NAMKHA, BIRD-CHASER

Namkha Jhida was my friend, my childhood friend. Every time I went home for my summer holidays, I would go bird-chasing with him. It has now been more than ten years since I last saw him, but these childhood memories are still fresh in my mind. His real name is Namkha Tsering, and family and friends used to call him Namkha. The people in our village called him Namkha Jhida, Bird-chaser, since he loved chasing birds.

All the village kids loved chasing birds. During the summer holidays, my father and I would return to our village, and most of my vacation would be spent running after sparrows, nightingales, finches and other songbirds. I would spend all day running around with Namkha Jhida. Some days we wouldn’t catch even a single bird. Sometimes running after the birds, we would leave footprints all over farmers’ fields, destroying their crops. When the farmers saw this, they would tell our parents, and we would be punished by our parents. This would occur every second day.

If we had caught many baby birds in a day, we would divide them amongst ourselves and play with them. We would pet them and place them on the ground to see them struggling to walk and fly. Namkha Jhida was our leader. During our bird chasing expeditions, everyone listened to his orders. After we had caught the chicks, he would pick the best one. After that, we would take our pick. Carrying a baby bird in our hands, we would return home. Before reaching home, we would hide the fledging somewhere near the house, sometimes under a bush. The next morning, usually the bird would be dead. I think now that when we were young, we earned a lot of bad karma.

One day, we went with Namkha Jhida to carry on with our adventure. He carried a long rope in his hands. We came to a small cliff:  we knew that there was a bird’s nest up it, but we had never found it. On this day, Namkha Jhida said, “Today we will empty the nest.” We all agreed, but we couldn’t decide on who was going to climb the cliff. We talked about it. But no one volunteered to do it. We all looked at Namkha Jhida. We all wanted him to climb the cliff. Finally, he agreed.

We hiked to above the cliff and tied the rope around Namkha Jhida’s waist. There were six of us. Three of us held the end of the rope. Very slowly, we lowered Namkha Jhida down the face of the cliff. Two kids went to the bottom of the cliff. If Namkha Jhida were to fall, these two would catch him. Three of us held on tightly to the end of the rope. The two friends at the bottom of the cliff shouted, “Lower the rope a bit more.” So we slowly lowered a bit more rope. They said, “Lower the rope a little bit more, he is almost at the nest.” Again, we let out some more rope from our hands, not being able to actually see his progress down the cliff.  We yelled out, “Is that okay? Is he at the nest?” “Lower the rope a little more,” they said. “Oh, I got it, I am at the nest,” Namkha Jhidha started yelling. All of a sudden, the rope slipped out from the hands of my friend behind me at the end of the rope.  The weight of his body began pulling all of us towards the cliff.

The guy in the front and I screamed, “Namkha fell”  as we let the rope slip from our hands. We ran to the bottom. We were all very frightened. Namkha cried out, “Shit, shit, shit” while rubbing his butt. He yelled at the guy who lost control of the rope, “You were the one who let go of the rope.” My friend said, “No it wasn’t me, it was him,” pointing to the guy who had been at the front. We started quarreling about who had indeed let go of the rope. Our quarrel grew. It grew and then turned into a fight.

Namkha Jhida became incensed and said, “Shit, why are we fighting? From tomorrow on, don’t follow me anymore. No more baby birds for any of you. As your punishment for today, each of you has to catch and bring me two baby birds.” We stopped our quarreling. Then, without any little birds in our hands, we silently went home.

(Translated by Tenzin Dickie in 2012, with later changes made by the author.)

Epilogue:

Namkha was born in Dornying, Amdo Rebgong, Tibet, in 1983. His life was divided into two parts; a shepherd and a bird-chaser. The former was his professional career and the latter was his hobby. He had never gone to school, but he was able to read prayer scripts. I had asked him once where he learned Tibetan, he said he learned it from his father, by just following his daily prayer recitation.

Sadly, Namkha was killed over a land dispute between two villages in Rebgong in 2014. A few weeks before his death, I called him. He said he had a funny story to tell me. I asked him about the story. He said he had purchased a new iPhone from a Chinese vendor and thought that he could download WeChat on it in order to have regular conversations with me. He later found that it was a fake. We both burst out laughing. That was my last conversation with him.

This story, Namkha; Bird Chaser, is one of the many childhood memories that I have about him. I had hoped that we could talk about these memories one day when we meet again to reminisce about our childhood lives, but that day never came because he left us. For me, I still greatly feel that his death is a huge loss to me in sharing these memories and in reconstructing an imagined future for our friendship.

(This story is dedicated to the bird-chaser.)

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