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NELit review

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MAY 27, 2012

SEVEN SISTERS

The road to happiness


A Tribute to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Source of the Great Peace and Happiness of Our Time MONG my favorite childhood memories is walking with my mother in the late afternoon light, through a long avenue of weeping willows to watch His Majesty at our national sport of archery, or a basketball game on a court he had built for youth in the capital. I was seven or eight, and His Majesty barely 21. I loved to watch our lithe, handsome king play pickup basketball with students and personnel from the services. I was always struck by how he smiled easily, and was so alert on the court and on the archery range. I noticed how he always played with skill and grace, but never aggressively. This was not your typical head of state that lived cordoned by security guards and detached from the population by a slew of bureaucratic titles. Any Bhutanese person will tell you His Majesty knew how deeply he was loved, and he loved us back. He mingled freely and worked untiringly for our welfare. While various sundry government leaders embroiled themselves in scandals, spent time amassing fortunes, or became involved in corruption, His Majesty lived a quiet and simple life, rarely venturing outside the country. He was more apt to be found poring over stacks of documents for Bhutans five-year development plans or honing proposals for improved social services. I offer my pledge today to serve our beloved country and people with fidelity and to the best of my ability, His Majesty said, accepting his sacred role as leader of the Bhutanese people on June 2, 1974. The words were simple, and we Bhutanese had 34 years to discover just how sincerely our king meant them. In the mid 1990s, I was assigned to report on His Majestys Five Year Plan tours to the 20 districts in the kingdom. His Majesty had every leading government official travel with him to the farthest corners of the country,

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IN an age when most countries rate achievement by the production of material goods, His Majesty taught us that the true measure of success should be our own happiness

DREAMING OF PRAYER FLAGS: STORIES AND IMAGES FROM BHUTAN


Karma Singye Dorji Shum Press, 2008 $42.99, 124 pages Hardcover / Non-fiction
In an age when most countries rate achievement by the production of material goods, His Majesty taught us that the true measure of success should be our own happiness. He taught us that the pursuit of a material economy should be balanced with spiritual wellbeing, and that true development of human society, what he called Gross National Happiness, takes place only when material and spiritual development occur together in a holistic way. Embedded in the idea of gross national happiness was his recognition that the heedless pursuit of purely economic goals is counteractive to enduring contentment. The work of building a happy nation must, therefore, include equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment and establishment of good government practices. Selfless to the end, His Majesty left us with the reins of government firmly in our hands. Announcing his decision to abdicate in December 2006 in favor of Bhutans new parliamentary democracy, His Majesty said: In taking note of the progress that our nation has made over the past 34 years, I would like to state that whatever we have achieved so far is due to the merit of the people of Bhutan. He reminded us that the power to shape the new Bhutanese nation lies not with powerful individuals and personalities but with all Bhutanese people. Both

Impressionistic photography: Sandy Shum

sometimes walking several days to explain the governments goals to the people. After officials described their five-year plans, each Bhutanese man, woman and child had the opportunity to offer criticism or suggest changes. In this way, His Majesty ensured that abstract notions of progress actually answered our peoples concerns. As a young Bhutanese professional trying to understand my responsibilities, I found this government-on-theroad refreshing for the way it cut across hierarchy and privilege. Often, in some far flung valley or humble little village, as the royal entourage settled in for the night after a long days deliberations, the last lamp extinguished would be the one in the modest guest house or tent reserved for His Majesty.

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KARMA SINGYE DORJI

On one of these tours to Bhutans largest and poorest district, several demanding issues came up for discussion. His Majesty could easily have told the people they would receive a formal response from his secretariat at a later date. Everyone knew he was maintaining a tight schedule, and no one would have questioned his decision. Instead, he worked on revisions with his ministers and planning officers for the next three days. Finally when he

was satisfied the revised initiatives adequately addressed the peoples concerns, he presented them again. His Majesty the King covered hundreds of kilometers on these tours, stopping to speak with each villager who waited by the road to petition him. The villagers knew that they counted in their kings eyes, that they were as important to the task of nation building as any desk-bound bureaucrat. Those of us who traveled with him were often frustrated by our slow progress. H.M. must surely be tired of this, we thought. This is the umpteenth time hes stopped in the past two hours. But we never saw a glimmer of irritation, never saw him hurry. We knew that no other government could conduct the business of a nation in this patient and authentic way.

these statements may be true, but the world teaches us that this innate power of the people can be subverted by unprincipled politicians and interest groups that steer governments for their own selfish ends. His Majestys unshakeable faith that there is good in the world, that leaders can be positive and selfless, is a tremendous legacy. Not only has he ushered in a brave new age for Bhutan, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has empowered and nurtured a people ready to reap the benefits of peace, liberty, justice and well-being. Stepping into such hallowed shoes should be daunting for any young man. As head of state, one of the first responsibilities of the Fifth King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was to ensure a smooth transition to the new democracy. But no one could be better prepared to shoulder his responsibilities. Oxfordeducated, our fifth king is extremely well-versed in the responsibilities of statecraft, having received personal guidance from his illustrious father. Like his father, His Majesty Jigme Khesar has already covered every district in our rugged land, listening to the people and studying their needs. Proving he shares the same commitment, compassion and concern for the welfare of the people, he made rigorous journeys across the kingdom to educate citizens from all walks of life about our new constitution. The young king also played a central role in helping people understand their rights and responsibilities of participating in the new Bhutanese democracy. While the vision came from the father, the son has been instrumental in shaping and honing the ideas for Bhutans continuing evolution in the new century. The progressive changes in Bhutanese government are, therefore, the shared legacy of two kings. In Bhutan we raise prayer flags to carry our hopes for peace into the world. May the ripening blessings of these two Bhutanese kings take wing on these flags and reach all nations around the world! T
Winner of the 1995 Dag Hammarskjold Award given by the UN Correspondents Association, Karma Singye Dorji has been senior writer for Bhutans national newspaper, Kuensel. This extract and accompanying image is from his book, Dreaming of Prayer Flags: Stories and Images from Bhutan (2008). The impressionistic images in the book are by Sandy Shum.

Our last days in Bhutan


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HUTAN is a land of white flags a peaceful country in the foothills of the Himalayas. Its lofty mountains and inaccessible forest lands beckoned several armed rebel groups from Assam. Bhutan was the most suitable place for Assam insurgents in terms of sanctuary and tactical retreat. The importance of the countrys impenetrable regions from strategic perspective was also immense. That is why the land of Bhutan had been indispensible to rebels from the state for over one-and-a-half decades. Strongly influenced by the Buddhas message of peace, Bhutan is a peaceful country in its truest sense. The most attractive aspects of the lifestyle of the common people of Bhutan, untouched by the complex mentality of the modern world or away from the mechanical world, are their tolerance and hospitality. These two traits of the Bhutanese had always impressed us from 1995 till Operation All Clear in 2003, when we were apprehended. We learnt from the people of Bhutan how one could lead a happy life without being too ambitious. For the humble and liberal-minded Bhutanese, we were sim sakurmas from Assam who were in trouble and needed their help. In such a situation, Bhutan turned out to be a strategic base for us. Our central and military head offices were deep inside the jungles of Bhutan. It would be appropriate here to point out a negative thing about that country. The need of large-scale public support for rebels in the places considered to be their strategic bases in Bhutan was not fulfilled. It was different from what we had seen among people of Myanmar or Nagaland. The majority of the people of Bhutan didnt have any idea about our goal and ideology. Of course, the question of them being aware of our objectives did not arise as it was not necessary for them to give importance to our political or social issues. They knew only one thing: give shelter to people from danger. It was not possible for us to engage in guerrilla warfare, a prerequisite for direct or indirect participation of the people in and round the area of our base camp in defensive war. Bhutan had served as a safe haven for us for about one-and-a-half decades because of the leniency of its monarchy and benevolence of its people. Finally our last days in Bhutan arrived. We left for Bhutan in 1995. Coming from our camps in Myanmar, Mama (Bhimkanta Buragohain), Mrinmoy Hazthe infant in my arms, felt that it was no longer alive. There were already a few more blasts in places close to us. I hurriedly laid the baby down and covered it in a polythene sheet under a tree, and then went away. We could do nothing more than that at that moment. I again ran up to Rahul Dutta, but I couldnt go near him. Mortar shelling was constantly going on in that direction. I came back. Major Bening Rabha immediately said, Go away from the camp along with the women and children. Ill go with the rest. By then the attack on our camps had intensified. I went down into a gorge, taking the women and children along. We needed to position ourselves at some distance from the camps. After moving along for about an hour, we assembled in a thick forest surrounded by stony hills. Gradually others from the camps also arrived there. We already had news of death of several associates. Some mortar shells were also lying in and around the area where we had come together. Helicopters and planes whizzed through the sky at noon. We couldnt see the sky because of the thickness of the forest. However, it wasnt difficult to understand that they had launched air strike on us. All were strictly ordered not to make any fire in the place of shelter. We left that place on 15 December. We had no food except water. The rice that the soldiers had carried along was set aside for the children and the injured. Having travelled through a serpentine route from 18 to 21December , we took refuge on the bank of a river for a day. Helicopters had not stopped flying over the area yet. Perhaps they were still hunting for us. During those few days we had tactically steered clear of several ambushes by the Bhutanese army. Finally, in the early hours of 22 December morning, we slipped into a large ring of Bhutanese soldiers at the confluence of the dry river we were passing through and another river. They nullified any chance of our counter-attack by encircling us from the hills on all sides. We certainly realised that it was the last day of our sanctuary in Bhutan. What happened thereafter is known to all. There is no need to repeat what kind of disaster Bhutans crackdown had brought to the ULFA I must, however, say the Bhutanese army treated us with enough respect even after our detention. They told us time and again that they were under some obligation to take such tough action against us. They also requested us not to see them as our enemies. T

OTHER WORDS

Shillong: a nursery of literary culture


MURLI MELWANI

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ANURAG MAHANTA TRANS: SIBA K GOGOI

arika, Bhaiti Baruah and I, along with several others, had entered Bhutan via the Darrang border for participation in a central general council meeting. During our journey Mama went on talking about Bhutans history, its relations with the Ahom monarchy, and its role in the migration of Tai Mongoloids. Mrinmoy Hazarika chimed in once, Mama, where will we reach beyond the border? The Himalayas. You can join us for a trip there, Mama said, with a mild smile. Despite having a tough time, we laughed. After that journey, we took on our respective responsibilities and fanned out to different camps in Bhutan. As we met from time to time, Mama would say, Nephew, we came here together and will go back to Myanmar together, if the need arises. That, however, didnt happen. The incident on 15 December 2003 turned everything upside down. It was a bitingly cold December morning. Pankhi, Mitali, Ankur, Raja and others, enjoying the warmth of sunshine, had already started playing in the courtyards of the houses. We were also getting ready for the days activities in the camps collecting materials and firewood, pitching tents and doing general exercise. Sergeant Major Mridula Changmai blew the whistle after hoisting our flag in the camp field. The soldiers were preparing to come to the field from the barracks. Just then there was a sound of heavy gunshots in Chukuni Basti, a defence. All were alarmed. Seeking to know the cause of the firing, some of us and I ran to security officer Ajay

Narzary. As soon as we came near him, several bombs went off at the same time, shaking the hills. We were convinced that was the sound of exploding mortar shells. The campdwellers were already running helter-skelter. I instructed Mridula and office in-charge Biman to arm the soldiers with the weapons stored in the office of the commander and then scampered towards Major Bening Rabha. Mortar shells were bursting incessantly. The Bhutanese army started attacking our camps from three sides. They first attempted to destroy our camps with artillery. We didnt have any chance to retaliate because Bhutanese soldiers were bombarding us with mortars from three to four kilometers away. Hundreds of mortars had already fallen on several of our camps. It was not safe to be holed up in the camps. Several soldiers on our side had already been injured. Carrying them, some soldiers went away into the dense forest. While I was rushing towards Major Bening Rabha, I heard two huge sounds behind me. Turning around, I saw the office of the commander was razed. A few steps ahead, I noticed a heartrending sight: Captain Rahul Duttas wife was running in my direction, with her baby in her lap. The blood-smeared hands and legs of the one-and-a-half-yearold infant boy were hanging loose. His father was holding him on his lap. The man is lying in the courtyard. See what has happened to the baby, Baideu sobbed. I took the baby from baideu and pulled her up to the bunker by the house of Major Bening Rabha, where almost all the women and children had already moved into. Major Bening Rabha came running from another direction. Rahul Duttas son has been hit by shells, I said. He examined the baby, and said, Alas, its gone. I had earlier, while taking

LONG tradition of educational excellence, a salubrious climate, and a relaxed pace of life make Shillong a nursery of literary culture. I was a witness to the growth of this culture from the fifties till the late seventies. It was my good fortune to know most of the writers personally. The contact with literary figures happened, less because I was a lecturer at Sankardev College, more because I gave time in the evenings to the bookshop I owned, Ratnas Mascot. Dr Verrier Elwin, a worldrenowned anthropologist and ethnologist, who had donned khadi and worked with Gandhiji during the freedom movement, made Shillong his home. He was an impressive personality, with back-brushed collarlength hair and a perpetual cigar in his mouth. He wrote his autobiography, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin, in Shillong. EP Gee, renowned for his 1953 discovery of Gees golden langur (Trachypithecus geei), was a member of Wildlife Board of India, along with well-known figures like Salim Ali and M Krishnan. He wrote the authoritative The Wild Life of India during his retirement in Upper Shillong. AL Basham, author of The Wonder That was India, married Catherine Sen (Shadap), who taught history at St. Marys College, Shillong. Basham travelled between Australia, his native country, and Shillong. He was buried in Shillong. Nari Rustomji, former chief secretary, Government of Meghalaya, recorded his experiences in the Northeast in Enchanted Frontiers. JN Chowdury, author of The Tribal Culture and History of Arunachal Pradesh, The Khasi Canvas and Arunachal Panorama: A Study in Profile, would spend time at the Rabindra Library, from 7 pm till 9 pm, after a full day in government office. Everyone knew him as Mukul Chowdhury, not as Jyotindra Nath Chowdhury. JD Baveja served as the director of All India Radio, Shillong for a number of years. A heavy-set man with casually combed hair, he had the look of an artiste. He wrote Across the Golden Heights of Assam and NEFA and The New Horizons of the North East, and collaborated with two others in

writing The Land where the Bamboo Blooms. DD Mali taught economics in the college where I taught English. My evenings in the bookshop taught me that there was a need for a book on the economy of Meghalaya. I persuaded Mali to write such a book; Ratnas Mascot published it. Shortly after the publication of the book, Mali applied for the position of the director of the small-scale industries institute that was being set up. What secured Mali the job was the fact that he had published a book. Mali subsequently wrote books like Economic Problems and Planning in Assam and Small Industry Development in North East India. Radhon Singh Lyngdoh, who went on to become speaker of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly, was connected from the beginning with the movement for the creation of a separate hill state. He wrote a history of the movement. The manuscript was not published and is presumed lost. Efforts should be made to find out the manuscript and publish it, since it records an important phase of Meghalayas history by a person who was a lecturer in history at St. Anthonys College, Shillong. Chronicles of an Impossible Election by James Michael Lyngdoh gives the reader an insight into the functioning of the Election Commission. Lyngdoh, a winner of the prestigious Magsaysay Award, retired as the Chief Election Commissioner of India. Mona Melwani won the first prize in the non-fiction category, for her entry, Tipu Sultan, in the Competition for Writers of Childrens Books, 1980, organised by Childrens Book Trust. The iconic Nirad C Chaudhuri, who completed a book at the age of 100, has written in some detail about Shillong, a city he was connected with, in The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian. Sanjoy Hazarika, author of Rites of Passage, Strangers in the Mist and Writing on the Wall, needs no introduction. Non-fiction is often the precursor of fiction and poetry. Famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin was a poet too; a collection of 28 of his poems has been recently published by North East Zonal Cultural Centre. Jyoti Jafa, wife of VS

Jafa, an IAS officer, is the author of a historical novel, NurJahan. Since Jyoti Jafa was connected to one of the royal families of Rajasthan, she recreates the Mughal court in the novel in meticulous detail. Shillong is the background for most of the stories in Murli Melwanis collection, Stories of a Salesman. William H Archer, who reviewed it in Books Abroad, wrote, (these)are not stories with complex plots so much as sketches after the manner of Lafcadio Hearn, sharp vignettes of the daily round of East Indian people. In the early sixties, three young men and two women, who had just graduated from college, started a literary magazine, Forward. It carried poems, short stories and articles. Forward died a quiet unannounced death after three issues. Reason: the obvious one, lack of funds. I am tempted to include writers like Mitra Phukan, who went to school or college in Shillong, but I would be straying from my turf, because other cities nurtured their talent. Preetika Venkatakrishnan, in a recent article in Seven Sisters Post, Guwahati, brought the literary narrative of Shillong up to date by focusing on contemporary writers and poets.I would like to add a few names to her list. The story of Ankush Saikias debut novel, Jet City Woman, alternates between New Delhi and Shillong. The short stories in Saikias recent collection, Spotting Veron and Other Stories, move closer to Shillong. RG Lyngdoh, former home minister of Meghalaya, brought out a novel, Who the Cap Fits, that deals with the ethnic tensions in the Shillong of the seventies and eighties. Bikika Laloo Tariang, in her collection of short stories, Dad and The Salesman, presents both sides of the coin; she conveys the ignorance of fellow Indians about the people of the Northeast as well as the prejudices and insecurities of the locals. The literary narrative of Shillong will move forward as more poets, novelists and short story writers draw on a tradition going back to the fifties and build on the groundwork done by the contemporary poets and writers. We look forward to more voices from the the Northeast presenting the unique points of view and sensibilities of seven fascinating cultures. T