Welcome to my blog, a place where I write about everyday things, common incidents, friends, family and little anecdotes that make up what we call Life...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

BIrd Watching Beginners

I was wanting to write about the first bird watching adventure I had with my boys some time back. Yonten had brought home a book from his school library about "Birds of Bhutan". It was an old edition, published 15-20 years back (I saw a new version recently) and some of the illustrations did not, well, look similar to the real thing. But it had these neat description of how to watch birds, describe them, illustrate them - and so it motivated us to embark on our first bird wathcing adventure.

 It was a sunday, post lunch, the sun was still high and we were all (fours of us - Yonten (elder son), Ugyen (younger son), Rigden (nephew) and yours truly) a bit lethargic but not deterred. We charted out a "bird watching course" (after much debate) - take a turn around the house, walk around in the nearby fields, go up the hill slowly, turn back on reaching the highway and come all the way down to the river. And with the book in tow we proceeded.

The walk around the house did not prove so fruitful, though we did spot a pair of "asian turtle doves". But it helped put some "bird watching discipline" into the boys and equip them a little with - pink panther-like stealth, watchful eyes and alert ears. It was still hot and sunny, so no luck in the fields too. But while resting awhile, we watched flocks flying overhead. We tried counting them.

The walk up the hill was..a bit torturous in the heat. But the boys kept it lively, they stealthily peered into every bush on the way, gazed up into the trees, listened for birds (and few times attempted miserably to imitate bird calls). We reached the highway and still could find no birds (I think the birds were all taking a mid day nap or were off to a cooler place). And we were sweaty and thirsty. So we decided to race all the way down to the river.

It was much cooler near the river. We had about given up on sighting any birds and just sat there enjoying the soft cool breeze. But just then "a bird! a bird!". Rigden had spotted one on the river. And we all saw it. A little black bird sat on a small stone out in the middle of the river. And suddenly there were lots of them, shooting out of the bushes overhanging the river bank and gliding over the river, diving down and then soaring up. And all the while wagging its white tail, in stark contrast to its dark coloured body.

Excited, we poured over the book...hmm..according to the descriptions and comparisons and our scientific analysis..it was (is) the "white wag tail". The boys were euphoric. And Yonten drew the bird into his "bird watching book" and added a short description.

Size: little bigger than a sparrow
colour: black/dark brown
habitat: near river
behaviour: flying fast, up and down, wagging  its white tail

We watched the birds for a while longer, befoe heading home. And that was a day well spent.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Gift of Sight

Its been five days since I noticed a tiny multi-coloured spot flickering in my line of sight. It comes, flickers like an irritating cursor for about five minutes, goes, and comes back again. At times it becomes difficult to read and staring at the computer screen or the T.V. makes it worse.

I visited the opthalmology department at the JDWNRH yesterday. The hospital was crowded as usual but the "eye" section was relatively sparse. I had to first have a routine eye check up and the personnel there wrote "sees flashes of light" on my prescription and referred me to the specialist.

But before I could see the specialist I had to "dilate my pupils" so a closer look could be taken. They put two drops of a liquid into my eyes and I had to keep my eyelids closed for a whole thirty minutes. As I sat there, head thrown back on the waiting room metal chair, eyes closed, I felt strange. Many thoughts flitted across my mind - what if there is some irreparable damage to my eyes? what if I cannot see colours? What if I cannot see?? - I could hear voices, but I could not see faces.

In that thirty minutes sounds became sharper, voices were clearer and my sense of appreciation deeper. Imagine a world without colours - red rose, blue sky, green grass, yellow tulips, orange oranges.... and then imagine darkness...Thirty minutes made me empathize with people living without sight. Hats off to them.

Fortunately, the specialist diagnosed the flickering as a "floater" - "may be experienced when people reach middle age". Nothing to worry about, now. It may stay, it may go. So, as of now its uncomfortable living with a multi-coloured cursor flickering in m vision now and then, but I am thankful or the "gift of sight" that I still have.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Disengaged Toleration

"Disengaged Toleration" - I borrow this phrase from one of my friends who used this term on facebook. I find it very interesting and how it so aptly captures the common Bhutanese mindset. Have you noticed how tolerant we are as a society? (unless ofcourse it has something to do with us) - not where as a civil society we should be tolerant, but tolerant on issues and concerns that should not be tolerated.

Starting with small things (which is in fact getting huuuugggeeee and out of hand) like littering. How often do we see people throwing pet bottles and rubbish out of their cars? How often do we see young students throwing wrappers on the road? How often do we see people spitting (red doma juices) on the walls, not to mention rubbing white lime on all pillars, posts and even trees? - but none of us say word.

What about the time when Thimphu city impounded stray dogs and puppies and they were all dying under inhumane conditions? None of us, so called compassionate Buddhists, came forward to adopt a stray and we also dont lend a hand when the city calls for the public to help bring dogs for sterlization and vaccination. The pound is in Memelakha - "we dont see it so all is okay" and the number of dogs in the city are increasing - "oh! killing dogs is against Buddhism..and anyway it is the city's problem".

And now the tobacco control act.  A good number of people, otherwise law abiding citizens, are now behind bars. And they may face sentences of at least three years (since that is the minimum stipulated in the act) in prison. This in a country where rapists and child molesters are given equivalent or if not lesser terms. This is not justice, this is not GNH. I dont know how the Parliament had passed such an act - maybe they did not forsee such situations. And we as informed citizens failed to raise the issues when the bill iself was being discussed.  But all that is water under the bridge - what irks me more is when the authorities (and citizens similarly) act as if there is nothing that can be done - laws can be changed, clauses can be amended - we would be wise to learn from our mistakes.

Smoking and chewing of tobacco is an addiction - like doma chomping. People need education and awareness. Yes we need a tobacco control act to make tobacco products more expensive and accessibility more scarce but at the same time the act should not be only about penalty but about creating an environment that supports poeple to give up old habits and deters young ones from adopting new habits.

People currently in prison/under police custody are not criminals - let us not, through our laws and systems frustate the common people and make them one. Let us as lawmakers, law enforcers, justice dispensers, educators, civil servants, students and as citizens not be "disengaged tolerators" anymore.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Trip (s) to the Hospital

I am amazed at how much a trip to the hospital can remind you of the important things we forget or take for granted in life.I had to make a few hospital visits these past few days and though I dread the heavy sterlized atmosphere that makes me immediately lethargic, I must say I learnt (or relearnt) a few lessons.

The first time was to visit a relative who had been refered all the way from Tsirang. She had not only managed to get thrown outof a moving truck but had also, fortunately, manage to excape with just a broken leg. Family and well wishers kept telling her how lucky she was, in most similar instances, the person thrown out gets squashed by the rear wheel...brrrrrr..gives me the chills.

Anway, she had been operated on and was lodged in the orthopedic ward. The ward is on the third (or was it the fourth?) floor of the new hospital building. You would know once you near it  - people on crutches would be getting their exercise hobbling to and fro in the ward's corridor.

I took some time locating her..so many people with their arms, legs and what not in white casts. I saw her and quickly went into the room, which was shared by six other patients. She had her two sisters as attendants and as I sat on a stool by her bed, I saw how they fussed over her blankets - was she hot? was she cold?..oiled her hair..

Galncing around the room  at the other patients I observed a baby girl had her leg in a cast (she was still being breast fed by her mother), there was an elderly women with a broken arm (I learnt later she had accidently tied herself to her cow's tether and got thrown and dragged on the ground). And then there was a boy, ten or eleven years of age, he seemed to be in pain and he kept crying out now and then. His cabinet near the bed did not exhibit any tiffins, flasks or other goodies and I saw that his mom was a bit dull and hard of hearing (I learnt later that the little boy was the only so called "normal" one in the family, his father and two other siblings had difficulty speaking).

That room was suffocating. It was full of pain and sufferring and injustice and at the same time poignantly overflowing with love and compassion and renewal. It reminded me of the saying about a person who bemoaned the fact that he had no shoes until he met a man with no legs...We have so much to be thankful for, grateful for, happy for, joyful for..but we miss the beauty around us a take and so much for granted..I was grateful that day for my health, for my children's health, my family's health...

The next few occassions were when I escorted my dad for the special consultaton services the hospital now offers. The doctor spent some time examining my father and asking him questions and as my father recounted his numerous ailments, I felt ashamed. Was he not living with me? Had he not complained about his pains? How did I not hear or know? As I observed my father nodding or answering the doctor feebly, I thought of dying and death. Milarepa once said - We do not know which will come first, death or dawn. But was I prepared to face such a loss? and more importantly was he prepared?

Lessons in life are everywhere. I have learnt I have much in life to be thankful for. I have learnt it is important to be really there for the people we love but take for granted. I have learnt now is all that we have and making the most of it is what counts. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Luxury of Imagination (and dreams)

One day, while driving down to our home in Debsi, Babesa, I asked my elder son, then eight years old, how he liked our neighbour's paddy fields. We stopped our descent downhill and gazed at the fields. It was nearly harvest season and the stalks were rippling gold.

"Looks like a giraffe's neck", he said nonchalantly.

I could'nt for my life, fathom a giraffe, let alone its neck, any which way I looked. But I remained quiet and rejoiced in his imagination, for I had lost that world somewhere along the way.

The world of Achu Daka, of fairies and trolls, a place where a tiny seed could grow overnight and rise all the way above the clouds, a magical tree that leads to far away places and where everone lives happily ever after.

Come back to the real world, people say. A world wrought with poverty, sadness, misery, disasters...Yes, we need to tackle real problems in the real world, but I am sure a bit of imagination, a sprinkle of fairy dust or the power of three heart felt wishes, would not hurt.

Childhood, in all its innocence and sense of belief is a marvelous thing. Children and their sense of adventure is truly amazing -  my son wants to be a magician first, maybe a musician and if that does not happen, a chef. I told him impatiently that he would be "second rate cook who know how to strum a tune or two on the guitar with a few sleazy magic tricks up his sleeve". But he is undaunted, lately he wants to be a "secret agent".

Maybe, we parents can learn a few things like optimism and creativity from them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Customer Service and Queues

I took the morning off today to renew my car’s blue book (now a little white card). It wasn’t a particularly hot day but I was already a bit flustered knowing I would be late for work – but the counters remain open only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. sharp – so it had to be office hours.
There was already a queue up to the designated counter. Neat. I don’t mind standing in queues however long,  but the moment I encounter, what I call, “line butters” (since they ignore "lines" and “butt” right ahead) I see red - my throat clears automatically, my lips move and I start “Excuse me..blah blah ..can’t you see the line..@#$%!!!!@#$!!!” . In my younger days I would not mind entering into a physical combat over my pet peeve, but over the years, I have sobered down to muttering loudly …
Anyway, no line butters in sight yet, so I stand in queue patiently. At last, its my turn at the counter, but the guy behind the glass pane looks at the card and says impatiently, “You need to first do your fitness in the parking outside.”
Okay. I am outside and I can see many others waiting, trying to spot the inspector. “Is he wearing a uniform?” “Is he tall/short or thin/round?” “Where is he?”. We spot him after a good 10-15 minutes and no, he hasn’t been playing truant, as the lone inspector today he had to go down to front of the bus ticket booking parking to inspect a truck.
Inspection done and I am back in queue. This time its a short one. But before I reach my turn I realize I had forgotten to bring along the renewal fees (all of Nu. 2,000!!!). Embarrassed, I smile at my fellow queuees and rush out to find the nearest ATM.
I am back in line after enduring the snail-paced Norzin Lam traffic and a dash to the BOB ATM. Finally, when it is nearly my turn (one last person in front of me), a line butter appears. He seems to be in a hurry (as they always are), rushes straight for the counter (as they always do) and starts placing his documents right under the guy-behind-the-glass- pane’s nose (always, always).
But today, I have no energy to even mutter. But I still muster enough to loudly clear my throat. No reaction. So I concentrate on the view I can see through the small window above the guy-behind-glass-pane. The biggest-sitting-Buddha statue looks awesome and serene. I feel myself calming down and then before I know it is my turn to be served.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mad Morning Rush

This might ring true for the numerous parents dashing to drop their children to school, on time, especially to the working multi-tasking super moms. And especially, especially to working mothers with husbands who have late night jobs, or who have been struck with the “late night owl” disease, which leave them dysfunctional and bleary eyed at any time before 10 a.m. in the morning.
Anyway, before I digress, back to the mad rush which begins at 6 a.m. when my eyelids open like clockwork. Oh! If only I could snuggle deeper into the warm blankets and continue dreaming that dream..but the working mother has to immediately throw back the covers and land on her feet, lest she succumbs to slumberous temptations.
After all the chopping, stirring, boiling and finally packing lunch boxes, I face the next major challenge of the day – waking up two sleepy heads. I look at their faces - heads together, eyes shut, mouths slightly open – beautiful, wish I could let them sleep a bit longer.. But its time to get up and someone’s got to be the villain.
I start by drawing the curtains and turning down the blankets.  I call out their names softly, “Yonten, Ugyen Thinley..time to get up..”.
No response. They turn on their stomachs and go right back to sleep.
My volume ups and threats are issued, following which they get up slowly and drag their feet to the bathroom. The same pattern of cajoling and threatening and bargaining continue all through the act of washing up, dressing up and eating breakfast, until we are out of the door. Now the fun really starts.
Noise inside a car is inversely proportionate to the number of children in the car (increase is more significant in the case of the male child), which in turn is proportional to the driver’s sanity (ability to concentrate, see and hear). Now, in my case I chauffer four boys - two mine, two my sisters - and it doesn’t help that they are all in different schools.
The racket begins as soon as the car starts. Some body wants to sit by the window, somebody’s toe has been stamped, somebody has left his lunch basket behind..and somebody has to reach school within the next five minutes!!! Ignoring all the noise, and tuning into my inner peaceful self (along with few deep breaths) I start zooming.
We are on the highway and halt opposite Dr. Tobgyal School, where I need to deliver the two younger ones. With lightening speed I undo my seatbelt, get out of the driver’s seat, usher them out of the back seat and make the life-threatening journey of crossing the Thimphu-Babesa highway.  And every morning I make that journey, I am amazed at the speed our Bhutanese drivers can drive and they make no exceptions to their speed limit even while driving past the school, even when they see little children crossing the road and specially not when they see mothers (read females) accompanying the children.
Anyway, making a safe passage back to the car I quickly glance at my watch and at the faces of the two remaining boys – they have already started arguing about who should be reached first. Again, muttering my secret mantra, I hit the accelerator, going as fast as the little car can go.
Driving everyday along the highway, I have noticed a few unspoken highway rules – size matters, might is always right, two lanes really don’t exist as all vehicles drive right along the middle, it is a shame to give way, especially to a smaller vehicle (and certainly not if it is a female driver!!) and beware of BT and BG driving (one has sights only for potential customers and the other breaks for none).
Today, I am behind a truck. I am sure the driver can see me tailgating in his side view mirror. I am desperate to move ahead, so desperate I am about to honk loudly, when he reluctantly gives way. I zoom smoothly till the Lungten Zampa  bridge and then I am suddenly in a jam going up to the BOD. It’s a line of vehicles and a stream of school children.
Constant breaking and deft maneuvering of the steering wheel brings us to the Yangchenphug school parking. Every time I drop my nephew here I remember my old days. Days when almost everyone walked to school and there was no such thing as a traffic jam.
Back to driving – three down, one to go. For this one I need to go back into the traffic beside the BOD, cut across and climb up serpentine road towards the Memorial Chorten. We go around the chorten, have to slow down below Etho-Metho private school and then the last zoom up to Changangkha Primary school.
 It’s exactly 8:30 a.m., thirty minutes since batwoman started the batmobile. Not bad, not bad at all.