My father is sick. I’m always angry at how unfair this is. He has a beautiful soul, free from the superficial desires of the human mind. Why him? He has never caused harm to anyone. In fact, he’s quite popular among his colleagues, everyone wanting to pair with him for work or sport. Any compassion, honor, kindness, independence, and Buddhist value in me comes from him.
Like most naïve little girls, I grew up believing in fairy-tales. Magic and Hogwarts were very real. I often wished an owl post would show up by my bedroom window. It gets difficult though, as you grow older to continue believing and reality rubs itself in your face. My father, however, is that one reason why I haven’t completely burned the bridge to believing in the supernatural. He worships Jetsun Dema, the bodhisattva of compassion. He is a true devotee, chanting the long praises to Tara every evening. When I’m home for vacation, it’s always soothing to hear his low buzz before dinner while I am either reading a book or on the internet.
I think he started seeking guidance from Jetsun Dema after he became seriously ill some fourteen years ago. My brother and I were too young to understand the glumness of it all, but old enough to know our father was sick. Mother’s teary eyes were hard to ignore. The shaman, who had been invited all the way from my father’s village in central Bhutan performed several horrifying rites at night where he would occasionally cry out, chant loud prayers, hop on his feet, and pull handfuls of rice and strands of hair from thin air. Pow Tashi, the shaman declared that my father was under a malevolent spell cast by some sour, envious person. Even today, my father and mother sometimes playfully accuse each other for it. “It was from your village,” father will tease. Mother will pull a mock huff and say, “It was from yours.” I just laugh at the two of them.
Pow Tashi and my mother’s eldest brother, Ajang Katang disappeared for a few days, and when they returned they had a tattered roll of paper that was yellowing on the edges. There were also a few strands of hair, believed to be my father’s. I remember later my brother told me people who cast spells send Daddy Long-legs to steal our hair, thus the long hair-like legs. I’m still suspicious of those bugs. The roll of paper had my father’s name written on it in Dzongkha. Pow Tashi and Ajang Katang had unearthed it from somewhere far away. “It was at a place where people walked a lot. When people stomped on his name, he fell sick,” mother sometimes tells me when she’s in an exceptionally good mood, often on lazy afternoons when I’m plucking elusive grey hair off her head without complaining. Otherwise she will simply ignore my questions. I don’t think she’s over those days yet, those days when she was almost sure she’d lost father.
Following the digging out of the paper with his name written on it, my father got well, although not completely. “I knew I’d get well anyway,” father sometimes says, recollecting that unfortunate year. This is one of my favorite stories. One day that year when he was still recovering, he had gone on a tour to a place called Tsirangtoe, a village carved out of a mountain north of Damphu town in Tsirang. At night he had a vivid dream. A King, a tall, fair and handsome figure, who had short little servants by his sides, came to him. The King’s lagays shinned white in the mist. He said to father in a deep authoritative voice, “Don’t worry, you will pull through.” In the morning my father woke up feeling hopeful. It is believed that many years ago there was a big fortress in Tsirangtoe where a King once dwelled.
After he got better, father delved deeper into his spiritual quest, praying to various deities and bodhisattvas. Ultimately he settled on Jetsum Dema. Some people say that Jetsun Dema is the goddess of wealth, but my father says that she is a universal goddess of instant help. I believe my father because he has stories to prove.
It was in 2014. I had landed a scholarship in Royal Thimphu College, and was home for the long holiday prior to college. My brother was home for his winter vacation. One night, my father again fell ill and an anxious mother called one of his friends to help her take him to the hospital. As they helped father in to the car and they drove away into the darkness, I remember running back inside and scribbling away in my diary with a heavy heart, my brother flashing apprehensive smiles my way.
A few days later my father got well. Later he told us that Jetsun Dema visited him at the hospital. He was in a trance-like state of mind, neither asleep, nor awake. Suddenly he saw the projection of Jetsun Dema floating above him. She reached her hands forward and pried his eyes open. When he awoke, father knew he’d been saved again.
(The writer is a former student of Royal Thimphu College)