Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Touching the Heart of an Innocent Girl

(Draft # 1)

It was in the midsummer evening of 2007, when I was doing short-term work in Labour Agent at Gelephu. The clouds had gathered round, preparing to pour a heavy rain in a little while. I can see the lightning and hear the sound of thunder now and then. I was all alone in my room, and had just finished punching the bills of the day’s work. I was a little worried as well because every summer I see the news about southern people hit by the lightening in papers. I just closed the Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills of Minakshi Chaudhary in the middle and started with new novel The Kite Runner of Khaled Hosseini because the nightfall was not really suitable to read the scary tales.

The rain has already begun to pour, and I was deep in the third section of The Kite Runner. Out of the blue, I heard the screaming of an ambulance incessantly above my quarter. The time was almost 10 PM, and such sound at that instance really frightened me. I cautiously pulled the curtain a bit, and peeped through the window. The ambulance is not parked, but it is moving at a snail's pace. I can also hear some vague sound of a woman crying. ‘The patient must be serious, I thought. It just provoked me to recall the teaching of Sufferings and Four Noble Truths by Lopen Karma Tshewang when I was in class seven at Ura Junior High School. I closed my novel because I couldn't concentrate. I just got into my bed and started chanting Chap Dro (The prayer of taking refuge to gods), until my eyes drifted closed.

The scary night finally came to an end. I can see the rays of sun through the portholes of my room, and hear the chirping of the birds all around. The time is almost 7 AM but I am still in my comfy bed. By 8.30 AM I have to be in my office because I have an appointment with Passang Construction to process the work permit for 12 Indian labourers. So, I reluctantly woke up, and rinsed my face. It’s already 8.17 AM by then. I hastily dressed wearing my black Gho and red leather shoes, and then walked off to my office.

The labourers of Passang Constructions are already ahead of me. I opened the door, and started filling the work-permit form. The medical certificate is one of the formalities that all the labours must produce to the immigration office. So, we marched towards the hospital in the scorching summer sun. It is not too far away if the weather is favorable, but it is hard walking a lengthy distance in rainwater and sun.

No surprise, all the sheds of the hospital are crammed with people – from newborn to old, as usual. ‘Oh! It is gonna take time’, I thought aloud. The man who overheard me responded, ‘Yeah, because they always give preference to the patient’. ‘Life is more important’ I said. A little shamed, but he agreed.

We wasted prolonged time watching dissimilar people and chewing the fat, when at some point he said his niece was seriously injured in a car accident the previous night. The one that I saw last night, I thought, but like a ghost this time – no sound. His tone changed when he continued with his pitiable story. He said he is looking for a blood donor. ‘What group?’ I said. The man stared at my eye instantly, and then showed me a chit. The required group was AB+ve. ‘My blood group is AB+ve’, I shot. The man looked with lots of hope at me, and smiled steadily. I smiled back, but only to see the teardrops falling through his cheeks. ‘Please help my child’, he cried. I unexpectedly accepted the appeal of an old man. My heart started beating more than necessary. Oh! Donating blood is a great means of alms giving – it saves lives I cheered up myself. ‘But I have to complete my work with the work permit for these labourers, I said. ‘They asked me to take two days’, he replied. ‘It’s fine then. I will get in touch with you soon’. ‘Thank you’. Then he unhurriedly moved away from me. I was all alone under the boiling summer roof of the hospital again.

Almost immediately, the health assistant came out of the clinic and called my laborers. I escorted them the procedure of the medical certificate. They have to undergo several medical tests including X-Ray and urine test. It almost consumed a couple of hours to complete them all.

Without wasting much time, we rushed to the immigration office because in the afternoon, quite often there was a disturbance in the power supply. Without power, the immigration office is idle, because they work with computerized system since 2006. We roughly took 15 minutes to arrive at our destination. As usual, all the counters are overcrowded with labourers and the labour agent people. We have to be patient yet again. Deep in my heart, I was still thinking about myself doing greatest means of alms giving – the blood donation.

In just about half an hour, the population grew a little thin, and then soon I was able to put my labourers in. The fat and arrogant immigration officer verified the form one-by-one. He normally asks Pitagi, Umer, and district in his commanding tone. Most of the labourers shake as if like they were before the lord of death, where most often I had to prompt the answer. Once, one of my labour even peed out of fear in front of the counter.

It almost took around 45 minutes to complete the complicated procedure. The time has already past noon. So, I swiftly handed over the labourers with their work-permit to the delegate of Passang Construction and then hurried to the hospital. I rummaged around for the poor old man and his patient from ward-to-ward as if like a stray dog searching for food from trash bin to trash bin, but in futile. There are dissimilar kinds of patients – some in a critical stage while other as healthy as, or even healthier, than their attendant, but there is no sign of the poor old man who I am looking for.

Soon, I realized that there is no hope in struggling myself gratuitously, and thus I approached the nurse-on-duty to find me the patient. The slim and polite nurse fished one of the file from the rack beside her and flipped through the bunch of papers. She said that victim of the car accident who is suffering from severe bleeding is in ICU. Asked upon whether I will be able to see her, she said she will be soon referred to the ward number 07. ‘Thank you’, I expressed my gratitude. But, as soon as we are done with our conversation, the old man came along with his nice lying flat on the wheel chair which is pulled by two little trainee-nurse… (To be continued)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Days without you

As the beams of sunray lights Paro valley

I just release my eyes without much delay

To see you somewhere else close to my side

But always in futile and I cried...

A sole and just a sole day without thee

Seems to be years of years for me

With my arms empty, eyes hurting

And heart at all times flouting...

As I stare at the crystal clear Paro River

Flowing at its snail's pace, creates me shiver

I just cannot avert reminiscence of those days

Exploring our hearts at a shore via some ways...

Being with you, the sun shines a little longer

Making the charm of life a little stronger

But when you are elsewhere and far away

The sky often glooms away, but I pray...

As I attend to the melodies of the singing birds

Tears roll through my cheeks with no words

Just wondering if you were missing me too or not

And yet again a tears through my cheeks a lot...

The ache of missing you is impossible to endure

Thus, I wish to be inebriated and make my verve unsure

Where I can overlook the stern pain of my heart

And relax in the world of fun like a rescued hart...

But no, for I don’t yearn for hurting you my love

But I’ll call upon before the divinity like a dove

And call upon for one more moment together

Where we can compose our affectionate healthier...

© Sangay Phuntsho 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Build teachers for quality education

Currently the government, the politicians, the parents and even the students are concerned about the deteriorating quality of education in Bhutan. And I too agree that the quality of education, especially in the field of language (English and Dzongkha), has slid down a lot.

Of course, it might be the same with other subjects as well. We have not been able to detect the fall. Perhaps, the plunge is less overt to notice as yet. For an instance, writing an application is found very difficult for the tenth grade students today.

Perhaps, there are lots of factors playing part in weakening the quality of education in Bhutan. I personally believe that the quality of education should begin from our teachers – the very source of good education. Lack of competent and enthusiastic teachers could be the main reason for the decline of competence in language and other subjects.

No matter how best the facilities are in place, the quality of education will never improve if we do not have competent and dedicated teachers. Thus, I feel it may be wise of us to try to comprehend our teachers first before embarking on anything to mend or fix the quality.

Teaching is not an easy task. The real task of building a nation rests with the teachers. We need competent and enthusiastic people in this noble profession.

But the prevailing income and entitlements for the teachers is far less than they ought to be. This results in competent people opting out of the profession. Teaching is onerous and difficult. One has to stand persistently in front of the class for the whole day.

The skills and the knowledge required of teachers are significant. However, most of our teachers are in the field with mere BE.D certificate. Unlike in other professions, teachers get fewer study and practicum opportunities, which is totally conflicting with the teaching profession. I suppose that teachers require more study programmes like training, workshops, and seminars.

Moreover, the teachers serving in the remote places of the country require lots of refreshment courses. Thus, I would like to draw the attention of not only the authorities concerned but also of all the people of Bhutan to be aware of the condition of our teachers prior to commenting on the quality of education.

The authorities concerned should understand that there are some teachers in the remote schools who have not ventured out of the community, let alone out of the country, in their entire career. There are others, who choose to remain the remoter schools of their own volition because it is less hectic and peaceful. Still there are others who desperately try to get out of the remote backwaters but fail.

All those teachers are more concerned about their livelihood than their profession. All these concerns need to be taken into consideration while address the quality issue. If the concerns and grievances of teachers are not addressed, whatever plans and policies the education ministry make to improve the quality of education, it will still face formidable challenges. After all, it is the teachers who, at the end of the day, walk into the classroom and teach.

First, they need to be properly trained, educated and competent. Equally important is that they need to be motivated. Otherwise, there will always be a missing link. Qualification matters, but motivation equally matter. For quality education, all factors must harmonise.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Watching the Traditions of My Village & Its Customs Degenerate

Pangkhar is one of the little rural communities in Ura. Some artistic people tend to compose acronym poem of Ura as Unhappy Remote Area, when in reality it is the land of tranquility – the small Switzerland.

QUITE OFTEN our comrades Uraps poke fun at Pangkharps as the people who inhabit amid several fishless streams (Na Mey Chu La Drimpai Pangkharpa). In fact, this is the most fascinating fact of Ura. None of the myriad of streams has fish in it. Some people also kid with us saying Brokpa (Nomads). But, it is the Brokpas who actually drink fresh mountain water and eat butter and cheese. Ura is also known for its mushrooms including well-liked Matsutake – the unsown crops (Mata Pai Lothog). With so many reasons, I am proud to be Urap, proud to be Pangkharp, and proud to be a Brokpa.

Till the late 1980s, the culture and tradition of my village was preserved with esteem. Pangkhar Chotpai is the most significant religious function of the community. It is not merely a festival, but also an annual ritual performance to evade all the calamities and disasters for the whole year. The function is also like a kind of annual feast for the distressed farmers: everyone gather round to eat and chew the fat together.

During my grandfather’s era, the Chotpai was celebrated in grand. Late Lopen Wangchen who acted as the religious head then, uses to direct the function in a very proficient manner. He uses to dole out all the village people with different roles and responsibilities to formulate the function efficiently. Village lay monks are disperse to perform rituals in the Lhakhang, young men to perform mask dance, and some have to work with wines while others have to work in the kitchen. Serving and washing was used to assign to the adolescent girls and boys.

My grandfather was a mask dancer. The mask dance instructor was Shingkhar Lam, who walks all the way from Shingkhar to teach dance to the young men of Pangkhar. My grandfather still remembers how his Late Lopen Wangchen would provide handy and relatable feedbacks and disparagement after every try-out notwithstanding of himself being a poor dancer. Several mask dances were used to perform in our Lhakhang during their time.

When I was a young boy, the splendor of our most important religious function has already dropped off. There was no initiative to lead the religious activities. Nevertheless, Lopen Galey (Son of Late Lopen Wangchen) and Umzai Sangye Phuntsho are the most learned people who care for the village custom with their level best. I never seen mask dance on the stone courtyard of our Lhakhang. But, it is obvious that there was a grand celebration of the Chotpai with various mask dances like Guru Tshengay (Eight forms of Guru), Bardo Cham (The dance of intermediate), and Shwo Shakhee (The dance of great yogi Melarepa) because the masks and other knick-knacks of these dances were still displayed on the pillars of the Lhakhang. The masks were least taken care so that we the kids use to fight for the musk and gown to make ourselves a clown (Atsara) or a jester.

As an immature boy, the most exciting part of the function was the fire work of warding off evil spirits. It occurs on the darkness of a day ahead of the real ritual starts. I felt it as one of the vital list not because Bumthang is full of demons (Dey Bumthaps), but it is only with this fire work that the evil spirits can be ward off from the village. The ritual team uses to lead the fire march from house to house, chanting mantras, burning fires, and shouting to terrify the evil spirits.

In next to no time, the practice of dispelling from home to home has bunged. To our dismay, the warding off evil spirits is done only in and around the vicinity of the Lhakhang. There was no much fun for the young boys and girls since then, and I too haven’t been to the Chotpai for last eight years. I don’t know how it looks like now, but undeniably its charm might have reduced by now because our Lopen Galey is too old to lead it.

This summer, I had been to my village for a break. I just went around observing the changes that has taken place in the last eight years. The number of houses has grown up drastically; trees grown bigger, and farm road was pulled from the heart of the village. Everything seems to be alien for me. The only things that remained unbothered were the Lhakhang, Chortens and Prayer Wheels which are spread all over the village. Some of the prayer wheels are about to collapse, demanding the restoration without more ado. The arrays of prayer flags that we used to play when we are small is nowhere to see, instate it was replaced by several electric poles.

Certainly, it is distressing for me to see my village happening just like ‘The God Must Be Crazy’ – a 1980s film written and directed by Jamie Uys. The living standards of the people have improved to a large extent, but so is the work load for them. By the first light, everybody is seen busy: milking the cows, collecting the mushrooms, weeding potato fields, decorating their house etc. No one is seen loitering and chatting for pastime. Perhaps, the materialistic mind is budding in the mind of my innocent village people, with the development. Nobody has time to uphold the bond among their neighborhood, let alone restoring the olden Lhakhangs and prayer wheels.

(Contributed to Thejournalist 30.07.11)