Monday, April 30, 2012

quest for "Active Citizenship"

The public services provided by the government have always come under the radar of criticism for being inefficient and untimely; be it health, education, waste management or maintenance of roads. The best Bhutanese People do is brew hot talk in our living rooms regarding the issues of a community and live a dormant life outside our apartments. This zeitgeist, ‘that’s none of my business’ or ‘government is responsible’ mentalities must be up rooted if you wish to live a life of an active citizen under the new set of democratic government. And in doing so, you help in making a vibrant Democracy for our future generation. 

The drivers who ply their cars on this road didn’t bother about the pothole. It was there for a month or two. It was not repaired or may be the concern authorities who are duty bound to look after the maintenance of roads were unaware of it.  But the drivers kept on driving down the road and people walking on the side pavements didn’t felt it was their headache too.

The expressions my friend shared with me and the ones I saw on many faces that drive foreign cars along this road were amazingly funny. When the lower part of their luxurious car hit with the stone beneath they click their tongues and squeeze their faces. But the sad part of it is when the pothole is left behind by the wheels the issue also gets a backseat and is soon forgotten. Had elites who used this road called the municipality to mend the pothole, it might have been done immediately.
But the beauty of democracy lies not in the riches or the famous. The beauty lies on the power of ordinary people who pull up their sleeves to make things happen.
The resident on the right side of this road finally took up the responsibility to fill up the hole. It was a week ago at around 7:30 pm when they came out with spades in their hands and a huge pile of soil to mend the road.  Now I see less of funny faces and the normal speed on this sloppy road has resumed.

This is a simple and a small example of an active citizenship. Had the family never felt differently from us, the pothole would have kept on entertaining me and other pedestrians with more funny faces and disgrace the government and the country as a whole.    

The workshop organized by Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy ( geared by facilitators from Stony Brook state university, New York)from 2nd to 7th April entitled “Media Literacy curricula development” was extremely Pro-Active in nature. Pro-Active in a sense that it was primarily concerned to make Citizens more informed about the use of media in democracy and other democratic possibilities for citizens to take part actively in making decisions that affect a small community to a nation as a whole.

 A group of teachers from schools around the Capital attended the workshop. The very fact that ‘teachers’ were being invited clicked the purpose more. These teachers (including me) are expected to infuse media literacy in children of their respective schools and motivate them how to use media to bring democratic changes, become an active citizen and how can we all be the watchdog of media to help them become more responsible in reporting the issues concerning all of us.

After a weeklong workshop I somehow agreed to be more responsible citizen myself.

The mere survival of democracy will depend on the way how our future citizens (students/children) act in and view democracy. So, I even felt that I have somehow been also bestowed with a title ‘Guardian of Bhutanese Democracy’. Though unofficial yet equally sensible because after attending the workshop I am now responsible to teach and format the minds of my school children to act and re-act more democratically and use the might of media to bring changes.

And in teaching them (my students) I envision that in the years to come a family (of my student) who comes out to mend the road will have several other families coming together to lend their helping hands and few years down the line the families, pedestrians and drivers will not be waiting or wishing for a government agencies to arrive to rescue them….instead they will have a sense of ‘RESPONSIBLLITY’ to ACT and RE-ACT graciously!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Foreigners" selling goods in Thimphu market

The Peculiarity of Shopkeepers along Norzin Lam is their ‘NO DAMN’ attitude to all their customers/ prospective buyers who otherwise dare to enter to do some shopping regardless of high price tags on the goods displayed inside.

The shopkeepers here won’t welcome you with smiles and warm greetings unlike Indian shopkeepers across the border. They (Indian shopkeepers) will speak with you (the prospective buyer) in the language that you are comfortable with-be it Sharchop, Khang, Bumthap, Dzongkha, Hindi, Nepali you name it. They will greet you, welcome you, shake your hands and will even call your name (if you happen to visit again after your first stop). They will show you everything related to your choice of item. And interestingly, you often make your choice of purchase at the price you are happy to pay.

 That’s some 200 kms away from here. The change in land altitude is also drastic. Thimphu valley lies 2320 m above sea level and so is the attitude of shopkeepers here. I don’t know-but I guess for us (Bhutanese shopkeepers) to behave like those Indian shopkeepers across the border is ‘acting cheap’. We Bhutanese just don’t want to look cheap. Its too expensive for us to be cheap. That’s out of question. So “Make a purchase else the door is open” is the only philosophy of selling goods here. (For your kind information, never utter the word ‘discount’ here else they will think that you are cheap and they will have a good laugh at you).

Anyways the shops must run to keep the shopkeeper’s life rolling but they seem pretty reluctant to practice those so called ‘CHEAP’ acts to woo many costumers. What have they done? To change their attitude seemed quite unaffordable so they have invested quite an amount in purchasing the dummies to do the welcoming and the greetings….The following photographs are taken along the Norzin Lam.

HAVE FUN dudes.

A small American family helping tirelessly to run a Bhutanese Shop

A British Lad turned Buddhist Monk greeting the costumers

A lanky French Macho posing to lure buyers

A young German Couple in Bhutanese national dress to attract more costumers

An Italian Couple showing the way in.....

A stylish New Yorker serving a Bhutanese Shopkeeper

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Living in Paradox: The Brand ‘BHUTANESE’ is on its way out.

My experience of living in a remote place for few years and then my few months of staying in Thimphu now has enlightened me with a strange wisdom.

Everyone here is work-rich but time-poor. We, the urbanites, don’t have enough time for anything. The best question we ask is ‘Do you have time?’ and the best answer we get is ‘I really don’t have’. We simply don’t have time to dine together as a family. Mother is busy with her soaps on TV, children with their latest Play station games and Father is often outside dining with his clients to run his business. We don’t have time to sit down and ask how the day was because we are engrossed in planning for the next big day. A heart-to-heart conversation doesn’t have a place here. We rush, rush and rush more. Oops! How mechanical we are!

Back in my previous place of posting, we had all the time we needed. We (villagers and i) often use to engage ourselves in conversations that really made us feel good, brought smile on our faces, laughed till our stomach started to pain and tears rolled down our cheeks. And we don’t stop there. A whole family surrounds a small fire and eats the evening meal, serving each other and sharing concern of a neighbor. The conversation over the meal goes on till the moon in the dark sky becomes the brightest. Two hours of walk to the town use to take me four hours. Why? Because i meet people in their fields working or people coming back from the town and we get lost in our conversation. Time never became an excuse for anything. It was abundant like the leaves on those trees along the muddy route to the town or the wrinkles on innocent faces and on those hands that feed large rural families.

A near by village
All the five hamlets near my school were scattered. They were divided by thick forests. These hamlets consist of six to nine small houses and are closely knitted by a narrow path. But I never felt cramped there, it was always spacious. Why? Because people there have a big space in their heart for you! Everybody knows everybody else personally. They welcome you graciously into their mud plastered houses and serving is always a lavish affair with rich food (ama dashi, butter, fried cheese, curd, meat and red rice) and an endless supply of local wine and suja (butter tea). We easily connected to each other. We effortlessly understood each other. There use to be a genuine willingness to listen to each other. And so loneliness also never became an issue in that remote and isolated place of posting.
speciality of Rural Bhutan
Back here, we have conquered a large space in terms of settlement. The beauty of urban settlement is we don’t have thick forest, big rivers or high mountains dividing the communities. Yet ugliness of it is we don’t know who lives in the next door as our neighbor. We don’t have TIME to know him. We simply don’t care! A cup of streaming coffee shared or dining together in a restaurant is all business affiliated. The roads and pavements are wider here, we have recreation parks everywhere and shops and rooms in our apartments are spacious yet we feel cramped. A swarm of different people cross you every minute yet you feel lonely here.

Life was so beautiful there in the village. You don’t have to rush for anything. The villagers make you feel so special through softness in their voice and kindness in their deeds. They bring you fresh vegetables and dairy products at your door step with only smile on their faces and reverence in their heart. They don’t want anything in return. If you have that caliber to listen someone’s concern carefully, pays visit to a house and ask how are they doing and as simple as greeting with a bow of your head to the elders you earn respect there and it engraves a permanent mark in their hearts (The villagers still call me to inquire about me and expresses how much they miss me now).

But everything here is price tagged-from vegetables in the market to the respect you earn. No discount HERE what so ever. If you drive a luxurious car, lives in a flat or has enough money to spend and runs a business of your own has a place here. And when you have place you indeed have respect. And interestingly everyone here is also snobbish. So, the commoners push themselves to work more, earn more money simply to earn respect and a place here. How materialistic and finicky life and people here is?
Price Tagged!
A family in a village doesn’t have to beg to bring food on their table. They either work in their small patch of land to make their way out or their fellow villagers come in to provide everything what the struggling family needs. But I saw a healthy monk sitting comfortably on the pavement near the main junction along the Norzin Lam and was begging for few Ngultrums.

GNH on the street of Thimphu
The Wisdom? It’s emotionally beautiful to live in a Bhutanese village and I bet you are with me when I say “True Bhutanese can be found in the villages of our country. They live in the far flung valleys, on hills and on mountains of our country. The Brand ‘BHUTANESE’ is on its way out”.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Subways in Thimphu are misused.

Yes, we have subways in Thimphu though small ones. But a lot of people don’t know about it and those who know it exists use it for some other purposes.

The two mini-subways are located along the Doebum Lam which straights from Memorial Chorten to the door step of Ministry of information and communication building. One subway is in front of swimming pool complex and the other one is below Changangkha School.

The subways are currently functioning brilliantly but their subjects are wired. Some find it as a safe haven to smoke there because smoking publicly is prohibited in our country, some feel it is more spacious to show their love, a handful of pedestrians shit and pee there and many have discovered it as a waste dumping site. If you accidently happen to avail the service [not the ones mention above but simply to cross the double lane road], I bet, you will see dozens of cigarette butts/boxes, used condoms, waste scattered everywhere and it smells like hell. In addition, it’s too dark there.   

Even more concerning is that the students who have to cross this busy road every morning to reach their schools are not being able to use it! Why? A student tells me that the subway smells horrible and a lady teacher from the vicinity informs me that schools and students nearby had used the subway at the beginning but had to discontinue because after few weeks it became dirty, smelly and scary too.

 So the subway doesn’t exist at all for the students. They are now compelled to cross the road over the subway no matter the amount of traffic. It bothers me every day when I see a group of senior students from a nearby school stand wearing the Traffic Suit and holding a small STOP signboard in their hands to control the traffic flow so that their school mates can cross the road safely and make to school on time.

The strategic locations of the subways are phenomenal. Both were built specially to let students and youths cross the road safely. The immediate consumers of both the subways are Youths from swimming pool, Harmony valley, Youth Development Fund Complex, students from Kelki High school, students of Changangkha School and Rinchen Kuenphen School.

Now my question is………are schools nearby expected to adopt the subways to keep it clean like they adopted streams flowing near their schools?

….is concern authorities aware of the whole situation?   .....are subways in Thimphu just ornamental?

Or we, the citizen, have to be more responsible and morally sensible in our conduct?


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Magnanimous Pelden Chodra

[Sequel story of One Night In An ATM Counter]

Bumthang Town                                                                Image:
On returning from his great grandmother’s funeral, a group of youngsters robbed him of all his belongings when he just entered inside a hotel room in Bumthang. One of the culprits had placed a sharp knife on his neck and had demanded the thick golden ring which his diseased great grandmother had left behind for him before she took her last breath. The ring was most valuable gift to him so he mustered all courage from his weepy heart and strength from the heat of the funeral pyre which his skin still feels. He could chase them away without the golden ring but lost all other belongings. Even his backpack was stolen where he had kept his wallet made of Bhutanese cloth.  

Later that night, in his dream he saw Syeldon Rewa Wangchuck sharing a cup of hot coffee with a faceless man. He went closer and closer and closer to see her beautiful face and wished to express his deepest love but heard his boss call his name in an angry mood “Peldennnnnnn…..” The voice awoke him and he couldn’t take the pleasure of looking at her face closely.

The morning was very cold. A thin blanket of snow was covering the ground where Pelden Chodra stood prostrating to Kurjey Lhankhang[ It was built on the site where Padmasmabhava left his body impression on a wall of a cave where he was meditating to subdue a local deity] . He prayed for the wellbeing of those culprits and forgives them of their deed. The bus blew final horn to depart and he quickly jumped in.

He didn’t reveal the incident to his fellow passengers nor report to police. Inside the moving bus he kept wondering why those youngsters targeted him and how could it possibly happen in the most religious district in our country; the place where Guru Rimpoche (Padmasmabhava) first visited Bhutan.

Amidst confusion he found himself tempering the golden ring with his fingers. Looking at the golden ring he is reminded of the unfulfilled promise of getting married soon. He wished that the faceless man with whom Syeldon was sharing a cup of hot coffee was himself. Looking eye to eye and holding hands tightly he made a wish to sing one of the latest romantic Bhutanese songs over that imagined coffee date.

Back in the capital, Pelden’s Boss started to hate him. He started to make numerous complain regarding Pelden. The Boss had not even sanctioned his Travel Allowances for an official tour performed a few weeks before dashing with Syeldon Rewa Wangchuck along the Norzin Lam.

A colleague of Pelden Chodra informed him that their boss is emotionally disturbed. He is to the verge of divorce with his wife because she is alleged of losing a huge amount of money from their joint-account in gambling. And their boss was also having a tough time in repaying the loan on his new black CRV.

Believing on the information provided by his friend regarding their boss Pelden immediately forgives him and he visited Dechenphu Lhakhang in north of Thimphu to pray for his Boss.

On returning from the Lhankhang, Pelden saw Syeldon Rewa Wangchuck with a young man sipping coffee in an open cafeteria near Bhutan Kitchen. He ordered a cup of Suja( traditional tea served with butter and salt) and seated nearby unnoticed by them. Overhearing their conversation he summed up that the young man with that funny French moustache and a curly hair was wooing his dream girl! And seeing Syeldon nodding her head made him uncomfortable. He quickly rushed to the counter, ordered a bouquet of red rose for Syeldon, paid the entire bill and moveed out of the cafeteria.


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