Monday, 27 May 2019

FOR A FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS: MY MYOPIC TAKE

picture source: google


The Indian elections are finally over and as the closest neighbor and friend; many Bhutanese may have followed it with interest. For Bhutanese though, elections in India is seen as a massive exercise that, irrespective of which party  comes to the power, the time tested friendship between the governments, leaders and people of the two countries will remain unaffected and continue to grow stronger between the two closest neighbors.
                                   
 Conducting elections in India especially the parliamentary election in the world’s largest democracy with a population of over one billion people and with almost 900 million eligible voters is by no means a mean feat for the election commission of India.  Despite coming under severe criticism over several election issues and allegations of its inaction, the commission seems to have done a great job.

The seven phase elections of 2019 in India returned Prime Minister Narenda Modi and NDA with an unprecedented 336 seats in the 545 seats. India’s grand old party the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi  won just a disappointing 52 seats and has since then asked the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to find a new leader for the party by putting in his resignation and taking solid blame of the party’s debacle upon himself.

From the debates that continue to take place on mainstream media in India analyzing the just concluded elections, one thing is clear that, electorate this time had no alternative to Mr Modi and that the elections was fought not on issues but on  personality and nationalism. But, one thing is clear, Narendra Modi led BJP and NDA decimated its opponents and pushed the rest to the fringes. Not even regional parties and alliances which were traditionally strong in their turf failed to resist the so called Modi wave in this election.

 Some political analysts say that the Congress party must die a natural death for new talents to come up and yet they see Congress as the only national party that can and must rebuild and reinvent itself as an alternative. And for Congress to survive without splintering, the experts feel that it must continue to have someone from the most powerful political family in India, the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Watching the electoral process unfold in the world’s largest democracy, it gives us an opportunity to understand the process better. One thing is certain, our constitution drafting committee has done a stellar job and we have a better electoral law than even the world’s largest democracy in ensuring free and fair elections by taking care of at least three crucial factors that may affect elections.

First and perhaps the most important element in any elections is the need for a level playing field. This cannot happen if a party and its candidates fight elections with powers still vested with them. In India, the Prime Minister and his cabinet fights the general elections without having to resign which may lead to misuse of officialdom to the incumbent’s electoral advantage. Our election law not only requires the government to resign and institute an interim government to oversee the elections but forbids anything that creates even the slightest visible inequalities between the candidates.

Secondly, there seems to be no restriction on the use of media like in our case where all parties and candidates are entitled to specific and equal media coverage with even the use of social media strictly monitored. In India, even the mainstream media are found to be giving excessive coverage to a party or an individual who makes more news with the rest having a limited coverage.

The third and the equally important element is the participation of religious personalities in the elections as candidates or as patrons. In a deeply religious society, a religious figure may have a mass following and what will happen if they are allowed to contest as candidates. In our society we deeply revere and respect religion and religious figure. They are always someone who are above the realms of ordinary life and therefore are rightly considered above politics allowing elections to be fought among the ordinary beings. Some members with religious tags are elected to the parliament for the fifth consecutive terms in India despite their dismal performance.

The recently concluded general elections in India were for the 17th Lok Sabha while we just concluded our third general elections last year. Ours is the youngest democracy in the world but, we certainly have the best electoral laws to ensure level playing field which bigger and older democracies around the world can learn from for a free and fair elections.

Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatsel
May 27, 2019











Sunday, 17 March 2019

A LUNCH AT BHUTAN HOUSE IN KAMAKHAYAGURI


During my recent trip for an important family prayer, I had the opportunity of meeting one of my old friend and a great, but most humble and humane former teacher at his home in Kamakhyaguri, Borabisa in West Bengal. It was short meeting over a sumptuous lunch prepared by the expert hands at culinary of his wife. Many of his friends, acquaintances and students have been the recipients of the family’s generosity over the years ever since he retired his teaching job in Bhutan to take care of his then ageing father, who had passed away since.

Many people must be aware of who I am referring to from the above introduction. Yes, I am talking about the famous and most loved Apchi Sir (Mr Santosh Chowdhury) and his wife Madame Jasoda. They were legends during their times in Pemagatshel and continues to be so even now.
“Welcome to Bhutan House,” declares Aapchi sir, beaming with serene smile. Yes, it looks like a Bhutanese house with many familiar Bhutanese items from wall hangings to books and even furnitures. And Mr and Mrs Chowdhury’s goodwill towards Bhutan and Bhutanese is well known in the local area and so they are the unofficial goodwill ambassador.
Chowdhury came to work as a teacher in Pemagatshel in the eighties as a rustic fresh college graduate. Despite tremendous challenges, he not only survived in the remote Tsebar primary school but, won the hearts of the both his students and local community.
 In his teaching career spanning to over three decades, he spent the majority of those years in Tsebar school which was followed by Nangkor; both in Pemagatshel and finally in Wangchu school in Chukha. In all these schools, he worked tirelessly for the benefits of his students.  While being strict, he always loved his students like his own children hence earned the affectionate pet name of Aapchi sir. Talk to any his former students and they all have their deepest love and gratitude for him.
My contact with him began while he taught in Nangkor School where my children studied under him. As the frequency of our contacts increased I found out that he is an exemplary teacher. He is the pillar of unquestionable integrity and a man with genuine desire to help his students become wholesome human being.
Aapchi Sir’s fondness for Bhutan is well known to those close to him, In fact, he considers it to be his second home. When I met him recently at his home, he said he received two Noble equivalent awards from Bhutan. I asked him what those awards were and he said that, the Bhutan Government’s invitation to attend felicitations ceremonies to former Indian teachers, one in Thimphu and another in Kolkata were no less significant to him than winning the Noble prizes he said. He was invited to both the events and attended them both.
After he left Bhutan, he taught in a local school back in his village. It was Mr Chowdhury who even initiated cleaning campaigns in his local area which was way before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his Swach Bharat campaign.
Mr Chowdhury  is a repository of knowledge and information and that is an indication of him being an ardent book reader. The stack of books in his room stands as a testimony of how much he reads on daily basis. Among the stacks of books are copies of Bhutan Observer newspapers which he was fond of reading right from the first publications.
 A thangka of His Majesty the king hangs in a room where he took tuitions for the local children. On the walls are the tributes of his students. He calls his room Shanti  Niketan.
 Mr chowdhury’s home has two separate sections, the one part is occupied by his younger brother and his family and the other part by Mr Chowdhury. Except for the separate fooding arrangements, the brothers live closely. Chowdhury is a strict vegetarian while his brother is a non-vegetarian. 
On the front of the house is an ample open space where two of Mr Chowdhury’s scooters stay parked. The Bajaj Chetak scooter is the one he rode on the snaking roads of Pemagatshel and Chukha and his recent acquisition is a trendier TVS scooty. The last digits of the registration numbers are a surprise too 0515 and 5016.
And finally when it’s the time to take his leave, he expressed his surprise. He wanted us to stay as his guests for a day or two but, when that wasn’t possible, he reluctantly led us till the highway where we bade good bye with madame Jasoda and my wife chanting “Palden Drukpa Gyalo,” followed by “Jai Bharat Mata.”
Mr Chowdhury will be joining a new school in Bihar as a Principal. A deserving appointment and another feather in his illustrious teaching career.
Tashi Delek la.

Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatshel
March 17, 2019



Friday, 20 October 2017

A LETTER FROM AN EXEMPLARY TEACHER

CELEBRATION OF GANDHIAN VALUES
Dear Gyembo Namgyel Sir,
While reading and contemplating the Gandhian values on the eve of 2nd October, Gandhi Jayanti, your picture is flashing upon my mind because I have found in you a man of moral beauty and lofty values. This ignited feeling motivates me to write this letter.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Alexis Carrel on page No. 129 in his book ‘MAN THE UNKNOWN’ writes: “….Moral beauty is an exceptional and very striking phenomenon. He who has contemplated it but once never forgets its aspect. This form of beauty is far more impressive than the beauty of nature and of science. It gives to those who possess its divine gifts, a strange, an inexplicable power. It increases the strength of intellect. It establishes peace among men. Much more than science, art, and religious rites, moral beauty is the basis of civilization…”
By virtue of my age and experience as I am growing richer in wisdom, your value to me rises higher, and I feel stronger to have got such a friend of high altitude in morality, simplicity and wisdom. The greatest wealth of your life is your art of ‘Simple Living and High Thinking’. I can never forget the beauty and sublimity of your Gandhian house, small and simple, clean and serene, adorned with a beautiful library and enriched with a highly civilized lavatory.
I remember more than 15 years ago one day at your home I had asked you, “Sir, when are you going to purchase a car?” You answered: “My three children are my three cars. I don’t dream of any other car than them.” I felt elated by the words of your profound wisdom. Accordingly, you have done your best and most to educate and build the children’s life which reflects your thoughts. Those words still echo in my heart and I feel energized and ignited.
Respect and devotion to one’s teacher is also a Gandhian value which is on drastic erosion in modern days. Your attitude and action of giving a lift to your teacher, Mr. Verghese, by your scooter from Pemegatshel to Shelingore is also a reflection of your high moral value.
Another occasion is unforgettable to me. On my final departure from Pemegatshel on 18 December 2007 you chased after my vehicle from Nangkor to Pemagatshel Zero point just to clear the financial transaction between us, which gives an incredible message about you. The world renowned educationist and philosopher Swami Vivekananda said: Be perfectly pure in dealing with money. I have seen that purity in you.
Sir, on the eve of the auspicious 2 October I wish and pray that your moral values contribute to the peace and well-being of the Bhutanese nation and her brothers and sisters across the globe as Gandhiji’s values did to India and the world. PALDEN DRUKPA GYALO!
With love, prayer, best wishes and gratitude,
Yours sincerely,
Santosh Chowdhury

Ex-teacher, Bhutan


Sunday, 12 March 2017

THE PRIVILEGE OF WRITING LETTER TO THE STUDENTS

Last October, Nima Zangpo, a teacher from Gonpasingma Lower Secondary School in Pemagatshel, asked me to write a letter to his students. It was both humbling and a privilege for a farmer to be asked to write to the students to inspire them. More than what I have in me to be of any inspiration, I appreciated the teacher’s innovative idea to get his students motivated through means other than those available at his disposal in the school. This, to me is how a creative and resourceful teacher thinks out of box to inspire children to learn so many of life’s lessons.


So, I wrote to his students telling them to study zealously and give their best as they are in the school to learn and study. I told them that while result is important, not everybody can excel in studies because of the limitations we all have in life. I explained to them on why giving their best is more important than the result itself because that is the only thing they can possibly do.

 I also wrote to them on how competitions in life are getting stiffer by the day and how, while it is difficult, it will bring the best out of them. I urged them to recognize their inherent talents and follow them with passion in life and do things that make them happy. Success in life doesn’t necessarily mean that someone should be brilliant academically since not everyone is cut out to be brilliant. I wrote about the more important goals in life-to be good human beings and responsible citizens for a happy and meaningful life.

On February 26, 2017, the eve of Bhutanese New Year Losar, Nima visited me with a priceless present of a book and six replies his students wrote to me towards the end of last year. I am privileged to share some of what these young children wrote to me:

A class six student described about her school and the excitement of the examination that was nearing then. She apparently was well prepared to be happy about the examination unlike students elsewhere. She wants to become an engineer some day, perhaps motivated by a flyover bridge in her school, she wrote about in her letter.

A class four student wanted to do good things in life and he shared some examples of what those good things are; like sharing pen and pencils, helping those in needs and showing kindness to animals. He then shared about his favourite story. It is about monkey and crocodile and how the clever monkey avoided crocodile’s open mouth by jumping on its back.

Another class four student loves to read and write (something wonderful to hear). She says, she has become a friend of dictionary because she is able to learn many things from it. She was reading a book called, “No Fighting and No Biting.” She likes Joen and dislikes Rose and Willy in the book without saying why. She also has a bit of an advice for me, “to work hard until I succeed in life.” I honestly think I need to.

One class six student asked me why I prefer working on my farm rather than in some office. This student wants me to share stories and poems.  Her mate, a class seven student says that she has a passion for singing and dancing but, admits she is even better in reading books. She is apparently one of the most active and determined student in the school because she loves both indoor and outdoor games as well besides being a position holder in her class.

The final reply was also from a class topper. Written with a beautiful handwriting, she shared an inspiring poem titled, “Teach me.” She says she does everything on time and reads at least one page of a book before going to sleep. She says her family is poor but lives happily. Something wonderful to hear but not surprising story in rural villages as happiness is infectiously prevalent more in communities that live in the fringes of everything.

All these replies have one thing in common; children said that, they were inspired by my previous letter and want me to write again. I intend to write back as some have queries that require answering. Others want me to share articles that I wrote. Perhaps, this kind of interactions helps them learn something besides serving as a leisurely break from the never ending classroom learning.

Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatshel
March 12, 2017


                                                           


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Rest in peace lopen

(This is a humble tribute to a humble lay master. I know that, irrespective of what I try to write, it will always be insignificant one. Despite that, this is all I can do to thank  him.)

The ruins of Dungmanma village always used to be silent and peaceful except for the sound of prayers and recitations of mantras an old couple made all their lives. Today, it was buzzing with activities as  a steady stream of people come and go somberly, some with moist eyes and others visibly in anguish.

People from nearby and some from far off villages flocked to this solitary peaceful place to pay their last respects to one of the last known accomplished local lay master Lopen Shera Wangdi of Pemagatshel Khar Dungkhar. The popular local lopen passed away at his home following a brief illness recently. He was 77.

Late lopen Shera Wangdi was known among the local population as an accomplished practitioner who spent all his life amidst the ruins of what was probably a thriving ancient village of Dungmanma with his wife. The couple’s eleven grown up children live scattered in many dzongkhags but, the late lopen and his wife found peace away from human settlements and refused to follow their children.

Despite his popularity, he never kept any students with him nor did he preach people. He just lived a simple low profile life, dedicating his time to prayers and meditations. He only taught to few people who he thought possesses genuine qualities to uphold what he taught or instructed. Those who have been closely associated with the late lopen, today feels lucky to have met him.

The late lopen knew of his impending death. Just a week prior to his passing away, he was admitted to the local hospital and shortly afterwards decided to return back to his home where he began preparing for his final journey. When his illness relapsed shortly afterwards, he instructed his family members not to take him to hospital as his time has finally come to leave.

Later he made a briefly recovery for a day. Without further delay, he asked his wife to accompany him to visit the nearby Dungkhar Lhakhang for the last time. It took almost an entire day to reach the lhakhang which was actually a mere half an hour’s walking distance. Taking rest every few steps, he made it to the lhakhang.

Once at the lhakhang he said his prayers and met the two Khenpos who are teaching at the shedra. He told the Khenpos of his impending death and he entrusted the two khenpos with the task of performing all the weekly rituals for 21 days following his demise.

He then called all his children home for the last get-together. All his children reached home in time before his passing away. He was well aware of what was happening to him even as his bodily elements began dissolving and was able to recount them to his loved ones. His last wish was that nobody at home must mourn openly and that his body be left untouched for three days before cremation. He finally breathed his last peacefully.

The late lopen may not have lived his life surrounded by followers and patrons as he kept a low profile and chose to live almost like a hermit all his life. This is exactly, how Buddhist masters live. They only exhibit their accomplishments at the time of death. For them death is not something tragic and painful, it is a smooth transition to a higher realm.

Although it was a huge loss to the community, I have the comfort of having been in close touch with the lopen over the last few years and receive some valuable instructions.  I am indebted to him and can only pray for his soul to rest in peace in the blissful copper colored abode (zangdogpelri) among those enlightened beings for one last time.


Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatshel June 21, 2016

N.B. It has been ages since I last updated my blog. The less I write the more difficult and clumsier it is becoming to write.  Bear with me, if this bores you to sleep in the middle of your reading.
Kadrinche dear readers.




Monday, 28 December 2015

WINTER

Desolate appear the landscape,
So far as the eyes can see with ease,
Barren fields and dusty roads,
Grey mountains and naked trees.

Wintry breeze seem to have jagged edges,
 Lacerating feel follows numbness on exposed parts,
So people try shielding with armory of garments,
As the grey clouds hang menacingly, like a doomsday art.

So leaden are the skies in winter,
 Clouds look pregnant but find precipitation labourious,
As highlands wait for snow and rain in lower vales,
And pave way for sunshine to make places salubrious.

Frost in the morning carpets the grasslands in white,
Mist envelopes villages like feathery blanket in tons,
Rendering the sun too febrile even when at its zenith,
So people warm around fire, gossip-mongering in marathon.

The rich are in the cozy rooms sipping exotic whiskeys,
Some are in the bars gulping cheap rums and brandies,
Peasants in their homes down homemade barley brews,
And teetotalers drink gallons of teas and coffees with candies.

Only snotty nosed children seem immune to cold,
As they play with icicles oblivious to the wintry chill,
Even the tempers of vociferous strays seem to ebb,
As most remain coiled in the street corners, whimpering and still.

But winter is a season to relax and rejuvenate,
And be a part of the spoils of the festive season,
Tshechus, losars, New Year and the festivals anon
A season of mirth and merry making, life’s very reason.


pic; google 
Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatsel

December 28, 2015


Monday, 14 December 2015

A WEAVER AND HER WEAVE

An enchantress, that you are- beautiful,
Bestowed with skills that is unrivaled,
An amalgamation of god’s bountiful,
Spellbound are the eyes for your skills unparalleled.

In frills hangs your silken raven hair,
A tuft tucked behind your shapely ear,
Rests are flying delicately on the flow of the air,
As you come walking, the yarns seem they can hear.

The wooden loom is incomplete without you,
The silk threads go around in colourful triangle,
They spread evenly in the mirage of hue,
Resembling like a rainbow from every possible angle.

So keen and fixated are your gaze,
So nimbly your graceful hands work,
Pulling strains of threads, fingers move in maze,
Dhak..Dhak the shinning beater in rhythm works.

Spectacle it is, the half woven loom revealed,
Of intricate patterns and awe inspiring designs,
And artistically you weave on with patience not trivial,
Thread by thread you will entwine them but not resign.

Occasionally, you adjust the shifting back strap,
That snugs your derriere and holds the loom tight,
Listening to melody you make loops and knots on the angled drape,
Tucking back those hairs interfering with her sight.

The patterns are beautiful even for a naïve eyes,
But special they are and hold meanings so clear,
They are the motifs of trees and delicate butterflies,
And woven patiently for days and months so dear.

One day a beautiful maiden will wear this masterpiece,
On the anointed day where thousands gather,
To watch dances and glittering spectacle of fashionable pieces
But none will be as beautiful as this art put together.

Here I am today; I watch the birth of silken butterflies,
And trees in fruition along with symbolic knot of love,
By the fingers that seem to have eyes of their own to rely,
Of a weaver more beautiful than the weave, an enchantress everyone loves.

Gyembo Namgyal
Pemagatshel
December 15, 2015




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