Friday, May 14, 2010

The Introduction that never was

(This was the introduction I actually wrote for my book The Cuckoo and the Pigeon, published by Pilgrims Publications in Nepal. But it was never printed. So, I would like to post the introduction here to rescue this folktale blog)

While I was in The Haverford School in the US, we were asked to write a movie review for our Fourth Form English class. As I had never watched any movie fully, I was worried about what movie to write. In the evening, I discussed it with Mr. Bob, my sponsor, and he suggested that I write something about Bhutan. Something unique!

Following his suggestion, I wrote about our unique system of story telling, drawing parallels between watching movies in the States and listening to folktales in Bhutan. I read the paper to the class the next day and we discussed it. I was fascinated and moved by the curiosity and admiration shown that day by my teacher and friends alike. 

As I thought it over that night, I realized that our “unique oral tradition” is slowly dying, while the number of movies released in the States increases each year. Our age-old oral tradition faces a serious threat, as most people have no interest in our folktales. Thus, today more than ever, there is an increasing need to preserve them. 

A sense of longing creeps into me as I look back to my childhood times living in a typical Bhutanese village with our large, jointed family. We children would sit nearby our grandparents and listen to them tell stories. The number of stories one could remember was a source of real pride for the children. 

With time, our society changed tremendously, and we stopped living with our extended families. In our smaller homes, we told fewer folktales. Slowly, the children’s interest in folktales declined and, when we went to school, the gap between our grandparents and us widened. Now, as we move away from rural villages, we hardly ever find time for these stories. We have televisions and movies to watch, radio programs and plenty of music to listen to, and a huge collection of books and newspapers to read. 

In 2002, while I was in Zhemgang High School (ZHSS), the school initiated a literary program, which encouraged students to go further and plunge deeper into the collective memory of their communities in search of stories. In addition to this competition, ZHSS organized an annual folktales narration competition amongst its students. I was definitely lucky to have been given the chance to participate in that competition, as these various school programs were the impetus for this collection. 

During the winter break, my cousin Thinley Phuntsho and I toured Kheng (Zhemgang) regions, of course on a different purpose, and we had wonderful privilege of meeting farmers in the villages. Many people refused to tell us stories even if they knew a few, as they believed the time for telling stories was over. However, it was relieving to learn that there are still some farmers back in the villages with vast stock of stories. The Cuckoo and the Pigeon: a Collection of Folktales from Rural Bhutan is an outcome of that trip. With the exception of a few stories, most come from Zhemgang.

This exercise may be just a drop in the ocean, but I hope it contributes a little to the preservation of Bhutanese oral tradition and ignites enthusiasm amongst budding Bhutanese writers. I hope many more Bhutanese youths will join me in this endeavour—to preserve, promote, and pass on parts of our cultural heritage that are becoming hazy and indistinct with the passage of time. I also hope my readers, young or old, will enjoy these stories that welcome them to the world of imagination and assumption, heroes and monsters, peril and pleasure.

I am indebted to many people for helping me in ways too numerous to fully list here. My mother stood by my side and, constantly believing in my effort, has shown herself to be an exceptionally good mother. Brother Dorji Penjore first introduced me to the world of literature and writing, and was also the main driving force behind this work. I am grateful to Burch family in Gladwyne PA, US for their solid support and advice and for their presence during trying times. PasSu, a friend of mine who teaches at Bajothang High School edited my third draft, pointed out some fatal errors, and suggested new ways of expressions. Thanks to his efforts as a teacher and a friend, I rewrote almost all the stories. Mr. Chiranjeet, my teacher and a good friend at Ugyen Dorji High School edited my first draft and Mr. Louis of the same school helped me in my second draft. 

I am thankful to them as well. My cousin Thinley Phuntsho accompanied me on my journey to the villages and helped me to record the stories. Without him, this book could never have been. 

Lastly, I would like to thank Ms. Rhicha of Pilgrims Publishing House in Kathmandu, Nepal for her professional guidance and support, and for showing genuine interest in publishing my work. Thank you. 

... Penstar, 2008