Test of fire

Posted: August 28, 2010 in Opinions

Bhutan’s infant democracy is progressing in all its multifaceted aspects. It is a proud feeling that democracy is here to stay. The initial fears and doubts that much of the time clouded the beginning of the democratic experiment have ebbed away. There is now a growing sense of confidence in the new political system. So they say well begun is half done.

We have erected the best of democratic institutions and put in place a Constitution that is in itself all encompassing. Yet, we have a long way to go. It is a process that will be tested and tried and only time will tell how strong a foundation we have laid.

The system that we are building at present must withstand the consistent denudation of time and space. Only then would we have succeeded in claiming that we have established a sound, credible and a strong democracy.

The process of creating a democratic culture cannot be completed overnight, though. What bodes well is that people are increasingly becoming aware and conscious of their rights and they understand democratic system and values, now more than ever. There is still a need to reach out to many rural populations, permeating through the geographic walls that create divide and imbalance. Empowerment must take place at the grass roots.

The good news is the much awaited Local Government elections may take place very soon. Adding to the prolonged delay, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is still facing shortage of candidates. If this is due to political apathy, it is high time we shed our misgivings and participate in the democratic process. If this is due to capable leadership vacuum, our young graduates must make the best of this opportunity. Our young must play a more active role.

The ECB is just two elections old. It is learning by doing. In times to come, there will be obstacles that will need to be overcome. The test has just started. Consistency in conducting free and fair elections for all times to come will be a crucial challenge.

In another incident, the minority opposition party has sued the government for an alleged Constitutional breach. This reflects that we have a system of check and balance. That even a majority government is accountable to the people.

The government of the day has a responsibility and mandate to fulfill. By all means, the conduct must be in tune with the law, devoid of any vested political interest. As the first democratically elected government, it must set a precedence of par excellence.

Meanwhile, it is very likely that the judiciary will face more of these cases in the future. This is just a beginning. The people are watching with bated breath. The judiciary’s independence, fairness, and discretion will be tested, over and again.

We have established a system. But it is not free of vulnerabilities. The system will have to stand its ground. Prove!

Red light rendezvous

Posted: August 23, 2010 in Opinions

This will not definitely sound any bizarre. We have had heard of such stories thousand times or more, either through the tragic-romantic portrayals in the media, or from juicy gossip mongers or the unstoppable rumor mills. These are stories of nightingales of the dark, forced by desperate circumstances to live off a profession that many scorn at.

It is a social ill, if we want to see it that way, prejudiced by the prevailing ideas and ideals. Prostitution is never and perhaps will never be recognized as a decent way of livelihood. Because at the core is society’s well structured and often times, rigid bigotry against what they call the debasement of popular values.

Yet, we forget, in blissful ignorance or rather arrogance that they are offsprings of dire strait circumstances. No one is born a sex worker. They are made.

In a close semblance of an organized prostitution in the capital, half a dozen sex workers tiptoe in and around what has come to be known as the Chinese line. Their modus operandi is simple and there’s nothing ill at ease about anything.

The sex workers wait for clients, negotiate a price and leave for love hotels during the day or for joyrides in the night. After the consummation of the sexual act, they return to the restaurant, to wait for another client. Period.

The irony is all this is happening right under the nose of the city police station. If what we have heard is truer than we believe, the police are aware of what is happening there. Yet, what can’t stop confusing us more is why nothing is being done.

We are not saying the sex workers or those seeking favors need to be criminalized, although the law is clear on that. The issue at hand is how to rehabilitate the sex workers back into the mainstream society.  How do we give them a second chance to live a decent life?

May be the idea of legalizing prostitution is a farfetched, not even a sanely possible, attempt. It would be a radical move but it’s worth giving a thought. Why not if legalization of prostitution could work out better deals, where health workers and nongovernment organizations championing women’s cause, can reach out to them in a more effective way? The subtle way in which the underground prostitution operates could do us more harm.

The government has greater political goals to achieve and social problems of this magnitude may seem insignificant. However, at the backdrop of the rising number of HIV cases in the country, this high risk group needs the utmost attention.

Besides everything, it is about providing alternative livelihood opportunities to the sex workers. Sooner the better!

Unity in diversity

Posted: August 19, 2010 in Opinions

The popular notion, by and large, is that democracy is the best form of government. Bhutan’s peaceful political transition to a democratic polity is perhaps based on this popular idea.

There is good reason to kowtow this line of thought. Democratic principles place citizens at the center of its universe. It espouses the philosophy of equality, freedom, and human rights and sidelines socioeconomic and cultural hierarchy and discrepancies in a society.

At the level of idea, principle and philosophy, democracy is the perfect system. Only when the nuts and bolts of democracy are scattered out, do we realize that it is much simpler than we thought. Our democratic experiment is a work-in-progress. There is still much to learn through trials and tribulations.

We still need to come out of the trappings of the feudal mentality and cultural hang-ups of the past. As we construct a completely modern society – based on the values and culture of democracy – we must learn to evolve. In the right direction, with the right sense of balance.

Differences in our background, ethnicity, language and cultural sub-identities will always exist.   Differences in opinions and political views and sentiments will always crop up. Democracy therefore has,   in a small nation like ours, a huge potential to create rifts, factions and regionalism. That is the Achilles’ heel of a near perfect system we are trying to put in place.

During the first general elections, we have seen that happen. We have seen close relations between families and relatives rip apart. Let’s face it. Although not outwardly, an undertone of a sense of belongingness to one’s own region, has been strong. In other words, there are differences – in the way people perceive each other.

However, in actuality, this sentiment isn’t wrong. Human as we are. But what can create larger problems is political exploitation, that is in a worst comes to worst scenario. This may not happen, may be never, given the quality of our political leaders and the ideologies of the parties. Yet, the possibility cannot be ignored in future, as we will have more and more political parties, and as we become more politicized every day than the other.

We must think as a nation, always. The socio-cultural and religious differences within ourselves should complement each other. And not divide us. It’s diversity we should celebrate, in unison and rightfully so and not differences.

We are a new democracy – two and half years old – and we are going strong. Amidst all the political changes our country is going through, we must not forget that what binds us together as a country and a people, is the sense of belonging to the Kingdom.

A sip of Sherbutse

Posted: August 11, 2010 in memoirs

The first month, the month of the initiation, gets going quite the hard way. Even now that period refuses to leave the memory. For ragging, with all the good intentions, cannot be a substitute for a welcome.

Numerous briefings in the hostel rooms, by the roadsides, in the dining hall, along the corridors, in the TV rooms, while playing football, all are indelibly etched in the backyard of the mind. And those myriad rules, too -no smoking in the open, no drinking, no monkeying around in trousers. Respect your seniors.

The introduction night is animalism at its best. A wild, howling crowd shouting at timid freshers. It is a harrowing experience for them, sadistic pleasure for the seniors. Abuses, name callings, cacophony, it is literally anything but education. You hate it, but can’t avoid it. It’s just a matter of time, though. Until the tables turn your way and you become the howling crowd. It’s my time now. To howl. To shout. To enjoy that sadistic pleasure. To get back! At whom?

The howling is over, except for the dogs, sleepless in the streets. Cute dogs. Dirty dogs. Dogs with disease, limbs falling apart, pancake wounds, (we used to call it  the pizza dog) – all kinds of dogs. Or if not for some drunken, nocturnal, mischievous brats, the street-lamp-lit nights are calm and peaceful. Romantic. At times, ghostly.

An effusion of dark fog is hovering around the hills and among the trees like loitering souls and lost spirits, beckoning lovers, clasped to each other, to grace the night. Countless shadows rise from the dark corners, secret, private rendezvous. The kissing corner. The view point. The suicide point. The fuck point (if there was one). The abandoned air strip at Yonphula. The green maize fields of Namla. And the sliding slopes of Rongthong. Places and memories are mixed up.

The walk in the drizzle with lovers and friends. Drunk singletons singing Bob Marley’s “no women no cry” (with a distorted addition: ‘No men, women cry’). The jumpy, child like exhilaration of falling in love, for the first time, the second and the third time. You lose count but love it is real every time. Palpitating heartbeats, blind dates, huge rainbow colored umbrellas, run-out-lucks, and a broken heart mimicking WB Yeats – poetry.

The early morning downpour, a peep through the curtains, plonk back in the bed and mollycoddle in the rug. And continue the unfinished sleep. Classes, I can still afford to miss a few more. I am on the better side of the percentage. Othello, Shakespeare’s dark tragic hero. Freud’s theory of dreams. Oedipus Complex. Things fall Apart. Waiting for Godot, absurd. My son’s story. The Angry Young Man. The Balcony. The Rhinoceros. The Rape of the lock – stained brocade or lost honor. T.S Eliot’s Prufock and the hollow men. The Ghost. And many more.

Ding, dong! The signature clock tower. Never on the right time. Recess. At the Bombino canteen right outside the college gate, sweet tea, and a smoke.

The fond memories of drinking at the balcony or inside the kitchen at Palas. Breakfast at Dimpon’s restaurant. Monday – bread and jam. Tuesday – rice and suja. Wednesday – fried chana rice with boiled eggs. Thursday – bread with butter this time. Friday – rice and suja again. Saturday – bread and jam again. Sunday – what’s the menus?  Hardly, ever used to go for breakfast.

Saturday night excitements. House parties, birthday bashes, pair-up parties, re-unions; every weekend is a celebration of some sort. Buckets of punch, bottles of black mountain, ara, and 10,000 (beer). River of booze. I drink, so I am. Waking up with the worst hangover the next morning. And a guilty promise: I will never drink again. Not so much, at second thought.
The mud bathe football matches. Girls cheering and boys shouting: “bacteria” “leave the ball and kick the man.” Monsoon tournament is like playing the world cup. Fanatical celebrations follow! Crammed TV rooms, people watching late night porn or English Premiere League. An indication that football and sex compete for priority.

At least then. Two of my friends became fathers, just an example. And a few more others too. It was almost the baby boomer days in Sherubtse. The joke going around: do not use the condom provided by the health clinic. The condoms are porous.

Those were the moments of wild escapades. A close friend put it quite crisply during his farewell speech: I came here as a boy, I now go as a man (a father, to be precise!). And as I leave taking hordes of memories, I will shed the tears of missing you, Sherubtse!

Democracy of dissent

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Opinions

“While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of Patriotism,” – Howard Zinn, historian

Dissent, which literally means a sentiment or philosophy of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or an entity (web meaning), is gradually taking roots in the young, Bhutanese democracy. What was erstwhile a blatant act of rebellion today has toned down to an individual’s freedom to express differing or opposing views. An important hallmark of a vibrant democracy, dissent tears down the imaginary wall existing between the ruler and the ruled, the government and the governed.

The proliferation of mainstream media and technological advancement offer citizens to voice dissent in much easier ways than before. Media pluralism and diversity therefore encourages what media theorists call the ‘public sphere’ where diversity of opinions is accommodated from across all walks of life. This space which belongs to the citizenry is the hotbed of political, social, economic, and religious discourse. In other words, this sphere is democracy in words, letters and voices representing a vast canvas of the electorate.

Not necessarily, all opinions are contrary to prevailing ideas and ideologies. But again, it is not true that all the ruling ideas are quintessentially ‘holier than thou.’ That is where disagreement and opposition plays a vital role. Acknowledging what is fair or foul, true or false, good or bad – now depends on not the wisdom of a select few but the larger section of the people, the mass.

Democracy is therefore not just about institutions and structures; it is more of engagement in public debate and discourse on policies and issues that affect the lives of people. The discussions must be a bottom up process that emerges from the base of the democratic structure – the voters.

For instance, the recent tax revision by the government had certain quarters of the society debate on the issue, both for and against. However, there has not been any serious or consistent involvement of a wide range of people in the debates. Many sections of the society are silent, yet grumbling. And many do not understand the effect the tax revision could have on their lives.

On the other side, what a few describe as ‘radical democracy’ the last year’s solidarity walk, a protest peace march, was both heavily criticized and applauded at the same time. The protest garnered both support and ill repute. However, at the core was democracy functioning full throttle with people exercising their rights and expressing their opinions of dissent. Until recently, such acts would tantamount to unpatriotic proportions.

Media must facilitate and foster discussions, not necessarily dissentful discussions, but democratic and participatory ones. Debates to encourage diversity of views and pluralism of opinions will have to take place to strengthen a democratic culture and way of life. In doing so, certain archaic culture deeply embedded in our way of life must evolve with time. Our society must open up and so must the powers that be and their beliefs.

Choerten memorabilia

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Photos

Age no bar! Still going strong!

Juice of life

To thee I submit!

Wheel the prayer

Haikus by a drunken poet

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Poetry

Do not talk of broken hearts
or jilted lovers
I am but one!

Those fiery eyes
glint like diamonds
but they tell a million tragic stories!

The dark, dusty evenings
the night has come
I will wait till tomorrow!

The scribblings on the wall
strange names and signs
a proof of love!