Friday, August 5, 2016

Of dreams and role models - Part I

What were your childhood dreams? Can you remember them? Did you even have one? I am sure you all did till our so-called "education" crushed them forever. Do you have a role model? A real one?

They say life is a journey. A dream basically gives us an ambition as the journey’s goal, and a role model as its companion. With dreaming – crazier the better – life will be a fun learning journey. Without dreaming, it will be a picnic nowhere, alone, with nothing to eat.

What were my childhood dreams? Here is my first set: Bruce Lee, the Kung Fu Master, Neil Armstrong – the first guy of the moon, Carl Lewis - the Olympics gold medalist, and the one and the only Pele. I wanted to be just like them. A Kung Fu master who flies to the moon, wins Olympics medals, and plays professional football big time! 

Well, what is great about my dreams is that I have achieved none of them. Then, was it worth dreaming? Was it worth having those dreams? You bet. Let me elaborate.

To be a Kung Fu master …
… was one of my first first dreams, and Bruce Lee was my first idol. I grew up at a time when there was a craze about Kung Fu and Karate. I was no exception to that craze. I frequently slipped out of the boarding school, without permission, to watch Kung Fu movies. I was always caught and always reprimanded. The craze went on through my university days in Italy. I enrolled in a martial art club – under an Italian master who spent some time in Shaolin. I earned a blue belt – the third grade. I was good. But, after three years, I was injured in a tournament. I slipped, crushed on the floor, and hurt my shoulder, during a warm-up session preceding a fight. That put an unceremonious end to my martial art career, and an end to my Kung Fu master ambition.

Was it worth then? In every sense, yes! I learned that the experience one gains working towards a goal is as valuable as achieving the goal itself.

My life as a Kung Fu student was memorable – my muscular body and well-defined abs never failed to impress others. But, I got something more precious than the ability to attract or impress other people. Kung Fu is about discipline, and taught me humility. It is about finding and respecting your guru – your mentor, for one’s life. Above all, the most precious lesson came in the form of rock-solid sense of self-confidence
I didn’t make it to be a Kung Fu master. But, I learned to value discipline, humility, respect, and the power of confidence in myself.

That man could land on the Moon …
… fascinated me as a child. It was in the late Seventies and I was in Don Bosco Technical School back then. Every Tuesday, the day my class was allowed access to the library, I would hit the same big book with photographs of the Moon landing, and glance over the same pictures over and over again. Neil Armstrong became my childhood hero for being the first human to set foot on the Moon. I dreamed of becoming a pilot, and an astronaut, and flying to the Moon one day.

After finishing my school I went to Druk Air that had just opened for business with two Doniers 228 aircrafts. But I was not selected in the interview. That put an abrupt end to my dream of being a pilot. But I still have a dream to fly. Very recently a friend of mine gifted me a trip to the flight simulator in Bangkok. I made two safe landings and take off from Bangkok Airport and one out of Kathmandu – on a Boeing 737. The flight instructor told me that I was good. Some day I intend to fly a real aeroplane. That has been one of the things in my bucket list.

Coming to my failed childhood dream, I learnt a few things on the way, which became my trademark. Although I never met Neil Armstrong, he taught me three important lessons: That everything was possible; that if you stretch your mind to get somewhere, you will get there some day; and that if you dare to venture into the unknown, chances are that you will be the first to get there. 

So many years and some gray hairs later, I was one of the first Bhutanese to study in Italy and speak Italian fluently, was perhaps the first Bhutanese to meet the Pope, to build the first FM radio network in Bhutan in 1998, lead the project team to bring the television for the first time into the country in 1999, the first Bhutanese to receive a major international documentary award in 2003 and the first director of the Royal Office for Media for His Majesty the King.

I did not get to the Moon, but for sure I feel that I got somewhere halfway. 

The dream of an Olympic medal … 
… gave me the biggest upset and perhaps the greatest lesson of my life. I was in my second year in Deothang Polytechnic studying electrical engineering when American sprinter, Carl Lewis, won 4 gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was also the year Bhutan participated in the Olympics for the very first time. Being in the border town of Deothang we could catch Doordarshan that was beaming black & white signal of the Olympics. I watch with awe as Carl Lewis became the fastest man by winning the 100m race. He also won 200m, 4*100m relay, and the long jump. 

Carl Lewis became my hero, and I decided to emulate him. I knew I could run as fast.
I worked hard for a year and when the 1985 Annual Sports Day came (by then I was in the final year), I became a surprise favourite to win the 100m. On the first two days, I not only won the 400m and 200m, but also clocked 13 seconds, barefoot, during the 100m semi-finals making me a sure winner. My biggest threat was from someone called Sagar Dhital, a school champ in his St. Augustine Kalimpong days. We often practiced together. Sometimes I won, but most of the time he did.

The Judgment Day came, we were on the starting block, the race fired off and, as expected, I was leading the pack by few inches (see photographic evidence). But, when I was about to hit the finish line, I turned my head to check on Sagar. At that instant, another guy called Karma Tenzin (who works as an engineer in Roads Department) dashed from my left and hit the ribbon first. I lost, by a millisecond. 

I was devastated. If I had just concentrated on my race instead of turning to check on Sagar, I would have been the best sportsman of 1985, and equaled Carl Lewis’s feat – at least in Deothang. That upset was also the greatest lesson of my life, which I carry to this day:  

Believe in yourself.  Mind your own race. Never compare yourself to those behind you, but go after someone better than you!  And if you lose, don’t look for excuses.

(To be continued..)


  1. You have the talent to weave words and distill wisdom out of ordinary events!

  2. You have the talent to weave words and distill wisdom out of ordinary events.