Friday, July 27, 2012

"Namkha Jhida, Bird-chaser" by Dhondup Tashi Rekjong

I am posting a translation. I actually translated this a while ago, in May, for an informal Tibetan writers’ gathering that was hosted at Latse Library, but didn’t get to put it up before. The piece itself is an old piece about an episode in his childhood, by Dhondup Tashi Rekjong, but it’s hilarious and vividly written. Dhondup Tashi Rekjong is editor of Tibet Web Digest and Karkhung, a new site that translates pieces from English and Chinese into Tibetan. He is former editor of Khabdha, the most popular Tibetan language blog in exile.
NAMKHA JHIDA, BIRD-CHASER by Dhondup Tashi Rekjong
Namkha Jhida was my friend, my childhood friend. When I was young, every time I went home for my summer holidays, I would go bird-chasing with Namkha Jhida. It has now been more than ten years since I last saw Namkha Jhida but these childhood memories are still fresh in my mind. Namkha Jhida's real name is Namkha Tsering, and family and friends used to call him Namkha. The people in our village called him Namkha Jhida, Bird-chaser, because he loved chasing birds.
The village kids also loved chasing birds. During summer holidays I would go home to the village with my father, and most of my summer vacation would be spent chasing birds. I would spend all day with Namkha Jhida chasing after birds, and some days we wouldn't catch even a single bird. Sometimes running after the birds, we would leave footprints all over other people's fields. When the owners saw this, they would tell our parents, and we would get a beating from our parents. In those days, we would get a beating like that every one or two days.
If, we caught many baby birds in a day, we would divide the baby birds amongst ourselves. Namkha Jhida was always our leader. During our bird chasing expeditions, everyone listened to his orders. After we had caught the birds, he would pick the best baby bird. After that, we would take our picks. Carrying a baby bird in our hands, we would go back home. Before reaching home, we would hide the bird somewhere near the house, sometimes under a hedge bush. The next morning, usually the bird would be dead. I think now that when we were young, we earned a lot of bad karma.
One day, we went with Namkha Jhida to chase birds. Namkha Jhida carried a long rope in his hands. We came to a small cliff:  we knew that there was a bird’s nest up there. But we had never found it. That day, Namkha Jhida said, "Today we will empty this nest." We all agreed. But we couldn't decide on who was going to climb the cliff. We talked about it. But no one volunteered to climb the cliff. We all looked at Namkha Jhida. We all wanted him to climb the cliff. Finally, Namkha Jhida said he would climb the cliff.
We went to the top of the cliff. We tied the rope around Namkha Jhida's waist. There were six of us. Three of us held the end of the rope. Very slowly, we lowered Namkha Jhida down the face of the cliff. Two kids went to the bottom of the cliff. If Namkha Jhida were to fall, these two would catch him. Three of us held on tightly to the end of the rope. The two friends at the bottom of the cliff yelled out, "Lower the rope a bit more." So we slowly lowered a bit more rope. They said, "Lower the rope a little bit more, he is almost at the nest." Again, we let out some more rope from our hands. We yelled out, "Is that okay? Is he at the nest?" "Lower the rope a little more," they said. "Oh, I got it, I got it," Namkha Jhidha started yelling. All of a sudden, the rope slipped out from the hands of the kid at the end. Namkha Jihda's body began pulling at my friend and me.
The two of us screamed, "Namkha fell" and let the rope slip from our hands. Our friends at the bottom of the cliff cried out. We ran to the bottom. We were all very frightened. Namkha cried out, "Shit, shit, shit" while rubbing his butt. He said to my other friend, "You were the one who let go of the rope." My friend said, "No it wasn't me, it was him." We started quarreling about who had let go of the rope. Our quarrel grew. It grew and then turned into a fight.
Namkha Jhida became incensed and said, "Shit, why are you fighting? From tomorrow, don’t follow me anymore. No more baby birds for any of you. As your punishment for today, each of you has to catch and bring me two baby birds." We stopped our quarreling and fighting. Then, without any baby birds in our hands, we silently went back home.
Originally published on in March 2010.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Sunday, July 15th, saw the launch of my friend Bhuchung D Sonam’s new book Yak Horns: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film & Politics at Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen in the center of McLeod Ganj. There was a reading also, and a few days before the launch, I got a call from Bhuchung and Tsundue inviting me to read, which I was tremendously joyful about. It was going to be BDS, Tsundue, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa and me—It was a luminous triangle and I didn’t really fit but BDS shoved me in, and I was excited and grateful.
The day of, I was on Facebook and saw a poster for the event—nicely designed with the beautiful book jacket and wait, what’s this—reading and discussion? Whaa? I called BDS and Tsundue in a consuming panic and they were both so casual and calm about it: “It’s a completely informal discussion, nothing to worry about, it’s just talking” and I was thinking, yeah nothing to worry about for you guys because you are constantly on stage and giving interviews and used to talking and thinking on cue but I have to know what I am thinking about beforehand because I don’t know what I am thinking until I am thinking it, privately, not publicly!
But the event, moderated by Dechen Pemba of High Peaks Pure Earth, actually went really well—the organization, seemingly on the fly, fell into place seamlessly (there was even a poppy seed cake to welcome Yak Horns into the world). The sound needed a bit of tweaking in the beginning, but that was eventually fixed. And there was a full house crowd, attesting to Bhuchung’s popularity in this town and possibly also the fact that there’s a ready population of the young and the restless in Dharamsala, supplemented by the seeking tourist, always on the lookout for a new gathering, a new restaurant, a new contact, a new angle, a new relationship.

Photo: Kunsang Kelden                                                                           Bhuchung D Sonam at far right
Bhuchung explained that he called the book Yak Horns because when he was growing up in Tibet (and what does that feel like, starting a sentence with those words-when I was growing up in Tibet…) parents gave their kids cut-off yak horns to suck on as “jibdo”, so a yak horn is something that is a very familiar and intimate reminder of home. He said he wrote this collection for two reasons: to provide the Tibetan voice which is often missing or muted, compared to the other non-Tibetan voices pronouncing judgement; and to have a bridge between the community at home and in the diaspora.
I have been picking at the book but haven’t yet had the time to really sit down with it, but it has got a gorgeous cover and just looks beautiful, and I was hooked with the opening piece “Exile is a Lonely Pen”, an essay on exile and writing.. The book is primarily a collection of criticism-- criticism being the one really important thing that’s been almost entirely lacking in our modern literature. Has anything been created until it’s been reviewed? So the talented Bhuchung D Sonam is doing Tibetans a great service, and as a friend as well as a fan, it’s great to see BDS the critic as well as BDS the writer get official between the covers.