Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sherubtse Gamiga

Two weeks have passed since I landed on the Peak of Learning (Sherubtse College). Yes. Literally, Kanglung, the town where Sherubtse College is located, is on a peak overlooking much of the Tashigang district. The panorama extends for hundreds of kilometers - from Arunachal Pradesh to the North to Monggar district in the South.

I am here on a two-month assignment as an adjunct professor for media studies. And I will stay on if things go well. I am glad to be here - for several reasons.  First, to be a teacher was always in my bucket list. The other things were flying a plane, being a monk and to meet Nelson Mandela. Second, I had a fulfilling career spanning over 20 years. It would be selfish of me not to share the experiences from the field and all the stories I have gathered along the way. And where else but at the place that churns out the maximum number of future leaders - Sherubtse. And lastly, to take a break from my career that has been moving at break-neck speed. I just need to slow down for a while.

The first day in front of the class was memorable. Sanggay Tshechu, head of the media department, to whom I have to report, accompanied me and introduced me to the first year students with what was perhaps the shortest introduction I have ever had in my life. “This is Dorji Wangchuk. And you all know who he is.” And she left with a smile turning over the class to me.

I thanked her, scanned the class, took a deep breath and I began, “Since you all know me, I am not sure if you know each other. So when I count three, you will have to introduce yourself to the person next to you. You will shake hand and say who you are and where you come from. Okay? One, two, three, go!”

There were lots of handshaking and giggling and, of course, smiles and laughter. When they were done, I resumed my lecture. “It is quite possible that although you guys have been together for a month now, you didn't formally introduce to each other. It happens. We always forget the basics in life.” There was some nodding in affirmation. I continued. “And since we are entering the world of mass communication, perfecting the art of communicating is what you will be doing from here on. So let’s get some fundamentals straight. What you have just done is the first thing you should as a journalist.”

The students seem to have got the message. They all stared at me as if waiting for the prophet to speak. I went on to define what journalism was all about, the types of journalism and the prospects after they leave the university. No sooner that I had started to talk the lesson time was over. Lecture periods last just 45 minutes in Sherubtse.

Since that day besides teaching two classes, I have spent much of my time planning the lessons, preparing the slides, rearranging the curriculum (media program is new here), putting together Bhutanese content and case studies and making reference notes for future lecturers who may like to take a look if they wish. I also spent time discussing about strengthening the media program with my colleagues and calling up my friends and networks in the industry in Thimphu for support and guest lectures. Many have responded. I am glad I will be setting a trend.

I did, of course, over the weekend visit my relatives in Pam - driving down the winding roads of Rongthong where I was even encouraged by a DANTAK road sign, Go man go. But go slow. I do drive fast. I also spent the first Thrue (Blessed Rainy Day) in my native Tongling after, ahem, 40 years! So it was rather an emotional home coming. Words spread in the village that I had finally come. So they all poured in from all directions with simple gifts comprising of eggs, rice, cucumber, zaw, etc. It was a moving experience. Obviously while I maintained contacts with my cousins, I was seeing the others for the first time. They told me that they have always been proud of me and had high regards. They kept track of my career and saw me often on TV and sometimes with the Royal Entourage.  I felt guilty of not having visited them earlier. Still, it was better late than never. We decided that I would fund and raise funds for something they always wanted - a good festival ground with a pavilion for guests in front of the community temple.                 

Back to Sherubtse, while many students complain about how dead Kanglung is, I actually quite like this place. May be it has got to do with the quieter atmosphere I have been yearning for. Maybe it has got to be my age. I feel the urge to give something back to the society. Or maybe it is simply the inexhaustible energy of these young souls that drives this place.

Yes, the students here besides studying also produce more decibels than perhaps the whole of Tashigang put together. There is noise coming out from every part of the campus as soon as the day breaks.  And if it were not for the rule that dictates them to maintain the silence after certain hours in the night, they would happily shout - day in and day out. Even a regular soccer match between two hostels begins with a procession of players with fans (read as hostel mates) beating drums and cymbals. They appoint chief guests and match commissioners among themselves. Maybe it is this joie de vivre that keeps Sherubtse alive.

I had heard many stories of how difficult students were. I was mentally prepared for that. However, until now, few have missed my lessons and when they did, they called. The students here like diversity. So they take field trips, research, assignments and practical very seriously. They also attend extra classes I organise to fill in some gaps in their learning.

Perhaps it is because I bring personal stories and practical experiences to the class or maybe it is because of who I am - both as a person and the positions I have held thus far. Whatever the reason I am treated well - both by the students and the people working here in Sherubtse.

Life is where the heart is. For now, I have found a new life, new friends, young and dynamic colleagues and, of course, two groups of youth who have dreams, optimism and aspirations to make our country a better place. My hope, duty and responsibility will be to guide them towards their goals, ambitions and successes.

[1] Also a title of film by my friend and former BBS colleague Tshering Wangyel, “Sherubtse Gamiga” roughly translates as “As happy as I can get in Sherubtse”