01 December, 2015

DeSuup’s Tale – A Civilian's journey through Military Training



        In life, it is never too late to try anything new. I was feeling just right when I volunteered to undergo Integrated De-Suung Programme at Military Training Centre (MTC) in Tenchholing, Wangduephodrang. My only apprehension that time was having to leave my office for some time. Thanks to the Managing Director, BPC (a leader whom I respect and admire for his dedication & commitment to Tsa-Wa-Sum) for making it possible for me. The encouragement and support I received from him made me feel equipped and further boosted my determination.
           10/10/2015, Saturday: We gathered at Changlingmithang parking for onward journey to MTC. Almost all 125 volunteers were present. The 17th Batch De-Suung trainees came from a variety of backgrounds comprising Hon’ble Members of Parliament, Drangpons, CEOs, Directors and Senior Officers. Transportation was arranged. By rule, it was not permitted to travel by personal car or dedicated pool vehicle. The probable reason may be, to group all volunteers as ‘DeSuup’ and not to carry forward one’s status. Also, to maintain 'uniformity' is a part and parcel of discipline. We joyfully traveled by 5 Nos. RBA buses in convoy. Looking at the well-organized journey, I was happy to see learning prospective even outside the training programme.
       By noon, we arrived MTC and were received by the Commandant and a team of Officers. It was a grand reception with full of welcoming gestures. On the very same day, we began with military commands such as Threm (Alert), Dremtoen (Attention), Kayyjur (Stand at ease), Kertay (Relax), Nyidap Che (Double up), Cha-rup (Re-do), Youngter (Disperse) and of course briefings on Dos & Don’ts. When repeated ‘fall in’ were called to practice these commands and for other briefings, I felt little strange to see training getting started much before the formal inaugural session, due on 12/10/2015.  I didn’t know it back then but I know it now that, in the military, it is always preparation ahead.
         11/10/2015, Sunday: In participation to ‘Move for Health’ we walked from Khuruthang in Punakha to Bajothang in Wangduephodrang. It was a joy to walk as a member of MTC along with Officers and others. As we walked we sang many songs, all incomplete and casual but were loud enough. In particular, I was happy that I did not miss to partake in ‘Move for Health’ and contribute to Health Trust Fund, so were my colleagues.
       When training formally began on 12th October 2015, all of us became equal. We all started at rock bottom without status or position. Our energy level was high. However, as time passed, our enthusiasm gradually began to decline. A frequent ‘fall-in’ with long lectures/instructions was what we had to endure sometimes. While in fall-in, we were prohibited from smiling, laughing, chewing and talking to each other. We often failed to do it, as we were not used to it. Not everyone was bad but in military when one person fails it impacts the rest. Violation in any form was frowned upon and in fact punishable in various forms of discipline. Of course, punishments were not far from fun and we enjoyed doing it. It was desired that we stand with chin-up, chest-out, stomach-in and knee–tight. During fall-in, we used to stand quite meek and gentle but once inside our barrack and in absence of Instructors, everyone would have something to say and would go on talking non-stop like kids.
         Days passed and time became scarcer. Time no longer ran at a regular pace. We endured a timing that was totally different from the routine we are habituated. In order to exhibit military discipline, we had to remain ourselves fully exposed to varying weather conditions and some of us even got sick. However, with not much trouble we got adapted to altered environments and the lack of usual daily conditions became bearable. Of course, there were something not all of us can get used to it so easily. Nevertheless, human body can adapt to altered conditions. Once it's over, we gain the confidence to overcome obstacles in life with the affirming knowledge that we survived this ordeal. The bottom line is harsher the hardship, stronger the solidarity.
Harsher the hardship, stronger the solidarity
( Photo Courtesy : Director, De-Suung Office)
       Our Instructors and us, we were all busy in our business. Today, as I remember them, I am thinking whether I have respected my Instructors adequately. At heart, I always have my respects for them. I must admit that, at some point I looked upon them as someone who only looked for imperfections in us, I did not realize that, they were trying their best to make us perfect. They are experienced professionals who know when to act how. They have trained people of all backgrounds, attitudes and characteristics on a continuing basis. Their rich experience with military background has instilled pride, enthusiasm and perseverance for their work.
        This programme was also a good opportunity to meet old mates and of course a variety of others from outside normal secluded circle.  It is more than a joy to be acquainted with people from different backgrounds and develop a close bond with those, whom we ate, drank and withstood enduring moments together. Lectures by eminent personalities were not only educative and thought provoking but inspiring as well.
      Two weeks came to an end. We had our Passing Out Parade on 24/10/2015. Now, I am a DeSuup - A guardian of peace and a life long member of De-Suung fraternity. With the spirit of volunteerism and the sense of responsibility that I gained from this programme,  I sincerely hope to live up to the expectations of His Majesty the King in serving our country at all times.
Now, I am DeSuup.
(Photo Courtesy: Hon'ble Prime Minister's facebook page)

   Though I have been a part of MTC for a brief period of time, I have collected a rather huge databank of vivid memories. No doubt it forms a chapter in my personal history. I will always look back with sensational sense of satisfaction and achievement.
With Major Ugyen Nidup. Parting can be painful but not to me. I am happy that we met

Leaving MTC. I am happy that I lived there.
       




















Now, as a volunteer, I feel myself closer to my surroundings, no matter where I am.
                    ***






05 October, 2015

APPRECIATING OUR DRINKING-CULTURE


I lived all my younger days as a timid who, had no guts to break rules or disobey others. Except for a few petty mischiefs, I never experienced an adventure of being outrageously naughty. Today, when I recall the journey I have travelled, one of the inadequacies I had, was not having appreciated our drinking-culture enough. I don’t know if, that too was due to my timid nature. I should have been a sensible drinker than being a non-drinker. However, of late, I have converted myself from non-drinker to a social drinker.  I did this not just for the taste of alcohol (Chang/Ara) but in my exertion to appreciate our traditional offerings. Our tradition of offering Tshok Chang is just too beautiful. It signifies solidarity, expression of respects, emotional bonding and mutual affections. How can one refuse it when it is offered with such a symbolic gesture and with all good intents?
                      At Tshok Chang offering (Picture courtesy: www.google.com)
Consumption of Chang/Ara is not an alcohol abuse, provided one ought to know the limit and the occasion to drink. Just as, too much of anything is poisonous; so is with Chang/Ara.  Of course, there is a difference between social drinking and alcoholism. Social drinking takes place on a specific occasion with friends / family members either to celebrate good times or to comfort bad times; whereas, alcoholism is an excessive use of alcohol leading to intoxication of self, misbehaving with others and ruining one’s own health. 

In our society, Chang/Ara has been a central substance during social, cultural and traditional gatherings. How interesting it is that, Chang/Ara is known by a different name depending on the occasion it is served. For example:
  1. Dong Chang or Pheb Chang – Welcome Drink. Served as a welcoming gesture by the host to their guest,
  2. Tshok Chang – Greetings Drink. Offered to a guest as a gesture of solidarity, expression of respects, emotional bonding and mutual affections,
  3. Tse Chang – Longevity Drink to prolong one’s life. Served during the longevity rituals,
  4. Yang Chang – Affluence Drink served during rituals to enhance prosperity,
  5. Tshong Chang – Trading Drink, served amongst the Traders at the time of negotiating their deal,
  6. Tashi Chang – Auspicious Drink. It is usually served towards the end of the ceremony to foster auspiciousness,
  7. Zim Chang – Bed time Drink. Served just before one retires for the day to have a sound sleep.
  8. Shakpa Chang – Forgiving Drink. Offered to beg pardon.
  9.  Joen Chang – Departure Drink. Served by a host at the time of departure to wish their guest a safe journey. It is at this time, the guest leaves a token of gratitude for the host, it can be either in cash or kind, or even both.
  10. Lam Chang – Journey Drink. It is offered in a closed container by the host to be consumed by guest during the course of journey and 
  11. Many more….
I sincerely hope the readers will appreciate our drinking-culture as much as I do. Don’t just forbid yourself from accepting our traditional offerings. I am not encouraging anyone to drink but to appreciate what is there in our tradition. The point to remember is, to be  mindful while drinking and not to get drunk or intoxicated. 

All said and done, excessive use of alcohol leading to intoxication of self, misbehaving with others and ruining one’s own health & family bond is strongly discouraged. 

31 May, 2015

A legend retold - Gasa Lamai Singye and Changyul Bum Galeem

            It was just another call of duty and, I was assigned a project that spans across Thimphu, Punakha and Gasa. Before I could think of anything, the first thing that came to my mind was the most legendary tale of love, set in Punakha, Gasa and finally in Thimphu. This story survived for generations and even to this day, it continues to draw attention of  film-makers, lyricists, poets, writers and many other artistic minds. It is a kind of legend where curtain fell much before the show was over. Gasa Lamai Singye & Changyul Bum Galeem is a heart-breaking ancient romantic tale and even now, it is as touching as anything that has ever been thought of in works of fiction.
             It was during one of my travels from Punakha to Gasa, I dropped by the ancient house of Galeem at Changyul in Punakha. It stands adjacent to the highway about a kilometre away from Punakha Dzong towards Gasa. The 700-year-old house, though almost dilapidated, still looks antique and traditional, making it a beautiful symbol of love. I have also been to the residence of present Gasa Lama, where Singye once lived as attendant to Gasa Lama. Inspired by these historical evidences, I made it a point to visit Sisichhum house at Sisina in Thimphu. It was at Sisichhum house where they met for the last time, before they finally got united after having many rebirths and faced brutal separations each time they were born.
Galeem's house at Changyul in Punakha
           It is a tale about two ordinary people, but their extraordinary love and commitment for each other made their tale an eternal legend. Such feelings of extraordinary love and commitments has become a thing of past in this day and age of pure materialistic world. Galeem, a beautiful girl from Changyul in Punakha and Singye an official who served in Punakha were in love. They were both eager to tie the knot and move forward in their life like any one of us.
       However, the story took a turn when Deb (Chieftain) of the locality saw the beautiful Galeem, who possessed a kind of beauty that everybody would want to have but nobody can have.  The Deb who was not even aware of Galeem’s relation with Singye shared his interest in her to his senior attendants and sought their views. One of the senior most attendants who knew about Galeem and Singye was not honest with his lord but opted to please him. He strategized that Singye be separated from Galeem and in his absence Galeem can be wedded to Deb. Soon Singye was ordered to serve Gasa Lama (Lama in Gasa) and commanded that he move to Gasa immediately. The separation was painful but command was command, too heavy to bear yet too precious to give away. Therefore, Singye proceeded to serve lama in Gasa knowing very little what was in store for them. Singye was then known as Gasa Lamai Singye meaning ‘Gasa Lama’s Singye’.
 After more than seven centuries, I stood outside this historical house of Galeem in silence and was lost in thought about the legendary love story. To me, more than the feeling of nostalgia, it was quite a thought that a part of the story even matched with that of my own life, though in no way, mine can be compared to that of the legend. Being there itself was anyway, a mesmerising moment.
At Galeem's house
Then, after Singye’s departure to his new posting, the Deb’s proposal was conveyed to Galeem’s parents. The parents welcomed the proposal but were stunned, when they came to know about Galeem already being pregnant. This infuriated her father and it not only led to beatings but also she was banished from the house.
With present Gasa Lama at the entrance to Gasa Lama's
residence
Away from home and by the bank of Mochhu River, a pregnant Galeem who was expecting Singye’s child laid almost motionless. Despite her ill health and amidst the painful moment, Galeem managed to sing out to travellers passing by, to check if they are going to Gasa and if so, to request them to pass on her message to her love to return to her as soon as possible and described the condition that she was in. A traveller who sympathized the pathetic condition of Galeem agreed to convey her message although he wasn’t travelling to Gasa. This melancholic musical note is still sung today and the stretch of river at this spot flows so calmly. It is believed that even the river listened to Galeem’s song.       


Steps leading to Gasa Lama's residence
The message was conveyed correctly and Singye acted very promptly. While on his way down, he met Galeem in a dreamlike state. They sat down and began to lunch together but Galeem disappeared into nowhere. The sudden disappearance happened because lamas performing her cremation rites beckoned her soul. Galeem was no more, by then. Singye ran down even faster and when he reached a bridge across Mochhu river, his worst fear was confirmed. He knew that the pyre at a distance was the sight of Galeem’s cremation. He fainted and fell down. Then, it was again Galeem’s soul that sang a song requesting the people around to help her love to gain his consciousness. At crematorium, a pyre was lighted but Galeem’s body did not catch fire and remained unburnt despite all kinds of fuelling. When Singye arrived near the pyre, he jumped into the fire and a huge flame consumed both of them in no time. Thus, they got united in death although they were separated while living. For those who are committed, power can only snatch a form and not love.
Gasa Dzong (Rear view of Gasa Lama's residence)
          

 













In their undying love, the legend continued but it only became quintessential tragic story where the fate and circumstances kept separating them. They had rebirth as banana trees but were uprooted and thrown away. When they took form of cats, one of them was killed by a dog; when born as a rooster and hen, one of them was eaten by a mongoose; when reborn to a cow and bull, the bull was sold away to a far off place and it continued for many lives.
Finally, after many lives, they were born again as humans. This time, Galeem was born as the daughter to a rich family in Sisichhum house at Sisina in Thimphu and Singye to a poor family in nearby village at Genekha. Sisichum house is located beside a road at a distance of about 24 kilometres from Thimphu towards Phuentsholing. They met again in Galeem’s house in Sisina when Singye visited the house to sell earthen pots. In each other’s presence, the memory of past lives began to reel and she fainted. Before Singye could do anything he was chased away by Galeem’s parents and their servants suspecting him to be the cause of her falling into unconsciousness. When Galeem regained her conscious, she followed him and met him at another village where he was still selling earthen pots. Thereafter, they united together both in heart and soul.
Sisichhum House at Sisina in Thimphu
During my visit to these places from Changyul to Gasa and then to Sisina, I met many generous people, some of them even invited me to their houses and we talked of this great legend. To me, Galeem’s house at Changyul is more like a historical ruin than a monument and is far more remote with hardly any visitors unlike the Taj Mahal, which is visited by around 60,000 people a day. However, the tale is no less than any other romantic stories from Shakespearian play Romeo & Juliet to Tristan & Isolde and others.
I am so happy to have set my foot to these historical places because I have always wanted to see these places. Since my childhood, I was always astonished by the enthralling love stories and had attraction to them. If things go my way, I have plans to spend more time in these houses in future and pay my tribute to the truest lovers who placed love beyond everything.


05 April, 2015

My First Experience




     The first experience in life is not easily forgotten and we all have a story about it. Here, I have one of mine. I am sharing it to remember someone who touched my life though momentarily yet left a mark pleasant enough to remember.  It is about my first love who may not be the good looking of girls but was certainly the best looking to my eyes. 
     27 years ago, I was in a kind of relationship where infatuation overtook my conscience. Those days, having a girlfriend in school used to be a matter of prestige because girls would not accept proposals easily. For me, everything was just right. As all other lovers, our relation was limited to exchange of letters, greeting cards and gifts. Everything was good and it was in her company where I first experienced how it feels to be in love. Today, what makes me feel special is the 'uniqueness' we had in our relation; we never ever talked to each other because we were too shy to face one another. Like dumb, we started our relation and in dumbness our relation came to an end. We had no argument at all because we never talked, not even once. 
     One winter, before we parted for vacation, we exchanged letters that had full of promises. When our eyes met just before the departure, none of us realized that, we were seeing each other for the last time in our lives. This was the last time I saw my love. 
     I wonder if there ever lived a lover like us who could never speak their hearts out. Of course, I am sure there is none like us today.
     Whatever it was, I cherish this memory not just as my first experience but as a kind of unique relation that I shared with someone who was as innocent as I was. 




08 February, 2015

House of Memories

A village house in Simply Bhutan. 
Photo courtesy: www.simplybhutan.bt
I grew up in a small village. Today, my children are growing up in a city that has modern amenities. As father, I am happy to see them in comfort zone but what often bothers me is ‘are they growing up happily?’ One of the reasons why I planned a family trip to my village was to show them where & how I grew up but when we arrived Nakling Gonpa in Mongar (the place I belong), there was no village. It was lost in town. So much has changed within a short period of time, some are good and some are not. The basic requirement to balance developmental activities with preservation of what is good/unique was badly overlooked. I am commenting here not because it is easier to comment than doing but my little experience of about two decades in a similar field as Engineer compelled me to get across what is improper. No matter how much I tried to balance the two arms of seesaw with positive vibes, the guilt of not being able to present the beautiful side of my village to my children remains. My village has turned to a place where most of the good things are on decline, this is mainly because of the change in people’s mindset and lack of professionalism. Your village or my village, it is our country and we all have an obligation to make it better for our future generations. Time was short and we returned without seeing the village that I wanted to show it to my children.
     Back in Thimphu, I met my old friend Yen Jams who was in the capital for a brief visit. As a part of our customary roaming, we decided to visit newly inaugurated museum called Simply Bhutan. Simply Bhutan is a living museum in Thimphu that houses demonstration stalls, souvenir shops and array of studios. Above all, it has a traditional village house that portrays a living style in our villages. This village house has a good collection of ancient household items. It was precisely built and properly maintained. Being there was like going back in time. It reminded me of my village, at least the house.
     As seen there, houses in my village also had a shinglep roofing but now replaced by CGI sheets. The Thabtsang Studio   (traditional kitchen) is beautifully ancient and reminded me of my mother who amidst thick smoke and burning heat, often with her burnt fingers still cooked delicious meals for us. We believe that Thab Lha – the god of oven resides in Thab (traditional oven) but now, Thabs are replaced by imported stoves. Choesham (Altar) at Simply Bhutan has a serene and blessed atmosphere. It is as good as the one we once had, it reminded me of my father, who is no more today. Most of the time, he used to be in Choesham and devoted his time in prayers. He was a man, who balanced love with discipline. Today, in absence of all those wonderful things, it is a surreal feeling even to think of my village. 
     Now, Simply Bhutan is my house of memories and the place to visit whenever I miss my early days. I will bring my children too and dine inside the Thabtsang in the most traditional way. I can talk to them about many things in the house.
     Coming out of Choesham, we saw a group of young people taking pictures near a traditional ladder, I looked at Yen Jams but he already got the message “It is really going back in time” he said and I nodded, because during our time young people loved to take photographs more in the city amidst huge concrete structures. 
     By then we were already at wish pond that lies below the overlooking statue of Lord Buddha. “You can say your prayers and make your wish here” said a soft spoken young man from Simply Bhutan, who accompanied and guided us throughout. I didn’t know what Yen Jams wished for but the only wish I had that moment was, let good things on earth prevail and eliminate greed so that people can actualize enlightenment and become good to each other as it was there in the past. After having prayed, we turned the prayer wheels and exited that enchanting place called Simply Bhutan. It was a magical experience with immense take-home message.






17 January, 2015

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY SON ON HIS 12th BIRTHDAY

                                                                                                                       
My Dearest Son,
                         As you complete eleven and turn twelve today, I want you to know that these eleven years of our togetherness has been the best eleven years of my life. It is a joy to recall those days you have been as a child and even a greater joy to see the man you are becoming now. As your father, I always have a front seat to watch your growth.
                    Recalling my own childhood days; at twelve, I was just a pampered child who totally depended on my parents’ love. Today, you are ahead of where I was at your age. However, the time then and now is different. As you travel through the journey of your life, please remember and be guided by what Gyalse Zhiwala  (Shantideva) once said, "Do not look for leather that is huge enough to cover the entire surface of this thorny earth but have just enough to cover the sole of a shoe; that is as good as covering the entire thorny earth and can protect one’s feet from getting pricked" meaning ‘it is not possible to restrain the external course of things but if one could restrain one’s mind why would one need to restrain all else? ’ Just a caution! 
                  Today, on your 12th Birthday, let me pass on to you what my father & your grandfather always said “When it comes to belongings, leave nothing that is yours and take nothing that doesn't belongs to you”. He must be happy to see us not getting into stealing though he is no more with us now.
                   Your Mummy and I, we are blessed to have you as our son and today we are even more pleased to see you growing up to a man. Now, you are 12 and will soon complete a cycle of 12 animal signs, the time where you are no longer looked upon as a kid and this is the reason for writing this letter to you.
                    Lastly, the man of God is the man with good heart. The world needs more men of God. So, please be one and fulfill your father’s wish.

Love, Apa.