Monday, October 22, 2018

A Dream from Classroom

The Druk Namrup Tshokpa’s one of the ambitious educational pledges – to do away with examination until Class VI threw the general public into a spin. Such situation occurred because the rebuttals done (for political mileage) were more powerful and convincing than those who stood for the motion. Although the pledge is pre-eminent in our education system, there are thousands of innocent people got strung up and worried a lot. Thus, I think it is a call for the educationalists to cushion the blow.

With whatever experience I bear in the Bhutanese Education System, to do away with examination until Class VI is never a thorn in flesh. It is rather a breath of fresh air that would cater the needs of 21st century children.

The competing political parties (knowingly) refuted the pledge saying that the quality might decline should there be no examination. The innocent public simply swung with these mighty tides.   What we must understand is that, “examination” is never the best yardstick to educate and grade our children. One-time examination merely measures student’s memory, and not the intellect. And this was realised long time ago by the masters of classroom. Even today, although we have this monster “exam” in the schools, the weight is rather low, particularly in the lower classes.

The “examination” from all sense, is a bomb to the growing brain. A persistence stress for one or two weeks of examination period would lead to anxiety and depression, which is already rampant. The number of people sailing against the examination wind is growing at a snail’s pace because it is quite demanding to understand the realities inside four classroom walls. But we must look at the world through the optimistic lens. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and educational reforms cannot happen overnight. It is exciting to see such concerns in the party manifesto rather than waiting for a cry from the classrooms.

A student could be living with dyslexia. Now, if we continue to strict with conventional yardstick of “examination” to grade the students, I think, at the end of the day, we are only destroying the future of our country. Aamir Khan’s “Taare Zameen Par” depicts the need to discover hidden potentials through various means. Further, his “3 Idiots” challenges the model of education that is widely used in Asian schools today. School it not merely about facts and figures. Examination pressure was targeted with the dialogue, “this is a school, not a pressure cooker”. Therefore, it is a burning issue to be addressed sooner than later.

Believe me! Continuous Assessment is a sheer lots of work for our (already over-burdened) teachers. Given a choice, one time assessments like exam are easier than ongoing assessments.  Yet, Continuous Assessment is much better way to educate and grade our children. Quite a number of researchers found that, Continuous Assessment can detect the syndrome of ignorance at the early stage. Sense of inclusiveness will never be addressed otherwise. The school should be the place to prepare our children for life, and not for the examination!

Hence, I ardently would like to inform the general public that, the Ruling Party’s dream to discontinue examination till class VI is but an echo of dreams from the classrooms. The decision is never without rhymes and reasons. May Bhutan be Enlightened!   

Disclaimer: This article in any sense is not political in nature. It is just an outburst of a confused teacher, and cannot be used as a basis to see which political party I have been supporting. I clearly understand that civil servants must remain apolitical.   

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Dadi Musso 1993

It was a frosty winter morning. The whole Ura valley was covered with a blanket of morning frost, as thick as snow. It was bitterly cold and everybody was silent, curled warm in their woollen blankets. Lethro peeped through his small window. In the faraway mountains, he could see that the hermits had already started performing the daily purification ritual. The incenses formed plumes of smoke all over the skies of the hermitage, far and wide. It was the place from where Lethro’s father had divined his horoscope. A horoscope which foretold that Lethro shall become the king of the empty plains and the possessor of the white and black jewels!     
In the nook of the village was Lethro’s house – an idyllic wooden cottage, which he called a home. The spruce shingles were very old and rotten. When the snow melts during the first sunny day after the snowfall, water enters the entire room and soaks all his belongings: an old woollen blanket that he never washed for almost a decade, a Chinese carpet and a pair of porcelain tea cup that his late parents brought from one of their illegal trips to China, and some old clothes. The entire room was black with much soot accumulated on it.
Lethro was a short black man with great sense of humour, a barrel of laugh. Some people often whisper that he is a son of Indian labourer who came to construct the first east-west motor road. His eyes sunk deep into his skull and when he stared at something or someone, he looked like an Indian scopes owl. His owl-like eyes were always on his cattle day in and day out. He was a young and happy cow herder, with deep sense of attachment not only with the cattle, but also with the wide green pasture.   
 It was one overcast day. Lethro curled like an armadillo and snored under an old spruce tree after eating his roasted potatoes. Hence he dreamt:     
He found himself lost in the field of flowers. The whole scene was ablaze with the sparkling of flowers – blue, green, orange and red from each angle. A glowing rainbow hung high like a colourful scarf of angles. The sweet fragrances of roses and marigolds filled the entire air. It was a real blissful time, an episode of joy. But it did not last long. The sky grew dark. The rainbow disappeared and a torrential rain arrived. A lot of flowers were blown away far afield and down to the dust by the storm.
The camouflage Indian army helicopter, flying over the azure sky of Ura valley with its rattling sound suddenly awoke Lethro from his deep slumber. He followed the trail of the helicopter and started to dream. “I wish I could fly like a bird”, he whispered. For an uneducated, hand-to-mouth farmers like Lethro, dreaming of flying in the sky was like building a castle in the air. Almost impossible! 
Lethro’s day-to-day duties kept on continuing as though like there was no end at all. Milking the cows, feeding the cattle, grazing them the whole day, and bringing them all back home before he went to bed. However, his ambitious dream of flying grew stronger and stronger each passing day. He fantasized himself becoming rich, and escaping from the stink of dung forever. Living in a good house, travelling in a car, and feasting on the best foods kept on lingering in his mind like a shadow. Such thoughts gradually started to affect his peaceful life with his cattle. He started to lose interest in raising cattle anymore, and kept his eyes and ears open for any possible exit from his hectic and monotonous life.
One day, as Lethro was grazing the cattle in an open pasture along the road, he saw an antique car moving towards him with a great roar. It produced a trail of smokes like cirrus clouds behind it. His eyes rolled as the cattle scattered with the thunderous noise. The engine stopped right near him. A tall bald man in a black gho came out of the car with a Chinese cigarette in his mouth. He slammed the car door, and approached near Lethro.
“Good morning,” greeted the man.
Lethro swallowed his saliva that was accumulated in his mouth, and greeted back. “Good morning, sir.”
The man puffed the cigarette and released a huge amount of smoke from his mouth. “Is this all your cattle?” asked the man.
“Yes, we the nomad’s depend on cattle, sir,” replied almost immediately.
The man gazed at his cattle for a long time, nodded for a while, and posed, “Do you have any plan of selling them off?”
Lethro swallowed once again. Thought for a while and nodded, “Yes sir, if I get good price, I thought of selling them all. Life is chaotic with all these things,” he added.
“So, what’s your desired price?” asked the man.
“Around Nu. 50000,” he said, little embarrassed with such a huge amount.
The man once again looked at his cattle. More carefully this time.
“If you really mean it, I will come back after a week. I have to sell this car, and get you the money,” said the man.
Lethro’s eyes directly shifted from the man’s face towards his blue antique car, shimmering like a pearl in the autumn sun. To his eyes, the form of the car resembled much like Norbusili, a rhinoceros. Lethro remembered his late father mentioning that rhinoceros are considered as a “wish-fulfilling jewel”. Thus, for Lethro it was a face-to-face moment with the jewel. His desire to possess the rhinoceros-like car ignited like a winter wild fire in his mind. The fantasies of driving a car amidst his dust-coated friends, multiplying cash by hiring it, and prospering beyond bound came into his mind again and again so that he even forgot to breathe for a while.       
“Let’s do an old-fashioned business then, a barter system. Take all my cattle and keep your car for me”, mentioned Lethro, rubbing his hands involuntarily.
The man was taken aback for a while. “Well, it’s absolutely fine to me, but we must consider some arrangement and adjustment to carry all these cattle to Chamkhar, my village. It’s 48 kilometers, pretty good distance!” responded the man.
The two had discussed the trade like in a dream and had done a deal like in a delusion. Both agreed with the arrangement and adjustment until the car magnificently parked in front of Lethro’s cottage, and the cattle was far beyond from the old herder.
The next morning, even before the stars disappeared in the wide sky, Lethro rubbed his eyes, and went near his car. He touched it with his rough and ginger-like hands. He tried to discern all dark and bright parts on his car.  “Ah! I am the possessor of white and black jewel”, he cherished the moment. He fetched buckets of water and splashed until his arms became numb. The car shone in the first light of the day, to the extent that it even dazzled him with the reflection.        
Days turned into week and weeks turned into month, but Lethro couldn’t get a single person to teach him driving. By now, he had washed his car for hundreds of times and circumambulated for thousands of rounds. The brand-name label “Dadi Musso” faded owing to excessive scrub, and the grasses started to dry around the car due to his excessive footsteps going around it. Village people even started to call his Musso car as Lethro’s chorten or the stupas.  
It was early hours of Thursday, pshayza, the bad day of a week for Lethro as per his horoscope. The moon sunk behind the western mountains, but the sun had long way to reach to the eastern hills. The whole world was in total silence. But Lethro was awake. The only sound he could hear was a hoot of an owl from the roof of his cowshed. It called to his mind one unpleasant story of an owl from his late mother:
“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 the village will be taken away by the lord of death.” He contemplated on this orthodox belief for hours, until the sun peeped from behind the mountains.         
The next day fetched a real surprise for Lethro. As he opened his door, he saw a real abnormality in both paint and form of his car. He dashed like a high wind towards it, only to see his shimmering antique car reduced to mere crumbled metal box. The pieces of windshield scattered like a sugar on the ground. Head lamp, taillight and mirrors were all smashed, and out of order. Marks and scratches on side-panel, bonnet and also on grille looked like a intricate spider web. Two tyres flat to the ground.
Lethro sobbed his heart out. He stared at his jewel and felt sicker at heart. He missed those gone by days, sitting on a branches of old willow trees, legs dangling, eyes on his cattle. He missed each and every tree and boulder that dwell like his childhood friends in the wide pastures of his village. The more he looked at his damaged car, the more his heart ached.
That night Lethro couldn’t sleep. The image of his damaged car kept on haunting him throughout. He felt the hardest kick in his life, as if all his misfortunes saturated for thirty-two years of his life burst out at once. A farmer without a farm like him had no options on the table in such situation. It reached to the point that he even when he thought of surrendering his life to the god of death. He thought of dying before death, but his courage didn’t let him. Thus, even suicide was not an option for him. He rolled right and left in his bed, until the birds started to chirp. It was already morning.  
The next day, Lethro heard much commotion in his backyard. He saw some village people surrounding his damaged car. Below his window was a Tshokpa, the village leader. Lethro got out of his house with his heads bent low to greet the crowd.
“Good morning, friends,” greeted Lethro in his lowest voice. Lethro was a man with a bundle of laughs, and perhaps, that was the first time he spoke in such a serious tone.
“Good morning,” greeted the people in unison. At the back, people started to talk in low voice.
The Tshokpa took two or three steps forward, and expressed their grief on seeing Lethro in such agony.
“We are deeply saddened to see you in such agony. We are here to pay our deepest condolences for the loss. We wish there is something we can do in such a difficult situation,” said the Tshokpa.
From the back, people started to express their grief in unison.
Lethro wiped the tears that rolled involuntarily from his eyes, and started to thank all who came there. “I spent all my cattle to purchase this car with lots of dreams and aspirations. But now, as you can witness with your own eyes, my dreams are shattered, aspirations blown apart. As such times, up over me is the wide sky and down beneath, the barren soil. Nothing left for me,” said he in a voice little over a whisper. 
The Tshokpa changed the tobacco in his mouth, spitted from the half-opened wooden window, and said, “We are as worried as you do. It is natural for us to make mistake in certain stage of our life. Sometimes, it can be something irrepressible, totally pushed forward by our fate and fortune. But the successful people are those who realize their mistake and stands up again with a bunch of lesson.” The people nodded their head together.            
The word ‘fate’ stroke Lethro much. He rolled his tongue while he thought deeper and deeper about his fate. A destiny of a humble cow herder! A dream that he had long time ago came into his mind like an Indian movie flashbacks: A dream of a harsh weather that blew away many flowers far afield and down to the dust. He recalled his horoscope. Missed his black and white cattle.
At that point, Lethro realized that his Lethro or the destiny was never with automobiles. He cleared his throat and declared, “My dear village mates, I understand that my Lethro is never with the automobile. I am going to get rid of this ugly monster instantly at very reasonable rate. I will find someone who can buy this monster. Meanwhile, you all may also like to help me advertise this information far and wide. Otherwise, I will wait for the God to send someone who can buy it back, just like how he had sent it to me.” 
The villagers praised for his splendid decision, and all scattered into their fields again, and started swinging the rhythm of their day-to-day life.      
After two days and three nights of heartache, Lethro saw an unfamiliar man walking towards his monster car. A skinny man with a white suits walked like his right leg was shorter than the left one. He inspected the car thoroughly before Lethro could reach the scene.
“Are you Lethro?” asked the man.
“Yes, I am Lethro.”
The man threw a packet of money and said, “Here is your money.”
Lethro was numb, unable to utter even a word. But deep inside, he understood that the Tshokpa must have negotiated everything for him. He turned back to his car, and never looked back again, thus it was never seen again.
Lethro found that there is Ngultrum thirty-thousand in the packet. Contemplating for days and days, he understood that raising cattle was the most suitable work for uneducated, single farmer like him.
Finally, Lethro bought two cows – black and grey from his neighbour.  He took them to the same wide pastures of Ura, and once again started his life as a happy cow herder. He had become the king of the empty plains and the possessor of the white and black jewels!

The Crying Dancing Girl

Tonight, I see a dancing girl,
Her body, like the birds of paradise, 
Swinging in the August wind,
Hundreds of eyes feasting on her form,
Mesmerized in her moves and shifts,
Laughter – as that of African hyena!

Tonight, I am among these hungry eyes,
A visual feast, right on the stage,
Alas! Oceans of tears, I can feel,
In her li’l eyes – hidden, tensed, 
Deeper inside her, like a stolen pearl,
In this li’l dazzling dancing girl.

Tonight, my eyes weep
With oceans of tears behind, tensed,
Deeper in my weakening eyes,
With a crying dancing girl,
Moving hither and shifting thither,
Like a trained Indian parrot,
With the beat, rhymes and rhythm,
Right here, beside me.  

Tonight, the dance is but an irony,
Sorrows coated with laughter,
Miseries seasoned with ecstasy,
And the audiences, as though like an owl,
Blinded by big bright blue bulbs,
All in, alas! High spirits!

Tonight, my heart is breaking,
With the scene of pretence,
Persistence and perseverance
Of this crying dancing girl,
Weeping like a child within,
Entertaining the heartless beings,
Until their ill-bred eyes close.        

Tonight, I will turn back, faraway,
Her tears and pain, I shall remember,
Her innocent dance-steps, in my heart, 
And shed some more tears down my cheeks,
Sob for days and nights, sniff sniff!
Yet, pretend a smile on my face,
For this li’l crying dancing girl!

The Crow’s Dropping

I still remember the words,
And even lines of my orthodox grandpa,
Like last night’s dream in my mind,
Telling tales after tales of crows
And it’s fetid droppings from the sky.

Once a crow’s dropping dropped
With a splashing sound on my grandpa,
On his pumpkin-like forehead,
And the crow disappeared like a cloud,
Then he sobbed, sniff sniff sniff!
Until the sun sank far behind,
To sleep sound in the west.

He sold his cattle for some penny,
And his jewels for some grains,
All sacrificed for rituals after rituals,
Spent no less than his lifetime savings,
To ward-off the bad luck.

Thus, he is alive to this day,
As weak as mosquitoes,
As poor as Cinderella.

Once a crow’s dropping also dropped
With a splashing sound on my head,
And socked all my hairs - as white as snow
And the crow disappeared like a cloud,
Then I cried, boo hoo, boo hoo!
Until the sun sank far behind,
To sleep sound in the west.

For too long, was I in Hamletian dilemma,
To sell or not to sell, all my riches,
For rituals after rituals like he did,
But in my mind, I knew beyond doubt,
Dropping contains nothing but rat-tapeworm,
And not bad omen, never, ever,
And I wiped and rubbed, until it hurt,
With antibacterial-scrub and some soap.

Thus, I’m alive to this day,
As strong as Lord Zeus,
As rich as the Blue Beard.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Memories of Pangkhar Dungnakpo

Pangkhar is a small mystical village under Ura Geog in Bumthang. It is located in the foot of ruins of a Khar (castle) of Dungnakpo, and thus, the name of the village Pangkhar is derived from this historical or cultural location. Pang means ‘village or a plain’ and Khar means ‘castle’, making up as ‘plains at the foot of castle’.

According to the oral accounts, Dungnakpo was a powerful ruler of Ura region during the early times of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). It is believed that the Dungnakpo was a son of a demigod and born with extraordinary strength and power. The remains and legacy of such a superficial figure are seen even to these days.  

The ruin of the Khar or the Dzong of Dungnakpo is situated on the hill above the old Pangkhar village. The village has stretched much, in chorus to the population growth and developmental activities today. The Khar spread all over the hill, in an estimated area of around an acre. With the size and multiple sign of rooms at the ruin site, it is quite obvious that the Khar stood as one of the giant structures of those days. 

Considering the strategic location of the Khar on the peak of the hill, people believe that the Dungnakpo was a warrior with enemies from all directions. The northern side of the Khar seems strategically weak to defend the enemies, but some of his fortifications still exist. For instance, there are three levels of trench with roughly an average depth of two meters or so, cutting deep into the neck of the hill are still evident.  

One of Dungnakpo’s main rivals was Chokhor-Dep, who was also biologically related with the demigod. He was indeed a nemesis of Dungnakpo. Dep was a renounced ancient ruler of Chokhor region who built the Drapham Dzong (ruined) possibly towards the second half of the 16th century.   

Lore has it that, once Dungnakpo went to Chokhor to challenge the Dep. At Chokhor, he first met Dep’s mother in her kitchen, roasting wheat. “Where are you, child?” inquired the mother. “I came here to see your son”, he replied, little embarrassed though. After smelling some deceitful plans, mother held Dungnakpo tight in her left arm, until she finished roasting her wheat. Then she said the Dep is ploughing the field a little away from their residence. With some feelings of fear in his mind, Dungnakpo sneaked a look from a distance to the Dep who was ploughing the field. He saw Dep holding a running plough with one hand, and plucking full-grown trees on his way with the other hand. This exhibition of might frightened Dungnakpo much. He feared the worst, and headed back home.

Nevertheless, Dungnakpo was incomparable by the ordinary people like us. His remains and legacies are still a mystery for the people. One artefact that would give details of his strength and mightiness is the two pairs of Degor (traditional Bhutanese game played with a pair of spherical flat stones). The huge Degor are still seen at the eastern foot of the Khar. The size of his Degor are almost equal to that of standard dinning-table. It’s would weight not less than 50 Kilograms. Throwing 50 k.g. of Degor with a single hand is something impractical for normal human being.

One timeless legacy that the Dungnakpo remained in Pangkhar village was numerous flat stone bridges. There are as many as six huge stone bridges over the stream running through the middle of the village. Some stone bridges are too huge even to correct a slight angle for ordinary people these days. Amazingly, the sources of these flat stones are also seen near some of the bridges. The stone bridges benefited the people of Pangkhar for several generations, and are still in use.

Lhachhu or the water of God is a water pond in the northeast of the Khar. It is a small pond in a total dry land without a notable source or outlet. It is believed that, to ease the trouble of fetching water especially during the times of war, Dungnakpo stored a box full of water in this preferred location. The water never exhausted or dried up thereafter, and remained as a main source of water for the people residing in the Khar. We can still hear the sound of the wooden box if we hit the base of the pond with a sturdy stick.

A little towards the south of the Khar, is a place called Gortshom. Gor means ‘stone’, and Tshom means ‘mortar’. The name of the place was derived from a huge stone-mortar of Dungnakpo, which is still undisturbed. It is believed that the Dungnakpo’s men and women used this stone-mortar for pounding rice and maize collected from Kurtoe and Zhongkhar region.

One miraculous believe about the Dungnakpo is that, he jumped from the hillside of Gortshom to the place called Bangthama. If calculated straight, the distance would measure roughly around 400 meters. There is an apparent body-print of Dungnakpo at Bangthama. The kneeled-down position body-print on the rock is a testimony of such believes.     

Apart from the exhibition of his power, strength and wealth, there are also some signs to believe that the Dungnakpo is devout in nature. While building bridges in the village with his own hands are the clear indication of his spiritual deeds, some direct religious acts are also remembered. One incidence goes like this: When Galwa Lha Nangpa (1164-1224) entered the Ura valley after crossing the high Monlakarchung mountain and wide Chokhortoe and Tang valleys, Dungnakpo personally received the lama. It is said that the lama and the Dungnakpo had a tea together.  The stone seat of Lama and the Dungnakpo are still seen a little away in the northeast of the Khar. Every summer, some strange weeds use to grow before the seat of the lama and the Dungnakpo. It is believed that the weeds grew from the thrown over feeds of Dungnakpo’s riding horse.

While there is no clear ending of the lore, some believe that the Khar was raised down by a tragic fire catastrophe. However, looking at the stones and woods at the ruin site, there is no sign of fire and burning. Perhaps, this site would cater as one of the best sites for the archaeologists to learn about primitive Bhutan. With notable cultural landscape, the site would offer a wide range of artefacts with possible biofacts or ecofacts. Let us pray that, one day, the rubbles of this Khar will rise up to its former glory, overlooking the beautiful Pangkhar village.  

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!