Monthly Archives: October 2010

Song of Namo Yangkyi Wangmo


Lu ala lamo ala len

Lu thala lamo thala len

Sa dhi yi sa ngo ma shen na

khawa ghangchen jong yin

Nga da nga ngo ma shen na

nga namo Yangkyi Wangmo yin

In countries west, I hear the holy book speaks of you and your sin. How could you not resist an apple sister?  It wasn’t as if you were tempted with a feast! If I talk about you in my village, the women will surely laugh at me. Even cross-eyed Dhetso, who lives atop Phari and sired six bastards from wandering neighbors, wouldn’t have understood your fate.

In this land of snow, meat and barley, no women would risk the wrath of gods for a lowly fruit! To think your karmic energy still claims the daughters of your clan though times have changed and they are told to eat an apple everyday! What happened sister? What became of your life and where did you travel? The others talk about you but I want to know. There must be more… I live with men.

During chu sum jhi weh kag (the thirteen year) my father took me on a pilgrimage to Lho. I saw the tiny cave where our ancestors met. I climbed the steps of Aemalung and stayed the night at Samye. I wearied my soul enroute to dusty Sheldrak and in Lhamo Lhatso desperately searched for a vision. Yet for all the prayers, in the end I was married to my khyib-dung escapade.

You must know not all daughters on earth are created equal. Some are small ponds, others are lakes and few are the vast sea. My features put to shame the banks of a dry river and my hands suffered every winter’s frost. With every child birth youth became a fluttering dream and this losar my chupa remained unchanged.

Back in the year of the snake, I caught him with another woman. She ran in shame and slid outside our ba. I caught a glimpse of her flowing hair and knew I’ve lost the battle. Still roused in anger, taunted by dying hope and pride, I screamed and lunged at him. He slammed me on the floor and covered my mouth. I struggled with all my strength.

That night old mother came to comfort me. She said this is the way of the world and the will of Gods. Some things never change unless you travel the ascetic’s path. Pons from obscure valleys will have a lofty place but from the empress Trimalo Triteng to you Yangkyi Wangmo, women will remain hidden. Silence binds us in an eternal knot. Accept and live in peace.

Since then sister, he returned home. I tend the nor and keep the tea warm on our stove. The first dawn light opens my eyes and in the night the sounds of a sleeping house rests my head. I wipe my children’s tears telling them stories of bygone heroes, even those that often talk of women’s evil designs. But I know better now and remain quiet, like you did. Why ruin a perfect fairy tale?

Yet sometimes demons breed insidious thoughts. If I was a bard, I’ll sing of women who were not consorts of saints or wives of kings. Why should beauty and perfection become our bane? Sing of women born on ordinary days, the lifetimes spent in household toil, tending babies, men and yaks. Oh sister! I should stop before people start to whisper namo Yangkyi Wangmo has horns on her head!


AIDS Sutra


Aids Sutra is a provocative title that reminds you of Karma Sutra, quite apt considering the common thread of sexuality and HIV Aids that runs throughout the book. It is a compilation of essays written by a host of well-known Indian authors such as Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple, Siddhartha Deb,  Shobhaa De and others  regarding the impact of HIV Aids in the Indian society; most notably within its community of oppressed sex workers.

Each essay is a personal narrative of the writer’s encounter with people whose lives have been affected by the disease; some about people within their own circle but most of them on their experiences meeting with HIV positive sex workers. The writings depict the harshness of a sex worker’s life, the trauma of rejection by one’s own family/community and how such social exclusion consequentially makes them more susceptible to systemic violence at the hands of police. Two of the most interesting and culturally unique stories within the Indian sex workers’ community are the stories of devadasis and hijras. Their historical tradition, mythology and the survival dilemmas faced by these groups in the modern day are  touching and as a reader it opens your eyes to the range of cultural mosaic and the different outlooks that exist within the umbrella term of ‘sex workers’. Yet the essays are not simply a morbid collection of writings about human tragedy. They are also about strength, resiliency and magnanimity of HIV survivors, who sees this debilitating condition as a turning point in their life to transform not just their own darkness but also help uplift others around them. A strong reminder that it is not how hard you fall it is what you do after that.

As always, reading brings reflection. My mind travels back in time to Tibet and I remember seeing them daily as I went back and forth to my  work.  Young Tibetan girls sitting outside the doors of their little red rooms, wearing painted masks of makeup, their necks eerily dark against the powdered face…competing against fairer Chinese counterparts. The girls were mostly from the rural areas and can hardly read or write Chinese, which meant they do not have access to information about  safe sex education and preventive practices. All of them have different stories on how they ended up in the business and all of them do not go back home anymore. Sometimes business means a bowl of Tibetan noodles and as a result locals jokingly refer to them as “bhoethuk”. Often in the evening I have seen them grab the flapping jackets of men that push them away without a thought. It is enough to break anyone’s heart.