILT WITH STONE AND MUD

There is a secret that takes the Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan close to the heaven. It is neither the world’s tallest Buddha statue at Kuenselphodrang, nor the unique Drametse Ngacham (dance of the drummers from Drametse) of Mongar. It is a mound, mere piles of earth and stones. It is the chortens or the stupas – the white jewels of the Dragon Kingdom – jewels that have miraculous origins and with various types with great significance in the life of the Bhutanese people.

Stupa is a Sanskrit word meaning “to heap” or “to pile” and refers to the mound-like shape of the earliest stupas. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra tells us that it was Buddha himself who outlined the basic design of a stupa. The story begins at Buddha’s deathbed where he gave instructions about the disposition of his body. He said that his body should be cremated and the relics divided up and enclosed in four different monuments. These were to be erected at:

Lumbini, the place of Buddha’s birth Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree Sarnath, where he gave his first teachings Kushinagar, where he passed into parinivana. His disciples asked what form this monument should take. The Buddha did not reply but instead gave a practical demonstration. He took his outer yellow robe and folded it in half and in half again until it formed a rough cubic square. Then he took his begging bowl, which was round, turned it upside down, and placed it on top of the robes. “Make a stupa like this,” he said. So these original instructions, directly from the Buddha, have remained the basic form for all stupas throughout the world.

However, it is difficult to trace back the precise origin of the stupas. Some scholars presume that it originated much before the Gautama Buddha or the Buddha Shakyamuni. For instance, stupas like Riwo Langchen and Jewo Dampa chortens at Swayambunath in Nepal are believed to have appeared during the aeon of Ushnisha Buddha.

Others say that one of the early stupas was built on the remains of Buddha’s bones at Namo Buddha (Tagmo Lujin) in Nepal. Tagmo Lujin is the legendary tale of one of the previous lives of the Buddha, when he offered his own body with much satisfaction to a starving tigress as a form of alms giving. Such legends talk volumes to prove that chortens first emerged simply as a burial mound.

Looking to the more recent legend, Prince Siddharta undertook a milestone decision and deed in his life of cutting his hair to abjure his life in the palace. This, according to the twelve noble deeds prayers of the Buddha, happened under the chorten called Namdag. Such knowledge is indeed the testimony to the existence of chortens much before Gautama Buddha.

The next notable chorten is Jarung khashor at Kathmandu in Nepal. Several stupas were also constructed during the aeon of Buddha Shakyamuni. Thus, chortens are the oldest Buddhist religious monuments and originally appeared only as simple mounds of mud or clay to cover relics of the important Buddhist figures.
The origin of chortens in Bhutan is not really clear, but the time might be much later than its first emergence. Buddhism first emerged from India and started to flourish in Tibet and then came to Bhutan. Chortens are mere appendages of Buddhism and we can generalise that there is less possibility of appearance of chortens in Bhutan before the arrival of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan in 746 AD and brought the Vajrayana teachings to Bhutan.

Some texts explain that it was only in the 15th century, during the time of Great Tertoen (treasure discoverer) Pemalingpa, that chortens like Mani Dangrim (mani wall) started to emerge on the Bhutanese soil. Later, the 17th century temporal ruler of Bhutan, Gyelsay Tenzin Rabgay, inspired the Bhutanese to build Mani Dangrim in many parts of the country. Mani Dangrim is considered a typical Bhutanese style chorten.

The traditional eight types of chortens which are generally referred to as the classical chortens are very common in the Himalayas. They spread from India to the Himalayan countries including Bhutan. Each one of these classical chortens signifies the major events of the life of the Buddha.

The first of the eight types is Desheg Chorten. Desheg Chorten signifies the birth of the Buddha. At birth, the Buddha took seven steps in each of the four directions – East, South, West and North. In each direction lotus sprang, symbolising the four immeasurable: love, compassion, joy and calmness. Desheg Chortens are bejewelled with lotus-petal designs along with seven heaped lotus steps.

Jangchub Chorten or the chorten of enlightenment commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. Buddha attended enlightenment at the age of 35 at Bodhgaya under the Bodhi tree. It is said that the chorten of enlightenment was built by the beings of all realms to mark the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Lhabab Chorten commemorates the return of Buddha to the earth from the heaven. At the age of 42, the Buddha visited the heaven to teach his mother and returned to earth following respectful request from his disciples. Hence, some refer to this chorten as the chorten of descent from the God Realm. This chorten is said to be modelled after building at Samkasya in India, on the very spot where Buddha descended from heaven. Steps on all four sides up to the dome make it distinctive from other chortens.

Choekhor Korwai Chorten is to honour the first sermon of Buddha. Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment at Deer Park in Sarnath in India, which is known as Varanasi these days. He ‘turned the wheel of dharma’ to show all sentient beings the path to enlightenment. This chorten is characterised by various entrances to signify various paths to enlightenment.

Chotrul Chorten was built to observe Buddha’s deed of subjugation of Mutikpa or the heretics. The Buddha subjugated the heretics of Sravasti at Uttar Pradesh in India by showing miracles. Thus, the chorten is also called Miracle Chorten.

Yendum Chorten was built to celebrate the victory of the Buddha over the evil Devadatta. Devadatta was by tradition a Buddhist monk, cousin and brother-in-law to Gautama Buddha. However, he grew jealous of the Buddha and given much threat to the life and teachings of the Buddha.

Namgyal Chorten was built to rejoice the prolonged life of Buddha. It also symbolises the victory over all evils, including the mystery of death itself. Despite the pressure from the king of the evil, the Buddha decided to attain the state of Parinirvana only after prolonging his life by three months.

The last, Netendey Chorten or the chorten of nirvana is to remember the day when the Buddha passed into Parinirvana. It symbolises the Buddha’s complete absorption into the highest state of mind. The characteristic feature of the chorten of nirvana is its bell shape and it is usually not ornamented. This symbolises the expression of mourning over the death of the Enlightened One.

The other chortens are Chorten Kangnyim (stupas two legs), Mani Chukhor (Prayer wheel), Tashi Gomang (Glorious Chorten of Many Doors), and Mani Dangrim. Chorten Kangnyim and Tashi Gomang chortens are rather rare in Bhutan. However, Tashi Gomang exists as a mere miniaturised monument.

There is an aphorism that “if you save a worm from the army of violent ants, the merits are equivalent to that of building a chorten.” Such expression only means that there is nothing greater way of accumulating merits than constructing a chorten.

Chortens for Bhutanese are the source and symbol of peace and harmony. For instance, the legendary Chorten Kora in Trashiyangtse was built in the 18th century by Lama Ngawang Lodroe to subdue a harmful demon. People started to enjoy boundless peace and harmony after the completion of the peerless relic of the kingdom.

The chortens for Bhutanese are also shrines. The presence of chortens in abundance shows the faith people have in Buddhism. Even the mere sight of chorten brings immensurable faith and devotion in the minds of the Bhutanese people. This is the reason why people build chortens in public places.

Druk Wangyel Chorten at Dochula is the masterpiece of the modern Bhutanese art and architecture. But it has more spiritual value beyond the outer aesthetic beauty. It is a heartfelt expression of the royal family and the people of Bhutan to His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King, and his reign. It is a symbol of gratitude, victory and peace frozen in the form of sacred stupas.

As chortens are considered the Gyelwai Thug or the mind manifestation of the Buddha, people seek refuge in it. There is not a single mountain pass in Bhutan without a chorten. For some, it may be the ornament to the woods and mountains but it also brings a sense of presence of gods. Travellers pray for their safe journey with deep devotion every time they come across the chortens.It is common to see the Bhutanese people circumambulating a chorten. Circumambulating a chorten enables a positive reincarnation and spends positive energies. Circumambulating the representation of mind of the enlightened one is a judicious means to accumulate merits.


Chortens are the eternal representations of the enlightened ones. If something remains for eternity, it would be chortens. It is a wish-fulfilling jewel of our country. It is the peerless relic, radiance of which will bestow us with peace, harmony and tranquillity.

Special appearance of an owl in my unpublished novella

Photo: Google
Your honour, the guardian of the Law of Kingdom Bhutan    
I never thought that one of the beautiful moments in my life will end up in bitter tragedy. We are simply a lover, and in my knowledge loving someone deep from heart is not a crime. But today, I am aware that love is not always a bed of roses. 
It was Deki who called me first. It was she who arranged all the dates that we had in our entire relationship. It was she who touched me first too. I am simply an ordinary man with ordinary thoughts. Complete innocent. I regret for being so impulsive.
I am sad that Deki’d been deceitful to me throughout our relation. She never told me that she was a student. Worst of all, she even stretched the truth about her age. She said that she’d completed her B.Ed from Paro College of Education. Who on this earth would complete Degree before attending the age of eighteen?  
I am totally innocent about the crime that I have committed. I would like to ask for forgiveness from all – the almighty God above who’d been blessing our relationship throughout, the law of the kingdom, and all the disturbed souls in this universe.

“Forgiveness?” the judge ejaculated. “You’re a teacher, not an innocent child. Now, you cannot push your blame to this little girl. Explanation is totally unnecessary in this case. There is no room for negotiation. I need only one word. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. In the name of the almighty God, tell me. Have you done it?”
The respond, indeed, was already obvious to everyone in the court room. The judge only wanted Karma to officially confess to the crime. He wanted a single word ‘yes’ to come out from Karma’s own three-inched-mouth. This was indispensable for the jury to prepare a verdict.
A thought of his mother suddenly flashed through his mind – mother shedding oceans of tears upon hearing the verdict. Tears of sorrow. Shame. Embracement. Regret. But Karma was in a complicated situation as if like a peacock of plains of India in a snare.

“Yes,” said Karma. His voice sank to whisper as he officially confess to the crime that he’d committed but unwittingly. It was a word that will change everything in his life. Happiness into sadness. Love into hatred. Laughter into tears. Life in bed of roses into life like an animal in a cage. Sweets washed him from head to toe. He didn’t even remembered how he reached the police station. 
The night was total silent in the police custody. The only sound he could hear was a hoot of an owl from the roof of the next building. It called to his mind one unpleasant stories of an owl from his late grandfather. “Owl is considered as the bird of evils. Its hoot is a presage, warning that something unpleasant will happen. Even worst is to hear the owl muttering like a group of aged people together. It is a real presage, cautioning that someone from that family will be taken away by the lord of death.”
“It was one overcast night.” Grandpa continued. “Your mother was spinning a yarn and I was talking with your father over the warm hearth. You were sleeping on my lap. Suddenly, we heard an owl muttering on our rooftop. We were all frightened by the cry of this evil creature. All of us were silent. As silent as the grave. We understood that something inescapable hard luck will occur in our house, but none of use talked about it. We were all worried. We silently slept.  Exactly after three nights, your father was killed in a terrible car wreck. The misfortune warned by the owl is inescapable. Really inescapable!”...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Endless Stories – Excerpt

Spotted at Pangkhar in Ura
...The Royal Court of Justices was twenty minutes drive towards the north of the police station. The ornate gate bejeweled with traditional Tibetan painting of dragon and eight lucky sign stood like a fulltime protector of the mighty court building. Inside stood the court in its full glory, offering silent greetings to the people, well apt to the purpose of their visit – gracious enough for those seeking for justice but very frightening sight as though like a spine-chilling ghost for the criminals of all sorts.  
The windows and doors were all highlighted with traditional curving, forming beautiful mosaic of flowers, clouds and some mythical animals. Inside was a big portrait of the King with Jekhenpo – the Chief Abode, both in yellow scarf glimmering like gold in the morning sun rays. To the sides of the portrait was the court bench from where people from all walks of life get justice.
The bench clerk called one by one for hearing. All the people seeking for justics must remain within striking distance from the Court Room. Anytime the clerk might call them.   
Now Karma was sick at heart. He never thought that his romantic relationship with Deki would someday end in such a tragedy. When he contemplates on his own heartbeat, he could hear myriad of messages with each beat.
You are real coward, wimp, faint-hearted. You say you can die for Deki. Now, is this what you’re afraid? Merely to face the judge. True lover sacrifices their life. Not scared of day-to-day activities of humanity like going to the court. Court is not a death house. It is the place where you get justice.      
Deki’s father arrived. He was a tall man, reared above everyone in the court. He wore expensive silk Gho but little mismatched with his Indian coloured face. He held a yellow file, inside which would be all to change the tune of Karma’s stand. He occupied the post of Director, Regional Custom Office, but resigned after his office was listed as most corrupt in the previous year. This is enough prove to describe him as a shrewd man. Indeed this painted a black picture on him in the whole society.
The furrowed brow on his forehead arranged like a terrace of paddy fields fetched Karma flashbacks of some beautiful moments with Deki. It was one autumn morning. They were walking through the wide meadows of Ura. Dew drops on vibrant wild flowers blazed like a fairy lights on Christmas tree.
“Karma, collect me some flowers,” she ask for, gazing admiringly at the blossom around.
“Not at any price!” he said, watching carefully the reaction from her.
She frowned, showing the wrinkles on her forehead like a terrace.
“Deki, sometimes I wonder that these little flowers are just the reflection of your peerless beauty,” Karma said in serious mood, “so that I cannot imagine of defiling the beauty of them with my own hands. No! Not at any price!”
Deki smiled.
Karma hugged her tightly to his chest. They felt each other’s heartbeat. 
The court room door opened. The rasp of the giant door planks gave rise to some uncontrollable worry and fear for everyone waiting to enter the room. The bench clerk signaled Karma’s escort to put him inside. Karma closed his eyes to catch his breath. Deki’s father walked side by side with him. Both entered the room, bowed before the judge and stood, composed.
The room was the archetype of traditional setting in the district. With the complex mandala painting, the room has got the most ornate ceiling in the region. All four wooden pillars were curved and painted with mythical green dragon perfectly embellished with flowers and leaves. On the left wall was the mural of Tshering Nyamdru, the six manifestation of Tshering: human Tshering, mount Tshering, stream Tshering, cave Tshering, bird Tshering and tree Tshering. It was adapted from traditional Tibetan painting. Right wall was covered with the mural of Thuenpa Puen Zhi, the Four Harmonious Friends – an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a bird. Lore has it that if you have a painting of Four Harmonious Friends at home the family will live in harmony.
Straight above the judge was musk of Tsholeng which has supremacy to create whole room terrifying. Around it was the mural of unknown Buddhist Gods and Goddesses whose physical appearances were more like ghost, the inner significance of which cannot be understood by the ordinarily humans with ordinary thoughts. The counter-like-table of the judge was curved with the emblem of the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan. The judge looked officious, so powerful on his traditional Bhutanese court bench... 

Monday, August 3, 2015

A scene from one of my short stories

Source: Internet
The whole week of teaching the innocent kids in the school was done. Karma was out on his usual weekend outdoor pursuit, running after the butterflies and snapping their colour and joyous moments. Butterflies seemed like precious stones for a materialistic soul. He liked the chromatic combinations on their glistening wings rather than the living style. He captured several rich pictures that morning.

“They have the most mesmerizing wings,” he said to himself as he gazed and gazed.     

He could now hear a familiar Hindi song by some young girls in the distance. He listened to the lyrical description of the surroundings – the mountains, the streams and the trees. It was the soothing effect of their song that made Karma walk towards them.

When Karma approached, the girls stopped singing. Both lowered their heads and giggled. The girls were making a flower garland with wild marigold. The chilly morning breeze blew their silky hair in all directions. Karma swallowed, “Good morning girls.”

The two kept giggling. “What are these garlands for,” he continued, a little embarrassed though.

“For Dewali,” one of them uttered at last. 

After exchanging a few words, the conversation felt at ease. “What is meant by Dewali,” he posed a question.

“It is the festival of lights.”

“Why are you here early in the morning, Acho,” one of them inquired.

“I am taking picture of the butterflies.”

The girls giggled again. He explained how much he loved the colour and the waves of light. He switched on the old digital camera and played a short clip. A bluish green butterfly flapped its wings amongst the dying yellow flowers, sparkling in the morning sun like a turquoise…

Monday, May 12, 2014

In The Arms of WFP

May 1, 2014: I still feel a bit uneasy to face my best student—Aita Bdr. Subba. For the last three years, I have been teaching the wonders of numbers, shapes and space for my class. Notwithstanding all my beautiful lessons, something went wrong, and it’s been on my conscience ever since. I never realized the background of my students, which indeed is indispensable for effective teaching. 

This year, I aspired to delegate the role of school mess captain to Aita. But the majority of the teachers, by common consent, appointed him for a higher seat—the house captain. The evidence is now clear that Aita made quite an impression on his teachers over the last few years. 

For me, in all honesty, Aita is a boy of deep sincerity and unstinting devotion. I’ve perceived these concrete qualities with my naked eyes, empty hands, or carefree mind. I never realized the untold stories of my students and became the firm believer of what they do right before my bare eyes. 

This year, as a part of my assignment, I worked on learning the stories of WFP beneficiaries in my school. Dozens of bittersweet stories! But one story really touched my heart. I pulled Aita aside and asked him to say his piece without any hesitation. He narrated his story in a voice hardly above a whisper. The story of his family background is nothing better than reading one of Shakespeare’s heartbreaking plays. 

When the whole world is craving for materialist wealth and comfort, Aita and his parents still live in abject poverty. The next hot meal is more precious than a luxurious car or a deluxe home for them. They lead a life with all the cares of the world on their shoulders. Life in a bed of roses has been a real chimera for them. 

Aita's father, Mon Bdr. Subba, is in his fifties, but he looks much older than his age. He's been completely deaf and dumb since birth. Yet, his love and care for his family has been extraordinary. Despite his old and frail body, he toils every day for survival. When healthy, he keeps his little land under plough the whole year. In addition, he also struggles in doing tenant farming to earn enough bread for his feeble family. 

Hard luck for the family escalated when their disabled father had to undergo severe gallstone operation. The performance of the head of the family declined significantly resulting to big run-down of food and clothes. The misfortune was like a fuel to the flames and the family shed many tears. 

Aita's mother, Batay Subba, is a little younger than Mon Bdr. Subba, and much luckier in terms of senses. She can partially hear and speak. Besides household chores, she helps Mon Bdr. in every work. Indeed, she became the sole bread earner of the family after Mon Badur's misfortune.  

Aita has four siblings: three sisters and a brother. He worries every day about his little siblings, who live fully reliant to their poor parents. His only little brother and one of his sisters have been suffering from chronic skin disease since the age of one or two, adding the weight of sorrow for all of them. His other two sisters are studying with Aita: one in class four, and the other in class seven. 

Education remained as a dream for Aita until he turns eleven. The nearest school does not serve its purpose, at least to Aita. It provides education, but for the people like Aita, he needs food too. Thus, when all the children of his age sing a rhymes and rhythms in school, he listens to the donkeys braying on the other side of the hills. 

The idea of boarding school was brought up by his uncle who has a heart of gold. He takes Aita with him at Wangdi—the land known for a stiff breeze. Aita experienced happiness, as well as anxiety. His bond with his family is too firm, but the thoughts of sitting inside the classroom with friends of his age and flipping through vivid children's books supersede all his worries. 

Athang Primary School is one of the fortunate schools to be blessed with all the benefits of WFP. Children from the hand-to-mouth parents come together to learn and eat. Aita was once among them. 

When Aita dines on free delicious foods and succulent fruits at school, he remembers forcing himself a flavorless loaf of bread, mostly without curry, at home. He also remembers his mother crushing dried groundnuts on the flat stone to use as cooking oil. But even the flour and nuts goes in short and their cupboard remains bare most of the time. 

“For me, WFP is a god who intervened in my miserable life and turned me from ignorance to knowledgeable,” Aita says with his eyes filled with sincere tears. “It is only with WFP that I could start my education,” he adds. 

For two years, Aita studies at Athang with the generous help from his uncle. In 2008, when he is heavier and stronger, he comes down to Tsirangtoe Lower Secondary School (Present School), which is also blessed with WFP. Tsirangtoe is near his parents, but not within shouting distance. It is roughly seven to eight kilometers away. 

The health of Aita's mother begins to decline year by year. At the tender age of fourteen, Aita starts to work for money during breaks. He started by carrying tons of oranges in the scorching winter sun of Tsirang to earn money. Though it’s little money, anything is helpful for his family. From 2011, he exploited his little body in the world of hazardous construction sites. He travelled as far as Zhemgang to do hard jobs of sands and stones. Aita's little hard-earned money has been just enough to buy books and uniforms for his two little sisters and himself. 

Last winter, rumors circulated that the WFP will be lifting and parents’ contribution for food will swell up to Ngultrum 6000. The tension heightens in Aita's family. A little boy earns merely Ngultrum 8000 in lucky winter breaks, but there are also household expenditures, and being a sole breadwinner is difficult. Ngultrum 6000 is an astronomical amount for most of the middle-income group in Bhutan, let alone Aita's family. However, the rumors never turned true. The WFP stood shoulder to shoulder with people like Aita, helping their dreams of education come true. 

Despite all the problems Aita does moderately good at studies. “If I am able to complete my schooling, I wish to become a Teacher so that I can succour the deprived people like myself,” Aita says. He is a voracious reader of children's books at school. Besides, he sits in one of the front-runners in every games and sports. His leadership qualities have no parallel in the school, and serve his school-mates and teachers with devotion and commitment. 

Aita might develop as a devoted leader or a committed teacher. He might become as an acclaimed writer or rise to fame as an athletics. If people like Aita complete his studies without any complication, it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that his family and village at large will prosper under the auspices of his noble deeds. However, whether to accomplish all these beautiful dreams or to let it disappear in the air is all under the mercy of WFP.

As Narrated by Keshab Khatiwara