Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Darkest June

The cover of The Darkest June with the picture of Wangdue Dzong on fire was enough to fascinate me. I wondered how could anybody build a story around June 2012 Wangdue Dzong fire but again it was Dasho Karma Tenzin Yongba, who could be trusted to do something strangely bold. Having served in the police force all his life crime story was his love story. His first novel The Restless Relic and collection of short stories Barnyard Murders were testimony to his mastery in the genre.  

Wangdue Dzong is a subject so close to my heart because I have begun my career in the shadow of that majestic Dzong and have seen it every day for six years until one day I saw it being razed down to the ground. I wrote about it in iWitness. I have written many more stories on the Dzong during my seven years in Bajothang. Therefore I have special interest in anything that's about Wangdue Dzong.
As seen from where I stood on June 24, 2012
The official story stated that the fire was caused by an electric short circuit. The short circuit excuses helped solve many fire disaster cases, and Wangdue Dzong's was no exception. Beyond the official story, we looked no further because we took it as a sign of a fateful time that had come. Nothing could have stopped. No human was held responsible.


The Cover
In The Darkest June Author Karma Tenzin has woven a thrilling conspiracy around the June 2012 Fire. Two parallel stories begin in 1964, one in France and the other in Trongsa, and end in Wangdue in June 2012 with the fire. Professor JD has visited Wangdue Dzong two years before Jambay sees it on his maiden journey en route Trongsa to Thimphu. He sees a dream of Wangdue Dzong engulfed in inferno. The bad dream that he has that night under the tree in Wangdue haunts him for the rest of his life. 

Professor JD is found dead in his apartment only days before his journey back to Bhutan. He was going to return the diamond he discovered in the rock sample he stole from Wangdue Dzong two years ago to the government of Bhutan. His death puts the case to a long slumber until his granddaughter tries to connect the dots and finds the key to the locker where her grandfather has kept the papers and the diamond. 

Through Jambay's journey in Bhutan the author subtly takes us on a nostalgic ride into our past; beginning of towns and roads in the country. Jambay meets a nice Tibetan couple who gives him shelter in his initial days in Thimphu but his affair with the young wife makes him leave Thimphu. In Phuntsholing he makes a humble beginning with a warm Sherpa family and goes on to become one of the top businessmen. 

He marries into the same Sherpa family with their niece. Later his daughter helps him in his travel business. That's when the two worlds meet. Though Professor JD's granddaughter takes her share and drops her interest in the rock, his partners pursue their search for the origin of the rock in Wangdue. They book their many tours through Jambay's company. His unsuspecting daughter leads the final tour in June 2012.

In 29 short chapters the books gives you doses of love, lust, family tale, wealth, crime,... and within a few hours you would be on the last page wondering if Wangdue Dzong fire was really caused by a short circuit. It gives wings to your own imaginations. You would find yourself playing with even more complex conspiracy theories as if to justify the loss of a great national monument.

I have carefully avoided the details of the story to reserve the true charm and I must tell you not to judge the book by its substandard cover design. The book truly deserves a better cover and title font. And before I forget, please be warned that it's a work of fiction. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Why is it Between Chamkhar Chhu and Zhemgang?

I have consciously signed the petition "Keep Chamkhar Chhu Free-Flowing" initiated by Bhutan's alpha professional photographer Aue Yeshey Dorji and shared it on my Facebook wall. But I didn't know my post was immediately going to become a platform for a very serious debate. It gave me deep insight into both side of the argument. However, I when I signed the petition for saving Chamkhar Chhu I wasn't against development in Zhemgang. I felt sorry that the last river had to be the very river flowing through Zhemgang.

It's evident that most people in Zhemgang have been betting on Chamkhar Chhu project to change the course of their lives and it's obvious for them to feel offended when people who don't have to live their lives sign a petition against their dreams. A high school friend from Kheng, Pema Letho summarised Zhemgang in few lines to put forth his point on why the project should happen;
Zhemgang has the highest poverty rate among all the districts, it has highest number of school drop outs, highest infant and maternal deaths, lowest safe drinking water coverage, lowest farm road coverage, lowest electricity supply coverage, lowest primary school enrolment...
And their representative, honourable Member of Parliament, Lekey Dorji joined the debate and made his stand clear;
I have personally been pushing for Chamkharchhu hydropower project because it could be a game changer for the poor people of Kheng. Upon the resolution of the Dzongkhag Tshogdu, I moved a motion in the NA to expedite the implementation of this project. I have also been meeting the minister for economic affairs and the senior officials of the Ministry as well as DGPC to request early implementation of the project because the people of Zhemgang want it. The project promises to open up remote and rural areas of Kheng to mainstream economy and people are excited about the project. I appeal to all those people who have signed or plan to sign to first understand the project. My stand has always been clear, if what you do is going to benefit our poor people deprived of all amenities in the villages, please support the petition. Otherwise, please support this project which will open up whole of the remote Kheng and provide them better economic opportunities.
While I still like to believe in the myth that hydropower project will some day stand on its own feet and fix the damage it has cause to the national economy, I have genuine doubts on it holding promise for rural prosperity, which social activist, journalist, and educationist, Aue Dorji Wangchuk shared from his experience;
Do not fall under illusion that Chamkhar Chu project will pull Kheng out of the current state. None of the villages in Chukha dzongkhag has enriched through Tala or Chukha Project. Ask our MPs from Chukha who are now more attuned to the plights of our local people. I have worked in Chukha Project (1982) when it was being constructed. We are treated worse than Indian labourers. Similarly, I have covered the entire project phase of Tala when I was in BBS from 2000 to 2005. Unfortunately I was never allowed to go deeper into the project. Similarly I have been working in three gewogs of lower Wangdue - Athang, Daga and Gaselo as volunteer for Tarayana and villagers there have not been able to sell even a bunch of fruits to the four mega projects.
I had this conversation with my dear friend from Kheng, Nawang Phuntsho, personally last month, and his expectations were practical modest when he said that "The development activities need not come directly to people's doorstep, but infrastructures like road will come by default. Kheng rig nam sum have been neglected and kept in the darkness for a while now." He shared that a 30 Km road in Zhemgang tool seventeen years to build, and he was very serious when he added that even a dung beetle could have covered the distance in so many years.

At this point I was intrigued as to why the development in Zhemgang has to be a byproduct of a project, shouldn't it be the right of people of Kheng to demand from the government? Are roads in all other Dzongkhags built because of the projects? Since when did development of infrastructure in a Dzongkhag become hydro project bait? If Zhemgang was treated at par with the rest of the Dzongkhags from early on would they ask for the project, having seen what happened in Punatshangchhu? I feel that Dasho Lekey Dorji should ask for roads and other infrastructures without strings attached and leave the hydropower project mess aside for the sake of larger things at stake.

Aue Yeshey Dorji in his article 'The Dark Side of Hydropower Projects' revealed the scary facts and sad realities that would break many of the popular myths. He concluded by stating why he started the petition;
...my cause is still not that of environment because I know that when you have a gaping hole in your tummy, environment will not fill it. My cause is still the economic devastation that we are already suffering as a result of these hydro-power projects that have gone horribly wrong! 
My cause is still about keeping at least one of our rivers free flowing - for the cause of our future generations. My cause is about bequeathing that river to the name of a giant of a man whose private angst at the destruction of the environment is well known.
Article 5.4 of the Constitution of Bhutan states that, “Parliament may enact environmental legislation to ensure sustainable use of natural resources and maintain intergenerational equity and reaffirm the sovereign rights of the State over its own biological resources.”

"Intergenerational Equity" means not exploiting every river during our time, and "the sovereign right of the State over its own biological resources" means not letting a foreign force decide for us. If it was really about electricity and not about invading our waters then why don't we dam the Punatshangchhu two more times? After all our rivers are mostly fed by rain, which means the more southward we take our dams more the water. Why exploit another river?

When I signed the petition it was never about the choice between Chamkhar Chhu over Zhemgang, it was about our Country. Therefore I urge all the people who signed the petition to raise your voice for development in Zhemgang too. Zhemgang should get its fair share of development with or without any project. It will only be fair if you fight for the people of Zhemgang as you fight for the river.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Natural Artist Sangay Tshering

I saw a few wooden showpieces at my wife's cousin's. I assumed they were imported souvenirs and didn't even spare another glance. Only this weekend, on my second visit, upon seeing a half finished woodwork on his bedside I realised it was his own artworks. Knowing that I was interested he showed me endless pieces of works he had done over the year.

Sangay Tshering didn't have any form of training in art and design. He had a natural fascination for collecting differently-shaped wood pieces and converting them into artworks without altering the original form of the wood. I don't know if his form of art has a specific name; it's like partnering with the natural forces to create art.

Lovemaking 
Any piece of wood with a strange shape, be it roots, trunk, branches or driftwoods, would become Sangay's canvas. He would observe the natural shape of the wood and simply polish out the subtle natural art into a distinct form. He has even experimented with bones, horn and fish skull. He has worked with pieces as small as a finger to as large as a bull. He could pick a huge piece of driftwood and convert that into a state of art writing table or TV stand, he has done that for friends.

Following are some of his artworks:
"Education is the most powerful weapon"



A Mask Dancer

Divine Boot, done from half wood and half bone

Conch 

The Lady

"Say no to drugs"

 Here is the humble artist who doesn't even consider himself as an artist. Sangay Tshering has done hundreds of pieces of artworks and left them in places where he worked. He has never considered selling his artworks or doing an exhibition, in fact he hasn't signed his name on any of his pieces. He was just doing it for the sake of doing it, like a daily ritual without any ambition.

The Humble Artist Sangay Tshering
But I feel his unique talent deserves to be showcased so that his daily ritual could tell tales and inspire people and even draw new artists in his form of art. If you find his works special help me in telling him that he is a great artist. He can work on larger than life art pieces for hotels and art collectors, just dare him!

The First Blogger Conference

The Blogger Conference finally happened, yes formally on August 30, 2015. It was covered by BBS and Kuensel, you see it had to be formal to be covered. We have had several Bloggers' Meets in the past, once we had 35 people attending but since it was very informal it seemed like it didn't happen. But those were the founding moments, we drafted and polished the ideas. Lucky for us we had designer, artist, event manager, everyone among us who were willing to do everything for the evolving group we called Community of Bhutan Bloggers. 

Now that we have taken the first unsure step and enjoyed it, we are looking forward to many events. My friend Nawang Phuntsho gave the opening remark and managed the conference. First, we launched the mobile app we promised, in very casual way as I liked it to be. Not many realised we actually launched it. Thanks to my friend and friend to Bhutan, Boaz for delivering it, just like that. Anyone else would have taken fortunes out of this penniless community. 

We had four speakers who were given to speak for half an hour each, but they all overshot their time. But because of the variety in the topics we enjoyed each minute of their talks. Opening speaker Riku Dhan Subba took us on a journey back to his rural roots. His father owned the first radio in the village  and soon the radio brought his parents together and he was born under a tree... it was inspiring to listen to a young man who would visit his village in Chuzaygang five times a year, walking the talk.

Riku
Second speaker, Member of Parliament in the National Council from Gasa Dzongkhag, Dasho Sangay Khandu educated the bloggers on the functions of the parliament, unique powers of the two houses, laws and bylaws of the parliament, roles of MPs, parliamentary committees, decision-making in the parliament, quorum of decision, voting, bills, legislative cycle, etc that each blogger must be informed.

MP, Dasho Sangay Khandu
Third Speaker, Ugyen Lhendup amazed us with his research findings on Poverty and Inequality in Bhutan. Besides igniting lots of discussion on the subject he also made us rethink on a very important historical date, i.e. The First Five Year Plan, which we all know, was initiated in 1961 but Ugyen had found documents to prove that it actually began in 1953.

Ugyen Lhendup
The fourth speaker, Tshering Dolkar led us through her humble writing journey which began with scribbling in random papers to publishing in Kuensel's literary corner. Hers was a pure joy of writing without any desire to publish. He blog soon gave her a newer platform to nurture her passion for writing. She was almost flying when she read her smooth poems, written in formats that are Japanese, Korean and Chinese.
Tshering Dolkar 
The conference was planned to last till 1pm in the afternoon so I had requested for only one round of refreshment from our host Namseling Boutique Hotel but soon we realised our blunder and shamelessly asked requested for another round of refreshment. It was 3pm when we finally forced ourselves to end the conference and go looking for lunch. Our host hotel was ready to sponsor us lunch had we informed them earlier but it was our first time and we made a big miscalculation. 30 people attended the conference but eight of them had disappeared by the time we lined up for the photo session.

The organising team Nawang Phuntsho, Tharchen, Rekha Monger, Nima Dorji, Che Dorji and I would like to thank iBest Institution and Namseling Boutique Hotel for the unconditional support provided to the underdog community. We were overwhelmed by the turnout and the energy they brought along. We are encouraged to go bigger with he next conference... 

Photo Courtesy: Nima Dorji (All four speakers) and Ugyen Lhendup (Group Picture)

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