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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Changes that seem like mid life crisis

“Who is singing this song? I am,” this line from a poem, has always intrigued me. The poet talks about human life, racism and of struggles a woman goes through in life- when the sun doesn’t feel warm enough, cold icy wind takes time to penetrate through your skin and when the brightest flowers seem colorless.
Through some of the skin flaying experiences of my life so far, I have learnt a lesson; no matter how crowded you are with friend, at the end of the day you stand alone. Alone! For you to catch the bull by its horns, look him in the eye and say, “I will get through this.”
Call it the “Mid-Life Crisis,” or by any other name but sometimes, having everything in the right place with the best job and best of friends around you, doesn’t suffice the heart dousing feeling inside you.
A few days back, one of my friends and I helped a drunken guy, who had slept in his car with doors open in the middle of the night.
At first we were not sure about checking on him. We sat there, arguing about whether we should help him or would it back fire and have us in trouble. Finally we decided to help him and made sure he was safe.
Later looking back at the incident I realized that it was not about helping him but the doubt that crossed our minds.
And not very long ago people would easily lend you a helping hand. Today if you don’t know the person, it a simple alarm for ‘stranger danger.’
Everything is changing before your eyes and you can’t help but sail with it. Change is the word everyone is terrified with, whether it is for good or bad. Politicians are scared of changes that young might bring, parents are scared of changes that come along with their children’s age, lovers scared of a change in their relationships and so on.
But we must accept life and carry on. In a comic book called Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, the protagonist shades light on, why we have just five years of childhood.  The Five years is to practically do anything and then carry on with the misery of school and adult life in accordance with the society.
Then, you call your life yours but you live it for others. You live it with the spell of impressing others, out doing things and pushing that extra mile. And by the time you realize this, you are on the death bed. The book of accounts on your life has most of its pages filled with chapters like my children, my partner, my family, my friends and my job.
The “I” would be left as an alphabet you wouldn’t find.
Sometimes people say I am too much of an “I” person. I agree to it because it in no way describes me as a selfish person. It is just another way of expression because at the end of the day when I bid farewell it’s just “I” and no one else.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

i am hiv positive, will you hug me?

Everyone applauded the courage the five HIV positive people showed by coming out in the public last week. Bhutanese in Facebook and other social networking sites also showed their solidarity and support by posting words of encouragement.
The World Aids Day on December 1 was a special moment. I for one had to cover the event and write stories of these brave souls. Yes, I was excited to see them because knowingly I have never met a HIV positive person.
So I set an interview with them and the entire day I was anxious, waiting for the clock to strike five. And finally there I was, sitting among the five of them.
At first everything was fine but as the interview went by, I was getting nervous. I am aware of how HIV/AIDS spread but I could not help but feel a little uncomfortable. In hindsight, it all had to do with my own set of preconceived notions of the disease.
Across the world, HIV/AIDs is a taboo. For a moment, it seemed I was part of this world and the ignorant people who has and continues to discriminate people living with HIV.
They were talking to me about discrimination and social stigma and I was doing that to them subconsciously. To even think that I felt that way now pricks my conscience to death.
After the interview got over as I walked out, a shadow of guilt hovered around me. I could not stop thinking about the way I felt and at a certain point might have behaved. It was all an innocent mistake to have thought about them in that way.
I am not a discriminating person but it is us and the society that have led to this social fear against the disease. It is not the person I feared but it was the disease.
After I interacted with them at a very personal level, I am now a more educated person. The experience opened my eyes. Now I know, they are like any one of us, battling a disease. I know there would be many out there who would react in the same way, perhaps at the first instant.
I hope one day the world would get over with the fear of HIV/AIDS and embrace people with HIV instead of disowning them. I hope everyone would understand that HIV/AIDS people deserve equal respect, care and love like any other. They are normal human beings like us, with or without a disease.
By coming out, they have shown that they are willing to sacrifice their own peace for a greater cause. Now it is our responsibility to accept them as part of our community.
A desktop wallpaper on a friend’s computer had a cartoon that read, “I am HIV+, will you hug me?” Without a second thought, I whispered, “Yes, I will!”
Will you?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the school uniform kira that was once a dining table

“Dinner is ready,” the mother shouts from the kitchen.
It is seven in the evening and dusk has turned to night. The eldest daughter is in the kitchen to help set the dinner on the floor.
An old school uniform kira on the soot-coloured floor is set as the dining table where food and tea is kept. The man of the house leaves the television remote, kids leave their books and granny comes holding her prayer beats.
The first serving is for the gods and for them to bless the family for the food they have provided. Then, the granny gets her serving followed by the father, kids then the mother serves for herself.
Every night the same ritual would be followed and conversations like the father complaining about his boss in the office and the children sharing incidents of school and granny lost in the midst of all gibberish enjoys her meal.
It is impossible for the family to have breakfast and lunch together in weekdays. Children had to get ready for school, father for the office and the only person left would be the mother and granny to share their meal.
The mother cleaning up after them would wait for the clock to strike five, so that the house would be once again filled with complaints and noise.
It just took as long as the Thimphu-Paro highway to get completed for the family to lose its togetherness and the importance of sharing a meal together. The kids grow faster than the rising constructions around them. They start earning. The father gets caught in trying to balance the family and business. The home maker and granny appreciates changes but when they are alone share about the joyful meals with the whole family together.
There used to be a time when the mother could pull her kids’ ears and gather them around the food. Now she is left powerless. She prepares the meal but there is no one at home even after five in the evening.
The father is busy going through the foreign direct investment guidelines or either busy on the phone trying to seal a deal.
On the other side the kids are too busy with friends’ birthday parties or office dinners.
But, who would notice it and even bother to talk about it because everyone wants to make more and more money. They want to catch up with the fast paced life.
The stove in the kitchen is left cold, untouched and there in no aroma of freshly prepared food. The granny is left on her own to feast on left overs or restaurant momos.
Oh! Who cares about the dinner that was once so special? Finally everyone in the family agrees to meet on auspicious days. The days to eat, pray and love.
The old uniform ‘dining table’ is still in a corner waiting for day when the family returns corner waiting for the day the family returns to the kitchen to savour a meal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

journey to a floating island

After nine hours of flight, two transits and five minutes of boat ride, and having slept for only few hours in between, I reached Male, the capital of the archipelago of islands, Maldives. By then I was, literally, quite unstable, only made worse by the feeling that I was standing on some kind of a floating island, surrounded by blue sea from every corner.
Until that time, I thought travelling was one of my fortes, because I have done that, in worst of situations. I have climbed the rugged mountains through muddy trails, braving leech and lechers. For a delicate woman, such travail is a feat in itself.
This time, the trip to Maldives was a five star luxury on offer. Nothing could have been better. But I think, the abrupt transition in mis-en-scene, from the high mountains to the blue seas, took its own time to sink in.
Walking down the street, I was feeling wobbly, although nothing unusual for the people in Maldives. I feared I may fall down into the sea, and be engulfed its vastness. Yet amid the fear and frivolity, it was a quiet, often lonely, experience.
I was between the vast blue sky and the sea, one above and the other just near my feet and before. Gentle breeze blew fresh sea air into the coast. I was totally awestruck by the beauty of Maldives.
From the hotel room, one of the best in Male, I could see the sea waves rise and fall, rocking against the coast and seagulls fluttering above them. In the room, a huge comfy bed just for me. The sea food was delicious. Life is good, I told myself.
The only downside was that it was quite a lonely trip. I could have used some company.
After two days of rigorous meeting, I just had a few hours in my hands to go around. What amazed me is that Male is so small that you can tour the whole place in an hour. And up till now, I was thinking Thimphu is too small for a capital.
Maldives is way liberal for a Muslim country, except for booze. Maldivians are outspoken and of course hospitable. To top it all, just everywhere, I saw couples, hand in hand. Dating and public display of affection wasn’t a taboo at all in this island country.
Everything in Maldives is imported. Fish is found in abundance, although some have been complaining it is not enough for the locals as it is mostly consumed by the tourist, and the remaining exported. (Maldives receives around 90,000 tourists in a month).
The place is really expensive so much so it literally makes a tight fisted person out of you. Two packets of chips, a small bottle of juice and two chocolates cost me USD10; a quick calculation confirmed it is equivalent to Nu 500. With that kind of money it could easily buy a meal for two in Bhutan.
But besides that, Maldives stole my heart away.
Travelling so far away from home, alone, for the first time, and getting hoaxed at a transit airport, and stuck in rain and flood, Maldives was a pleasant breather. I won’t call it a disastrous trip but I had my own share of discomfort and pain, the humdrum part of travelling alone and getting lost.
For me Male would be one of the places to see before you die. And also, who knows this beautiful island country may never exist after a few decades, if we give into the looming dangers of climate change. God forbid!

confessions of a wrecked plane

Hundreds of miles away from modernization and thousands of meters above sea level, I lie high and dry in one of the country’s highest valleys, Sakteng.
They say, it all began over five decades ago when I landed here in the Rocky Mountains drifting away from my normal air traffic.
We are three brothers, from the neighboring countries. At one point in time we were all pride to our nations diving deep into the blue carrying passengers or fighting for our nations.  We were aircrafts till one day we got wrecked and became steel pieces that was of no use to anyone. Having lost our way we had in turns, landed here on the snow covered mountains of Sakteng.
Then on, we have been immobile shelters to Yak Herders and commuters, with the cold chill hitting us throughout the year.
Back in the villages of Sakteng we have become bed night tales for the younger generations and a subject of interest for visitors.
They say there were about 13 passengers on the aircraft of which nobody survived the wreck. The dead bodies of seven passengers were identified and transported home while six dead bodies were left behind to be buried in the grounds of the Himalayas
I don’t know about the two other aircrafts, but older folks say it was in the late 1960s when the Highlanders first started tearing me apart The first recorded incidence was of a sunny morning when a group of Brokpas hollered around me and shredded me into pieces. Most of the parts that they were able to carry became decorative pieces in the kitchen gardens and in the back yards.
At the beginning they didn’t know what to do with the wrecked aircrafts, but it was a matter of time before they realized how to use the parts of the aircrafts. Today, parts of me are used as window frames or wind chimes on the balcony. Other parts have been hung on the walls of drawing rooms that are normally the only modern utilities around.
The only remains of the three of us are the skeletons. We lie abandoned on the empty grounds, just because they could not drag us to their homes.
One of the habitats who has been around with the three of us is 70-year-old Aum Gem. Aum Gem was a teen ager when I first hit the grounds of Sakteng. She claims there were about three air crashes in Sakteng. When the first one happened the aircraft was abandoned for days because the highlanders then, didnt know what it was. By the time the last aircraft crashed, people rushed to the spot to gather around the parts and take home whatever they could.
The brokpas, not having seen flying machines those days was not sure of it being a helicopter or a plane but they did know it came from the neighboring countries.
Even now, when a helicopter soars through the sky, people living with modern amenities gaze upon it with amusement, but for the brokpas, it has just become another metallic piece in the sky.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The board that defined yesteryear kindergarten days

It will not be difficult for most Bhutanese to imagine attending kindergarten classes without a notebook or a pencil. Most of the middle aged and older Bhutanese have done exactly that, thanks to the small rectangular slate boards that used to fit comfortably in the traditional hand-woven Bhutanese bags hanging on one shoulder which served as school bags.
Using the slate board, popularly known as slates, was, to say the least, adventurous for toddlers then.
They used to write on the black slate with a white chalk, rub it off when it was full and write on it all over again. Excuse sanitary lessons, but spitting on the slate and cleaning it with the gho or kira cuff was more than normal.
Unlike the notebooks, the children couldn’t afford to drop the precious slate because it would break and they would then invite the fury of both their teachers and parents. Thus, if a child wanted to get back at any of his classmates, breaking his slate was the first option. As a result, most of the fights among children would be because of the slate board or the precious slender white chalks that inked the board.
Slates with wooden frames and white chalks were provided by schools and better endowed students used to show off by buying colourful chalks and carrying fancy bags.
The advantage of slates over paper was that it could be wiped clean and used repeatedly.
But it had more downslides to it. It was more than a challenge to remember what was written earlier. Once it was rubbed off, there was no turning back to the lessons learnt. It was a one way sport and there was no solution to it.
Homeworks used to make it even worse and remembering what was taught in the class and writing it back was a nightmare.
Children were encouraged to bring a damp cloth or sponge to clean the slate in the classroom but it would be stolen which ended up in fights.
It was also a challenge for children to reach home and face their mother with a chalk-smothered gho or half the homework missing from the slates. If one dropped a slate on his way home, he was probably heading for a beating back home.
If one broke his slate, getting another was difficult. Therefore, it was not uncommon to see children carrying broken slate boards. Something was better than nothing after all.
The above experiences can only be inscribed in memoirs today. With notebooks, the experience of classroom learning has been transformed and much more coordinated.


Mind you, I have been around for a very long time. I am some 200 years old, French in origin. I came into existence out of man’s sheer quest for invention in science and technology. Although I was a crude stuff like a hearing trumpet, if Wikipedia is to be believed, over the years I have made an impressive evolution. If not in purpose at least in terms of sophistication. That’s my history in short.
Hanging around a doctor’s neck, I have the pleasure and pain to witness varying experiences of suffering and agony. It is a pretty horrible job, no refuting that. But experience has been a good teacher. I have done this for ages, almost for two centuries now, and I have grown indifferent over time.
Before I forget, my memory isn’t too good (age does catch up), let me introduce myself. I am Stethoscope, that instrument doctors plug into their ears to feel your heartbeat.  So, there you go. I am an instrument designed to feel the inner workings of a human body. I tell you, I am just a medium as I can’t interpret or understand the meanings of the sounds.
But at times, I feel, the heartbeats have an effect on me, going by the way I have started to feel different emotions. Moments of pain, suffering, and happiness. Happiness, at the time of birth of a new born. It is a miracle. Life.
Yet again, dragged into the normal humdrum duties of every day, life can be so boring. It is a clash between long endless queues of patients and overworked doctors. No wonder, doctors get it wrong at times. Blame the faulty equipment. Poor fellows.
I recall one of the incidents which I thought was not fair, not from a Stethoscope’s point of view.  A few years back, I was hanging in around a doctor’s shoulders, while he talked to a seven year old girl. After running a few tests, the doctor admitted the sick girl at the hospital. Her veins were pierced by needle and connected to pipes that fed fluid to her fragile body. She was in lot of pain.
After three months, she was discharged. It was only a mere infection. She did not have a hole in her heart. Wrong diagnosis. It happens. This is part of the medical history. How many would have died because doctors made a mistake during a critical operation?
There are also times when doctors are at the receiving end for no fault of their own. One time, a rowdy group of men, seemed like relatives of a deceased, charged the doctors, even threatening vengeance and lawsuits. That was uncalled for. Surgeons do their best but often death is too powerful.
Any ways, a little break from the morbid stuff of life, let me share you a secret. I am a feeler, I feel different parts of a human body! I am sure other instruments envy me. That’s the brighter side of the story. I connect to a body and in its internal workings. I feel the beat that keeps life going. That special sound without which there is no life.