Of new years and resolutions

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Musings

This new year, 2009, I celebrate my silver jubilee, of course in a very different fashion. If age is but just a number, I would have let it pass. But the truth is there is much more to it because every year we are growing, older. And we are supposed to be growing not just in numbers but as a human being too.

That’s why I am forced to (re)introspect into how to mend some self-destructive ways of mine, to slough off the old skin and change into a progressive garb. Be a better person each year that passes through. What better occasion than the New Year to begin with?

There would be thousands like me out there, tired and willing to start anew with a meandering list of New Year resolutions, dos and don’ts and other promises; some having made promises to their loved ones, and others like me, doing it out of a sheer desire and need to change. And I can pretty well predict that they would not just draw as many a list they can but at the same time, they would have failed to keep one single promise.

So has been my own story through more than a decade of New Year eves that I have drunkenly celebrated. During the merry making round, I have religiously espoused to be reborn again promising to begin afresh the next day. But tomorrow, in my dictionary, be it the first day of a new year, or any other day is just another day.

It is hilarious and at times bordering at scrupulous ingenuity the way I have made promises and wrecked them. One might as well take me for a man who does not keep his own words. For now let it be so. But Each New Year, I have, with utmost seriousness and commitment, penned down list after list of resolutions, on paper. For the record, here’s a few of them I have stuck to, let’s say, since time immemorial.

This year is going to be beautiful year. A journey well begun is half complete. And it would be in your own interest, good health, wellbeing, prosperity and successes you dream of, that you fulfill the resolutions come what may. It is actually not so hard. All you need to do is put in a little extra effort and be downright determined and resolute to change. Happy New Year!
1. Give up Drinking.
2. Give up smoking, be a good Buddhist.
3. Work hard like a mule.
4. Exercise a lot-you got to shed that extra flab. Reminder: you are already over weight, no taking any chances.
5. Be a good, law abiding citizen, a responsible son, a caring brother, and a lovable boy friend (when I have had girl friends).

The list goes on.

Sadly though I have never managed to put to rest one bad habit or take up a good one either. All those New Year resolutions I have made has come to naught. Honestly, in hindsight, I believe my resolutions to change for good had been a mere consolation to my soul that desires change and my body that blatantly refuses it. In fact it is a wrenching emotional and spiritual turmoil, when the flesh and spirit try to disconnect with each other. The consequence is that I am left to ponder on the veracity of my ineptitude to better myself.

Perhaps I never created that conducive environment for my soul and body to embrace change. The possibility becomes even rarer when you start your evening with a swig of whiskey. Followed by more swigs, and more pegs, until you lose the notion of quantity and start gulping down in bottles. Celebration without alcohol and the high it gives, in this part of the world is sacrilegious. So bring on the booze and party hard!

When the clock strikes 11: 59:50, and just about everyone screams their lungs out, counting down to the New Year, you are at the threshold of a new beginning. That defining moment when you bear hug and wish everyone around you a Happy New Year, you are supposed to have begun a new journey of life. Refer the resolutions. But you would want to wait till tomorrow for the sake of the spirit of fun and frolic that is so vibrant and contagious among the drunken crowd. And so, you are again thrust in that samsaric cycle of drinking, smoking, and trying to be free; your promises all of them tattered, gone down the drain.

Did somebody say change for the sake of change is meaningless; change is as good as rest? Well then, I rest my case. This New Year, I would spend my time away from the maddening crowd of a bar and the psychedelic razor lights, deafening music and noise of a discotheque, reading Ibsen’s plays in the private sanctum of my small, dingy room. That would indeed be a leap of change.

And I have made only one resolution. A simple one that is-to hell with New Year eves and resolutions. Happy New Year!


When the poor bite the dust

Posted: November 6, 2010 in No- nonsense

Four generations of women flounder in the depths of poverty

Cuddled in rug in a scanty makeshift tent made of tarpaulin sheet, exposed to the vagaries of the cold weather, 90 -year old Tashi Tshomo spends her twilight days in complete deprivation. She is old, sick, and suffering.

Her 60-year old daughter, Yanglham, who cannot speak and is mentally unsound, fumbles around the tent, smiling to visitors. Next in the line, YangLham’s daughter, Dechen Pelden, 27, is also partly physically impaired.  The youngest of the generation, Dechen Pelden’s daughter, 10 year-old Pempa, is lost and confused.

The four of them live below a farm road running to the village Langru near Khadsarapchu. Two dilapidated tents, stuffed with old household paraphernalia are what they call a home. Leave aside basic amenities like drinking water and electricity, they barely have enough to survive on.

Dechen Pelden’s husband, an old gomchen (lay monk) feeds the family by begging for alms in the capital.

“The gomchen is out to get vegetables and cooking oil,” says Dechen Pelden. “He returns by evening.”

The family lived near the Dolma Lhakang in Hongkong market earlier in a squatter settlement, depending on the dole-outs served by the Lhakang’s tshgogpa. They had to vacate the hut when Thimphu City Corporation dismantled squatters in the municipality.

Ever since then, the four women have been on the run.

For couple of years, a woman from Khadsarapchu gave them shelter in her empty cowshed. However, last month, they had to shift out as the owner had got a herd of cattle that needed a roof.

Although registered voters from Thrim Throm, the family do not have land or any property.

“We could do with a little help from the government,” says Tashi Tshomo, who has been ill for few years now. “Maybe they could give us food and clothes,” she adds.

“If someone could build a small hut for us to live would be a blessing,” cuts in Dechen Pelden.

The youngest daughter in the family, Pempa, wants to go to school.

“But her great grandmother refuses to allow anyone to take her,” says Tshamchoe, a woman who runs a hotel at Khadsarapchu. “Several people wanted to help her but theangay would not listen.”

Tashi Tshomo and Yanglham receive a monthly pay of Nu 100 each from the Dolma Lhakhang’s tshogpa through the City bank in Thimphu.

“We collect the money every six months but for that my mother and grandmother have to go to the bank in person,” says Dechen Pelden. “It is difficult when she cannot walk or move out of the house.”

Leaving the two elderly women back in the tent Dechen Pelden and her daughter, Pempa, scurry downhill to Khadsarapchu. To wait for their bread earner.

Save the herons

Posted: October 26, 2010 in Opinions

For a country that preaches the gospel of environmental conservation, the death of five young White Bellied Herons reported sometime in June this year must come as a huge blow. Given the total world population of the white bellied heron at 200 of which 30 are in Bhutan, it is a big loss to Bhutan’s much touted rich biodiversity.

The incident reveals that conservation efforts to protect one of the most endangered bird species on the planet are not up to the mark. So it seems.

Environmentalists have consistently raised awareness on how these birds are being threatened by human activities, calling for a more holistic approach to protect the birds. Somehow it seems not enough has been done. It’s a wakeup call to step up our conservation efforts beyond mere lip service.

The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and the National Environment Commission have been putting in measures to protect the bird’s habitat. However, over the last few years, increased human settlement and activities near the natural habitat of the birds have disturbed the ecosystem. And with the constructions of Punatshangchu hydropower project underway, environmentalists have repeatedly warned that this could pose huge risks to the birds, which are on the brink of extinction.

While it raises the perennial debate over conservation versus development, we must not forget that each single life of the bird is precious. This would be, if we manage well, one of Bhutan’s greatest contributions to ecological welfare.

There is a need to balance, as usual, our approach toward development and environmental protection. Indeed, we need to seriously rethink how to address this fragile issue of sustaining the birds by keeping the ecosystem intact, with limited or no human interference in the area. To do that, the government must first put in place strict vigilance system and declare the area out of bound.

Second, there must be advanced technological set up and research labs that will trace and study the birds. This could help in collecting valuable information and data which could be used in framing certain policies.

Environmentalists are getting on board local communities to work on the protection of the birds. The significance of the White Bellied Heron needs to be understood by the people so that there is least human impact on the ecosystem, if at all.

Above all, the government needs to have the political will to conserve the environment and protect the birds. This might come at the expense of certain developmental activities.  If not, the government must take appropriate measures so that natural habitats are not disturbed and the ecosystem of the birds is protected. The environmental cause to protect the endangered birds must not be lost. We have lost five birds; we should not let this repeat!


The happiness mantra

Posted: September 26, 2010 in No- nonsense

In global geopolitics, Bhutan’s status is perhaps insignificant. Apart from being strategically located ‘landlocked’ in between two emerging superpowers, India and China, Bhutan’s importance in the international arena does not go any further than this. In a world that is reigned supreme by economic interests and power play, Bhutan’s fledgling economy garners but little attention. Honestly, these are not our USPs.

However, Bhutan has positioned itself in a much better light than many developing countries. Its political stability, the historic transition from Monarchy to democracy, the unique development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and its history of cultural isolationism and survival among others, are certain hallmarks that have intrigued the world.

It is Bhutan’s approach and selectively cautious means to development ends that have tossed the country into international limelight.  Even as a small nation, today Bhutan boasts of becoming the moral conscience of a world completely immersed in avaricious, self destructive materialism, destroying in the process the very elements of nature that support life.

At the UN Summit, when world leaders promised more money to be pumped in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that are falling behind the 2015 deadline, Bhutan’s Prime Minister made a request. It did not come as a surprise when he asked the world leaders to adopt a new indicator to be included in the MDGs, an indicator that will ultimately define human wellbeing – happiness.

GNH is Bhutan’s global export and contribution to philosophical, developmental and academic discourse. Besides that, it provides a unique insight into the process of development, with huge considerations to the wellbeing of the individuals and the environment.

In addition, the Prime Minister also lobbied for the first time for a seat in the 2013 UN Security Council. These are opportunities Bhutan must grab. Not for international recognition but because it offers Bhutan a greater platform to voice its concerns and engage in dialogue and discussions pertaining to world issues. It’s a podium where we can put forward Bhutanese wisdom and philosophy, and contribute to humanity, in better ways than now.

Bhutan has so far lived by example. We have maintained vast forest coverage often at the expense of development. The balanced sustainable development policies have shown positive results. If Bhutan could inspire a few countries to tread a development path like or similar to ours, perhaps, that would be Bhutan’s greatest influence at the international and global fora. We y need not flaunt economic or military might or engage in gunboat diplomacy to be a global leader. Sometimes it is a mere idea that rules!

Safety First!

Posted: September 25, 2010 in No- nonsense, Opinions

The neighboring hills of Kalimpong and Darjeeling are favorite destinations for tertiary education to children of many average middle class Bhutanese families. Particularly for two reasons that is – because of proximity of the colleges and affordability of tuition fees.

The tradition goes a long way back to the 50’s and 60’s when the Bhutanese nobility started sending their children to these places for their education. A majority of government officials of rank and file are products of colleges from the hills.

Even today, hundreds of Bhutanese students graduate from numerous colleges in the region every year. Until recently, the hills have been ideal educational hub but for the ongoing political turmoil and unrest there.

More than 500 Bhutanese students are at present pursing various undergraduate courses there, exposed to vulnerabilities of all sorts. In a recent incident a few Bhutanese students were dragged into a political procession under coercion.

Although there have not been any reports of assault or unlikely mishap, this incident only reaffirms the fact that Bhutanese students are not free from possible danger. There are reasons to be concerned (but not to be alarmed or frantic), after all it is a matter of safety of Bhutanese students studying there.

Parents must be aware of the ongoing political tensions and the impending risks to their children, both in terms of their education and security. This is not to discourage parents from sending their children to the hills but a cautionary note. Often colleges have been disrupted during political strikes stranding students amid political confusion and upheaval in the hills and worrying parents back home.

The logical solution is to stop students from going to the hills, at least until political calm is restored. But that is easier said than done. Many parents cannot afford to send children to other parts of India or for that matter abroad for studies given the expensive college fees.

Therefore, the onus falls on the government ultimately, to create avenues for tertiary education within the country. The government must encourage private colleges that offer affordable education to Bhutanese students. This will not only solve ongoing difficulties faced by students studying abroad but will also boost tertiary education facilities in the long run.

Bhutan is planning to become an education hub in the region with plans to attract foreign students to the country. We might as well start by providing facilities to attract our students to study in our own private colleges first.

Identity Crisis?

Posted: September 25, 2010 in No- nonsense

In essence, we are a peace loving people. Bhutanese by nature are honest, simple, and a well behaved tribe. Generally, that is. Much of this has to do with our Buddhist values which espouse non violence and compassion. And as Bhutan’s brainchild gross national happiness sells like hotcakes abroad, we have become exemplary of a happy people despite living in among the 50 poorest countries in the world.

We bask in this glory. Yet the changing reality is an eyesore to the otherwise gleaning image we have built over several years. We have always sought balance, the middle path, in our approach to modernization and development, and in the way we opened ourselves to the onslaught of new culture and values.

A country in transition, Bhutan is faced with obstacles as much as it has opportunities in store. Now more than ever, there is a need to revisit our calculated approach. At the one hand, we profusely celebrate the idiom of happiness. Yet, we have a minority population that barely meets the day’s end, scrambling for a decent life in abject poverty. They are left to the jargons of statistics – some 23% of them living under poverty line.

We have placed utmost importance to preservation of culture, a national identity in itself. And we sell exotica to an increasing number of tourists flying into the country, opening up places that were earlier closed to tourism. We know the devastatingly effect it could possibly have on native traditions.

Our police are fighting the scourge of gang culture, drug problem and catapulting youth crimes. The youth ape a lifestyle and value system that are in total contrast to our own. Come to think of this, the streets of Thimphu are filled with denizens wearing imported wears – trousers, jackets, skirts, you name it. We have made our ghos and kiras a formality to fulfill, a nine to five uniform.

Culture is dynamic and vulnerable to change. We cannot resist change but there should be some nagging necessity to protect what belongs to us. More than that, what we belong to.

Look at our capital – it is a symbol of modernity. Our narrow roads are crammed with imported cars. We are waking up to a new reality of waste problems and pollution. Our buildings are mere representations of true Bhutanese architecture. The real beauty is lost, so we must preserve the few traditional structures as heritage sites.

We have emphasized always on balance. We must practice what we preach, or show some semblance of what we say. The worst is not here but may not take too long.

Mission Abortion

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Opinions

The issue of abortion has been swept under the rug either or we have turned a deliberate blind eye and nurtured a sense of stoic indifference over time. We are shocked quite often though, when a dead and disowned foetus emerges from the heaps of garbage dump or is extracted from sewerage pipelines.

Our Buddhist compassion is deeply aroused momentarily, which is again mixed with a sense of disgust for the woman ‘who could commit such extreme an act’. That is it? We do not look beyond the obvious. We just play to the popular tunes of stereotypes and stigmas and miss out the larger picture.

The issues of right to abortion or the contrary, the right to life of the unborn, need sincere and honest discourse, at all levels of Bhutanese society. Two things are crystal clear – abortion is a taboo from the highly dogmatic Buddhist perspective and it is unlawful from the legal point of view. These are rigid systems that would not move easily.

Sandwiched, as women might find themselves, between these two overbearing structures of power, yet, we cannot deny that Bhutanese women are not aborting unwanted child. Every year hundreds of women cross the border to the strange and dirty back alleys of Jaigaon and Siliguri further down. In these clandestine locales and unsafe hands, away from the glare of social stigmatization and legal consequences back at home, Bhutanese women risk their lives to undergo abortion. Just recently, a young woman died of post abortion complications.

Is the issue of legality of abortion posing danger to young lives of woman, or is it lack of access to safe abortion? Should abortion be legalized will the situation improve in any way? Do women have the right to abortion or shouldn’t there be considerations for the rights of the unborn child?

The debate over the ‘rightness’ or the ‘wrongness’ of abortion is as complex as it seems simple. It is simple because the decision to abort a child is entirely an individual’s (under varying circumstances) right to freedom of choice. It is complex because abortion includes an unthinking and immature, unborn child who also has a right to life. The complexity becomes murkier when women resort to unsafe abortion, sometimes resulting in death.

There is a need to protect individual’s right and at the same, the right of an unborn. How do we address these dual issues?

Perhaps, the first step toward it would be by shedding certain sociocultural biases, followed by candid expressions of what must prevail – in legal terms.

Legal, religious and social barriers have far reaching consequences, but it should not come at the cost of a life.