I Felt at Home– Moments and Messages from the Book Launch at Gyalpozhing
On 13 June 2022, Tara, a friend, and former colleague of mine wrote, “Hello Dechen[,] how is everything [?] Enjoying in Gyalpozhing?” Having spent about four months here at Sherubtse, his question made me reflect why he asked the question in the first place. A couple of friends asked the same. Is it because I did not post something related to my work here at Sherubtse in Kanglung? Or my posts related to book launch at Gyalpozhing was trending, at least, among my social circle that they felt I was at Gyalpozhing College of Information Technology (GCIT).
Why the launch had to be at Gyalpozhing, not Sherubtse, then? After the book went for printing, I discussed with my close friends about the book launch if a social media post would be sufficient. I created a WhatsApp group, ‘Book Launch’ to discuss how it can be best approached. On 28 April, Kezang wrote in the group, “I think the plan is well charted. However, I am not much in favo[u]r of [a] virtual launch. The book deserves a launch event in person. Book flight one Saturday and come to Thimphu, launch it and return, or we can plan it in Kanglung itself.” Given my professional commitment and public policy stand, Thimphu was out of consideration. My job is my priority for it is a source of livelihood. As Dr Shashi Tharoor recounts his parents’ advice about difficulty to earn a living by writing books, instead it to be pursued as a hobby or passion, I write book not for commercial purposes. Maybe, my ideas do not merit investment? In the books I write, “I share my perspectives for it might encourage you share yours – better and sophisticated.”
If the launch had to be an in-person event, the launch (moment) should speak and feel the story the book tells and the aspiration it holds. Number was not an important consideration. Emotions was the only criterion! On all fronts, literally and metaphorically, Gyalpozhing in Mongar was the ideal venue reflecting the essence of the book, ‘From Mongar to Thimphu via London’. As much as recounting the past, the essence of the book is about the future. My friend Tashi helped me design, print and send the banner [standee] from Thimphu.
My two former Dzongkha Teachers, Lopen Pema and Lopen Loday, still serving at Gyalpozhing Higher Secondary School, now relocated at former Kurichu Lower Secondary School, graced the book launch on Saturday, 07 May 2022. My friend and former classmate, Tashi, now a teacher at our alma mater help me reach out to them. At the launch, I recounted how Lopen Pema used to keep us awake in the hot classroom to the extent that sweat ran over his face and gho became wet. “I am able to write this book because teachers such as Lopen helped me gain knowledge and competencies,” I shared. “If it was only because of my effort, I taught thousands of students but not all of them are able to write a book. It is your effort,” Lopen quipped. I felt humbled!
As I shared the essence of the book, Yeshi [Yeshey], a student of GCIT asked me what it takes to write a book and how long. I try to make sense of my everyday interactions and think on those encounters some of which I write as reflections in my daily journal entries. I forgot to tell her that I try reading books. Hopefully, Yeshi gets this message. I wrote the first part, Legacy in London in September 2021, second part, Breakthroughs while in quarantine in Zhi Dey Chen, Paro in October and the third part, Aspirations in Thimphu in November. Cumulatively, it took me about two months to complete the manuscript. Why ‘Tower Bridge’ on the cover? I see my ideas as a bridge.
The previous day, as we drove towards his home from Kurizampa to Lingmethang, Tashi and I recounted our days at GHSS, the campus now designated for GCIT. One summer when we were in Class XII, we went to Thridangbi to collect fern for our school’s annual ritual. In the neighbourhood of Zhongar Dzong which is in ruins, we encountered a rat. Kelzang, a classmate and resident of Thridangbi who was also amongst us, told, rather insistently, the tutelary deity of the area takes different forms and manifestations, and for the newcomers, one should prostrate facing the Dzong (fort). I prostrated but wasn’t so convinced. I later came to know that he played a prank on us. In the book, I tell similar stories of deities, myths, and spirituality.
During my brief stint abroad, Bilbao in Spain in 2011-’12 and London in United Kingdom in 2020-’21, I got a sense of how rest of the world see Bhutan. Not many know the intricacies of Bhutanese life and society. And you get to tell your understanding of Bhutan. Some would invite you to represent Bhutan. Some of my friends and I got the opportunity to feature [as extras] in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’. Never in my wildest of imagination did I think that I would get to meet celebrities such as Jude Law, and Director David Yates. As a fan of Liverpool Football Club, I was able to watch a Liverpool FC’s English Premier League match against Chelsea FC from the Kop Stand. I got the opportunity feature in a popular English movie simply because I am a Bhutanese. I was able to rejoice, feel and get absorbed among the Anfield faithful because my starting journey from Mongar made this possible. I decided to launch the book in Mongar because ‘Mongar gave me the hope and I would like to return a hope to Mongar.’
But I was not a lone traveller in my hitherto journey nor will I be able to do it on my own hereon. I needed a platform and people who would help me tell my story.
Gyalpozhing Higher Secondary School is my alma mater. With campus now upgraded to GCIT, it had the space I needed for the launch. Organising a two-week ICT camp in December 2021 as a part of Project SHERAB, I crossed path with some of the most cooperative and proactive people with intrinsic motivation to bring about positive difference in society. In Sonam, Nima and Kezang, I have people to whom I could bank on.
I first reached out to Sonam. She helped confirm the venue, reach out to Chimi to be the moderator, and accepted my request to be the emcee. Nima and Kezang help me arrange the refreshments for the attendees. They made the launch possible, indeed a memorable one. As I later learnt, for most of the attendees, it was their first experience. I felt satisfied and accomplished! I felt at home. To express my gratitude for the team, I floated an idea to go for a dinner. All agreed. My friend Tashi also joined us. Once we had our dinner at Mathang Restaurant in Lingmethang, I went to clear the bill only to know that Sonam had footed the bill. I tried to get the amount from the lady on the counter, but she appeared, decided not to know the amount. I pressed I know the amount but to no avail. It took me back to the comment KB Lee, a Singaporean faculty made on 03 January 2022 when I declined to have my dinner plate removed from the table by a student trainee of ICT. He said:
“When someone offers genuine service or help, or paying genuine compliments, the greatest gift you can give back is saying Thank You and allow them to be in service for you. By accepting is Giving. Sometimes declining a genuine offer of help and service, is taking away the opportunity for others to contribute.”
Earlier in the morning, as we discussed about the launch set for the afternoon, it occurred to me that I shared to Sonam the comment another friend of mine, Tandin made about me, “You are a financially struggling author.” Perhaps she took the comment into consideration. Yes, Tandin is not wrong. Besides, I also printed the notes for my classes on Monday from her office. I prepared, I had to, at Gyalpozhing for my job at Sherubtse. It is more than a job –a plan thought about in 2019 when I applied for my Chevening Scholarships to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science. An excerpt from my response to the third question of the application pertaining to career plan reads:
“In next ten years, for about five years, I want to work in the Royal University of Bhutan linked and affiliated colleges. While tertiary education in the country started as early as 1980s, courses in social sciences such as Political Science did not start until 2009. Incidentally, it coincided with the same period Bhutan adopted ‘democratic constitutional monarchy’ form of government in 2008. As of today, beside autonomous Royal University of Bhutan colleges, private colleges are making headway in Bhutan’s growing tertiary institutions. Amongst others, Political Science is one major discipline that is keenly pursued. Getting an opportunity to study in one of the best educational systems in the world would equip me with the knowledge, skills and ability to contribute to Bhutan’s tertiary education both in content as well as delivery in the capacity of a teaching faculty in the Political Science discipline.”
I am on track as if I had known what lie ahead of me, four years ago. Dreams come true. Even more, with the Royal University Bhutan generally and Sherubtse specifically undergoing major reform, my ideals of 2019 seem to have been well thought through and foreseen. It was not. I was simply speculating based on my instincts. With the first stint at Sherubtse complete, I was able to achieve my goal. Did students gain something from me? Sonam, another friend wrote to me on 21 June, coincidentally the last class of the semester, “…It’s such a noble profession & your contribution will go a long way.” “Students might have a different say,” I responded.
My decision to join Sherubtse and launch the book at Gyalpozhing was a conscious, not necessarily calculated, decision.
At Gyalpozhing, I told people who joined the launch that Mayul is “wHere Hope Beckons.” Am I being overly idealistic? Friends and acquaintances would ask me a rhetorical question, “You had no job obligation. You could have stayed back abroad [in the United Kingdom].” I am not surprised. Financially, I was able to spare more money for my parents from the stipend I got than I can do it from the salary I receive. Life in London and Bilbao were more convenient and services reliable than in Mongar and Trashigang. Yet I haven’t resigned to a fact that money is everything in life. But it is something. As you read this, a friend of mine is flying to Australia, some have tickets booked. This month alone, I reviewed not less than four statement of purpose. Some are leaving primarily for their studies. Few to earn a decent living for their family. The trend makes me think, ‘Am I pursuing an illusory dream?’
As I told at Gyalpozhing, hope as I see it, is a hope to make an impact in your own locality. Can I stick with the words I gave, or will it be another statement compelling me to reinterpret the narrative? But those smiles of my former teachers, friends, acquaintances and students alike at Gyalpozhing give me the hope that I can bring smiles on faces of some of the people, however far and few in between be. The journey has begun. Will it sustain?