These bite-sized writings are reflections and musings from the four decades between 1979 and 2019. The book depicts many facets of Bhutan in short and simple personal narratives. From exploring the forests for wild fruits and fishing along rivers in my childhood to dancing the twist to western music in college, my own life is an analogy of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan’s experience with modernization after the country ended centuries of self-imposed isolation and opened its doors to the world in the late 1950s.
Some readers will find the facts and humor in a few of the stories incredible, perhaps even outrageous. They may wish to consider that Bhutan was, in relative terms, strange. The country built its first motor-road only in the early 1960s, a time when the rest of the world was witnessing man orbit the earth, broadcasting live the first transatlantic transmission from the US to Britain, and talking about the Intergalactic Computer Network which would ultimately be called the Internet.
Without modern amenities like the radio, television, and the Internet the small nooks and corners of Bhutan were breeding grounds for tall tales. Adolescent boys looked for Brazil on the world map upon hearing about the football player, Pele, who they believed was banned from using his right leg because it was powerful enough to kill goalkeepers. They sang Johnny Wakelin’s Black Superman, thinking it was one of mankind’s greatest musical accomplishments.
Students waited in long lines along the roadsides waving and shouting, “Hello,” when the first busloads of tourists arrived in the country. Most buses moved on but a few stopped and the tourists distributed colorful notebooks, pencils, and erasers. For the children, it seemed a gainful pastime to wait for tourists to appear. Other times, they devised simple yet ingenious ways to kill time, such as throwing steel dinner plates at each other like frisbees while they waited for the dining hall door to open. That was the Bhutan of my youth.
If the world outside bedazzled Bhutan, the mystical allure of the country amazed the world equally. Free from the complexities and sensitivities of the modern world, this Himalayan Kingdom engendered stories that today seem stranger than fiction not just for foreign audiences but also for Bhutanese natives young enough to have never known a life without social media and television.
These reflections are not just mine alone. They represent the experiences of thousands of young boys and girls who were coming of age in an ancient country that was itself in flux as it sought to blend the old order with the new. It was a time when students learnt about the solar system in their classrooms yet banged drums and cymbals to save the moon from being gobbled by a demon during a lunar eclipse.
Teachers and books exposed young minds to theorems and formulae and to a world of many dimensions and cultures. Yet there was much learned outside the classrooms as the children played the parts of teachers, students, actors and spectators.
The writings in this collection spring from that world and time and are just a sampling of many strange stories that wait to be told.