Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stormy Breeze

I hear the garbled sounds of memories; they hush me by like a gentle breeze;

The breeze is gone and fierce storms blow my wonted vaults and their assorted jeweleries.

Contradictions of various mathematical possibilities leave me flat and hung.

Notions of freedom leave me trapped and all these I sought to reveal or find during my natural born years.
The hair I play with today thins;
The knuckles I crack wrinkles;
The eyes staring me back hollows in empty delight.

Knowing me today is no more familiar than knowing me yesterday.

These woeful songs would have you beguiled and fooled.
The treachery of our minds are just the tip of the mail-berg;
For the base stays grounded in drama and the ensuing hullabaloo is all a part and parcel of our own karma.

There is nothing more left to seek;
There is nothing more left to heed.

I look at me in the pupils of my eyes!
They glisten back inundated with lingering hurtful memories of causes that have resulted in innumerable bruises.

“What did you want, My Sun?”
“Meaning, I guess”
“What kind of meaning, My Moon?”
“The kind that satisfies curiosity, restlessness, boredom, yearning, desire, vanity and emptiness I guess”
“And where did you suppose you’d find them, My Celestial Star?”
“In books, in knowledge, in history, in travels and in love”
“And did you, My Dear Immortal?”
“I thought I did. In the beginning there was curiosity, then there was longing and finally there was the experience”
“And you found the meaning, My Dear Seeker?”
“Are you still looking for it, My Fearless Warrior?”
“And why not? My Wealthy Landlord?”
“Because it’s everywhere”
“And did that insight help, My Liege?”
“No. It did not”
“Why not, My Master?”

Because my questions were wrong;
Because the basis of my wandering itself was conceived in ignorance:
Because my yearning for love was fueled by hatred:
Because my very accumulation of knowledge was founded on brittle sticks of ignorance.

I had not known how to love because I had never abandoned the selfishness I carried with such smugness.

I read the sutras and it gave me pride;
I read the classics and they gave me knowledge;
I traveled far and wide and that gave me mileage;
I made good company with females and that left me inflated;
I lived because I needed to do all of that again;
And that made me sad.

I wasn’t alone, I was lonely.
You see, love I echoed aplenty and recognized none;

Today I reap the fruits of my indolence;
Today I taste the bitterness of my nectar;
Today wisdom peeps and my knowledge shudders;
Today truth beckons and I freeze;
Today I’m learning to live with unease.

"Well. Now You Know, My Son, Now You Know!"

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!


Old Men Tell Their Tales,
Over Hearths Villagers Listen;
The Quiet Forest Laughs!

Terraced-clouds-field the big-blue skies,
Like quiet feathered snowflakes.
Nights-glow with fireflies;
The sky glitters as the stars litter;

The freshness of reviving showers on oily monsoon days,
The sweet fragrance of blooming flowers,
Of myriad colors painting unknown horizons,
Of shy settings, orange sunsets and silhouetted mountains,
Of strange moonlit-karmic recollections;

Here we are;
Rainbows and all…

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!


The Misty Road Lives,
It Winds And Tells You Stories,
If You Will Listen...

The Monsoons Are Fresh,
Raindrops They Take Me Places,
Showering Secrets!

We Are All Poets,
Though We Loot, Plunder and Steal,
We Are Still Poets.

The Women I Love,
Come In Lovely Disguises,
How They Torture Me!

Loneliness My Friend,
Why Are You Always With Me?
Go See Some Body!

The Monsoons Are Dry,
Yet We Know That It Will Rain;
That Is Refreshing!

Don't Give Up On Me,
Life Works In Mysterious Ways,
SomeDay You Will See...

You Called Me Jurmi,
And We Used To Hang About,
It Was All Good Fun!
Though I Miss You Bad,
I Remember Times We Had,
You Are a Good Lad!

Even If i Die,
Life Around Me Will Flourish,
Now That Is Living!

Haikus Within And Without

This Is My Sorry;
This Is My Story,
I Want To Be Gone,
And Follow The Forest Monks; The Elders That Tread The Path.

I Can Learn No More; The World's Been Enough:-
Old Path And White Clouds Beckon...
And I Must Heed The Calling...
And Face All My Fears!

Many Moons Back In Time,
Glistened And Glowed Tempting Me;
The Trap Killed Many.

It Drove Me To Books,
Fancy Imaginations!
Life Alternative; A Customized Life.

Riches Of The World,
The Mind Cannot Comprehend,
Hence Ceaseless Questions!

Sights Of Mendicants,
We Compare With Our Own World;
Thus We Throw Cheap Alms.

Man's Will To Reveal,
Is What Brings Us Our Ordeal;
Time And Time Again!

Today I Got Up,
Brushing My Needs Selfishly;
Forgetting Others.

Compassionate Seeds!
Bud And Bloom When Without You;
From Within Your Soul.

The Masters' Message,
Be Aware And Be Mindful;
The Living Moments.

Logic Cannot Feel,
Rationality Limits;
Listen To The Gut!

What Was Your Real Face?
Before You Came To This Life?
Your True Nature Calls;

Everything We See,
Is Revealingly-Naked!
Opaqueness Restricts.

Everything We Hear,
Sends Us Songs Of Inner Truth;
Listen Carefully!

Everything We Touch,
Is Teaching Us Shunyata;
Form And Emptiness.

Everything We Feel,
Like Waves And Tides Of Oceans;
Web And Ebb And Flow; Knowing That Is So,
Brings Us Immediate Calm;

I Must Learn To Breathe.

And Co-Inter-Dependence;
Is The Wheel Of Life,
Is The Life-Cycle,
Is The Realm Of Men,
Is What Drives The World;

This- If Understood,
Will Alight The Darkness Within;
Displaying Rainbows!

TellingTalisman: Wherever You Go; There You Are!

Sacred serpents coiled around their clutches of eggs yet to hatch in rock caves had the faithful attending in droves to offer their prayers. Some dubbed them ‘suckers’ while others merely found some value for astonishment and surprise. I felt both; legend of the ‘Guardians of Taras’ floated and the cliff next door with the elephantine protrusion added still more gravity to the story. Yet when I drove past that road I did not feel the need to actually go out and check out the serpents firsthand. People were still hurrying up and down the road from where the snakes lay. What am I gonna do even if I went up there? My lame thoughts came and went, and with that, I was already kilometres away from the scared premises, my son in deep slumbers and me lost in great mental numbers.

I did make a trip to Taktsang though, and found myself panting and praying at the Guru’s Holy Cave. The trip ended with a throw of the dice at the deity’s chambers. The Venerable Singye Samdrup was generous, and gave me a dice of confidence to carry and call on during the coming days that I was gonna travel. The day arrived and I departed Paro Airport with a heavy heart, a sad recurring case every time I leave the kingdom I malign so much.

In-flight, fears of the future, immediate and relative, started hatching their own eggs. Had I been a good son during my yearly sojourn back home? A good brother? A good uncle? A good cousin? A good friend? A good husband? A good Bhutanese? A good Buddhist? A good person? The answers were shouting out in unison, a loud collective thunder roaring ‘No’! That didn’t feel too good, but worse still were my irrational worries about stuff like how would I get to the Royal Embassy of Bhutan? In an auto-rickshaw or an ambassador car? Would the embassy guest house ensure me a room? What if they didn’t really get my half baked reservation? And how would I spend the 48 hours I had at my disposal? Wouldn’t the heat and the pollution be too discomforting? How would my son react to Delhi’s surroundings? Would chicken be safe enough to eat? It was a nice comfortable flight to Delhi.

The first hurdle of finding transportation to the embassy was solved by a chance encounter with an acquaintance I barely knew; she was travelling westwards and had a pickup arranged for her by the embassy. We could join her, ‘Fantastic’ I said and started worrying about the rest of the fears left on my list. The immediate one being, ‘Now that transportation has been solved, what about the accommodation? Arriving at the embassy, I was pleasantly surprised to find out they had indeed had a reservation in my name, though they had had to downgrade me from the ‘suite’ to the ‘deluxe’ room. The going rate was Rs. 2000 a night for two occupants, since I was with a minor, I only had to make do with a 1000. Thankful and surprised, we checked in. I showered while my boy watched Mahabharata cartoons. To double check that it was really my name the room was booked under, I walked over to the reception and asked the man behind if there were any complications with my reservation, ‘No complications’, he replied. ‘No complications?’ I ventured again, totally surprised, ‘No complications’, he shot back, a wee bit amused and cheesed.

The rest of the day passed by like a snail on a sprint, a turtle on the run. The hot and humid Delhi midday heat kept us off the streets, and the deluxe room was really a living room in disguise, nice fat couches and two good beds, with a Flatron T.V to keep us entertained. The kitchen was good, the chicken even more delicious. ‘Not sick, are they’ I asked the reception man, ‘Not at all’, says he and soon enough me and my boy are chomping chicken curries. That done, my fears and their associated worries came back like good old friends. How do we spend coming days? How come the tickets say I am leaving two days later than scheduled? What do I do once I get back to my adopted working country? How do I cope with this, and with that? Night came and I couldn’t wait to get moving, two more days seemed like forever. So many hours to kill! Next day arrives and I’m still caught up trying to figure out how best this day will pass. I look at the tickets and there is still another good 24 hours before we get going to the airport. Another lethargic day trickles by and it’s sheer boredom. Finally dusk gathers, the birds go quiet, and my boy’s asleep as well. I sit on the couch watching football. It’s late at night, midnight, and then the T.V goes blank and zaps. I curse and head for the bed. I’m almost dozing off when it hits me. I looked at the wrong dates! Our flight departs tonight at 1:50 in the morning and it’s already 12:30! There is pandemonium as I sit up in horror and start throwing everything into the bags, look for the reception man, find him snoring, wake him up, tell him to prepare the bills and call a cab. He can’t find the food bills, so I pay him for the room and 500 for whatever we ate, wake up my crying son, get into a Maruti van, and head for the airport with ‘Baza Guru’ on my lips.

It’s a real tussle trying to get a sleeping five year old, a trolley to roll and documents to show with just two hands. We get to our airline and find a long queue of passengers and baggage. An eternity descends when I’m at the counter. The airline man takes another eternity before he declares, ‘No seats’!

Three hours and three thousand mental clogs later, we are boarding Turkish Airlines to Istanbul on an empty economy row. An hour later in Istanbul, we are boarding Austrian Arrows business class to Vienna. In Vienna, we are compensated with a neat 1200 Euros for the inconvenience caused and arrive in Amsterdam, in peace and in one piece.

I just had to think of the Venerable Singye Samdrup, and knew there was something more to deities and dices, serpents and eggs.

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!


Dear M,

You Are Nine Today!
My Dearest Mipham,
A Jolly-Good-Happy-Birthday!
May You Live Kindly...Happily...And May You Stay Forever Young...
And Keep Your Sketching Heart,
Even If The Paint Should Peel Off;
Keep Sketching Your Art!

Traveling Nowhere;
I Was So Much Older Then;
I'm Younger Than That Now.
Having Said My Bit;
Thank You For The Memories...
Those I'll Cherish,
Bite In And Relish;
When I Board Amnesia!

This Constant Drumming,
That Would Have You Explaining;
Until You Explode!

Throw Away That Tie!
Unbuckle And Abandon Those Attachments!
And Just Try And Be...
I'm Telling You,
There Is Nothing Left To Tell;
Or Communicate!

The Meaning Of What?
When From Dusk Till Dawn You Breathe;
And Forget You Live!

Everything Is Quiet,
A Lone Crow Now Caws Far Away;
My Mind Makes More Noise!

Our Lives Miracles,
See The Surroundings Around?
Here Is All We Have.

Do Not Cuss The Cub,
It Could Become A Tiger;
Old Mongol Saying...

The Story Of Genghis,
While He Was Still Temudjin;
Lord Of The Steppes...

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


“The internet is a global network of interconnected computers, enabling users to share information along multiple channels.” Okay. Clear enough. Global, network, interconnected, information, multiple channels all say one thing. That this thing really is frighteningly connected! But what does it do for common folks like me and you? Broadly put, it brings out miraculous results to a key word or two typed into search engines such as Google, Yahoo and the rest.

It is the ‘information highway’ where you have abundance license to roam.

To me, the internet is, for all intents and purposes, one of the crowning symbols of man’s quest and thirst for knowledge. It took eons for us to get here. The journey continues and that is perhaps more notable rather than some utopian destination or deliverance.

\You see, there is no such thing as a ‘climax’!

Man goes on inventing, evolving, destroying, rebuilding et al. it is what he does and strangely enough, what he should not do and yet he goes on; doing it pretty darn well!

The internet is man himself and man in turn, has become the internet. Our curiosity knows no bounds; our desires never cease; our imagination is vast and our creativity is littered with blood, guts and glory.
In the end, our lack of contentment becomes our inevitable doom. That pretty much takes out the above equations- for if man should possess all of these and yet lack a basic sense of satisfaction and contentment, of what use is all of the arts and crafts that he has painstakingly molded?

The world is beautiful. Look around you- everything is perfect! The mountains, deserts, oceans, forests and all the flora and fauna you can find; all the elements that make these possible and marvelous.
But we are talking about the internet. Well, we have to rewind the archives and take a metaphorical journey back in time.

This is many pages, pens, pencils and white chalks back. This was also many letters, notes, drawings and sketches back. This was when correspondence took place by hand, stamps, envelopes and the mailman’s back. This was when knowledge passed down through oral stories and tales narrated by grandparents’ at dusk, around a hearth, out on cool open meadows and walkabouts around the stupas. This was when knowledge was scarce but sacred; when experiences bequeath wisdom; when students worshipped their teachers and teachers lived the principles they espoused.

The knowledge was scarce but sufficient, retaining a reality of things that were real, comprehensible and pragmatic. People knew enough about how they had to live, whether it was with the forests around them or the rivers and streams and the animals that lived there. They shared with the land around them an intimacy seldom gained nowadays- that intimacy brought them knowledge; about the world and all its open secrets.

This communication between man and the environment sustained. The respect was mutual. There was an innate harmony pervading the air.

In time the knowledge began to pile. It grew bigger and bigger. It had to be archived and became the storehouse of all things man was witness to- within and without.

This gradually became so sophisticated that man knew all there was to know: the open skies were conquered with planes; the oceans were pacified with ships and the land itself was carved in tune with the human desire and its many plays. Mega metropolitan cities grew; time and space itself were manipulated.

Communication had evolved from grunts, growls, gestures and signs to languages that varied as the landscapes did. The rock paintings had become feathered strokes, evolving now to touch-pad styluses’. The bark of the trees and the papyrus became liquid pages and multi-faceted gadgets.

This gave birth to a lifestyle like no other. It evolves even as we speak. This very essay is being typed on an electronic key board with a thousand different alternatives and options. The pages it displays are virtual realities, but the virtuosity is as real as anything.

Today the internet is omnipotent and omnipresent. It is, in a nutshell, what man is and what he symbolizes. It is in a way the supreme incarnation of his achievements. It is the magical portal that connects man to man and man to the world. It has revolutionized life. Today the internet is the refuge and source of all things we deem to be informative and hence, knowledgeable.

It has changed the way I live, socialize and communicate. The pros and cons of such a revolutionary tool cannot be underestimated. In many ways, it is the continuing process of man’s rather distinct method of evolution. The use of the word ‘evolution’ here should denote ‘intelligence’ and ‘knowledge’. This is good news but the trap is also set. Being clever is not necessarily smart. Being knowledgeable is not necessarily wise. Having access to knowledge is different from having innate wisdom.

So we get to this inevitable point. The crossroads beckon and the junction offers multiple directions. The sign board announces the names of the places and their distance in mathematics.

And as unexpectedly, there is a sudden air of dull stagnancy. It breathes heavily without respite. It is restless. That, today, is the hypothetical condition of man. For all of the technology we have at our disposal, our lives have not changed for the better.
We have forgotten and lost something precious. We have forgotten our roots and are busy eating the fruits of dependence. We longer possess wisdom; it has been replaced by artificial knowledge.

We have forgotten to live; the ghosts of millions slaughtered at the altar of greed, selfishness, ignorance and hatred have made us uneasy. We no longer communicate with nature; we have forgotten the language they speak. We no longer feel the land we live on; it is littered with ‘progress’.

We have forgotten the ancient stories; capitalism, consumerism and globalization have enveloped us.

That is what the internet tells me; that is what the internet represents. Perhaps there are other wholesome alternatives. The well that dries and drowns also quenches and satisfies.

Without a hint of irony, the beauty is that the internet also houses all of the lost and forgotten secrets of the natives. It is also a flowering symbol of man’s inspirational imagination and flawless creativity. The elders would have marveled at it, proudly.

The question is the same as it has always been. Where do you find the middle path? If we ventured forth with that awareness in mind, perhaps the world will never look the same again and neither will you.

Now Google that!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stormy Breeze

I hear the garbled sounds of memories; they hush me by like a gentle breeze;

The breeze is gone and fierce storms blow my wonted vaults and their assorted jeweleries.

Contradictions of various mathematical possibilities leave me flat and hung.

Notions of freedom leave me trapped and all these I sought to reveal or find during my natural born years.
The hair I play with today thins;
The knuckles I crack wrinkles;
The eyes staring me back hollows in empty delight.

Knowing me today is no more familiar than knowing me yesterday.

These woeful songs would have you beguiled and fooled.
The treachery of our minds are just the tip of the mail-berg;
For the base stays grounded in drama and the ensuing hullabaloo is all a part and parcel of our own karma.

There is nothing more left to seek;
There is nothing more left to heed.

I look at me in the pupils of my eyes!
They glisten back inundated with lingering hurtful memories of causes that have resulted in innumerable bruises.

“What did you want, My Sun?”
“Meaning, I guess”
“What kind of meaning, My Moon?”
“The kind that satisfies curiosity, restlessness, boredom, yearning, desire, vanity and emptiness I guess”
“And where did you suppose you’d find them, My Celestial Star?”
“In books, in knowledge, in history, in travels and in love”
“And did you, My Dear Immortal?”
“I thought I did. In the beginning there was curiosity, then there was longing and finally there was the experience”
“And you found the meaning, My Dear Seeker?”
“Are you still looking for it, My Fearless Warrior?”
“And why not? My Wealthy Landlord?”
“Because it’s everywhere”
“And did that insight help, My Liege?”
“No. It did not”
“Why not, My Master?”

Because my questions were wrong;
Because the basis of my wandering itself was conceived in ignorance:
Because my yearning for love was fueled by hatred:
Because my very accumulation of knowledge was founded on brittle sticks of ignorance.

I had not known how to love because I had never abandoned the selfishness I carried with such smugness.

I read the sutras and it gave me pride;
I read the classics and they gave me knowledge;
I traveled far and wide and that gave me mileage;
I made good company with females and that left me inflated;
I lived because I needed to do all of that again;
And that made me sad.

I wasn’t alone, I was lonely.
You see, love I echoed aplenty and recognized none;

Today I reap the fruits of my indolence;
Today I taste the bitterness of my nectar;
Today wisdom peeps and my knowledge shudders;
Today truth beckons and I freeze;
Today I’m learning to live with unease.

"Well. Now You Know, My Son, Now You Know!"

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Briefness Called Life...

"Do What You Want To, But Do That With Compassion; Minus Aggression...
Yesterday Was Good, Today So Many Birds Flew; Here Is Tomorrow...
When I Saw Your Face, I Panicked And Got No Rest; I Realize Time Flies..."

I Panicked Because I Saw How Fast You Had Grown!Now I Must See You!

"I'm Sorry Miff, This Summer I Could Not Fly; But Seasons Will Come, And Together We Shall Overcome...
Be Happy Mipham, Everything Around You Lives; And You Should Too!"
Once I Was a Boy! Now I Have Become a Man; But I'm Still You!
I'm Mufasa! Scarface Comes And Takes Me Out; But Simba Rules Again!"

Dear Mipham...I come into the office the other day and open my laptop. I go to my mailbox and find a link from my bestest-female-friend Rinzy who's married to Steve (and we get along well- especially after i saw what a doma-chewer he was!).

Kuentsen is also like you...in the sense that his Mother is Bhutanese and his Father is American, just like me being Bhutanese and your mother being Dutch. It is nothing unusual. Lot of people, especially after the turn of the century (when the 1900s started), began inter-marrying. It was possible because modes of travel had changed; instead of horse-drawn carriages there were railways...trains. The railways were an invention as science was shaping in a very revolutionary way the way people would live. It was science that gave birth to all the technology we now have. It continues on. And science is basically the curiosity of man to make his imaginations come alive...come true...like the Wright Brothers' passion for flying, Newton's observation of nature, Darwin's curiosity of the origins of mankind: Like where did we come from? What are we here for?
There were men through-out history who all felt the thirst, or the lack of it, as to "Why are we here?" and "What is the meaning of life?" Questions like these drove men and women like Gautama Siddhartha, who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One. He was born a prince but he was not happy. This made him question the questions of life. "Why do we feel unhappy? What is sorrow, sadness and death" and many more questions.

He left his palace one quiet night and went to the forests of North-Eastern India. He spent time in jungles, open plains, caves, mountains and practiced with sages, men who had renounced the ordinary world to seek their own answers.

Learning from anybody who could teach him and learning by practice, Siddhartha began to understand who he was. What the world was. Why he felt unhappy. Why we die and most importantly, he found a way to live life minus the strife. He taught wherever he went. Slept wherever darkness fell and ate whatever was offered to him by villagers.

In time he died. But he left behind teachings that are still practiced today. In Bhutan Buddhism is the main religion and a lot of our traditions- customs are influenced by Buddhism, named after the Buddha.

There were others too, like Jesus of Nazareth and more recently men like Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa. Men and women of different races and different backgrounds, nationalities...They all had one thing in common, the insight to see the world around them and connect what looks like different parts or different things.

Einstein discovered or rather founded the "theory of relativity" that everything is connected, scientifically. Gandhi taught "Ahimsa" or non-violence- not to hurt others but standing up for your rights. Mother Theresa gave love and took care of the poorest of the poor. She lived in Calcutta in India her whole life; working and devoting all her time to the poor.

Their curiosities of life took them onto these paths. Mandela is a black South African man. By black people mean to say people who are dark skinned, like the kids you see in your class in Holland. He fought for equal racial justice and equal rights. You see, his country was for a long time occupied by white people; from Europe and elsewhere who had all come there to Africa a long time ago and settled down for generations.

The South African white people did not give equal rights to the blacks. So Mandela fought against that discrimination and was jailed, for 20 years. Yet he never gave up. This was his inner-belief. he did not hate white people, he wanted them to treat his people as equals. He was released from prison and became the first black President of his country.
Now at least whites and blacks have equal rights.

Men of science with vast imaginations invented a lot things good and bad. Things by themselves are neither good nor bad but the way we use them makes them so.

So trains were built, along with ships and aeroplanes and automobiles. Factories were built and long distances became short. People could fly from Amsterdam to New York in less than 10 hours.

So more and more people began emigrating to other countries. Black people from Africa were brought to America as slaves. Indians journeyed to all the corners of the earth along with the Chinese. Finally to the point where in one country you could see people of different racial origins.

But it took time to get them to trust each other and time did heal a lot of racial wounds. Today there is a black American president- his name is Barack Husain Obama. His father was Kenyan and his mother a white American. He went to school in Indonesia and in Hawaii.

More and more people today marry each other from different backgrounds. Personally I like it. I think its the best solution to the racial-divide. You will grow up and will have to explain to people that you are half-Bhutanese and half-Dutch, with sprinklings of German and British roots and some Tibetan too!
But in the end you are a human being first and foremost like any other human being- deserving of mutual respect and equal rights regardless of the color of your skin.
This is your natural physical legacy and you can be a bridge between people who do not understand people of other race and culture.

This makes you, Mipham, an Indigo-Child- makes Kuentsen an Indigo-Child...and it is said and i believe it; that the Indigo-Children will intuitively understand the world much better than our generation and the generations before us did: That somethings in life are simple to practice. That one cannot act superior or treat someone else as an inferior because they are yellow, red, black or white.

That your generation will understand that to kill is wrong; to go to war is wrong; to take what is not yours is wrong. That kindness is better. That tolerance is good. That compassion is priceless. That understanding is an art; That Life is All About Living It Fully- That The More You Love, The Bigger Your Heart and Your Mind Becomes.
That In the End, We all Bleed Red and Cry the Same Tears...That We are ONE with Everything in this Wonderful Place Called Earth and this Beautiful Briefness Called LIFE!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Its my fifth day in Phuentsholing and i must admit i'm beginning to adapt to the heat, the dust and the early shutdown. You see, everything here pretty much closes shop after nine in the evening. Round about ten, the only thing you can do is go for a quiet stroll in the empty streets and enjoy the night time breeze. The other option is to go back to your hotel room and watch some TV.

For me the highlights are the showers. I've never showered so much! Get up in the morning and get a shower. Come back in the afternoons for a little siesta and get a shower. Be done for the day and come back to the room and hit the shower.
The showers are divine! I've never felt this clean! You see, Thimphu is up in the mountains. Though the sun's strokes are strong and summers can be scorching the water's chill is unexpected. Get a cold shower in Thimphu and you're likely to go all goose!

But i didn't wanna talk about refreshing showers and cold-goose-chills. I wanted to talk about the unknown quantity of things and their mystique. This comes to my mind from a book i read...or was it a movie? I'm not certain whence it came but the notion was this: Why do we need to know everything? Why can't we just appreciate phenomena as they are and as they appear rather than cutting them up in neat little slices and portions?

My son used to ask me a lot of questions as kids do: What happens when you die? Why does the sun shine? What are those sparkling stars? What is the sky? What are animals? How does a plane fly? Why is the earth round and why don't we fall off the face of the earth if indeed it is round!
That's just a sampling. There are other questions of a more emotional nature: Why do people get sad? Why are they lonely? Where did we come from? Why do we get angry? And the lot!

You try and answer as much of the queries as you possibly can. But it can be exasperating! Yet there's this social-feeling that your child's queries should all be answered; in the best scientific way possible. We grow up and find out we still have that many more questions left unanswered! Why are we here? What's our purpose? What's the meaning of life? The list is listless!

I saw this movie called "Masked & Anonymous." Its got Bob Dylan playing a fictional character called Jack Fate. He's a has-been rock and roller who gets called for this one big gig the new government's P.R people are planning to usher in- a new dawn of governance (Done rather satirically by a stylish Mickey Rourke).

Jack's bailed out of jail for the gig. He sets on his journey. Its a public bus and the country is a fictional third-world nation that could be anywhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America but is a disguised portrayal of the USA. But here its distinctively somewhere in Latin America. Jack rides the bus and through his music, his eyes, ears and his voice-overs; we see and hear Bob Dylan. Bob talking politics. Bob talking socialism. Bob talking revolution. Bob talking life and the mystery of things that are mysterious.

Yet Bob does all of that quietly behind the scenes. You hardly see him mutter dialogues. He just gives one-liners that cut through the polite bullshit and gets straight to the point.

Against this bleak backdrop are a lot of characters: The Radio Preacher (a well-disguised Ed Harris?)reminds his audience that "The earth was here long before these gods were." When there's pressure from the gig's organizers, Bobby Cupid (a nice turn by Luke Wilson), a Jack Fate roadie says, "Screw this so-called concert, Jack. These cats are just addicted to lights and sound. Let's go someplace where we can see the earth and sky."

Then there's the Animal Wrangler (Done with casual perfection by a gruff Val Kilmer).Speaking about animals, he tells Jack that "They have no time to bother with success or getting rich. They have no fantasies of glory. They don't borrow money to buy things that decrease in value while they own it. See, they're beautiful 'cause they just are. They do what they do. A lion don't try to be a tiger. A rabbit don't do an impression of a monkey. They don't try to be what they're not. Unlike us. Us human beings....These animals, they were here first. They roamed freely, each one with its own identity and place. Animals should be cherished. They bring joy to the world."

He sermonizes, "You know who's destroying the earth? Not the animals. The tiger, the lion, the cheetah, the snake, the monkey, the baboon, the giraffe, the bear, the panther, the dog, fish, the birds, all perfect in their original forms. Then man came in. Who created him and for what purpose? Still a mystery. Why is he here? A mystery. He's a trespasser. Doesn't know his place...A spoiler, an agitator, stirs up trouble wherever he goes. The zoo, the aquarium, prisons for animals...I avoid looking at human beings. They disgust me so much with their atom bombs and blow dryers and automobiles. They build hospitals as shrines to the diseases they create. Human beings are alone with their secrets. Masked and Anonymous. No one truly knows them...The only righteous human beings in my book are the children and the elderly."

Late on in the film, you hear Jack give his take on the human being; that wholeness and meaning are within each person's reach: "If I know nothing else, I know at least one thing is true: that the sacred is in the ordinary, the common things in life. They tell you that everything is nonsense, that the laws of nature are nonsense, gravity is nonsense, relationships don't exist, jobs don't exist. Everything is up for grabs and there's no cause of anything. That's what they'd like you to believe."

No one is inherently evil is the other theme; rather, each individual struggles with circumstances somewhat beyond their personal control.Even the henchmen and armed guards of the military state have taken those roles because they need the job!

As a result, nearly every character, at one point or another, has something profound and true to say about life. Here's another typical exchange:

Tom Friend (a journo done with aplomb by Jeff Bridges): "What's bugging me? The absurdity of a lifetime of futile labor. That's what's bugging me. Condemned to some pointless task. I'm trying to track down some guy and ask him the meaning of life...Life itself is the meaning of life."
Pagan Lace (a surprise appearance by Penelope Cruz): "Your problem is you're looking at the bug on your windshield, Tom. If you keep looking at it you're going to miss the scenery and have an accident. You gotta look through the windshield, not at it."

Instead of seeing people as "good guys" and "bad guys", the movie suggests that we are all fallible beings trying to cope with things unknown and unknown...from hostile environments to tragic circumstances. Uncle Sweetheart, played by a larger- than-life whiskey swigging John Goodman tells Jack:

"Look Jack, I'm doing my best. Gimme a break. I'm only human."
Jack goes, "I know. It ain't easy being human."

Awakening compassion, too, is the acknowledgment that suffering (or at least pain or loss) is in some sense an existential condition and that we don't "deserve" it- it just is. In another exchange, the newly-freed Jack Fate muses with a straight face, on the nature of loss:

Prospero (?): "Two eagles just killed a pregnant rabbit."
Jack Fate: "Rabbit must have done something."

Both Uncle Sweetheart and Bobby Cupid warn that "The more you know, the more you'll suffer," and yet the movie does say be ignorant for that is bliss but rather that one must be conscious of reality- that no matter how painful it might get, it is all around us. Happiness too is not a guarantee and it definitely cannot be bought or grasped. As Jack reflects in a voice-over, "Some of us pursue perfection and virtue, and if we're lucky we catch up to it but happiness can't be pursued. It either comes to you or it don't. You can always say, if only this, or if only that, but 'if only' is a state of mind we get into when we feel deprived."

The movie ends in violence, mayhem and chaotic order. The rich soundtrack of Bob's many songs come to life in various guises. A rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind" by a six-year old leaves us breathless. The beauty just is.

And in a final flourish, Bob as Jack intones, "Things fall apart, especially the neat order of rules and laws. The way we look at the world is the way we rally are. Seen from a fair garden everything looks cheerful, climb to a higher plateau and you'll see plunder and murder. Truth and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago."

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!


Dear Mipham....I'm sorry we won't be able to meet this summer. I hope you have fun nonetheless...i'm certain there are many more summers for us in store, with a bit of Fall, Winter and Spring. I look at your photographs on my laptop...photographs that are archived as the memories are. They take me places. I see you as a little baby; bald with a hint of hair. I used to love that look! You had this little patch of brown-matted-blotch right on top of your forehead.

I look at you playing with toys you had no idea were toys. Then these archived memories flung open and i remember moments and incidents. One time we were in the bathroom in Thimphu. You were barely a year old. You'd lie on the bed biting and licking your fingers and toes...if you didn't have anything else in your hands.
I used to be bowled over by the sheer dexterity and flexibility of your limbs! If they held a Baby-Olympics; i'm sure it'd be quite a sight! Now i understand why babies are so flexible. Their bones are still soft. I've seen many babies...all your brothers and sisters were once babies and they'd flummox me every time with their gymnastics!

I guess i ain't the smartest guy around...but somethings are better left mysterious and unknown.

We were in the bathroom and i put you in this good-old Bhutanese tubs...more of an over-sized bucket rather than a tub. The water was warm (i used to dip in my fingers to gauge the temperature until your mother told me that the elbow was more accurate!).

So i dipped in my elbow. It was warmer than when i dipped in my fingers! I set the warmth to bearable and dipped you in...toes first...then on your little buttocks! You played with the water and a couple of toys.

I sat on the edge of the actual bath-tub...watching you watch me...watching you play. Then something strange happened. I looked at you and sort of said sorry in a quiet way for the incident where i left you on your rolling-chair and you rolled right over! It was winter and the thermal-heater was on. The rods are usually pretty hot. You'd rolled over and your head was stuck on the heater-plates. You screamed so loud i was there in seconds. But you'd been a little burnt on the head.

So i looked at you and sort of apologized. What you did next raised the hairs on my back! You looked right back at me: straight into my eyes. Our eyes were locked for what felt like an eternity. You seemed to understand the look on my face...the sorry countenance...and you seemed to be saying "Its okay Jurmi, its okay. I'm fine and i know you are sorry."

Our eyes still locked, you then broke into this beautiful smile...it was so overwhelming an experience! I could not keep looking at you...i sort of broke the spell...i looked away from you and made a loud noise and broke into a stupid smile.
What that moment did was tell me the fact that babies might do a lot of baby talk but your souls are already wise and old. You already feel and know instinctively who you are and who we are.

I never look at babies the same way. The cloth you wear might be young but your souls are already wise and old.

Right now i'm in a town called Phuentsholing. It's where i grew up. Its where most of my boy-hood memories are. Its situated in the south of Bhutan and is known as the gateway to Bhutan (because there is a big traditional Bhutanese gate that separates Bhutan from Jaigaon in West Bengal, India.

Phuentsholing is much warmer than Thimphu or Paro. Its a tropical place down in the foothills and the Indian plains. Here the sunsets are stunning- a glowing bathing orange. I walk around and i find the town very small. When i was boy i thought this town was the largest place in the world. I walk around and recognize so many things. Time has brought about change but i can still picture the way the streets, houses, buildings used to be. My old school is now a ware-house of sorts. Yet i see the little children that used to run about the ground kicking a ball.

I go to our old neighborhood and find it like the shire. So small! None of the people who used to live here live here anymore. They have all moved on. Some of them have resettled in other towns and cities. Others have died. I see the old cottage that was our home. It looks very small. I wonder how Memey Sherab and Angay Deki managed to keep us all clothed, fed and educated...and there were a lot of us!

The mango tree that used to give us so many delicious treats looks old and abandoned. The office Memey Sherab worked in looks dilapidated. The betel trees are gone. Everything looks that much more smaller and tinier. But it doesn't make me sad. It makes me see how beautiful our time was when we were growing up here. It makes me see that fact that everything is relative in the end. I thought we lived in a mansion and that's how it felt. I thought Phuentsholing was the biggest town in the world and that's how it felt. I thought the mango tree was a delicious plant that gave us sweet fruits and that's how it was.

I thought i was the happiest kid in the world and that's how i felt. I hope that you too see and feel the beauty and the large-ness of things.The apartment we lived in, the zoos we used to visit, the bathroom you bathed in and the hundred other little things we did together.

If you coiled your little finger or looked at the sky through the eye of a blade of grass; it'd would be big enough to fit and fill in the whole-big-blue sky!
Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mipham In Bhutan: Part I

What follows is an account of a trip my son Mipham and I made in the summer of 2004 to Bhutan, the thunder dragon kingdom that lies nestled in quiet serendipity in the protective bastions of the great easternHimalayas.

We are in our little apartment in westernAmsterdam, its Mipham’s last night before we board the 11hr flight toBangkok enroute to Paro, the somewhat quiet international airport of the somewhat quietKingdom of Bhutan. Mipham’s somewhat excited by the unusual routine of his parents packing in a lot of things in a lot of bags and suitcases, he senses we are about to go somewhere and has a vague idea about it, I quietly suspect. The presence of his friend Ward makes the atmosphere all the more conducive for some horsing around. His parents have got to organize the mess.

I’ve been living in Amsterdam since 2001. This is our annual visit or rather a pilgrimage as I like to think of it, to Bhutan and indeed a special one as Mipham is now nearly four years old and I cannot wait to see what happens next; I look forward to the exchanges to come between him and his extended family up in the Himalayas.

In a way this journey is going to have a deeper significance than the ones undertaken before. Mipham has been in Bhutan but only as an infant, and though he has made a lot of spiritual trips along with his grandparents, cousins and relatives, and especially so with his grandmother Angay Deki, this one is going to be more important because he is a little older now, I feel. Angay Deki thinks this should be his spiritual and cultural initiation into the Bhutanese way of life. I couldn’t agree more, irrespective of the outcome, I get an intuitive feeling that memories like these might serve him better in the months and years to come, as he gets older and more inquisitive perhaps?

The flight was a long and tiring affair but the night over in Bangkok has lessened the time lapses and calmed those sore jetlags. The heat here is unbearable. I can’t wait to get to the airport, check in and be on our way. Finally we are at the airport. This is the moment of truth, boarding the Royal Bhutan Airlines aka Druk Air to finally fly home.

Mipham is excited, he knows he’s going somewhere where the faces are going to be familiar, but how familiar and what kind of an interaction he will have is another question. The last time he was here was a year ago and a young mind is unpredictable and well, susceptible. I’d like him to integrate, soak in the local culture and cuisine if possible and have him experience a bit of everything that is Bhutanese so that one day these journeys and their imprints might come back to him as pleasant memories and reminders of what is truly a unique cultural heritage so rare in these fast paced times we live in. Having said that I’m reminded now and again by my own parents to become more Bhutanese, which is a fine line to being a well-minded Buddhist, a feat easier proclaimed than practiced.

The flight to Paro via Kolkota, India, is pleasant as always. Funny thing about flying in an airline with a monopoly is that you know pretty much everybody. The pilots, the stewards and air hostesses and even your co-passengers! Perhaps it’s a fair reflection of the country’s inherent smallness of things and hence the intimacy and friendliness of the Bhutanese as a people, I feel. Everyone is nice and polite; there is an air of composed relaxedness and calm abiding. Maybe a hint of literally “coming back home” is not that far off the line!

The excitement now hangs thick in the air as the plane descends within sight of the beautiful snow capped mountains and green hills of Bhutan, and of Paro valley, where my father was born and where still lives (at the time of writing. He died a couple of years back) in a village called Hungrel. Getting out of the plane after touchdown and inhaling the fresh mountain air with its quiet and serene atmosphere always feels like you’re experiencing it for the first time.

I never tire of it, perhaps there is added gravity to the saying, ‘home is where the heart is’.

After clearance at Customs, Mipham is already on his way through the exit gates, where he surprisingly or perhaps not, has caught sight of his cousins (who are all in the age group of 2-11- though they are considerably older now) peeking through the huge transparent glass windows and boy is he happy to see them! A huge bunch has come to greet us, my father, my elder brother, my younger sister and their kids. Mipham recognizes them and is at ease with them. It makes me feel happy and relieved. He has not forgotten either their faces or their names!

The drive from the airport to my parent’s farm house is a good 15-20minutes away. The lone road winding its way through the fertile paddy fields of rice and apple orchards, past the Pa Chhu (river) and onto a two-street town that is reminiscent of a Hollywood western with its lines of shops and stores selling everything from liquor, betel nuts, dried hard cheese cubes to Lays potato chips and Cadbury’s chocolate bars.

A shop in Bhutan is a bit like a super-shrunk departmental store in the west, hence all shop boards carry the ubiquitous ‘grocery cum bar cum restaurant’. Paro is one of the bigger towns and valleys in Bhutan. It’s famous for its own unique variety of red rice and dried pork strips. It also houses the National Museum and one of the King’s pictorial palaces (not that he owns them in any personal way; its usage is rather of a more diplomatic nature).

The Rinpung Dzong (traditional fortress) is the administrative and monastic centre. It’s a beautifully constructed symmetrical fortress overlooking the river and the valley. My own parents’ house is a typical traditional Bhutanese farm house, as they are in rural Bhutan. Bhutanese farm houses are very decorative and surprisingly big. Built & painted in traditional styles, the house is where the family’s home is built, both figuratively and literally. The house can look very big from the outside but it is rather unexpectedly simple inside. Farm houses are normally 2-3 stories high. The ground floor is often used as cattle shed (now they live apart in their own separate sheds) the top floor is normally used for drying hay/shredded beef/pork/dried chillis or as storage and the middle storey houses’ the family’s rooms.

The best room in the house is always kept and honored as a family shrine or alter chamber with statues of the Buddhas, great realized teachers of the past and the present. A visit to a farmhouse can be interesting to see how Bhutanese rural folks live. Interestingly the house is located on a ridge overlooking most of Paro. The last part of the road ends on a curve right at the entrance to the national museum and takes a steep turn up about seven curves as it ascends the house on the hill.

Mipham calls his grandmother Angay Deki (an affectionate Bhutanese term for a grandmother), his grandfather Memay Sherab and the entire entourage of cousins, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews are all out to greet us. This is the traditional way and the family way. Mipham recognizes Angay Deki and is visibly delighted to see everyone giving him all the attention. He kisses Angay Deki and seems at home, I’m happy so far the initiation is going according to plan. I can’t help thinking how spacious and free Mipham must feel after the congestion of living in a small apartment.

The cows and dogs are also out strolling about to see what the fuss is about.

Coming home to Paro and gathering there has always been a special experience for family members. Many of the family relatives and children present right now will have to go back to their respective schools, jobs and to other districts around the country. So the togetherness is all the more sweet as they are all aware of obligations around the corner. But for now, the moment is all that counts and Mipham being here with his extended family is the occasion and the celebration.

Cakes and pastries from the Swiss bakery (a well known local bakery founded by, well, the name says it!) are usually brought along by my brother and sisters from Thimphu. It’s a good trade, Mipham’s grandparents like the sweet western pastries while his own father, uncles and aunts love and relish the home cooked meals of Angay Deki and Memay Sherab. Meals are mostly made up of big rice helpings that come in wooden bowl-plates accompanied by beef or pork curries and chilli cheese specialties.

It’s normally washed down with buttered salt tea or yoghurt.

There is a Japanese grant all-purpose 4-wheel tractor and the kids love hanging about in the trailer. They actually have an impromptu disco-session when my sister Rinche blasts her Bollywood disco numbers. They all dance in the trailer.

The visit to the family alter room/chamber is customary. Every Bhutanese home has one. One pays respect and homage to the gods, deities and Buddhas for everything. A safe trip back home, continuing good health and luck, and mostly to preserve a way of life that demands introspection.

Not a bad way to check in on your mental and moral journeys!

The day has been a delightfully eventful one, but now that the excitement of seeing and meeting everyone has been done, everyone is a bit tired. Mipham is literally taking a bathing from his aunt Rinche, who duly shubs him in the plastic tub with his cousin and gives him a real scrub! We don’t bathe him so, owing to his stiff resistance and intense dislike for soap and shampoo, especially on his hair! And here he is letting himself be all shampooed, soaped and scrubbed! Maybe it’s the occasion; anyhow, my sister Rinche has a just reputation for having kids obey her somehow. Anyway Mipham gets the bath of his life as he gets drubbed in a plastic bucket- a la Bhutanese style (where bathing is physical cleansing of the body rather than some luxurious dip).

Meanwhile the kitchen is as busy as always. Kitchens are the centre focal point of all activity in most farm houses. Tonight the activities are plenty and the atmosphere hectic thanks to our arrival. Indian style bread (roti) is being doughed, flattened and baked. Kids come and go, seeking each other and newer adventures. Grown ups do the talking. Conversations are just about everything. How have things been going with Mipham and us in Amsterdam? How is life there as compared to here? What’s been going on in the world? Who’s got a promotion in the civil service? Who’s getting married? Who’s given birth? Who’s dead, and who’s not? It covers a great deal of subjects; family, society, culture, modernism, capitalism, consumerism, spiritualism etc.

This is Mipham’s first morning after, his first wake up call in Paro. He’s been up early with his cousins, half the time no one’s aware where exactly the kids have slept, could have been with Memay Sherab, Angay Deki or uncle Sonam, no one knows! Anyhow their day has begun and so has Mipham’s. They have decided to raid my beauty sleep and are all charging me about as I try to hold onto a hopeless slumber.

Angay Deki has made a lot of arrangements and plans for Mipham to experience as much of the spiritual culture as possible during his stay. She believes he should not be denied the Bhutanese and Buddhist cultural and traditional way of life. Well, if Buddhism is too early for him to start contemplating, the picnics and the ponies he’d definitely enjoy and have no problems with.

So one day the family decides to pay a visit to Kychu Lhakhang (Monastery), one of the most revered temples in the kingdom and the oldest (circa 7th century AD). The day is an auspicious one. Monks are inside the main altar chanting prayers and mantras. Local folks and visitors from outside the valley have come to pay homage, garner good karma and offer butter lamps, prostrations and circumambulations.

Cameras are strictly forbidden inside the temple premises, a government policy introduced to help preserve the holy premises and practices from any unwonted external interference. The prayers wheels along the temple’s walls are spun for good karma. They provide good walking meditation and can be seen in all aspects of daily life. Spun in a hand made hand held fashion, visible in and outside shops, at homes and in public parks. At the temple’s entrance is an elderly Gomchhen or lay Dharma practitioner.

Mipham exchanges a moment with him, there are other older devotees too, spinning their hand held prayer wheels and chanting the sacred mantras. Younger visitors and locals alike circumambulate the temple, spinning the built-in prayer wheels with a prayer on their lips and warmth in their eyes as they all go around and around in a clockwise direction, the traditional Buddhist custom.

Back home Memay Sherab has three mini-prayer wheels built at a vantage point at the main entrance to the house. As he and Angay Deki keep guard or just sit by the worn out chair there, they spin these prayer wheels in some deep spiritual thought or meditation. Daily life is infused now and then by some religious practice. Life is an ongoing religious/spiritual practice, so they keep telling me and nag me on to quit smoking cigarettes and purify myself.

A few days on, we take Mipham down to a cave that cuts into the base of the Dzong. Legend has it that a wandering Indian yogi some centuries ago came by here and decided to take up residence here. It has been his home and the temple today is monument to his spiritual accomplishment. The temple is known as Jawang Ngey, or the “Holy Ground.”

The Jawang Ngey also represents the traditional local village deity, someone who sees over the more practical and temporal affairs of life with the power to affect and enable change. People come and go on a daily basis. Students worried about their examination results seek reassurance, civil servants going abroad on a trip seek success and a safe journey, merchants planning a trade seek good luck, archers competing in a local competition pray for a steady good hand, and the list goes on and on.

Back at the farmhouse and a hot meal awaits us. Meals are eaten with everyone sitting cross legged in a sort of semi-circle with the matriarchal head of the family serving out the dish to everyone; Angay Deki being the provider in chief here. The order of service is normally from the oldest one down. Children are exempt and are served first. Mipham’s great grandmother Aiya Kuri used to be served first. She lived in this very kitchen in a small bed for about a good dozen years.

Mipham had the good fortune to see her and be held by her as the “Chilingpa” (the Cute Foreigner, as she’d call him) when she was still alive. She passed away at the ripe old age of 98. Her absence is always felt around the kitchen, yet that somehow makes her joyfully present.

It’s the weekend and after a nice midday meal there’s nothing better then a game of “Marriage”. An intricate game of cards that has my family captivated and the country addicted. Everybody’s playing it. The family plays for small change and for fun. It’s a relaxing way to idle away the afternoon hours. Traditional betel leaves with betel nut and lime known as “Doma” is duly passed around. It’s mildly intoxicating and seriously habit forming. Legend has it that the Bhutanese used to cannibalize before the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century AD. It was then that the great Guru Padmasambhava came down here from Tibet and spread forth the Dharma, converted the cannibals into Buddhists and presented the natives with the betel nut as an alternative to cannibalism. The betel leaf is supposed to represent the human skin, the betel nut the human bone and the lime representing blood. Hence we all chew the doma and spit out blood red saliva.

I wonder if it is indeed a good replacement!

One day Angay Deki takes Mipham, his cousins Kitso and Tobden (my elder sister Tashi’s children), me and my younger sister Rinche to the abode of Trulku Kinga, a reincarnated Tibetan Lama who’s a spiritual friend to my parents and a dharma teacher. The monastery is located atop a steep ridge at Drukgyel: Its where most of the monks live and practice who also perform most of the Buddhist ceremonies for my parents.

I’ve personally come to know many of them over the many ceremonies they have so kindly conducted on our behalf. Trulku Kinga shows us around his recently built house and talks about his journey from Tibet to India to Bhutan. He’s now a Bhutanese citizen and this monastery is his centre in Bhutan. His memories about leaving Tibet and coming here is free of any seriousness, as if that was that and this is this.

I try to nudge out the details but Trulku is more interested in talking about things here and now.

Tobden and Kitso role-play the Trulku routine. It is the Buddhist practice to offer prostrations and receive blessings from the palms of teachers. The kids are already play- practicing Buddhism in an innocent way.

Kitso really digs Mipham. They have spent many a times together whenever he’s been here on visits. Mipham and I mostly stay with my sister Tashi whenever we are in the capital city of Thimphu where she is a practicing vet with the Department of Agriculture (And now she’s with the National Bio-Diversity Center).

The days at the farmhouse unfold slowly yet steadily. The farmhouse is surrounded by an orchard with mostly apple trees; seasonal vegetables gardened by Angay Deki and other assorted fruits and vegetable plants. The farmhouse and the apple trees are a couple of years younger than I am.

In other words they were always there. Probably that provides some of the answers to the question why all of the family members find this farmhouse so stable and settled. It is the nucleus from wherein everything else flows in my own life and in the lives of mipham’s cousins now as they do through my brother, sisters, cousins and relatives without any exaggeration.

Dusk sets in and is announced by the buzzing of insects, birds chirping away to their nests of fledglings but mostly by the loud invisible cicadas. The sunny sky is replaced by crystal clear nights sparkling with distant stars that seem so close.

Here the skies seem closer somehow, and smaller than in Holland. The kids all gather in front of the television. The 1998 world cup finals in France demanded that satellite television be introduced. Fast forward four years later to the 2002 world cup finals inJapan and Korea and Bhutan had joined the cable satellite fraternity. Local cable operators in partnership with Indian companies now beam across 40 channels ranging from HBO to CNN, BBC to ESPN and dozens more regional and international channels.

They have affected how Bhutanese folks live and view the world, negatively or positively is a matter of some debate that is pretty hot in the highlands.

Mipham seems to be enjoying the enormous sudden little surprises around the orchard. The make-shift little hut (a watch out for wild animals foraying into the orchard from the forests and hills above) is a welcome playground for them. So is the hunt for insects amongst the grass.

All that walking around the orchard has exhausted the kids. Most of them are catching amidday nap.

The altar chamber is the most sacred room in the house, as it is in most traditional Bhutanese houses. This is where many Trulkus and Rinpoches (reincarnated teachers) are received and seated. This is the chamber where all the necessary Buddhist ceremonies and rituals are held and conducted (which is quite often). It also serves as the room where Angay Deki and Memay Sherab do their practices, reading the sacred scriptures, performing prostrations and sitting in meditation.

Every morning as Angay Deki rises, she washes up and fills in the seven water bowls, offerings to the Buddhas, milks the cows and brings the first cup here as an offering. The stones she uses to keep count of her prostrations. She’s reached quite a significant number and counting! Her days also conclude with a retreat into this sacred room, when she again performs her spiritual routine. The water bowls are emptied and a kettle full of fresh new water is set up for the coming morning.

Angay Deki always kept cows since we were kids. Some of the cows are of my own generation while others have passed away and to a higher realm of being I hope. They go back a long way right unto Angay Deki’s mother, Angay Kueri. Every morning she milks them with a little help from Tshering, a next of kin from Bumthang- another wide fertile valley in the central highlands of Bhutan, where Angay Deki originally comes from.

Cows contribute a lot to the family. The milk is used to churn and produce butter and cheese, the remnants usually drunk as yoghurt. They provide a lot of work too, but Angay Deki would rather do the work and have her cows then do without them. Mipham’s uncles and aunts from Thimphu use a lot of the products. Today the local dairy milk van is here to collect as much milk as possible. It’s sold for roughly about 25 Euro cents per liter.

I grew up watching this as a kid and did milk deliveries to neighbors and guests at the wireless guesthouse when my father was still a wireless-man, a post he held as joint director in service of the department of wireless, days when telephone was still non existent and amateur wireless radio the only means of communication in the kingdom.

It is quite amazing now some thirty years later seeing Mipham so engrossed in the cows being milked as I used to be.

Well, Mipham’s in the countryside, he’s in Bhutan and this is rice country, so there you go li’lle bugger, forget the rombottertjes and macaronis and get try getting used to the rice. He actually helps himself. Though sitting cross legged and making palmed rice balls are still some canals and mountains away.

We go down to the traditional wooden bridge (the gateway to Ringpung Dzong) meanining fortress on the Heap of jewels. Built during the time of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel in 1646, the great spiritual master, ruler and unifier of what is today the modern independent Kingdom of Bhutan. It is also the venue of Paro Tsechu (Festivals in honor of Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche as he’s revered in Bhutan), held once a year during spring time. In days gone by they’d lock up the huge wooden doors and stand guard in vigilance. Bhutan then was a feudal land with many warring clans known as 'Penlops' presiding over their own hamlets. The Paro Penlop led one of the more powerful clans.

He not only had to watch out for enemies from within the country but also from across the western border with Tibet.

Nowadays it’s the pedestrian entrance to the Dzong and other institutions, notably the National Institute of Education and the cave of Jawa Ngye. The bridge and the Dzong acquired some fame when Bernado Bertolucci chose the bridge and the Dzong for his opening scene in the film, “The Little Buddha”.

A little refreshment of tea and biscuits and other assorted goodies from the local market provide a welcome respite from the exhausting hike and the many other activities that goes on in a chaotic yet orderly fashion. Picnicking is a very popular activity in Bhutan, almost always done when on pilgrimages. Nothing like a good combination of hiking up to some religious spot, temple or monument and concluding it with some picnicking in the fragrance of a quiet pine shade or in open green meadows.

Located on a strategic hill overlooking Ringpung Dzong is the castle shaped Ta–Dzong or “Watchtower.” It was used as a watch tower to defend the Dzong below much as the bridge acted as a strategic gateway to the Dzong. Now that the feudal days are behind the tower has been reestablished as the National Museum of Bhutan boasting a fascinating collection of Buddhist arts, relics and religious Thankha paintings (sacred painted murals).

Mipham and his cousins are particularly thrilled with the intricate passageways and secret tunnels inside the museum’s web like structures. The section housing animal skins and other mammalian trophies are fascinating to the kids. Mipham has quite a comprehensive collection of animal toys.

The snow leopards are a big hit.

Back home at the farm house Mipham gets the Buddhist blues; trying his hand at the prayer wheels. It just might be something amusing/playful to him but in Bhutan all kids learn things the simple way, imitating what they see and hear around them, until they get older and realize the significance of such actions.

Angay Deki ties dolls on Mipham and Kitso, the Bhutanese way. This is the fashion most mothers carry around their infants as they go about their daily chores keeping house. It is a strong, safe and comfortable bind. Lot of infants can be seen slung over and deep asleep on their mothers backs blissfully unaware and peacefully asleep.

Another day we go to pay homage and respect to the village temple. It is called 'Gensakha Lhakahang' and it is situated right below where Angay Deki and Memay Sherab’s apple orchards fade away to the falling steep ridges around the bend.

All villages have a certain temple that they are traditionally associated with. The walk down the hill with the three kids all dressed in animal costumes is amusing and playful. There is little house along the way which is actually a cave where many have come and meditated.

I fondly recall my late uncle, my father’s eldest brother who lived here for many years practicing the dharma and bringing us rich walnuts and juicy pears and peaches. These days the occupant is a nun. The party has arrived in good time, for there is a ceremony of some kind being performed in the temple by monks from the Dzong below.

The children are all excited by the sound of religious instrumental intonations and vocal mantras the monks are performing and chanting out aloud. Prostrations are performed, mantras are chanted, prayers and thanks offered. This is normally followed by an offering of cash or kind to the altar. The ‘Kayngey’ or caretaker of the monastery normally collects offerings in kind which is almost always solidified oil that lights the butter lamps. Money collected is used for the monastery’s purposes. Blessed water from the altar kettle is offered, received in the palms of our folded hands and sipped.

The rest of the session is followed by tea and refreshments served to the visitors. People are very hospitable in these parts and refusal is not always an option.

Angay Deki has just finished her evening rituals. She is sitting down facing the altar and reciting her prayers, reading the scriptures. Now the kids want to re-enact the scene. They just imitate what they see. Tobden is especially fond of religious rituals; he would always imitate Buddhist mask dances and talk about becoming a monk. It’s appropriate that he should be in the altar room pretending he’s some lama, sitting as he is on the seat of spiritual pride.

Mipham is just following suit. These innocent simple acts of long held traditions are reinforcing experiences the children will carry onto their adulthood. Perhaps that is one reason why children always accompany their parents and families for pilgrimages and visits to temples, monasteries, rinpoches, trulkus and lamas. It is the very foundation that will later help them deal with the more complicated world of adulthood, life and all the existential packages that come with it, if one can call it that.