About Me

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Phurba is from the remote hamlet of Dangchu under Wangdue Dzongkhag. He started his education from the last hut of erstwhile Dangchu Community School and then to Nobding and to Bajo. After class X, he went to Punakha HSS and obtained his degree in Economics from Sherubtse College, an affiliate to Delhi University. Prior to joining civil service, he did his Post Graduate in Public Administration from RIM. He started his career with the Ministry of Education as an Asst. Planning Officer. Today Phurba is a Planning Officer at the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat. He obtained Master in Economics from the Australian National University.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Annual Sports Day at Langmadung PS, Trashiyangtse

Currently, I am on tour to the eastern districts of our country along with my colleagues.The centre piece of our tour was to consult with the districts and in particular with the District Education Officers (DEOs) on preparation of draft 11th Five Year Plan. We were also looking at various construction projects in the East. We reached Trashiyangtse district, the eastern most districts which share border with India and China after a day of working in Mongar district on 9th November, 2012.
When we reached in Trashiyangtse, at the outset, the DEO invited us to Langmadung PS as guests for their Annual Sports Day which was scheduled 10th November, 2012. We were looking forward for the opportunity which seldom crossed our path. To make it to the Sports day, we were to complete our purpose of visit. To meet our intended purpose, we worked very late in the night and with great effort we were able to complete all our work and set for the sports day.
In the morning we went to Langmadung PS accompanied by the DEO. Present in the reception were the Principal and teachers with parents who received us very warmly in keeping with our aged old tradition.
Langmadung is a tiny school established in 2008. Today the class ranges from PP through VI which is a primary cycle of education in Bhutan. With 96 students the school is manned by 7 young and inspiring teachers. While the school is small and located in the rural, there are many big initiatives taken recently. We could see a lot of hopes and dreams in the school. Unlike in many schools in the urban area, the school lack many facilities. However, the school has proven that education can take place even under the tree. We were reminded that fabulous infrastructure can reach so far but no further.
Many big wonderful initiatives are taking place in this school. From many initiatives, one such initiative is ‘whole school approach’. They strongly believe that a school is place of learning; therefore, they encourage full participation. Another equally important initiative was ‘designed for change.’ The school is also partnering with a private school in Thimphu. Annually, they have cultural exchange programme between urban schools and remote schools. Such initiative will teach our urban youths, their roots while providing exposure for the children from rural schools.
Another worth noting features and perhaps very rare is the support of the community to the schools. Even though, most of the parents are not so well to do, but they realized the importance of quality education. Parents’ collaboration and community support to the school is very distinct feature. Continuation of such noble participation by the parents will definitely take the quality of education to the other heights. Parents have contributed both in terms of cash and labour for the construction of prayer wheel in the school. They have also constructed classrooms for their children to study apart from provision of alter in each class. These made the school rich spiritually. Such acts are vanishing speedily from our society.
Balloon game by PP children

During the sports day, I was amazed. The ground is approximately 30 m square. At the beginning I was silently wondering how to conduct sports events under such circumstances. But with initiatives from the inspiring teachers, various games and sports have been improvise to soot the ground. I was amazed to see that they were able to improvise and showcase varieties of sports in the small ground. It was my first time seeing most of the sports events that were being played. They had organized in such a way that all the children can participate in one or other games. Interesting games were also reserved for parents and guests. The day provided us every reason to rejoice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Stories on my way

Bhutan is a small country but many more to offer if one tries to explore. Often many beautiful things are over shadowed by what is more easily accessible. Amongst other, there are many legends and anecdotes that are likely to disappear due to poor documentation. Today, everywhere we go there are many legends that are alive in lips of many of our village folks. But a time will come that those beautiful stories will wane as these are hardly passed down to newer generations. So much has been done to keep our bed stories and legends alive by many relevant organizations but a lot need to do especially those from hard to reach places. My recent visit to one of the hard to reach nomadic communities in Bhutan made me to think and contemplate on such things. While many of my colleagues were thinking of how to cross the snowcapped mountains as it was tiring climb up the steep, I was seriously listening to an elderly man from the village who narrates many wonderful stories that I was hearing for the very first time. Listening to those beautiful stories and looking at the spectacular landscapes help me forget my tiring journey. Among many stories, which I cannot resist to pen down was about the then Dzong (fortress) at Soe located at the base of Jomolhari pass which now stands in ruin state.  

The ruin of Dzong at Soe
At the base of Mt. Jomolhari there used to be a magnificent fortress (dzong) belonged to the then king which is now lies in the ruin state. While I couldn’t find the written history about the fortress, but some local people have a beautiful story to share. History tells us that there used to be a king in each locality and Soe is not an exception. According to the local people, the dzong belong to the king of that locality. However, they were not able to trace back the exact time when there was a king. It must be before Zhabdrung’s era but the exact time is still an unanswered question which needs further research. According to him, the king was not very happy with the location of his dzong. As such they said that the king was being very unreasonable to order his subjects to annihilate the mighty mountain which is opposite to his dzong in order for him to get an early sun rise. The sun rays were being blocked by the mountains. No doubt, while getting early sun would be more than desirable in the high altitude like Soe which is over 4000 metres above sea level but this was humanly impossible. After receiving command from the king, all the people of the locality gathered to discuss how they were going to behead the mountains so that their king will enjoy an early morning sun. As expected the discussion reached to the conclusion that they were not able to completely dismantle the mountain as desired by their king. Meanwhile, a lady from the corner with a baby on her back suggested that it will be easier to destroy the King instead of destroying the huge mountain. Others in the meeting agreed to the idea shared by the lady. Since then the people claimed the dzongkha proverbs ‘Bumey Sherub gee Rangshin’ which is roughly translated as women are by nature, intelligent was hailed from the incident. Some says that the lady was the disguised local deity of that place. Accordingly, one fine day all the people have secretly stoned the king to death. The place where the king was killed is today filled with pebbles and rocks, said the villager.  After this unfortunate incident, the late king’s family and relatives fled to neighboring country, erstwhile Sikkim. Still it is believed that the descendents of king are residing in Sikkim. We were told that when king’s relatives fled to Sikkim they took a sacred stone along with them. It is still believed that the sacred stone was placed in Nathula, Sikim and the descendents of the king even today offer their respect and take homage from the stone instead of coming to Soe.
Having got the opportunities to travel length and breadth of our wonderful country and meeting its beautiful people is deeply fulfilling.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The story of a bull

In the past, people of Shar valley in Wangduephodrang boast off having bulls at their home. Bulls were what prados and other sky rocketing prize machines that people today eulogies. As reminisce on the gone days, my friend Dendup Chophel shared a story of bull in the Shar valley. Apart from the tradition of the country, this took me back to my village life where I was brought up with bulls. Out of love for this story, I posted on my blogs to value the story and my friend who wrote it more than ever. 
The story of a bull
This is the story of a beloved bull who lived long before the monstrous Japan made power tillers displaced others of his kind from their position of pride as a Bhutanese farming household’s chief preoccupation. His name was Bjan Ka Zeb (bjan dkar dzerb), named after the white furs that lined his dewlap and brisket. He was bought by my grandmother from a herd of bulls that was put up for sale by cattle traders from far east Bhutan who periodically came for such purposes to the villages of Sha (shar) and Wang (wang).
The eastern borders of Bhutan were then famous for their pedigree Ja-tsa (rgya tsh) bulls that were cross breed of partially domesticated wild Mithun bulls and domestic cows. A majestic animal with well-built physique, they were highly agile and were considered the kings of Bhutan’s notoriously narrow terraced paddy fields. Even though these bulls were genetically sterile, they were nevertheless prized possessions for their high utility and durability. A Ja-tsa could live over quarter of a century and could serve a farmer for most of that period. However, more than its draught purposes, it was a Ja-tsa’s sheer brute force that always captivated the imagination of the people. A strong and skilful Ja-tsa that could floor enemy bulls with a hefty swing of its razor sharp horns was the delight of its owner. He would rather spend all his property on compensation than see his pride bull turn tail.             
As such, whenever news filtered of ad-hoc cattle tradeshows, people rushed to get hold of the boldest Ja-tsa. This was always one occasion where farmers could be banked on by crafty tradesmen. A Ja-tsa was simply irresistible and traders knew how to cash in on it. But Bjan Ka Zeb wasn’t bought because he was among the most impressive of them.
With a few Ja-tsas already in service, my grandmother went to spend the last of her reserve on a relatively benign animal who could be used simply for the utilitarian purpose it should have ideally been meant for. Bjan Ka Zeb fitted that bill. With no physical attributes of a pride bull, his trader assured that Bjan Ka Zeb would one day become a most useful task animal. With an austere look, Bjan Ka Zeb barely looked anything more than a weakling calf.
However, such characters are usually what give rise to fairy tales. Bjan Ka Zeb fast became a most adorable company for his owner’s family. Without any of the usual Ja-tsa tantrums, Bjan Ka Zeb was soon the playmate of every child. He displayed an intuitive understanding of people more like a cuddly cat than a half-tamed beast.
Those were the days when Bhutanese farming depended on a grand mix of agriculture and animal husbandry. To work the large endowments of land, farmers usually kept huge herds of mixed breed cattle. Ja-tsa and its female version (Ja-tsam) were among the prime breeds though the larger portion of the herd was usually made up of the indigenous specimens. Apart from catering to a household’s diary needs, cattle served draught purposes. At the same time, their excretions fertilized the fields.          
Bjan Ka Zeb’s intuition of people’s expectation extended to understand their timetable across seasons. For the plantation season, Bjan Ka Zeb would tirelessly bear the yoke and till his owner’s fields. In the summer, he would be dispatched higher up into open pasturelands after he had been fed his dose of salts and other essential nutriments. For the rest of year, he would stay close to his owner. It is said that even when he was let loose near fields, he would not take even a mouthful of crops. Thus with him, the household was spared a person who would usually be employed to guard the fields. His exemplary behaviour doesn’t end here though. He was a most considerate member of his herd. He would always respect other’s positions in the herd and was most considerate to other bulls, a fact which was not true with most of his kind.
Much has already said of him by now. But more remains to be related of Bjan-ka-Zeb.
Overtime, Bjan-ka-Zeb grew up to be the pride of the herd. Even though his physiques were far from intimidating, he rose through the ranks on the back of his immaculate skills in using his horns when pressed into doing so. To back this ability, he had a never-say-die attitude. He would have been passed off as just a good natured animal had it not been for these qualities.
Then it happened that one day, an irreverent drang-la (drangs glang, a native bull) in the prime of his youth crossed his part with fatal consequence for the unfortunate animal. With a strike of his horn, the bull was gutted to death.
Now those were times when in the largely agrarian society, men took pride in talking about their bulls when they are not boasting of the dagger at their side. As soon as the disconsolate owner, who happened to be my grandmother’s elder brother (of the same parents), heard the news of his bull’s tragic end, he began putting aside resources to buy a fitting rival to Bjan-ka Zeb’s dominance. Revenge became an all-consuming desire. He was at that time the henchman of the gewog (rgae ‘og, an administrative unit of villages) and the death of his bull which was claimed by his rival family (or so he thought) was the biggest blow to his pride.
And then came the cattle traders, as punctual as the seasons of the year. It must be said that fortune favoured Gup Namgay (rga po rnam rgal) for the cattle show that year was the biggest in living memory then. The Gup was the first man to arrive barely giving time for the traders to display their cattle. He would ask for nothing but the best in the herd. The traders had a way with their prospectus clients, and seeing the desperation in the man, they offered the best bull in the herd for a fortune.
At the first sight of the formidable Ja-tsa, he saw his own personality reflected in it and thus named him Gupchu (rga po chung, or the Gup’s alter ego). Taking Gupchu home with a new found pride that was boyish in a man known for his cool and calculated maneuvers, he called for the feast especially prepared in Gupchu’s reception. Gupchu was not to disappoint the eager members lined up all long. A majestic animal with a lot of brawn, Gupchu was imposing on all that came up against him. No one in the village remembered seeing another bull quite like him in their lifetime. It was clear to all that Gupchu had the strength to match his physique which was unrivalled in everybody’s discerning opinion. And if horns were what people looked for in a bull, then he had them in unmatched measure.
People were just excited to see the two most popular bulls of all times, albeit for different reasons, lock horns, again of different make. As eager as Gup Namgay was to unleash his beast upon the upstart, he knew that it would be foolhardy to do so. He thus engrossed himself in preparing his bull for what he knew would be the vindication of his hurt pride. Gupchu was thus put on fight mode and was absolved of all responsibilities usually entailed on a bull. In the process, Gup Namgay was just too happy to see Gupchu impale a couple of his other fighting bulls.
Although the rivalry was building up, for the sake of what little was of left of courtesy, restrain was shown by both parties for as long as possible. But then the unavoidable came eventually.
On a sunny Autumn day when the fields were ripe with harvest, Bjan-ka-Zeb crossed into Gupchu’s territory, though unwittingly. This was all the invitation that Gup Namgay needed to unleash what he sure thought was carnage on hand. Thus, he made sure that Gupchu found his target, guiding him to Bjan-ka-Zeb’s location.
And thus began the match (or mismatch as many feared) which was on the card ever since the humiliation that was dealt by Bjan-ka-Zeb. The fight began with the ritual sizing up of each other, that was more when those involved were Bja-tsa. Gupchu was the first to strike, a thing that surprised no one. It was clear that Gupchu expected to return home early, and probably with another kill to add to his growing notoriety. He thus struck hard and sure enough, Bjan-ka-Zeb retreated. With his superior physique and strength, Gupchu bullied his opponent pushing him all over the field. Bjan-ka-Zeb appeared helpless against the onslaught but held on with all his might. If the term bulldozed was meant to imply the foolhardy nature of a bull, then Bjan-ka-Zeb could not be considered as one for he was as wily as a fox. Bjan-ka-Zeb used his energy sparingly and would not get drawn into an all out show of strength.  
Gupchu showed the first signs of frustration, fatigue and with it, exposed more than just a chink in his armour. It was then that Bjan-ka-Zeb took charge and showed peerless striking skills with the pair of his unpretentious horns. It is said that as the two fighters exchanged strike for strike, it resounded across the villages of the Sha valley. By this point in the fight, spectators included people not only from Chungsekha, but it is famously said that people from villages across the Sha valley put aside their works and watched as the pair took on each other. Such is the excitement that had been built up leading up to the fight.    
As the fight wore on, the advantage of Gupchu’s superior mass and strength was virtually nullified. It was increasingly a fight of sheer stamina and will power and Bjan-ka-Zeb displayed an abundance of both. His pair of blunt horns tore into Gupchu’s flesh around his horns and blood gushed out in abrupt streams. With his unmatched endowments, Gupchu inflicted similar injuries on Bjan-ka-Zeb though he seemed increasingly out of breath and idea. It became clear that he wouldn’t have liked anything better than an honourable way out. However, that wasn’t coming forth and so he fought on.
When the pair locked horn, the farmers had just started their day’s work. In the thick of the action, nobody realized that the sun had set on Chungsekha. However, the tremendous exertion was now taking its toll on the bulls and it was just their unworldly pride that kept the bulls slugging it out.
Bjan-ka-Zeb almost collapsed out of exhaustion but before he did so, Gupchu’s legs gave way and he buckled down under his own weight. In this fight of character, Bjan-ka-Zeb won by merely being able to stand on his feet. However, with his enemy completely shattered and helpless at his feet, Bjan-ka-Zeb displayed a chivalry that would put the best of knights to shame. Bjan-ka-Zeb stood over his distraught enemy and was almost sorry on his victory.
With the winner now decided, the people rushed to help. While Gupchu was literally on his last breath, Bjan-ka-Zeb’s condition was no better. Gup Namgay was agitated for the best part match after the initial euphoria. However, not willing to accept defeat, Gup Namgay prepared for immediate rehabilitation of his fallen hero. Though bleeding profusely and with deep injuries, Bjan-ka-Zeb walked back to his owner on the last reserve of his will.
With yet another blow to his pride, Gup Namgay prepared for a rematch. The whole population of Sha expected nothing else. And sure enough, a refight indeed took place though both parties were in no hurry to go for it. And as things turned out, the match was an exact replay of the first with Bjan-ka-Zeb scrambling to victory again. With the second consecutive defeat, the last of Gup Namgay’s resistance was finally over.         
People inevitably talked making sense of the turn of events. A man’s pride was tied to his bull and by extension, his character reflected in the bull’s exploits. Thus, against all odds, victory was always guaranteed to a bull behind whom stood a strong owner. Despite being a woman, my grandmother was always the one with the greater strength of character and was considered the more righteous in what was more than just a protracted sibling rivalry.
With these exploits behind him, Bjan-ka-Zeb passed the remainder of his days as Sha’s most beloved bull. After living to a grand old age, he died at the arrival of the plantation season when Bhutanese farmers were in most need of meat to supplement their diet to face a grueling work season. In those days, the only meat people considered for consumption was of cattle who died of natural causes. Thus, as in life, in death Bjan-ka-Zeb was a most faithful servant.    
Now it must be stated here that it is true people of Sha are given to eulogizing and this piece is indeed one such instance. More often than not, characters like Bjan-ka-Zeb are the stuff of such eulogies.
unpretentious  resilience