A Hundred Gourds 5:1 December 2015

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Sonam Chhoki –Bhutan

No Substitute for This

Late monsoon. The tea bushes in the lowland plantation form a verdant edge to Bagdogra airport on the Indo-Bhutan border. I am on a flight to New Delhi. A young man, his hair gelled and spiked, sits next to me. He asks to look at my cell phone.

‘You have Vodafone,’ he remarks scrolling the screen.

‘The connection is good,’ I reply.

‘My cell phone has no signal,’ he says tapping the breast pocket of his black shirt. I feel obliged to ask, ‘What network do you use?’

‘Airtel,’ he says. On the road to the airport, I noticed several Airtel billboards offering low tariff and ‘superfast connection’.

‘Are you local from this area?’ he asks pointing to the heat haze of the North Bengal plains outside the plane window.

‘No, I am from Bhutan.’

‘Related to the Royal Family?’


‘I am in the construction business. I have offices all over India. If you want anything, here’s my number.’ He hands me a business card crammed with names of branch offices, cell phone numbers and email contacts.

‘Can I make a local call?’ He asks taking my phone with alacrity.

The pilot announces that the plane is ready for takeoff and requests all electronic devices to be switched off. The young man continues to talk animatedly. I remind him of the announcement. He shrugs it off, ‘They say that all the time but nothing will happen.’

An air-steward approaches him and says, ‘Sir, you must switch off your cell phone now.’

‘It’s not mine,’ he says handing it back to me.

baggage claim –
my suitcase ‘to arrive’
on the next flight

Destined for Disappointment

Mr. Slug and Mrs. Snail, what are your favourite ingredients for a summer feast? Did you say lettuce, cabbage, coriander and dill? How about peppers? Of course, you also like marigold, dahlia, lily, squash and spinach. Some nettles perhaps? Maybe bramble? No? Ah, these don’t agree with you!

Tender stems that appear like the rays of the sun are reduced to stumps by night. Your jaws rasp and ravage everything and corrode my belief in compassion. Those holes in the horseradish leaves, did you intend these for the autumn full moon viewing?

You make no attempt to hide the trails of your crime. The ubiquitous slime you leave in your wake is the very stuff as my nightmare is made on*. Your lives are rounded* with the glut of my efforts.

Blessed Rainy Day –
the downpour drowns out
Je Khen-po’s blessings


*With apologies to Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1

Blessed Rainy Day (Theu-gyab, Pron: TEWY- GAB) in the seventh Bhutanese month (September) signals the end of rains and is celebrated with special rites.

Je-Khen-po: Chief Abbot of Bhutan.

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