07 January 2011

Tales in colour by Kunzang Choden

The soul of a country

Bhutan was always a place of dreams – sheltered, peaceful and idyllic. When I visited a few months ago, I found that it was indeed a dream come true. The heart-stopping natural beauty, the ages-old architecture and the calm and smiling people gave me a healing interlude in a time of pain which will always soothe me when I look back at it.
One of the key features of Bhutan is its fundamental inaccessibility. Partly it’s the distance and the mountains that protect it. But the country’s visionary and benevolent government has also been restrictive in admitting outside influences. It’s not easy to enter Bhutan. And in any case, as a tourist, you only see the most superficial aspects of a place. It’s this that made Tales in Colour really special to me – because it gave me a much more satisfying look at the life and culture of its people than I had had in person.
This collection of thirteen stories is prefaced by the author’s own experience of cultural battering as a child by a Reverend Mother at her Indian boarding school who found the Bhutanese system of names intolerably barbarian.
Each story takes you into the life of a Bhutanese woman and through it we learn about life in the villages and how different it is from life in the towns, the way people think and how they spend their time, and their dreams and aspirations.
In one story a deformed woman tells her brave and lovely story – and in one, it’s a mouse that speaks. In another, a ring in the belly button makes one very special; in another we have a philandering husband; yet another has teenagers exploited by older men. The desperate love of a son for an errant father makes another particularly touching. I also found it very interesting to get a brief glimpse of the ancient Bon tradition that gentle (and trendy) Buddhism once rudely displaced. And that medication in Bhutan follows a familiar third world approach.
The language is simple and gentle and very suited to the thoughts and actions in these lovely stories.

Some of the women in this book are strong and balanced, and some are badly oppressed or succumb and fall apart. So it also struck me when I read it that though our situations differ, women all over the world feel and think so much alike. I liked that too.

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