Thursday, November 20, 2014

Have Common Exams, Will Pray!

During my recent trip to Tashiyangtse, I ran into a group of students from the Tongmejangsa Middle Secondary School - in Tongzhang village.

They were all in their regular clothing. This was rather strange since at this time of the day they should be in their school uniform. I stopped my car to ask them why they were not in their classes. They chorused;

Dhari Lhabab Duechen iin la” (To-day is Day of the Descending of Lord Buddha).

“OK .. so it is a holiday and you have no classes”.

“Yes, Sir … I mean No, Sir”.

“So where are you guys headed?”

“We are going to the Lhakhang (temple) to pray and offer butter lamps”.

“Ahhh Haa goi (Ahhh I know) - your Common Exams are due soon so you are going to pray to God and ask him to help you pass your exams, iinosh (correct)?

Iin la (Yes, Sir)”.

“You think you all will pass?”

They are all full of smiles but none offer me an answer.

“So you think you all will pass?”

Mashey la (We don’t know, Sir)”.

“OK … but you have studied and are prepared for the exams, right?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Good, then I can assure you that you will pass even without prayers and butter lamps. You know why? Because in the world of the old and the wise, there is a saying;

“Siba Lhaghi Sibi ---- Mapa Rung Ghi Ra Siggo”.

“Do you know what it means?”

“No, Sir”.

It means; “It is God who initiates the shiver but it is mostly oneself who must shiver with vigour”.

“Let me explain further. You must have seen your village Pawo or Pammo, Ngeljorpas (Mediums, Oracles etc.) perform their acts. They start with a slow shiver of their body but as the ritual progresses, the shiver gets increasingly vigorous - until they collapse with exhaustion. That signals the end of the ritual”.

“Do you understand now?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Actually there is a Chilip (English/White-man) equivalent to this Bhutanese saying”.

Gachii iina la? (How does it go)?"

“It goes like this: “God helps those who help themselves”.

“Do you know what this means? This means that you should study hard if you want your prayers and butter lamps to help you pass your exams. If you don’t study, all the prayers and butter lamps in the world isn’t going to help you pass your Common Exam”.

Ha goyi ga (Did you understand)?”

Goyi la (Yes Sir, understood, Sir).

“OK .. you can go”.

As they plodded away, I noticed that they all wore similar kind of rubber flip-flops. I called them back and asked; “Why are you all wearing the same kind of flip-flops?”

“Uniform iin la”.

Wai, iina? I have never heard of this as a part of school uniform anywhere else in the country. We used to have black leather shoes called “Naughty Boy shoes”. You don’t have them any more?”

“Yes, we have, Sir. But we only wear them when it is cold. Rest of the time we wear these”.

Strange! This is a first for me.

Even more strange, how did these young minds come to believe that offering prayers and lighting butter lamps at the local Lhakhang would help them get through their Common Exams? This is bad influence. Simple and gullible minds will believe any old thing but the problem in the East particularly is exasperating, according to one Livestock Officer who tells me of his losing battle with religious misconceptions and how it is interfering with his work.

But this is a story to be told another day.

As the kids walk away towards the Lhakhang in the distance, I hear one of them muttering “God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself”.

I shake my head in sadness - there go a bunch of potential social misfits of the future! As one village elder in Chaaskar told me, education is now a paradox - anyone without it is supposedly a nobody - but most of those who are with it are either crushing stones by the roadside, working as a Khalasi, gyrating wildly in some Drayangs in the urban cities or engaged in abuse of substance and gang fights!

So much for "Basic Education For All"! But this too is a story to be told another day.


  1. Sir ji,
    Eva chapals...or Bata Chapals are part of unifrom in most rural places la....

  2. I have studied in the east and like the boys in your post I have had lots of offerings made before lhakhangs before the exams.
    While it maybe with the saying that 'God helps who help themselves', it's also to talk on a theory of reassurances and self rigor that you obtain from seeking "JAB" from the lhakhangs and temple. These little boys, notwithstanding the fact that they have studied or not; will have a sense of support and reassurances after praying before Lhakhang and will have high self confidence even if they had studied less.

    Yes, and Dasho, a note of 5 rupees each for each of them would have made them extremely happy and resonant and GNH country. Lolz. I know hoe it is like to study in remote places; I recall one day a fine gentleman, supposedly from Thimphu like you stopped by a road to give me and my friends 100 Rupees to Share! We used to think it was because of the merit from visiting the Lhakhand. :D laugh as you may; but that's the truth! ;) - Lekshey's Friend!

  3. "..........“Wai, iina? I have never heard of this as a part of school uniform anywhere else in the country. We used to have black leather shoes called “Naughty Boy shoes”. You don’t have them any more?”............"

    I work in Sarpang. During summer, the students here wear "bata chappel" and that is the school uniform here like most of the schools in southern belt.

  4. the school is now a middle secondary??? it was a lower secondary wen i was working at tyangtse some years ago..and Sir, you should write about the new high school thats under construction at an odd location just few hundred metres away from this school... the slippers are usually worn during rainy seasons as leather shoes are prone to damages in rain and muds..
    lastly, it took me back to my days at T/yangtse..i really missed those days!!