30 July 2015

My Adopted Sister Nima Chunda

My childhood has been interesting. Everyone who knew me as a boy has unforgettable stories to share. From the outside, they must have found it adventurous. But I have been trying to forget everything because there weren’t many beautiful moments I could cherish. I don’t want to be hateful. I want to be different.

My childhood was kind of a dirty street where only a few kind people had walked by and I mean the real kind ones whose kindnesses were compassionate and unconditional. Since I had only a few such people in my life I am going to begin writing about them, one by one.

1997, Paro: I was in junior high school fighting for attention. I would be in trouble every other day. I wasn’t scared of any form of punishment. It seemed like I enjoyed being punished. I was avoided like an infected dog. As a dirty village troublemaker, it was easy for people to hate me.

1996, Paro
Life would have been different if I was cute. It could have been forgivable if I was rich, or at least talented. I was miserable in studies, sports, music and everything that could have made life easy in junior school. I was rather into fighting most of the time. I would be beaten often, and if I survived I would have it from the teachers.

But there was one girl who looked at me differently. She was quiet and gentle. She was perhaps a little older than me or a little more matured. She'd told people that I was her adopted bother. I went numb when I heard that as if I had waited all my life to hear that. It was a culture in the '90s to adopt brothers and sisters but like I said you had to be special to be chosen. People were shocked that a gentle girl had accepted the most mischievous boy in the school as her brother. I was equally shocked.

From that day I began to hide from her, and whenever I was going to do anything undesirable I would scan the whole place to make sure she wasn't around. Soon people knew about this spell that worked on me and started using her name as key to controlling me.

Perhaps she must be the first girl to whom I spoke softly; I called her Aue Nima. Her name was Nima Chunda. When she called me to seat with her and share her lunch, I would be the quietest boy with all the decency that I didn’t know I had. People passing by would stop to confirm if it was really me. 

That summer, I didn’t have money to go home and she had heard that. She took me to her family and gave me three best days of my childhood until she got enough money to buy me tickets home. I had good food, slept in a soft bed, visited her relatives and watched endless movies. She would take me to videocassette shops and make me choose movies. Imagine the joy of getting to watch movies of your choice in the ’90s.

She would often send me her lunchbox so that I could taste better home-cooked food. She would call me by the riverside during the weekends and help me do my laundry. She would send me gifts and goodies. I was new to all these acts of kindness; I only saw those happen to other boys in the hostel. She made me feel like anyone in the hostel; wanted and normal. I suddenly began to see the world differently.

To this day I wonder how a small girl of her age had such a compassionate heart to care for me, who didn’t even have a cute smile to return. She was the best thing to happen to me in my junior school.

My mother would often ask, “Where is your Aue Nima now, what’s she doing?” and the last time she asked me I told her, “Aue Nima has become a nurse. She is in Thimphu Hospital. We are in touch.” My wife and daughter heard Aue Nima's story from me more than once and we met several times.

Today, when I could help a random person somewhere I remember Aue Nima, because I know the DNA was passed down from my adopted sister. 

26 July 2015

Blogging With Dragons

Do you remember the popular column "Ask Boaz" in Kuensel K2 Mag?

Well ‘Ask Boaz’ was for more than four years the favorite tech guide and information source in Bhutan, which ran as regular column in Kuensel’s weekly K2 magazine. Boaz Shmueli would answer to questions sent in by his readers with surprising wit and simplicity. Over the years, the column subtly became the most authentic history of technology in Bhutan. 

Now the complete collection of his articles from ‘Ask Boaz’ column is put into a book "BLOGGING WITH DRAGONS" and if you are quick enough, the ebook version is on Amazon.com for free these days (Click on the Picture).
Click on the pic to download the book

As I read flip through the pages I am transported down memory lane- the times we struggled with Dialup connection to the wake of Facebook on 3G network, technical nitty gritty to online security and media literacy, KB days to coming of TB, … 
The book is the most authentic biography of technology in Bhutan. It can give a very authentic insight into the lives of people of the Bhutan, and the gradual change we underwent in the short span of time.

The book is a legacy of a foreigner who lived a meaningful life in Bhutan and impacted everyone who owned a computer, tablet or phone.

The book can still be a helpful ‘how to’ book in Bhutan and similar countries. It can be a useful technology guidebook for anybody living in or travelling to Bhutan because we are still faced with the questions that Boaz answered years ago. 

The writer Boaz Shmueli is also the author of Thimphutech.com and Creator of android app BhutaNews

19 July 2015

The Divine Bastards

"Bastard" is not a nice word to use no matter how politely you put it. People try to polish it as 'fatherless', but how can a child be born without father? Dzongkha equivalent word for bastard is Drang, which is equally devastating, therefore in some regions it's coded as 'child of rooster'.

A person born out of wedlock is referred to as a bastard and even if you are one you don't want to be addressed so. You would rather say your father was killed by a snake than to admit that he was alive somewhere with no regard for you and your mother. But how would you react if you were a bastard of a supernatural father?

I counted three prominent figures from our past who were proud to be called bastards because they weren't fathered by ordinary beings. They were believed to be bastards of powerful local deities of three different regions. 

Paro Penlop Agay Haap was believed to be the drang of Ap Chundu, the powerful local deity of Haa, Tapön Migthol, the chief bodyguard of famous Chakpa Sangay was believed to be the drang of a local deity of Tangsibji, Trongsa and Kawang Mangkhel was considered the drang of Dechenphug Gayney. They lived with the reputation of being invincible.

Dr. Karma Phuntsho, in his book History of Bhutan, says, "Such stories of beautiful maidens being impregnated by local gods and spirits were well known in medieval Bhutan and often used for explaining the unusual physical strength and agility of some men. These children with non-human fathers are often referred to as bastards or drang of particular deity or spirit and their formidable strength attributed to their non-human paternal origin. "

All the three divine bastards coincidentally lived during Jigme Namgyal's time. Imagine the bravery of Jigme Namgyal to have the heart to live and fight among people of such deadly reputation. Except for Penlop Agay Haap the two others were Jigme Namgyal's biggest hurdles in the western regions, though in different times. 

Our country saw re-ignition of civil war in 1850 during the reign of 38th Desi Wangchuk Gyalpo. Following a biased verdict that went against Agay Haap and his allies, they stabbed the desi to death and installed Zhabdrung incarnate Jigme Norbu as the 39th desi. On the other side of Dochula Chakpa Sangay appointed himself as Desi and took control of Punakha and Wangdue, thereby dividing the country into two.

Jigme Namgyal was not even Trongsa Penlop then when he was invited by Agay Haap’s Party to fight along side his cousin Desi Jigme Norbu. After the military campaign Jigme Namgyal and his two brothers stayed back in Punakha and it was then that he ambushed Chakpa Sangay’s righthand Migthol. The invincible chief of Punakha troop, who was reputed to have super human strength, died in the hands of Jigme Namgyal against whom he held grudge from their earlier meeting during the reconstruction of Punakha Dzong. 

Agay Haap was Paro Penlop for the longest time and lived up to his invincible reputation and perhaps died a natural death. Among many legends, he was known for setting Zhabdrung incarnate Jigme Norbu free from Punakha Dzong when Chakpa Sangay and allies took control of the dzong. Finally it was him who put an end to Chakpa Sangay chapter by faking reconciliation and presenting him with a silken robe infected with smallpox, which killed him.

And the last divine bastard, Kawang Mangkhel appeared in the later part of Jigme Namgyal’s life when he became the 51st Desi. He was aspiring to become Paro Penlop and his brother Kusho Lama Tshewang was then the Thimphu Dzongpon. The two brothers were standing between Desi Jigme Namgyal and his absolute power over the country. In order to expand his dominance over the western region Jigme Namgyal plotted to remove the two brothers and the first target was Kawang Mangkhel, who was the invincible one. Jigme Namgyal forged alliance with Kawang Mangkhel and helped him overthrow Paro Penlop Kipsep only to let him die in the hands of his own spiritual brother Toeb Chushing and the ousted penlop on the very day of his appointment as new Paro Penlop. He was stabbed and thrown out of the window of Paro Dzong. 

Jigme Namgyal, an ordinary son of human parents removing among many the two most feared people who were considered the crossbreed of human and deities from his path, established himself as the most invincible man in the country.   

Disclaimer: This article is focused on the three interesting characters and a few diluted summary of their history. To derive real satisfaction of reading history I recommend Dr. Karma Phuntsho’s History of Bhutan and Tshering Tashi’s Myth and Memory.

13 July 2015

Name-Changing Syndrome

How does changing a name help anything? Of course there is a traditional rural belief that when a child is sick for a long time changing the child's name helps. Often the child ends up with better health and a very funny name. But what about an institution's name?

My daughter and I
Today, I was sitting with my family by the river Pachhu, look at my former college from across the river. It's a nice place be over the weekend, watching the majestic Dzong, the Ta Dzong, a beautiful bridge, a river and a beautiful college campus, not to mention the endless paddies on the other side.

I seriously don't know what my former college was called when I was studying there; it could have been Paro College of Education (PCE) or National Institute of Education (NIE) but when I went home I had to tell my folks that I was studying in Teacher Training College (TTC) because that's the only name they understood.

TTC was the founding name and it's imprinted on the minds of everybody from that era, even the bridge that connected to airport road was named as TTC bridge. But over the time the college was renamed as NIE and everyone confused it with NIE in Samtse, because the founding name of Samtse College of Education was NIE.

The new name was slowly getting into the tongues of local people and perhaps people in the system themselves but suddenly one day the name was changed yet again. This time it was called Paro College of Education. It has been at least ten years now but the new name is popular only inside the campus and on the paper. Imagine an institution changing its name three times in its short history, what's so wrong with us? How credible are we?

In less than 20 years we have three different types of graduates from that same collage, one holding TTC certificate, another holding NIE certificate, and yet another holding PCE certificate. Technically speaking the former two groups of people are robbed of their history. Their college doesn't exist. It's understandable within the country but I wonder how it works in universities outside when they go for further studies.

That's the name-changing syndrome my college suffered and the syndrome is widespread in our country, it begins from ministries down to small branch offices, schools to colleges, villages to geogs, and even the words in the dictionary. What was your school called yesterday?

04 July 2015

Journey of Terton Sherab Mebar’s Kudung (body)

In my last post, I have briefly narrated the history of Terton Sherab Mebar, the first known treasure discoverer to have set foot in Bhutan. As promised I will narrate the history of his kudung (body) that seemed to have a life of its own and created history and mysteries greater than the living Terton himself.

Because Terton Sherab Mebar went against the prophecy one too many times and compromised the whole divine mission he had been assigned to, his mission on earth seemed to have been terminated prematurely. He died in his thirties, leaving behind many unfinished works. He was supposed to visit Nub Tshonapatra seven times and discover treasures that will make our country rich in all times to come, but his first untimely attempt jeopardized everything.

Terton Sherab Mebar lived in Pangpisa after that life-threatening mission to Nub Tshonapatra when he was called to attend a big event in Baylangdra, Wangdue. Before leaving, he summoned the nine households in Pangpisa and asked them to bring him a stone that could fit in his palm. He was presented with a broken piece of stone. He asked if the stone was already in that shape or did the people break it into that shape to fit in his palm. He took it as a bad sign when he was told that the stone was a freshly broken piece. He told his nine patrons that the signs said he might not return alive from Wangdue and therefore instructed them to bring his body back to Pangpisa.

He squeezed the stone with his bare hands like wet clay and left his handprint on it. This stone with his handprint was one among many such rocks he left behind from different occasions. In fact, every household in Pangpisa owned one each besides the six that were in the temple. One was a chunk of gold he took from Pasakha during his failed mission of unearthing an endless supply of gold, silver and salt.

As foreseen, Terton Sherab Mebar died in Baylangdra, Wangude and the message reached Pangpisa. A group of men was sent to claim their Lam’s kudung (body) as wished by lam himself, but people in Baylangdra turned them away. They said it was the lam’s destiny to die in their village; therefore, the body must rest there.

The disappointed patrons of Pangpisa spied on Baylangdra ever since. They planned to strike during the harvest season when every able man from the village went on their annual alms seeking event. The temple where the kudung was preserved was guarded by a lame gomchen who couldn’t go with the rest. Men from Pangpisa waited for this moment, and without wasting any time, they barged into the temple and tied the lone gomchen onto a pillar, and to keep him from starving, they placed a huge pot of porridge at his reach to last through until the villager returned. Thus, the kudung was stolen and brought to Pangpisa.

There is no record of what happened after this event until centuries later, after Zhabdrung’s era. It was during Tshulthrim Namgyel’s (Popularly known as Penlop Haap) reign as the Parob or Paro Penlop (governor of Paro), that he asked the people of Pangpisa to hand over the kudung to the central government in Paro for better preservation. Paro was the centre of Western Region, then. He explained to the people of Pangpisa that the Kudung was a national treasure and the there could not be a better place for the kudung than Paro Rinpung Dzong. It could be safe from disasters and also secured from Tibetan invaders.

People of Pangpisa reluctantly consented to hand over the sacred remains to Paro Dzong, intending to secretly steal it back. The Kudung was stored in the Marchey of Paro Dzong, secured in a wooden box and sealed into the mud wall. No sooner did they give away the kudung, they began plotting to steal it back. They planted one of their local monks to spy and get access to the Marchey. The monk started chanting Dem, the prayer in the worship of Jetsun Dema, from day one. He made the entire Dzong believe that he was the best candidate to be the caretaker of Dema Lhakhang, the chamber in the Dzong dedicated to Jetsun Dema.

That was their first move; they wanted to get access into the Dema Lhakhang because beneath it was the Marchey where their lam’s kudung was kept. Meanwhile, some men from Pangpisa worked with blacksmiths in Paro Woochu to forge iron rods with hooks on one end, and the rest of the men worked on creating a proxy of Lam’s kudung using clay.

One day, when most elder monks were out of the Dzong for rituals, the team from Pangpisa sneaked into the Dzong with the proxy kudung and got straight into the Dema Lhakhang. They removed the floorings that were straight overhead the kudung and, using the iron rods, fished the box containing the kudung. Unfortunately, they discovered the box was too big for the narrow gap between horizontal beams running across under the floor. According to their plan, they were to lift the box into Dema Lhakhang, take out lam’s Kudung, replace it with the proxy and place back the box in the Marchey as if nothing had happened.

But their plan failed when they couldn’t lift the box through the beams. They then broke open the box in midair and tried to take out the kudung, but they found that even the kudung wouldn’t fit through the gap, except for the head. When they ran out of ideas and time, they decided to at least take something, if not the whole Kudung, so they cut off the head from the body and replaced it with the head of the proxy kudung. The box was sealed again and placed back.

For the next many years, no one knew about this high profile break-in, not until a fire disaster that razed down Paro Rinpung Dzong (Date to be confirmed), about which I couldn’t find any information yet. Penlop Haap Agay Haap was still in Power, and he was said to have jumped into the raging fire to save the kudung. Everyone thought he might have burned himself to death, but he came out of the fire with the box without so much as a blister and without even burning a single strand of his hair.

When they opened the box to assess the kudung, they found the head of the kudung had turned into earth. This saddened the Penlop, but he found that the rest of the body was intact upon further inspection. Then he knew that something was done with the head. He furiously tried to detach the clay head from the body but soon figured out that the clay head had merged with the body. It’s said that the clay head gradually turned into a real head and smiled at the Penlop. He lived with much regrets for not being able to ask anything when the kudung came alive for that brief moment.

Penlop Haap rebuilt Paro Rinpung Dzong and placed the kudung back in the Marchey of the new Dzong. However, he was told that the Dzong would be destroyed yet again in times to come. He, therefore, prayed to be reborn in Paro so that he could be the one to rebuild the Dzong again.
Ruins of Paro Dzong (1907) - Shared by Tshering Tashi

In 1907, when Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor was in power, Paro Rinpung Dzong suffered another major fire disaster. The penlop was said to have fainted twice, once when he was told about fire, and next then, he reached the Dzong and knew the Kudung could not be salvaged. So that was the end of the long journey of Pangpi Lam’s Kudung, across almost 700 years.

Penlop Dawa Penjor was believed to be the reincarnation of Penlop Haap, and it’s said that he always saw this coming. He had stored hundreds of strange balls stitched in animal hide, which looked like stone used in ancient weighing scales, in the fireproof basement of the Dzong.

Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor(?)
Later after the ashes cooled down, and when the entire officials were worried about the reconstruction and even planned to send people to India and Tibet for donation, Penlop Dawa Penjor told them not to worry about funds. He sent his men to collect the stones covered in leather from the basement. Confused men thought the Penlop was severely shaken by the fire incident; nonetheless, they presented hundreds of heavy balls to the penlop. He then cut open the leather covers and showed hundreds of football-sized balls of pure gold. He is said to have funded the entire reconstruction and most of the objects in the Dzong today were made of pure gold.

When the Dzong was completed, Penlop Dawa Penjor approached the people of Pangpisa to bring the sacred head relic of kudung for the consecration ceremony of the new Dzong. He promised the people that it would be returned in three days. Penlop Dawa Penjor was known for his honesty and integrity and when he approached, the people consented.

1914 Paro Dzong restored to by Penlop Dawa Penjor
On the third day of the consecration ceremony, birds hovered over the Dzong and made strange sounds; some birds fought overhead and dropped dead on the Dzong courtyard. Dawa Penjor immediately consulted his astrologer and found out that if he didn’t return the head relic to Pangpisa, there would be a threat to either his life or the safety of the Dzong. He returned the relic right away. It was later discovered that the people of Pangpisa had been performing deadly religious rituals for the safe return of their most priced treasure ever since the Penlop took it from them.

The sacred head relic was sealed in a box by Paro Penlop and opened once a year for public display during a major ceremony. The sealing after the ceremony was soon done by Woochu Drungpa. Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal upon hear that ordered the boxed to be sealed using his seal because he didn't like the idea of Woochu Drungpa putting his unholy hands on the precious National Treasure. Woochu Drungpa was the official responsible for punishing criminals and had his hand in many executions. A certain Zimpon Sangay carried Jigme Namgyal's seal and sealed the box, never to be opened again.

It was only recently the seal was finally broken, and the sacred head relic was displayed for public viewing. It was said that the seal on the box was always called "Sangay's Seal" and many thought it was Buddha's seal (Sangay=Buddha). Later upon verification, they figured out that Sangay was Trongsa Penlop's Zimpon Sangay, who sealed the box on behalf of Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal.

The Scared head was on display on the day I visited Ugyen Guru Lhakhang in Pangpisa. I just look at it for the longest time and wondered what a journey it underwent across almost 800 years.

Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor's wife's home in Paro Geptey, now converted into Heritage Museum

Disclaimer: There could be inconsistencies in the historical events and dates; therefore, I remain open to feedback and advice to make this thrilling narrative as close to fact as possible.