Thursday, July 23, 2009


I am not different. There are hardly any visible traits or innate talents which separates me from innumerable other human beings scouring the earth aimlessly this moment.

In fact I am almost exactly like or very similar to any other person in a given room in a given period of time taking random samples into consideration of course.

So I pretend. I pretend to be different and it is a nasty business if you must know.

I pretend to be someone I am not. I pretend to be on a different pedestal altogether. I pretend to know people I don’t and not know people I do. I pretend to have felt and seen everything this side of the solar system and the other side too, but I have not.

I pretend not to remember something even if I do, so that it portrays a general idea that I cannot be bothered with trifles. I pretend to have more friends than I actually do and they are people who pack a lot of clout.

The insignificant ones I hardly care about. I don’t even know how and where they are and what they are doing. I am busy pretending to be too busy and unnecessarily important.

I pretend to know everything. The creaking and groaning of every second human brain is what I pretend to analyze every other second. I pretend I am a breath of fresh air which every civilization craves for which thrusts it to eternal glory.

I pretend to be the symbol of my generation. I pretend to be the torchbearer, a lighthouse, the shining light which will guide all my fellow mates of my generation who have gone astray to harbor.

But then again, I don’t pretend all the time though and I don’t pretend in front of all the people. You have to cut me some slack there. But I do have my mask handy and do make the most of it most of the time.

Take a conceited guy for instance; you know what to get from a conceited guy, a whole lot of conceitedness, all of the time.

But me, I am like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.

No doubt there are a bunch of honest people around, blatant at that, and I respect them. But I wonder sometimes how they manage to survive at all, with all the pretension flying in the air.

Let me introduce myself at least. I am everyone’s mirror and if you look closely and hard enough you will see me.

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Friday, July 17, 2009


I need to get a life. Or, life might just get to me.

And that’s not a bloody joke given the state I’m in now. I am not particularly proud of all the things I’ve done. But neither do I regret them.

I’ve been blessed. I’ve met some lovely people along the way - people who’ve showered me with love and people who’ve never judged me.

But somehow, I’ve always managed to screw up. And in the process of screwing up, I’ve lost them. I think of them every now and then, and I smile. I smile at how stupid I was to have lost them.

Yet again, I haven’t lost them.

Some, I had begun to talk like – I still do. Others, I learnt a lot from – I still haven’t forgotten.

On second thoughts, perhaps, I have lost them. Perhaps they have forgotten me. Perhaps they don’t even feel necessary to spend two seconds thinking about me.

But there is one girl I know. At least for the moment, she won’t forget me. For a few more moments that have yet to come, she won’t forget me.

On days like these, she brings a smile to my face. Sometimes, as I blow my top, I don’t even realize I am smiling. She does that to me and so much more.

Her every word, her every action, has an effect on my mood. And I guess my words and actions affect her just as much. The going is good. It couldn’t have been better. She doesn’t judge me, I don’t judge her. She doesn’t expect miracles, I don’t either. She lets me be me, and, I let her be her.

And it’s on days like these when I cannot squeeze time to be with her – I feel messed up.

i wish i could tell her…

If I could see her just one time…Oh how it’d ease my troubled mind!

You still reading? Go get a life!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I have mastered the art of living. And I’ll tell you why?

There is an old saying. Chinese, i think. It goes something like this… “If you can spend a completely useless afternoon in a completely useless manner, you’ve learnt how to live.”

All my afternoons are useless, and, all my afternoons, I spend in a useless manner. So, you see, I have mastered the art of living.

This afternoon was like any other – useless. And since going on a drive with two of my work-buddies wasn’t useless enough, we decided to visit an old friend. Don’t get me wrong now, my old friend isn’t useless. He’s a writer.

But writers, trying to conjure something inside their heads, sometimes, while away their time.

We took our chance.

As usual, he was writing.

He was writing and he was trippin’. He was trippin’ and he was joking. He was joking and he was thinking. He was thinking and he was joking and he was trippin’ and he was writing.

Then he stopped abruptly, looked at what he wrote, joked, thought, tripped, mumbled a few words {I cannot write down here} and posted his blog. Voila! He was free.

So, there we were, drinking beer, mocking each other, talking politics and what have you... But suffice it to say, I’m still wondering if it was a completely useless afternoon, spend in a completely useless manner. Therefore, I won’t write about it. Instead, I’ll talk about my friend – the guy who’s not useless – the guy who’s a writer.

For starters, he’s thoroughly misunderstood.

Unkempt locks, knee-length boots, body covered in tattoos – he comes across as your local hoodlum. And the attitude he carries – if he carries any – ARE YOU LOOKIN AT ME??? – would in my opinion, make him instantly unapproachable.

But he’s a piece of art. And a piece of art is hard to come by these days.

Taliman, as we know him, is the kind of guy who can liven up your afternoon. In days, today, our afternoon was worthwhile and not useless at all.

I don’t think I need to say anything more… do I? Except that he made me realize that I haven’t mastered the art of living! Not just yet.

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Here I begin. Yet another journey, of some sorts.

A journey whose end I am not sure of. But the least thing I worry about is what waits for me at the end of it. I am overcome by the excitement that a new journey has begun. That is all matters right now. Rest simply does not seem to count much.

I look forward, with hope and a little expectation, that what must come I will take it on my stead. There may be tough times ahead, times I need to look behind, look for inspiration. But right now, I am like a hungry lion wandering in the wild. Let me wander. A little longer.

Restless, I am indomitably. I have tried in my best ways to stay grounded. But there is only so much I can do. I need my freedom. I need to travel. I need to see the world. I need to do everything but stay here.

Can it get any better? Travelling like a hippie, with nothing but a small pack, and shit load of beliefs stacked. And with a defiant air that says: What counts is what you believe in. I place myself in my reality, and I live a life that i think is right.

One time, I wanted to lock myself up inside a room full of books. Reading, swallowing, digesting, sniffing the dust and the scent of old, dog-eared books. I wanted to be a writer. Now that dream is gradually fading. All I care is, no matter what I become, I must live a life that i want. And that life is not here. It's away, there, somewhere!

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What is it?

Heaven may cry, hell may let itself lose, the earth may shatter, but, these are the times, when nothing would matter!

I spend endless time, glued to my flickering computer screen, talking to a faceless person half-way across the globe! There would not be any stranger ways than this to spend a lonely evening. But trust me, over time, I have become fond of it. It's just, me, my computer, and my girl!

Juat then, my best buddy turns up. He’s got a plan. He’s got stuff. Let’s get to the point, he sings, Let's roll another joint! And then it's the two of us, lighting up in the balcony that overlooks our own narrow, dirty, crowded Hongkong market thoroughfare.

Now i'm hallucinating. What is it that i was saying?

What was i saying again?

Seriosuly, this is not a reminder. I don't have a Pandora’s Box to open up, and charm you with all my priceless flow of words. I can't write of things I don't know. Bear with me. otherwise, polietly fuck off!

Whose kid is that? Hey, he's tiny and cute!

Coming back...where was i?

I am just a child, learning to crawl my way up. And the way up is definitely not easy. I have been bruised, so often. I have been hurt, time and again. I have experienced joy and sadness, seen tears and laughter. I have made and lost friends. I am an ordinary fellow and my story is just like me - ordinary.

As a little boy, I had dreams - numerous. Now I realize, they were but a child’s flight of fancy. I never had thought I would grow up to be a man without dreams, without wild fancies, without that child in him. Reality hardens up people. It whacks them with a stick right across the face, and reminds them life is real.

Maybe, there is still time to turn around, and, make up for all those lost moments.

Bugga off! All you people... i'm not dozing off!

I get up every morning, promising to live a different life. I promise to live a better day. Better than the one i had lived the previous day. But it doesn't take long and I am dragged into that terrible karmic cycle - of repetition and drudgery. Day after day, I am the same, and, so is the day.

The only one moment of respite that I look forward to is that lonely evening. I am standing on the balcony of my office, my good friend has left me. In that serenity of his absence, my thoughts wander around, along the dark corridors of bygone memories. I stare at people, moving around, some involved in carefree ramblings, some hurrying up and others just wandering, lost amid a crowd of strangers. Should I care? Hell no! Not for a pound nor for a penny.

Yah! I need to eat something. But, first things first...

Now listen up. And listen up good!

That solitary moment of contemplation either makes you depressed or euphoric. It all depends on how you interpret your feelings, take your stream of consciousness and rationalize them.

Goodnight fellas!

If you have a good friend like mine, trust me, you never get to understand the state of affairs you are in.
For, in that particular moment, he walks into your room, calling out your name - loud. And then drags you out to the balcony, out of the room, into the bizarre realm of suspended realism.

I got work stacked on my desk. But I don't want to miss the high!

Yup! that's exactly what i wanted
to say...

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I am very trusting of people. But of late, I have begun to doubt their every fucking action or word.

Their every move, I now realize, is full of deceit and thoughtfully spun lies. And it makes me sick. So damn sick that I can’t function straight.

I feel claustrophobic. I am cranky and losing my fucking marbles. Fuck! I am going crazy. Let me rephrase that. Fuck! I am turning into a fanatic – out to give the world my crooked middle finger.

June and July are just not my fucking months. Every year around this time, something happens. Something that makes me frighteningly depressed.

I cannot put my finger on what makes me sick like this to the bone. I try to look happy and move on. But I’m dragged to the fucking loop again. Falling deeper, falling down, down, down.

It’s mid-July today. Hopefully in another 15 days I’ll get back to my normal, sexy, undoubting, lazy, and indecisive self. I’ll wait.

I hate rejection of any sorts.

At work I am the guy, who does the work of the guy that’s gone missing or of the guy who’s fucking quit. “I have immense talent.” I’ve been fucking told, time and again. But rewards are yet to come by for the talent I possess. I DON'T GIVE A FLYING FUCK ANYMORE!

I have been taken for granted all my life. I’ll put a fucking stop to that now. I’ll put a stop to being the non-judgmental guy who’s always OK with things.

If you want me around – don’t piss me off too much. In another two weeks - when I get back to oozing my dangerously exotic sexuality, my smashing charm and, my brand new confidence – you won’t exist for me no more.

The entire goddamn city is a circus. And the sign on my door 'FOR YOU' will be loud and clear: “No fucking Clowns allowed!”

“I used to live in a room full of mirrors, All I could see was me.” – Jimi Hendrix.

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In defense of big cars and familiarization lunches

Just the other week, I was asked to follow the People’s Democratic Party president to the south. You see, I am always broke and the trip meant earning some extra bucks in the form of TA/DA. I jumped at the offer.

It started off rather well. My bosses and colleagues gave me a briefing on how the familiarization story should be covered, and a discussion on all the other potential stories I could possibly pick up on the way - followed. Although I pretended to seem interested, I wasn’t.

The briefing wasn’t needed at all, I felt. Even without the office having to remind me, I would pick up as many stories as I could lay my hands on. That was my job, and they were paying me well for it. Honestly, I would feel extremely guilty claiming the money, if I had nothing to show for it. I have some work ethics too, even if no one believes me.

So, with a little advance, I was on the road again in a conked out Maruti car. And as skeptical as I was, I had taken the driver’s word for it.

“You can drive it all around the world and it will still not let you down,” he had said in a patronizing tone.

I look back now and realize how stupid I was to have believed him.

Anyway, Phuentsholing was to be my first stopover. And, I had never ever imagined that the weather of all things would make me realize how idiotic I was. All the clothes I had shoved into my bag were meant for the winter. And Phuentsholing, even now, was like stepping into an oven. I have probably lived in Thimphu a bit too long.

I was compelled to pick up a few T-shirts, I must admit – very reluctantly. I am not miserly, not at all, but I was traveling on a limited budget and every penny saved was important. I needed to have some money in hand, just incase the car broke down. Mind you - just incase!

The following day, I met with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) members I knew and was introduced to the ones I had never seen before. Trust me, they make you feel important and intimidated at the precise same time. Especially, when there are a lot of them together. Nevertheless, I had gathered all the information I needed to write my story.

But, there was another catch; the people in the head office always believe that Phuentsholing is a hub for stories. So, I had to look for another that had nothing to do with politics, even if it meant missing out on drinks with my buddies. If I may say so, I grew up in this oven and some of my best pals live here.

Stories filed in, drinks absorbed, experiences exchanged, I called it a night. I was to join the convoy of cars that would be escorted to Gomtu and Samtse for another meeting the next day. I was beginning to feel important. Little was I to know then that the feeling wouldn’t last very long.

As I started the engine of the car, I put on my shades feeling like a part of the team that was traveling on a mission. I was to join the PDP near the gas station.

First, a van from another media arrived with ‘Kuensel’ written boldly on both sides. Pleasantries exchanged, I surveyed my office car for some sign of the paper’s name. All I could find was a torn paper stuck on the windshield at the back that read ‘Bhutan Times’. Discomforting as it was, the fleet of cars arrived - all shining, all expensive and all big.

Shades out, I joined in behind the Kuensel van, right at the end. I am amazed at how fast these cars can run even on lousy roads. I drove as fast as I could without bothering about potholes even when the car was about to fall apart - bit by bit. The seat moved furiously, my head kept touching the roof but I made it alright. Fighting a furious battle all along, I was hungry.

“You should never eat anything offered by political parties because then it makes you feel obliged to them,” was what one German had said, during the workshop conducted for journalists on political stories coverage.

I couldn’t care less. The food that was on offer was excellent and moreover, I needed all the energy to drive to Samtse.

Driving again, I realized that the car had begun to make a weird sound. The wheel, I felt would come off any minute. Just then, there was a halt. I peeked out only to realize that a river needed to be crossed.

Flooring the accelerator, in what seemed forever; the car hit against rocks, skid and screeched. Soon, there was water flowing in from a hole in the driver’s seat, and the brakes wouldn’t work. I pulled over and decided to take it easy. I had to travel for a lot more days in it and I couldn’t afford to let it break down. The convoy could do without me.

Sipsu and Tendu covered and with the next day off, I decided to visit the workshop early the next morning dreading for the worst. Just then, my office called saying the DPT party president is arriving there.

They offered dinner, and this was my opportunity not to feel obliged to just one party, so I relished the food. Now, as I had eaten both their grub, I was free of guilt. The whole thing seemed balanced.

“Sir, this can’t be fixed in an hour,” said the mechanicin the workshop in Chamurchi, across the border.

“You have to. I am with the ministers,” I said. “I am with the press.”

“You are with the press, and, this is a press car?” he burst into laughter.

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The heat was extreme. The mercury that day had shot to 44.2 degree Celsius, six notches above normal. And the weather forecast had more bad news in store. For couple more days, the heat was there to stay. It would be a long while before rain came, pounding to cool the melting pot. Looking out of the small balcony, stream of sweat running down my face, I stared at the sky through the narrow spaces between the branches and leaves of the tree, standing tall next to the balcony. Not even a speck of cloud. No sign of rain. The air was as still as dead. So was the tree. I reminisced how the tree would swing in the tempest during monsoon, flapping its green leaves, spraying rain water on the balcony. The wind would bring along stray polythene bags, twigs, leaves and debris like the sea waves washing ashore flotsam and jetsam of waste. Those days I would keep the door shut, to keep away the noise of the whistling wind and the rain. Now, how I craved for it. Stubbing out the cigarette that had been adding to the heat, I returned to my room. The fan hardly made any difference. All it did was stir the warm air over and again. A clatter of unwashed, murky dishes lay in the sink, fungus germinating on it. Newspapers and magazines were strewn all over the floor. On the study table, there was a letter, addressed to my name, next to the novel Kafka on the shore by Murakami. A worn out calendar ticked and crossed, probably for countless times, hung on the wall. My old laptop connected to a pair of hoofers played Pink Floyd’s Goodbye blue sky. I poured a cup of water from the 20-liter plastic can. It was warm, and as it went down my throat, I could feel the warm sensation reach my stomach, before it got absorbed by my body. I poured another one, cursing this time. Pink Floyd stopped, and the fan too gradually came to a halt. Power cut. I wished I had taken back my word. It was normal though. Three or four times a day, electricity would go off. And every one would come out in their balconies for some sort of respite from the smoldering heat within. Staring at each other and exchanging blank glances. A common experience bound all of us together-the power cut and the sweltering heat. This time it took a little less than an hour for the light to come. Contradictory to the experience when the lights would go off, this was always a pleasant moment. I heard little shrieks and exclamations of delight, as everybody rushed inside, some into the comforts of their AC rooms and others into a room with a small, dirty fan. I gave up the idea of taking a shower as I had already done it thrice since morning. And the water would be warm in the afternoon and the bathroom, a sauna almost. So I leaned on the chair, pulled the letter, and read it again. It was the umpteenth time that I had read the letter. At times in disbelief that I had received the letter, handwritten, stamped, and addressed to my name. Other times, I read the letter in sheer amusement that somebody I had known for just a few weeks would ever remember me and care to write a good three page letter. And of course, I read the letter for what was written on it. It was Seven months ago. I met her in a small gathering at a friend’s place. She was quite tall with huge eyes, and thick, sumptuous lips. She was well dressed and decked up for the night. My first impression-she was little on the flamboyant side. But no arguing, she was attractive. And attract she did, every male’s attention in the party. Nothing had happened apart from courteous, shy introduction, until alcohol took complete control over me. She was drunk too. As the music rolled, and lights dimmed, we danced to the rhythm of the music, our bodies aroused to the sensation of its proximity. While jealous eyes gorged at us, I triumphantly managed to pull her toward me, away from the rest of the ogling crowd. Later that night, we made love. We saw each other for a couple of weeks. We went out for dinners, drank together at my place or hers and made love. When I came here, we had promised we will stay in touch but after a few weeks, it was all gone for a toss. I was in my own world and she, in her own. I had plenty to keep myself busy about and perhaps, she had enough reason not to think about me. I put the letter back, reminding myself that I would certainly write back the next day. A good three page reply. I took Kafka on the shore, and continued reading from where I had left. Nakata talking to the cats…But no sooner I realized than I was drifting between sleep and wakefulness. The warm air was soporific enough. The book slipped from my hand and fell on the floor. And I dozed off. In a dreamy state, yet not completely, I was reading the letter and mulling over the facts and fictions in it. How can it be possible? She must be trying to play a joke on me or if it is serious, there is no way, it could be ever true. Either she does not know who the father is or she just wants to make me a scapegoat. It is a conspiracy. (I tried to figure out the first time we had sex, and the second time and the third. I tried back-calculating it. But my memory was too vague.) But she does not know one truth about me. I smiled, malignantly. The truth I have kept only to myself, a well guarded secret. I had tested positive, to my chagrin and despair. That was also a reason why my last girl friend, who had always wanted a big family, left me. I would never be able to father a child.

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There may be an ongoing struggle between singletons and the smug-marrieds to the fore but there are several other thorny singleton issues that have yet to be ironed out.

Ask any woman out on her own and she has a story to tell. For most, the amorous landscape is littered with memories of suitors who spring out of the woodwork to cure the maidens of their sexual deprivation.

It is like a ‘welcome aboard’ sign stuck on their foreheads, or so it seems for the man. A woman in the rank of an official confided, “What I thought of them didn’t seem to matter. Even if I am going out for a harmless cup of coffee with a guy, I am on my guard. I am constantly worried about sending the wrong signals. It’s really annoying that even an innocent conversation can be misconstructed.”

It’s true. More and more unattached women are perceived as straight out of a ‘Sex in the City’ existence. Single men will latch on in the hope of adventure, a romp to remember, married men will clamber on with a desire to taste the forbidden fruit-maybe an extension of the fantasy which their marriage has supposedly failed to provide. The raunchy and the paunchy, the lean and the mean, they all converge each with their own endless and absurd set of expectations. What none of them bring to the table with them is commitment or sincerity, qualities that are high on a singleton’s priority list.

Ask any woman in Bhutan, they will all have the same answer - that men from all age groups make a beeline for them like iron filings to a magnet the moment they are not in the company of a man.

I mean which woman in her right mind would enjoy the company of some perverse, sex-spewing, pot- bellied, balding lothario? In fact, more often than not, even a pleasant young man who perceives single women as easy lay seems unpalatable. None of this, of course, bothers the male of the species. Despite an abysmal strike rate their yearning libidos press them to continue with the chase, hoping the next answer would be a ‘yes.’

So why do people single out women going solo as prime picks for sexual escapades? Search me?

My only assumption would be, looking at the men in my country- the only reason women exist is to pander to their fornicating needs.

And what of the women? Do they go ballistic the moment a willing male is spotted on their radar? Not really. Stimulating company, a little respect and some genuine interest in them as people is more likely to earn brownie points rather than a smart alecky attempt at ‘hooking up.’

Now only if the men could figure it out, there might even be some great sex in store. Till then men are from Mars and women down to earth.

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Some people are born storytellers. My friend’s grandma is one of them. Petite in stature but mighty with words, she connects the imaginary world to her listeners, weaving the two together.

To watch her almost draw stories from the air around her while her eyes gleam with delight is always a treat. It isn’t only the tales she spins that lingers on after she leaves; it is also her expressions and gestures. They are finely produced in passion, anger, bewilderment, enthusiasm, joy or fear – just the exact emotion called for by the character or the story.

As a child, I loved crowding around her with the other kids just so as to be amused. These days, I visit her every now then, when I go through an occasional low, just to be transported to a land of make-believe where dragons and trolls still exist. Her magnetism and skill as a storyteller, I can’t remember what it’d do to me as a child, but now makes my troubles disappear.

Mary wed big time game hunter Joseph five years back and moved to Africa to be with him, she began one of her stories when I recently paid her a visit during an all time low.

Surprisingly this time, she didn’t concoct one with knights and dragons and the lot. The master storyteller was taking me on a journey to Africa.

Mary remained there farming and rearing horses and employed Hutu and Tutsi workers. “While the Hutus are farmers by profession, the Tutsi managed livestock,” she explained as she watched me closely.

Congo was soon gripped with civil war after its independence from Belgium in the 1960s and violence trickled over the border into Rwanda, her face wore a sad look while her hands were clasped together.

Rwanda’s Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority were clubbing, shooting, slaughtering, burning, skinning and lynching each other to their deaths, but harmony still prevailed in Mary’s farm, her lips quivered and her eyes were misty as she continued.

The bloodshed over the years had simmered down and normalcy was returning. People were… she was abruptly interrupted by the cries of her great granddaughter.

Lost in thoughts, my mind wandered - to Africa and to the movies I had watched about the Dark Continent. My head was free of worries as I imagined chaos, wild animals, malnourished children in the midday heat and bodies scattered around as flies hovered around them.

She couldn’t possibly have visited Africa or anywhere else abroad for that matter. Yet, she narrated the story as if she was present there when it all happened. Every single story she told, she told it like it took place around her. Perhaps, that is why she is a master of her craft.

“I put her off to sleep,” she whispered as I helped her sit on her chair in the garden. “She sleeps like an angel.”

“In 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan president, a Hutu, was shot down by rebels,” she got back to the story without any delay. “And suddenly the violence that had simmered erupted into genocide.”

Her eyes blinked furiously and she looked disturbed and lost. Taking a few deep breaths, she shook her head in disbelief. As if to say – how can humans be so barbaric?

Mary’s farm too wasn’t spared. The Hutu regime was hunting down Tutsi rebels. And in her farm, where she had allowed them to attempt to hide, about 100 people – all innocent, were clubbed to death as they tried to flee.

“Within three months, over 800,000 Rwandans died violent deaths,” she lifted her hand to her mouth as if visualizing the scene.

Mary, who was branded a sympathizer of the rebels, fled her farm and was later evacuated to Canada, leaving behind her husband and a few brave workers who had avoided detection by the regime; looking at the leaves of a tree trembling in the evening breeze, she continued.

Restless in Ontario, Mary could neither sleep nor eat. She couldn’t bear to be away from her farm that she called home in Rwanda. War or no war, she had to return. And return she did, my master storyteller was finally forcing a smile.

I knew the climax was nearing. I also knew it would be a happy ending like all her stories had been all these years. The fire breathing dragon would be slaughtered by the brave knight in shining armor and the princess would be rescued from the castle in the air.

Then for a fleeting moment, when I’d retire to bed, I’d reflect on her story, her expressions and let her voice play in my head. It had always happened that way. As a kid, I’d try and narrate the stories to my mother at dinner and watch her feign interest. Now, only that would change.

“It wasn’t easy for Mary to try and sneak back into Rwanda,” she sounded a little excited while she looked at me and saw my mind roving.

Kenya was where Mary would board a plane secretly to get back. Apart from her brother, no one else knew about the plan, she whispered so as not to let another soul around know what she was talking about.

Her great granddaughter, once more, started crying.

Getting up to tend to her, she whispered again while holding my hand.

“As Mary was rushing to the car that would take her to where the plane was, she was hit by a speeding truck,” her face was suddenly blank.

I looked at her, my face too probably as blank.

“Do you know what the morale of the story is?” she asked.

I shook my head in reply.

“Look left and right every time you cross the street,” she left to tend to the baby.

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Passang Dorji is a classic guy. Not only does he let slip a cruel joke every now and then, but he also does things that are beyond anybody’s wildest imagination.

His aloof, serious and no-nonsense persona, only adds an extra tinge of flavor when he unleashes his wisecracks and antics. So unexpected and abrupt they come, forget the rest, it even freaks the man himself out. And that is precisely why; Passang Dorji is a classic guy.

Even in all his seriousness, the man has the ability to blend himself to the space he’s in and instantly adjust to the situation. Plus, the things he does at the spur of the moment, thinking it is necessary, is, I thought, worth a mention.

Headed for Gelephu, darkness was already falling when we hit traffic. And it just didn’t seem to bother our man that the gate might close for our destination in Sarpang, he continued driving at a snail’s pace. “Whether you like it or not, I cannot go faster than this. I suffer from night blindness,” was his deadpan answer to shut me up.

Although I bought his excuse then and followed him in my car just as slowly, I wasn’t aware that if the gate did close, he had a trick hidden up his sleeve. The classic trick, may I also mention, was intended in all seriousness.

When we finally got there in what seemed forever, the gate, as expected, was closed. He didn’t seem worried – not then and not now. If I may add, with his permission of course, and in his own words, “Passang Dorji can move mountains.”

He simply took out his phone and explained to some officials how urgent and important it was for us to get there. So, we were made to write and sign an undertaking stating we were traveling the stretch at our own risk. And should anything happen, no one would be held responsible.

“Drive fast and don’t stop the car no matter who asks you to,” warned a cop standing at the check-point.

Our man, wearing a grave expression, walked up to my car. “You know, I have two kids. But for you, I will take the risk,” he said, with a sense of urgency in his tone mingled with uncertain fear. Having said that, he got into his car and slammed the door in a fashion very typical of him.

The gate flew open and his tires squealed as he zoomed before me. It seemed like it was now my turn to keep up with his pace. And, just as I was beginning to enjoy the speed, with a few meters covered, he was back to his normal self again. The fear, I felt, had gone flying out his car window.

All of a sudden, the warning didn’t seem to disturb him anymore. He got back to driving at a snail’s pace. Only this time, his car started going zig-zag. No sooner would he finish turning left, he would turn right, sometimes even going off the road.

The first time his car veered off the main road, I braked hard expecting a mighty jerk because of a pothole. There wasn’t any.

The road was smooth, straight and without a car in sight. Even then, he drove from one corner of the road to another, like a man possessed, while the car screamed every time he did so. I couldn’t understand what was going on.

The half-hour drive to Gelephu from Sarpang took us almost an hour but nevertheless we made it without any hitch. And, although, I could make out he was exhausted from driving like that, I was curious.

“Oye Passang, why were you driving like a mad man?” I asked.

He looked at me, as if to say, are you really as stupid as you look, before he answered.

“Don’t you watch movies or what? That is how you dodge bullets while driving, should anyone open fire,” was his classic reply. I realized he wasn’t joking.

By the way, Passang Dorji isn’t just a classic guy; he is also my roommate at work.

There are so many other classic incidences of his, but because space doesn’t permit, and because a guy capable of dodging imaginary bullets is capable of anything else, I will not incur his wrath.

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Monday, July 13, 2009


The first day itself, I was amused by all things Copenhagen.

The old buildings, cobblestone-roads, fountains, parks, canals and cafes. The amusement, I must confess, didn’t last very long.

Copenhagen is like any city, any city in the world. But unlike other cities, Copenhagen leaves you perplexed. It is not in any way dangerous. No one picks your pocket or even gives you that ‘watch it!’ look. Roam around the streets at night, and the slight eerie feeling that creeps up is because of the grotesque carved visages of humans, demons and monsters gaping at you.

In a city where everyday the little mermaid greets people at the harbor while everybody cycles to work, it is difficult to keep your sanity intact. That is probably why it is a country with one of the highest number of suicides in the world. Imagine, watching a movie in an empty theatre where a woman walks up to you and says, “You’re occupying my seat.”

I was not used to things being so organized. Inasmuch as the majority of us would prefer to wake up every morning to a normal life, I wanted some amount of chaos.

It was then that I took the metro from Frederiksberg to Christiania. And that is how this story begins. For most Danes, though, why anyone would want to go there is a question worth considering.

Perhaps, it was because I had never seen a hippie in his own country, and perhaps, I also harbored an urge to experience what life was like in such a forbidden place.

Christiania is a ‘free town’. A town, cops in riot-gear frequently raid, where Danes and Greenlanders stroll along the pusher street, where a stupa replicating the Swyambhunath in Kathmandu stands tall, and where, an agricultural product of Morocco is very much bought and sold.

As I picked my way through the orange evening sun of Christiania, I noticed houses - all fantastic, all different and all colorful. Tree houses, little boat-like houses and all kinds of houses that you would probably read in a Hans Christian Anderson fable.

And while I was marveling at the place’s beauty, I heard a gruff voice. “Hej, vil du kobe noget hash?” (Hello, are you looking for hash?). The man smiled in a state of herb-induced ecstasy, showing a set of dirty, uneven teeth “Det er meget billigt.” (I will give you for a special price.).

Boredom loves company and it didn’t matter that company came in the form of a rough looking man..

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, almost falling down. “I give you finest Morocco, only 90 kroners.” Taking out a small weighing scale, he spoke again while his eyes combed the vicinity. “One gram, two?” there was a pause. “You want to smell it?” he extended his hand toward me with the stuff in it.

“I can’t pay that much,” I said.

“I will give you for 70 kroners.” There was silence as he watched me closely. Then with a warm look he asked, “Where are you from?”

Bhutan,” I said with a smile. “Do you know where it is?”

Bootan, no,” there was a confused look on his face. “Where is it, Bootan?”

“In the Himalayas,” I sat on an empty drum as I said that.

“Aghhh!” he said bemused. “I am Per,” he gave me his hand for a shake. “I always wanted to travel. Are you here on a holiday?”

Just as I took his hand and was about to answer, he tried to lure another passerby. “Hej, vil du kobe noget hash?

I sat there watching him go about his business while there was music blaring from a café behind me. I noticed that Per had failed to nail his customer.

“You must be thirsty, care for a beer?” I said to lighten him up.

Looking at me for almost an entire minute, he finally spoke. “Yah, sure.”

I let him lead the way as we entered the Moonfisher Café. Except for the occasional turn of heads, no one else seemed distracted by our presence, not even the band that was playing.

“Two Tuborgs please,” I said to the bartender, brushing past a group of dancers in a trance. The room was filled with smoke of different flavors.

“That will be 80 kroners,” she said smiling.

As I grabbed the bottles and headed for an empty table, I noticed that Per had disappeared. Maybe, not all Danes are organized after all.

Copenhagen is very safe. In the last ten years, there have been only two murders, that of an Italian tourist and a Brit,” I overheard a man say to a tourist. “The former for not using his head and the other was a victim of a freak incident. It happens all around the world, really."

I sat there watching the band sing Knocking on Heaven’s Door as I gulped down my beer.

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Ban the ban

There has been much ado about the tobacco ban in recent years.

Apart from the international limelight Bhutan saw itself in, nothing much has come out of it. From the ineffectiveness of the ban to the kick-start of a booming black market, we’ve seen it all.

And now, finally, our parliamentarians are seeing it too.

The 82nd session of the National Assembly’s resolution to butt in on a contentious issue as personal as smoking, without a pre-ban analysis, hasn’t achieved its objective. The ban has neither cut down on the number of smokers nor has it put in place a sound system of both vigilance and enforcement.

Now, four and a half years later, the country struggles to remember what the purpose of the ban was in the first place. Things look pretty much the same as they did on December 16, 2004 – a day before the tobacco ban was imposed. The country hasn’t given up on its longtime addiction. It still looks longingly for that pack of smokes and reaches for it.

Tobacco is still available in all the places it used to be before the ban. Only the price has doubled or quadrupled as is the case in more remoter dzongkhags.

The only reminder that the ban exists is a few seizures along the check points every now and then. Unfortunately, the lucre of making a hundred percent or more makes the risk more than worth it even though the dealers stand to lose their business licenses if caught.

The National Council deciding to impose a high tax on those who sell tobacco products if the ban is lifted will benefit the government better. So far, it has only led to the improvement in the underground economy of those involved in the racket.

In nearly five years, Bhutan hasn’t benefited from the ban, and revoking it will not make the situation any different from how it already is. If we haven’t been able to get fiercely firm about it, the right thing to do now is to get rid of it.

And the lesson we can learn is not to do things in haste. First, the use of plastic was banned in the interest of the environment. But it is still available in most shops making a complete mockery of the ban. Then it was tobacco, a noble issue gone up in smoke.

Let us no longer be the butt of lingering jokes, when it doesn’t hold any water, like this one written by a foreign journalist, . “If you're indignant that your boss just shut the smoking room and outraged that you have to leave the bar to light up, take heart. Life could be worse. You could be Bhutanese.”

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