Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Looking-Glass's Green Grass


The grass is always greener on the other side. An infamous maxim oft repeated for the simple fact that men never learn, as in history repeating itself, yet another gem in that basket of jewels in the vaunted treasury of those who seek what they already have; the tragedy and the beauty lying in its own little sweet irony as aptly demonstrated by Shakespeare and closer home, exalted beings such as Milarepa and Siddhartha.

Shakespeare wrote them to be reenacted. To what end is anybody’s guess but a good one would be to show the fragile fragments that makes up the human mind and hence, life and its dramas. Milarepa and Siddhartha lived the maxims, and reaped what they sowed.

This little blade of green grass was penned about seven-nine years hence. 
I chanced upon this fly stuck dead in the teacup’s brim. It begins thus:
“More often than not the assumption back home in Bhutan of Bhutanese emigrants, economic emigrants, is one of Dollars and Euros. Of lands and housing buildings bought and built simply because the owner was living in the US, the UK and wherever the image is one of prosperity and lands of plenty. The foreign connection was envied and admired. Everyone wanted a foreign connection. Folks back home would like to believe the foreign connection makes for a life well made and lived. The resulting rise in social status and respect was tremendous. This assumption is an amusing irony to the Bhutanese living abroad who dwell in a world of absolute uncertainty and fierce survival.

I've been fortunate enough to travel back and forth, and it’s always quite a battle of persuasion and dissuasion trying to convince folks that life’s not all that honky dory whether it’s in Amsterdam where I presently live or in New York where the majority of the Bhutanese Diaspora is concentrated.

Before I came to America and to New York, the Big Apple (no shakes there for wanting to take my own bite), I held more or less the same notion; that life abroad in these lands of opportunity would be an easy ride on the highways of plenty. 

...What I’d not anticipated (Excuse me… Unfortunate news break via Facebook of a fire gutting Wangduphodrang Dzong, one of the most beautiful of Bhutan’s many storied fortresses. I switch on BBS, nothing there but a song and a dance. Call up my mates in the media circus, as expected, they know zilch. Takes a good hour to figure out the Dzong’s been completely gutted down by a fire sometime today. Thanks to Facebookers and Twitterers, getting some vital information.

The Beautiful Wangduephodrang Dzong Before the Fire Blazed It (Today-24.6.'12) (R.I.P)

Zap back to BBS and BBS2. They seem to have woken up; a telephone conversation ensues with no clarity as to the whys and wherefores and other relevant information. That brief inter-provincial talk with a map of the kingdom as the backdrop over, its back to usual programming, announces a somber faced newscaster. Meanwhile everyone’s feeling hapless and lost. The BBS now does a rendition of one of the sessions of Parliament. Twits confirm the arrival of Their Majesties, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty the King. Tragic news and a sad day indeed. In Wandguephodrang Dzong, Bhutan loses a fine citadel with a beautiful setting as it used to sit atop a hillock overlooking the Punatsang Chhu River and the beautiful traditional bridge at its foot.)

...What I’d not anticipated and never would have were the umpteen risks and sacrifices one had to pay for riding that highway- the first of many such toll fees for the privileged newcomers. I’d gotten a job trucking for an Indian wholesale grocery outlet in Queens. Listening to the songs of subcontinental Bollywood that my working mate, a north Indian, was fond of and more than attached, as I’d had the feeling that was his way of keeping his sanity and the warm memories of his homeland.

The bumps and potholes on the glamorous expressways of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Boston have been such a humbling experience. There is nothing glamorous about it, yet it appears so, alluring yet hundreds of thousands more to the Promised Land.

But reality hit home, cold, hard and unforgiving. You discover your status as an illegal alien with the status being none at all. No social security, no health coverage, no working permit or even proof of birth (here I harbored a quiet grudge against those pompous lot who’d returned home from their tour of duty and leaving aside the drudgery and other essential papers and documents, narrated the tales with more than a touch of Hollywood in it; as if they were masterless knights in armor to the princess’s rescue.) That status rendered you worthless and useless. It effectively cancels out your existence on a legal plane and with that the possibility of perhaps finding a good job or even daring to forge a career. Reality was it nullified your whole existence; leaving you faceless in a city of millions and millions and stateless in a country of more than fifty two big states. And all you are is a little alien called the Lilliput.

Thus you find yourself working for other naturalized immigrants who are anything but averse to bending the law, paying far below the national minimum wage, working you like an ass on a Bhutanese tourist trek. They are well aware of your state of desperation and haplessness and leave no pebble unturned to exploit that gap.

Next on the menu of alien existence is finding a place to live in and work from. Another minefield for the landlords to milk you dry. Back in 2001, I had three old mates and we shacked up together in a two-bedroom tenement in Astoria, Queens for the princely sum of $1400 a month excluding utilities (gas, lights, water etc.). 

We were at the bottom of the food chain, as most aliens are, a fact that demands getting used to real quick, swallowing whatever scraps of self-esteem you might have had and learning to live with the battered ego- something that works both for and against the Bhutanese. Anyhow, live has to go and Timbu must make a living hit me (a short story that came with the Arts course I’d taken up back in college, ah, those halcyon days!)


New York is literally the visceral melting pot. Political emigrants and economic immigrants, wanna-bees, traders, artistes, millionaires, paupers, gypsies, scavengers, pirates, prostitutes and the lot besides the rest of the other milieu makes the Big Apple. Communities stick within their own; the blacks, Africans, Mexicans and others from the Central and South Americas, The Middle-East, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and closer to us, the Nepalese and the Tibetans. The one telling difference was numbers and the Bhutanese Colony was the tiniest. The advantages, if there be one, was the Bhutanese grasp of the lingo- English, Hindustani, Nepalese, Tibetan and some of our more industrious country mates had even mastered Chinese, Korean and other exotic tongues. However, this was scant consolation to the daily sobering, back-breaking and earthly reminder of who you are and what you are not.

We were the expendables. I’ve seen and conversed with more white folks back home than I ever did in the US. Yet the numbers, newcomers seeking that pot of gold where there be no rainbows keeps growing by the year. I encourage it; I think nothing makes one appreciate what one has and is from than when you are away from those comfort zones. And America is a long, long stretch out to appreciate that truth. In the end, the American dream is true, for when all is said and done, what would it mean if one had everything and no one to share it with? In that round about sort of way, the American dream of entitling every person with the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness is a universal truth. Being there reminds you of the happiness you were fortunate to experience, and even the simplest of things taken for granted, such as having a country, a people and a community that cares and calls you their own.

I’m certain it made me a better Bhutanese, a truer Buddhist and hence, a better person. For now the same storylines are incorporated enticing and inviting yet more fortune seekers. Most Bhutanese work the streets as vendors or in kitchens, warehouses while others labor on at factories and non-descriptive sweatshops. Women mostly babysit and play maid (their own deposited back home) and quietly banter on the decisions struck many years ago, in some cases, more than decades.

Nostalgia, melancholia and homesickness are common ailments, along with the cultural burden of having to ‘Do Well’ and come back home with heads held high (lands bought, buildings under construction, a travel company and etc.). It’s also the very reason why many do not return for fear of being ridiculed and seen as failures. The thought of returning back as losers is too heavy an insult to digest for the proud Bhutanese that they are. The time lost is the price they pay as many have done. Some willingly choose, or in time, submit and surrender, to get on with their lives there no matter what unfolds back home. One can’t have the cake and eat it too, and apparently, this is a phrase many have come to respect as it proves itself time and time again.
Maturing overnight from a strange cultural onslaught, many recover, adapt and come to appreciate what it really means to have a country you can call your own, and everything in it. 

The lyrics to Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone now takes on a note of strange yet mocking familiarity. So if you are planning a trip abroad, and specifically to the Big Apple in Uncle Sam’s gardens of plenty, do carry along as many certificates of appreciation as you possibly can. If you have none, make counterfeits and above all, carry along a Birth Certificate. You have no idea how useful it is to be born on a piece of paper and truckloads of steely determination; survival of the fittest has never been fitter nor the mental picture of Bhutan so much fresher, befitting your alien existence.


And last but not the least, bring along a CD of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. It will always have that timeless classic.


"Like a Rolling Stone"Once upon a time you dressed so fineYou threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh aboutEverybody that was hangin' outNow, you don't talk so loud, now, you don't seem so proudAbout havin' to be scrounging around for your next meal
How does it feel, how does it feel?To be without a homeWith no direction home, like a complete unknownJust like a rolling stone?
You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss. LonelyBut you know you only used to get juiced in itNobody's ever taught you how to live out on the streetAnd you find out now you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromiseWith the mystery tramp, but now you realizeHe's not sellin' any alibis, as you stare into the vacuum of his eyesAnd say, " Would you like to make a deal?"


How does it feel, how does it feel?To be without a homeWith no direction home, like a complete unknownJust like a rolling stone?
You never turned around to see the frownsOn the jugglers and the clownsWhen they all came down to do tricks for youYou never understood that it ain't no goodYou shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
Used to ride the chrome horse with your diplomatWho carried on his shoulder a Siamese catAin't it hard when you discover that he really wasn't where it's atAfter he's taken everything he could steal
How does it feel, how does it feel?To be without a homeWith no direction home, like a complete unknownJust like a rolling stone?
Princess on the steeple and all pretty peopleThey're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it madeExchanging all precious gifts and thingsBut you'd better take your diamond ring, down and pawn it, babe
You used to be so amusedAt Napoleon in rags and the language that he usedGo to him now, he calls you, you can't refuseWhen you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to loseYou're invisible, you got no secrets to conceal
How does it feel, how does it feel?To be without a homeWith no direction home, like a complete unknownJust like a rolling stone?

NB: The grass is neither green in your own yard or in the neighbor’s. 
Its greenery is decided by your mental scenery. Ask the cows- I did.


Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!

7 comments:

nobu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nobu said...

Thoroughly enjoyed it, it is interesting how you so easily write and suddenly also include something else so effortlessly like you are a TV anchor and read the breaking news.

Though I haven't been an illegal alien, the feeling of being away from home was enough to help me get an idea of how much I would miss home if I was to ever be trapped in an illegal fortune-seeking state abroad.

Jurmi Chhowing said...

Dear N,

Glad You Enjoyed It... and Thanks For Posting your Thoughts...

JollyGoodDay & Viva La Portugal! :)

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mk said...

I am happy you shared the experience and hopefully could prevent young people of being trapped in that illusion...though at the end everyone needs to pass trough the personal experience and they are quite different!
Vivva Italia tonight!

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