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South asian girl Kunzang Choden: First Bhutanese woman writer to write a novel in English.

Apr 3, 2014

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Kunzang Choden WEB

South asian author's story
By Nazia Rizvi 

Kunzang Choden is the first Bhutanese woman writer to write a novel in English.

She was born in 1952, in the year of the dragon, in Bumthang, Central Bhutan. She spent her early childhood in Bhutan but went to India (Darjeeling) for her primary and secondary education. At the age of nine, Kunzang Choden trudged 12 days on foot and on horseback through dense jungles and splendid mountains in the daytime and slept inside narrow caves at night. She was on her way to school.

It was the Fifties. Bhutan, almost an isolated Himalayan kingdom till then, had hesitantly opened its doors to modern education. Till then, mostly boys received religious education in the Buddhist monasteries. But now, as government schools opened up, education became accessible to all. Girls too could attend these schools.

But Kunzang's father had a more radical idea. A prosperous farmer in central Bhutan's Bumthang district, he decided to send his daughter to a convent in eastern India. The villagers thought he was crazy. For a society where education was almost synonymous with men and religion, the idea of sending a daughter to school abroad was unheard of, almost sacrilegious. But Kunzang's father knew what he was doing.

So one fine day, they set her off on an arduous trek to St Joseph's School, Kalimpong. Kunzang even had a retinue of servants, and, hold it!, a translator, for company. Cooking their own food, dancing around campfires and listening to the sound of the wind, it was like a happy Long March towards the unknown. 'I didn't even know where I was going. I only knew India as the land Buddha came from,' recalls Kunzang, whose just-released work of fiction, The Circle of Karma (published by Zubaan/Penguin), makes her Bhutan's first woman novelist.

She has a BA Honours in Psychology from Indraprastha College in Delhi and a BA in Sociology from the University of Nebraska, USA. She has worked as a teacher and later for the UNDP in Bhutan. From 1990 onwards, Kunzang has been writing on Bhutanese oral traditions, folklore and women. She lives in Thimphu Bhutan with her husband and continues to research and document Bhutan's oral traditions. 

Her first novel, The Circle of Karma, was published in 2005. She has penned short stories that have been compiled into books; Folktales of Bhutan, Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti, Tales in Colour and other stories. 

She is also the author of Chilli and Cheese- Food and Society in Bhutan and Dawa: The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan. She is a Co-Director of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival and has written and published a number of books for young children in last few years.

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