Telling Stories

17 February 2013 § 6 Comments

Have you ever met Sonam Chöpel? He’s one of Khyentse Rinpoche’s Bhutanese attendants who trained as an artist (as in ‘thangka painter’), but most of the time assumes the role of ‘fool’ to Rinpoche’s King Lear (not that Rinpoche has three daughters… yet). Sonam Chöpel is famous, amongst other things, for telling ponderously long and wholly pointless stories at Rinpoche’s behest, often as a kind of cabaret after dinner. And he landed this job in spite having a memory so colander-like as to rival even my own. Perhaps if he could at least extemporize… but alas, that particular art was missing from the curriculum of the monastery he attended, making even the thought of being forced to sit through another rendition (the ‘chicken story’ and the ‘pig story’, for example, not to mention the ‘eagle story’) makes solitary three year retreat in a toilet-less cave, living on grass and cold water a far more attractive alternative.

Have you ever met Suresh? He’s a filmmaker and one of Rinpoche’s Indian friends who is famous for his many long, convoluted arguments with Ron (everyone knows Ron). Well, I say ‘argument,’ but the reality is something less easy to define. It’s more like an unstoppable monologue, punctuated with Ron’s valiant, if sluggish, attempts at opening a rebuttal that almost always fail to penetrate Suresh’s instantly renewed assaults (usually tangential), mounted with such vivacity and commitment that he might well have been an American divorce lawyer in a previous life. Six year retreat without the grass and water would be my preference.

Over the winter months of 2006-7, Rinpoche gave the Kangyur lung for the better part of ten hours a day in the icy shrine room of the Dzongsar Institute in Chauntra, and one of his favourite forms of relaxation was to ask Sonam Chöpel to tell a few of his stories at dinner (the ‘chicken story,’ the ‘pig story,’ and the ‘eagle story’), over and over and over again.  

In those days (a mere six or seven years ago…), we still used the old dining table which was long and thin and only sat about a dozen. In those long-gone halcyon days, no one even thought of bringing a camera to the table (come to think of it, I didn’t even own a camera), and we therefore have no record of the regular performances Sonam Chöpel was chivied (by Rinpoche) into giving Suresh (the rest of us were incidental to the process).

Why is this relevant? Because try as I might, I really can’t think of any other reason why Rinpoche (who is now inseparable from his iPhone 5) would even think of setting Sonam Chöpel on Suresh again, as he did one lunchtime in January this year (see photographic evidence below). But Rinpoche being Rinpoche, I doubt we’ll never know.

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