22 September 2020

Tribute to My Late Teacher Karma Wangchuk (1965-2020)

It was in 1997 that I maintained my first journal. My English teacher in Class VII, Sir Karma Wangchuk gave us the assignment to record our day in a small notebook to build our writing skill. The class captain had to collect our journals and take to him for review every evening. We would get it back the next morning with his feedback. Back in the days, we could hardly write an intelligible sentence. We put him off every day. 

One day, by a great stroke of luck I got one sentence correct. I still remember that sentence after all these years, it read "Thinley Gyeltshen left the school on his own accord." My poor English teacher was overjoyed. The remark he left in my little diary had a big impact on me: "Beautiful Sentence. Keep it up!". I kept writing hard to get better remarks from him each day.

It was my teacher Karma Wangchuk who named me PaSsu. He was fond of Haap's accent and found it too funny to call me PaSsu, as a Haap would do, instead of Passang or Passa. I liked it so much and proudly kept it as my pet name.

Knowing him from Junior School to College, he wouldn't be easily impressed but he was openly proud when I handed him a copy of my book PaSsu Diary in 2018. It made a complete circle. It was he in whose class I began journaling and I came to be known as a blogger by the name he gave me, and finally, here he was holding my book. 

Back in March, Among his students who had established a lifelong friendship with him, there were three of us who made it to the funeral despite restrictions due to covid19. We stayed till the end with the members of his family. I stayed till the end because I wanted to his ashes being cast into the river to be washed into the sea and feel the sense of him becoming a part of nature that he loved so much. I thought to myself that he would have loved this part. 



With his death, we lost a living encyclopaedia on the natural world. He would talk about butterflies as if he lived among them. He knew orchids like he had an orchid farm. He could talk endlessly about a bird just by hearing its distant sound. He knew wild animals like a farmer knew his farm animals. He loved wild cats the most and have all the species of it painted. 

His life was simple- the guy seemed to have known the true essence of life already- he spent all his saving during the vacations to explore the wilderness or travel to a historic site. His notes, painting and photographs from the wilderness will very well make up several volumes of books. But he never published anything. I don't think he ever regretted that because he just loved doing it. Publication or exhibition never bothered him. He once told me, "I will always have my side of the story to tell which no one can own. The challenge is even more exciting."


In 1998, I took the only white t-shirt I had to him and requested him to paint something on it for keepsake. He did a black-necked crane on it effortlessly. The shirt didn't last for long but I managed to cut out the crane and preserve it (See pic). He was one of the finest artists I have known and the first to introduce me to art. His favourite subjects were his cousins from the wilderness; there are hundreds of paintings of birds, orchids, mammals, cats, etc. some from as early as 1987 when he was a boy himself. He never exhibited his artworks. In fact, his works were taken by others and published in their books, when he could easily do his own. 

I managed to convince him to do a massive exhibition that will not only showcase his artworks on the natural world but also his photographs on butterflies and his notes. The plan was to hire the RSPN hall and divide it into several sections- Cats of Bhutan; Orchids of Bhutan; Butterflies of Bhutan; Mammals of Bhutan; Birds of Bhutan; and after the exhibition the exhibits will be compiled into several books. But the timing was wrong. He fell ill shortly after that and he could not recover to do it. But I know even if he had recovered fully he may not have been so eager to do it because he was just happy that he had created them. That's all that mattered to him.

The other dimension to the man was his natural love for Shakespear and the literature in general. In 2006 when Shakespear was being removed from the Bhutanese curriculum, Sir Karma was devastated. He didn't say much in protest but when he hosted the Annual Award Ceremony in Paro College, he ran the two hours show using nothing but Shakespeare quotes. He did it so effortlessly like his mother tongue. That night some 400 of us in the hall knew how relevant Shakespear was to this day.

For us, Shakespear means two plays and a few sonnets we struggled with in high school but he was someone he read Shakespeare plays like a love letter he just received and watched the same plays alongside books like we would watch some hot movies. English literature came naturally to him, almost like a household chore and he must have scribbled hundreds of pages of poems and stories, hidden among his countless valuable papers. 

His brother and brother's children agreed to our proposal to form a team among his students and pay him a tribute by doing an exhibition and publishing his works.


Death is but a man becoming a memory, 

You are a powerful memory alive in hundreds of us.

You are alive in me and my beautiful life. 


So Long!

20 September 2020

BOOKNESE- Just for Bhutanese Books


When I was growing up, becoming a writer was the most romantic idea to choose as a dream. I tended to this dream by reading biographies of authors, watching movies and documentaries based on the lives of writers, collected pictures of V.S Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Sidney Sheldon when kids of my age were collecting posters of Leonardo DiCaprio and Salman Khan. 

One day after I became a man, the beautiful dream turned into a disappointment when I learnt that there was not a single dedicated book publisher in the country and that the Bhutanese book market was too poor to produce any fulltime writer. There were only a few authors who managed to go beyond their first book, which is a sign that they managed to sell their first book enough to save them from bankruptcy and dare to publish again. In short, there was no hope. The idea is only romantic. 

I didn't want to believe that there isn't any hope after a lifetime of waiting to become a writer. I wanted to make things work. That's why Nawang and I sat down and charted out a plan to bring together all the Bhutanese writers under Writers Association of Bhutan (WAB). We thought we could collectively create a society where literature thrived and therefore writing became a well-paid profession. A decade into building WAB with some founding members we came nowhere. 

We failed to convince our writers that we could be a lot stronger if we worked as a community, create services and facilities that every writer could leverage on, build a platform to launch books and reach masses in ways that we individually could not achieve. We are disillusioned individuals who carry a massive ego to form any functioning team; everyone thought they are popular enough to survive and thrive alone.  

Crowdpublishing-What an Idea!

Well, all is not lost. WAB managed to create a platform where aspiring writers honed their skills and gained recognitions. Nawang's 'Crowdpublishing' model helped several new writers publish their books, including my book PaSsu Diary. I used my social network to sell 3000 copies of my book easily. If WAB became an institution much can be done to help every Bhutanese who aspire to become a writer and also those who have already published but couldn't do much as writers, which is a common problem that we fail to recognize. 

But when WAB didn't happen as expected because it involved so many players to make an association, I pushed for a more personal and smaller dream with Nawang and Tharchen, to do almost the same thing as WAB but as a private venture. And that's BOOKNESE. 



What is BOOKNESE?

BOOKNESE is an ecosystem of Bhutanese books, their writers, their readers, and the bookstores where they are sold at. It’s the platform that is making an extra effort to celebrates Bhutanese literature because if we don’t, no one else will. 

BOOKNESE is archiving and exhibiting every book ever written by Bhutanese so that we could come to appreciate that a small country has produced so many works of literature, perhaps the highest per capita in the world. We showcase and promote every book with equal passion and unbiased attention. 

86 Bhutanese Writers Registered on BOOKNESE thus far

BOOKNESE aspires and works towards becoming that national archive where anyone interested in Bhutanese literature will come to seek authentic and reliable information so that no one will have to rely on random third-party foreign online sources, where we are not even treated with due respect. 

BOOKNESE ensures that every book receives its fair share of readers and that the content of the book is discussed objectively, reviewed fairly, and judged for its worth. BOOKNESE has established ways to celebrate good books, critique bad ones, and ensure that no writer is disillusioned by a few good reviews from close friends, or disheartened by a few bad reviews from jealous readers. 

BOOKNESE guarantees every book gets equal access to the market; ​the ​market that is enhanced through ​a network of bookstores​ that is made accessible from any dzongkhag through this online platform. Booknese establishes trust and goodwill with the bookstores and sources books from them and expands their reach beyond their towns to the whole of the nation and even beyond.  

BOOKNESE is a nonprofit venture, not because we aren't interested in profit but because there is no way we will ever make a profit out of books, especially Bhutanese books. It's, therefore, more profitable not to do this business but if we don't do it, who's going to do it?

It's been a difficult two years building the idea into a platform, and putting together 151 books by 86 writers, one by one, suffering the lukewarm response and complacency of so many writers. It took me hundreds of hours, sleepless night, more than three request messages and reminders to each writer before they responded. 

Of course, it's time for me to sit back and watch because the BOOKNESE is now ready to receive entries directly from you. 

Someday you will beg to be on BOOKNESE! That day is not today, so tell your writer friends to register their book for free. It may not remain free for long. Who knows, one day if a book is not on BOOKNESE the book doesn't even exist. 

If you are a good reader, you can become an asset for BOOKNESE by becoming a star reviewer who is loved and feared by every Writer. They will wait to see your review and quote you on the cover of their second editions. Your reviews will be printed in newspapers regularly and it might become a second source of income. 

18 September 2020

My Pandemic Paintings

The Pandemic has brought me down on my knees along with the world. It gave me time to face the empty canvases and fill them with colours. They have been waiting for two years for me to find some time. If it wasn't for something as big as a pandemic, life would have to go on and on, everyone claiming to be busy. 

Following are some of the painting I managed to complete in 2020. 

1. Buddha 

2. Phobjikha



3. Human Nature 1 (Wit and Wisdom)

4. Picaso Imitation (lol)

5. The Golden Girl, Taktsang and the Monkhood

6. Human Nature 2 

7. Four Friends



If I don't compile all of these and post it together like this, someday I won't be able to trace any of them. I don't have the original pictures of some of these paintings, let alone the original paintings. 

I want to write a longer narrative of these pieces but then I need to think harder and time longer, which will eventually lead me to abandon the idea. I am not going to wait for a better time or a story. 

30 August 2020

How to Self-Publish Your First Book (in Bhutan)

In 2003, I took the manuscript of my collection of 30 short stories and went to the two places I knew might help me in publishing it. I first went to Kuensel and then to DSB. It cost me all my pocket money to print two manuscripts, and both the places didn’t even read it, yet kept them. My idea of publishing was limited to them and it stopped there. I now understand that even they were limited by so many factors. They were not the true kind of publishers we heard of to expect anything. And I fear we still don’t that kind of a publisher. Therefore, I shall tell you about self-publishing. 

 

In 2018, during the Mountain Echoes Literature Festival, I was telling DSB how it broke my little heart when I didn’t get back my manuscript. He couldn’t believe that I came to him 16 years ago. He went back, dug into his storeroom and fished out the manuscript I submitted. 

 

That book could not be published. It’s been my dearest dream to print that book but somehow, I managed to publish another book. With the experience from publishing PaSsu Diary, my first book of selected posts from this blog, and several other books for friends, I have acquired the knowledge and confidence to publish books. I may finally publish my short stories any time this year.

 

In this post, I will use my experience to create a simple guide to self-publishing a book in Bhutan. I will do it as if I am explaining the process to my younger self back in 2003 so that it becomes of help to everyone who is aspiring to publish a book. 

 

WRITING & EDITING

Once you finished writing the book, start rewriting it. It’s said that good stories are not written, they are rewritten. You must hire a good editor to refine your book. Even the professional writers have to get their works edited by their editors. Stephen King said, “To write is human, to edit is Devine”  

 

It could cost you anywhere between Nu. 20,000 to Nu. 80,000 for a serious editor. But don’t worry, you could get your English teacher or someone who is strong in language to edit your work for free. 

TITLE & COVER

This process is about branding your book. For your book to be talked about or bought, way before the story is read and reviews written, it’s important for the book to carry a captivating title and cover. 

You can start off with a working title for the book while writing but once you have completed the story, consider naming the book all over again. Note that for a Bhutanese book to stand out with an identity of its own, always try to add some Bhutanese elements in the name and even the cover. 


 Cover Design: PaSsu Diary
Cover design (Jacket) with spine and Blurb  


The book cover is the face of the book and you must invest as much time in it as you did in writing the book. Seek help from artists, graphic designers and people who have experience in the field. Look for examples and show them to your designers to work out several drafts for you. 

Remember, a book with poor cover design can hardly sell because no matter what, people judge the book by its cover. Forgive them. 

LAYOUT & DESIGN 

Hire a graphic designer to design the layout of your book, this is when your book is transformed from MS Word format to PDF format on software like InDesign, in exact shape and size it will appear when printing. 


You must let the designer know the size you desire for the book. If you are not familiar with the standard dimensions of the book, take a book of desirable size and ask the designers to design your books like that.


Layout Design Sample, with Technical Page

Technical page and sample layout work done


Once you have your book layout done, then you know the number of pages and the exact amount of paper it will require. These details are required for the printing company to decide the cost of printing your book. 

 

Designing the layout of your book could cost you Nu. 10,000 to Nu. 20,000. Some printing company will do it pro bono since you are printing the book with them. 

COST OF PRINTING

The cost of printing a book is determined by the following factors;

 

  1. Paper quality
  2. Number of pages (after the layout is done)
  3. Color or B&W
  4. And the number of copies

 

To give you a rough idea, if you are printing a novel of 200 pages on a good quality paper, and you are printing 1000 copies of the novel, the printing house will quote approximately Nu.150 per copy, which means you need to pay Nu. 150,000 for printing the 1000 copies. 


However, if you are going for 2000 copies then the price per copy will drop from Nu.150 to somewhere around Nu. 110. So, you will be paying Nu. 220,000 for printing 2000 copies. That’s because the printing machines use a certain aluminium plate to transfer the image onto the papers, and when you increase the number of copies the cost of the plates gets divided further. If you are not interested in the technical details, just note that the printing cost per book reduces if we increase the number of copies. It’s more economical to print in bigger bulk but the risk is big too.

 

Once you know the cost of printing, then you can determine the price of your book. If you are paying Nu.150 per book, then let the price of your book be Nu.300, be gentle on the price, since it’s your first book. One day when you are popular then you could strike higher. 

 

Always print the price of your book on the back cover to ensure that your readers get the book at the price you set and that bookstores don’t charge higher than you intended. 


The cover page of the book will either have a separate cost (Nu. 5 per piece) or will come as a compliment with the book. This has to be agreed upon while negotiating. 

ISBN & BICMA No.

ISBN Number is issued by Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) in Bhutan. Go to their website and apply for ISBN number for your book by furnishing the online form with your book details or (download an actual form and emailing it to Mr Tashi Tshering at ttcering@gmail.com/ttshering@bhutanstudies.org.bt.

You will get it issued within a day or two. You don't have to pay for this service. 

 

Also, you need to get the publishing approval from BICMA. Print a dummy copy of your book and submit to BICMA along with the application form. You should get the approval certificate with BICMA number within a week or so. A Nu.1500 fee is charged.

BICMA Certificate for Book Publication
Certificate of Registration for Book Publication from BICMA


You have to put both the ISBN and BICMA number on the back-cover page along with MRP and also on the technical page of the book. Generate a bar code using the ISBN number and have it printed on the back cover. 


PaSsu Diary: Bar code, ISBN and Price of the book
Barcode and Price on the Back Cover

Once you have these details, you can wrap up the design and layout works and send the work to the printing house. 

Note: You must compulsorily deposit three copies of your book to the National ISBN Agency, the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, and additionally 2 copies to National Library. 

PROOFREADING 

But wait, one last thing before sending for mass printing, send it for proofreading. This is the last chance for you to remove any error from the book, so get the copy proofread by someone who is good at it, preferably a fresh pair of eyes. If any error is spotted, you have to ask your designer to make the necessary corrections. 

Once all is done then you give green-flag to the printer, and they will take about a month to print your book and deliver it to you. 


LAUNCH and PROMOTION 

Once you receive the book from the printing press, organize a book launch ceremony. Invite people from media as guests. This is your opportunity to let the country know that you have published a book. Set up a bookstall somewhere and let the guest buy the book, let someone else sell the book for you. Arrange a corner for 'book signing', where you sign the book for the guest.

PaSsu Diary: Book Signing
Book Signing during the launch of PaSsu Diary

When this event is over, it's time for you to run for marketing, I know it's a little too undignified but the goal is to sell your book and there is no other way around unless you have someone else who will do it for you. Go to the bookstores and distribute the books and negotiate a percentage commission for them. They will ask anywhere between 20-30%. The tragedy is that you don't get paid upfront. They will pay you only when the books are sold, so it's important to keep you online promotion aggressive and send buyers to bookstores. 


For wider recognition and possible promotion, register your book on BOOKNESE, the online platform for Bhutanese books. They will help you stage your book in the circle of readers and get it discussed, besides marketing it online and distributing it to different dzongkhags through Bhutan Post. 


 

 NOTE: If you don't have the money to publish your book, then wait for my post on Crowdpublshing. 

26 August 2020

Unlocking Life Under Lockdown

In the beginning, it seemed quite unfair on my part to stay at home and not be part of the team that goes out to do something more significant to help the government in our fight against the pandemic but over the days it is made clear to us that the act of staying home is a big service. It's strange that absolute inaction could be an excellent action, but this is part of the new normal.

When Nationwide lockdown was announced on 11th August, I panicked about the big consignment of SATO toilet pans that were stranded in Phuntsholing due to tax bureaucracy. It could have easily reached Thimphu way before the lockdown if it wasn't for some obvious bottleneck. I panicked about the much delayed Toilet Ambassadors' Conference that was finally scheduled this month. We were one day behind sending out the invitations to our participants. 

The first two days went into assessing everything that's been disrupted by the lockdown. By the third day, I began to read a book and reflect on everything that's been disrupted by the pandemic. I started listening to audiobooks on Audible while jogging in my room, all the while appreciating how the lockdown was decided because of a lady, and that she hasn't spread the virus to anyone. She rather came ahead like a message to save us from a real threat, much like the first case in the country, the American man who brought us the message to close our borders and to make serious preparation. 

I began counting the blessings, mine and my family's, and that of every Bhutanese born in the warmth of His Majesty's compassionate leadership. I set a writing table outside on the veranda to edit short stories manuscript that's been collecting dust since 2003. 

One audible program I listened during an hour-long exercise helped me reorganize my blog and reconstruct my outlook on blogging. Next time I talk to young bloggers, I have more ideas to share. More than that I want to share with them of our luck in having the universe conspire so beautifully in giving us a doctor as the Prime Minister and an epidemiologist as the Health Minister. They fought two battles with mastery; one with the virus on the medical front and the other on the social front in dealing with people, rumours, misinformation, fake news, fear, oh you name it. The world would have been in a much better position had they had leaders like ours. 

I explored places on Google Maps and started adding and editing places, at the same time visiting interesting places like Doklam and checking how far the Chinese roads have come, visiting hundreds of lakes along the northern frontiers and checking which one is the biggest. As level 8 Google Local Guide I have added hundreds of places and reviews and thousands of pictures on the map, at the same time encouraging youth to try Maps rather than PUBG or Mobile Legends. If we have all our places accurately added on maps, then in times like this when we have to do home delivery of essential items, we could do it efficiently using an app. 

I have managed to use the pen tool in Photoshop to draw shapes and paths and explore the iMovie deeper to help edit my daughter's show better. You could see I have made a logo for Ninzi Show on Photoshop and used it in iMovie to add in her shows. We worked on a new episode to share with families likes ours during the lockdown, to help the parents engage their children in meaningful activities just like I have been doing with my daughter. In Ninzi Show, my daughter is not merely acting for the show, she is showing what she had learned. It would be a shame to come out of the lockdown without having learnt a new skill or polished an old one. 

It will be a shame also to keep any canvas from last years still empty, so I am doing a little bit of painting here and there, experimenting concepts and emulating art masters Asha Kama. My daughter likes it when I settle in the painting room because she loves colours and does a lot with them. 

In teaching my daughter the following household chores, my wife and I learned patience and in recording and editing the show I explored the art of videography to a new depth. Like all of you out there, I want the lockdown to end sooner, not based on sentiments but based on science, however, should it go on for a little longer time then I have plans for unlocking more potential within me and my family. 

3. How to Fold Clothes

2. How to Cook Rice in the Cooker

 

1. How to Make Tea


The lockdown may be proving to be difficult for different groups of people for different reasons, therefore it's important for us to reach out and help in every way possible without judgement. It may be a good restful holiday for some while it could be overwhelming isolation and loneliness for others, not everyone is equally strong but we could be there for each other, showing how to see the light. 

18 August 2020

8 Questions for an Aspiring Bhutanese Entrepreneur

When I was invited to talk to a group of young entrepreneurs at the “I’m an Entrepreneur” event last year in Thimphu, I had to stay up late into the night thinking of what to talk about because my regular subjects weren’t going to make any sense to the entrepreneurial audience. 

Young Bhutanese Entrepreneurs with Lyonpo Lok Nath


So, I came up with a list of 8 questions a Bhutanese Entrepreneur must ask himself or herself, which is a compilation of bits and pieces of wisdom I have gathered from my encounters with successful entrepreneur friends, books, talks and from my own experience of founding and running Bhutan Toilet Org.

Despite several suggestions from the young entrepreneurs in the audience that day to rewrite my talk into an article, I didn’t get the right time or motivation to do it till today. The lockdown has given me a long and quiet time to catch up on the things I have missed, this being one. And I also thought if I shared this during the lockdown, chances of you reading it wholeheartedly and contemplating it is greater.

One of the organizers came to me after my talk and said, “Acho, I felt like you were talking about all the mistakes I have made.” I had to assure him that these were general theories that are often overlooked and that’s how we land up making the same mistakes;

Following are the 8 questions, in no particular order, an aspiring entrepreneur or a new entrepreneur must ask him/herself to ensure that they don’t have to make the same old mistakes people ahead of us made.

1.     Are you ready to start a business?

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