Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Friday, March 20, 2015

Denial of Gold Medal Award- A Painful Lesson.

I dwelled in a kind of exhilarated and high-spirited mood when I started receiving mails and messages summoning me for the convocation as I was declared to be the overall Academic Topper of the four Horticultural colleges under Dr.Y.S.R.Horticultural University, Venkataramannagudem, West Godavari, and Andhra Pradesh. I was told that I will be awarded a Gold Medal in recognition by some of the Professors, though not officially during convocation scheduled on 27/03/15.

However, I was informed a couple of days ago that I am not eligible for the award according to the University norms and that the award will be given to the next highest scorer from another college. The reason for my ineligibility as they states is the presence of an Asterisk mark on my academic transcript. The origin of the mark has a tale to tell and a genuine justification from my side.

I along with my Bhutanese counterparts missed one exam entirely due to inconveniences and disruption in the college campus. Our exams got delayed owing to consistent strikes in the campus. We came to our home country for semester break on usual timing after the Professors and university officials having decided that they will conduct the exams at a later date. Accordingly, we booked our tickets for return journey as this has to be done months ahead in advance. But in between, we got a notice saying that our exam has been preponed.

A notice just 3 days before the rescheduled exam time wasn't enough to make the necessary arrangements to reach the college. We tried every possible way but to no avail. Indeed, it takes 2 days of journey for me and 3 days for my friends from Eastern Bhutan to reach the border town and an additional 2 days to reach the college. There is no way in which we can traverse a total journey of 5 days in a single day without a prior plan. That is how we missed an exam (Temperate Fruits), which we attended to in the following semester.

I know it hurts my conscience. I could sense tears brimming to my eyes. I slipped the grim chance of being awarded the Gold Medal. It disappointed me because I expected it. I expected because there were people from the university ushering me the hope. There were messages and mails that I will be getting a Gold Medal. But a single message a couple of days stung me hard. I slipped a moment where I can make my parents, relatives and country proud.

With tears rolling down my cheek, I let the words of my friends saying, ‘Please Tashi, aim for the Gold Medal’ fade in the distance. It was what I did actually had it not been for the dark patch that robbed me of the very right. I don’t know whether I deserved this but I don’t recall a day where I haven’t strive for a good performance and accordingly this medal. Though working hard and excelling in studies is for my own good, there isn't a time where I haven’t committed myself to maintaining a good social relation during my entire study period. I studied and worked to keep everything perfectly-knit.

In utter dismay, I wrote a letter to the University officials inscribed with all the justifications but without any response. I contacted the concerned official through call but the language and tone with which they denied only added salt to my wounded intellect.

Days passed and I let go off the idea of ever making it to the award. However, there were suggestions from my friends, relatives, seniors and even my own Professors that I should not skip this opportunity and fight for justice. Some said this is an injustice done to an international student. Others said that the reason for their denial is silly and unjust, & I shall appeal for intervention from higher authorities. Yet my only mom said, “That will be fine. You did well in your exam in Bhutan and got a job. Let the other take that medal. There are many who didn't get a job and are leading miserable lives. Be happy with all that you have now”. A remark from my beloved partner, “Don’t worry dear, we will get gold medal for loving each other” did provide a kind of solace.

I was really confused though, I took the next step in requesting for an intervention by the Department of Adult &Higher Education. I was immensely grateful for the kind of support and assistance they have rendered though the stand by the university was unmoved in which they stated;

 “According to the guideline, even though you got the highest overall grade point aggregate among the four Horticultural Colleges, you are not eligible for the said Gold Medal as you absented in the course FRSC-2.1.1. and passed subsequently in the next semester according to our records”.

I would reiterate that it wasn't a case in which I failed an exam or left any paper undone. There is something imprecise in the University record that states that I passed in the subsequent exam. This would imply if and only if I have failed in the previous exam. But after having provided all the justifications and genuine cause, there isn't a slight impact on their firmly-rooted decision. I know that no one can change a rule but there should be some provisions to it if it has to serve the purpose of equity and justice.

If I am to be deprived of such prestigious award simply on grounds of having missed an exam and then doing it the following semester, I wonder whether the award is a matter of time; not a matter of scores, which is the deciding factor in every institution elsewhere. If those in authority postpones and fixes dates for anything, be it exams or any important occasions haphazardly, is it not likely that someone will miss that?

If lapses on the side of the college or University should have such serious implication on the student, I guess the government of Bhutan or D.A.H.E. should give prior thought before sending meritorious students to such universities as it is likely that similar cases may ensue in the times to come.
If justice can’t be done in motivating the most deserving & meritorious student through such awards, there is no point in having perspired to reach the apex point of achievement. In fact, this would only demoralize dedicated students.

The reason for my ineligibility and the path leading me there have I inscribed here so that my fellow Bhutanese students do not tread the same path of deprivation that I have trod. It shall be a lesson that all learn from my painful tale.

Still, I feel that I am dwelling in the cocoon of that dampened spirit. I shall now shred open every strand of fiber and buoy up. I shall not be shattered. Neither shall I be deterred. Because from within, I haven’t lost the zest and vigor to soar higher.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Scene at the Memorial Chhorten

The white magnificent stupa lay in the heart of the town, accessible by all. People clad in varying hue and designs of attire reach there to offer their prayers and wishes. People from all walks of life swarm in and congregate around it. Many queue into an array of lines along the slightly raised wooden planks for a sweaty yet hearty prostration.

The Memorial Stupa adorned in a myriad of hues...

Yet some come with a seemingly different purpose. Some youngsters gallop at the fastest pace with perspiration almost dripping from their faces. For them, the purpose is not what the wrinkle-clad and grey haired group of adults comes for. They simply want the extra-waistline to shed, their bellies to assume a desiring shape and showcase the opulence reflected in the way they dressed for this is one place where you will get a huge magnitude of spectators.

The Mani Dungkor remains crammed with grey-haired and watery eyed elderly ones. The rosary bound to their fingers would suffer an innumerable pull, the shiny and worn-out beads indicative of the number of times they were being pulled. Each of their faces would assume a transcending smile as they receive a fruit each or any edible item offerings from the people passing by. For an instant, all of them would put their prayer beads aside and gobble down the offerings in sheer joy. Amid laughter, giggles, chatter and chanting, they would ensure that they don’t miss dragging the beads on the other side. 

Out of many that I have overheard, a conversation between two elderly women was something that caught my attention;

 ‘Oye… Aum Dema mae mena? When have you been here?’ remarked one of the women with a pat on the other’s back.

The other women tilted her head in the direction of the caller, halted for a moment in speculation and muttered, ‘Een wae Aum Sangay. I have been staying with my son and his family here for almost 3 years now. So when and what brings you here?’

‘I came to the capital a couple of months ago to do nothing but babysit my grandchild’, pronounced the rather painful response.

‘I am no better than you. It is my third year of doing the same thing. Besides, this is the only time I get to come out and circumbulate the chorten. I am grounded at the house babysitting until they return from office’.

‘I would rather prefer to live my life at the village. Here, I hardly get time to chant prayers. As you say, this lean hour is my only opportunity. Don’t you think it is quite tiring for us to work hard for the upbringing of our own children, and then follow the same trend for our grandchildren? The time that we should have allotted to spiritual practice do we land up being a babysitter!’

‘I know the fact is harsh but we have to accept the reality. It would be better for us to resort to chant a few prayers than to grunt over this thing. Dusk will sweep in soon’, said Aum Dema with her eyes tinged with a patch of gloominess.

The other nodded and both of their lips assumed the fastest swing in muttering prayers. Looking at the rapidity with which they moved their lips, I could sense their mounting desire to compensate for the lost count on the prayer beads. This is because nothing would define their contentment than a hefty count on their rosary beads at the end of the day.

After a satisfactory count of striding round and round the chorten, many make a clean exit. This would be marked by a momentary halt near the central path leading to the stupa or the gate. Many would clasp their hands into a lotus bud-like form and shut their eyelids in uttering their silent prayers. Others would not dare to do so in front of a crowd or are driven by time.

I often join the crowd and immerse myself in the euphony of religious chanting; the different modes of prayers assuming varying degrees of intonation. I get diffused in the crowd; overwhelmed by the serenity and tranquility prevailing within. 

I cling to the belief that the sole purpose of religion is to gain control over our mind; a path towards self-mastery and liberation.  I can vividly rewind the words of the Principal of Tango monastery at religious discourses during my school days. He reiterated time and again that the sole purpose of religion or the word ‘Choe’ is to gain control over oneself.

 And so have I read in the teachings of the Lord Buddha inscribed in books stating, ‘You cannot find freedom or attain liberation by praying to some gods or making offerings. Practicing awareness in daily life and looking deeply into your own mind lead to cessation of suffering and realization of peace and joy’. I believe that such practice has an inter-linking relationship with spiritual awakening. The serenity and calmness experienced is quite indicative of that. Yet it depends on individual perception which might vary greatly.