Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking tragedy in stride

What nature has in store for us is something we know only after it has happened. It is wild, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

But it is nature that provides us. We have to know how we can keep nature at peace, if that is the word.

That is what we all realised during the recent earthquake that devastated the eastern parts of our country. It is a sad thing. The celebration of Thruebab was subdued.

On the day of Thruebab, a young man wished a friend. The friend expressed his thanks but said that there is no happiness with reports of some 11 people dead in the eastern part of the country.

The person only wanted to express his good wishes on that occasion. But he was taken aback by his friend’s answer. In the course of discussions, he mentioned that his uncle’s house in Udzorong was completely destroyed and he doesn’t know if any one was hurt or not.

Despite this knowledge, he wished his friend happy Thruebab. It takes a lot of courage to do that. It was a sad Thruebab.

Some families lost two to three family members in this disaster. Most of us were so detached from the scene of destruction and devastation that we only have a vague picture of it. That is because it has not directly affected us.

Every death makes us small. Most of all, it is our inability to do anything about it that really makes us so incapacitated and useless. What do we do a about it? We just express our condolences and hope that such a thing will not happen to us.

In their hour of bereavement, the prime minister and the home minister went east to supervise relief operations. The officials from the Zimpoen’s office and the personnel from the Royal Bhutan Army and private citizens are doing a fine job assisting the people in providing some sort of temporary shelter.

Even with all the concerted efforts, it is obvious that the old houses are not going to be restored in time before the winter sets in. Besides, with the Autumn at our door step, it is time that people will have to reap their harvest or whatever is left of it.

Sadly, many of the families will be engaged in performing rites for the dead ones. Death is a business that we, Bhutanese, take very seriously. Our failure to perform our duties towards our dead always haunts us.

The east, for some reason or the other, had always had to bear the brunt of natural calamities. The wind storm that blew away roofs and damaged many houses was a tragedy in itself. Now the recent quake causing massive destruction is absolutely something out of the blue.

It is surprising that the outside agencies had all the details about the gravity of the situation before we even had an inkling of what was going to happen or when it did, how it happened.

As we are in seismic zone, we should have some system of advance warning to enable the people to be prepared. Such arrangement could be made when other agencies were able to come out with the details of the seismic activities in the country before our own agencies could come out with the vaguest details.

Perhaps there is a need for more cooperation and study. We have been too complacent for too long.

Celebrating the victory of good over evil

What makes this day so remarkable. We are celebrating the victory of the good over evil.

Whether you are in Tendrel Thang observing the tsechu or at home going through the rituals of dassai, it means the same thing. Perhaps, the Bhutanese should, both Buddhists and Hindus, realise that the celebration of tsechu and dassai falls on the same day (Thimphu tsechu). Many of us have never even thought of this co-relation between Thimphu tsechu and dassai.

Tsechu is generally a triumph over evil. The tsechu should be observed at three levels. First, at the visual level, when you observe the dances as they unfold on the tsechu ground. This is just what is presented to you on that particular day.

While many young men and women go for the fun and frolic that the day provides, many elders consider the day as sacred. For the tourists, it is just another cultural event which they can record on their handicams and show off to their friends over a glass of beer and a have a good laugh back home.

Similarly, the dassai is also a time for fun for the young people. In fact, it is a day when the elders bestow their best wishes on the younger ones and the younger ones should be paying their respects to their elders.

But times change. Culture changes. Most of all, we all change. What our fathers followed, we never follow. Perhaps, we may express in modern terminology: the demand and supply is not at a consistent level.

Nothing wrong. In fact, it is the time of the year when the flock of tourist who come for this particular festival that adds on to our national economy. It’s a matter of give and take, to be honest.

All these dances have the power that will enable you to see who you meet after your death, and thereby recognise who you shall meet and how one should deal with them.

It is the belief that if we observe them in this life, we will not fear them when they come to us in our afterlife. Watching the dances and understanding what they convey will help us in our journey after death.

That is why old people pay their respects whenever these religious dances are performed.

Incidentally, the festival of dassai also falls on the tenth day of Guru’s birthday. Dassai falls on the tenth day of the Hindu calendar, vijaya dassami, celebrated as the day of king Rama's victory over Ravana, the 10-headed demon king of Lanka who had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita.

The dussehra festival celebration is unique in its perspective and significance. It is the celebration of the victory of good over evil.

What we all should understand is that no matter what faith we follow, we should understand that the essence is the same. After all, we all come from the same source, no matter what the colour, language, faith, dress or the way of our life that is determined by our geography.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Killing a tree is a sin

Killing a tree is a sin

It was under a Bodhi tree that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree provided shelter to the Lord who meditated under it and unravelled the source of all problems.

To say that the tree is the source of everything is a little bit far-fetched. But to put it plainly, there are many uses of trees. Shall we list them? Well, they provide shade against the summer heat, shelter us from rains, provides us with fuel wood, timber to build houses. Before the bailey and suspension bridges were built in the country, we used timber to construct Bazam over the streams and rivers.

Of course, trees give us fruits that sustain us. It sustains our water system by absorbing the access runoff water, cleans the atmosphere in which we live by cutting down on the carbondioxide that that is emitted into the atmosphere. They ensure that landslides don’t occur when there is a heavy rainfall.

Places where large scale deforestation has taken place are the most landslide prone areas. Even when we clear the forest for cultivation, we have to ensure that there is enough forest cover for the stability of the area. There was a time when Bhutanese used to engage in large scale tseri (slash and burn) cultivation. That was the time when there was enough land for every one. That was also the time when a family owned landholdings both in the warm and the cold regions and they used to migrate from one place to another.

Over the years, as population grew the landholdings got divided and some began encroaching into the forest land. That was the time when we started misusing the forest and the land. That was also the time when we should have started land and forest management in earnest.

At least in Bhutan, we realized in time that we have to preserve the environment before it is too late. Realizing its value, the Constitution has mandated that forest coverage in the kingdom should not be less than 60 percent at any given time.

However, we as Buddhists are placed in a funny situation. One might even say that our tradition conflicts with our environmental goals. Even as our hillsides are covered under trees, prayer flags dot the strategic spurs. These flags are dedicated to our deceased ones. The more flags you hoist, clearer the path becomes for the dead soul.

But nothing less that 108 trees have to be killed as part of the ritual. The Jains would be flabbergasted if they were to visit our hillsides dotted with prayer flags. They believe trees and plants are living beings. The animal kingdom is another story.

The forestry officials are in a quandary. Reports say that there is a high demand for prayer flag poles and every day some 165 trees are felled for the poles and the pressure is mounting. People usually prefer tall and straight poles for prayer flags. The forest department is doing its best in allotting the trees. They look into aspect such as thinning wherever required. But how long will it go on at the rate demand for flag poles is increasing?

The concept of metal poles, which are reusable, for some reason never caught the fancy of our people. Using bamboo poles is another alternative. But it is not available whenever you want them.

So what is the alternative?

Educating a child is a two-way street

So the teachers are between the little devils and the deep sea. This sounds a little bit unacceptable but then this is what it looks like.

Going by the trend, of course this is not applicable everywhere and in all the instances; it would seem that the teachers would be more in the courtroom than the class room. Somewhere along the line we have to come to an understanding.

The root cause, as every one points out is that corporal punishment has been abolished. The teachers who mete out corporal punishment, more often than, will be liable for reprimand, if not other legal actions by the department. Ultimately, there is the danger of being dragged to the court either by the student or the parent.

It is not a nice situation for a teacher to be in. Consider the possibility of having to handle seven 45-minute of classes in a day. What will you receive at the end of the day. Lots of headaches, and going through the process of correcting a pile of home works.

Well, don’t complain. That is what you always wanted. You loved children. That is what we will say to the teachers.

Besides, teaching is a noble profession. The only problem is that the nobility of the profession is under fire.

We still have so many vacancies in the teaching cadre and many a graduate is not willing to join it. Going by the statistics, the need for teachers, trained and qualified ones, will be there for another 30 years or so.

We have always been speaking of the low quality of education. The tendency is to blame the teachers. It is obvious to every one that the quality of teachers compromises the quality of education. But there should be a way out of it. Haven’t we learnt our lesson?

Some system of improving the system should have been in place by now, considering that one of the greatest teachers is heading the education ministry. We should also realize that pointing a finger at others is not going to solve the problem. Every one is doing their job. Yet certain loopholes in the system don’t allow us to give our best.

So where do we begin?

It has already become a cliché to say that charity begins at home. It is felt that home is where everything should begin. Now the parents might say that the teachers are dumping their work on them.

The point is that if the plant hasn’t been watered well and nurtured in the nursery, then its growth will always be stunted. So is it with the children.

If they are not given the right sense of direction, the proper care, most of all, love and understanding, they will never come into the fold. Of course, not every child is expected to follow the required direction. What we always fail to understand is that with all the warts and quirks, the children have their own talents that need nurturing.

So blaming the children for their lack of discipline, which should have been inculcated at home, is not going to help. Nor will blaming the teachers enable parents to rid themselves of the guilt that is under the surface.

You may put your child in the best school or institution. But at the end of the day, it will only prove to be waste of money, time and efforts. Because, educating a child is a two-way street.