Saturday, 30 December 2017

Krishna and Kaali

Foreword: As we see the final hours of 2017, I have penned down a short reflection from the old year. I hope you will enjoy reading it. I hope to continue to share my thoughts with you into the new year. Many thanks for reading and liking my works. Happy New Year and Thank you for reading!

If Kaali was a subject to be studied in schools, she would probably be Geography. Everyone likes Geography, but very few actually study it. Talking of geography, high school graduates these days think that Hong Kong lies near Chile. Of course, that is not true. That ignorance is the result of the confusion created by our half-baked lessons and full-blown abandon of general knowledge. Today, our youth rather know the name of the Italian villa that Indian Cricketer Virat Kohli got married in or the name of Christiano Ronaldo’s girlfriend, but don’t care if Hong Kong lies east or west!

The entire neighbourhood liked Kaali. She was dark, but lovely. Her squinted and foxy eyes mesmerized everyone. However, Kaali belonged to non-one. She lived alone at the foot of the staircase with her small family. Kaali was about eight months old when a local ‘boy’ impregnated her. The boy was slightly bigger than Kaali and acted like James Bond amongst the community bitches.

Stray dogs are a menace in Bhutan – bigger the town, bigger the menace. Thimphu with nearly 29% of the country’s population has the biggest stray canine population. Dogs are everywhere. They relax and chill out during the day and bark and howl at night. Sometimes in September, a black bitch in my erstwhile neighbourhood in Changzamtog, near the Muscle Factory, gave birth to four black pups. Very cute and tiny bundles. The mother dog was lovingly addressed as ‘Kaali’, after her dark colour, by the inmates of DSB building.

Kaali earned her own keep. She knew who to wag her tail at and who to snarl at. My wife was one of her favorites as she would collect all the kitchen leftover and offer it to Kaali. Like a good dog, Kaali was grateful. I was neither her favourite nor outright adverse. However, Kaali’s favourite was Krishna, a retired banker, who lived on the ground floor of our building. Krishna is a jovial and kind person. All of us knew that Krishna would offer Kaali meat and rice every day. If, perchance, meat was not available, he would hand-mix rice with clarified homemade butter and feed Kaali.

One day, the municipal dog catchers came with a Mahindra Bolero (a small truck) to our neighbourhood. They were tasked with collecting stray dogs and taking them to the Serbithang dog pound. They started chasing, lassoing, trapping and catching the strays. Before long, it was Kaali’s turn. The catchers ran after her as if Kaali was a criminal. Her only crime, though, was that she was an animal, and even worse a stray-dog. She was lucky, though, that she was born in Buddhist Bhutan, where compassion for all sentient beings is preached, if not entirely and always practiced. Kaali ran for her life, but then she was responsible for four more lives. After a brisk sprint, she looked back, she snarled, she ran and finally she stopped.

 From the corner of her wet eyes, she saw that the catchers had collected her babies and put them in the Bolero. A mother is a mother, whether it is a human mother or the mother of stray pups. One of the catchers held one of Kaali’s pups in his hands and wagered! He knew that the love of a mom would bring her to her kids, no matter what danger lied ahead.

Kaali whined, gave a sharp bark, looked towards Krishna and with her tail at 3:15 angle walked meekly towards the Bolero. It was too much for Krishna!  He could simply not look at Kaali being trapped and taken away. He took a last look at Kaali, threw his glance at the small house he had made for Kaali and her pups out of cardboard and plywood pieces and walked into his house!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Curse of the Standards - My English Journey

I work as a Management Consultant providing consulting services to companies in Bhutan. As a consultant, my job entails researching, writing and presenting my works to my clients – in English. I am currently on one such assignment, working on advising one of the companies on streamlining their outbound transportation logistics.

Two days ago, my teammates and I presented our findings and analyses to our client company. My boys did a good job. In the evening one of them asked me, ‘Sir, how did my presentation go?’ His intent was good. As an emerging champion, he was looking for feedback, good, honest feedback! I offered my appreciation and suggested a few areas of improvement. Later, we had dinner and parted our ways for the night. That night, as I sat alone in my room at the company’s Guest House in faraway Nganglam, I got thinking.

I began to reflect on my journey of learning English.  

My tryst with English began when I was about seven years old. I was enrolled at the local school in Neoly Bhutan in lower Kindergarten. At Neoly Dalim Primary School, I started learning English together with other subjects such as Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan), Mathematics, Moral Science and Nepali (my mother tongue). My early days were spent largely trying to capture the English alphabets and attempting to differentiate the vowels and the consonants.

English was and still is the medium of instruction in schools and colleges across Bhutan. Today, when I look back I realize that we didn’t have qualified teachers in our primary school. Learning English, therefore, was tough. I had teachers who pronounced ear as air and air as ire. At home, I had a cousin who sang ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush..’ every night at his attempts to impress dad that he was studying late. Neither school nor home provided much breeding ground for English. And my pronunciation is hackneyed, to this day! Nevertheless, by the time I graduated from Dalim I could read and comprehend short stories and passages from English textbooks.

I spent the next three years in a boarding school, which was far from home. It took me two days to reach the school by a combination of conveyances, including walking. At the boarding school, I was able to learn and work on my grammar. I still remember a time when attempting to speak to a classmate in English I said “They does not know…”. My friend knew his grammar and immediately corrected me. I am grateful to him to this day. The head teacher of the school, Mr. Kerketta, a gaunt and elderly Indian gentleman from the West Bengal tea gardens, taught us the nuances of grammar including changing speech from direct to indirect. By the time I completed class eight from this nondescript government boarding school in Pema Gatshel, my English had sharpened a bit.   

Next, I was sent to Yangchenphug Central School in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Those days it was the only high school in Thimphu and it enjoyed tremendous reputation for its excellence, be it in studies, extracurricular activities, or the facilities provided to boarders. It also had its fair share of notoriety, but that has nothing to do with my learning English.

During my two years in Yangchenphug, I was taught by two English teachers. In class IX it was one Mr. A K Sarkar, a thoroughbred British trained Indian teacher. He took pride in knowing more than one synonym for a given word. A classmate of mine once asked him ‘Sir, what is the meaning of variegated?’ In his inimitable style, Mr. Sarkar closed his eyes, tilted his head up to face the ceiling and started reciting, ‘multi-coloured, parti-coloured, dappled…’ It was only after a couple of girls at the back started giggling that Mr. Sarkar opened his eyes.

In class ten I was taught by one Mr. Pereira, a United Nations Volunteer from Sri Lanka. Although he had travelled a bit, he didn’t know brown sugar. A short story we were learning had mentioned brown sugar; as soon as we reached that word, Mr. Pereira’s natural chocolate face went further brown and he went out looking for help. It fell on John Chiramal to rescue him!   By the tenth standard, we were talking to our teachers and fellow students in English. Talking of teachers, there were quite a few who preferred to converse in other languages than English, including Nepali and Hindi. Then we had our ubiquitous Dzongkha Lopens. So, the environment was not highly conducive for practicing spoken English.   

After Yangchenphug I went to Sherubtse, which at that time was the only higher secondary school, offering class XI and XII, besides being a budding college. There, I was taught by young Canadian volunteer teachers, who were more interested in letching at and romancing with their female students than in any serious teaching.  I don’t remember learning anything serious from the Canadians. As such, the next segment of my academic career did not offer much opportunity to improve my English. The foundation had been laid and thereafter it was up to the individual students to improve their language skills.

After Sherubtse, Sri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi happened in my life. Although it was a college of much repute, it was not exactly Oxford or Cambridge. Hindi had to be learned and honed in order to survive the cacophony and the hustle and bustle of North Delhi. By the time I graduated with Honours in Economics from SRCC three years later, I probably had much better Hindi than any English to sing about!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Three Apples and a Meditative Dog

It is a little before eight in the morning. My daily routine takes me to the parking lot below Lungtenzampa, where I drop, nay literally shove my younger son and his two like-minded mates off the car and drive on to Dam Dazo – upper Motithang.

As I swerve around the famous ‘double turning’, I enter one of the poshest residential areas of Thimphu. Except for a few families with school going kids, the neighbourhood is still quiet. Inmates are still snoring their last snores. Even in the hustle-bustle of the morning school hour, I usually find this area quiet. Perhaps everyone is schooled and educated and there isn’t anyone anymore going to school. Perhaps, Motithang Standard Time is half an hour behind BST! I don’t know. I can only conjecture!

As I take the last turn to enter my office premises, I come across two dogs. They are obviously tired, what with all the competitive and one-upmanship howling and barking that our strays indulge in. One of them is resting on its paws. Its posture does not look very different from one of the many Baba Ramdev poses. Perhaps it is performing ‘Sirsasana’! The other dog is staring at a solid turd; perhaps it is contemplating breakfast!

Just beyond the meditative dogs, are two Motithang HSS uniform attired boys. They are looking up at the sky. ‘Brilliant boys’, I thought. ‘They must be reflecting on their geography or physics lessons.’ Now they look at me; I look at them as I slow down to park my car. Soon I realize that it is neither geography nor physics that has caught their imaginations. It is the red ripe apples on a tree by the kerb of the road.
 One of the boys keeps a watch of the house, which presumably owns the fruit tree. The other, lankier, straightens himself up and with a swing of his hand plucks three apples from the tree. Mission Accomplished! As they gather composure and start walking towards the school, a girl in Motithang dress appears. Was she waiting for the boys to complete the crime? Again, I don’t know!

Three apples – three young citizens – future of our country. The boys keep one apple each and hand over one to the girl. After a very brief dishonest hesitation, she grabs the apple. Then they walk happily towards the school. All the while, they ignore me completely!

Afterword & Reflections: Boys are boys. A girl in need is a girl indeed! Stealing is a crime, but sharing is loving! You can certainly NOT sugarcoat crime, but this one was dipped in camaraderie and, perhaps a dose of puppy love. What does the penal code of Bhutan say about two young boys picking three apples from a neighbourhood tree?

For a fleeting moment, the three MHSS students throw me back to my own school days in Neoly Bhutan, now Pemathang. After all, I was part of a ‘gang’ that once stole guavas from Dhungyel Jetha’s orchard on our way to school. That was 1979!  We must preserve our culture!!