Monday, November 21, 2016

Stimulating Sikkim (part 2)

Razen Manandhar


November 18th, Monday. I myself became Nepal when I saw people in Sikkim. As if, I was in Nepal, or as if, Nepal was inside me. I know seeing Nepali speaking people with Dhaka cap is normal there. That is why I brought a Dhaka cap form home. I reluctantly accept to wear Dhaka cap at home even when it is a must, during rituals of sagan, for example. But here I was excited to wear it; it gave me a noble pride to walk along the road with the cap on my head. It gave a affectionate feeling when I saw some middle-aged men showing up with the caps. I just wanted to tell them that I am not different. Poshraj and Hari usually wear it but I don't. They didn't feel awkward, but it was too much for me to showcase my Nepaliness in Gangtok street. I felt like everybody there was staring at me, I was a bizarre unwanted creature there. I was afraid if somebody would mock me, somebody would kick me.

I did not actually know what I wanted to show by wearing Dhaka cap there. Does nationality means this cap? Who should I show my nationality here? If nationality is embodied into this cap, what about those Nepali ethnic groups who never wear this cap? Does this mean that their blood they shed for making my country is not defined as nationalism? Then why on earth I'm showing my nationality crowned with this cap in Sikkim? I felt this cap was burning me from inside. I removed the cap and tugged it inside my pocket. I hid my showpiece nationalism. Then I felt the whole sky is my, my nationalism.

Our today's plan was to visit Phodong monastery. But when I stopped at Tashi Viewpoint, we all enjoyed the panorama of the Himalaya so much that we loved to spend whole day there. We agreed to forget everything. There was a shop, which had traditional Bhotiya dress on hire. Many of us wore them and posed for photographs. I preferred to remain out of the box. I liked the way I was wearing.

It was nearly 11 am when we finally reached the jungle of Kabi Langchock, the place where Bhutiyas and Lepchas, two of the indigenous peoples of Sikkim, tied themselves to new relation of brothers. As the story has it, they met on this point and promised that they would remain faithful brothers until there is water in the Rangit river and snow in the Mount Kanchanjengha. They said that they would remain blood relatives. It is thus a place to visit for the concerned communities and the government of Sikkim also has declared this as a "shrine". In the shadowy jungle, the big concrete sculpture was majestic.

The problem of language took a provoking shape today. It was agreed that the guide would explain things in Nepali and I would translate it into Esperanto. But our guide Sanjiv was explaining in English that only a few in our group could understand. Pascal understood English and he translated it directly into French for his friends, that means nobody except French friends were benefitted. Finally Ursula raised voice.

I had to intervene and said that from now onwards the guide would not speak in English and I would take charge of explaining everything into Esperanto. Language is such a sensitive issue for them and nobody tolerates domination by others' language there.

Half an hour's drive passed and we stopped at a waterfall called "Sat Kanya Jharana". We refreshed ourselves with sprinkles of that elegant waterfall. I know Indians from the plains get excited when they see water fall on the road.

We arrived at the old monastery of Labrang. It was located in a quiet hill, looked small but completely different. Thanks to remoteness and probably strict chief monk, it has not been encroached by modern technology and materials. Unfortunately, it sustained some physical damages in the earthquake that rocked Sikkim two years ago. Slowly reconstruction work was going on. Some young monks were painting on wooden bars in the tender sun.

A place where one has to walk for whole day to reach and where there is no public transportation service – this is the secret of the monastery being so untouched and so beautiful. People spend their life there in the name of religion. They may not even have proper foodstuff, and shelter is so poor – most probably it snows there in the winter. And those young novice monks. I started thinking about Buddhism in my area, where monkhood is always associated with urban setting. When are our monks going to learn to reside in solitude and practice real Buddhism, instead of expecting luxury donations or benefits from the limited followers?

I could see that Pascal was feeling uncomfortable to see novice monks, playing in the warm sun. He came to me and asked – what do they eat, who does take care of them? How much do they study? Do their parents visit them? I replied as much as my conscience had idea about general monkhood of Tibetan Buddhism. I said, "Yes. It is undoubtedly a difficult thing for parents to send their children to this severe distance for studying Buddhism. But see this is the reason we have monks who are determined to contribute for Buddhism throughout their lives. And Buddhism is spreading all over the world."

Then we headed to Phodong monastery, some 38 km north of Gangtok. This is one of some noted monasteries in the whole state. Have it constructed in the 18th century by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal, it is associated with Kagyurpa sect of Buddhism.

The main monastery is majestic in the solitude. Young monks were studying in a classroom nearby. They were busy reading some texts in Tibtean scripts. They see their lives in those books – yes, one single life is not enough to have complete knowledge of Buddhist philosophy. That is why they tend to take birth again and again, probably, being an autari lama. If study of religion had competed, religion itself had been eradicated.

Visiting monasteries give us a new and different kind of experiences – they live there with all basic needs. They never go for other luxuries. They read, they eat and worship. They make their own happiness inside the boundaries. Why should somebody look for other when they can find their happiness within themselves? Contentment is the most precious happiness in human life. They chant mantras – in one rhythm, in one tempo. They could be hundreds in number but they have one voice. This voice comes from their sincere devotion and this sincerity is simply taking refuge to the Triple Gem. Even though I couldn't understand their language, I could feel the hypnotism in the environment surrounded by the monks' chantings. What else it could be if it is not the message of peace?

It was good that we completed today's program earlier. I have a special meeting to attend. An appointment with some of prominent Newar leaders was fixed. I was contacting some of the known names here. Mr Surendra Pradhan visited me at the hotel room. And we fixed today evening rendezvous. It indeed a surprise visit from him to my hotel room. And we set time for today.

Meena came to my hotel at 5.30. She even brought a packet of gift for me. She took me to Mint Tree Mountain Restaurant, located at a busy crossroad near the hospital. But we found ourselves in a quiet big and gloomy hall. One after another, activists of local Newar movement came. We alltoghether became eight. None, except Meena, who once lived in Kathmandu and studied Newari script for sometime, spoke in Newari with me.

I grabbed an opportunity to ask about Newar society in Gangtok or in Sikkim as a whole. Even though they are not very much concerned about learning Newari and using it, they have keen love for their culture, food and dance etc. They are living their style of life, in this mixed multi-ethnic scenario. What is important now is that they have the feeling that they belong to the community called Newars. And, the government also is helping them to promote their language and culture.

I handed over the bunch of books I had for Sikkim Newar Guthi, including two books, written by me. Hope, they will have space for these papery love for Newars of Sikkim from those from Kathmandu. Pradhan ju gave some copies of Souvenir of Sikkim Newar Guthi.

While talking with them, I forgot to handover the gift of Bhishma Dai to Rajendra Bhandari, a local Nepali writer. I would not have more time to search for him. So I requested Meena to accomplish this talk of taking the packet of the books to Mr Bhandari.

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